Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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Red-necked Wallaby joeys Emmy-Lou and Dixie with their surrogate dads Geoff and Darryl
Photo credit: Stephanie Frazer

Dixie will soon live in the Zoo's Education Centre and be an ambassador for her species
Photo credit: Stephanie Frazer

Taronga Zoo keepers, Darryl Lewry, and Geoff Harris are also doubling as surrogate dads hand-raising two Red-necked Wallaby joeys.

Nestled in the yellow pouch of her carry satchel, Darryl describes seven month old joey Dixie as being just like a normal baby.

"She's like any kid, she likes to lick things. If she doesn't know what something is, she likes to stick it in her mouth", Darryl said.

Caring for such a young joey is very involved with midnight and early morning bottle feeds. As a joey, Dixie's diet is restricted to milk, native grasses and flowers and in a few months she will be introduced to her main diet of carrots, sweet potato and corn.

Sleeping in her pouch hung on the end of his bed, Darryl often finds Dixie to be quietly staring at him when he opens his eyes as if willing him to wake up so she can get her 6am bottle feed.

From spending time with Darryl on weekends in the sun to making an appearance at Libby Lenton's wedding, things have been pretty interesting in Dixie's little life so far.

When she is old enough, Dixie will graduate to the Education Centre, acting as an ambassador for species in the wild while at the same time helping to educate visitors about the importance of habitat conservation and protection of these native animals.

Darryl plays an important role in helping Dixie to learn the skills she will need for her future. He is gradually exposing her to different environments, sounds and human contact that will enable her to experience and familiarise herself with what she will encounter in her life.

Geoff Harris has been caring for Emmy-Lou around with him since early December 2006 when she was rejected by her mother. Since then, Geoff has been her full-time surrogate parent, ensuring she had her midnight bottle feed as a young joey and enough of her current diet of roots, bark, branches and vegies.

Now at 12 months, Emmy-Lou is ready to leave Geoff and try out her new home in the ‘Macropod Walk' exhibit where she has already made friends in the group.

Geoff realised that it was time for Emmy-Lou to join the adult kangaroo and wallabies in the ‘Australian Walkthrough' exhibit when he was being kept awake all night with her bouncing as she refused to sleep in her pouch.

"Every wallaby is different, but they tend to wean themselves away from care on their own, especially the females who like to exert their independence," said Geoff.

Although Geoff has had some experience in raising a Grey Kangaroo joey 10 years ago, he has found raising a Red-necked Wallaby easier due to the laid-back friendly nature of the species. Despite their wealth of knowledge, Taronga's Australian Mammals keepers can call on the Taronga veterinarians or past carers as part of a mentor program, providing them with extra support and expertise.

The care of joeys like Emmy-Lou and Dixie is vital in ensuring their survival as well as the on-going wildlife education they provide to visitors to Taronga. Educating the public about the animals' behaviour and value is important to Darryl and he feels that seeing these animals close up will enable people to realise that they are unique Australian icons.

Taronga and Western Plains Zoos have an outstanding record with Australian native animal conservation, research, rehabilitation and breeding programs. These include the Malleefowl breeding and reintroduction program, Platypus breeding program and the critically endangered Corroboree Frog conservation program.

The Zoos' Wildlife Clinics also treat and rehabilitate up to 1500 native animals each year including an array of possums, wombats, birds, sea turtles and Little Penguins.

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