Perth Zoo Keeper Stephen Catwell is set to have a wild Christmas as he cares round the clock for a Western Brush-wallaby joey.

Stephen became a surrogate father to the young female joey after it was rejected by its mother and kicked out of the pouch at an age that was too young for the infant to survive without care.

Just like any father, Stephen has been rising through the night to bottle feed the youngster and tend to its every need.

“It’s a full time role and can get tiring when you’re working throughout the day caring for the other animals at the Zoo. To say I’ve been taking my work home with me is an understatement, but it’s definitely a labour of love,” said Stephen.

“When I give her a bottle of special marsupial milk she often holds onto my thumb, she’s developing really well and has just started eating solid foods. Sweet potato and corn are her favourites at the moment.”

Western Brush-wallabies spend the first eight months of their lives inside their mother’s pouches. To simulate this, artificial pouches are used as a replacement for the young joey to provide comfort and security.

“With just a few days until Christmas I decided to give her pouch a festive makeover, using an old Santa sack,” said Stephen. “We often also provide the Western Brush-wallabies at the Zoo with Albany Woolly Bush as a natural ‘Christmas tree’ at this time of year to help spread the Christmas cheer.”

When the joey is weaned and ready to leave Stephen she will live in the Zoo’s Australian Bushwalk alongside the other Western Brush-wallabies which call Perth Zoo home and act as important ambassadors for their species.

Perth Zoo is committed to Western Brush-wallaby conservation.

Earlier this year Perth Zoo Keepers used an endoscope to record some of the earliest images ever seen of Western Brush-wallabies inside their mother’s pouches.

Western Brush-wallabies are a poorly studied species, so the project to capture the development of joeys from two days of age was invaluable to be able to gather more information about the animals.

Western Brush-wallabies are found in the southwest coastal region of Western Australia. Threats to the species include loss of habitat and conflict with introduced predators such as foxes and vehicle strike.