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wallabies

11

Wallaby Tinka Hops Away

Tinka bonds with an adult female parma wallaby.

Be sure to read Janet’s previous post, Wallaby Baby Catches Up.

New Year 2012 brought big, bold changes for our little parma wallaby, Tinka. She made the transition from living in the nursery to staying in the main Zoo with no problems. Now it was time for us to finish preparing Tinka for life with the adult parma wallabys. First, we paired Tinka with a female we call #104. Starting with just one gentle animal was a good way to ease Tinka into a larger social setting. This furry and friendly adult was a good match. We were pleased when the two seemed to bond right away, so we let the pair spend 24 hours a day together.

Next, it was necessary to make several adjustments to Tinka’s diet. On January 11, Tinka received her last bottle feeding; now she would have to rely solely on solid food. Often, when we are transitioning an animal from a liquid diet of formula to solid food we offer various temporary, transitional diet items just like you would a human toddler. Transitional foods help the animal accept solids more readily, and for Tinka these included fresh, leafy greens like lettuce, kale, and spinach along with browse and herbivore pellets soaked in water. Next, we had to gradually delete treats and offer Tinka only the adult diet: dry pellets. True to form, Tinka adjusted without incident. Her weight continued upward as she consumed her new, abbreviated menu.

Our final step—this was the big one—was to permanently wean Tinka of access to her beloved and comfy artificial pouch. There was no doubt that Tinka was ready for this step; judging by her size, there was simply no way she would fit into a female’s pouch, as her weight had climbed to 3.5 pounds (1.5 kilograms)! Still, life without the pouch she grew up in would clearly represent a big change.

Tinka spent her first night without an artificial pouch on January 28. We stationed a heater, called a pig blanket, under a cozy shelter in the pen to keep her warm. Pig blankets are special heated mats used for livestock. Electric coils inside the sturdy, plastic mat keep the substrate warm. We placed one of her familiar blankets nearby on the first night for added comfort. Once again, Tinka did not disappoint us and quickly adjusted beautifully.

Tinka, now a soft, fuzzy, and friendly wallaby, was ready for her final graduation: living with the rest of the “ladies” in the wallaby group. By this time, construction on the Zoo’s new Australian Outback area had begun in earnest. The old enclosures were being removed to make way for beautiful new ones. There was to be lots of noise, dust, and commotion, three things that the shy wallabies don’t appreciate. Therefore, the wallaby group was moved to a temporary pen to make them more comfortable during construction. Tinka joined them on the morning of February 1, 2012.

We packed Tinka into a transfer crate and drove her over to the new quarters. Her companion, #104, was crated, and keepers followed close behind. The new area consists of a large, flat outdoor pen with an attached, covered barn structure. Keeper Joann Haddad moved the parma group outside into the pen and closed the barn door in preparation for Tinka’s arrival. When we arrived, the barn was clean and empty for Tinka to explore alone. I sat with her inside the barn to get her settled as the adults waited on the other side of the barn door in the sunny yard. Tinka came out of the crate calmly and sniffed around. She was alert and curious about the new digs. After a few minutes, we placed #104 in the barn area with us. Things were going well, so we continued the introduction. Keeper Joann slowly slid the barn door open. Light streamed across the floor as Tinka hopped from the shade into the sunshine outside. Female #104 stayed close to Tinka as the others stopped by to check Tinka out.

We are proud that Tinka took this last step with as much courage as she had all the previous ones. That small, hairless, and fragile joey that depended on our very best care is now grown up. Our time with Tinka has ended, but her adventures are just beginning. Thank you, Tinka. It’s been a real pleasure, and we wish you well.

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

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Marsupial Nightlife

A female wombat looks into a palm roll

A female wombat looks into a palm roll

While doing marsupial observations at the San Diego Zoo, I often hear people really excited to see the wombats. They rush over, looking from the deck at the tree kangaroos. Nope, no wombats in sight… maybe they are in the front! Rushing to the front, the wombats are consistently found doing one thing and one thing alone: sleeping. This is usually disappointing for many zoo visitors; however, they are doing exactly what they would be doing in the wild. Wombats are nocturnal, which means they spend the day sleeping but wake up in the evening to forage, travel, and perform other necessary behaviors.

I realized this, too, in my enrichment study (see post, Puzzles for Tree Kangaroos). On the days that enrichment was provided in the morning, I would be more likely to observe interaction than if the enrichment was set out in the afternoon. However, most of the interaction with the enrichment items took place when I wasn’t even around. How do I know this? Well, before I would leave after a day’s observations, I would take a mental note of what the enrichment item looked like and where in the exhibit it was located. Then, as soon as I returned to the Zoo in the morning, for another day of observation, I would check out the wombat exhibit to see what the enrichment looked like after being left in the exhibit overnight.

A mulch pile with wallaby footprints in it after being left in the exhibit overnight

A mulch pile with wallaby footprints in it after being left in the exhibit overnight

What I would usually find is that the enrichment item had not survived the night. In other words, the palm rolls would be in pieces spread throughout the exhibit, and the mulch piles would be decimated to a thin layer. I heard similar reports from keepers about the wallabies. I would observe little interaction during the day; however, overnight the wallabies would eat all of the food out of puzzle feeders and leave evidence (usually in the form of lots of poop) that they were spending quite a bit of time around the enrichment items.

A wombat walks on a palm roll after breaking it apart.

A wombat walks on a palm roll after breaking it apart.

What does this mean for my enrichment study? I can confidently say that our marsupials ARE interacting with the enrichment. BUT, it is very important that we keep the nocturnal nature of these creatures in mind when providing them with these enrichments or challenges and give them the opportunity to have access to the items when they will be awake and ready to interact.

So, if you find yourself at an exhibit with sleepy animals, don’t be upset or discouraged! It would be very stressful for them to be pulling lots of “all day-ers,” so it is best for them to be active at similar times to when they would be in the wild.

I know it is disappointing, but this is the last marsupial enrichment post from me. I’m finishing up my internship and will be headed back to Idaho to finish my degree and graduate! Wish me luck, and don’t forget to visit the marsupials next time you venture to the San Diego Zoo!

Lauren Kline is a Bonner Summer Student Intern in the Behavioral Biology Division at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. We wish her the best of luck as she continues her studies!

11

Koalapalooza: A Joey Is Named

After months of anticipation and careful planning, San Diego Zoo Discovery Days: Koalapalooza finally arrived: These four exciting days were filled with news interviews and keeper talks featuring not only koalas but our other special marsupials as well, including tree kangaroos, wallabies, and the closest relative to the koala, the wombats. We were so excited to have a long weekend dedicated to our favorite animal, the koala, but I must admit we were a little nervous!

The guest turnout was amazing and topped expectations. Other departments crucial to our koala program had booths set up. One booth featured our conservation researchers, who shared the important work they are doing to help us learn more about koalas and aid in conservation efforts in Australia; kids could even learn how to radio track and locate stuffed koalas around the Zoo, just like we would when looking for wild ones in Australia. Another booth highlighted our extremely important browse department, which grows all the eucalyptus, the only food a koala will eat. This is not an easy job, because our koalas eat a lot of eucalyptus! Guests could also speak to our veterinary staff about koalas; these are very specialized animals are different from other mammals when it comes to veterinary care, but our staff is excellent!

Our educators and animal trainers brought out more animals, and keepers in other areas of the Zoo gave special talks. There were different opportunities to donate to koala conservation, including an online auction, fun activities for kids, as well an Aussie barbeque meal and music. I even got a koala painted on my face!

One of the highlights of the event was our Name the Joey contest. Our almost 10-month-old joey needed a name! We thought it was definitely time to stop calling her our own personal nicknames (like Sweetheart and Cutie pie) and give her a permanent identity. It was tough decision making, but we narrowed down the long list of great submissions from Zoo guests and supporters to five beautiful choices. “Sooky”, meaning “soft” or “tame,” won by a fairly large margin. Thank you all so much for submitting names and voting at Koalapalooza. Now our precocious little girl has a name!

Kuna and Amy

Kuna and Amy

My absolute favorite part of the event was taking a koala to the Zoo’s front plaza where guests could see him up close. It is so extraordinary for me to be able to share with people what I have learned from the koalas I have worked with for about seven years now. As Kuna did what he does best (munch away on leaves and look totally adorable), I got to share all kinds of koala facts and answer questions. I also shared little personality traits and amusing attributes that make us laugh, sometimes cry, and grasp the individuality and specialness that each koala possesses. Kuna helped, too. As most koalas are too shy and reserved to be comfortable in a crowd, Kuna showed his individuality and kind spirit with a relaxed and curious personality, which I’m sure made most guests develop a soft spot for koalas (if they didn’t have one already). It’s these qualities that ultimately give us the never-ending passion we have for our job as well as our dedication to doing everything we can to help this irreplaceable species in the wild.

In the end, Koalapalooza was a huge success! Not only did we raise $5,200 for conservation, we were able to interact with Zoo guests directly. The koala keepers would like to thank every guest who attended Koalapalooza or participated in the online voting. On a personal level, your involvement means so incredibly much to us! We know that these are trying times for many people, and I really want to let participants know how much we appreciate any and all of your support. We couldn’t do it without you! I sincerely hope everyone had a wonderful time at Koalapalooza. We would love to see you again at our next Discovery Days event, Bear Bonanza, in March!

Amy Alfrey is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Read a blog and watch an interview with Amy

Read the latest blog from a koala researcher