A Koala joey recently started to peek out of its mother’s pouch for the first time at ZooTampa at Lowry Park. The joey is the first Koala baby born at the Zoo in its history.
Once an embryo the size of a jellybean, the joey made the journey to mom Ceduna’s pouch, where it is finishing its final stages of pouch life development, with dad Heathcliff nearby.
Koalas are mammals and sometimes referred to as bears, even though they are not. Rather, Koalas are marsupials that differ from other mammals because their newborns develop inside mothers’ pouches instead of a womb. Initially, a joey is blind and earless and relies on natural instincts and strong senses of touch and smell to find its way from the birth canal to its mother’s pouch.
Ceduna, who arrived at the Zoo in 2015, and Heathcliff, who arrived in 2014, are part of the Zoo’s effort to conserve the koala through the Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). After the pair’s successful mating, veterinary and animal care teams are celebrating the recent birth and new addition to the zoo’s Australia habitat, Wallaroo Station.
Throughout the pregnancy and joey’s development, Ceduna’s care has included thermography scans that inform her care team of changes in her muscular, skeletal and nervous systems and ensure optimal health.
“We do routine check-ups with Ceduna to build strong bonds with her and ensure the highest quality of care,” said Lauren Smith, D.V.M., veterinarian at ZooTampa. “The animal care team continues to monitor Ceduna and her baby closely as the joey’s exciting development continues.”
One of Australia’s most iconic animals, Koalas live primarily in forests and woodlands dominated by eucalyptus plants. Though poisonous to other species, specialized bacteria in a Koala’s digestive tract enables it to break down the plant’s toxins and rely heavily on eucalyptus for its food. Mature Koalas spend up to five hours feeding on the plant leaves every day. For this solitary species, the rest of the day is spent sleeping. Up to 95 percent of a Koala’s life is spent by itself.
In large part because of Australia’s national pride in the species, Koalas have survived the threat of extinction from habitat loss and hunting. ZooTampa is committed to continuing to aid the conservation of the species.
“We are proud to support conservation initiatives both at home and beyond,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, Senior Vice President and Chief Zoological Officer at ZooTampa. “Our partnership with the Australian government allows us to support the goals and objectives of the Koala Species Survival Plan.”
Guests can catch a glimpse of Ceduna practicing her yoga poses while her joey clings to her back or belly, until it reaches one year old and can begin climbing trees on its own. To get an even closer look at this unique species, guests can add a Koala Photo Encounter, presented by the Yob Family Foundation, to their visit to meet the joey’s dad, Heathcliff, and receive a photo. Guests are encouraged to stay tuned to the Zoo’s social media pages for more Joey updates.