A rare tree kangaroo joey – the first to ever be born at Chester Zoo – has emerged from its mum’s pouch for the first time.
Conservationists have caught on camera the remarkable moment the tiny new joey – an endangered Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo – peeked out from mum Kitawa’s pouch.
The birth has been hailed as a “real celebration” for the conservation breeding programme which is working to protect the highly threatened species from extinction – with only two zoos in the UK caring for the animals.
It’s the first time Chester Zoo has bred the species in its 91-year history where, in a bid to discover more about the elusive creatures, conservationists have documented the growth of the joey using a special endoscope camera carefully placed into Kitawa’s pouch every few weeks.
Experts say the data collected could help tree kangaroos, as well as other similar threatened species found in South East Asia, and their plight in the wild.
David White, Team Manager at the zoo, said:
“Kitawa’s joey is the first Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo to ever be born at Chester Zoo in its 91 year-long history, so it’s a real celebratory moment for the team and our efforts to protect this highly endangered species.
“Tree kangaroos have one of the most complex birthing processes in the animal kingdom. When a joey is first born it’s only the size of a jellybean and is incredibly underdeveloped. Moments after the birth, with eyes still tightly closed, the joey knows to instinctively crawl up mum’s belly and into her pouch – following a channel which she has marked out by licking her fur. Once safely in the pouch, the baby receives all of the nutrition it needs while it grows and develops for a further six months – up until it starts to pop its head out.
“With little being known about these shy and elusive creatures, small mammal experts at our conservation zoo are in a unique position to be able to capture and document the whole process around the development of Kitawa’s joey. These observations could be useful to help inform better conservation action for this wonderful, but sadly endangered species, in the wild.
“The new baby will soon emerge from the pouch fully and begin hopping around and learning to climb trees, under the watchful eye of mum. That’s when we’ll be able to determine if it’s male or female and give the youngster a fitting name.”
Much smaller than the well known Australian kangaroo species, the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is a tree-dwelling marsupial, using their their strong limbs for climbing and tails for balance. The species is native to the mountainous rainforests of Papua New Guinea where they are under threat from hunting and habitat destruction – losing more than half of its population in the last 30 years.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the species as endangered in the wild – with conservationists calling for more close monitoring of the animals in their native range.
“These remarkable animals have suffered tremendously in the wild. They are hunted for their meat and their habitat is disappearing around them as forests are cleared for timber and to make way for coffee and rice plantations.
“Zoo conservationists are working with our partners and local communities in areas of South East Asia to make sustainable farming practices the norm, helping to prevent further deforestation across the region while protecting what’s left of the precious forests – home to many of the world’s most threatened species, like the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo.”