‘Koala diplomacy’: Abbott arranges warm welcome

Australia’s Premier Tony Abbott and US President Barack Obama as they meet ‘Jimbelung’ the koala before the start of the G-20 meeting in Brisbane.

Australia’s Premier Tony Abbott and US President Barack Obama as they meet ‘Jimbelung’ the koala before the start of the G-20 meeting in Brisbane.

BRISBANE: Australia arranged a warm and fuzzy welcome for the world’s most powerful leaders at the G-20 summit with a campaign dubbed “koala diplomacy,” in which top politicians cuddled the shy native marsupials.

While there may have been sharp differences during policy discussions, G-20 leaders were unanimous in their desire be photographed with the furry grey animals, which were brought in from a local wildlife park for the summit.

Everyone from US President Barack Obama to China’s first lady Peng Liyuan queued up to hold the koalas as the world’s press snapped away.

Even host Tony Abbott’s pre-summit threat to aggressively “shirtfront” Russian leader Vladimir Putin was temporarily forgotten as the pair smiled and posed side-by-side cradling koalas in their arms.

The well-traveled White House press corps, normally immune to the charms of “local color,” were also enchanted by the iconic bush creatures when they met a two-year-old female named Jimbelung.

The koala, which is destined to be sent to Japan as a gift, munched contentedly on eucalyptus leaves but her handler said she was too tired to pose with reporters after photo sessions with Putin and Obama.

However, there was time for one more round of pictures when local powerbroker Campbell Newman, the Premier of Queensland state, turned up with a gaggle of media in tow.

But handler Al Mucci, from the Dreamworld wildlife park on the nearby Gold Coast tourist strip, said bringing the koalas to the summit was not just about ramping up the event’s cuteness factor.

He said Jimbelung, whose name means “friends” in the local Aboriginal dialect, belongs to a species struggling with declining numbers as human development encroaches on their habitat.

“As an Australian, I am proud of the fact that we are hosting the G-20 and I’m proud that today we can share the koala story,” he said.

“Koalas and people aren’t learning to live together and their population is dropping. We want to share that with the global community, that more help is required to make sure that people and koalas live together for another 200 years here in Australia.”

 
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