About Author: Amy Alfrey

Posts by Amy Alfrey


Koala Joeys Are Here!

Burra and his mom, Tonahleah, get weighed.

Burra and his mom, Tonahleah, get weighed.

After months of anticipation, the two koala joeys are out of the pouch and on the move at the San Diego Zoo’s Australian Outback! Like typical young boys, they are eager to venture out from Mom and start exploring the outside world. Their mothers, Tonahleah and Cambee, don’t seem to mind the short breaks from carrying them around. Recently, Tonahleah was seen babysitting Cambee’s joey and had both joeys on her at once! They have also been seen a couple of times sitting with the wrong mom altogether, and we (the keepers) have had to give them a little assistance in getting them back to their rightful owner.

Both joeys are healthy and getting bigger by the day. The joeys were born only two days apart, but we are definitely observing their unique qualities and can tell them apart fairly easily. We are already starting to see traits of their little personalities forming, too.

Tonahleah’s joey now has a name: Burra, which means big fellow. Burra is a much darker gray and is quite a bit bigger than his best mate. He was born on August 3, 2013. As of today, he weighs 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilogram). Burra is rather curious and seems very relaxed and laid back for a koala. He is very patient and tolerant of us when we weigh him or handle him for check-ups.

Cambee’s joey now has a name, too: Coedie, which means boy. Coedie is a lighter gray with a very white bum and is a bit more on the petite side. He was born on August 1, 2013, and weighs 2.8 pounds today (1.3 kilograms). Coedie is good natured but a little more on the shy side.

Both joeys and their moms can be seen in the female koala enclosure that is closest to the koala building, visible to our Koala Cam. We have separated them from the rest of the group so that we can keep a closer eye on what everybody’s eating and making sure they get very good eucalyptus, suitable for nursing moms and growing babies. Both joeys have been observed eating little pieces of eucalyptus already.

Amy Alfrey is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Koala Joey Starts to Explore!

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.


Koala Family on Koala Cam

Sooky, as seen on Koala Cam.

Sooky, as seen on Koala Cam.

We are thrilled about the addition of the new live Koala Cam in our interim koala exhibit as we excitedly await the opening of the new Australian Outback habitat at the San Diego Zoo. Now koala enthusiasts (including us keepers) can keep an eye on our special koala girls at all times of the day and night. We love being able to check up on just what our koalas do when we are not around. Yes, although they do sleep A LOT (18 to 20 hours a day!), we now get to know them very personally and individually. Each has a very unique and endearing history and personality. I’d like to introduce you to our sweet little family in our temporary koala exhibit.

We generally keep our females together in large enclosures. Although koalas are mostly solitary, females often remain in the same territory range as their female offspring throughout their lifetime. As keepers, we can often see the bonds that develop between our female koalas, including the special ones between mothers and daughters. This group is no exception.
Orana, 17, is our oldest koala at the Zoo right now. (Koalas in managed care generally have a lifespan of 15 to 21 years.) Orana has had nine joeys over the years, which is quite impressive. She is also one of the oldest koalas known to raise a joey, giving birth to her last joey at 14 years of age.

Orana is an exceptional mother. She is always very attentive with her joeys and offers them the best koala care. You can tell that her joeys feel very bonded to her, and sometimes they have tended to stay very close to her and remain a little more dependent for a bit longer than joeys from other mothers. Although they often may be a little too big at that point to ride on her back, she always remains patient with them and lets them cuddle up with her until they are ready to become more independent.

Orana lives in the exhibit with her two daughters, Sooky and Nariah. Sooky will be 5 years old in March; she was named by the public during a Koalapalooza event at the Zoo (see Koalapalooza: A Joey is Named). Sooky is a very good-natured koala and is very tolerant with her keepers. She is also a star and has appeared on TV several times and even flew to New York to be on the Today show. Although Sooky still occasionally makes some appearances with her keepers at special events, it is likely that very soon she may be going into semi-retirement to have a joey of her own. We can’t wait to see Sooky as a mother. I’m sure she will follow in Orana’s footsteps and be a great mom.

Nariah will be 10 years old in March. She is also a very good-natured koala with her keepers. Nariah has a joey in her pouch right now that is just over 6 months old. It is sticking its head out now regularly, and we just found out yesterday that it is a girl! This fluffy little bundle of joy now joins in with her female family line in the exhibit. It is not uncommon for other females in the exhibit to babysit other females’ joeys when the joey gets a little older. A babysitter may let the joey spend time with her and ride on her back. She will eventually return the baby back to Mom after a little while or Mom will go get it.

I’m quite sure that Orana will be a wonderful grandmother and Sooky will be a great aunt to this little one. And, I suspect that once that baby gets heavier, Nariah will welcome the opportunity to have Orana or Sooky babysit for a little while to give her back a little break.

I look forward to introducing you to more of our koalas after the opening of our new Australian Outback, scheduled for May 24! I hope you all are enjoying the new Koala Cam as much as we are. And keep an eye out for a glimpse of that joey. She is very cute!

Amy Alfrey is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Koalapalooza: A Joey Is Named

After months of anticipation and careful planning, San Diego Zoo Discovery Days: Koalapalooza finally arrived: These four exciting days were filled with news interviews and keeper talks featuring not only koalas but our other special marsupials as well, including tree kangaroos, wallabies, and the closest relative to the koala, the wombats. We were so excited to have a long weekend dedicated to our favorite animal, the koala, but I must admit we were a little nervous!

The guest turnout was amazing and topped expectations. Other departments crucial to our koala program had booths set up. One booth featured our conservation researchers, who shared the important work they are doing to help us learn more about koalas and aid in conservation efforts in Australia; kids could even learn how to radio track and locate stuffed koalas around the Zoo, just like we would when looking for wild ones in Australia. Another booth highlighted our extremely important browse department, which grows all the eucalyptus, the only food a koala will eat. This is not an easy job, because our koalas eat a lot of eucalyptus! Guests could also speak to our veterinary staff about koalas; these are very specialized animals are different from other mammals when it comes to veterinary care, but our staff is excellent!

Our educators and animal trainers brought out more animals, and keepers in other areas of the Zoo gave special talks. There were different opportunities to donate to koala conservation, including an online auction, fun activities for kids, as well an Aussie barbeque meal and music. I even got a koala painted on my face!

One of the highlights of the event was our Name the Joey contest. Our almost 10-month-old joey needed a name! We thought it was definitely time to stop calling her our own personal nicknames (like Sweetheart and Cutie pie) and give her a permanent identity. It was tough decision making, but we narrowed down the long list of great submissions from Zoo guests and supporters to five beautiful choices. “Sooky”, meaning “soft” or “tame,” won by a fairly large margin. Thank you all so much for submitting names and voting at Koalapalooza. Now our precocious little girl has a name!

Kuna and Amy

Kuna and Amy

My absolute favorite part of the event was taking a koala to the Zoo’s front plaza where guests could see him up close. It is so extraordinary for me to be able to share with people what I have learned from the koalas I have worked with for about seven years now. As Kuna did what he does best (munch away on leaves and look totally adorable), I got to share all kinds of koala facts and answer questions. I also shared little personality traits and amusing attributes that make us laugh, sometimes cry, and grasp the individuality and specialness that each koala possesses. Kuna helped, too. As most koalas are too shy and reserved to be comfortable in a crowd, Kuna showed his individuality and kind spirit with a relaxed and curious personality, which I’m sure made most guests develop a soft spot for koalas (if they didn’t have one already). It’s these qualities that ultimately give us the never-ending passion we have for our job as well as our dedication to doing everything we can to help this irreplaceable species in the wild.

In the end, Koalapalooza was a huge success! Not only did we raise $5,200 for conservation, we were able to interact with Zoo guests directly. The koala keepers would like to thank every guest who attended Koalapalooza or participated in the online voting. On a personal level, your involvement means so incredibly much to us! We know that these are trying times for many people, and I really want to let participants know how much we appreciate any and all of your support. We couldn’t do it without you! I sincerely hope everyone had a wonderful time at Koalapalooza. We would love to see you again at our next Discovery Days event, Bear Bonanza, in March!

Amy Alfrey is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Read a blog and watch an interview with Amy

Read the latest blog from a koala researcher