Caring for macropods

This information should be used as a guide only. You will need specific information to properly care for injured or orphaned wildlife.

Read more about rescuing and releasing animals in the Northern Territory (NT).

You need a permit to care for injured or rescued wildlife.

Background

Macropods - kangaroos and wallabies - generally come into care as victims of road accidents, dog attacks, or as orphans of these events.

There are several species of macropod that you may find in the NT, including all of the following rare species:

  • the black wallaroo or Bernard's wallaroo (Macropus bernardus) - restricted to sandstone escarpments in western Arnhem Land - there is little data on this species
  • the northern nailtail wallaby (Onychogalea unguifera) - a solitary, nocturnal grazer of vegetation found through much of the savannah region, from the eastern Top End to the Central region - it is considered near threatened
  • the spectacled hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes conspicillatus) - found across the savannah region of northern Australia - it is considered near threatened
  • the nabarlek (Petrogale concinna) - found between the Mary and Victoria rivers, in Arnhem Land, Groote Eylandt and in Kakadu National Park - it is considered vulnerable
  • the black-footed rock wallaby (Petrogale lateralis) - found in the MacDonnell Ranges in rocky areas - it is considered near threatened in the NT and vulnerable nationally
  • the mala or rufous hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes hirsutus) - it is extinct in the wild but is kept in captivity.

If you see any of the species listed above you should report them immediately to Parks and Wildlife.

Housing

Macropods should be kept in a quiet, secure spot away from family pets and excessive noise. This includes general household noise, traffic, domestic animals and construction.

Joeys

Rescued in-pouch joeys should be suspended in an artificial pouch made from soft, breathable and non-abrasive material.

At weaning age, the artificial pouch should still be available for the joey to return to in case it feels threatened or cold. Ideally, the artificial pouch should be hung in a sheltered area that opens up to an enclosure.

Adults

Enclosures for adult macropods should have a fence height of:

  • 1800mm for large macropods such as the red kangaroo, antilopine wallaroo and common wallaroo
  • 1400mm for medium macropods such as the agile wallaby, northern nailtail wallaby and spectacled-hare wallaby
  • 1000mm for small macropods
  • 2000mm for rock wallabies with a 500mm in-hang or secure roof.

Enclosures should not have corners, but rather curves of roughly 45 degrees to reduce the risk of injury.

Attaching a shade cloth or something similar to or just off the fence will help stop the animals being scared by humans or predators outside. It can also act as a catch net to stop injuries when they are disturbed.

Fences should have a 600mm outward overhang at an angle of 45 degrees, and a 1m flat ground skirt section on the outside to stop predators digging into the enclosure. 

Enclosures for adult macropods should be as large as possible, with a minimum area of roughly 250 square metres for one or two kangaroos or roughly 60 square metres for one or two wallabies.

Macropod enclosures must have objects for shelter and enrichment. They should be planted or placed away from the fence to reduce the risk of collision injuries and escape.

You should note all of the following when caring for macropods:

  • the enclosure may be planted with trees, bushes, shrubs and grassy areas for grazing
  • large macropods need an area for dust bathing - well-drained soil or sand is good
  • small macropods need grass tussocks or spinifex hummocks, low shrubs and logs for burrowing and shelter
  • rock wallabies need boulders and tree trunks to climb
  • keep them together to promote natural social behaviour.

Food and water

Large macropod species feed mostly on grass. Small macropod species can eat a mixture of vegetation, fruit, seeds and fungi. 

Animals in care must be given a combination of foods to meet each species' needs.

Formula for joeys

Orphaned macropod joeys need to be fed a special milk formula according to their growth stage. Macropod joeys should never be fed regular cow’s milk as lactose will cause diarrhoea, slow their growth and may cause death. 

There are three brands of formula on the market, listed below, which can be purchased from vet clinics, pet shops or directly from manufacturers.

Wombaroo

Wombaroo has formulas for a variety of animals, including macropods.

Wombaroo macropod formulas are created to mimic the natural changes in macropod milk.

There are four milk types for different growth stages: <0.4, 0.4, 0.6 and >0.7. The packets show an illustration of different growth stages to help work out the correct formula needed.

Biolac

Biolac is a macropod formula with three different milk stages - M100, M150 and M200 - to reflect the changes in macropod milk throughout the joey’s life.

Di-Vetelact

Di-Vetelact is cow’s milk with the lactose removed. This may be easier to get in remote locations, or as the human equivalent Digestelact. 

Di-Vetelact is not ideal for macropod joeys, but it is suitable for short-term use and is better than cow’s milk.

When to feed joeys

Macropod joeys in care will need around-the-clock feeding. 

Generally, follow these guidelines:

  • unfurred pinkie joeys with eyes closed and ears down - eight bottles per day (every three hours)
  • unfurred pinkie joeys with eyes open and ears up six - bottles per day (every four hours)
  • joeys that are finely furred with lower teeth emerging - six bottles per day (every four hours)
  • joeys with short, sleek fur with upper teeth emerging - five bottles per day (every five hours)
  • joeys with long, sleek fur and emerging from pouch - four bottles per day (every six hours)
  • joeys with thick, dense fur and spending time out of pouch - three bottles per day
  • joeys that are fully out from the pouch - gradually reduce milk feeds and increase solids, such as grass or pellets, until weaned.

Feeding adults

Adult macropods kept in an grassed outdoor enclosure will eat any available grass. This diet should be supplemented with high quality kangaroo pellets and lucerne hay with a large percentage of leaf to stalk. 

Browse should be fed to increase nutrition, enrichment and education. Browse is what the macropod would eat in the wild, such as native grasses, leaves or shrubs.

As macropods defecate where they feed, you should clean the enclosure daily.

Macropods need fresh water daily. Place it in the shade and off the ground to prevent defecation in the water.

The size of the water trough should let the macropod put its forelegs in to cool down.

Capture and handling

Macropods can be dangerous animals. They can kick, scratch, whip their tail and bite in defence. 

Only experienced carers should capture these animals.

Stress

Macropods are very prone to stress. Capture and handling can be very stressful for them. 

Signs of stress to be aware of are:

  • panting
  • licking of forearms, chest, abdomen or hind legs - and tail in wallabies
  • intense drooling. 

Never make more than four or five attempts at capturing any animal or they may go into shock. If the animal begins to pant, shake its head repeatedly, drool, or lick its forearms, abandon the capture until the following day.

How to capture a macropod

Macropods can overheat easily, so handling and capture should only take place during the coolest part
of the day.

If a macropod is injured and can be approached without the need for a tranquiliser, all efforts should be made to make the handling as brief as possible. 

Throw a large towel or similar over the animal’s head and pick it up from behind by the base of the tail. 

Never approach a macropod from the front - they are likely to panic and may bite or kick.

If the animal is lying down, pick it up from behind, by the base of its tail near its spine, and lift or drag it into a hessian sack on the ground nearby. This may take more than one person for large animals. 

Macropods should never be picked up by the limbs or tip of the tail. These are prone to twisting and breaking.

Transport

Wherever possible, macropods should be sedated during transport to reduce stress and possible injury.

A carer without qualifications should only apply sedation under supervision of a vet. 

Ways to transport macropods include all of the following:

  • a solid container with a padded or flexible ceiling
  • a suspended hessian or calico bag.

When the animal is anaesthetised, make sure its head is above its body and the neck is not twisted or they may choke. The neck is quite fragile and can be easily damaged.

They should be kept between 10 degrees Celsius and 30 degrees Celsius during transport.

Warm, dark and quiet environments reduce stress for the animals when they are being moved, so turn the radio off and keep the windows up.

Contact

For more information contact Wildlife Operations in your region.

Last updated: 27 June 2017