The more you travel the more you learn; not to predict what a place will bring, have any expectations on your experience and most importantly never plan anything!
This is exactly how I ended up joining a family of 2 humans, 9 Kangaroos, 20 chickens, 2 cows, 2 dogs and not forgetting a chatty parrot.
My journey started a month ago in Melbourne, Australia. I settled into the city as if it were home, well with all the quirky hipsters, street art, independent shops and funky music scene it basically is the Bristol of Oz. While I enjoyed exploring the streets of CBD and Fitzroy it was killing me that the only wildlife encounters I had so far were watching the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island (which was great don’t get me wrong) and catching a very bolshy Possum stealing sausages straight off the barbie! It doesn’t take long for me to miss animals and get this feeling of needing to care and nurture for something.
Through my new online friends (FB: Friendly Vegans in Melbourne) I heard of a Vegan B&B called Bed and Broccoli which on its own looked fantastic. Then I discovered that the proceeds funded their very own in-house ‘literally’ Wildlife Shelter (Red Box Wildlife Shelter). As soon as I read the words rehabilitate Eastern Grey Kangaroos I was emailing them with a plea “I would love to visit you and your animals, I can cook, clean and care for the wildlife”. Skip forward a week and I’m rolling up to a lovely country home surrounded by 60 acres of forest preparing myself to meet face to face with a kangaroo. Maybe there is a god!
A strange encounter of the Kangaroo kind
So my first encounter was with an inquisitive looking chap called Peanut, who I now share a love/hate relationship with. I anxiously followed Nikki (The owner) “The Mother of Kangaroos” to the back of the house where the roos Hangout during the day. I put my hands over my mouth and gasped with excitement, to which 7 heads popped up from the feeding bowls and stared at me. All I could think of was wow these guys are beautiful but kinda, slightly, a little intimidating. Well with that thought Peanut slowly slinked over to me and sniffed me all over, starting with my feet then my jacket and before I knew it I had a 40kg Kangaroo stood upright with his paws on my chest smelling my breath. He was obviously just checking if I’d cleaned my teeth! I’m not going to lie I couldn’t wipe the goofy smile of my face for the rest of the day.
This couldn’t be more surreal, or could it…….
Introducing Luna and Ney Ney
It was love at first sight. These two cuties are 9 and 10 months old and were both rescued after their mothers died. One from a Car accident and the other was what they call a ‘fence hanger’, her legs got caught whilst jumping a fence and she died from the injuries. Unfortunately these are both common occurrences all over Australia.
Once taken on by a loving carer like Nikki these small fluff balls become number one priority. Whether it’s feeding and toileting every couple of hours, sterilising bottles, washing linen, exercising in the forest there is always something to be doing. I mean the day starts at 3.30am for first feed and they are tucked into bed at around 10pm, that’s a 18 and a half hour shift 7 days a week! However cute they may look these joeys are a lot of work, I mean I haven’t had kids but this has to be somewhat close. Even though I am completely in love with bottle feeding and nursing Luna (my adopted baby), taking both joeys to the forest for a hop around and generally bonding with them, I’ve only been here a week. The crazy thing is that these carers are not getting paid to raise these joeys, they do it for the reward of seeing them out in the wild being their crazy Kangaroo selves.
And it doesn’t stop when they grow up, they may leave the boundaries of the property and fend for themselves but sometimes they come back to eat, get some good rest and check-in with all the family. It really is a lifetime commitment.
Ever thought about why a group of Kangaroos is called a Mob. Well I have the answer, it came to me when I was taking out the lunchtime bottle feed for the 5 big guys. It was a cold day and in my mind it was going to be a cute movie like moment where they all come over and wait nicely for their warm milk. But nooooooo, I didn’t even get chance to sit down before they mobbed me, pinching bottles straight from the tub and grabbing my jacket as if to say “where’s the good stuff!”. It was a hilarious scene with milk splattering everywhere and gangly Kangaroo feet tripping over everything. These lot keep me constantly entertained.
Even in the small amount of time I have spent with the roos I have learnt a lot about their diet, needs and behaviours but the one thing that will give me the greatest memories has been discovering each one of their individual personalities. One memory, which became a daily ritual, was mine and Peanuts morning pooper scooping playtime. So it’s normally about 7.30am and I just want to get the cleaning done quickly so that I can spend some relaxing time with the gang, but Peanut has other plans. I start casually scooping up the mountain of nuggets from the nights events and he sets eyes on me, I can see him thinking ‘now’s my time to attack’. So he slowly hops over and throws his arms around me, which feels like a kinda cute bear hug, but then he proceeds to kick me and jump on my back. Now by this point you should have a hilarious mental image of me with a dustpan and brush trying to clean up the back garden with a literal Kangaroo backpack.
The meat trade conquers all, the sad part to the story.
It has become clear from my long conversations with Nikki that she is not only struggling to handle the workload that comes with raising 9 Kangaroos, she is also fighting to change the governments policies around Kangaroos being characterized as pests. Whilst generally trying to reinstate to the public that these are gentle beings that need our help.
It boggles my mind how a country can not only turn its back on their native wildlife but actively write laws that allow hunters to cull up to 189,086 Kangaroos a year in Victoria alone. All you need is a ATCW licence (Authority To Control Wildlife) which any joe blogs can apply for, so these are not trained shooters but just angry farmers firing lethal blows. It’s disgustingly ironic that these animals are being betrayed by the exact authority that was put in place to protect them, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). I was horrified but not surprised when I found out the hidden agenda behind these new laws. I give you four words, KANGAROO PET FOOD TRIAL.
“The Kangaroo Pet Food trial commenced in March 2014, allowing the use of kangaroo meat resulting from authorised wildlife control activities to be processed for pet food.”
This so-called ‘trial’ has been extended until March 2019 to test the programs sustainability on a longer period. In other words they are making a profit from this Kangaroo meat so will continue to support the culling. Oh and it’s not only the meat, they are cashing in on the skins too. I was gob smacked when I typed ‘Kangaroo skin products’ into google, who the hell would buy a Kangaroo testicle bottle opener. It’s sad to think that we live in a world where profit overrules compassion, and animals are seen as dollar signs and not individuals with a desire to live.
If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do then help make a difference by signing this petition to stop the Kangaroo pet food trial:
Luna and Ney Ney’s story is a beautiful one but for over 90% of joeys who are orphaned either by RTA (Road Traffic Accident) or hunting the outcome is horrific; either they are left to starve to death (because there isn’t enough meat on them) or they are killed following the guidelines put forward by The Australian Government itself:
“Single forceful blow to the base of the skull sufficient to destroy the functional capacity of the brain.
Stunning, immediately followed by decapitation by rapidly severing the head from the body with a sharp blade.”
This extraordinary experience has reminded me that as travellers we shouldn’t just pass through a town or city and wonder at the scenery and wildlife. We have the unique opportunity to learn about the native animals and culture and actively take part in ensuring that future generations can enjoy this too. Whether that method is through writing a blog and sharing knowledge or volunteering your time to someone in need. We can have a positive impact. Without Nikki sharing her years of experience about Kangaroos with me I wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to raise one, or that there is a high demand for carers all over Australia. I would still be ignorant to the worlds largest wildlife slaughter, the Kangaroo cull. But most of all I would not have seen the beautiful, gentle and playful spirit these creatures have.
I want to thank Nikki and Scott for opening their home and letting me spend time with their family of furries. I feel honoured to have been chosen as I know that the circle of human interaction with wildlife must be kept small. You have given me wonderful memories that I will cherrish forever.