Paddle, Pellita, Chan and Idalia are initially being lent to Singapore Zoo for six months to mark the 50th anniversary of the city-state’s independence. The furry diplomatic envoys will reside in a purpose-built home, and the gift will be made permanent when their enclosure is complete.

The koalas were flown out on Monday by Australian flag-carrier Qantas Airways, who treated them to a little ‘koala class’ pampering before the flight – including bunches of their favourite eucalyptus leaves served in the business-class area of the cabin.

The creatures actually travelled in the hold – but were still given the VIP treatment thanks to specially-built containers fitted with a eucalyptus tree and climate control. After going through a period of quarantine the koalas are expected to receive visitors at the zoo some time in May. Meanwhile Qantas will fly out supplies of fresh eucalyptus leaves twice weekly.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop announced the gift of the koalas as part of events to mark the country’s longstanding diplomatic relationship with Singapore on the 50th anniversary of the city’s independence.

The koalas came from the Lone Pine Sanctuary, in Brisbane, which houses around 130 of the iconic Australian marsupials. Bishop spoke of four “beautiful cuddly ambassadors” as she visited koalas at the sanctuary. “I can’t think of a better way to express our friendship, our partnership, our strength of relationship,” she told reporters.