Koalapalooza: A Joey Is Named

Posted at 4:53 pm January 26, 2009 by Amy Alfrey

After months of anticipation and careful planning, San Diego Zoo Discovery Days: Koalapalooza finally arrived: These four exciting days were filled with news interviews and keeper talks featuring not only koalas but our other special marsupials as well, including tree kangaroos, wallabies, and the closest relative to the koala, the wombats. We were so excited to have a long weekend dedicated to our favorite animal, the koala, but I must admit we were a little nervous!

The guest turnout was amazing and topped expectations. Other departments crucial to our koala program had booths set up. One booth featured our conservation researchers, who shared the important work they are doing to help us learn more about koalas and aid in conservation efforts in Australia; kids could even learn how to radio track and locate stuffed koalas around the Zoo, just like we would when looking for wild ones in Australia. Another booth highlighted our extremely important browse department, which grows all the eucalyptus, the only food a koala will eat. This is not an easy job, because our koalas eat a lot of eucalyptus! Guests could also speak to our veterinary staff about koalas; these are very specialized animals are different from other mammals when it comes to veterinary care, but our staff is excellent!

Our educators and animal trainers brought out more animals, and keepers in other areas of the Zoo gave special talks. There were different opportunities to donate to koala conservation, including an online auction, fun activities for kids, as well an Aussie barbeque meal and music. I even got a koala painted on my face!

One of the highlights of the event was our Name the Joey contest. Our almost 10-month-old joey needed a name! We thought it was definitely time to stop calling her our own personal nicknames (like Sweetheart and Cutie pie) and give her a permanent identity. It was tough decision making, but we narrowed down the long list of great submissions from Zoo guests and supporters to five beautiful choices. “Sooky”, meaning “soft” or “tame,” won by a fairly large margin. Thank you all so much for submitting names and voting at Koalapalooza. Now our precocious little girl has a name!

Kuna and Amy

Kuna and Amy

My absolute favorite part of the event was taking a koala to the Zoo’s front plaza where guests could see him up close. It is so extraordinary for me to be able to share with people what I have learned from the koalas I have worked with for about seven years now. As Kuna did what he does best (munch away on leaves and look totally adorable), I got to share all kinds of koala facts and answer questions. I also shared little personality traits and amusing attributes that make us laugh, sometimes cry, and grasp the individuality and specialness that each koala possesses. Kuna helped, too. As most koalas are too shy and reserved to be comfortable in a crowd, Kuna showed his individuality and kind spirit with a relaxed and curious personality, which I’m sure made most guests develop a soft spot for koalas (if they didn’t have one already). It’s these qualities that ultimately give us the never-ending passion we have for our job as well as our dedication to doing everything we can to help this irreplaceable species in the wild.

In the end, Koalapalooza was a huge success! Not only did we raise $5,200 for conservation, we were able to interact with Zoo guests directly. The koala keepers would like to thank every guest who attended Koalapalooza or participated in the online voting. On a personal level, your involvement means so incredibly much to us! We know that these are trying times for many people, and I really want to let participants know how much we appreciate any and all of your support. We couldn’t do it without you! I sincerely hope everyone had a wonderful time at Koalapalooza. We would love to see you again at our next Discovery Days event, Bear Bonanza, in March!

Amy Alfrey is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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11 Responses to “Koalapalooza: A Joey Is Named”

  1. linda says:

    These are such endearing little creatures! Thanks for the update! I’ve been trying to find out the baby’s name!

  2. Sayuri says:

    Was that Kuna my friend and I met at the plaze on Sunday? He was definitely not shy and we just enjoyed the encounter. Got some great photos of him. Learning about so many different types of eucalyptus was so interesting. Difference in shapes, colors and sizes – both leaves and pods. I hope to see Sooky’s face sometime soon. She was sleeping behind her mom when I went to see her earlier in the day.

  3. Amy, koala keeper says:

    Yes, that was Kuna on Sunday you met, Sayuri. He definitely is a special boy. I’m so very happy you got some good photos (he is quite photogenic and handsome, I must say) and were interested in learning about koalas! I think the next time you come back you should be able to get a good look at Sooky’s face because every day she is getting just a little more independent from her mom and is showing off how cute she is. I hope you can see her soon. If not, we have another joey coming out of the pouch in the next couple months that I’m betting will be really cute too! Thank you so much for joining us for Koalapalooza!

  4. Amy, koala keeper says:

    I certainly agree with you, Linda. You’re very welcome and thank you for your interest in our joey!

  5. Professor Ian maitland says:

    For Amy Alfrey,

    Dear Heart, A joey is a baby kangaroo. Believe me, I am an Australian and lived with them while I was growing up, the3n I had the good sense to come to the USA. Best of luck and thank you for putting the Koalas out for all to see.


    Moderator’s note: We checked with one of our veterinarians, who hails from Australia, and he confirmed that a koala baby is also called a joey. Amy is correct.

  6. Margaret in VA says:

    Thanks, Amy for a great account of your special Koolapalooza. It sounds like it was a huge success and great fun for everyone, including Kuna. He sounds like a very special “guy.”

    Koolas are very special and I have had a soft spot in my heart for them ever since a friend brought a small stuffed on to me as a little girl 50 years ago. It is still part of my stuffed animal collection.

  7. Melissa says:

    It isn’t strange at all that one word is used to describe both young koalas and young kangaroos. We use the term ‘cub’ for some big cats as well as bears, after all.

    Sounds like the Koalapalooza event was fun and informative. I keep hoping to come to San Diego to visit but gosh, I think I may just have to move because the ongoing special events would have me coming and going throughout the year!

  8. Leroy says:

    Too bad it isn’t “Sukie.” Then she would’ve hung out in the graveyard.

  9. Kellyn says:

    Aiight so I went down there like a week ago and have been going insane cuz I can’t remember the names of the koalas. One of the names I really liked and wanted to remember. It translated to like strong or somthing. Could u list the names of all the koalas? Thanks

    Amy responds: I believe you may be talking about one of our males, Kaiyu. His name means “powerful.” Our other males are named Kuna, Koori, and Muuri. Our females are named Orana, Cooladdi, Wonne Warra, Nariah, Miimi, Yabber, and Sooky.

  10. Tiffany says:


    My favorite animal is the Koala and I have never even been able to see one. You are a very lucky lady to work with these wonderful animals on a daily basis!

    I hope to come one day and meet your wonderful Koalas!

  11. Wayne says:

    Amy it sounds like you guys have a really nice koala enclosure happening over there, thankyou for helping show and educate the public about these beautiful animals!

    Wayne from Western Australia