Symbio's baby koalas Imogen and Harry are thriving despite a difficult start to life: photos, video

A true tale of love, passion and survival involving two young koalas at Symbio Wildlife Park is attracting national global attention.

And because of the dedication of zoo curator Kylie Elliott and general manager Matt Radnidge, it looks set to have a very happy ending.

The young koalas have been on a delicate journey for the last three months and have defied the odds to survive with the help of much tender loving care.

International interest started in June when the story of a young joey named Imogen and her mother Kelly went viral on social media when a video of Imogen’s first appearance from mother’s pouch was captured by zoo staff and posted online by Tourism Australia.

It has since been viewed over 2.3 million times and a subsequent video has been seen more than 700,000.

But that is only the beginning of this story of love and devotion.

Soon after Imogen became a household name around the globe the mother of a second and much younger koala named Harry died unexpectedly from leukaemia.

The tiny orphaned joey was vulnerable and a tough decision needed to be made by Ms Elliott and Mr Radnidge.

They consulted industry specialists and decided to hand-rear the older and stronger Imogen in an attempt to successfully cross surrogate Harry into Kelly’s pouch. 

Harry had not yet emerged from his own mother’s pouch when she died, and weighed only 250 grams.

He was estimated at only 22 weeks of age and was still yet to receive a specialised form of maternal faeces, called pap, which forms a crucial part of a young Koala’s diet.

Pap passes through the mother’s digestive system and gives the joey the enzymes it needs to help develop its digestive system to be able to make the important transition from milk to eucalyptus leaves.

A mother Koala generally produces pap when her Joey is around 25 weeks.

Imogen was around 30 weeks at the time and at about 500 grams had already received what she needed.

She had started to emerge from her mother’s pouch and was getting a taste for eucalypt leaves so Ms Elliott and Mr Radnidge decided to hand rear her and cross foster young Harry with Kelly.

Koala surrogacy is thought to have only happened a hand full of times so the successful mission was watched with great interest by the zoological industry.

The two senior members of the Symbio team are a couple and were also observed with great interest as they took on parenting duties to ensure Imogen survived.

All went well with Kelly instantly taking over the role of nurturing mother and adopting Harry as her very own.

Ms Elliott and Mr Radnidge were also naturals at hand rearing Imogen.

But it involved taking her everywhere with them and many sleepless nights because she was never able to leave their side.

‘‘Hand raising Imogen has been the most challenging and rewarding thing we have ever achieved,’’ Ms Elliott said.

‘‘It hasn’t been an easy journey raising a joey with nocturnal habits and sharp claws. I definitely have a new respect for Koala mothers.’’

Imogen became a very big and constant part of the couples lives and spends most days snuggled inside Ms Elliott’s jacket, using it as a pouch to keep warm during the last two months and sleep to the sound of her heartbeat during the day.

‘‘For such a small koala she takes up so much room,’’ Mr Radnidge said.

But due to their care, dedication, decision making and parenting skills this story looks set to have a very happy ending.

Harry has received pap from his foster mother Kelly, now weighs in at nearly 900 grams and has started exploring the big wide wonderful world.

And as she approaches her first birthday in just over a month Imogen has grown to 1800 grams and is now spending more time climbing around her branches and slowly learning how to become more independent. 


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