Kangaroo on the loose!

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

Community and police turn out to search for lost baby kangaroo in Jerusalem

Deputy Scott Walker hands over Kaia to her handlers, Suzanne Stokoe, left, and Laura Miller, center.

KEUKA PARK – What might have been a tragedy turned to triumph and relief Sunday afternoon in the hills above Keuka Lake as dozens of community members turned out for a 24-hour search for a missing kangaroo, and thousands more followed on social media as events unfolded.

The 8-month-old female kangaroo, a still nursing joey named Kaia, was reported missing around noon Saturday near Coates and Williams Hill roads. Kaia's handler, Laura Miller, was visiting her family there while caring for Kaia over the weekend for her employer, Stokoe Farms of Scottsville. 

The orphaned Kaia was a rescue brought to Suzanne Stokoe in January at just five months old from a situation in which she was failing rapidly. Stokoe operates her family's very popular destination farm located at 656 South Road, Scottsville, near Rochester, which has been in her family since 1812 through seven generations. They grow sunflowers, pumpkins and Christmas trees; offer fun family activities; and boast a licensed menagerie of other kangaroos and wallabies, camels, emus, and Patagonian Mara.

Kaia the kangaroo joey was found by Jason Tietjen sheltering by this large tree after eluding searchers for 24 hours, and spending the night outdoors in frigid temperatures rarely seen in her native Australia.

Kaia is still nursing from a bottle and spends large amounts of time still snuggled in a warm cloth pouch taking the place of her mother's. So when Suzanne needed to be out of town, Laura offered to care for Kaia at home. As she's so young and docile, Laura didn't expect Kaia's sudden leap to freedom and the chance to explore the outdoors on the sunny day. Suzanne says, "They are lightning fast!"

"I made a split second mistake that allowed her to escape from me. Believe me I feel horrible," said Laura in her Facebook post as she appealed to the community to help her search. They even offered a $3,000 reward for the person who could find the little joey safely.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike says 40 to 50 volunteers turned out to help, along with deputies, DEC officers, and New York state trroopers. Searchers brought in a drone and thermal imaging devices. A grid pattern search was organized, but was somewhat complicated by the many vineyards in the area. Kai was spotted several times, once at Vineyard View Winery, but was spooked and fled from all who approached her, even Suzanne.

Cold, tired, and hungry, Kaia was wrapped in blankets, warmed by a heater, and bottle fed as soon as they got to the Miller's home nearby.

At night drew closer and temperatures began to fall, the searchers and followers feared the worse – a small baby kangaroo from the warmer climes of Australia is ill equipped to survive the bitter winter of New York. The fear of predatory coyotes in the area was also mentioned. Searchers continued to look for her through the darkest hours without success.

Sunday morning brought a sense of relief when Kai was sighted once again, and the volunteers were organized into a cordon to hem her in. One of those searchers, Jason Tietjen, 38, of Sid White Road, knows the area well being a worker at the Town of Jerusalem Highway Department. He was walking the edge of Bill Culver's land near County House Woods Road when he spotted Kaia on a neighboring property, but lost her in the brush of an old vineyard.

"I was surprised how fast she was being so cold," said Jason. He managed to find her again sheltering beside a large tree. He called Laura, who advised he not approach the joey, just keep her in his sight until enough people could surround her.

Suzanne and Laura arrived at the spot and even close by, they could barely make her out. Although two feet tall standing on her hind legs, "when crouched down, she's not much bigger than a rabbit, and they really blend in," says Suzanne.

As volunteers and police holding blankets closed in on Kaia, Sheriff Spike reports it was Deputy Sheriff Scott Walker who made the safe capture covering her with blanket, and securing her legs. Walker soon handed the little joey over to her foster mom who held her tail firmly until she could be wrapped in warm blankets.

"He just scooped her up," says Suzanne. "We took her right away to Laura's mom's house nearby and got her by the bathroom heater to warm her up and get her some formula."

Speaking by phone from the McDonald's parking lot in Canandaigua on their way home Sunday afternoon, now that their nerves would let them eat, she said Kaia was scared, cold, and hungry, covered with briar thorns and had a few lacerations. She was passed out sleeping by then. Suzanne and is sure the little 'roo will make a complete recovery, and will see their veterinarian first thing Monday.

"We are so very blessed with the amazing help the community of Penn Yan has shown us," says Suzanne. Jason Teitjen will be receiving the reward for finding Kaia, and Deputy Walker earned their thanks for his quick hands. "The outreach and support down here and the help from the officers was amazing. We were overwhelmed by the number of people who turned out to help. I can't thank everyone enough. I'm just speechless."

Laura adds, "We truly felt the prayers of each and every one of you, and we are praising and thanking God today."

Jason Tietjen who found Kaia, Suzanne Stokoe holding the wayward joey, Deputy Scott Walker who caught Kaia, and Sargent Chad Daggett, who helped organize the search.