Wallabies are herbivores and eat primarily grasses and leafy plants. In the wild, they may eat roots if they cannot find enough water. While our wallabies have received sweet potatoes as part of their diet, they generally prefer browse (leafy branches) and macropod pellets. We’ve tried many different foods to see if they’d like something different, but they seem to enjoy pellets the most.
This can make choosing enrichment items to for the wallabies a bit of a challenge for us. Our wallabies’ habitat seems to outweigh their interest in any toys we give them. I sometimes try to make their food a little more challenging to get by sticking browse in different levels of the yard’s fence or tucking it into different areas around the yard. Changing the location and access to their daily diet encourages them to explore the exhibit!
Most animals at the Zoo are trained to voluntarily participate in their own health care. While working with an animal, a keeper will give a cue to do a certain behavior. If the animal does the correct behavior, it receives a reward, usually in the form of food or verbal praise (“good job!”). With positive reinforcement training, animals have the choice to participate or walk away. The experience helps to build their trust in us and allows us to monitor their health.
For wallabies, training is a challenge because, while they like their browse and pellets, they are not food-motivated. There’s no special treat we can give them as a reward. When we need them to do a husbandry behavior, like get on a scale, we gently guide them to it. There’s no cue given by keepers and their participation is voluntary. After we get their weight, we will tell them “good” and give them space. Having immediate access to the yard is positive for them and, we hope, they associate our leaving them alone with doing the correct behavior.
Currently, we are focusing our efforts on building relationships so that when we need to guide them, the process is as stress-free as possible for everyone involved. A prime example of this is when Addie needed eye drops. Her right eye was watery and started to produce discharge, so we gave her drops to help clear up any irritation or infection. Since she is comfortable with us touching her, it was easy for us to administer her medication.