so onto our second HelpX placement. This time in Gympie just north of
Brisbane, well an hours drive away from Gympie but that was our
nearest point of reference aside from a tiny place called Kilkeven
which we never went to!
Anne-Marie is a wildlife carer,
primarily for kangeroo and wallaby joeys.
Joeys frequently come to
her after their mothers have been killed, usually through hunting or
car accidents, and they stay until they are approx 18months when she
releases them onto her 300 acre property and they are free to do as
they wish! Eastern Grey Kangeroos particularly are one of the most
stressful animals in the world. They really are frightened of
EVERYTHING and only 10% survive in the wild because of this (and not
many more in captivity). Anne-Marie has lost dozens of joeys over the
years, they get a fright one day and literally can be dead the next.
They are incredibly susceptible to illness and require a great deal
of looking after.
We met Anne-Marie off the bus and she
explained that we had to go straight back as she didn't like leaving
the joeys for too long.
She currently has 6 joeys, 4 Eastern Greys
and 2 Red Kangeroos all of about 8-12 months which are bottle fed 4x
a day. Due to their nervousness she really has to be 'on call' all
the time, especially with so many potential predators about. A couple
of days before we arrived she had to get rid of an 8ft python which
had wrapped itself around their shelter and could easily have eaten
one. During our stay there was a Goanna (big lizard thing) in the
shelter and we had to get it out. With Anne-Marie's help we tried to
shephard it into a laundry bin but it escaped past it and ran off
into the bush.
We arrived in the evening just in time
for the evening bottle and went straight into the little pen behind
the house where they stay at night to give them their bottles. It was
incredible and we sat there completely stunned and amazed at what we
were doing! The next day we had to get up early for the first feed,
and I MEAN early, 5am in order to start the feed at 5.
30. I've never
got up so early in my life except if I was going on holiday so the
first few days were quite a shock. Still, we got into a routine and
were exhausted by 8pm so just went to bed by 9pm each night!
Once we had done the first feed and
washed the bottles, we had to take the joeys donw to the larger pen
where they spent the day. It was only about 10m away but the lure of
the open bush was sometimes too great and the monkeys decided to go
for a hop before following us! We stayed down with them for an hour
or two each morning to ensure that they had a proper hop and didn't
just go straight back to bed (as Jaffa would always try to do!)
before settling them down for the day in their pouches. At their age
they would (apart from the oldest 2) spend almost all of the day in
their mother's pouch, so Anne-Marie has made hanging 'pouches' for
them to sleep in.
In the afternoon they come out again for some
exercise, though they really did need encouraging! Once they got
going though they hopped like mad, it was amazing to see such a tiny
thing bounding about at an incredible speed.
During the day we did whatever work
needed doing each day, sometimes outside and sometimes inside.
Anne-Marie is vegan and she asked me to do a lot of the cooking so I
now have quite a repetoire of tasty (yes really!) meals at my
disposal! The weather was pretty hot and humid so working early in
the morning was actually far more pleasant than it would have been
to work later on. Her husband Joe works 2 weeks away then 2 weeks
off, and came back halfway through our stay. He is currently
constructing an amazing veggie patch which will look like an aviary
when it is finished.
We set about snakeproofing it one day under his
instruction. The next day we helped with the building of a rockwall
which meant a lot of heavy lifting! I did get to use a cement mixer
although it was really high off the ground and I kept chucking the
sand everywhere (except in the hole), so I took myself off that job!
It was hard work, but ensured that we slept well.
Our main focus was always the joeys.
Despite being Australia's national symbol, the kangeroo is very
poorly treated. They are hunted for meat and fur (even souvenier
shops we've seen have kangeroo arm back scratchers and the like). In
fact even tonight in a gift shop we saw kangeroo furs in varying
sizes from XXS to XXL, are people really buying furs that practically
advertise themselves as being from babies?? They must be.
how when the females are killed, their in pouch joeys are simply
stamped on, or bashed against a tree to kill them, the photographic
evidence we saw of this was horrifying. Kangeroos can have an in
pouch joey and an at foot joey at the same time. In this case they
will be providing different types of milk from each teat, one
concentration for the smaller joey and one for the larger, it is
fascinating. When the joey is 'born' it is only 1 month after
conception and the tiny embryo the size of a peanut climbs up the
front and into the pouch before latching on inside and not emerging
again until about 6 months. We only saw this on video but it was
amazing! I can't understand how people could just take that and stamp
on it's head.... (this is turning into a rant now...)
I know you should never have
favourites, but mine was Jaffa.
A boy after my own heart, he loved
his pouch and we used to have to put the pouches away every time they
were having a run/hop as he would jump straight back in his! He
wasn't as confident as Hugo even though they were the same age, and
had this adorable habit of sucking his fingers in the same way that a
human would suck their thumb! Male joeys practise their boxing with
their mum from a young age, then practise with other males so that by
the time they need to assert their authority they are well trained.
Jaffa was the only one of the males who was interested in boxing
practice and used US as his punch bag. It really was the cutest thing
in the world, this little boy would stand up right on his toes (then
you knew he meant business) and suddenly the little legs would kick
out and he'd either get you and hop off, or miss completely and stand
there looking like a wally!!
We were asked to stay a couple of extra
days as Anne-Marie had to go to the dentist 2 hours away and the
joeys wouldn't be able to stay that long without a feed or someone
keeping an eye on them.
In the end that day we actually looked after
them on our own from about 8am til 5pm as she needed some shopping
and various other things from the town. It felt great that she put
that much trust in us to look after the joeys, as she was
understandably very protective of them. That morning, one of the
teenagers (Ash) who had been released but hung around close to the
house was mated, and she and her buddy were a little distressed. So
Anne-Marie shut them in the smaller pen behind the house for us to
keep an eye on them too. Ash's friend Fern was actually a whiptail
wallaby with beautiful markings and it was very interesting that the
2 species could get on so well together. Fernie had a baby in pouch
that was only a few weeks old, just jelly bean size that she kept
obsessively cleaning. Her pouch was always wet from her licking it, I
wish we could have stayed to see the joey.
It was with much regret that we had to
say goodbye to Anne-Marie and the joeys. She taught us so much about
so many different things. It really was an amazing experience and we
feel incredibly lucky that we were able to have it.