Tiny kangaroo joey adopted by human mom

12/11/2009

Roowen

Skippy the kangaroo gives me kisses!/
Photo Copyright Doug Markle/Wendee Holtcamp

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I took a road trip from Pennsylania back home to Texas, and on the way stopped in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and on Louisiana’s Northshore – a region just north of New Orleans on the “north shore” of the now famous Lake Pontchartrain. While there I visited the most amazing place – the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom – and learned of the truly awesome (true) story of Skippy the kangaroo. I even got roo kisses from Skippy himself, who is about 10 and a half months old and has fur as soft as a Slanket!

The 900-acre wildlife preserve run by the nonprofit Global Wildlife Foundation, has around 4,000 animals including giraffes, Bactrian and dromedary camels, zebras, bison, kangaroos, blackbuck, and many other species of deer and antelope. They take tours in vehicles that allow the animals to get up close and personal with visitors - like nothing I've ever experienced! (you can see even more pictures of the animals and our experience at my Bohemian Adventures blog). On my trip around the place, I rode in a Pinzgauer, a Swiss Army vehicle, which had a tub of corn right in the middle, which we used to feed to the animals. The camels and giraffes reached right into the open-vehicle, very gently, and loved to get petted and scratched on the head, face and shoulders. The smaller and shorter deer and antelope would come close tothe vehicle and sometimes snatch the smaller feeding buckets right out of our hands! The only thing that freaked me out a little was the beefalo that kept following me and opening its mouth as wide as it could to basically inhale the corn! (and yes, a beefalo is a cross between a cow and a buffalo, or more technically, a bison, but bison-ow doesn’t sound near as cool as beefalo).

Back in May, GWC staff spotted a tiny baby kangaroo on the grass – naked, tiny, hairless, and helpless. It wasn’t the typical “bird falls out of a nest” situation where the mom is truly nearby.  Like other marsupials, kangaroos are born hairless and blind and looking very much like an embryo. The neonate crawls over the mom’s fur into the pouch, where their mouths firmly attach to a teat for the next several months. This one-pound joey must have been expelled, because the bond between a mom’s teat and the joey’s mouth is not easily broken until they’ve developed more. After waiting an hour to see whether any of the female kangaroos would claim the baby, Christina Cooper, Global’s Education and Development Director, took the joey under her care. The Center had a special "kangaroo nipple” on hand, but their kangaroo milk replacer was expired (they'd never had to care for one before!) So  she called her friends at the Baton Rouge Zoo who had the necessary milk replacer. But the joey, which they named Skippy, needed a mom to have any chance at survival. Cooper nervously volunteered.

At first she had no idea whether Skippy would even survive, but as it turned out, he’s a fighter. Over the next three months Cooper wore Skippy in a specially designed pouch and fed him every few hours.  She got an incubator after a few days, which gave her some relief from the constant need to hold him close, but the nearly nonstop feedings didn’t end for some time; I’m sure any new mom can relate! Cooper contacted Lynda Staker, an Australian who specializes in hand rearing kangaroos and who wrote the book, The Complete Guide to The Care of Macropods. Cooper and Staker began emailing back and forth about Skippy. “I felt just like a brand new mother, with questions every few hours on whether something was normal or not,” says Cooper.

As Skippy grew larger, his head or feet would stick out of the pouch and people became fascinated by the woman carrying a kangaroo! The story caught the attention of a local newspaper, then the Washington Post, and then The Today Show even did a segment about Skippy. Although eventually Cooper plans to reintroduce him to the kangaroo mob, and has even started gradually getting them used to one another, joeys don’t wean fully until 16 months so the unusual mother-child pair have some more time together. It’s been one unforgettable adventure for this woman who fell in love with Global the moment she first came here 12 years ago.

“Global Wildlife Center is such a unique wildlife preserve, and it was a great opportunity for me to introduce the nation to Global Wildlife's ‘learn through touch’ philosophy,” says Cooper. “Wiggling a camel's hump, getting eye to eye with giraffes, and feeling the woolly fur of bison are experiences that Global Wildlife visitors have every day. It was so special for me to be able to share the miracle of Skippy's survival, and it warms my heart to still receive such kind and thoughtful letters from viewers who have fallen in love with our story.”

You can watch an awesome slideshow of Skippy's life, so far, here.


Follow fascinating, funny, tragic or otherwise compelling and timely stories about animals, as chosen by our editors and writers, including Daily Treat blogger, Janet McCulley.
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