The first time a joey leaves the pouch is an incredibly dangerous time. In the wild a female kangaroo will find a sheltered place away from other kangaroos. If something happens in the few seconds the joey is out of the pouch it could spell disaster. If the mother has to flee and the joey can't find the pouch in a split second it will be left behind as nature determines it can save the mother and produce another joey for the future, but if the mother stays both may be lost. If the mother is inexperienced the joey may be in distress if it can't find it's way back to the pouch quickly and may suffer illness as a consequence of high stress levels.
The joey doesn't actually hop out. The mother releases the muscles that keeps the pouch tight to her and the joey basically rolls out. The first time it happens is a huge shock to the joey who simply turns around and hops straight back in.
A wild mother instinctively knows when the time is right, but as a human carer you have to judge it on weight and development. If you try too early, you risk the fragile back legs that must develop properly to ensure they can flee predators. Sometimes a joey will simply let you know it's time by trying to get out, especially wallabies. However I found eastern grey kangaroos would happily stay pouch bound forever. When the day finally arrived to see if Merrilyn was ready, I carefully laid the pouch down to mimic the release of the pouch muscles.
Merrilyn came out tentatively and instinctively came straight towards me as she know thought of me as her mother.
I had a pouch liner ready and Merrilyn tumble turned straight into it, happy to be back in security.
And so the process begins. The joey needs to hop out more often and stay out for longer periods as it gradually grows. Merrilyn very quickly sorted out how to turn and find her way back to her pouch.
And for those of you wondering about Buster. Well he and Merrilyn developed a friendship after Merrilyn's initial feisty greeting.
Until next time...
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