Cassowary Coast Wildlife Shelter cares for injured and orphaned animals in Mission Beach and its surrounds. It takes a lot of commitment and love to help these animals survive, and the shelter relies heavily on Tanya’s personal finances, volunteers and public donations.
The shelter cares for and raises joeys until they are about 10 to 12 months old. During this time, they can be fed as often as every three to four hours depending on how old they are. There are many milk formulas on the market and each carer has his or her own preferences. No matter what product you use, formula can be extremely costly, especially if there are many young animals in care.
Just like a human baby’s bottle, mixing warm water and formula together creates the milk for the joeys. If you need to reheat formula that’s been in the fridge, placing the bottle of milk into boiling water is the preferred method. This prevents most of the vitamins in the formula from deteriorating as it would if you put the bottle in the microwave.
When joeys first arrive, they can be reluctant to drink the milk formula. It, of course, tastes nothing like their mum’s milk and the teat is rubber or silicone. However, they soon learn what it’s all about and eagerly gobble down as much as they can. Some are very insistent and will remind you exactly when it’s feeding time.
Similar to human babies, some joeys inhale their bottles while others luxuriate in their food. During and after their feed, many of the joeys nap in their artificial pouches with their eyes half closed in bliss.
All macropods, like agile wallabies, eastern grey kangaroos and wallaroos, are mob animals and love to have others around them. They’ll often lie in their pouches snuggled up next to each other and enjoy one another. Matilda and Stuart are especially close as they came into care around the same time.
Despite their size differences, Elliot, an eastern grey kangaroo, and Cody, a wallaroo, are babies just like Stuart and Matilda, two of the agile wallabies in care. They still need frequent feedings and love their milk as much as the next baby. Kangaroo joeys can stay in their mothers’ pouches for up to two years while agile wallaby babies need about half that time.
Of course, bigger babies require bigger bottles with more milk in them. The shelter goes through several tins of formula a week just to keep these animals fed and healthy. When they are old enough for solid food, grass is slowly introduced. Sweet potato, carrot and red apple are also given as food supplements and special treats. Just like humans, the wallabies and kangaroos have their individual preferences of what they like to eat.
As the joeys get older, they eat more and more solid foods. They can spend much of the day grazing and napping but will often still want their milk even after they’ve learned to drink water. During this time, they are slowly weaned off their bottles and receive only two bottles a day.
When joeys are down to two bottles a day, they are usually mature enough to send to a pre-release site run by another wildlife carer. At these sanctuaries, they learn to become wild animals again as there is limited human contact out in the bush. They join the wild mobs in the area and at some point choose not to come back to the sanctuary. Only then are they truly free.
Until then though, bottle feedings every few hours keeps everyone at the shelter occupied between rescue calls and general maintenance of the shelter. The place is always bustling with things to do, but feeding time is definitely a special moment shared between you and the animals.