koala walks on a tree branch

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Miracle Baby

Koala Joey in Peril

A ray of sunlight streamed down on what looked like a pink gummy bear that was lying on the floor. When keeper Katie Tomlinson spotted the tiny “blob,” she realized it was a newborn koala joey. The hairless, jelly-bean-size baby had most likely fallen to the ground after birth, before it could climb into mom Nariah’s pouch. It’s unusual to find a newborn koala on the ground, and Katie was very concerned: she knew that time was of the essence if they were going to save this baby’s life.

Could they find a way to help the tiny joey in time?

tiny pink koala joey

Tender “Gloving” Care

The infant was alive but cold—so Katie created a “nest” out of a warm towel. Then the baby and its mother were rushed to the San Diego Zoo’s hospital. A veterinarian would attempt a procedure that had never been tried before! While Nariah was prepped, the veterinary team filled a rubber glove with warm water and set the joey on the glove to keep it warm.

Very carefully, veterinarian Tracy Clippinger placed the baby in Nariah’s pouch. After a tremendous amount of effort, she finally got its tiny mouth to latch on to its mother’s nipple. The big challenge, however, was to make sure the baby stayed in the pouch. Dr. Tracy placed a few loose sutures there to hold the baby in place.

Now all they could do was wait to see if the baby would survive its traumatic first few hours of life. 

tiny koala joey nursing

Stuck On You

When Nariah was rechecked a week later, miraculously, the joey was alive—and it had grown! After the sutures were removed, the baby continued to thrive and grow. Today, several years later, that koala joey—a female named Toneleah—is not only alive but she also recently gave birth to her own second offspring.

This is a true testament to the dedication of her caretakers, as well as people like you who support the important work of the San Diego Zoo. 

young koala riding on mom's back
koala on a branch, and koala holding on to mom
young koala on a branch

Why They Need You

While Toneleah’s story may have a happy ending, many populations of koalas in Australia are facing an uncertain future. Their eucalyptus forest homes (and meals!) are being destroyed and fragmented, and koalas in urban areas are often hit by cars and killed by dogs. All of this means that wild koala populations are plummeting.

koala among leaves

Joey Hangs On Mom's Back

Koalas are marsupials, so youngsters are toted about in Mom’s pouch for several months. When the little ones leave the pouch, riding on Mom’s back is a major perk with a great view!

koala on mom's back

How You Can Help

Koalas are on the road to becoming an endangered species, but you can help stop that journey. Your support can mean the difference between life and death for koalas, as well as other animals that share our planet.