Wednesday, September 26, 2007
“Oh look at the little Joey!” the mother exclaimed to her child about the small kangaroo-like critter being pull along through the crowd in a kiddy wagon, “Isn’t he a cute kangaroo.” (Joey is the Australian term for a young kangaroo.)
I’ve heard this comment a few dozen times over the years when visitors to the Aquarium get a first look at Paddington. When I mention that the animal they are looking at is not a young kangaroo but is in actuality an elderly Dusky Pademelon, I usually get the same puzzled look and question; “What’s a Pademelon?” And my whimsical answer to that question is that a Pademelon is sort of a “Wallaby-Wannabe”. They are part of and are the smallest members of the kangaroo family which includes the Wallaby and Pademelon. Paddington, or Paddy for short, has the look of his larger brethren with strong muscular legs, narrow mousy face, upright ears and bouncy gait, but in a much smaller body.
Paddington came to the Aquarium of the Pacific during our “Pacific Island Summer” exhibition a few years ago. Being so comfortable around people, he turned out to be an ideal program animal to allow visitors to get a close look at a critter that represents a species found on South Pacific Islands. The little Wallaby-Wannabe also takes weekly jaunts through the Aquarium in his “Paddy Wagon”, drawing a crowd wherever he goes. The Paddy Wagon is a small kid’s cart that is pulled through the Aquarium by Paddington’s entourage, the Aquarium’s husbandry staff and volunteers.
Paddington is definitely a People-Pademelon. Normally Dusky Pademelons are very solitary and shy creatures that don’t particularly like the company of humans. Paddington is one of the exceptions. While Foster his exhibit mate, although curious at times, tends to hop away from staff entering the enclosure, Paddington will actually seek out human contact, particularly with those who he feels comfortable being around. Paddington once had a medical procedure done that required TLC treatment for a period. A small group of staff and volunteers were tasked to cater to his every wants and needs during his recovery. Because of this personal contact, Paddington bonded with his caretakers. I was fortunate to spend a few nights with him and would sometimes take him out to the lawn in front of the Aquarium to get some fresh air. It was quite a unique experience to be taking in the night sky with a full grown Pademelon sitting next to you. This is where Paddy and I became buds.
I spent part of my birthday this month (Saturday, September 15th) working my husbandry shift at the Aquarium so as a special treat to myself, during a break, I hung out in the Pademelon exhibit which is located next to Shark Lagoon near the exit of Lorikeet Forest. I sat myself on a rock in the middle of the enclosure. Paddy noticed me and bounced over to spend some quality time. Planting himself right in front of me, he looked up with his buck-tooth, mouse-like grin. Reaching out with his left arm, he took a firm grip of my right hand and held it tight. For a small critter he has quite a grip! This is how Paddington shows that you’re one of “his” people. It’s a habit he picked up years ago when he was still recovering and used people for support in standing upright. He definitely gave me a warm marsupial birthday greeting that Saturday!
Some Dusky Pademelon information from the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Online Learning Center:
The name, pademelon, is derived from an aboriginal or native Australian term for “small kangaroo from the forest. Pademelons, petite members of the kangaroo and wallaby family, are marsupials, that is, females have an abdominal pouch.
Geographic Distribution: Lowland forests in areas of Papua New Guinea and surrounding islands
Behavior: Pademelons are typically solitary animals that socialize primarily for mating and occasionally while grazing in clearings. They travel large distances in search of food, moving through the forest from dawn to dusk, resting between mid-morning and mid-afternoon. After dusk, they move into grassy areas to graze. They make runways or tunnels through the forest undergrowth and grasses as they move to and from grazing sites.
Conservation: It is believed that predation by non-native red foxes was the primary reason for the extinction of the dusky pademelon on mainland Australia. Natural predators of pademelons include feral cats, dingoes, Wedge-tailed Eagles, red foxes, the Tasmanian devil, and Spotted-tailed Quolls. Human activities that have impacted Pademelon populations include road kill; loss of natural habitats from clearing and fragmentation of forests for management, agricultural purposes, and urban development. Hunting them in grasslands and pastures where they are considered to be pests has also decreased the populations.
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