Imagine a creature that has big doe eyes, comically large ears, and a tail so full of muscle that it can be used to balance on. Now add funny little bowed front legs that pack quite a punch, powerful hind legs, and a pouch for jelly bean-esque babies and you have the most famous of Australian wildlife, the kangaroo.
There are approximately 50 million kangaroos in Australia, making these bouncy macropods more numerous than people* in the land down under. They proliferate since most of Australia is largely uninhabited by humans, leaving large expanses of wild spaces for them to roam, and the fact that they have few natural predators. However, there is a new predator in town: man and his creation, cars.
Drive anywhere outside of major city centers near dawn or dusk and you are likely to come head to head with a pair of startled eyes glowing in your headlights. These adorable marsupials aren’t the smartest of creatures and can be even worse than the American version, deer in the headlights. Not only does the sudden onslaught of headlight lit doom momentarily freeze them, sometimes they will actually keep hopping…straight into your stopped car**. In cases less favorable to the roo the car isn’t stopped and they become unwilling participants in what I call the morbid math of the Australian outback, where one roadkill sighting equals approximately one kilometer driven.
However, the roos of the Kimberley are in luck, they have a guardian angel, Mandy from Kangaroo Haven in Kununurra, Western Australia.
Saving Orphaned Joeys
Mandy is the founder and main caretaker at the Kangaroo Haven in Kununurra, a wildlife rescue she began 15 years ago when she and her partner hit a mother kangaroo on their way back to Kununurra from Darwin. She felt she couldn’t leave the little joey (a baby kangaroo) to die in the pouch of its dead mother so she wrapped it in a blanket and took it home. By working closely with Parks and Wildlife, Mandy has learned how to care for these little orphans: what to feed them (they are lactose intolerant and cannot have normal milk), how to raise them, and, eventually, how to successfully release them back into the wild. Thanks to the efforts of the Kangaroo Haven in Kununurra, 620 kangaroos have been released to date.
The Kangaroo Haven gets joeys from all over the Kimberley, with some coming from as far south as Broome. However, many do not make it to the center. A kangaroo’s pouch is dark, humid, and warm, about 34 degrees Celsius, so when the baby is suddenly ripped out of that and, say put in the air-conditioned cab of a car, they often die of stress. Mandy always tells guests, “If you find a joey, make sure to keep it warm, in a blanket or under your shirt, and get it to someone who knows how to raise them as soon as possible.” The littlest ones, the ‘pinkies’, almost never survive the journey and even the slightly older ones, the ‘velvets’ who are about the size of your palm, still only have about a 1 in 10 chance of survival.
Visiting the Kangaroo Haven in Kununurra
A couple of weeks back, Kane and I had the lovely experience of getting to meet Mandy and her babies by taking a tour of the Kangaroo Haven in Kununurra. I was lucky enough to spot the ad for tours of the rescue at Coles, a supermarket in Australia, because this is not a tourist trap and it is duly under-advertised; Mandy is simply opening her home to people who want to learn about (and cuddle) her kangaroos. The suggested donation of $10 AUD per person goes towards the surprisingly high cost of feeding the 30-40 joeys she has at any one time. Mandy does not have a website, so please call ahead at 0438 921 942 to schedule a cuddle with these buddles of joy. The Kangaroo Haven in Kununurra is located at 90 Egret Cl, Kununurra WA 6743. The tour involves helping with feeding the joeys (32 of them at the time of our visit) and learning more about kangaroo recuse in Australia. Mandy truly loves her charges and the tour is worth every penny, after all who wouldn’t want to cuddle a kangaroo?
*The 2016 census puts Australia’s population at 24.13 million.
**Yes, this actually happened to my partner when he was driving near Shark Bay around sunset.