There comes a time in every marsupial’s life when it must start exploring the world outside its mother’s pouch. For a 7-month-old female endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, that time has arrived. The yet-to-be-named youngster (called a joey) is spending more time outside of mother Polly’s pouch, and learning to climb and maneuver in her environment outside. Even though she rarely leaves mom’s side, animal care staff said the female joey is very curious about the world around her and uses her mouth as a tool to investigate everything she can find, much like a human infant.
“The joey, right now, cannot get enough things in her mouth,” said Breanne Barney, keeper at the Safari Park. “She’s constantly trying to eat leaves, greens, various vegetables, corn—even chewing on moms’ ears, tail, hands and feet!”
Matschie’s tree kangaroos have an estimated 45-day gestation period, and joeys are about the size of a jelly bean at birth. Once born, the tiny joey must crawl into its mother’s pouch and attach to a nipple, to gain nourishment and continue to grow. Tree kangaroo joeys remain in the pouch for a few months, exiting for extended periods and returning to nurse. Animal care staff said Polly will wean her joey when it is about a year old, but the youngster will stay close to mom for about a year and a half.
“Polly is an excellent mother, and consistently grooming her little one,” added Barney. “Due to their small population numbers, this joey provides a spark of hope for the future of this species.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed Matschie’s tree kangaroos as Endangered on its Red List of Threatened Species. It is estimated that there are fewer than 2,500 adult Matschie’s tree kangaroos left in their native habitat in Papua New Guinea and the Huon Peninsula. Little is known about their behavior in their native habitat, but they are believed to be solitary animals, except when a mother is raising offspring. They are hunted by humans for food and trade. Habitat loss due to expanding agriculture further threatens their numbers. Matschie’s tree kangaroos arrived at the Safari Park’s Walkabout Australia in 2018 as part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding program, designed to help increase the world’s population of this endangered species.
Guests visiting the Safari Park can get a glimpse of Polly and her joey in their habitat, adjacent to Zuest Station inside Walkabout Australia. Walkabout Australia is the Safari Park’s newest exhibit, and it offers guests a view into the Land Down Under, featuring Australia’s interesting and unique species. Visitors are taken through four different types of Australian habitats: grassland, rain forest, wetlands and desert. Featured animals besides the Matschie’s tree kangaroo include western gray kangaroos, red-necked wallabies, and southern cassowaries. To learn more about Matschie’s tree kangaroos and how you can help save this species from the brink of extinction, visit endextinction.org.
At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, more than 1 million guests each year see animals in herds of mixed species, in expansive habitats. Safari tours offer savanna views of African and Asian animals, trails take visitors on treks to experience Australian and North American habitats—plus, there are opportunities for up-close encounters and unique behind-the-scenes perspectives. Known for its leadership in rhino conservation, the Safari Park is home to the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, which is devoted to groundbreaking work to bring back the northern white rhino. As visitors discover the rare and endangered species at the Safari Park, they are directly contributing, through admission and on-grounds sales, to the efforts of San Diego Zoo Global, an international nonprofit conservation organization that works to fight extinction through recovery efforts for plants and animals worldwide. To learn more, visit sdzsafaripark.org, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.