The new little Matschie’s Tree Kangaroo joey, at Woodland Park Zoo, is now venturing out of his mother’s pouch!
The little male, named Ecki, will soon leave the pouch permanently as he gradually grows more confident and independent.
“Ecki” is named after a beloved elder from one of the remote Papua New Guinea villages that works with Woodland Park Zoo to help protect Tree Kangaroos and their habitat. The joey and his mother, 11-year-old Elanna, currently live behind the scenes in an off-view habitat at the zoo.
While Ecki is just now being introduced to the world, he was actually born eight months ago. When joeys are born, they’re only the size of a jellybean! Within just one to two minutes of birth, that tiny baby has to crawl from the birth canal, through the mother’s fur, and into the pouch to immediately begin nursing. That’s exactly what Ecki did, and he’s been tucked away in his mom Elanna’s pouch.
But while Ecki may have been hidden from view, the zoo’s dedicated animal care staff constantly monitored him and his mother to make sure that both were healthy and meeting expected milestones. One way they were able to do that is through routine “pouch checks,” where keepers looked inside Elanna’s pouch to check on the joey.
“Training Elanna to cooperate with pouch checks required a solid foundation of trust between Elanna and her keepers. Using positive reinforcement, our keepers trained Elanna to come down to a platform when asked, place her front feet onto a white tube, and extend the time holding still in this position. At the same time, keepers slowly desensitized Elanna to gently touching and opening her pouch until they were able to see inside it,” said Animal Care Manager Rachel Salant.
Finally, keepers spent some time slowly introducing cameras and cell phones near Elanna so that she would be comfortable with having the devices around to record video of her pouch.
As part of all of the zoo’s animal training sessions, Elanna had the choice to leave any session at any time, so any video recorded was because Elanna fully allowed it. The result is a rare, up-close look at a Tree Kangaroo joey in his early stages of life, and it’s incredible to watch.
In the coming months, Ecki will become fully weaned from his mother, and eventually grow independent. In the meantime, animal care staff will continue to observe Ecki and Elanna to make sure both are happy, healthy and thriving.
Woodland Park Zoo is home to the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program that is working to protect the endangered Tree Kangaroo and help maintain the unique biodiversity of its native Papua New Guinea in balance with the culture and needs of the people who live there.
Woodland Park Zoo invites the public to consider supporting the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program here: https://www.zoo.org/tkcp/donate