Zoo caring for koala joey whose mom died of cancer

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(Credit: Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo)

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Zoo is giving round-the-clock care to a koala joey whose mother recently died of cancer.

Omeo, the 7-and-a-half-month-old joey, lives in a faux pouch inside an incubator. When caregivers want to encourage exercise, they take his pouch out of the incubator and attach it to a stuffed koala placed in a custom-designed miniature eucalyptus tree. When Omeo wakes up, he climbs out of the pouch and onto the back of his “stand-in-mom” so he can eat the leaves.

The name Omeo is an Aboroginal word meaning “mountains” or “hills.” Staff chose the name because of his uphill battle to survive.

“When his mother died, this little joey was too small to come out of the pouch and live on his own,” said Becky Kier, the zoo’s lead neonatal assisted care specialist. “We weren’t convinced he would last the first week, but with intensive care, he is showing us he is a fighter. While he has a long way to go, our team is doing everything we can for him—and each day, we are more and more optimistic about his chance of survival.”

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