When Onya-Birri was born last Sept. 1 at the San Diego Zoo, the infant koala—no bigger than a jelly bean—crawled into his marsupial mom's dark and peaceful pouch. And there the joey, as young koalas are called, grew, his secret tucked safely away until he peeked out one day in March.
Mammal keeper Ann Dahl didn't notice anything unusual about the typically light-hued babe. Then she saw his puppy-pink nose. "That's when it hit me," says Dahl, 30. Onya-Birri, or Ghost Boy, as he was later named in Aborigine, was an albino—the only known such koala in captivity. Zoo curators hadn't suspected Onya-Birri's parents carried the gene for albinism. Neither his mother, Banjeeri, 11, nor his father, Blinky Bill, 15, has any other albino offspring. Now the sun-shunning koala—kept in a shaded enclosure—gives visitors such as Jaqualine Cacciapaglia, 5, the warm fuzzies. "I could hug him," she said. Better not: Koalas scratch.
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