Nearly all of the red-legged pademelons — small forest-dwelling marsupials native to Australia and New Guinea — at a recreational ranch in Hualien County died earlier this month after being chased around their enclosure by a pack of feral dogs.
The incident occurred late on the night of Nov. 15, when the dogs jumped through a section of unsecured fencing at the Shin Kong Chao Feng Ranch and Resort in Fonglin Township (鳳林). Before the ranch management and security staff became aware of what was happening, 26 of the 31 pademelons were dead.
Ranch veterinarian Fang Jui-lung (方瑞隆) examined the bodies, but found no obvious external injuries. The vet concluded that the pademelons were most likely “frightened” to death, due to being chased by the feral dogs.
Pademelons are the smallest of the macropods, a class of herbivorous marsupials which also includes kangaroos, wallabies and tree-kangaroos. The red-legged pademelon is small and compact, with soft, thick fur and a short, thick tail of about 30 to 47cm. Adults are less than 60cm tall and weigh up to 7kg.
Five mating pairs were imported from New Guinea to the Chao Feng Ranch and Resort six years ago, and they had grown to 31 since then.
When the feral dogs attacked the ranch, workers came running when they heard loud barking. When they arrived, they found dozens of marsupials lying silent on the ground, and the dogs had fled.
“The pademelons most likely died due to stress,” Fang said, adding that the dogs had probably chased the timid marsupials as a game.
One staff member found a seven-month-old baby pademelon still alive in the pouch of its dead mother.
Of the surviving adults, two are male and three are female, including a mother nursing her young in the pouch.
Fang said a nursing pademelon can only produce enough milk for one baby, so he used a milk formula for nursing raccoons to feed the joey which had lost its mother. The vet said everyone was relieved when the joey started drinking the formula.
Chien Li-chiu (簡麗秋), an animal nursing specialist at the ranch, is now responsible for feeding the joey, and she has become its substitute mother.
Staff at the ranch said when Chien leaves the joey’s sight, it cries out for her.
Fang said pademelon joeys are weaned from milk at about one year old, and said he would gradually reduce the glucose content in the raccoon milk formula so that they can extend the nursing and growth period for the young animal.
“In the beginning, it took the joey several hours to finish just over 10cc of milk formula. Now it is drinking up to 300cc a day. This means under our care, it has a good chance of growing up safely into adulthood,” Fang said.