“Sydney,” Journey of a Joey Wallaby, Part 1

Sydney the Wallaby at 7 months

Life is tough when you’re this little. Life is even tougher outside the security of Mommy’s pouch. Life is really tough when formula replaces Mommy’s milk and you’re surrounded by tall, strange-looking animals without fur or tails or pouches. Meet baby “Sydney,” an orphaned Bennett’s wallaby joey, who came to Zooniversity for foster care. This is Part 1 of her story.

Sydney was born about 7 months ago. Like all wallaby newborns, she was born the size of a jelly bean. She was born fur-less and pink. She was born blind and deaf. She spent the entire first day of life here on Earth climbing, hand over hand, up the fur on Mommy’s belly, looking for the opening to her pouch. She was lucky. She found it and climbed inside and found a warm place to hide and milk to drink and got an occasional bath from a furry, loving nose.

Then, at 6 months old, she found herself out of the security of her warm, safe pouch. The wallaby breeder kept her warm and snug until she met her new foster Mommy: me. Yes, I am now the foster mother to this tiny, sweet creature who depends on me for sustenance, warmth, protection and the learning of life’s lessons. Those are big wallaby shoes to fill.

She was so tiny. Her fur was brand new. She could not yet hop or maintain her body temperature. She was kept warm and cozy around the clock in a fleece-lined, man-made pouch with microwave-warmed heating discs. She was bottled with kangaroo/wallaby formula every  4 hours, all day and all night long. Learning to drink from a bottle was not easy and she struggled to figure it out. I struggled to keep her hydrated and nourished and alive. I also struggled to function (and to present wildlife shows) on very little sleep.

Sydney with Bottle

This first month with Sydney has not been easy. Sydney’s tiny body has had a very hard time adjusting from Mama’s milk to man-made formula. Our first four weeks together have included four trips to the veterinarian, three fecal tests, one bacterial culture, and countless supplements of probiotics, acidophillus, digestive enzymes and Kaopectate. The diagnosis? She is perfectly healthy, but her young digestive track still struggles to properly process the manufactured formula. Time will tell if her body will be able to figure it out.

Tummy troubles aside, she has learned to hop…and hop…and hop. And she’s learned that if the world is too scary, the safety of her pouch is just one somersault away. She’s learned to hold her own bottle and to guzzle it down with gusto. She has gained weight and a fuzzy new fur coat. She has tried to put a few pieces of hay and grass in her mouth, but figuring out how to chew them still eludes her. Life is indeed tough when you’re this little.

There are still many wallaby milestones for Sydney to reach and many new life lessons for her to learn before she can be returned to her pasture and lie in the sun with the rest of her mob. Until then,we will try to guide her through each new challenge and will chronicle her leaps-and-bounds for you in future blog entries. –Allison

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