Parma wallabies


Wallaby Baby Catches Up

Tinka peeks out of her larger pouch.

Be sure to read Janet’s previous post, Wallaby Baby: New Coat, New Adventures.

We knew that Tinka, a parma wallaby, was small for her age since her arrival in the San Diego Zoo’s Neonatal Assisted Care Unit. All along, one of our main focuses was to encourage her to eat and gain weight. We surmised that since her mom had been so ill, either the quantity or quality (or both) of Mom’s milk wasn’t enough for the baby to attain a normal size. We weighed Tinka every morning before her first bottle, and we found that she gained weight nearly every day. Though her weight climbed, it was never enough to compensate, and she remained 30 to 50 percent of normal size range. The statistics we had on normal baby parma growth ended at around 200 days. Now we were in uncharted territory, unable to determine exactly how Tinka was doing.

We noticed that Tinka’s muscular tail and legs were looking more substantial. She developed an endearing little pad of fat under her chin, characteristic of the species. We decided to check with some other zoos to see if there was any weight data available on joeys Tinka’s age. Cooperation between zoos in sharing information like this is vital. There aren’t many zoos that have an organized hand-rearing program. Fewer have experience with marsupials, and even fewer still have had experience with parma wallabies. We were lucky to find that the Cleveland Zoo had raised a parma wallaby recently, had kept excellent records, and were willing to share them with us.

Tinka and Janet enjoy some play time in the nursery.

When we compared Tinka’s weight to the animal from Cleveland, we were surprised with what we found: our little girl was now 80 percent normal size! Tinka had been experiencing what is known as compensatory growth, which occurs when a small animal “catches up” to normal weight. We were delighted with this finding.

By now, Tinka was consuming solids well, jumping out of her pouch as soon as a fresh food pan was placed in her enclosure. Her favorite food was freshly chopped greens. She had become so wide (especially across the backside) that she was having trouble wiggling into her small pouch. Her fore end made it through the opening easily, but the back end was a struggle! We provided her with a larger, roomier model made from the same design. Tinka, our once-fragile neonate was now a healthy parma youngster. It was time for her to graduate from the nursery.

Tinka hops out of her nursery bedroom.

One of the most common questions I am asked as a nursery keeper is, “Don’t you miss them when they are gone? Aren’t you sad when they leave the nursery?” My answer is always the same. When an animal is ready to move on, it means that we have fulfilled our role. The aim from the start was not to make the animal into our pet, and the focus was never about the relationship between the animal and the keeper. Instead, the focus is on graduating a healthy, well-adjusted animal that will go on to lead a productive life. It is impossible not to look back on rearing an animal without some sense of letting go. But that was the plan all along, and now it was Tinka’s time.

The koala keepers prepared a nice temporary space for Tinka in an off-exhibit area. We outfitted it with some logs and hay and hung a heater above one of her pouches. Though she was used to visiting with the adults and spending time in a pen by herself every day, she returned to the nursery for overnight stays. On December 26, Tinka left the nursery for the last time. That evening, nursery keepers went out to visit Tinka in the early evening to check on her, and she seemed fine. Tinka was settled and stress free the following morning, having spent a comfortable night tucked in her heated pouch.
Tinka continues her socialization. A gentle adult female was selected to serve as a companion, and Tinka spends her days in a warm and sunny pen behind the Zoo’s parma wallaby enclosure. Soon, Tinka will be introduced to all the “girls” in the group. We have decreased her feedings to just one abbreviated bottle in the morning, and her weight continues to climb.

Janet Hawes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Monkeying Around…with Marsupials!

A wombat investigates a palm roll tunnel.

A wombat investigates a palm roll tunnel.

Have you ever seen big plastic toys in polar bear pools? How about mirrors, swings, or other objects with gorillas and monkeys? But what about marsupial exhibits: have you ever seen interesting objects in with these animals? Probably not very often. Unlike bears, large cats, and primates, we don’t always think about enrichment items for marsupials because they are thought not to be as interested in these items. However, we can’t forget about these guys! Marsupials are curious creatures, and I don’t mean because of their pouch.

My name is Lauren Kline, and I am a behavioral biology summer intern for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. I will be a senior this coming fall at The College of Idaho, where I am a biology major with psychology and crime in society minors. After I graduate, I hope to go to graduate school to further study animal behavior. Let me tell you a little bit about what I will be doing all summer.
My goal is to find out if marsupials, which are pouched mammals such as kangaroos, wombats, and koalas, will interact with different enrichment items if they are presented to them and, if so, how they interact with these items. With the help of the awesome Outback keepers at the San Diego Zoo, we will be presenting four different types of enrichment to three different species (Parma wallabies, Buerger’s tree kangaroos, and the southern hairy-nosed wombats) and monitoring the way they interact with the items.

A tree kangaroo plays with a palm frond.

A tree kangaroo plays with a palm frond.

Enrichment can be a variety of things, from puzzle feeders to different ways that food is presented to novel objects, such as large branches or plastic barrels. These enrichment items will allow the animals to perform behaviors that would be necessary in the wild, such as foraging for food, but are not always performed in their enclosures at the Zoo. However, zoos are always trying to make life comfortable for the animals, and giving them novel items to play with and explore should promote their health and well-being.

Although my project has just started, I’ll give you a sneak peek into what I’ve found out so far. The first enrichment the marsupials experienced was different parts of the palm, such as big fronds, a ‘tunnel’ made of palm sheets, and a ‘roll’ made of palm sheets. And…they liked it! They seemed a little unsure of what to do at first, but they were definitely interested and have been spending time around the items, checking things out.

So, if you find yourself at the San Diego Zoo in the Outback near any of these animals and see a young lady with a stopwatch and a clipboard, that’s me! Make sure to look for the enrichment, and ask me if you have any questions! In the coming weeks the marsupials will be provided with dirt and mulch piles, puzzle feeders, and scent markings. Check back here later this summer for another post, and I’ll let you know what new information I’ve discovered about just how curious some marsupials can be!

Lauren Kline is a Bonner Summer Student Intern in the Behavioral Biology Division at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.