News Release
Contact: Sondra Katzen, Public Relations, 708.688.8351, 
April 16, 2024

Note: Scroll to end of press release to download photos of the koalas.


Brookfield Zoo Chicago Welcomes Koalas
First time Zoo has Species in its 90-year History

Chicago, Ill. — Chicagoans can soon say “G’day” to a new animal species at Brookfield Zoo Chicago. The Zoo will welcome koalas for the first time in its 90-year history. Named Brumby and Willum, the two 2-year-old marsupials will be visible to guests beginning this summer in the Zoo’s Hamill Family Play Zoo, now free year-round with general admission.

This partnership with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and San Diego Zoo’s Koala Education and Conservation Project marks a rare opportunity for guests, as Brookfield Zoo Chicago is one of only 11 accredited zoological facilities in North America where the public has the opportunity to see and experience these unique and engaging animals while developing a respect and appreciation for them and wildlife around the world.

Koalas have a specific diet—they are one of only a few animals that eat eucalyptus leaves, which are highly poisonous to most other animals. Twice a week, the Zoo will receive a rotation of several different species of fresh eucalyptus leaves for Brumby and Willum. Because of the leaves’ high level of toxicity, the koala has specialized gut bacteria that breaks down the poisonous leaves, extracting all water and nutrients. This is why koalas spend most of their time—up to 18-22 hours a day—sleeping in trees conserving their energy.

Although many refer to koalas as bears, there is no relation. According to several sources, the misnomer occurred when English-speaking settlers observed koalas in Australia and thought the animal resembled a small bear. Actually, the koala is the only existing species of the family Phascolarctidae. It is more closely related to other marsupials (pouched mammals) like wombats and kangaroos, which can be seen at the Zoo’s Australia House.

Koalas are listed as a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) in its native land of Australia. Found in Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, the species faces several threats, including deforestation, fragmentation of its habitat for development, bushfires, disease, and drought.

“This year, as we celebrate our 90th anniversary, we are so excited to introduce our guests to another charismatic species from the land “down under,” said Mark Wanner, associate vice president of animal care and conservation for the Zoo. “Brookfield Zoo Chicago has a long successful history with Australian animals in its care as well as being involved in conservation efforts on the continent.”

In the early 1970s, the Zoo purchased 16,000 acres of land in South Australia, named Brookfield Conservation Park. For two decades the Zoo’s researchers helped local conservationists manage and restore the reserve, which was badly depleted by drought and being overgrazed by sheep and rabbits, as well as conducted a number of significant research projects. The successful recovery of the land was an inspiration for the restoration of more than two million acres of severely degraded pastoral property, located about 60 miles east of Brookfield Conservation Park, to be transformed into Murray-Sunset National Park. Over the next few decades the Zoo assisted in the acquisition of other property for conservation and education resources before transitioning its landholdings and conservation operations over to its management partner, the Australian Landscape Trust.

Those interested in supporting the care of the koalas at Brookfield Zoo Chicago can contribute to the Animal Adoption program. For $35, a recipient receives the Friend Package, which includes a personalized certificate of adoption, a 5-inch x 7-inch color photograph of a koala, a fact sheet on the species, an Animal Adoption program decal, and an invitation to the exclusive 2024 Animal Adoption summer event. A Plush Package is also available for $65 and includes all the benefits of the Friend Package as well as an adorable 12-inch plush koala and four free tickets to the Animal Adoption evening in 2024. To purchase, visit

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Photos (credit: San Diego Zoo)

About Brookfield Zoo Chicago
Celebrating 90 years as a global leader in animal well-being and conservation, Brookfield Zoo Chicago inspires conservation leadership by igniting emotional connections for people with wildlife and nature, locally and globally. The Zoo is a private nonprofit organization that operates on 235 acres of land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County and is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 500 species, including many of Earth’s most endangered. Brookfield Zoo Chicago was the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and ArbNet. For more information, visit