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Animal of the month: the red kangaroo

Brolga from The Kangaroo Sanctuary answers all our questions about red kangaroos. 

By Jessica Wilkinson
Published: July 20, 2017

Chris Barnes, who goes by the name of Brolga, is somewhat of a wildlife warrior – but not in the overzealous use of the term that gets bandied around all too much. In the honest to its core sense of the term. Quite simply, Brolga lives to care for kangaroos. His humble lodgings are located in the red heart of Australia – Alice Springs – and it's here, on his 50-acre property that kangaroos have found sanctuary for the past 10 years. 

Brolga rescues and cares for orphaned joeys, nursing them back to health, which he says, was always on the cards from when he was a kid. "I loved Skippy as a child and fell in love with the idea of a kangaroo as a best friend," says Brolga. "The love of kangaroos stuck with me, so when I got older I wanted to help them." 

Brolga and his Kangaroo Sanctuary shot to fame in the 2013 BBC documentary series, Kangaroo Dundee - not that it's changed his trajectory. The sanctuary's motto is 'animals come first' and that's the way it will stay. Brolga's current mission is building (and fundraising) for a kangaroo hospital on the sanctuary, negating the need to travel to the nearest wildlife hospital over 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) away. 

The Kangaroo Sanctuary on Instagram

First of all, how can people help what you do at the Kangaroo Sanctuary?

The Kangaroo Sanctuary is privately run by us, so to help keep the sanctuary running, you can visit on our guided sunset tour which is Tuesday to Friday or make a donation. We also encourage everyone around the world to think about animals and take action e.g. becoming a wildlife carer, working at the local animal shelter, being involved in projects that protect animals, donating to well-respected organisations that care for animals. All animals deserve to be treated kindly. 

If you could tell people around the world one thing about kangaroos, what would it be?

That they can leap eight metres (25 feet) with every hop. 

What makes a red kangaroo different from the other species of kangaroos?  

The red kangaroo is the largest species of kangaroo, with males growing up to two metres (six feet) tall and weigh up to 90 kilograms (200 pounds).  

How many types of kangaroos are there?  

The four main species are the red, eastern grey, western grey and wallaroos.  

Is it true they can’t move backwards? 

Apparently, this is true, but a couple of my kangaroos can jump backwards.  One of the reasons the kangaroo is on our coat of arms is to represent Australia moving forward because the kangaroo can’t jump backwards.

How many wives does a mob boss have?

This can vary from one to many. Depends on how many kangaroos are about the particular area.  Some males have been reported to have up to 20 wives. 

Brolga with a kangaroo joey, The Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Is it true that once a female kangaroo has her first baby, she basically spends the rest of her fertile life either pregnant or nursing? 

As long as conditions are good in her surroundings, then she is able to have one baby out of the pouch still drinking, one in the pouch and one embryo waiting for up to 12 months to be born once the baby in the pouch is fully out of the pouch. 

What evolutionary characteristics allow them to survive in the harsh outback?

Red kangaroos, in particular, have adapted well to the desert and don’t require much water in cooler weather and can live healthily off grasses and bushes which are low in nutritional value. 

Do they usually stay in one area? Or do they migrate/move around the country?  

If there is food, kangaroos will quite happily live in a fairly limited area.  Otherwise, they can travel great distances for food. 

Why are the males so aggressive? Do they always fight each other?  

The alpha males can be aggressive, but this is so they can protect their mob. 

What is a kangaroo's tail made from?

Bones which extend from its back and is like vertebrae, and fat and hair.

Kangaroo joey, The Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Is it true joeys pee and poo in their mother's pouch? 

Not really. The mum cleans baby kangaroo joey regularly by licking and swallowing babies pee and poo – her licking causes baby to wee and poo. 

How long does a joey live in its mother's pouch?

When it is born it red kangaroos joeys are in their mum's pouch for up to about 8-9 months. When they are born they are permanently fused to their mum’s nipple for about 3-4 months. Then as they get older they spend more and more time out of the pouch until mum decides they are too big to be carried around.  And this can be big!

Are wild kangaroos friendly to humans?

Wild kangaroos ideally are afraid of humans so they hop away.  We educate visitors that one of the reasons you can’t keep a kangaroo as a pet is that if a male is not afraid of humans, that when it grows up it could possibly injure someone by kickboxing them… a natural kangaroo instinct. Generally, a kangaroo will only attack if it feels threatened.

If people come across a kangaroo in the wild, what should they do?  

If it is nice and healthy then leave it be. Just enjoy the kangaroo from a distance.