The parents of a rare 10-month-old albino koala died suddenly Tuesday at the San Diego Zoo during an emergency effort to try to save the mother, a zoo spokeswoman announced.
The mother, an 11-year-old koala named Matilda, had been diagnosed as anemic by zoo veterinarians Tuesday after it was observed to be listless and unable to climb eucalyptus trees--the marsupials' exclusive haunt--during the weekend.
As a result, her son Pooya--who is the father of the albino--was anesthetized in a procedure to check whether his blood was suitable for a transfusion. While the large amount of blood was being drawn, the 5-year-old Pooya went into respiratory arrest and died, spokeswoman Georgeanne Irvine said Tuesday.
Matilda died about 90 minutes later, she said.
Pooya was perhaps the most popular of the zoological society's 20 koalas, having appeared often on television shows and with the likes of Prince Charles and Brooke Shields because of his outstanding tolerance for being handled.
Irvine said that the baby albino, named Goolara, was immediately placed with another young koala and appeared to be healthy. The albino had not yet been totally weaned from her mother, although she had already begun to eat eucalyptus leaves, the sole source of food for adult koalas.
As of late Tuesday, the albino had not "cried" for her mother, Irvine said. "If she does, we will introduce her to another female, PB, who has been known to adopt baby koalas and let them climb on her," Irvine said. "Of course, she could not provide the albino with milk."
Necropsies will be performed on both Matilda and Pooya, Irvine said, to determine exact causes of death.
"It's not known why Matilda was anemic, except perhaps that she was old as koalas go and may have been weakened by carrying around a baby for so long," Irvine said. Matilda had borne seven babies during her 10 years at the park since arriving from the Brisbane, Australia, zoo.
Pooya's death was unexpected because veterinarians have performed anesthesia on koalas numerous times and are confident of the procedure, Irvine said.
"Obviously there always is some risk when it is done, as there is with humans as well," she said. "But normally it is a procedure that would not jeopardize the life of the animal."
Irvine said that Pooya was sedated because of the large sample of blood, 25 cubic centimeters, needed to make certain that his blood was compatible with Matilda's.
"If he had not been anesthetized, he would probably have become very rambunctious with a needle in him for the length of time required, and they do have sharp claws," Irvine said.
The albino is the first such koala born in the United States and only the second in captivity worldwide. The albino had been on display along with Matilda during warm days, but has been kept out of direct sunlight because of its skin color.
"It's eyes and nose are pink, and it's in very good health," Irvine said.