Werribee Zoo saves koala joey
Cupped in the hands of a Werribee Zoo vet nurse, the koala joey looks breathtakingly small. At 150 days old and less than 500 grams, she should still be in her mother’s pouch.
But the cast set on the tiny marsupial’s arm hints at the near tragedy of her young life. A tragedy that has been avoided thanks to the expert care of Werribee Zoo veterinarians.
The koala joey was brought to Werribee Open Range Zoo by a wildlife carer three weeks ago, after she fell from a tree in a Blue-gum plantation logging area. An external veterinarian had already made the difficult decision to euthanise its severely injured mother.
Werribee Vet Nurse Jess Rice said it was unclear whether the tiny joey would survive at first.
“It was really touch and go when she was brought to us,” said Ms Rice. “She was just at the stage where she would have been starting to poke her head out of mum’s pouch. Joeys that size don’t have a good survival rate in care.”
The first thing to do was address its injuries. The joey presented with a fractured arm from the fall and, after an X-ray, its furry limb was set in a cast not much thicker than a finger.
The native animal needed around the clock care, including feeding with a marsupial milk replacer every four hours. Ms Rice also introduced the young one to a temporary surrogate mum in the form of a stuffed toy.
“Bonding and company is really important to a joey of that age,” Ms Rice said. “Koala joeys are often given toys to provide comfort and teach them how to hang off the fur like they would with their mother.”
Thanks to the constant care, the joey started putting on weight. Last week she was strong enough to be released back to a specialist wildlife carer.
“It will be more than a year before she’s old enough to be released into the wild, so she needs to be with a carer with the resources to take care of her for that long,” Ms Rice said.
“Koalas are just one of the native animals we have to be so careful to take care of in Victoria and that we have the privilege of helping at Werribee Open Range Zoo,” Ms Rice said. “I love working for an organisation that helps fight extinction in a variety of ways.”
Koalas are listed as vulnerable by the by the IUCN Red List, with their numbers declining. They are threatened by a variety of factors including disease and loss of habitat.