He may be small enough to climb along a keeper’s arm, but Taronga Zoo’s newest Yellow-bellied Glider joey is preparing to play a big role in protecting his vulnerable species.
The joey is the 16th born at Taronga, which has the world’s only successful breeding program for Yellow-bellied Gliders.
At five months of age, the joey recently left his mother’s pouch and will soon meet students taking part in Taronga’s Project Yellow-bellied Glider.
“He’s going to become our newest Yellow-bellied Glider ambassador, which is a very important role,” said Keeper, Wendy Gleen.
Also known as the Fluffy Glider, Yellow-bellied Gliders have remarkably soft fur and can glide up to 140 metres in a single leap. Listed as a vulnerable species, in Australia, due to habitat loss, these marsupials can still be found in bushland at the edge of Sydney, Australia, such as Bouddi National Park.
Taronga Zoo, in New South Wales, Australia, has joined forces with more than 160 school students from the Central Coast to help protect Gliders and their habitat through Project Yellow-bellied Glider. The project will see students become Yellow-bellied Glider guardians, habitat experts, and active participants in the development of wildlife corridors.
The students have also helped select a name for Taronga’s newest joey, with keepers choosing ‘Jiemba’, at the suggestion of students from St Joseph’s Catholic College at East Gosford. The name means “laughing star” in the language of the Wiradjuri people of central NSW.
Keepers are hoping that Jiemba will prove his star power when he meets the students during a visit to Taronga in August. Keepers have been helping to feed and care for the joey in recent weeks to assist with his weaning process and ensure he is comfortable around people.
“An encounter with a little Glider like Jiemba can help people form an emotional connection with Yellow-bellied Gliders and inspire them to take action to protect gliders in the wild,” said Wendy.
Wendy said people could help ensure a future for Yellow-bellied Gliders, in the wild, by protecting mature trees and planting native trees and shrubs to create wildlife corridors.
“The biggest problem for these Gliders is local bushland being broken up by development along the eastern seaboard where they’re found. It takes 120 years for mature trees to produce nesting hollows, so they are irreplaceable in our lifetime,” she said.
The Yellow-bellied Glider (Petaurus australis) is an arboreal and nocturnal gliding possum that lives in a narrow range of native eucalypt forests down eastern Australia, reaching from northern Queensland to Victoria.
The Yellow-bellied Glider is a marsupial about the size of a rabbit. It typically has grey-brown fur on its back and has off-white to orange or yellow belly. An adult weighs a total of 700 g. Males are usually bigger than the females.
Their diet consists of nectar, honeydew, insects, pollen and a wide spread of tree sap including: Eucalyptus sap, Corymbia sap, some Angophora sap, and Lophostemon sap.
Breeding occurs in spring in the south, but throughout the year in the Queensland in the north. Sexual maturity for the glider is around two years of age and the glider will then pair up with another glider, usually in a monogamous relationship and mate August to December. The offspring are normally born between May and September. They then stay in the marsupium for about 100 days. The young are then left in the den for 2–3 months before they are weaned from the mother and go off on their own. While in the den, both parents care for the offspring.
The Yellow-bellied Glider is currently classified as “Least concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.