Published in December 2019
Imagine that you are in the middle of the Australian outback. Around you, the scenery has the distinct copper hues of Australia’s Red Center. The desert landscape is dry and almost sunburnt, a telling sign that very little rain falls here. The sun is slowly sinking below the horizon, and the last rays of sunlight bathe your surroundings in a magical, golden glow.
The whole scene is incredibly beautiful, but it still can’t hold your focus for long. Because close to your heart, another one is gently beating. This little heart belongs to an orphaned kangaroo. The joey, as baby kangaroos as called, looks up at you with sleepy eyes. And as it gets your full attention back, it rewards you with a soft kangaroo kiss. You wish this moment would never end and try to imprint every last detail of it into your memory forever.
We are describing our visit to The Kangaroo Sanctuary, located just outside Alice Springs and founded by Chris “Brolga” Barns. Brolga worked as a tour guide for a number of years, and as he drove countless miles along the desert roads, he frequently saw dead kangaroos lying on the roadside. A look inside the pouches of the female kangaroos revealed many babies that were still alive. Warm-hearted Brolga brought the joeys home, providing them with care and love.
The vast majority of the rescued kangaroos were released back into the wilderness as adults, but some of them had disabilities preventing them from managing on their own. Others simply became too attached to their human caretakers. Brolga decided to create a place where these lovable animals would be safe and where they could live happily for the rest of their lives. Using his inheritance money, he built what is now known as The Kangaroo Sanctuary. During its early years, he lived in a small tin shed next to the sanctuary and took care of the kangaroos day and night—mostly at night, as that’s when the animals are most active. Today he has moved to a more comfortable house nearby but still cares for the kangaroos full-time. In fact, Brolga describes himself as a “full-time kangaroo mum”!
Going on a tour of The Kangaroo Sanctuary was at the top of our wish list for our trip to Alice Springs, and to our great delight we were able to book a spot on one of the four weekly tours. Because the kangaroos sleep during the day, the tours start in the late afternoon.
We were picked up by bus from our hotel and driven a few miles out of town. Since the area around the reserve has a very rich wildlife, no private cars are allowed to drive to the sanctuary. Brolga was waiting for us in the courtyard and welcomed us with his warm smile. Right from the first second, we were struck by this incredibly charismatic man with a big heart. Brolga is not only a caring person, he is also an excellent storyteller. During the tour, all the guests hung on his every word.
As we walked around the sanctuary, we saw both small and large kangaroos. Some peered at us from afar, while others were more curious and came all the way up to us. A couple of them were offered bottled kangaroo milk, which they eagerly accepted. While Brolga told stories and explained the kangaroos’ way of life, the visitors were allowed to hold two of the joeys. The little babies were in pillowcases to evoke the comforting feeling of being in their mother’s pouch. Judging from the expressions on the visitors’ faces, the joeys made an indelible impression on everyone.
An important part of The Kangaroo Sanctuary’s vision is to spread knowledge and encourage more people to make efforts to save kangaroos and other wildlife. We therefore got a thorough description of what to do if we see a dead kangaroo on the roadside (see the bottom of this post for detailed instructions).
The last remnant of light is fading away as we head back to the bus, and the only thing we can see is the outline of some crooked, black trees against the dark blue night sky. As we walk through the gate of the sanctuary, we wonder if it would be possible to sneak a kangaroo baby back home with us. These small, trusting creatures have truly stolen our hearts.
Practical information and tips:
- It is wise to book tickets well in advance. The tours at The Kangaroo Sanctuary are very popular and can be booked out long ahead.
- The cost is AUD 85 for adults and AUD 45 for children and includes transportation to and from downtown Alice Springs. It is not possible to drive your own car to the reserve.
- The tour lasts for 2.5–3 hours.
What to do if you see a dead kangaroo on the road:
Excerpt from The Kangaroo Sanctuary’s website:
“Sometimes in Australia, you may come across a kangaroo that has been hit by a vehicle and is laying on the road. Please check the dead kangaroo as there may be a baby kangaroo (joey) alive in the pouch of the kangaroo. Here is what you can do:
- Take care of your safety first and park somewhere safe.
- Approach the kangaroo and check if it has a pouch – this is located on the lower stomach between its legs. There may be an orphan baby kangaroo alive inside.
- Carefully open the pouch. If there is a baby kangaroo inside, cup your hands under the baby (if they are not attached to a teat) and place the baby into a ‘pouch’ – this could be your shirt, a cotton bag, etc. Hold the baby close to you for warmth and heartbeat.
- Drag the dead kangaroo by the tail at least 10 metres off the road. This will ensure that other wildlife such as dingoes or wedge tailed eagles (who will feed on the dead kangaroo) will not be hit and killed by passing vehicles. By dragging the kangaroo off the road, you are preventing other wildlife from being killed.
- Take the baby kangaroo to the nearest vet or ask locals how to contact the closest wildlife carers group (or google for information). All zoos and wildlife parks can be contacted for advice on what to do. Please do not feed the baby unless you are very remote. In this situation phone the closest vet or wildlife carers group to ask what to do until you get the baby kangaroo to a vet or trained wildlife carer. In that situation you can cup some water into your hands to see if the baby kangaroo would like to lap.”
Our note: Although it may seem like a daunting task to examine the pouch of a dead kangaroo, it is still very important to do so as the joeys can survive for several days after the mother has died. The baby kangaroos cannot get out of the pouch by themselves, and therefore face certain death if no one saves them.