Summer hours begin at the San Diego Zoo with an Australian theme

Late hours show new perspective on plants, animals

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Zoo will open its nighttime hours Saturday with an Australian theme to celebrate its new exhibit, the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback.

Zoo officials said that by remaining open until 9 p.m. visitors will get a different perspective on the plants and animals.

The annual event also includes performances of "Australiana" at the Hunte Amphitheater, which portrays Australian folklore through acrobatics and aerial acts, according to zoo officials.

Costumed characters dressed as a koala, a hand-balancing snake and a Tasmanian devil will also perform.

The extended hours are starting one month after the debut of the Australian Outback exhibit, which zoo officials say is home to the largest Queensland koala breeding colony outside of Australia.

Zoo staffers and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research are studying the koala population, both in the exhibit and in the wild, to help understand the species' ecology, mating behaviors and health.

 The 21 koalas share the habitat with wombats, Parma wallabies and 23 species of Australian birds, including the kookaburra, bowerbird, palm cockatoos and Gouldian finches, according to zoo officials.

 As the zoo closes for the night, a finale dubbed "The Walkabout" will feature entertainers performing down Front Street, officials said.

Nighttime zoo hours are included with the cost of admission.

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