Koalas steal the show at G20 in Brisbane

Updated: 2014-11-17 03:47

By Wang Hui in Brisbane, Australia(China Daily)

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Koalas steal the show at G20 in Brisbane

First lady Peng Liyuan cuddles a koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, as part of a program for the spouses of G20 leaders in Brisbane on Saturday. REUTERS

World leaders share time with Australian marsupial

Animal gifts smooth diplomatic relations

Koalas steal the show at G20 in Brisbane
Australia’s cutest animal stole much of the limelight at the G20 summit over the weekend in subtropical Brisbane, when the host country launched a behind-the-scenes diplomatic offensive.

Before sitting down to address the woes the world is facing, participants the high-level talks were each handed a koala for a photo session on Saturday, and all seemed to enjoy their time with Australia’s cuddly mascot.

Leaders attending the G20 summit, including US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were all charmed by the Australian marsupial, or pouched mammal.

Putin, a wildlife lover, allowed a koala to wrap her claws around his neck while he cracked a smile. Obama also posed with a koala in his arms, while Merkel patted the furry koala in Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s embrace. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tangled with the gray animals as well.

The soft, wide-eyed koalas were brought backstage at the G20 while the leaders were taking a break so that the leaders could have a unique experience with Australian wildlife.

Earlier on Saturday, Australia’s first lady, Margie Abbott, invited the G20 leaders’ wives to tour the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, a koala park 12 km from the Brisbane city center.

During their tour of the 4.6-hectare park, the first ladies hugged koalas, hand-fed some kangaroos and watched a sheepshearing show over morning tea.

The wives of leaders from Canada, China, the European Union, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations participated in the outing.

Wearing a colorful Chinese cheongsam, Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan, the wife of President Xi Jinping, cuddled a cute, submissive koala. Apparently she had received pointers beforehand, as she stood quietly and still with the fluffy bundle in her arms.

Australia’s No 1 advice for newbie koala-huggers is to pretend to be a tree and give koalas good support on their bottom so they know they are not going to fall.

Koalas, which sleep for up to 20 hours a day and live on a diet of eucalyptus leaves, are fussy creatures. Training at a sanctuary for the Australian native symbol’s G20 huddling sessions began days before the international conference commenced so they would behave properly.

“As young trainees, koala cuddles are limited to just 10 minutes a day, graduating to no more than half an hour a day as adults,” Karen Nilsson, head koala-keeper at the park, told local media. “Even then, after three days of cuddles, it’s timeout for the koalas and a cuddle-free day before returning to work.”

Australia is the only country in the world where koalas appear in nature. As few as 43,000 koalas may remain in the wild, largely due to a loss of habitat and a chlamydia epidemic that has decimated fertility rates among the koala population.

The sanctuary, founded in 1927, is home to more than 130 koalas and a wide variety of other native animals. Apart from koalas, it has more than 100 species of Australian native animals, including freshwater crocodiles, snakes, Tasmanian devils, barking owls and the southern hairy-nosed wombat. More than 80 percent of Australia’s wildlife is unique to the country.

Visitors to Queensland can hold a koala and interact with them one-on-one, which is forbidden in most other parts of Australia. Previous VIP cuddlers have included Pope John Paul II, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US pop star Taylor Swift.

The admission fee for adults at the sanctuary is A$32 ($28), and visitors pay an extra A$16 to cuddle a koala.