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Pouch life for a tree roo joey

Written by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications
Photos by: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Let’s take a moment to celebrate: we’ve got ourselves a new, endangered tree kangaroo joey doing well behind the scenes at Woodland Park Zoo!

While we’re just now announcing the big news in February, the little critter was actually born way back in June. It has taken that long for the joey to finally emerge, as it has been tucked away all this time, hidden in mom’s pouch.  Totally worth the wait, though—just look at that face!

Hold the phone! This tiny tree 'roo is almost on its own. It's been growing strong in its mother's pouch for nearly eight months! 

The difference between marsupials and the other 20 types of mammals is often distinguished by their reproductive growth and development. What’s one of the greatest distinctions?  Well, it’s in the pouch.
In fact, marsupial literally means “pouch.”  The secrets of pouch-growing marsupials bewilder many of our visitors, including myself. Why is the pouch a necessity for a newborn’s development? How does a marsupial baby’s growth differ from a mammal baby?  And, why does it take so long for the joey to finally come out for us to see it?

Unlike their mammal counterparts, marsupials give birth to their young during the very early stages of life. Born the size of a jelly bean, a joey’s hands and face are the first to develop, an adaptation that is crucial to the next stage of life. Within one to two minutes of birth, the jelly bean-sized baby must crawl from the birthing canal, through the mother’s fur and into the pouch to immediately begin nursing. This process happens very quickly. Once the young baby reaches the teat within the pouch, it continues to grow in the warmth and comfort of its mother’s pouch.

Snug as a tree 'roo in a pouch. I think that's how it goes, right?

The tiny joey settles in to its pouch life and spends time nestled close to mom for several months. In time, curiosity will get the best of the baby and it will begin exploring the world outside the pouch.

During these months, the newborn learns necessary survival skills as taught by its mother. For another few months, the joey will learn to forage for food, find shelter and avoid predation. But every night, the joey returns to its pouch for nourishment and protection. Throughout the joey’s development, the pouch maintains a constant temperature that is necessary for rearing a healthy, thriving baby. Our young tree ‘roo began eating solid foods at this stage, which was right around 7 months of age.

In case you couldn't tell how cute I was before, here's a closer look at my cuteness. Cheese!

Next comes the young-at-foot stage, when the joey begins living outside the pouch, though the youthful animal may still rely on feeding from its mother. Our young tree kangaroo is more than 7 ½ months old, and is currently making small strides to live on its own. Independence is gradual, contingent on the health and courage of the mama/baby duo.  At around 39 to 40 weeks old, the joey will leave the pouch for good, bidding farewell to life in the pouch.

The problem with pouch life? Where Mom goes, I go.

Currently, our young tree ‘roo lives in an off-view exhibit where it continues to bond with its mother in a quiet, controlled area. The rare birth is part of the Species Survival Plan cooperative breeding program for this endangered species.

If you’re looking for tree kangaroos on your next visit to the zoo, swing by the Day Exhibit to see the adult on exhibit and to learn more about the zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP). TKCP saves endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroos and their forest home by fostering wildlife and habitat conservation and local community livelihoods in the tree kangaroo’s native Papua New Guinea (PNG). Learn more about TKCP’s work—from helping to create PNG’s first Conservation Area, to bringing PNG conservation coffee right here to Seattle—by visiting


Anita Elder said…
Thanks for the great explanation about the pouch. I didn't realize they were "born" so early and need the pouch to continue to grow.
Anonymous said…
So sweet!
Anonymous said…
that is the cutest thing I have ever seen the tree kangaroos live in papa new geunie and females weigh
about 24 pounds
Anonymous said…
I never knew about these little things - fascinating!