How to safely remove a joey

from the pouch of its dead mother

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Did you know that a marsupial joey (eg: a kangaroo, possum, wombat, etc) can live up to five days in the pouch of its dead mother? So, if you see a dead adult on the side of the road, or if you accidentally hit one while driving, or if your domestic pet brings home a dead possum, then you should always check the pouch - there may be a joey alive inside!

Follow these instructions to learn how to safely remove a joey from the pouch.

Removing a joey from the pouch is not as easy as it sounds. If the mother has already reached rigor mortis (stiffening of the body after death) the pouch opening may be quite small and tight and removing the joey could be difficult and may cause injury. Even if the body is still soft there may not be enough room to manoeuvre and free the joey without damaging it.

In most situations it is better to use a pair of scissors to cut the joey free - of course this can have its problems also.

The best way to cut a joey out of the pouch is to move the mother so that the pouch opening is toward your body. Insert your hand, or at least a few fingers, into the pouch and lift the pouch as high as you can. Make sure that your fingers lie between the scissor blades and the joey (this is where you may have problems - don't cut yourself or the joey!).

Cut very slowly until you can see clearly and have enough space to gently remove the joey. Remember! that furless and just furred joeys have their lips fused and are permanently attached to the teat - so if you find one at this stage you will need to cut the teat off the mother entirely. Cut the teat as close to the mothers body as you can and remove the joey with the teat still in the mouth.

If you don't have a pair of scissors and cannot cut the pouch open try to enclose the joey in your hand. Move your fingers to the end of the snout and gently push the sides and then ease the teat out of the mouth. It must be noted that this action may rip and damage the mouth so be very careful.

To remove the joey from the pouch use a towel or some kind of cloth and glove it over your hand. Reach in very slowly and gently and try to envelop the joey. This action will also rub the mothers scent onto the towel which will help keep the joey calm after it has been removed. If the mother has been dead for some time and has a rotting smell it is best to avoid scenting the towel (George et al, 1995).

As you pull the joey out of the pouch move the towel up and over the joey enclosing it in the pouch. The towel, with the joey enclosed, can then be placed inside warmer wrapping. The number of wrappings will depend on the size of the joeys - small furless or just furred joeys will require more warmth than larger furred joeys.

If you have a furless of just furred joey try to pin the mothers teat to the towel so that the joey doesn't end up getting it stuck in the airway. Put the pin on the outside of the towel, away from fragile skin. The joey should release the teat after around 3 hours (Staker, 2001).

Place a heat source, wrapped in a towel or similar, between the towel and the warm wrapping. Do not place a heat source directly next to the joey as it may cause burns or heat stress. A heat source may not be required on hots days for a furred joey but it is essential for a furless or just furred joey as it cannot regulate its own temperature.

A temperature probe can be placed inside towel beside the joey and monitored regularly - do not over heat the joey as it may die from heat stress. Click here for short term care information where you can find the appropriate temperature settings.

If you don't have any warm wrappings or a heat source place the joey, wrapped in the towel, inside your clothes close to your chest. The joey will get heat from your body and your heart beat will also calm the joey.

Try to get the orphan to an experienced carers straight away as it will need specialised care. If you can't move the animal on straight away click here for short term care information.

Short Term Care
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