In 1985, after 33 koala births at the San Diego Zoo, koala keepers welcomed a joey that would keep them on their toes.
  • 1980s
  • 1990s

On July 21, 1985, for the first time, the Zoo’s koala keepers were in the right place at the right time to witness a koala birth. They were amazed to see Velvet’s baby emerge and crawl into the pouch. They named the little joey Pulyara, meaning “little rat face,” as a fond nod to his mouse-like appearance.

When a koala is born, it emerges from the mother’s birth canal hairless, eyes shut, and measuring a mere half-inch long. It crawls into mom’s pouch to nurse and continues to develop for another six months before it is visible to the outside world again.

A few months later, the keepers saw Pulyara again—and were once more surprised. “Little Pu,” as they called him, was out of Velvet’s pouch and mouthing eucalyptus months before he should have been. Upon investigating, they discovered that Velvet had an infection in her pouch, and young Pulyara wasn’t getting enough milk. Another koala, Jan, was recruited to act as surrogate mother and care for Pulyara while Velvet recovered at the Zoo hospital.

Because Pulyara was still nursing, his keepers devised a way to feed him formula. Every three hours, around the clock, the joey would climb onto a fluffy teddy bear and “suckle” from a syringe, which was fitted with a nipple similar in shape to that of a female koala’s. In addition to the formula, the youngster soon began nursing from Jan, as well, who had recently had a joey that unfortunately did not survive.

It was touch and go for quite a while, but in the end, Pulyara thrived, much to the joy of all the koala keepers who had worked so hard to give him a chance. Pulyara became an established member of the koala colony, and he eventually sired offspring of his own.

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