Hang on, Little Koala!
Meet Omeo (say “Ooh-me-ooh”), a koala joey at the San Diego Zoo. His name is an Aboriginal Australian word that means “hills.” We named him that because he has had some ups and downs in his young life. And our animal care experts have been helping him through it all.
At birth, a koala is about the size and weight of a jelly bean and has no fur. It crawls into its mother’s pouch to stay warm and grow for about six to eight months. But when Omeo was only about 5 ½ months old, his mother died from cancer. Omeo was too young to survive without a pouch, so zoo animal care experts began feeding and caring for the little marsupial.
Just Like Mom
We gave Omeo a cloth pouch to snuggle in. When he wasn’t being fed or checked, he (and his pouch) stayed in an incubator kept at the temperature of a mother koala’s body. He was fed a special formula six times a day around the clock.
Before a joey comes completely out of its mother’s pouch, it peeks just its head and shoulders out for a month or more. So it makes sense that the first place Omeo’s fur grew in was his head and shoulders, to keep them warm out of the pouch. His waist, rump, and leg fur didn’t grow in until he was ready to be completely out of the pouch at about 8 months old.
Growing Up and Up
Omeo’s caregivers handled him and gently encouraged him to crawl and move. This was the first step in developing strong muscles for climbing, which all koalas must do. They gave him a stuffed koala so he could climb on its back, just as he would do with his mother. Later, they used eucalyptus tree branches to make a mini tree for him to practice climbing. Soon, he’ll make new friends by joining the rest of our koala colony at the zoo.