Joey joins Singapore Zoo's family of Goodfellows' tree kangaroos

28 JUL 2020
The course of true love never did run smooth, and for Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos Makaia and Nupela, it took some warming up before sparks flew. However, it was worth the wait as the pair is now proud first-time parents to a male joey that was born on 4 February this year.

Mum Nupela enjoys a nutritious snack while her joey, a male, dangles his paw from her pouch. He then sneaks a peek, taking in the new sights and sounds of his surroundings in Singapore Zoo. 

PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Nupela gave birth earlier this year on 4 February and her care team witnessed the baby crawl into the safety of mum’s pouch. Although a first-time mother, Nupela is a natural and her instincts see her regularly cleaning her pouch and grooming her little one who is growing fast.

PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos are among the rarest animals in zoos around the world. With the arrival of this miniscule marsupial, the global population of this species under human care now stands at just 58 individuals.

As with all marsupials, tree kangaroos are born in an almost embryonic state after a gestation of about 40 days. The jellybean-sized newborn has to make an ardous crawl into the mother’s pouch

where the rest of its development takes place. Only about eight months later will the joey emerge from the pouch completely and take its first tentative steps to explore its surroundings.

Nupela’s dedicated care team witnessed the birth and the joey’s epic crawl into mom’s pouch. The bond and trust between mum and her keepers allow daily checks on Nupela’s pouch to monitor the baby’s growth and record significant developments including the moment when the joey popped his hairless head out of the pouch on 7 July 2020 for a look-around.

Nupela and the-yet-to-be-named baby can be viewed at their exhibit in Singapore Zoo, while dad Makaia takes a break from the public eye in an off-exhibit area, to allow mom and baby to bond.

Five-year-old Makaia and six-year-old Nupela were paired under a Global Species Management Plan (GSMP) for Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos in 2016. The pair arrived from Adelaide Zoo and Taronga Zoo respectively, in the hopes of starting a family.

Endorsed by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) in 2013, the primary goal of the GSMP is to oversee the cooperatively managed global population of Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos in participating zoos. These include zoos in Australia, Europe, North America, Japan, and Singapore which cooperate to enhance the sustainability of the global population under human care, and also act as assurance population should there be a catastrophic decline in the wild.

Pairing suitable individuals from participating zoos aim to minimise inbreeding of related animals and enhance the genetic viability of the species under human care. Singapore Zoo’s contributions to the GSMP included two previous transfers: a Singapore-born female to France’s Beauval Zoo in February 2019, and a local born male to Japan’s Yokohama Zoo in May 2016.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said: “In these uncertain times, the birth of this Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is certainly a ray of light for the Global Species Management Plan. Such programmes enable zoos the world over to breed threatened species in a scientific and coordinated manner to achieve demographic and genetic sustainability. Together with conservation efforts in the animals’ natural habitats, these breeding programmes help to ensure the survival of the species.”

Named after Walter Goodfellow, the British zoological collector who discovered them, this species of tree kangaroo is classified as endangered under the IUCN* Red List of Threated Species due to unsustainable hunting and loss of habitat. In the last 50 years, its population has declined by about 50 per cent.

* International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Keepers conduct daily pouch checks on Nupela and her joey to ensure the young one is developing well. Photo taken on 11 June 2020 when the joey was four months old. At five months old now, the male baby has started to pop his hairless head out of mom’s pouch to take in the new sights and sounds around him.

PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Proud dad Makaia is currently taking a break from the public eye in an off-exhibit area, to allow mom Nupela and joey to bond.

PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE