The keepers thought they had been seeing movement in Sara’s pouch for some time, but they weren’t sure enough to announce it yet. Then in December 1960, a fuzzy head popped out for a look around, and it was official: the San Diego Zoo had the first koala conceived and born outside of Australia. The little female joey was named Victoria, after the region of Australia her mother was from, and nicknamed Vicki.
The San Diego Zoo had been caring for koalas on and off since 1925, when the first two, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, arrived as a present for the children of San Diego from the children of Sydney. Over the years, with advice from Australian colleagues, the Zoo had learned a great deal about the fuzzy, gray marsupials and how to care for them. But there hadn’t been any births until then.
Actually, another koala joey named Matilda sort of stole Vicki’s thunder: Matilda was also born at the Zoo a few months earlier, which was also a big deal. But Matilda was already in her mom’s pouch upon arrival in San Diego, hidden away, so she wasn’t really born here. Vicki, on the other hand, was both conceived and born in San Diego. That landmark achievement led to the San Diego Zoo receiving the prestigious Edward H. Bean Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for “the most notable birth of 1960.”
Vicki’s birth was not only cause for celebration at the Zoo but caught the attention of people across the nation. Newspapers as far away as Kansas and Ohio printed stories about the remarkable new birth.
Not that Vicki cared. She had no idea what the fuss was about, and got on with the business of growing, developing a full coat of fur, and venturing out of the pouch to ride on mom’s back and eat her first eucalyptus. But her fame in the zoological world was rekindled in 1963, when she was the first koala to give birth a second-generation joey outside of Australia. She may not have known it, but she was the first in what would become a long line of successful koala births for the San Diego Zoo.