Alice Springs is home to some uniquely Australian institutions, such as the School of the Air (i.e., students in the far flung Australian Outback taught by teachers through radio and now the Internet) and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
But one of the unofficial tour attractions that I had the pleasure of visiting was Chris "Brolga" Barns's Baby Kangaroo Rescue Centre. For a $5 donation, Brolga lets you into the compound to share a very unique experience - learning to look after baby kangaroos.
Central Australia is extremely dry, not quite a desert, but a kind of savannah. In this arid country, the exhaust fumes from automobiles, funnily enough, are a major source of moisture, and so there is rich vegetation growing along the sides of the highways here. Vegetation attracts grazing kangaroos, and unfortunately, this leads to large numbers of kangaroos being hit and killed by passing vehicles.
Brolga advises that if you pass a dead kangaroo, don't just drive past, because even dead marsupials may often be carrying live young in their pouches, which could perish without timely rescue and care. Stop your vehicle by the side of the road (if it's safe for you to pull over, of course), then examine the dead kangaroo's pouch.
If you find a baby kangaroo in the pouch, make a bag out of a T-shirt or cushion cover, then help the baby into it. (Baby kangaroos often need no encouragement to enter a bag. They somersault into it.) Then, holding the bag against the warmth of your body, take it to a nearby town and ask around for a person who looks after baby kangaroos. There are such kind souls in almost every town. Give the baby kangaroo some water, but avoid giving it cow's milk, as this will not agree with it.
Also, before leaving the scene, try and move the carcase well away from the road, as otherwise, scavengers like the wedge-tailed eagle also become roadkill in turn.
Brolga's work is well-known around Alice Springs. The cabbie who drove us into town from the airport told us about him, which is how we walked into his little centre. One of our tour guides also turned out to be a friend of his and a regular contributor of rescued baby kangaroos.
Unfortunately, the Northern Territory government doesn't seem to be very helpful in supporting Brolga's work. The nearby national parks, surprisingly, don't have any facilities to look after orphaned baby kangaroos, and unpaid volunteers like Brolga are treated with suspicion by the bureaucracy. Brolga says the donations he gets from visitors allow his kangaroo rescue efforts to be self-sustaining, but the effort needs more institutional support, which isn't forthcoming.
If you're ever in Alice Springs, pay the centre a visit. It's very heartening to see the little critters being well looked after, and there's a steady stream of visitors trooping in, having heard of the centre by mere word of mouth.
Update Jan 2013: Brolga seems to have acquired a 90 acre wildlife reserve in Alice Springs, and also has a website, www.kangaroosanctuary.com. His new email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations may be made by PayPal or by electronic transfer. The link to PayPal is on the website.
For bank transfers, use the following details:
Bank name: National Australia Bank
Account Name: Baby Kangaroo Centre Pty Ltd
Account: 89 344 3860
SWIFT code (required from outside Australia): NATAAU3303M
Give the man a hand. He's doing great work.