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Taronga Zoo is celebrating the breeding success with the arrival of two Yellow-bellied Glider joeys, the largest of Australia’s unique gliding possums.

The Zoo’s Australian Mammals keepers found the twin Yellow-bellied Gliders nestled safely in their parent’s nesting hollow.

The new arrivals, one male and one female, are a triumph for the Zoo’s endeavours on behalf this species, which is vulnerable locally. They are notoriously difficult to breed, and more than one joey is exceptionally rare.

Paul Davies, Senior Australian Mammals Keeper, said: ”Twins are not the norm, to say I am tickled pink is an understatement.”

“These critters are just sublime. They have everything; they are as cute as a button; they are very social interactive animals and their hair is some of the softest of any animal in the world. They also have these amazingly long, bushy tails which they use to steer with as they glide from tree to tree,” said Paul.

As the first off-spring born to a Taronga-bred mother, ‘Bailey’, and father ‘Boydie’ which was a wild animal rehabilitated at the Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital, the new arrivals are particularly important with a new blood line established in the Australasian breeding population.

Taronga’s Wendy Gleen is the Studbook Keeper for this unique native animal. Her work involves keeping regional records for Yellow–bellied Gliders and coordinating breeding efforts throughout Australasia.

“Currently Taronga is the only zoo in Australia attempting to breed Yellow-bellied Gliders. With numbers decreasing in the wild due to habitat loss, injury after being caught in wire fencing when gliding and the destruction of old growth trees used for their nesting hollows, this season we really pulled out all the stops, formulating an intensive program to encourage breeding.”

“Breeding season is generally a time of plenty when there are lots of insects and seasonal nectar and fruits for the gliders to feast on. We simulated this environment by providing heaps of fresh browse, acacia, strip eucalypt, meal worms, crickets and proteas,” said Wendy.

“We also deliberately took a hands-off approach and rather than weighing and pouch checking ‘Bailey’, we left the pair to their own devices until one day we saw four sets of eyes staring back rather than two!’.

“The arrival of the youngsters, thought to be about four to six months of age, will help us learn so much more about the species. Hopefully it will help unravel some of the breeding and brooding mysteries of the Yellow-bellied Glider as well as providing an insight into the strong parent and social bonds these animals have.” said Wendy.

Yellow-bellied Gliders are a local coastal species and populations can be found less than a two hour drive from Sydney.  Sadly these animals suffer greatly from increased urbanisation, in particular the loss of hollow trees used as breeding and nesting sites.

“A Yellow-bellied Gilder can use up to seven nesting hollows, so the loss of old growth trees is having a devastating effect on populations. What people do not realise is that the hollows needed to house an entire Glider family takes over 100 years to develop, so knocking one down and then planting a replacement is not an option as it will not be big enough for many years, at least not within our lifetime or the life span of a Yellow-bellied Glider,’ said Wendy.

Bailey, Boydie and the youngsters will remain in their nesting hollow for sometime. Yellow-bellied Gliders can be glimpsed in the Zoo’s Nightlife Exhibit which brings visitors face to face with Australia’s nocturnal wildlife including Northern Quolls, Bilbies and the energetic native Plains Rats.