A little present has popped up to give zoo keepers some holiday cheer at Belfast Zoo, as a Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo joey, an endangered species, has been spotted with his head out of the pouch for the first time!
Senior keeper, Allan Galway, said: “Our ‘good little fellow’, Kayjo, was born to mother Jaya and father, Hasu Hasu on 9 June 2017. Like all marsupials, female tree kangaroos carry and nurse their young in the pouch. When the joey was first born it was the size of a jelly bean and remained in the pouch while developing and suckling from Jaya. Female tree kangaroos have a forward facing pouch, containing four teats and we carry out routine ‘pouch’ checks as part of our normal husbandry routine with this species.”
Allan added: “Jaya moved to Belfast Zoo in January 2013, as part of the collaborative breeding programme. Since then we have incorporated training into her daily husbandry routine. This involves getting Jaya used to being touched by keepers through a process of ‘positive reinforcement’. We started by providing Jaya with her favourite treat, sweetcorn, until she gradually became used to the keepers touching her.
“We then built this up to allow keepers to open her pouch. This allows us to check Jaya’s pouch for health purposes and to track the development of the young during these crucial early months. However, it is completely optional and if Jaya does not want to take part, she has the freedom to move away from the keeper.”
Zoo keeper, Mitchell Johnston, is part of the team who care for the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos and he said: “I have been a keeper for four and a half years and I definitely have a soft spot for the tree kangaroos. Through the daily training routine, I have developed a strong relationship with the kangaroos but especially Jaya.
“Having worked with her for a while now, I have a strong understanding of her behaviour and, last summer, I started to notice signs that a joey may be on the way. Following further behavioural changes on 9 June, I carried out the pouch check and was delighted to find the jelly bean sized joey.
“Being able to witness and photograph the infant’s development over the last six months has been fascinating. In fact, I have become so fond of both mother and baby that I decided to name him Kayjo which is a play on words of my eldest child’s name, as the joey certainly feels like one of the family!”
As their name suggests, the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is a tree-dwelling mammal which is native to the mountainous rainforests of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. These animals are well adapted to a life in the trees by climbing up to 20 feet high and leaping more than 30 feet through the air from branch to branch. However, this species is facing increasing threats due to habitat destruction and hunting.
Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns said: “As part of our commitment to conservation, we take part in a number of global and collaborative breeding programmes. Until this year Belfast Zoo was the only zoo in the United Kingdom and Ireland to care for Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo and we were the first in the UK to breed the species back in 2014.
“Since then we have bred three joeys. This species is listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red list, as the population has dramatically declined in Papua New Guinea by at least 50% over the past three generations. The efforts of zoos around the world, are becoming ever more vital in ensuring the survival of so many species under threats. We are delighted that our team’s efforts have led to the arrival of Kayjo and that we are playing an active role in the conservation of this beautiful and unique species.”
Kayjo is following in the footsteps of big sister, Kau Kau, who hopped out of Jaya’s pouch earlier this year. At this age, visitors who are patient may be rewarded with a glimpse of the joey. The new arrival will continue to develop in the pouch. As the joey grows it will begin to explore the world outside of the pouch, officially moving out at about 10 months but will continue to feed from mum until at least 16 months old and live with her family group until she is old enough to move to another zoo as part of the collaborative breeding programme.
Hop on over to Belfast Zoo this winter. The zoo is open from 10am every day (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day), last admission is 2.30pm and the zoo closes at 4pm.