SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A young koala joey at the San Diego Zoo is receiving around-the-clock care after his mother died from cancer in December.
The joey, named "Omeo," was about 5-and-a-half months old when his mother passed away. To save the animal's life, zoo specialists intervened and started feeding and caring for Omeo.
Omeo was also still in his mother's pouch when she died. So wildlife experts created a fake pouch inside an incubator that mimics the temperature and humidity inside a koala's pouch. The young koala is fed a special milk replacement six times a day.
“When his mother died, this little joey was too small to come out of the pouch and live on his own,” said Becky Kier, lead neonatal assisted care specialist, San Diego Zoo. “We weren’t convinced he would last the first week, but with intensive care, he is showing us he is a fighter. While he has a long way to go, our team is doing everything we can for him—and each day, we are more and more optimistic about his chance of survival.”
When a koala is born, it is about the size of a jelly bean. It uses its forelimbs to crawl from the birth canal into the pouch, where it attaches to its mother for milk. It grows slowly, until about five to six months of age when it starts to poke its head out of the pouch.
Omeo is now at the stage when he will venture out of the pouch, the zoo says. To encourage the joey, caregivers have started attaching him to a toy koala in a miniature eucalyptus tree, where he develops his hand-eye coordination and munches on leaves and stems on his "stand-in mom," the zoo said.
Caregivers hope with continued care, Omeo will continue to develop his skills and grow stronger and eventually live on his own in the zoo's Australian Outback habitat.