The Kangaroo Sanctuary of Alice Springs, Australia (or How to Snuggle with Baby Kangaroos for a Good Cause)

Friday, May 27th

There was no reason Alice Springs should have been on the itinerary.  It's a small town in the middle of the Australian Outback.  Why go there??  And why spend six hours on a bus from Uluru to get to this remote place??  

Several of my ridiculous shenanigans have come about because of TV.  I took Elias to Wales just because of the Doctor Who museum.  Most of the trip to Rome was planned based on Anthony Bourdain's journeys.  And we ended up in Alice Springs because of the glory of television.

I don't know how it came about really.  I think I saw a picture online.  Or I stumbled across a post on TripAdvisor.  Around the same time, I saw a show on NatGeo Wild called Kangaroo Dundee.  It was about a guy who was a Momma to baby kangaroos.

Now here's the thing.  I don't watch NatGeo Wild.  They come in my office once a year with the National Geographic Channel Upfront along with maybe the other Fox networks.  So I don't actually know the programming.  There's no reason I should have seen this show.  But I did.  And I realized this was a place we had to visit one day.

Let's be honest though.  Convincing the family to add a small, super rural town in the middle of Australia was a hard sell.  It wasn't easy to get to.  And there isn't much to actually do there.  But there is a kangaroo sanctuary.  Mom asked one day if there was another chance to visit kangaroos.  But I was adamant.  We had to do this.  The rest of the family knew they couldn't sway me.  This was going to happen.

You guys...that FACE!!
The bus to the sanctuary picked us up from the hotel around 4p.  No matter how you book the tour, you will be picked up with the sanctuary's bus.  While driving to the various hotels in Alice Springs (so many hotels in Alice Springs!!), we watched the first episode of Kangaroo Dundee, which of course elicited the "Awww..." when you see the baby kangaroos on the screen.

Brolga and Jimmy
We arrived to the sanctuary around 5p and were greeted by Chris "Brolga" Barnes.  He started the sanctuary and used to live in a small shack with no power.  Brolga has sacrificed his entire life to care for kangaroos.  And man, he loves his babies.

During the conversation, Brolga reached into the bag slung across his shoulder.  The guest of honor had been with us the entire time.  Jimmy was a baby kangaroo (yes, I know he's a joey, but I prefer the term baby kangaroo, so leave me alone) who was just chillin' in a pillowcase.  The "Awww..." we heard when seeing a baby kangaroo on the TV was nothing compared to the sounds of excitement that came out of the faces of grown adults.  This group was jumping out of their skin to see a baby kangaroo.  The knowledge that we were also going to HOLD this baby kangaroo??  It was almost too much.

The deal of this tour was that we would walk around the sanctuary as a group, learning about the sanctuary itself and also about kangaroos.  Brolga wanted us to know what to do if you see a kangaroo that was hit by a car on the side of the road (#1 - Check for a baby kangaroo in the pouch, #2 - Put the baby kangaroo in a pillowcase, #3 - Find a kangaroo "helper" in the next town, #4 - Do NOT give the baby kangaroo cow milk.  Water works fine enough).

The rules for holding Jimmy (and Patty, the second baby kangaroo that was hanging out with us on this night) were simple.  Hold him like a baby and don't pass him around quickly.  Keep him snuggled close for a minimum of 5 minutes each.  Yeah, we can make that happen.

Roger.  You can't really see the muscles, but they're there.
There were only a few fences in the sanctuary.  The only one we really noticed kept the male kangaroos at bay.  Mostly Roger, the (former) Alpha Male kangaroo.  He's a fan favorite on both TV and definitely on Instagram.  When he stands up on his hind legs, he has abs and arms for days.  But Roger is getting a bit elderly and one of his sons has recently become the Alpha.  Brolga was quick to remind us that even though Roger is an old man, he could still destroy you.  Brolga told the story about how a kangaroo kick could knock the twigs and berries right off of a human man.  So while there are tourists in the sanctuary, the males are kept away from us.

Brolga raises the baby kangaroos to be kangaroos.  He teaches them how to live as a kangaroo, just like their mom would do.  As the kangaroos grow up, they can be released from the sanctuary and live their lives as they would have if their mom had lived.

But a few of the baby kangaroos won't be released.  Or can't.  The kangaroos we hold during our tours are ones that would never survive out in the wild.  So they'll hang out in the sanctuary, living a pretty good life.

As we walked down the path, a toddler kangaroo came up to us.  Brolga was ready with a bottle.  Indi was about 18 months old and just wanted some milk.  So one of the folks on the tour held the bottle while Indi enjoyed a late lunch.  *SQUEE*

Hey there, Indi!!
Indi hopped away and we continued along the path, stopping to ask questions or see kangaroos along the way.  Brolga was amazing.  He just loves his kangaroo family and loves talking about what they are able to accomplish there.  The BBC comes along for a few months per year to shoot the show (Series 3 is currently airing in the UK.  We've only had Season 1 in the US).  He has tours come along three times a week or so.  He's moved from a shack with no electricity to a home with a wife.  It's a good life.

The tour ended around 7p.  Night had fallen and we made our way back to the shack where he used to live.  We all started taking pictures with Brolga and realized a 6 foot 7 inch guy towers over our not-very-tall family.

We are not tall people.  Brolga is.
We boarded the bus to go back to our hotel, dreamily thinking about baby kangaroos.  Mom laughed as she held Patty.  "I was standing there and realized I was rocking back and forth, just like I was holding a real baby."  Dad could not have loved holding the baby kangaroo more.  I don't think I've seen him smile like this in forever.  Elias enjoyed a snuggle with baby Jimmy, but he didn't want to spend a ton of time with the cuddle.  And I held a baby kangaroo longer than I think I've held any human baby.

This was probably our favorite tour in all of Australia.  When I asked Mom how she felt about our stop in Alice Springs now, she said this was the "highlight" of the trip.  And it was.  It really was.


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