A close encounter with kangaroos is a make-your-trip thrill for many visitors to Australia, and there’s no better place for it than in the Northern Territory—and specifically at the Kangaroo Sanctuary, a 90-acre wildlife reserve near Alice Springs.
The sanctuary is a labor of love for founder Chris “Brolga” Barns, whose work in caring for orphaned roos was featured in the documentary Kangaroo Dundee. (His original nickname, Brolga, is an Aborginal word for crane—a nod to his 6’ 7” height.)
We caught up with Barns to learn what it’s like to live with a brood of kangaroos—from infants to an alpha-male Roger—and get his local’s perspective on what else to experience while in the Northern Territory, a dramatic red-rock landscape full of natural wonders.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up? And how did your passion for animals—and kangaroos specifically—develop?
I was born in Perth. I loved animals as a child and had many birds growing up; I often rescued wild birds. I also loved the Australian show called Skippy—about a boy who had a kangaroo.
I became a zookeeper at 17, and I looked after an orphan baby kangaroo, which is where my passion for kangaroos came from.
What inspired you to found the Kangaroo Sanctuary?
I'd rescued many orphan kangaroos whose mothers had been killed on the roads by cars. Most of them were successfully released back into the wild. But I realized there wasn't a safe place in Central Australia for kangaroos to live if they can't be released back into the wild.
I also wanted a place where locals and visitors could learn about kangaroos living in their natural habitat and even how to rescue an orphan baby kangaroo from the road.
What are some of the challenges of caring for young and/or injured kangaroos
It’s a big commitment. Some baby kangaroos need to be fed every few hours, which means not much sleep. Some of them can be very sick and need a lot of attention. It can be difficult at times, but I love caring for my little orphans.
How my huge aggressive alpha male Roger is so gentle and caring with his wives and the tiny baby kangaroos. Also just how many visitors want to see kangaroos. It is a dream of so many to see kangaroos up close—both for international and Australian visitors.
About how many kangaroos have you cared for and how many are at the sanctuary at a given time?
Around 200. There are about 35 kangaroos at the sanctuary at the moment.
How can travelers visit the Kangaroo Sanctuary and get involved in supporting your work?
Visits can be made during our guided sunset tour on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Group tours can be booked on our normal tour days or other days. We also offer group sunrise tours during cooler weather.
On a walk around the sanctuary, visitors can see kangaroos up close in their natural habitat, including some that were featured in the documentary Kangaroo Dundee. You can book a tour—or make a donation—at kangaroosanctuary.com.
We also encourage visitors who are interested to become a volunteer wildlife carer or volunteer at their local animal shelter.
What are some of your favorite places and activities in the Northern Territory?
I love Central Australia. The MacDonnell Ranges and the wildlife are incredible, and Kakadu National Park is also one of my favorite places. I was a tour guide for a few years and took tourists to Kakadu.
What do you feel makes this part of Australia so special?
The beautiful landscape, the wildlife, and the indigenous culture.
Do you have any new plans in the works for the Kangaroo Sanctuary?
We will be opening our Kangaroo Hospital and doing further work on it. And we may have our camels, wombat, and emu on display sometime in 2016.