(This is part of a series, Blogging from A to Z April 2014 Challenge. My theme for the challenge is Quintessential San Diego from A to Z, focusing on those things that are  typical, or perfect, or classic examples of San Diego life. Today is K.)

Koala and Her Joey at the San Diego Zoo
Photo by Penny Hyde

What do koalas have to do with San Diego? It turns out that the San Diego Zoo is a terrific place to catch a koala napping! In fact, you can see more than 20 koalas in San Diego. You might even catch one of them awake and eating.

And I am lucky enough to have a long-time friend, Penny Hyde, who is an amazing zoo photographer. Well, she isn’t just a zoo photographer, she takes beautiful pictures of many things. But her zoo photos are outstanding. Her love for the animals shines through.

The San Diego Zoo has become a good home to koalas, native Australians though they are. The Zoo received its first two koalas as a gift from the children of Sydney, Australia back in 1925. 

Since then, the zoo has become famous for having the largest koala colony, as well as the most successful koala breeding program outside of Australia. Check here for a live Koala Cam. If it is daylight in San Diego, you might be able to watch a koala or two in a tree, with eucalyptus leaves blowing in the breeze. If you are lucky, they might be nibbling their eucalyptus leaves. (Fair warning: I’m sort of becoming addicted to the Koala Cam, now that I know about it. Just so you know.)

But most likely, you’ll catch them sleeping, as koalas sleep up to 20 hours a day, nestled in a crook of a tree. They need much sleep to give them time to digest their food. Koalas are designed to live and sleep in the crooks of branches: they have a reduced tail, a curved spine, and a rounded rear end, that nestle them safely. Even while sleeping.

Baby Koala

Koala’s only food is eucalyptus, which is perfect for San Diego, as the climate is great for growing the tall, fragrant trees. The San Diego Zoo has their own browse farm, where they grow and harvest fresh eucalyptus for their koalas to eat. Of the more than 600 different kinds of eucalyptus trees, koalas prefer the leaves of about three-dozen varieties. From a koala’s point of view, each looks and tastes very different. 

Koalas do not drink much water and they get most of their moisture from these leaves.

San Diego’s koalas are the northern or Queensland sub-species. 

Female Koala

Today, the San Diego Zoo has the largest colony of koalas outside of Australia, with over 20 living at the Zoo and more than 30 on loan to other zoos in the US and Europe.

Sometimes, some of them are awake.

In the zoo’s new Australian Outback exhibit, the males, which are territorial, have their own perches. The females, which are more social, and their babies, called joeys, are gathered in another area together. The exhibit’s elevated walkways bring you to eye level with the koalas as they perch in their forest of eucalyptus.

Koala Sleeping in Tree at San Diego Zoo

Koalas are sometimes referred to as koala bears. Koalas are mammals, and they have round, fuzzy ears and look cute and cuddly, like teddy bears. But koalas are not bears, of course. They are marsupials, with pouches for their young. Others in that group are kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, wombats, possums, and opossums. The koala is most closely related to the wombat.

We love to visit the koalas at the zoo. They are cute awake or asleep.