The Detroit Zoo’s 5-month-old wallaby joey went missing over the weekend, and yesterday zoo officials suggested a haunting possible explanation: that the young marsupial may have been plucked out of its enclosure by a bird of prey.
The red-necked wallaby (Notamacropus rufogriseous) is a small marsupial species native to eastern Australia and Tasmania. Marsupials are born prematurely and finish their development inside their mother’s pouch, only venturing out when they are developed enough.
The joey vanished from a 2-acre habitat in the Detroit Zoo’s Australian Outback Adventure, which hosts 11 kangaroos and wallabies. Sprocket, the joey’s 4-year-old mother, also lives in the enclosure. At 5 (or 6—the zoo isn’t quite sure) months old, the joey was just starting to spend time outside of Sprocket’s pouch, according to a Detroit Zoo Facebook post shared just two days before the animal’s disappearance. It was last seen in its enclosure on Saturday afternoon.
The animal was about rabbit-sized, making it very attractive fodder for the owls and hawks that live near the zoo. “At this time, we believe it is likely one of these aerial predators was involved,” officials said in a Facebook post.
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“We have surveillance cameras in a number of places in the zoo, and our security team is reviewing surveillance footage,” Scott Carter, the chief life science officer with the Detroit Zoological Society, told FOX 2 Detroit. “We also have trail cameras in a number of places.”
It’s not unheard of for zoos to lose animals in their care. Last October, Gladys, a massive Eurasian eagle-owl, escaped her Minnesota Zoo enclosure. Gladys was later found critically injured by a nearby roadside and died, but not before tasting freedom and, apparently, a cat on someone’s roof.
Birds of prey will often go after animals that aren’t their usual prey, including small dogs and cats. You may even recall a viral video of an eagle trying to pluck a human baby off a golf course; thankfully, in that case, the eagle left empty-taloned.
More: Scientists Figured Out Which Animals Were in a Zoo Just by Taking DNA From the Air