NASHVILLE, Tenn., (WKRN) — Have you ever seen a kangaroo the size of a jelly bean? It seems like an everyday occurrence for keeper Nate Morris at the Nashville Zoo.
Morris has worked at the Nashville Zoo for four years. He has been a keeper for 13. He said the zoo is now home to about ten new joey kangaroos, each in different stages of development.
“They’re part of a species survival plan. That’s why we have our male in here to breed with some of our females, just to keep the population sustainable and healthy. So with that, we have about 10 babies with those parents as well.”
Morris said male kangaroos can grow to become six-feet tall and between two and three-hundred pounds. Females can grow to about five-feet tall and between eighty and one-hundred pounds.
“We have smaller than average kangaroos here. Our youngest adult is Ruben, and he is about eighty pounds right now, last time we checked. In captivity, kangaroos can live up to 25-years-old. In the wild, it’s a lot less than that. Our oldest kangaroo in our population is 11, she will turn 12 in November. So, we have a very young population here.”
Morris told News 2 working with these magnificent marsupials is the most rewarding job.
“Our quality of work is their quality of life. So, the harder we work and make sure that their quality of life is better, they’re more comfortable here. That is why we do all the training we do just to make sure they’re not stressed and it is all on their terms.”
Morris said recently a big part of the job is looking after the joeys.
“Joeys are what we call ‘at the foot’, which means they are no longer in the pouch but they are still nursing from mom and probably all still nurse for another couple months. They are also eating other grain as well. We have three kangaroos, three joeys that are still in the pouch, roughly in that six-to-eight month window where they’re testing outside of the pouch. They’re coming out for maybe a couple minutes and then hopping right back in.”
Morris said they also have five other kangaroos in the developmental stages. The most recent one they saw was born about three weeks ago and it is the size of a jelly bean. Others have started to develop eyes and will likely open those soon.
Morris and the crew perform routine pouch checks on the kangaroos. This is done to determine if an embryo has attached to a kangaroos pouch. They then develop a plan for care.
“We phased in them putting their hands on top of a bowl. Then we would ask them to do that and reinforce it with their diet.” But, it takes a great deal of trust for a kangaroo to allow for a pouch check.
“Patience a positive reinforcement, consistency, so training anything, whether I’m training you or anything is is learning. So, I am learning how to as a trainer I am learning how to get what I want out of this kangaroo. And the kangaroo is learning how does it get what it wants out of me.”
Naturally in the wild, kangaroos are herbivores.
“Here in captivity, we feed them a specialized grain mix that is designed just for marsupials. Naturally, they would be eating grass. So, the grain has all the good stuff they would need, just in a pelleted form. And then for treats sometimes we do give them fruit, potato, carrots, corn, apple and that type of stuff.”
Morris said one of the best parts of his job is interacting with the public.
“I’ve been a keeper for thirteen years, and one of the things I always remember are the kids that come back in and remember what you just talked about. So, that is kind of why we do it. I’m sharing our stories because my job is really cool. And that is hard not to take for granted. Showing those people what we do every single day and showing our passion incites passion for them.”
And soon, the public will be able to interact with the kangaroos again.
“We’re prepping to open our gates and let guests back in to interact with the kangaroos on September 4. They’ll get to see and do the same thing as before the pandemic. Still staying on the path and if the animals are coming up close, they will most definitely be allowed to touch them. At least, at this point. We’re still going to try and create as much activity in here as possible, but also trying to be as safe as possible for the kangaroos and the guests.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the zoo has been struggling financially. If you’d like to help by donating, please click here.
Most patients with COVID-19 have a mild respiratory illness including fever, cough and shortness of breath. The Tennessee Department of Health strongly encourages Tennesseans to wash your hands often with soap and water and to not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
The CDC recommends that organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 10 people or more throughout the United States.
High-risk individuals are defined as adults over 60 years old or people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions such as: Heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease.
The Tennessee Department of Health offers a COVID-19 Public Information Line at 877-857-2945, with information available daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central Time.