At one point, in the far distant past, we took on the job of macropod re-homers. This means that we rescued baby kangaroos, wallabies, possums, pademelons and other marsupials from road accidents, dog and cat attacks and other mishaps. We took these traumatised babies and tried to stabilise them, heal them and eventually release them back into the bush. We also provided a place for other wildlife carers to release their precious babies. I was going through my old photos and found a few we took of some Eastern Grey kangaroos we raised, their names were Gabby and Xena. I thought I would share our experiences.
The Eastern Grey kangaroo (referred to as grays from here on, so as not to alarm any UFO believers out there) are a very sensitive species; they get runny, upset tummies if there is a loud thunderstorm nearby. They are fairly numerous and not considered endangered, but they get hit on the road very often and in our area they sometimes fall prey to people shooting animals to feed dogs (and sometimes themselves). We still get one or two joeys (baby macropods) handed in to us about once or twice a year, even though we don’t raise them any more. When we get them handed in to us, or find them in the pouches of their dead mothers, we put them in a nice clean pouch (an old pillow slip turned inside out, inside a beanie or other woolen pouch) and put them on a hot water bottle (warm but not hot). A call to our local wildlife rescue group usually results in a drive to meet a carer in a MacDonald’s car park somewhere, invariably in the dead of night, looking like some sort of drug deal. We have been on both sides of this transaction so many times it seems hard not to see it as normal behavior.
Grays are delightfully cuddly animals, I enjoyed our time raising them, even though I suffered sleep deprivation and exhaustion on a huge scale. Raising a joey is not for the lazy; they need feeding at 3 hourly intervals (once they have hair) and need to be trained to toilet outside the pouch (more on this later), they need to have their pouch changed daily (or more often if the toileting won’t work). They are weighed daily and feeding is adjusted to suit weight. Eventually they are introduced to solids (fruit, vegetables, hay and kangaoo pellets) and moved outside; through the day at first then gradually to all night.
Toileting a joey (of any species) is interesting. When a mother kangaroo/possum/etc cleans her pouch she also licks the bottom of her baby (or babies) which stimulates them to poop and pee, she licks up this waste too (a thought which makes my mouth pucker in sympathy). Humans don’t generally enjoy the taste of poop so we have to find another way to simulate natural processes. A damp chux is just the thing, after feeding a bottle, the carer gently rubs the babies cloaca (a combined anus, vagina/penis and urethra) until they pee, uses the chux to soak it up then gently rub again until the baby produces a pellet or two of poop (or a greenish toothpaste-like poo in the case of grays). Joeys need to be toileted after every feed.
Taking on the care of a joey is not a hobby, it is much the same as raising a baby. It is a full time occupation that impacts your whole life. Macropod carers tend to love their babies and get very protective over them. Finding somewhere to release them slowly and carefully into the safest environment possible is very hard. That was our specialty; we live in a remote setting, away from heavy traffic, we have resident mobs of grays that will accept new members and we were trained in soft release.
Essentially our job was to gradually move our babies from the house to an outside pen while they were still young enough to adapt. When the joeys were living happily on two bottles a day and hard food we would start to let them roam for a few hours at dusk, then lock them back up. This time would get longer and longer until someone invariable forgot to shut the door one night. From then on we would leave the door open at night and gradually leave it open for longer periods through the day. Eventually the babies would stop returning for their bottles and only come to scrounge food every few days. Then comes the awful period of worry when they don’t come at all. For months and months, until one day, there they are again, begging for food.
Of course, some you see again, some you don’t. Some survive, some don’t, the important thing is to give them as much of a chance as we can. It is the same with all wildlife caring; we don’t own them, they come to us for a short time, for care and protection while they can’t do that themselves. It is sometimes very hard to let go, to let nature take its course, but that is the job.
If you see a dead kangaroo (or any dead animal) on the road it is a good idea to stop and pull the body off the road a fair way to avoid secondary deaths. Other animals come to feed off the body and get hit themselves (Wedge tailed eagles are often hit this way). While you are moving the body it is a good idea to see if there is a joey in the pouch too. If there is you can often remove it (if it is hairless leave it and call the carers for advice) and put the poor baby into a cotton pouch (keep a pillow slip in the car) and get him/her to a carer as soon as possible.