The koalas in the zoos in Japan have decreased by more than half in the last 15 years and zoo officials are worried that this will lead to an eventual disappearance of the marsupials from the public eye. As of October 22, there are now only 40 koalas in eight zoos all over the country.
This number is a far cry from the 96 that were alive in captivity in 1997. The koalas first arrived in Japan in October 25, 1984 from their native Australia. The six male koalas were given to Tama Zoological Park in Hino, Tokyo, Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Nagoya and Hirakawa Zoological Park in Kagoshima, with each zoo receiving two each. Seven female koalas eventually arrived in 1985 to facilitate the breeding process. A year later, the first koala birth in Japan happened at the Higashiyama Zoo. For the next decade, koala breeding became very successful, until by year 2000, there was a significant drop in the number of koalas. The pregnancy rate dropped and then a lot of the cubs died at birth or while they were still very young. The animals can start breeding at 4-6 years old and can last as long as 15 years in captivity.
The decrease in numbers is attributed to the ageing of those in captivity as well as their inbreeding. Masami Kurobe, deputy director of Higashiyama Zoo, said that it is now more difficult to bring in more koalas in Australia, since they have limited the exports of their native critters. Tama Zoological Park now only has two since a 2-year-old female koala died last month. Hirakawa Zoological Park has eight right now, but had as many as 27 in 1997. Mayor Hiroyuki Mori of Kagoshima made an effort to secure the animals, like inviting a zoo official from Queensland, Australia. They will be receiving three koalas by next year, which took them 4 years to complete that deal. The marsupials are hugely popular in the Japanese zoos, as most visitors have never seen one before, unless they’ve visited Australia or other zoos around the world.
[ via Yomiuri Shimbun ]