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Meet Imogen the koala’s ‘dad’

Matt Radnidge at work with joey Imogen.

Matt Radnidge at work with joey Imogen.

The hard work and dedication of Symbio Wildlife Park staff have helped to make this wonderful Helensburgh tourist attraction an international hit. Matt Radnidge, the driving force behind it behind the park’s real-world success, had a chat to The South Coaster.

Symbio Wildlife Park is world-famous for its cuter-than-cute viral videos of animals in the park doing funny things. But Symbio is much more than just a generator of cuddly koala videos. Symbio is saving animals, wowing visitors from around the globe and it’s boosting the region in a big way.
The story of baby Imogen captured the hearts of people around the world – it trended as the most popular topic on Facebook for two days.
Back in June 2015, after a video starring the cuddly koala joey had gone viral, staff at Symbio were faced with a terrible situation: another younger joey (Harry) had been left orphaned after his mother had died from leukemia.

Kylie Elliott and Imogen.

Kylie Elliott and Imogen.

But Symbio management had a plan: general manager Matt Radnidge and his now-fiancée, curator Kylie Elliott, would hand-raise the older and healthier Imogen; and Harry would be cross-surrogated into the pouch of Imogen’s mum, Kelly.
Imogen was about 30 weeks old, weighed a little more than 500g and she had already received pap from her mother. Pap, produced by the mum koala after it eats eucalyptus leaves, is the joey’s first solid food and is crucial to its health. Without pap, the joey can’t survive on its future diet of eucalypt leaves. Harry had not yet received pap from his mother when she died.
The cross-surrogacy of Harry and the hand-rearing of Imogen was successful (see Imogen and Harry, opposite page). Symbio, the business, has also been very successful and, in recognition of those achievements, Matt was named Young Business Executive of The Year at the 2015 Illawarra Business Awards late last year.
He says the award was in recognition of all Symbio staff.
“We are a team at Symbio. We always say: no one of us is as good as all of us. We’ve worked very hard for a very long time and it hasn’t just been about hard work, it’s been about balancing hard work and smart work, so trying to be as efficient and as effective as possible … as well as working a lot of hours. [laughs]”
Matt’s dad and Symbio’s Managing Director, John, spearheads the Radnidge Symbio dynasty which includes John’s wife, Margaret (Director), and son Michael (Operations Manager).
“So it really is a family affair,” John says. “But we like to think that everyone who works here is part of this family.”
At time of writing, Symbio’s Cheetah Savannah exhibit, with two new male cheetahs (Boo and Lion), had just opened.
Matt says future Symbio attractions will include an interactive educational farmyard,
an Indigenous nature trail and more.
“I love what I do and Symbio is such a dynamic place. Really enjoying what you do is the key.”

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Imogen and Harry

Imogen and Harry are happy and healthy koalas and fully adjusted to life after their hectic start. “Imogen is independent now,” Matt says. “It was a great experience and something we hadn’t planned on because you don’t hand-raise an animal unless you need to.”