Motherless Koala Joey Receiving Round-the-Clock Care at the San Diego Zoo

| May 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

An eight-month-old koala joey being cared for round the clock by San Diego Zoo wildlife care specialists is thriving. The male koala joey, named Omeo (pronounced Ooh-me-ooh), lost his mother due to cancer in mid-December, when he was about five-and-a-half months old and was still in her pouch. To save the joey’s life, Zoo veterinarians and wildlife care specialists intervened, feeding and caring for the little marsupial.

“Omeo has come a long way since we first started taking care of him,” said Kim Weibel, senior neonatal assisted care specialist, San Diego Zoo. “In the beginning, he was so compromised and so underdeveloped, we wondered if he would make it. However, he has grown stronger, his endurance has increased, and he has nice, thick fur. He is starting to sample eucalyptus, so we hope he will be eating it soon; and the next big step is meeting other koalas, and learning how to socialize and climb—doing all the great things koalas do.”

Omeo requires round-the-clock care, and each day three wildlife care specialists tend to his every need. He is fed a bottle of special milk formula five times a day. Initially, Omeo was living in a faux pouch inside an incubator, with the temperature and humidity set to simulate conditions in his mother’s pouch. As he has grown, he now spends more time in his exercise setting, where he is learning to explore and build muscle tone, by crawling out of the pouch and climbing up onto the back of his plush “stand-in mom.” Wildlife care specialists take him outdoors at least 10 to 20 minutes a day to provide him time in the sun and acclimate him to sights, sounds and smells of the koalas around him.

“It is important we mimic as many natural situations for Omeo as he would receive with his mother,” said Weibel. “We touch him, hold him snug in his faux pouch, we encourage him to grasp onto his plush “stand-in mom” and we provide him eucalyptus, so he can further develop his hand-eye coordination and learn to feed himself.”

When not taking a bottle, exercising or sunning himself, Omeo does what koalas do best—he sleeps most of the day, in his faux pouch or perched in a custom-designed miniature eucalyptus tree. As Omeo continues to grow stronger, his caregivers will encourage him to rely on his own instincts to eat eucalyptus, climb on branches and eventually live in his own habitat at the Zoo’s Australian Outback.

Even though the San Diego Zoo is currently closed to guests due to restrictions related to COVID-19, wildlife care specialists are diligently caring for the animals. “We still have to come in to feed and care for the animals, and it’s our pleasure to do so,” said Weibel. “Working with animals is like seeing your family every day. The Zoo is quiet, and it is different without guests, but we are here to do our jobs and I think the animals appreciate it.”

Koala Joey with his caretaker.

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