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by Jean Broleman

The wallaby is a marsupial in the kangaroo family. Like other marsupials, the females have pouches in which they carry their young. Wallabies are also macropods, which means "big foot". Their triangular shaped bodies taper down from head and chest to large stomach and hip area. Wallabies have powerful tails which help them zigzag when running and provide comfortable support when sitting. Do to their body shape, feet and tail, wallabies cannot easily walk backwards.

Of the many varieties of wallabies, three are commonly bred in the United States. They are the Bennett's Wallaby (Macaropus Rufogriseus) sometimes called Red-neck; Tammar (Macropus Eugenii) sometimes called Dama; and Swamp (Wallabies Bi-color). The Bennett's Wallaby, normally gray and brown with a white stomach, reaches a height of about 30 inches. They weigh between 30-50 pounds (the albino variety is slightly larger). The Tammar, a brown wallaby, grows approximately 18 inches high and weighs 7 to 12 pounds. The Swamp wallabies are black with reddish gold highlights on the chest and face. They are about the same size as the Bennett's. Other wallabies found in Australia, New Zealand, or some surrounding islands include Agile, Black-striped, Parma, Stradbroke, Toolache, Western Brush, Whiptail, and Forest Wallabies.

Female wallabies reach sexual maturity several months before the males, which mature around two years old. Adult males (called bucks or boomers) are larger than the females (called does). A female wallaby comes into estrus (lasts one day) approximately every 30 days until she conceives. Gestation period is 28 - 34 days. When preparing to give birth, the female thoroughly licks her pouch so it will be clean for the new baby (called a Joey). During birth she sits quietly with her tail forward between her legs until the Joey is safely inside her pouch. As soon as it emerges from the birth opening, the 1/2'' to 3/4" long embryo with no back legs, grabs on to its mother's fur and pulls its way toward the pouch. It takes three to fifteen minutes to make the 5 or 6 inch climb. After the Joey enters the pouch, it finds one of its mother's long teats, latches on, the teat swells, filling the baby's mouth and holding tight. This way it cannot easily be dislodged or fall out while the mother is bouncing along. About two days after giving birth, the doe comes into heat and breeds. After starting to develop, this fertilized egg stops and goes into embryonic diapause. This is the quiescent stage. It will continue developing after the present Joey leaves the pouch.

The Joey in the pouch grows into a small wallaby and is quite hairless for the first four months. At about 15 weeks a pronounced growth phase begins. The milk supply as well as the fat and protein content increase while the sugar content decreases. While still hairless at four months, the Joey's eyes open and he will be able to turn loose of the nipple. Many a furless pink head has been seen peeking out earlier, but usually the lightly furred head can be seen at about five months old. The wallabies fur will grow and it will come all the way out of the pouch at about six months old, all the while the pouch expands to make more room for it.

A Joey enters the pouch by diving in headfirst. It then either remains in that position with its legs and tail hanging out or it may somersault itself around. It can stay completely inside or poke its head out.

When a Joey is about eight months old, it becomes to big to ride in the pouch. It still remains with its mother and is now called a "heel-at-heel" or "young-at-heel". Even after she gives birth to a new Joey, the young at heel can still stick his head in the mother's pouch to nurse. She produces milk of a different strengths, one for the newborn and one for the young at heel which continues to change to higher fat and protein and lower in carbohydrates.

Wallabies are herbivores, eating grass, hay, leaves, bark and twigs plus fruits and vegetables. Like cows they have ructus (more than one stomach) and their normal body temperature can run between 96-99 degrees Fahrenheit (joeys slightly higher). They have sharp front teeth that are good for cutting grass and flat molars on the sides of their mouths for chewing. There is a forward movement of the cheek teeth or molars throughout their life. The upper and lower jaws are not attached to each other. The teeth can slide from side to side to be used like scissors. Wallaby toenails should not be cut because the blood goes almost to the end. One of three toes on the hind foot is actually two toes in one. It has two nails that can be used like tweezers or for grooming.

The genitalia of macropods are located inside their bodies (the cloaca). Determining the gender is done by locating the pouch on a female or the testicles of the male.

Like other kangaroos, the wallaby's forelimbs have very little fur on them and the blood vessels are very close to the surface. The moisture from licking their forelimbs helps cool their whole body.

To defend itself, a buck attacks with his forepaws, scratching with his razor-sharp claws while keeping his head back to avoid damage to the eyes. It can also bite as well as lean its whole body back on its heavy tail and use its rear feet to kick. Normally, however, they try to run away rather than fight.

The normal life span is around seven years old in the wild and fourteen years old in captivity, but some live to be twenty years old. Most of their growth is attained by five years of age but wallabies continue growing for most of their lives.

In captivity, albino births are not uncommon as albino parents will produce an albino Joey. In the wild however, albino births are about one in 10,000.

A group of wallabies is called a mob. They live in the wild in Australia and New Zealand and a few surrounding islands. A colony of red-necked wallabies live wild in the north of England. They are descended from a pair that escaped form a private menagerie over 40 years ago. A pair of Albino Bennett's Wallabies was sent to the Queen of England from Australia in the 1950's. They were put in a zoo and there produced the albinos that were eventually purchased by breeders in the United States.

When moving slowly, a wallaby does the slow walk or crawl by putting its forelimbs on the ground and using the tail as a support. It swings the hind feet forward in a rocking motion and places them in front of the forelimbs. When going faster, it springs foreword on its hind feet and a tendon stretches. On the next forward leap, the tendon contracts as if it were a rubber band snapping back and this pushes it forward.

Wallabies need space to run, shade in the summer and shelter in the winter. Under normal circumstances, a six foot fence of welded wire or chain link is sufficient for keeping wallabies. They can escape through hog wire or hog panels and chicken wire is not safe. Wallabies panic easily often injuring themselves by running into the fence. A three foot high sight barrier all along the fence can be added to keep them from being startled as often. Boards (1" x 4") nailed across the bottom is a safety precaution to lessen the chance of them getting out, something else getting in or their feet getting caught in the fence. Netting on top might also be advisable in some cases. The type of shelter needed depends on the type of wallaby and on the climate.

Hand raised joeys can be fed warm puppy Espilac mixed three parts water to one part formula. Long marsupial nipples with large openings are necessary because joeys do not often have strong sucking reflexes. Apples are a good food followed by wheat bread, sweet potatoes, carrots, cheerios and grass. A good commercial grain for them is Happy Hoppers. Bennett's and Swamp wallabies need no more formula after they reach 10-1/2 pounds (Dama's weigh less). At this size, their digestive systems change when stressed and milk can cause diarrhea. Young males often strut around and scratch themselves. They practice fighting by wrestling with their forearms locked together and trying to push each other over by kicking out with their feet. In a real fight the feet can be deadly weapons.

It is recommended that anyone considering buying a wallaby as a pet, talk to a reputable breeder first. They have special needs and require much more time and attention than dogs and cats. Wallabies can freeze their tail in the winter. They can die suddenly from stress or heart attacks or break their necks running into a fence. Many veterinarians do not realize the special requirements in caring for wallabies. An example of this is they should not be given antibiotics orally. This destroys the natural bacteria in the gut and causes yeast infections in the lining of the intestines. While on antibiotics, wallabies also need to be treated with Nystatin so that yeast doesn't become problem. They should be wormed with inject able cattle Ivormectin (orally not injected). Wallabies have a bone that runs across the belly, over the intestines. Care must be taken during examination not to fracture this very thin and fragile bone. Don't use a vet that treats it like other animals. Find a good veterinarian that is willing to be educated.

Wallabies are not for everyone. Don't get one until you have educated yourself and are ready for this wonderful exotic macropod.