09/04/2020

Amazing images show tiny tree kangaroo in mother’s pouch

These amazing pictures show a baby tree kangaroo inside its mother’s pouch here at the Zoo.

Keepers took the images using a special camera and say the joey should begin emerging from the pouch in the next week or two. 

The birth of the tiny Goodfellows tree kangaroo is a huge boost for the captive breeding programme for this Endangered species. It is one of only two tree kangaroo joeys to have been bred successfully in captivity in the UK during the past 12 months.

Its appearance will mark the end of a six-month wait for keepers since the tiny embryo made its way up the outside of mum Kitawa’s pouch and nestled inside.

From the day the tiny marsupial was officially born last November, staff at the Zoo have been keeping a close eye on how it has progressed.

Videos taken by keepers show the joey at first as a tiny kidney-bean shaped embryo just 2cm in length, having found its way into the pouch by following a path of saliva laid down by its mum.

Once safely in the pouch, the joey immediately latched onto Kitawa’s teat and started to feed. Further footage shows its eyes and tiny claws developing.

In the latest pictures the tiny marsupial, now about 20cm long, excluding its tail, can be seen almost fully developed, with its eyes open and ready to emerge into the world.

Mammal Team Leader, Alan Toyne, said: “This is very significant. It’s something that we have been hoping would happen since Kitawa and our male, Mian, came to Bristol Zoo as a new breeding pair. There’s a lot of excitement here about this.”

The pair, both four years old, arrived at Bristol Zoo in 2017. Kitawa came from Beauval Zoo in France and Mian from Perth in Australia, but it took a while for them to get to know each other and mate.

Alan said: “Goodfellows tree kangaroos are born up to 44 days after mating and then make their way into the mother’s pouch and begin feeding from a teat. Once the embryo had made it into her pouch and started feeding we were really hopeful that all would go well.”

Keepers trained Kitawa to allow them to insert the boroscope, which has a lens on the end of a flexible tube, into her pouch to check on the joey’s development.

Alan added: “We got footage at four, seven, 12 and 16 weeks and it really is amazing.”

Keepers expect the joey to emerge from the pouch in the coming weeks and be hopping and climbing around on its own by June.

But it will return to its mum’s pouch regularly and will continue taking milk from her. Eventually it will only put its head inside the pouch to feed. 

Alan said: “This birth is hugely significant because Mian joined us from Perth Zoo and so we now have his important genes within the European breeding programme for this species.”

Tree kangaroos are found in the tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea, where they have adapted to life in the trees, with shorter legs and stronger forelimbs for climbing. They can bound as far as nine metres to a neighbouring tree and can leap down to the group from as high as 18 metres.

But many of the areas where they used to live have been lost to logging or timber production or used to grow wheat, rice and coffee plants. This loss of habitat can also leave tree kangaroos prey to domestic dogs. They are also at risk of the expansion of non-sustainable oil palm plantations, which converts forests into plantations to produce palm oil.

We have launched an appeal to ensure the future of our work saving wildlife. Its aim is to safeguard Bristol Zoo Gardens, Wild Place Project and our conservation projects in 10 countries across the world.

The society, which is a registered charity, has launched the BZS Appeal following the temporary closure of both its sites in Bristol in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Find out more, or make a donation here.

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