Years ago I received an Eastern Grey joey for care, she was a pink, 660gm, very cold and dehydrated. Supposedly she had just been found on a pile of rubbish at the local tip. The story didn’t seem right, at least not the part that she had just been picked up. Her poo indicated something much different, no diarrhoea was present but the colour and consistency were wrong for a newly found joey – always the poo.
Poo is the basis of everything with wildlife. New carers soon find out the world revolves around poo.
The decision to do what we could for the small joey was made instantly as the family who had brought her were very upset and her stage of development showed she was probably a little older than her weight indicated – using weight charts to age macropod joeys [almost any species in fact] is unreliable to say the least, there are many other things to consider. In the case of this joey her state of dehydration naturally resulted in her registering a lower weight than if she was fully hydrated. She was put into a warmed pouch and as soon as fluids, needles, syringes, etc were organised, warmed fluids were given under the skin, she was then allowed to rest and warm through. Several hours later she eagerly drank her first bottle of formula. With such a suspicious sounding story, it seemed appropriate to christen her ‘May-be.’
Time passed and May-be grew quickly. One Christmas Day late afternoon Garry was outside minding May-be, she was now 3kg and at the stage of needing to go outside for short periods of time but needed constant supervision. I was inside washing dishes when I heard an almighty noise outside – in those days I could move pretty quickly and was outside in the proverbial flash – a truck had blown a tyre, which had disintegrated and the truck was moving down the road on the metal wheel rim. Garry was on his feet with May-be in his arms.
At the instant of the noise May-be had taken off around the house and in seconds had negotiated the house and was back with Garry who had picked her up. He said to me he thought she had hurt her foot. I felt it and said I thought the main toe was broken. I called my vet who said we should go to his home. On arrival the foot was checked and it was considered the toe was not broken but perhaps there was damage to the growth plate in that area but to make sure, the following morning I was to take May-be to the clinic for x-rays. The x-ray confirmed a break which was splinted and strapped by the vet with the very tongue-in-cheek comment “well, you weren’t planning on releasing this one were you?” Kris knows me well and knows keeping May-be was not a consideration, I told him she could be soft released from home with the mate she had grown up with, by doing this we would be able to assess just how well the break had healed and how competent the animals are at surviving after major accidents. After the appropriate amount of time x-rays confirmed a good result, the break had healed well.
Over the ensuing months May-be continued to grow and appeared to be coping well. May-be and her mate, Jo, had joined others in care at home and when frightened our mob of half dozen joeys, including these two would take off into our bushed area, first having to cross a good area of cleared land. May-be was able to keep up with the others for a short distance and then gradually would get further and further behind. When punting May moved well although the damaged toe did not flex as it should. She was able to clear 3ft fences easily from a standing start.
May-be was soft released with Jo, that is, gates between our cleared paddocks and our bushed area were opened. Our bushed area joins state forest, the boundary fence is very low which ensures no risk of getting caught. Both would go into the state forest.
At first both would turn up most days then we began seeing them less and less. Both produced joeys which grew well. Both eventually produced a second joey. The 4 would turn up only occasionally and graze in our cleared paddock which allowed the opportunity to check how everyone was going, this was always done from a distance as the mothers did not bring their joeys close to us. One morning when the ‘at foot’ joeys were almost weaned Jo and both joeys arrived. May-be was not with them. May-be was never seen again.
Searches over a long distance and period of time found nothing. I feel she came to grief possibly chased by a dog/dogs and was unable to move fast enough to evade them or maybe she went over a fence and stumbled, causing severe damage and was unable to get back to her home ground. If this was the case then she was most likely eaten by predators and quite possibly whilst still alive. Watching May-be over the time she was with us and seeing her inability to keep up with the mob and her mate Jo as a result of what seemed such a simple problem was a real eye opener and has ensured very special consideration is given to any joey arriving for care with broken bones, even if it is ‘only’ the main toe. I have heard similar stories from some other carers as well as repaired breaks re-fracturing whilst still in care.
I mention being eaten by predators while still alive, not to appear gruesome but to ensure great care is taken when making the choice to repair breaks to legs. Once one of those major leg bones has been broken and repaired there is always the risk of an eventual re-break in the original break area. It may never happen but should we take the chance? More than once I have attended injured kangaroos, still alive and very much conscious that have had arms/legs chewed off by foxes or dogs. Many rescuers have been faced with the sight of a kangaroo or wallaby with one or both legs broken but the instinct to evade predators [that’s us] is so strong they can move for very long distances on stumps moving faster than able bodied rescuers. It is an horrific sight. Please, think long and hard before choosing to repair some of the injuries you may be faced with. Never hesitate to seek advice and always be prepared to make decisions you may find difficult.