This year, Christmas has brought with it a bittersweet gift for Taronga Keeper Megan Flowers, who has been hand-raising an orphaned Red Kangaroo joey named ‘Penny’ for the past five months.
Penny’s development under Megan’s nurturing care has been nothing short of astounding. After months of sleep deprivation, working tirelessly to ensure Penny has been fed four times each night, and carrying the little joey around with her wherever she goes inside a makeshift pouch made out of a lined backpack, Megan has watched Penny transform from an anxious, underweight (1.4kg) scared little joey to a very happy, cheeky and inquisitive young kangaroo, who now weighs in at a very healthy 6kg.
And as Penny has grown, so too has her relationship with surrogate mum, Megan. Now, just like any mum when it comes time to let her child leave the nest (or, in this case, pouch) for the very first time, it is with mixed emotions that Megan prepares for their first night apart in five long months, just in time for Christmas.
Sitting down on the grass inside what we at Taronga call the ‘roo yard’, situated just outside the Zoo’s Education Centre, Megan cradles Penny inside the backpack-pouch which, despite her head, tail and hind-legs now visibly spilling out of, Penny still clearly adores. As the bright young joey surveys her surroundings with serene interest and affectionately nuzzles Megan’s face, Megan tells me that while she’ll be grateful for a good night’s sleep after all this time, it’s still going to be very strange spending a night without Penny.
"Even now, whenever she sees her pouch, she’ll hop straight back inside," Megan says. But learning how to be independent and how to socialise with other members of her species is a very important step in Penny’s development, and is something that will help her continue to grow into a normal, healthy adult kangaroo. And while Megan is going to miss having the cheeky little joey by her side at all times, she’s still incredibly proud of the progress that Penny has made, and the progress that she will continue to make in her new home at Taronga’s Education Centre.
With her unwavering dedication, love and care, Megan has given Penny the most priceless gift of all – the gift of life – and together they share a life story which will last a lifetime.