Monday, 23 March 2009

Nigel the orphaned baby wombat

Speaking of pinkies, meet Nigel.

Nigel is an orphaned baby wombat. Wombats, for those who don't know, are actually the koala's closest relative. In fact wombats are even a bit smarter than our favourite tree-dwelling, folivorous marsupial (their brains are more convoluted).

I'm told that our intrepid team of relief koalawranglers became quite weak at the knees when they met sweet little Nigel. As regular readers will know, the team recently jetted off on a mercy mission to Victoria - headin to those areas ravaged by bushfires where they could give a hand to local wildlife carers down there after the recent horrific fires.

Nigel was not one of the animals they rescued - he resides in the loving hands of Clair, a local woman who has been caring for wombats for 35 years. She has had literally thousands come through her doors.

"What a dude," was all one of the Koala Hospital handlers could say. "All the staff of the koala hospital who were there went to total pieces when they saw him."

Nigel is doing well under Clair's care. He is moving from the ranks of pinkie to a fully fledged (and soon-to-be fully furred) joey as he is just beginning to get his fur.

Yep, what a dude.

Photos courtesy of Amanda Gordon.

What is a pinky/pinkie?

I wrote a post about the rescue of Joanne the baby kangaroo and a follow-up indicating that she was doing well.

A fellow blogger has commented that a baby kangaroo (or koala, for that matter) seems to be called a “joey” one minute and a “pinky” (or "pinkie") the next. I thought I should explain why this is in more detail here.

Briefly, "joey" is the generic name for the babies of most marsupials, eg: kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, wombats, possums, etc. So, the young marsupial is always a “joey”, but in the earliest phase of a joey’s development it is called a "pinky".

The reason for the different names is that marsupials are not like other mammals; they are not born, and that’s that.

When a koala is born it is about 2cm long, weighs 0.5g and has no fur. This tiny creature crawls up on the outside of its mother, through her fur and up into the pouch which runs vertically down her body (unlike the kangaroo’s which is horizontal). There is an excellent photo of a tiny, pinky koala on the Warrnambool Wildlife Rescue page, showing it drinking from its mother's teat.

The baby spends several months in the pouch where it drinks her milk and grows in size. As I said above, the new-born baby is furless. Without its fur, the baby is just pink skin so until the baby grows its full coat of fur, it is called pinky. You rarely see much a pinky joey outside the pouch unless it is an orphaned pinky being cared for by humans. In the wild, the pinky remains in the mother’s pouch for warmth. Even if it were furred, it would be too small and feeble to get about on its own.

In human terms, a pinky is like a premature baby. They need a lot of care and may not survive. Like premature human babies, very young pinkies are kept in knitted pouches in a humidcrib to simulate the warmth and feeling of a real pouch (or womb).

With lots of special care, they can survive, but it is touch and go. The younger they are, the smaller they are, and the more frequent feeds they require. Such a small animal is not designed to be outside the pouch, so they usually need the care of a pinky expert – someone who has had a lot of experience caring for pinkies.

Just to complicate matters, there is a special class of marsupials called monotremes. There are only two animals in this sub-class: the echidnas and the platypus. They are warm-blooded like other mammals but lay eggs. Their young are not called joeys. Baby echidnas are called “puggles”, whereas, curiously, baby platypi don’t have a name!

As I don't work with monotremes, I don't know if their very young babies are called pinkies as well. Here is a photo of a young certainly does look rather pink!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Baby kangaroo ("pinky") update

I must confess that when I posted that story about a friend of mine rescuing a baby kangaroo, I was a bit worried the wee little pinky might not make it.

Then I caught up with the same friend last week. I was delighted to hear that WIRES had called her a little while after the event with some good news. The pinky joey had survived and was doing well!

She is being cared for by a local pinky expert who raises other orphaned baby kangaroos. So she has some playmates as well!

And she now has a name. They've named her "Joanne". Joanne, the joey. Geddit? :)

I do love a good news story.

You can read about Joanne's rescue here.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Koala Hospital koalawranglers return from Victorian mercy mission

They wanted to keep it low-key, just go down and get the job done without fanfare, but the news that four of our experienced Koala Hospital staff and volunteers heading off to help in the Victorian firegrounds and wildlife care facilities has hit NBN TV.

See Port Koala Carers Help Victoria [includes video interview].

Our team flies home to Port Macquarie this afternoon after 10 days of hard, heartbreaking work carrying out fireground searches for injured wildlife (all wildlife, by the way, not just koalas) and setting up triage for those animals recovered. When I approached Virgin Blue about whether they could help out with the flights to send our people down there, their response was simply "tell us what we can do". The airline funded the flights to and from Melbourne and were prepared to transport up to the Koala Hospital for treatment if it came to that.

Sam the Koala. From Daily Telegraph.
[I'm always amazed by how different Victorian koalas look to their NSW counterparts. Vic wahlees are larger and much fluffier.]

The small shelters in Victoria are still doing it tough. The Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter where carers like Colleen Wood are selflessly treating and caring for wildlife affected by these fires, including Sam the koala, are crying out for financial support. You can donate here:

See Wildlife shelter plea to help bushfire victim Sam the Koala [this story also includes the now famous footage of Sam the koala drinking water offered by a firefighter David Tree].

As for this article, I am not at all surprised that Sam's carers are refusing to let Tree see or be photographed with Sam. I know wildlife carers, and any wildlife carer worth their salt would not compromise the well-being of even one animal for personal or financial gain or an ounce of publicity.

The animal's care is paramount to them.

That's what makes them such special people.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Rescued baby kangaroo ("pinky")

A friend of mine was on the road recently and found herself taking a detour to collect a young marsupial passenger.

Here is what she said:

When I was driving to Bathurst this morning about 30kms our side of Oberon, I saw a dead kangaroo on the road. I thought I saw something move near the roo so at the next driveway I did a U-turn and went back to investigate. There on the road was a pink little joey. Every time it tried to hop, it fell on its face because it was so young. Luckily I had a jacket with me, so picked it up, wrapped it in the jacket and put in on the back seat of the car.

WIRES here in Bathurst have now picked up the joey. I hope it survives!
Like the koala, the kangaroo carries its young in a pouch until it is ready to get about on its own. Such joeys are called "pinkies" because they are unfurred, giving them a pink appearance.

What happened to my friend is an important lesson to motorists who might pass a dead animal on the road without a second glance. If the animal is a marsupial, there is every possibility that, while the mother might be dead, she could be carrying young in her pouch that is still very much alive...if they are not left to die by the roadside with the mother, that is. Care facilities like WIRES (Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation) have equipment like humidicribs as well as experienced carers who can raise pinkies. This heartbreaking work is not always successful, but it gives the pinky a much better chance of survival than being left by the road to die!

My friend probably saved that baby kangaroo's life!

Monday, 2 March 2009

March Gum Tips out now!

The March issue of Gum Tips, the Koala Hospital newsletter, is out now!

Click on the cover to download it or browse other issues of Gum Tips here.