I’ve said numerous times how amazed I am that macropods (general term for kangaroos, wallaroos and wallabys) have noticeable character traits depending on the species and then on top of that, each one has a unique personality which is theirs alone. We as macropod carers know this, but sometimes we are not as attentive to it as we should be.
When kangaroo joeys are very young they are terrified of leaving their pouches. Helping to build their confidence and encouraging them to emerge from their pouch is one of the things you do as a carer. As joey develops and gets more and more confidence she ranges further away from her foster mum, but instinctively limits herself to within her calling range.
It this small aspect I’m going to talk about here, in the big scheme of things it is pretty inconsequential, but to a carer it could be critical. Joeys young enough to be on four bottles of milk a day can look extremely confident, run like the wind and act in a proper kangaroo manner, but can die in days if they had to fend for themselves, because they are too young to do so.
I live on 30 acres and although Agile Wallabies are not a species I care for, I have many wild ones on my property. As you would expect, I notice their behaviour as a matter of course. I watch as mother Agile, calmly nibbling the grass, keeps a watchful eye out as her Joey tears up and down past her, testing her speed and technique with sheer joy of life. I also notice that when the mother has problems due to unwanted attentions from amorous mates, she stashes her joey in a dense and sheltered area of bush whilst she leaves for extended periods trying to shake her suitors off . Whilst this is going on Joey keeps her head down and doesn’t move from that spot until Mum comes back. This is the important bit… Joey stays stashed away and hidden, instinctively.
I’ve known about this for a while, because when my orphans are first being introduced to the staging pen[i] they just stand by the gate until I go down for their next feed. The gate is significant because it is the last place they saw me and it is where I left them. This they can do for days, because effectively they are acting like ‘stashed’ joeys. When I go down with their bottles of milk they hear my footsteps and voice, before they see me and at that point they start moving around and calling out to me. They are normally Eastern Greys and Wallaroos.
I can almost hear you thinking, “So?”
Rarely do I get the privilege of caring for reds, but not so long ago I was caring for a red kangaroo orphan, she was very young and not anywhere near the age to be introduced to the staging pen. I was trying to get her used to being left alone for short periods out of pouch, in the small nursery pen next to the house. I was keeping a close eye on her whilst I was introducing her to this new routine and so observed she was acting ‘stashed’ behind a piece of shrubbery next to the gate. The difference between her though and every other macropod I’d had in previous years, was that when I returned she remained hidden and silent. My biggest mistake here, is that I didn’t notice that detail………. You have no idea how much I regret that now.
About an hour or two before it gets dark it is a daily routine of mine to collect all my pouched and emerging[ii] orphan joeys, take them outside for a mob ‘get together’ (this is before they are old enough to go into the staging pen). I sit on the grass with the tinys and the bigger kids get to run laps around either Mum (me) or the outside of the house depending on their age. It’s a time to be watchful and especially careful, you can take joeys outside with you anytime during full daylight and they won’t move more than a few metres away from you, but at dusk it’s a totally different story. They are in their element in that half light, their confidence improving a hundred fold, and it’s the easiest time to lose them.
I lost my little red joey. Hindsight, what a wonderful thing! Being a red she was more developed than her grey pouch mates of the same age. One evening she ranged further away and acted more independently from her mob, she was young, full of life and could run like the wind, the bush was exhilarating and of course she was in her natural element. Despite searching over 30 acres of bush for the next 36 hours and routine searches during the following two weeks, calling her and calling her, she was never found. She wasn’t old enough to survive on her own, and so I lost one of my babies and it was totally my fault. I honestly believe that I would have passed her a number of times in my searches and she would have remained hidden, because she was acting ‘stashed’ and it was instinct.
At the time I was heart broken over the loss of this special little personality and I beat myself up unmercifully over losing a precious animal in my care. However, it wasn’t until Constantine came into care that it dawned on me that I’d lost Whisper because of this particular ‘stashed’ behaviour. Constantine, another little red, also didn’t respond when I approached the nursery pen, hiding behind the same shrub, and just as silently.
I noticed immediately.
What did I do differently? I ‘trained’ him to react to a special call (similar to one he made) and by staying out of sight until he did respond and only then would he get his bottle.
Now I know about this trait I’ll always be aware of it, but my goodness I so hate learning the hard way.
[i] Staging Pen - Large pen set a reasonable distance away from house, where out of pouch Joeys live whilst they are being prepared ready for their release.
[ii] Emerging – Stage where joey starts leaving the pouch.
Samantha "I'm a person who feels I live in paradise and truly love Australia after immigrating here in 2003. I work as a foreign exchange trader, live with my true soul mate, husband Albert. I have a passion for Aussie wildlife and became a registered wildlife carer in 2005 and can say I feel truly privileged to be able to raise and rehabilitate orphan wallaby/kangaroo joeys. I love these creatures with my heart and soul. My dream is to be able to help struggling volunteer wildlife carers, financially, so that they can do what they do best without worrying how to pay the next vet bill"