SA’s koala breeding program success aims to secure species’ future

A groundbreaking breeding program to safeguard the long-term conservation of koalas in Australia is being hailed as a success after the birth of four joeys at Cleland Wildlife Park.

A groundbreaking breeding program designed to ensure the long-term survival of koalas in Australia is celebrating a significant milestone as four joeys are born at Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills.

These joeys represent the first generation of koalas to be born as part of an innovative initiative aimed at breeding genetically diverse koalas free from chlamydia and koala retrovirus – diseases that have raised concerns for the species’ conservation.

“Cleland Wildlife Park is excited by the arrival of the joeys and our staff are looking forward to watching them grow up,” Cleland Wildlife Park General Manager Michelle Hocking says.

The joeys, welcomed into the world in March, are thriving after spending their initial months in their mothers’ pouches. Their births signify a critical step forward in the endeavour to safeguard the future of koalas in the region.

“I’m delighted by the birth of the koala joeys as part of this groundbreaking conservation breeding program supported by the state government,” Minister for Climate, Environment and Water Susan Close says.

“It is vital that we safeguard the welfare of this iconic species and research ways to protect them from the diseases that have an impact on their conservation. This successful breeding program is an example of the high calibre of wildlife research conducted in South Australia.”

The breeding program revolves around a colony of approximately 20 koalas initially sourced from Kangaroo Island, along with four male koalas from the Strzelecki Ranges in Central Gippsland, Victoria.

These disease-free, outbred animals are poised to play a pivotal role in supporting the conservation of koalas, particularly in regions like Queensland, New South Wales, and the ACT, where populations are deemed endangered under federal government legislation.

The devastating bushfires that have swept across Australia, including the 2019-20 blazes on Kangaroo Island, have taken a severe toll on koala populations, leading to the species’ endangered status in eastern states.

Koalas face a myriad of challenges to their survival, including habitat destruction, the effects of climate change, such as droughts and fires, diseases, and human-induced impacts like traffic accidents and dog attacks.

While South Australia’s koala populations do not currently face conservation concerns, they exhibit lower genetic diversity compared to their counterparts from the Strzelecki Ranges. The breeding program’s primary objective is to establish a healthy and genetically diverse captive population that can also serve as a valuable resource for research, contributing to the long-term conservation of the species.

This collaborative initiative is the result of a partnership between the Department for Environment and Water and Koala Life, an independent not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the science-based conservation of koalas. In collaboration with researchers from Flinders University and The University of Adelaide, Koala Life and the department are working to create a comprehensive genetic profile of the koalas while addressing health and disease-related concerns.

“Koala Life is a voice for koalas, an active advocate for their long-term conservation and wellbeing, and the future security of their gum forest habitat,” Koala Life Director Chris West says.

“This is the program’s first breeding season with the Strzelecki males and the koalas have performed exceptionally well to produce four joeys.”

The breeding program is ongoing, with hopes high for the arrival of more joeys in 2024. The success of this program has been made possible through contributions from the state government and generous community donations. It signifies a significant step forward in ensuring the survival of these iconic Australian creatures for generations to come.

To support Koala Life’s work to safeguard the species, visit

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