Orphaned Tree Kangaroo Raised By Surrogate Wallaby Mother at Adelaide Zoo

by Alastair Jamieson /  / Updated 

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An orphaned infant tree kangaroo has been saved by veterinarians who used a wallaby as its surrogate mother in what an Australian zoo says is a world first.

Makaia was five weeks old when keepers at Adelaide Zoo found his mother had been killed by a falling branch.

Hand-rearing was not possible because of the joey’s age so keepers instead tried to foster him into the pouch of a surrogate wallaby mother, the zoo said Tuesday in a news release.

“We had no idea if the [wallaby] would accept the tree kangaroo joey, but if we wanted to save the joey we had to try our luck,” veterinarian David McLelland said. “We’ve had great success over the years’ cross-fostering between wallaby species, but the specialized breeding technique has never been used on a tree kangaroo.”

Image: Makaia the tree kangaroo seen in the pouch of his surrogate mother, a wallaby
Makaia the tree kangaroo seen in the pouch of his surrogate mother, a wallaby, at Australia's Adelaide Zoo.Handout / Adelaide Zoo

Tree kangaroos inhabit the rainforests of New Guinea and as a species are distantly related to kangaroos and wallabies.

The success of the experiment, which began in November, was confirmed two months later when Makaia first popped its head out of the pouch said Adelaide Zoo’s team leader of natives Gayl Males.

“We were uncertain as to whether the joey was going to be accepted. This joey was completely different from other joeys in body shape and behavior — it certainly wriggled around more than a wallaby joey,” she said.

“He stayed with his wallaby mum for about three and half months until I took over caring for him. He’s certainly a cheeky little fellow and loves running amok, testing the boundaries using my home as his personal playground, climbing on everything, pulling toilet paper off the rolls, but he also loves quiet time cuddling with my husband in the evening while we watch TV.”

She added: “Makaia is the result of all our hard work.”

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