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'It's just very shocking for all of us': 5-month-old wallaby still missing at Detroit Zoo

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — The search continues for a baby wallaby that disappeared over the weekend from a Detroit Zoo exhibit, but the likelihood it will be returned to its mother lessens the longer it's missing, officials said Monday.

"We don't know what to think at this point," said Scott Carter, the zoo's Chief Life Sciences Officer. "We've never had an animal disappear like this."

A missing 5-month-old wallaby was last seen at 5 p.m. Saturday, Detroit Zoo officials said. The zoo alerted the public to the missing joey on Sunday.

Officials are leaning toward the 5-month-old wallaby – about the size of a small rabbit – being taken by a predator from outside the park.

Scott Carter, Chief Life Sciences Officer at the Detroit Zoo, believes the baby wallaby -- which is the size of small rabbit -- may have been snatched by a hawk or owl.

"There are native predators that live here, like owls and hawks," he said. "And we can't overlook the possibility that an owl or a hawk took the joey. It may be that is the case and we'll never find the joey."

Andrew McFerrin, a zookeeper who works with the park's giraffes and marsupials, said he and the staff are heartbroken by the joey's disappearance.

"We love to see new animals at the zoo, especially babies," he said. "Because we don't know what happened to this joey and because it was so sudden, it's just very shocking for all of us. We're definitely very sad about it."

He also said the staff is holding out hope the joey will be found, but they also know because it's so young that it can't survive very long away from its mother.

McFerrin said one of the joys the staff has is watching animals grow up. "We get to see their little quirks, achievements, and things like that," he said. "But we're not going to get that chance with this joey."

Carter said there is also the possibility that someone took the little wallaby, but it's not likely. Staff and volunteers are always present when the public is present to make sure people stay on the habitat's path and the animal's mother would have kept her baby away from anyone who got too close.

According to the Zookeepers this is the mother of the missing wallaby behind the fence at The Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, Michigan on Monday May 9th 2022.

"We believe that's a pretty unlikely scenario," he said.

The baby wallaby was introduced Friday to the public and was discovered missing early Sunday from the zoo's Australian Outback Adventure habitat. It had last been seen by staff at about 5 p.m. Saturday.

Carter said the staff, as it does every day, checked on all of the zoo's animals Sunday morning to get a headcount. Some of the park's animals have tracking chips, but not all of them. And most, including the adult wallabies, have been tagged to help staff identify them.

But zoo staff couldn't find the joey on Sunday morning, Carter said. A massive search of the habitat was conducted, but staff could find no sign of the missing wallaby. They also couldn't find any place where the joey could have escaped.

Officials said the search was expanded beyond the wallaby and kangaroo habitat.

Carter said zoo security is poring through video taken by the park's surveillance cameras to find clues to what happened to the baby animal.

Wallabies are tiny when they're born — about the size of a bumblebee. Staff typically doesn't know they've been born for a couple of months and there's movement in their mothers' pouch where they feed and live for about five or six months, officials said. 

A kangaroo lounges at The Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, Michigan on Monday May 9th 2022.

The missing joey's mother is a 4-year-old red-necked wallaby named Sprocket. The missing baby wallaby is her first offspring. Carter said the joey is about five to six months old and because it is so young, zoo staff has not yet been able to determine its gender. Wallabies are small members of the kangaroo family.

The Australian exhibit is about 90,000 square feet or a little more than two acres of land and it has 11 kangaroos and three red-necked wallabies, according to the zoo. The park has a total of about 125 acres.

Carter said the zoo's staff learns from all the good and bad things that happen at the park.

"In this case, we don't know what we could have done or would have done to prevent this from happening," he said. "There really isn't a way to keep aerial predators out of the zoo. At this time, I don't think I can say we would do anything differently."