1 year ago: Looking back on the mystery of Metro Detroit’s missing wallaby

Detroit Zoo believes joey was taken by flying predator

Squirrel vs. wallaby (WDIV)

ROYAL OAK, Mich. – It’s been more than a year since a baby wallaby went missing from the Detroit Zoo, saddening the community that just celebrated its birth.

The Detroit Zoo announced the birth of a baby wallaby, known simply as “joey,” on May 6, 2022. It was 5 months old then.

Just hours later, zoo staff would see the baby joey for the last time.

On the morning of May 8, 2022, officials announced that the small wallaby was missing from the Australian Outback Adventure habitat at the Royal Oak-based zoo. Animal care staff reportedly last saw the joey at 5 p.m. the day before.

Zoo officials said staff worked to find the missing wallaby, exhausting all options available to find the baby.

As the days passed, concern grew due to the joey’s age: Baby wallabies crawl into their mother’s pouch immediately after birth, where they continue to develop. Because the 5-month-old was still nursing and spending time in its mother’s pouch, zoo officials said it was unlikely that the joey could “survive an extended amount of time away from the mother.”

After days of searching and investigating, the zoo called off the search on May 13, 2022. Officials found that the joey couldn’t have escaped from its enclosure, and that it was unlikely it was taken by a visitor.

It was believed that a hawk or an owl may have taken the baby wallaby from its enclosure, since those natural predators live near the zoo, officials said. At that point, the joey was not believed to be alive.

But on May 20, a small glimmer of hope stretched across Metro Detroit, after a viewer sent in a photo of what they thought could be the missing wallaby. The details weren’t entirely promising -- the viewer was from Washington Township, and the animal looked more like a squirrel than anything else -- but we reached out to the zoo, just in case.

Photo of animal on roof in Washington Township from viewer Margaret S. (Margaret S)

We quickly heard back from a zoo spokesperson, who had also received and examined the viewer’s photo. The spokesperson told us that the zoo’s life sciences team did, indeed, identify the animal in the photo as a gray squirrel -- not a wallaby.

Why the squirrel was missing fur and looked unwell is a mystery, but it could have been affected by something like mange.

Unfortunately, that glimmer of hope lasted only for a moment.

Squirrel vs. wallaby. (WDIV)

After the photo was submitted, there weren’t any other leads in the case of the missing wallaby. It is still believed that the joey was taken by a flying predator and did not survive.

The joey was so young when it went missing that its gender had yet to be determined. With “heavy hearts,” the zoo called off the search and closed the case after exhausting “every resource” at its disposal.

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce we are ceasing our search for the wallaby joey who was discovered missing on Sunday, May 8.

“We have exhausted every resource at our disposal, spent dozens of hours reviewing all trail cam and security footage, and thoroughly searched the Zoo and surrounding areas. We are heartbroken that nothing has revealed to us the location of this wallaby. At this point, after so many days away from the mother, we do not believe this joey could still be alive.

“The Detroit Zoo is a leader in animal welfare, widely known for spacious, naturalistic habitats that mimic what an animal might see in the wild. However, when tragedies like this occur, we must review and revisit our policies and procedures to ensure we are doing everything possible to preserve the life and welfare of the animals in our care. Our leadership team is currently undergoing this process.

“All of us at the Detroit Zoo mourn the loss of this joey, but we take solace in knowing that the mother wallaby, 4-year-old Sprocket, appears to be healthy and doing well. Animal care staff continues to provide her — and every animal at the Zoo — with the highest level of care.

“Thank you to everyone who followed the search for this joey and offered support. We are devastated this story did not have a happy ending.”

The Detroit Zoo via Facebook
Wallaby and joey at Detroit Zoo. (Patti Truesdell) (Detroit Zoo/Patti Truesdell)

Another baby wallaby was born at the zoo back in 2020, the first once since 2010.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.