Woman Acts as Mother to Abadoned Kangaroo

Skippy, almost a month after he was found, learns how to drink. At first, he fed from a special 'roo bottle every two hours.
Skippy, almost a month after he was found, learns how to drink. At first, he fed from a special 'roo bottle every two hours. (AP)
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When a baby kangaroo was abandoned by his mother at the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana, Christina Cooper watched and waited for more than an hour. She hoped the mother would come back for the joey, as baby kangaroos are called, because the 3-month-old still had no hair and needed warmth and milk to survive. But the mother never came back.

"That was really hard just to watch," said Cooper, who is the education and development director at the center. "Nobody came to claim him."

So Cooper scooped up the baby and put him under her shirt, and took him to the Baton Rouge Zoo. Veterinarians made a milk substitute and cleaned the baby, but Skippy needed to be held in a tight, warm place, so Cooper volunteered to keep him in a makeshift pouch under her sweat shirt and fleece jacket. "That's pretty unbearable in May in Louisiana," she said.

Though adult red kangaroos can grow to six feet tall, a newborn is about the size of a jelly bean. Eyeless, earless, all but skinless and with only buds where its hind legs will be, a newborn hauls itself into its mother's pouch. There, the "pouch embryo" stays put, drinking the mother's milk, for about six months.

Cooper doesn't know how or why Skippy came out of his mother's pouch. Whatever the reason, when he was found, he weighed a bit more than a pound. He needed a mother.

It was demanding duty at first. Skippy had to be fed with a special kangaroo bottle every two hours. Initially, Cooper slept upright in an armchair so Skippy would be in the right position, but the arrival of an incubator gave her a break at night -- though not from the round-the-clock feedings!

Cooper later got a specially made kangaroo pouch from a 'roo rescuer in Australia and has carried Skippy in that pouch for most of each day since May -- even though he now weighs almost seven pounds and comes up to Cooper's knee. "He comes with me everywhere I go," Cooper said. Skippy's head or feet tend to poke out of the pouch so people immediately realize that she's carrying a kangaroo.

Skippy needs to spend a lot of time in the pouch to be sure his hind legs develop properly. He sleeps in his pouch next to Cooper's bed, hanging from a special stand. When he was first found, it was not clear he would survive, but now he's in great health and growing normally.

Skippy took his first hops in July, and now he jumps around the office and outside in a small area of the 900-acre nature preserve. In three or four months, he'll leave the pouch and join Global Wildlife's herd of about 40 kangaroos.

Cooper will miss him. Kangaroos bond closely with one caregiver, and Skippy and Cooper are very close -- like a mother and child. "I'll put my hands out and he'll put his little paws in my hands and then kiss me on the nose," she said. "He's just awesome."

-- Staff and wire reports

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