by  Les Hastwell

I would like to share with you one of my many experiences in hand-rearing orphaned joeys.   


In February 1988 I was given a small Red doe which had been rejected by its mother.  After taking all her measurements and weight, I determined she was approximately 190 days old which is an ideal age to start hand-rearing a joey.   I called her Haley.


For the first six weeks she was bottle fed at four-hourly intervals on Wombaroo .7milk replacer.    Being self employed, I could take her to work with me and keep a careful eye on her.    My customers are used to seeing pouches for joeys hanging behind the counter at work.    Haley was no trouble at all, no scouring; putting on weight and by now was hopping around with ease.   She had started to eat grass, vegetables and fruit by mid to late March and if it was a nice day she would be quite content to stay at home with our other ‘roos. It was about this time she wanted to stay outside all day as she thought she was a big girl now and if I had not brought her inside at night I think she would have been quite content to stay outside all night as well.   Once inside, Haley used to hop straight down to my bedroom and jump up on the bed.   Then she would hold back the covers and somersault beneath them and go to sleep.   So by now I was sharing my bed with a kangaroo!    Haley did not particularly want to go back into her own pouch.    Why should she, when she could sleep with her adopted “Mum”?  


One day in early May I noticed she was favouring her right leg when hopping.      I kept a close eye on her but was not really concerned as I thought it was just a sprain, but by the next day her limp was quite pronounced and seemed much worse.   I decided to put a support bandage on her ankle and if it was no better by the next day a trip to the vet was indicated.    That night her knee had begun to swell and had become very enlarged.   I cut the bandage off the ankle while she was holding my arm in her paws and licking me.   I could see that the problem was with her knee and not the ankle.    I then rang the local vet at home and gave him all the details. He told me to bring her to the surgery first thing in the morning.


After the examination he thought quite possibly she had ruptured her cruciate ligament which is an injury more commonly associated with footballers.    The vet had to manipulate the joint, which by this time was very swollen and obviously painful.    Even so Haley was a good patient; she just lay there and every time John touched a tender spot, she would flinch.    It was almost as though she knew we were trying to help her.


Then it was decided to tranquilise her so the vet could work on the joint without causing anymore pain.   He then injected into the joint and withdrew a lot of blood and fluid, which indicated an infection in the knee joint itself and the withdrawing of the fluid helped to ease the pressure on the joint.


Then I had to take her home and give her plenty of rest and try to keep her off the leg. I arranged a bean bag on the lounge-room floor where she could lay down and relax.    Twice a day I had to inject her with antibiotics to help clear the infection.   It had been a while since I last injected any of my animals so before attempting to inject into Haley’s thigh, I decided to practice on an orange.


A week after she first injured her leg, she was still unable to move and yet eating well, still in good spirits and was having lots of TLC.    It was at that point that we were due to take her back to the vet for confirmation of the earlier diagnosis of cruciate ligament damage, using XRays.    I had to put on a heavy lead apron and gloves and hold her leg still while the X-Rays were taken.    It was very hard to keep her still on the bench.    The X-Rays showed a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and the only solution was surgery!


I was very apprehensive about the operation and what the future held for my little girl, should it not be successful.   My father had had the same operation some twelve or so months earlier and was still having trouble walking.


Apparently it was quite an unusual injury for a kangaroo to sustain. In the first instance it was going to be a difficult operation to perform and then the after care, which could include months of intensive physiotherapy.   In addition, there was the stress and suffering of the animal.   Was it worth subjecting her to all this trauma?   By now it was twelve days since the injury first appeared and I was very concerned about the time delay with the healing process.   To my knowledge, very few operations of this nature have been performed on kangaroos.   I had so many questions and so few answers.     What was I going to do?


Haley, by now had become quite depressed and was not eating or drinking by herself.    She was just lying there on the bean bag.   I had now begun to consider whether it would be kinder to have her put down but I could not bring myself to make that decision.   I talked it over with the vet who was willing to do the operation.   He had done it previously on dogs but this would have been the first time he would have tried it on a kangaroo.   I decided to give her a chance and go ahead with the operation.   The decision was made easier due to the fact that the infection in the joint had cleared up, but, if it was unsuccessful, then I would have to have her put down, but at least we would have tried.


On May the 24th. at 9.00am Haley went into the operating theatre. Two vets performed the delicate procedure and it took nearly two and a half hours.


At the start of the operation they were not 100% sure as to the nature of the repair work.   This would not be realised until the knee was opened up and they could see what damage the infection had caused.   First her leg was shaven and then a 12cm cut was made into her knee joint which revealed, as diagnosed, a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.   This ligament stops the sideways movement of the joint.   A hole was then drilled through the bone above the joint, the ligament was stretched and pushed through this hole and tied off.


The joint was now stabilised from sideways movement and the ligament was successfully re-attached to the bone.   To help with the healing process it was decided to perform an extra capsula stabilisation technique to support the joint. This would take the pressure off the ligament and help stop the sideways movement of the joint.



This procedure was done as is shown in the diagram above.   Small holes were drilled in the bones above and below the joint and stitches were threaded between them in a figure of eight style.    If the anterior ligament is ruptured again due to weakness in the joint because of the original injury, then nothing would be able to be done next time around.    The wound was finally sutured and Haley was brought out of the anesthetic.


I picked her up at 5.00pm that night.   She was awake, alert and very happy to see me.   When we got home I made her a bed on the bean bag and gave her half a bottle of milk, being careful not to give her too much in case it gave her the trots.    She had had no food or drink since the night before.    I had a good look at her leg which, as expected, was black and blue and very swollen.    The wound had taken twelve stitches to close.


Trying to keep her perfectly still was now the hardest thing to do as she continually wanted to get out of bed and go for a hop.   As Haley insisted on getting up and walking around I put her back into a suspended pouch bag with the top secured and at last I could get her off that leg.   Two days later we began moving her leg slightly backwards and forwards five times.   This was repeated four times a day, and each day slightly increasing this exercise to help
strengthen the ligament and muscles.


On May the 30th her wound had become infected and was very red and swollen so I had to bath it twice a day.   One week after the operation we had to take her back to the vet for a check-up.    They were very pleased with her progress as she could now walk, but, we had to stop her from hopping for the next six to eight weeks – some task!   Trying to keep a young joey walking instead of hopping is much easier said than done.   We kept on exercising her leg four times a day as well as letting her walk for short distances.   Whenever she decided on being a naughty girl and started hopping she was put back to bed.   It was still too soon to let her exert that much pressure on the joint.

By mid July the swelling had gone down and she: was starting to hop with a slight limp, but whenever Haley thought I was not looking she would start madly bounding around the yard.   It was then that I put her into an old aviary 3m x 3m so she could be outside all day without being able to run wild.


Every two weeks she had a check-up and the vets were very pleased with the way she was progressing.     It was actually much better than they, and I, had hoped for.    The one thing in her favour was that she was so young and still growing but no one knew how the joint would hold up as she grew.


On the 27th July Haley could hardly walk again, limping badly and the joint was very swollen.  At first I thought she had overdone it and ruptured the ligament again but luckily this was not so as the joint was still stable.   The bad news was that she had developed arthritis in the joint.   We decided to adopt a wait and see attitude and keep her off the leg as much as possible, also some fluid was withdrawn from the knee to help relieve the pressure.   It was also decided against using any anti inflammatory drugs unless absolutely necessary as they were unsure of safe doses for kangaroos.


Four to five weeks later, after giving her regular calcium tablets, she was back to her normal self although still hopping with a slight limp.


Nearly nine months later Haley is quite capable of standing on her tail and kicking out at me with her hind feet.    She now hops around with the other ‘roos but has only ever twice jumped into my bed since the operation.    Her right knee is slightly larger than the left, but apart from that she will never know what a lucky kangaroo she is and at the moment her future looks bright, but there are no guarantees.    When I get home from work I go outside and call her and she comes bounding up to me and gives me a big hug.


It when I see her hopping around, that I am glad we decided to take the risk and give her a second lease on life.

Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider

Copyright © The Marsupial Society of Australia Inc. 2003 - 2006 All rights reserved. Privacy Statement

Email Webmaster