For three and a half weeks, I cuddled baby kangaroos, wallabies, and wallaroos. It was pretty awesome.
In case you’re wondering, a wallaroo is not a wallaby/kangaroo hybrid. They are a separate, but related, set of animals who are intermediate in size between the taller, slimmer kangaroos and the shorter, thicker wallabies, possessing qualities of each.
It wasn’t just cuddling though. I also made countless bottles of milk, picked up buckets of poo, and spent several hours a day cooking and cleaning. Despite the long hours (7am to 10pm), it was absolutely worth it.
How Did I Get Here?
As I was nearing the end of my time with Farm Animal Rescue, I found out about Brindle Creek Sanctuary from a fellow volunteer. She had just come from there and highly recommended the experience. I got in touch with Darryl, who runs the project, and we scheduled my stay.
Brindle Creek is near Mareeba, slightly northwest of Cairns in Queensland. Being on the other side of the hills, it’s not as tropical as the coast, but was still quite warm (considering it was winter when I arrived). The sanctuary is at the end of a dead end road, about 6km from the main road; our nearest neighbor was a banana plantation.
What Was It Like?
As with most volunteer projects, the first few days were a bit overwhelming and frustrating. There’s a lot to learn and I felt like I asked the same questions a dozen times. Once you get it though, everything clicks into place and it feels like second nature. One of the most important pieces is learning as many animals’ names as possible as quickly as possible. It’s difficult to learn who needs what if you can’t tell them apart. This is a struggle for me, as I’m terrible with names, but I think I’m getting better with every project. Luckily, most of the animals who needed special care here looked very different from the dozens of local agile wallabies.
The great thing about Brindle Creek Sanctuary is that it is a non-public rescue and release facility. Sick, injured, or orphaned animals are brought in and cared for until they are well enough (and old enough) to live on their own. They go through a soft release program where they are released out of the pen during the day to roam freely, but are called back in the late afternoon before it gets dark so they have a safe, secure place to sleep. If they are still very small, they will also receive a nighttime bottle to make sure they are getting enough nutrition while they learn the ropes of finding food on their own. They all have the freedom to not come back and some don’t, whether it be for a night, a few days, or a few months. Eventually, they will “graduate” to living outside full-time.
In addition to the rescued animals, we also provided supplemental feeds to several dozen wild kangaroos and wallabies. This allows us to monitor the wild population for any illness or injury, both to provide treatment to them but also to look for anything that could be contagious or dangerous to the rescues. It also ensures that there will always be a solid wild population in the area to help the rescues integrate and learn how to live in the wild.
Some of the younger animals required even more care than the pen provides and lived inside with us. When I first arrived, there were five inside babies. By the time I left, Micky was living in the pen and going outside during the day while Slim, Scratchy, and Princess were spending most of their days in the pen with some days outside. Only Pippie, our youngest rescue, was still a full-time house baby when I left.
There were so many fun moments at Brindle Creek. Here are a few of my favorites:
Walter lounging in a bag eating sweet potatoes. Walter is a fluffy wallaroo who has a bad habit of chewing on everything he encounters, with a special preference for clothes. But he also loves his pouch. By the time I left, he was getting too big for the pouches we had and we were no longer putting them up. When I first arrived though, he would regularly climb into a bag, rest his arm over the side and throw his head back like he was on the best road trip of his life. He couldn’t be bothered to get out for sweet potatoes, even though he loves them, so of course we fed him in the pouch.
Watching Pippie hop. We would take her outside each day to spend some time outside of her bag and to practice hopping. She wasn’t very adventurous most of the time but occasionally would take off at top speed, hopping in a big circle around us. She’s very small and thin, but with her huge kangaroo feet. Her bounce is extra boingy and occasionally she would jump so high and with such vigor that her legs would fly out to the side while she was airborne. I wish I could have captured this on video, but alas, I did not.
Slim sucking his toes. Kangaroos have fingers, but they don’t really have a thumb appropriate for sucking, so instead Slim sucks on his toes. When you scoop him up in his bag, he grabs one of his feet with his two little hands and starts sucking on one of his toes. It’s pretty adorable.
Scratchy trying to sleep in. Slim and Scratchy slept in my room, each in their own little bed. They got tucked in each night in a cozy bag, but lying on their side (so they learn to lounge like adult kangaroos) and covered with a blanket. Slim would get up throughout the night more than Scratchy. Slim would make noise when he was up and then I would be up getting him back into his bag (or, often, switching his bedding and bag to clean ones). Scratchy would pull his bag up over his head so we didn’t disturb him. He’d do the same things on the mornings he wasn’t ready to wake up at 6am.
Princess getting into her pouch. Our youngest animals were very responsive to the fabric bags we used to mimic their mother’s pouch and would almost always comply with requests to jump in. This is how we carried them around or tucked them into hanging bags for rests. To get in, most of the animals do a forward roll kind of thing into the bag and then wiggle around in there to get comfortable. But not Princess. If you were going to get Princess into a bag, you had to be ready because as soon as you held it out, she would launch herself off the ground with reckless abandon, trusting you to catch her mid-flip. Another moment I wish I had documented…
The Reality Check
As amazing as it is to work at a sanctuary like this, it’s not all fun and cuddles. These are wild animals living out there in the real world. Accidents happen, fights happen, and animals get sick. Nature is amazing, but it’s also often cruel. During the three and a half weeks I was there, we dealt with a gashed foot, two kidney infections, tummy troubles, an infectious disease requiring surgery, and a heart attack. There were many injections, midnight bedding changes, and even one use of a blow dart to anesthetize a wild kangaroo (Kenny, the one who needed the surgery).
Working with animals is often an emotional roller coaster and sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do in order to help them. I did not want to shoot a giant blow dart into a kangaroo, or hold a struggling wallaby as we put antibiotic – which no doubt hurt – in her infected eyes, but I did. These are the experiences that bring home the reality of what you are doing. You are helping. You are giving up something of yourself to help animals who need you. Your actions are reducing their suffering and that makes it worth the tears and that shooting pain in your heart. They might not thank you, but they are better off because of what you are doing.
Want to See for Yourself?
Darryl, Halina, and the volunteers are doing great work at Brindle Creek Sanctuary. Please check them out on Facebook (please like and share!) and send them a message if you are interested in volunteering.