Several years ago, Zoo Miami’s communications director Ron Magill was asked to do a television spot for Animal Planet on animals native to Australia and they wanted a furry friend in the background.
Magill had the perfect candidate: Cobber, a male koala bear that came to the zoo when he was only 4 years old.
While most koalas would be stressed out by the cameras — and annoyed that their sleep was being disturbed — Cobber opened his eyes, bellowed and appeared as if he was smiling.
“He just ate up the attention,” Magill said Thursday, hours after Cobber died. “He was like a kid in a koala suit.”
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Magill said Cobber had to be put to sleep because of his ailing health. While most male koalas only live to be 10, Cobber was 19 and began suffering a multitude of geriatric problems, including limb stiffness and labored breathing.
“When we opened him up for the necropsy, we knew we made the right decision,” he said. “It was a very hard decision to make, but he was suffering.”
Cobber came to Zoo Miami in April 1999 when the zoo was still called Metrozoo. Cobber, whose name is Australian slang for “friend,” really was “everyone’s pal,” Magill said.
“You try not to get too attached to the animals, but Cobber made that really hard,” he said. “He loved people.”
Cobber would spend his days in his enclosure sleeping — koalas spend about 18 hours each day dreaming away — eating eucalyptus leaves and perching on logs for guests to see him.
As he got older, he struggled to get around. On Thursday, Cobber underwent a closer examination and the staff agreed that the best decision was to humanely euthanize him after noticing advanced heart disease and crippling arthritis.
“He lived almost twice the lifespan of most male koalas,” Magill said. “There is a sense of pride and joy that he was able to live such a long and happy life at Zoo Miami.”