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New Koala Exhibit Now Open

Female koala Tonahleah and her 10-month-old male joey, Gummy, settle into their new digs at the all-new Conrad Prebys Australian Outback exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

Female koala Tonahleah and her 10-month-old male joey, Gummy, settle into their new digs at the all-new Conrad Prebys Australian Outback exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

It was a glorious morning today as we celebrated the official opening of the San Diego Zoo’s brand-new exhibit, the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback. At last, our koalas have more space to do what they do best: look adorable even while sound asleep! In the koalas’ former exhibit, the animals had to take turns being outside, as there wasn’t enough exhibit space to allow them all (21 of ‘em!) out at once. But now there’s room for all, including 3 joeys ranging in age from 8 to 10 months.

This dancer's depictions of Australian birds were spot on and fun to watch.

This dancer’s depictions of Australian birds were spot on and fun to watch.

The opening ceremony included remarks from San Diego Zoo Global’s chairman, Rick Gulley, representatives of the Yugambeh-language people of Australia’s Gold Coast, supported by Dreamworld, and Australia Consulate General Karen Lanyon, who declared the new exhibit “fantastic—a piece of Australia!” We were treated to a traditional welcome song and intricate dances depicting various birds as part of the opening.

Australian Outback is a 3-acre area home to our famous koalas as well as wallabies, wombats, and 23 species of Australian birds. But for me this morning, it was all about the koalas and their new care facility. Designed to look like a Queenslander-style house, it features large viewing windows so guests can see the copious amounts of eucalyptus housed in a giant walk-in cooler and watch koala keepers prepare that eucalyptus for their charges to nibble on at their leisure. Wrapped around three quarters of the “house” are the koala enclosures: 10 individual enclosures for the male koalas, who apparently prefer a life of quiet solitude, and 2 bigger enclosures for the females, who don’t mind company. It is the larger of these enclosures that is now featured on Koala Cam. Basically, there are now LOTS of opportunities to view koalas as you make your way around the house.

The koala care center can be seen in the background. Koala enclosures wrap around it on three sides.

The koala care center can be seen in the background. Koala enclosures wrap around it on three sides.

The keepers I talked to this morning had big grins as they shared how nice this new facility is for the koalas. Sometimes koalas can be unpredictable with changes, but Chris Hamlin Andrus, the animal care manager for the area, said that all of the koalas are doing remarkably well so far in their new home. She is so grateful to Conrad Prebys, other donors, and their love for animals for donating the funds to make it all possible. Zoo Veterinarian Geoff Pye is glad the koalas all have a chance to be in the fresh air and sunshine, which will reduce possible vitamin D deficiency, as our koalas have been prone to hip dysplasia in the past.

I chatted with Zoo guests to get some of their impressions as they strolled around. “Loved it!” and “Awesome” were expressions I heard often. One guest declared that the lighting is so much better in the new exhibit—better for photographers! I hope our koala fans will make plans to visit soon. Be sure to bring your camera!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

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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.

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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.