Koala Joey Starts to Explore!

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Yes, there's a koala in here somewhere!

Yes, there’s a koala in here somewhere!

I am so happy that so many of you are enjoying watching the San Diego Zoo’s Koala Cam! We are too, and as many of our Koala Cam watchers may notice, Nariah’s joey is definitely getting bigger. The little girl is almost 3 pounds (1 kilogram) now and is becoming more independent every day. Her fur is notably darker and more brownish in color than most of our other koalas.

A koala’s fur is somewhat soft but is also very dense. I compare it to feeling similar to that of a sheep’s wool. We keepers are not only noticing her changing physical characteristics but also can see more and more of her little personality shining through. She is spending increased time away from her mom and searching out what flavors of eucalyptus leaves she likes best. She is still learning which leaves are best for her also, as koalas generally only eat the new growth of the eucalyptus branches, which offer higher nutritional content than the old-growth leaves.

Our growing joey has also been seen eating bark, which koalas occasionally do, but we think it’s kind of cute to watch, because she is most likely doing this just as a way to explore a world that is brand new to her. In addition, she seems to be developing a little bit of attitude. She can be very vocal when we do her regular weight and health checks, always having something to “say” about it. I think we may have a very confident koala who won’t hesitate to let us know what she wants and doesn’t want!

Although she is spending more time away from her mom, Nariah still keeps a close eye on her and is always available for the little joey to come back to cuddle and feel safe. Although she seems to have developed quite a big appetite for leaves, she still likes to spend time with Mom to nurse. If you see her head around Nariah’s abdomen area and Nariah’s ears are flapping, chances are that the joey is nursing. Nariah is a very attentive mom who is always aware of her joey’s needs.

So far, we have not seen Grandma Orana or Aunt Sooky babysitting the joey. It may be just a matter of time before our little girl ventures onto her family members’ backs for a ride or a nap. Some of you have asked how to tell Orana and Sooky apart. Although it may be more difficult to tell them apart on camera than in person, here are some clues: Orana has a bit of a pronounced muzzle, whereas Sooky’s face appears to be more flat and round. Orana’s head and nose is larger than Sooky’s, and Orana’s nose is more spotted with pink splotches around the nostrils. Although Sooky’s ears are smaller, they are fluffier than Orana’s. As far as posture, Sooky really likes to stretch out often and a lot more than Orana when she sleeps.

As for the joey’s name, I know we would all prefer to call her something else than “the little joey”! Well, her name will be coming soon! Starting April 26, the Zoo will be offering online voting for her name, just in time to prepare for the opening of the new Australian Outback exhibit on May 24. Please help us choose a great name for our special little girl. Details will be coming soon! And thank you so much for all your interest in, support for, and great questions and comments about our koalas here at the San Diego Zoo!

Amy Alfrey is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Koala Family on Koala Cam.