December 5, 2002
Koala Makes Aliyah
Ben-Gurion Airport welcomed a new Israeli, and a rather furry one at that.
Didgee, a koala, made aliyah from Melbourne, Australia, but he won't be the only Aussie in his new home. Cindy and Mindy, two cute koala girls who made aliyah from the Melbourne Zoo in February, already have been resettled in the park.
Upon his arrival, Israeli authorities put Didgee in quarantine for six weeks. When his isolation ends, he will meet his prospective mates, and they can kick back in the Beit Shean valley and talk about the old days in Sydney and Melbourne.
It's estimated that Didgee has been photographed more than 10,000 times by enthusiastic tourists in Australia. He will have some time to rest and recuperate from his trip before delighting the 80,000 annual visitors to Gan Garoo, a four-acre park fully recognized by the Australian Wildlife Authority. Gan Garoo is a little slice of Australia in the middle of Israel, which even has a plaque in memory of the Australian athletes who lost their lives when a bridge collapsed during the opening ceremony of the 1997 Maccabiah Games, said Gan Garoo administrator Yehuda Gat, who started the park.
Australia does not export many koalas and they need special care, said Chandi De Alwis, Melbourne Zoo's native mammal expert.
"However, they have bred very successfully overseas and I hope Gan Garoo will be home to many generations," De Alwis said. "They are delightful animals, loved by park visitors. In these difficult times, I hope they will bring some joy to the troubled Israelis."
Koalas are not really bears but rather marsupials, like kangaroos. They are born after 34 days gestation, and live in their mother's pouches until they are almost 6 months old.
However, Didgee will be a little confused: In Australia it's spring, the koalas' mating season, but it's autumn in Israel.
"They will adjust and when spring comes round, Cindy and Mindy should have no worries, mate," De Alwis said.
Didgee is looking forward to the day he can leave the quarantine cage to snuggle up with his two Sheilas in the shade of a eucalyptus tree, and learn to say "Shalom" as well as "G'day."