Some of you may remember a post from late July on our facebook page about a little kangaroo joey that needed a name. Well the response was great, you all showed how much you cared for this little roo and offered 133 name suggestions. After that we took the names to the zookeepers so they could vote on which they liked the most. After a couple of days of deliberation the keepers settled on the name Rica! Rica’s popularity only grew when she got to be the featured animal on different local TV segments. Where our assistant director, Matt Fouts, talked a little bit about Rica and told you all a small part of her story and you can see one of the interviews HERE. Still I felt that Rica had a great story of care and connection so I had to tell you all the rest of it.
As I’m sure most of you know a kangaroo is born no bigger than the end of your pinky. At only a month old these tiny, newborn joeys climb up the mother’s fur and into the pouch. Once in the pouch the joey will latch onto a nipple and do the rest of its growing inside the pouch. Sometimes the mama kangaroos will make a mistake while grooming their pouch and in the process knock their little joey out without even realizing it. Though we aren’t certain if this happened to Rica or not we do know that she did get orphaned at the last few days of June and so that’s when the staff stepped in to raise the little forgotten roo.
There is an old saying that says ‘it take a village of zookeepers to raise a joey’ and that phrase was lived out here at Tanganyika with little Rica. She needed to be fed once every three to four hours for the full twenty-four hour day. So keepers would take turns feeding her throughout the day, and at night she would go home with our animal curator, Stephanie Jeter, or our nursery manager, Sherri Fouts. Since she was being raised by humans and humans do not have pouches we had to use a bunch of specially made kangaroo carrying purses. Rica would roll up on her back and tuck her legs in and would just hang out in her pouch for days. She was surrounded by blankets inside and the bundle was held by someone as often as possible, because joeys have very thin fur at first and therefore need the extra warmth. Pouches were cleaned regularly and Rica was fed consistently and soon she was popping in and out of the pouch to check out her surroundings that meant it was almost time for Rica to join our kangaroo mob.
For the last month Rica has been spending more and more time with the mob. She is now cared for by the lead kangaroo keeper Sarah and secondary kangaroo keeper Derrick, who are kind of like Rica’s parents right now. They started Rica’s transition slowly by hanging her pouch in the roo’s indoor shelter so that she could get used to the smells and sounds of kangaroo life. They also began weening her from the bottle and moving her more towards solid foods.
Since Rica was raised by humans she thinks she is a human so the process of her accepting the mob and the mob accepting her is taking some time. Right now Rica is spending her time outside with the rest of the mob while we are closed during the week, she is getting more and more comfortable with her surroundings in the kangaroo walk about. Rica is a little different from other roos, she is more independent for her age and often stands up straight so that she appears taller to the other joeys. Rica is definitely more comfortable with humans than she is with kangaroos at this point. She is very friendly and will hang out right next to humans and even noses around on them to see if they have a pouch she could climb into for a nap. This is both a good and a bad thing since Rica will be living in the kangaroo walk about where people will be seeing her and petting her, it is fantastic that she will be welcoming and will enjoy the human presence but we don’t want her being so comfortable with humans that she will try to play with them or climb into their laps, which wouldn’t be a big deal now, but would only become more of an issue as she grows.
Rica is becoming part of the mob. The joeys around her age are starting to play with her, she isn’t too sure how to play but at least the other joeys are comfortable with Rica and are willing to welcome her. She is still very attached to the keepers but it’s only a matter of time now as they ween her from her bottle entirely, ween her from the pouch, and eventually ween her from them. Rica is a great example of what Tanganyika is all about. We are here to rescue the animals and the species in our care. We exist to make sure that there are still snow leopards in existence twenty years from now, to make sure indian rhinos don’t disappear overnight, and to rescue the little ones that are abandoned and alone. We provide a home, a safe haven for some of the most beautiful parts of God’s creation, and Rica is no exception. She will be and has been cared for with the love of several zookeepers and the nurturing staff of Tanganyika. If Rica continues adapting the way she is she will either become a regular member of the kangaroo walkabout experience or moved to a different zoo facility if they need her.