A Baby Wallaby's Foster Mother

Eight-month-old "A.J." snuggles into his portable pouch worn by staff biologist, Jennifer Donovan, after a meal of marsupial formula at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., June 22, 2006.
AP/The News Tribune, Janet Jensen
When a baby wallaby's mother died of a bacterial infection last month, a zoo biologist volunteered to become its foster mother.

Jennifer Donovan, 34, a senior staff biologist at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, has never been a mom, but she knew just where to turn when the orphaned Parma wallaby needed her help. Donovan called her own mother, Toni.

The 7-month-old joey named A.J. was accustomed to her touch and her smell, and Donovan had fashioned a makeshift pouch to make him comfortable. But she knew she needed a better way to carry the wallaby around. She told her mother: "Drop everything. Start sewing."

The result was a fleece-lined "joey pouch" Donovan hangs around her neck.

"I just picked up little Mr. A.J. and immediately upon being put into that pouch, he calmed down," Donovan said.

Donovan feeds A.J. formula with a curved-needle syringe because he was not willing to eat from a bottle. His weight has doubled from 800 to 1,600 grams, or about 3.5 pounds, since his mother, Alkina, died May 5.

A.J. is about a foot long from nose to rump, plus a 12-inch tail. Average height for adult Parma wallabies is about 1.5 feet tall.

Donovan tucks him into the pouch for part of the day while she makes her rounds at the zoo's Kids Zone, teaching human youngsters that "animals are awesome and we want to protect them every day." And she shows up on her days off to care for A.J.

Zoo spokeswoman Carolyn Cox is impressed. It is not unusual for zookeepers to hand-rear young critters, she said, "But I've never seen anybody go to these lengths to help an animal get through its childhood."

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is the only combined zoo and aquarium in the Pacific Northwest. It focuses on animals from the Pacific Rim area.

Parma wallabies come from the forests of New South Wales in the southeast corner of Australia. At one time they were believed to be extinct, until some were found in the 1960s.

The Parma wallabies are less than half the size and still considerably less common than red-necked wallabies. Both carry their young in pouches and use their long, powerful tails for balance and hopping.
TACOMA, Wash., June 23, 2006