Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

Two small but intrepid travelers fulfilled a big dream for San Diego Zoo founder Dr. Harry Wegeforth: to have the first koalas in North America.
  • 1920s

For the fledgling San Diego Zoo, having koalas would be quite a coup. In 1924, then Zoo director Tom Faulconer arranged an animal exchange with zoos in Sydney and Melbourne for koalas and other Australian species. Mr. Faulconer set sail on a voyage that was complicated by storms, seasickness, and even an alligator that took a stroll on deck after a squall. But the ship made it to Sydney Harbour, and he was delighted with the rare and valuable Aussie animals that were ready for him, set to come to the San Diego Zoo.

But unfortunately, that didn’t include the koalas. The Australian government hadn’t lifted the ban on their exportation, and Mr. Faulconer said later, “I made up my mind to swallow my disappointment.” Everything was ready for the journey home, and they were set to embark. But then, just before the “all ashore whistle” blasted, a small delivery truck pulled up to the gangplank with two large crates bearing a sign that said “Koala Bears for the Children of San Diego, U.S.A, from the Children of Sydney.” They were Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, named after characters in an Australian children’s book. To Mr. Faulconer’s elation, the Taronga Zoo director got the permits at the last minute, and the marsupials could come to San Diego.

On the trip home, the koalas shared Mr. Faulconer’s cabin, being VIPs, and made him quite popular with the passengers. He found himself “competing with a British Lord and an East Indian Maharaja for the most popular man on the ship.” Of course, Snuggles and Cuddles, as they were soon nicknamed, were immediate celebrities at the San Diego Zoo when they arrived in 1925 and set the stage for San Diego’s ongoing love of koalas and the successful breeding colony that continues at the San Diego Zoo today.

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