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.