Endangered Species: in a veterinary world first, the Adelaide Zoo, Australia has successfully cross fostered an endangered orphan baby Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroo with a surrogate yellow-footed Rock-Wallaby mother. The amazing part of this foster is that wallabies are ground dwelling animals but tree kangaroos are arboreal, which means they live in the tree tops.
The zoo had previously cross fostered wallabies with other wallabies with success, but had never attempted the technique to have a wallaby raise an endangered joey tree kangaroo. Usually, kangaroo joeys, whether ground dwellers or tree kangaroos, will usually ONLY drink from what is “their own” teat in the mother’s pouch, which can have more than one teat if the mother has an ‘at-foot joey’ as well. Living up in the foliage, tree kangaroos look like a cross between a kangaroo and a lemur.
The first 24 hours was critical to get the joey to latch onto the new wallaby’s treat. Buried deep in the wallaby’s pouch, tiny ripples of movement over the next days signaled the joey was still alive.
“We were so excited when we confirmed the joey had made it past the first critical 24-hour period,” zoo natives team leader Gayl Males said.
“This joey was completely different from other joeys in body shape and behavior. It certainly wriggled around more than a wallaby joey.”
It was almost three months, the end of January before the orphaned joey, named Makaia, popped her head out of the pouch.
She continued to make good progress and lived in the surrogate rock-wallaby’s pouch for three months before being transferred to a dedicated carer, who is now hand rearing her.
Kangaroos usually live in their mother’s pouch for close to a year, then stay next to their mother on the ground for another full year, when they are called “at-foot joeys.” Consequently joeys need two years with their mother. Females never leave home and will remain in the “mob” but males eventually leave home where it takes 10 years for them to become a ‘mature’ kangaroo.
Therefore the job of a kangaroo carer carries a lot of responsibility and for a long period of time. I have hand reared kangaroos myself and it involves feeding bottles every four hours around the clock for a year. Around the clock involves bottle feeds through the night too; every night. Carers also have to provide exercise for the joey and help it grow into a healthy joey who can be assimilated into the adult mob with some social manners.
Tree Kangaroos – The Serious Stuff
The tree kangaroo is very agile in trees and often travels rapidly from tree to tree, leaping as much as 9 meters (30 foot), downward to an adjoining tree. Most species of Tree Kangaroo live in tropical rainforests and deciduous forests and are endemic to Queensland, Australia while other species are native to Papa New Guinea and central Itian Jaya, Indonesia.
Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo and Bennett’s Tree Kangaroo are the only two species of Tree Kangaroo that are native to Australia, where the biggest threat is loss of habitat which sets off a chain of issues affecting the livelihood of tree kangaroos. Being tree dwellers, they still descend to the ground to search for food and when trees are removed or habitat is fragmented, the tree kangaroo has to work harder to get back to the trees, to escape from predators such as dogs or foxes.
Of 27 dead Tree-Kangaroos examined in the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia from 1992 to 1994, 11 had been hit by cars, six had been killed by dogs, four by parasites and the others by other causes. Conservation efforts include designating protected areas, captive breeding programs, and strategies to increase long-term food security for communities living in areas populated by tree kangaroos.
In Papua New guinea, indigenous peoples throughout the tree kangaroo’s range hunt the animals for meat, sometimes using dogs to track them down. For several species, hunting alone has driven these marsupials close to extinction. Many tree kangaroo species are incredibly rare and most are decreasing in number.
Logging, mining, oil exploration and agriculture all play a part in the dwindling numbers of tree kangaroos. Lowland rainforests have undergone extensive clearances and those populations still surviving in highland forest have been fragmented and isolated, markedly limiting their opportunity for out-breeding.
In 1990, a new species of tree kangaroo, the golden-mantled tree kangaroo, was discovered in the Torricelli Mountains of Papua New Guinea. A second population of the marsupial was discovered on the Indonesian side of the New Guinea island in 2005, but there are few of these animals and their population is thought to be decreasing. Scientists estimate that the golden-mantled tree kangaroo has been extirpated from 99% of its historical range, its numbers driven low by habitat destruction and hunting.
Conservation Education have achieved major success within the region of Papa New Guinea and instead of hunting Tree Kangaroos into extinction the Conservation Organisation has since established rabbit farms that the locals have implemented into their diets instead of Tree Kangaroos.
Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List, tree kangaroos are different from ground kangaroos because they have developed specialised adaptations for their arboreal lifestyle (living in the trees.). They are also known as Ornate tree kangaroos.
These adaptions include shorter hind limbs, strong, stocky arms, and a long tail for balance while leaping among the branches. The feet are also broader than those of ground kangaroos, and have padded soles to aid with gripping and sharp curved claws for climbing.
This slender-bodied tree kangaroo has short, usually woolly fur that ranges from chestnut-brown to crimson, with a paler underside, grey-brown face and yellow neck, cheeks and feet. A characteristic pair of golden stripes runs down the center of the back and each individual has a unique pattern of yellow rings and blotches on the tail. Males are slightly larger than females.
Adult males are primarily solitary while females shelter in small groups in trees, during the day. Adult males have large territories overlapping several smaller female territories, and breeding occurs year-round. As a marsupial, the female of this species has a well-developed pouch on its abdomen into which the tiny newborn climbs, where it grows for up to the next ten to twelve months. Even after it leaves the pouch, the joey continues to return to nurse for several months. Sexual maturity is reached at two years of age, and individuals have been known to live over 14 years in captivity.
A largely nocturnal species, tree kangaroos emerge at night to feed mainly on leaves and fruit, but also on flowers, grass and even cereals along the forest edges. Its large, sacculated stomach is specially adapted to this diet, allowing the breakdown and digestion of tough leafy material [sacculated: formed with or having saclike expansions.]
As a result of the growing concern for the Tree-Kangaroo’s future, the Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group was formed by local residents for the conservation of North Queensland’s rich mammal fauna which includes tree kangaroos. The Group meets at 7.30pm every first Thursday of the month at the Malanda Hotel, in the Atherton Tablelands, Qld, and annual membership is $11, which includes a quarterly newsletter. The Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group is happy to have received a Natural Heritage Trust grant to examine different rainforest fragments as possible Tree-Kangaroo habitat.
Tree kangaroos are an important part of our planet’s ecological system and play a vital role in the cycle of life within forests, whether rainforest or deciduous forest. To lose the tree kangaroo would be a tragedy. We need to act now to protect this beautiful and elusive animal because when they are gone, they are gone for good. We will never be able to turn the clock back. If you live in an area with tree kangaroos, drive responsibly and if you see or hear of an injured animal, please report it immediately to animal rescue groups in your location. The tree kangaroo needs us to help it survive, but we need it more. To lose it would be our tragedy.
For further reading about the plight of tree kangaroos: Tree Kangaroos Facing Extinction
Thank you for reading,
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