After a rocky start to life, the Australian Reptile Park’s newest little addition, Matilda the yellow-footed rock wallaby joey, has since grown in leaps and bounds over the past month. Matilda is currently being hand-raised under the devoted care of Keeper Seleena de Gelder, ensuring her growth progresses healthy and surpasses every milestone she would have achieved if raised naturally in her mother’s pouch.

Early last month, keepers came to Matilda’s aid after a health check of the yellow-footed rock wallaby mob revealed that Kelly, one of the females, was pawing at her pouch. Knowing that she was carrying a beautiful young female joey, the team were quick to undergo a check and discovered that her pouch had prolapsed, meaning that she could no longer carry her little joey.

Mammals Keeper, Seleena, has taken on the tiring, yet extremely rewarding task of being a surrogate “mum” to the little joey. Undertaking the role of carer for a newborn marsupial involves a lot of work, including feeds every 2-4 hours. Ms de Gelder states that “despite the lack of sleep caring for a newborn, it’s great to see that she’s progressing along steadily, and that I’m slowly getting my sleep back which is a bonus!”

To check the joey’s progress over the past few weeks, the team weighed Matilda. Initially weighing just 500 grams when she first came into the team’s care, she’s now weighing in at 845 grams within just a few short weeks. This increase is an encouraging indicator of her development.

Ms de Gelder did however notice that Matilda had picked up a habit of licking and suckling her pouch, that can lead to complications over time. Putting their heads together, the Mammals team came up with a perfect solution: using a kids sock to create a makeshift jumper that fits her little body that not only will help break that habit, but also keeps her warm! Surrogate mum, Seleena, is happy to report that “the sock has been a great solution and that she has no longer been licking or suckling her pouch, whether she’s wearing the jumper or not.”

For the first two weeks, the little wallaby was also nameless. In honour of Seleena’s favourite soccer team, the newest resident adopted the name ‘Matilda’, after the Matilda’s Soccer team, who will be playing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in Australia & New Zealand in July.
Ms de Gelder explained that “like most rock wallabies, she has really powerful kicking legs so it was only fitting to name her after such a great team.”

Over the next four to five months, Matilda will remain in Ms de Gelder’s care until she’s big and strong enough to be reunited with her mum and the rest of the mob. Visitors will eventually be able to come see Matilda every day in the Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby display at the Australian Reptile Park.

The rescued joey is a part of the Australian Reptile Park’s vital conservation breeding project to help save the threatened species. Yellow-footed rock-wallabies were once found throughout New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. However, they have now disappeared from New South Wales and Queensland with their numbers in the wild estimated at being as little as 5,000. Their decline is attributed to intense hunting in the 1800s and early 1900s for their pelts and in recent times, the introduction of feral pests such at the fox and cat.