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Tree kangaroo joey plays peek-a-boo from pouch

Posted by Meghan Sawyer, Communications

Woodland Park Zoo’s baby Matschie’s tree kangaroo is now venturing out of his mother’s pouch! In time, the joey named Ecki will leave the pouch permanently as he grows more confident and independent.

Tree kangaroo joey, Ecki, peeks out of his mother's pouch. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

“Ecki” is named after a beloved elder from one of the remote Papua New Guinea villages that works with Woodland Park Zoo to help protect tree kangaroos and their habitat. The joey and his mother, 11-year-old Elanna, live behind the scenes in an off-view habitat at the zoo.

A joey’s journey 

While Ecki is just now being introduced to the world, he was actually born eight months ago. When joeys are born, they’re only the size of a jelly bean! Within just one to two minutes of birth, that tiny baby has to crawl from the birth canal, through the mother’s fur, and into the pouch to immediately begin nursing. That’s exactly what Ecki did, and he’s been tucked away in his mom Elanna’s pouch ever since.

A before and after. Ecki was born blind and without fur. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo

But while Ecki may have been hidden from view, the zoo’s dedicated animal care staff constantly monitored him and his mother to make sure that both were healthy and meeting expected milestones. One way they were able to do that is through “pouch checks,” where keepers looked inside Elanna’s pouch to check on the joey.

“Training Elanna to cooperate with pouch checks required a solid foundation of trust between Elanna and her keepers. Using positive reinforcement, our keepers trained Elanna to come down to a platform when asked, place her front feet onto a white tube, and extend the time holding still in this position. At the same time, keepers slowly desensitized Elanna to gently touching and opening her pouch until they were able to see inside it,” said Animal Care Manager Rachel Salant. 

Using positive reinforcement, Elanna lets our animal care staff check on the joey in her pouch. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo

Finally, keepers spent some time slowly introducing cameras and cell phones near Elanna so that she would be comfortable with having the devices around to record video of her pouch. As part of all of the zoo’s animal training sessions, Elanna had the choice to leave any session at any time, so any video recorded was because Elanna allowed it. The result is a rare, up-close look at a tree kangaroo joey in his early stages of life, and it’s incredible to watch.

In the coming months, Ecki will become fully weaned from his mother, and eventually grow independent. In the meantime, animal care staff will continue to observe Ecki and Elanna to make sure both are happy, healthy and thriving.

Want to help save endangered tree kangaroos?
Woodland Park Zoo is home to the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program that is working to protect the endangered tree kangaroo and help maintain the unique biodiversity of its native Papua New Guinea in balance with the culture and needs of the people who live there. Consider supporting the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program here:

Have a cup of joe for the joey!
Another way you can support conservation in Papua New Guinea is by purchasing and enjoying coffee that is grown by the people who live in Papua New Guinea's YUS Conservation Area, named for the Yopno, Uruwa, and Som rivers of that region. Seattle-based Caffé Vita ( works with farmers and landowners in the YUS region to bring coffee beans they grow to market. By selling farm-direct to Caffé Vita and other buyers, YUS farmers earn revenues more than 35% higher than local market rates—and helping the people who live off the land also helps all the animals living there too, including the Matschie’s tree kangaroo.

VIDEO of tree kangaroo joey and mom: 


Anonymous said…
What a beautiful post! Congratulations to Ellana and the animal care staff.
Within just one to two minutes of birth, that tiny baby has to crawl from the birth canal, through the mother’s fur, and into the pouch to immediately begin nursing.