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wallaby Tinka

4

Visit the Mob

Tinka the parma wallaby graduated from nursery care on February 1, 2012 (see Wallaby Tinka Hops Away). Her introduction to the parma wallaby mob of five adult females has been a resounding success!

Now the mob has taken up residence in an exhibit across from the Zoo’s new 4-D theatre, between Elephant Odyssey and the west end of our popular Skyfari aerial tram. Senior Keeper Elisa Evans says that Tinka is the first wallaby to greet her on the morning check. She is still friendly and super sweet. Although Tinka has grown a lot, you can still pick her out of the crowd, or mob, as a group of marsupials is called. Tinka’s fuzzy coat is grayer in color, and she is still a bit smaller than the rest of the girls.

Please stop by and visit Tinka. She will be just one of the gang, as it should be, sunbathing, feeding, or simply hopping around in the tall grass. We are so proud of her!

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

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.

11

Wallaby Baby: New Coat, New Adventures

Tinka enjoys a special milk formula from the safety of her manmade pouch.

Be sure to read Janet’s previous post, Parma Wallaby Baby: Life in the Pouch.

We had been keeping Tinka’s environment quiet, comforting, and secure to simulate the environment of her mother’s pouch. Now the emergence of Tinka’s new coat meant that it was time for her to begin stepping out in the world. It was also time for us to change some of our care techniques.

The first step was to change her milk formula. Finding just the right milk formula at the proper time is one of many complex responsibilities of our Nutritional Services Division. Just imagine creating a healthy diet for hundreds of species of exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles, both here at the San Diego Zoo and at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! It is a tall order but is probably most complicated when dealing with exotic neonates like Tinka. We are inordinately lucky to have a staff of on-site nutritionists at our disposal, and ours are the best in the world.

Biolac is the name of the product that we use to bottle-feed pouched mammals like Tinka. This dry powder is specially formulated and balanced to provide all essential nutrients needed for growth and good health. Biolac comes in three formulations to match stages of development, much like some products for human babies.

Since her arrival in the nursery, we had been feeding Tinka powdered Biolac M100. The powder is carefully measured and mixed with water. The first-stage powder is intended for joeys in the most unformed, hairless state. Now that fur had developed it was time for the switch to the next formulation, called M150. It is important not to make drastic diet changes quickly, so our Zoo nutritionists helped us design a plan for switching Tinka over slowly. We added only 25 percent of the new powder every four days to ease the transition until it was complete. Tinka did fine, and her weight continued to climb.

Tinka’s teeth were coming in, a signal that it was also time to introduce solid foods and begin the weaning process. To wean an animal, we gradually decrease the number of bottle feedings given per day and offer solid foods to replace them. The natural diet of the parma wallaby includes leaves and grasses, which are high in plant fiber. Wallabys rely on bacterial fermentation to help them digest their food. If Tinka were being reared by her mom in the natural situation, she would be exposed to bacteria every day. To simulate this natural process, we do a series of transfaunations. We take a tiny amount of fresh poop from the adult group and feed it to the baby. This process inoculates the joey’s gut with the beneficial bacterial that is necessary for proper digestion. Once the transfaunations were complete, we began offering Tinka some solid foods. The adult diet is composed mainly of a pellet made for wild herbivores. We were surprised that Tinka liked her pellets from the beginning, sometime preferring the softer soaked ones, and other times munching on the hard, crunchy dry ones.

Tinka enjoys the outdoors.

Along with the solid food, social time was added to her daily routine. Each day we brought Tinka out to a nice roomy pen behind the adult parma wallaby enclosure. This off-exhibit area was perfect because it was big and sunny with trees and dirt, all new to Tinka. The best part was that after Tinka was used to the pen area, we could open a small partition and allow her to socialize with an adult female parma wallaby.

From the beginning, Tinka loved her excursions outside the nursery. She stretched out in the warm sun and enjoyed the freedom of hopping around and exploring. We could not believe how fast she could move around and how coordinated she was. Tinka’s brief nose-to-nose encounters with the adult female parma wallaby were brief but positive. When the two animals spotted each other, they did a rapid headshake movement, complete with a hilarious ear vibration. This traditional greeting, performed when parmas meet, was all new to Tinka, but she displayed it perfectly on her own without ever having seen it before.

Gone were the days of the incubator environment. Tinka was living in a cozy box pen in the nursery with only a heat disk necessary to keep her pouch warm. Tinka’s new coat made it possible for her to explore a new exciting world and to form new relationships.

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