SYDNEY, Australia (Nov. 14)
Lod Airport welcomed a new Israeli this week, and a rather furry one at that.
Didgee the Koala Bear made aliyah from his native Australia. Accompanied by Ido Goffer, a keeper in Israel’s Gan Garoo wildlife park, Didgee made the long trip from Melbourne to Israel.
Didgee won’t be the only Aussie in his new home: Cindy and Mindy, two cute Koala girls who made aliyah in February, already have been resettled in the park.
Upon his arrival, Israeli authorities put Didgee in quarantine for six weeks.
After that, 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.
Didgee has another problem to work out: His full name is Didgee Redoo, but Israeli authorities want him to change it to Didgee The Jew.
The bear was expected to settle on just plain Didgee.
Cindy and Mindy are three years old and were born in the Melbourne Zoo.
Goffer, 30, spent several weeks in February learning how to look after the koalas before taking them to Gan Garoo.
Their male companion did not make the grade during quarantine and was left behind in Melbourne, where he still keeps the crowds happy at the zoo. A new search for Mr. Right was launched in Sydney.
Four weeks ago Didgee said goodbye to his mates at the Australian Wildlife Park in Sydney’s Eastern Creek, where he was born two and a half years ago, and made the trip to Melbourne.
He passed Goffer’s matchmaker’s test and then spent four weeks in quarantine.
Didgee reckons he has been photographed over 10,000 times by enthusiastic tourists. He will have some time to rest and recuperate from his trip before delighting the 80,000 Israelis who visit Gan Garoo annually.
Cindy and Mindy hope he will delight them too.
“Our kangaroos, kookaburras, emus, cockatoos and flying foxes have all found Israel a wonderful place to bring up a family, so why not the koalas too?” Gan Garoo administrator Yehuda Gat, who started the park, told JTA.
Gan Garoo is a four-acre park, fully recognized by the Australian Wildlife Authority.
In 1996, seeds of eucalyptus trees were given to the Jewish National Fund for nurturing. On Tu B’Shvat in 1998, Australia’s ambassador to Israel helped plant 2,500 developed saplings in the park, followed by another 1,000 in 2001.
That’s good news for Didgee, Cindy and Mindy, as eucalyptus leaves are the only thing koalas eat.
Australia does not export many koalas and they need special care, Chandi De Alwis, Melbourne Zoo’s native mammal expert, told JTA.
“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.
Didgee will be a little confused however: 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.
Gan Garoo is a little slice of Australia in the middle of Israel. It 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, Gat said.
“Almost every Israeli who enters the park stops to read the inscription and places a stone on it as if it were their grave,” he said. “It’s very touching.”
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.”