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An albino koala adds color to San Diego Zoo

See the baby koala
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June 5, 1998
Web posted at: 12:27 a.m. EDT (0427 GMT)

SAN DIEGO (CNN) -- The world's only albino koala in a zoological facility will make its public debut Friday at the San Diego Zoo.

Ten-month-old Onya-Birri -- who has white fur, a pink nose and pink eyes -- will be displayed at 7:30 a.m. local time with his mother, Banjeeri, in an exhibit window at the zoo's Koala Barn.

The rare albino koala, born September 1, 1997, spent his first six months in his mother's pouch. He emerged from the pouch in early March, surprising keepers with his unique coloring.

"The appearance of the albino trait in our koala population was unexpected," said Valerie Thompson, associate curator of animals at the zoo. "We had no idea that either of Onya-Birri's parents carried the recessive gene for albinism. We had a male albino koala in our San Diego Zoo koala colony a few years ago, but Onya-Birri isn't directly related to that animal. They do, however, have common ancestors."

Onya-Birri will remain with his mother until he is about a year old. He is starting to nibble on the koala's only food source, leaves from the eucalyptus tree, but still ducks his head into his mother's pouch on occasion to nurse.

Onya-Birri's name means "ghost boy" in the Aborigine language. Because he's still young, his fur has an orange tinge to it, which is also common in gray koala babies. As he matures, he will lose this coloring.

Although albino koalas are rare, they have been known to occur in the wild in Australia.

The San Diego Zoo has the largest koala colony outside Australia.

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