A GROUP of five koalas and two wombats has arrived at Longleat Safari Park, following an epic journey from Australia.

The iconic marsupials from Cleland Wildlife Park near Adelaide in South Australia flew to the UK on Thursday, October 11 as special guests on a Singapore Airlines Cargo flight.

They were accompanied by keepers from Longleat and Cleland as well as a veterinary team.

The group touched down at Heathrow on Thursday night and were picked up from the runway by a fleet of Longleat’s zebra-striped Safari vehicles.

After being transported to the Longleat estate they were given a full health check and declared fit and well.

They won’t go on public view until spring next year to give them a chance to settle in to their new surroundings.

Longleat’s Graeme Dick, said: “We’re delighted to announce the arrival of the koalas and wombats here at Longleat. All appear in excellent health and are settling in well.“This is the culmination of a two-year project and the beginning of an exciting new era.

“We hope these animals will act as conservation ambassadors for the species and promote conservation and education about Australian marsupials.”

The koalas’ arrival is part of a ground-breaking initiative by the Government of South Australia to enhance the management and conservation of the koala.

They government of South Australia are particularly passionate about this project as it enables valuable research into conservation that will help protect the koala population in South Australia, as a preventative measure against the species becoming endangered.

Longleat will act as a European hub for the newly-created International Koala Centre of Excellence (IKCE) to manage and conserve the marsupials.

Lord Weymouth has also agreed to be the International Patron of the International Koala Centre of Excellence (IKCE) based at Cleland, a new initiative to raise funds to support research for koala management and conservation.

Cleland director, Chris Daniels, said: “We have been working closely with the team at Longleat to ensure the koalas and wombats receive the very best care and attention when they settle in.

“The new facility is fantastic and has been specifically designed with these animals in mind. Their arrival in the UK is a very exciting moment and will undoubtedly help raise awareness of these unique animals.”

The koalas will now spend around six months away from visitors to the park as they settling into their new home alongside a pair of southern hairy nosed wombats, which are the koalas’ closest relative.

Their spacious new enclosure, called Koala Creek, includes a natural stream, eucalyptus trees, climbing poles, naturally-themed indoor and outdoor habitats, viewing areas and interpretation boards as well as a Koala care unit.

It is due to open to visitors to Longleat from Spring 2019.

Longleat will be the only place to see koalas in England, one of only two places to home the marsupial in the UK, and the only one in Europe to look after southern koalas.

There are two main subspecies of koala; the smaller northern variety and the southern koala, which has much thicker fur and can weigh twice as much as their northern relatives.

In 2012 the koala was listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ in some parts of Australia.

Sheldon Hee, General Manager, Singapore Airlines UK and Ireland, said: “As Australia’s most frequent foreign visitor, including almost 35 years of flights to Adelaide, Singapore Airlines is as captivated by the koala as any other and fully supports the conservation programme which is bringing them to the UK.

“We have been delighted to work closely with the team at Longleat to plan the animals’ journey and ensure they received the very best of care; including, mostly, lots of eucalyptus!”