Tree kangaroo adopted by a wallaby finds a new home

Two-year-old Makaia with Mr Bisht, the quarantine officer. It will soon be put together with a female tree kangaroo at the Singapore Zoo to start their own furry family.
Two-year-old Makaia with Mr Bisht, the quarantine officer. It will soon be put together with a female tree kangaroo at the Singapore Zoo to start their own furry family.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Orphaned at seven weeks when a falling branch killed its mother, a tree kangaroo who miraculously survived in the pouch, and was later adopted by a wallaby, has found a new home at the Singapore Zoo.

Makaia's move here last month from an Australian zoo is part of a global breeding programme to ensure the survival of its species, the endangered Goodfellow's tree kangaroo.

Makaia will be put together with a female tree kangaroo, Nupela, in the hope that the pair will start their own furry family.

Threatened by unsustainable hunting and loss of habitat, the Goodfellow's tree kangaroo population has halved in the last 50 years.

Brown with two golden stripes running down its back, the marsupial native to Papua New Guinea is among the rarest animals kept under human care, with only about 50 found in zoos around the world.

Compared to land kangaroos, it has shorter limbs, making it stockier and clumsy on the ground. But it has broader feet and can walk backwards, which makes it easier for it to negotiate treetop terrain.

In November 2014, Makaia made headlines around the world when, at 47 days old, it was adopted by a yellow-footed wallaby. The joey had been in its mother's pouch when the mother was crushed by a branch.

As it was too young to be hand-reared by humans, keepers at the Adelaide Zoo had only one option - transfer it into the pouch of a surrogate wallaby, in a world's first for conservation.

When it grew too big for the wallaby's pouch, Makaia - which means "magic" in a Papua New Guinea language - was cared for by a keeper.

Having been fostered and hand-raised, two-year-old Makaia can be quite timid and likes climbing to high vantage points to survey its surroundings, according to Mr Anil Bisht, a quarantine officer at the Singapore Zoo who has been caring for Makaia since its arrival.

The tree kangaroo was accompanied to Singapore by a teddy bear given by its Australian keepers, as a companion, so it does not turn nervous or aggressive. But Makaia is gentle to its human carers.

"When we hand-feed some animals who are not trained, they take the food with their mouth. Makaia, he takes it using his hand, and very gently," said Mr Bisht.

Keepers hope that Makaia will be a good match for the three-year-old Nupela, who arrived in June from a Sydney zoo. The Singapore Zoo has two other older tree kangaroos in its collection.

Makaia's story highlights the importance of breeding under human care, said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Wildlife Reserves Singapore's deputy chief executive and chief life sciences officer. "In the wild, if he were to fall out of his mother's pouch, that would be the end of him.We still want him to be fully functioning as a tree kangaroo, so the plan would be to breed him."

Nupela is already in the pair's exhibit in the zoo's Australasian zone. Keepers are observing how Makaia adapts to its new environment before introducing it to its destined mate, and has even weaned it off the teddy bear.

Mr Bisht said: "Despite the thunder and lightning here, he didn't go to his teddy, so we've tossed it out. He's settling down very well actually, without the teddy bear."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'Tree kangaroo adopted by a wallaby finds a new home'. Print Edition | Subscribe