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!
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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