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It's all about the Joeys

Port Hedland, Western Australia, 15th August 2023, 1:06 pm:

We just finished breakfast, housekepping is done and now it's time to process the last two weeks in Lisa's Kangaroo Retreat.

How I did end up here? When I saw a facebook post of a lady that explained about her volunteering experience in a kangaroo retreat in May, I had to apply for this experience, too. I always wanted to experience a form of wildlife rescue or animal support in Australia - ideally with koalas or kangaroos. I sent my application right away and received a reply with general information on my tasks and the information that I should at least stay for 6 weeks. As it's volunteering, I would not get paid, but work for accommodation and food. This would work out well for me as Port Hedland was on my way up to Broome where I planned to go anyways. And as I planned my New Zealand trip with my friend Maike for October, this experience was a good way to bridge the next weeks, gain some experience and save money. Long story short, I accepted the offer and a few month later I am sitting here in Port Hedland, totally overwhelmed from my last two weeks. FYI: The retreat doesn't get any financial support from the government. Lisa and her team handle everything on their own, finance themselves and rely on donations from visitors.

Although I've only been here 1.5 weeks, it feels like it's been forever. I arrived around midnight on 2nd of August, didn't even unpack and had the chance to feed the first baby kangaroo. Yes, a BABY kangaroo!!! This is a retreat that specializes in joeys (= baby kangaroos). When female kangaroos die, for example because they have been hit by a car, in many cases they could still have a joey in their pouch. Therefore, in the event of a car accident or any other encounter with a dead kangaroo, you should always check whether there is still a baby in the pouch that could possibly be saved. Joeys from the Port Hedland area end up here at the retreat and get bottle-fed, raised and prepared for their release back into nature. An incredible project that is carried out with a lot of love, dedication and a lot of work by the owner and her volunteers.

We currently have around 46 Joeys. 1 very small one, who so far only sleeps in a bag in the house, is bottle-fed by us every five hours and is currently learning his first jumps.

Apart from this, there are 9 little joeys living in a separate building. They still sleep in pouches at night, but are jumping around in their garden during the day. These ones are fed four times a day. There are another 36 teenie joeys living in the large meadow, most of which are independent and already eating hay and grass. Some of those teenagers get milk twice a day. The focus is therefore clearly on the very small “babies” and “toddlers”.

In addition to feeding, there are of course countless cleaning jobs to do so that everything around the joeys is always clean and hygienic. Oh and of course lots of cuddles. No matter how hard the day is, there is always time for a cuddle with these little cutie pies. It's incredible how much affection and closeness the joeys seek and how they accept us as their step mothers. That's why most of the day you can find us somewhere on the ground, between kangaroos and poo.

It happens all the time that you feed a joey and two seconds later another one is sitting on your lap, another is nibbling on your shoelaces, one is trying to rip off your watch and the next one is pulling on your T-shirt from behind or jumps on your back.

It's like a dream comes true when they are all around you and just want cuddles. However, the life here is not only about cuddles. Our days are long and really hard. And believe me, I am not exaggerating.

A typical day here starts with an alarm ringing at 6:45 am. We get quickly dressed, brush our teeth and off we go with the first feeding at 7 am. One of us feeds the baby in the house and continues with cleaning and some reporting. The remaining ones of us go down to look after the toddlers. We take them out of their pouches, change the pouches if they are dirty and while one of us volunteers sweeps up the droppings of the night, another prepares milk in bottles. The milk is made from milk powder and is then slightly warmed up. While we are preparing the bottles, some of the joeys cannot wait for their brekkie, jump around between our legs or simply cling to one leg and hang on it like little monkeys. Immediately afterwards, the feeding starts: Some joeys already drink on their own, some we still have to feed by hand and others know how to do it but just want a little more attention and therefore act as if they have never seen a bottle before. Madness and the cutest thing at the same time...

After breakfast, the bottles are getting cleaned and then the teens are fed. Things are different here - the rule here is: strength wins. Especially during feeding time you can see, that although they have been raised by bottle, they are still wild animals and that they can still be dangerous to humans. That's why we're not allowed to go into this area by ourselves. Also, on our first day we were shown how to behave if a kangaroo lines up in front of us and wants to launch an attack. We fill some bowls with hay, fill up water and count the kangaroos in the large area to make sure, that none escaped or that that all are healthy. In the meantime, someone else will take care of the sweeping, mopping and laundry. Bags, cleaning rags and cleaning mops seem to be washed every day and once the kangaroo work is done, we make our way back to the house: it's finally our breakfast time. Finally, we are starving. This must be how the little joeys feel when we take too much time preparing their food.

After breakfast, the house needs to be cleaned. We clean the kitchen, bathroom, do laundry, sweep and mop the house - every day. And when this is done, we have one hour for ourselves... or sometimes in that time we have to do some extra tasks. A deep cleaning happens every two weeks on Mondays and yes, it really is a deep cleaning.

The next feeding time for the little ones is usually at 12 pm. We split up again. One takes over the baby, the others go down. After almost two weeks we've slowly developed a good routine and are done with feeding and all the cleaning activities in 0.5 to 1.5 hours - depending on the extent of the poo and whether there are diarrhea candidates. Depending on the extent of diarrhea and poo, the high-pressure cleaner may have to be used, too. So as you can see, there is enough work here and it won't be boring!

As soon as this is all done, we finally have a few hours off. We usually make ourselves a little something for lunch, chill out by the pool or have a short nap. At 5 pm it's dinner time for the roos - including filling up with water and the associated cleaning activities. It's also funny when you've just cleaned everything and you turn around and there's new droppings on the floor. But hey... as long as it's dry poo and no diarrhea, we're all happy!

After the evening shift, our dinner is ready. Lisa, the owner cooks for us. We all live in the same house and eat together in the evenings. By the way, the food is super delicious and Lisa tries so hard to meet all your dietary wishes - whether vegetarian, vegan or other crazy special wishes. After dinner we do the dishes, sit together for a while and then head down for a last feeding at 9 pm. You might think, all right, that's it. Long day. Correct, but unfortunately that's not all. There are still the night shifts... No matter how much I love these little creatures, my sleep is sacred to me and if I don't get it, I am just a mess. We still have to feed two of the joeys every 5 hours. So we get up at 1am and then again at 5 am. Normally it's enough for one of us to feed both of them, but our first week here was anything but normal. In addition to the two little ones that need us at night, there were a few cases of diarrhea, joeys that didn't want to eat and then unfortunately also a joey that passed away after four days of us trying to help him. We started into the night shift again and again with the fear that little Henry wouldn't survive the night. That's why we decided to tackle both night shifts as a group and get through this nightmare together. A big mistake as we all have to get back up at 6:45 am. So. I guess you can imagine how we felt after the first 5 days... and unfortunately all the effort wasn't enough. Henry fought for a long time, but in the end it wasn't enough. This ending killed us. Yes, we were aware that you can't save everyone and that the death rate of joeys without their mother is very high, especially in the beginning. But seeing a little joey passing away and others still fighting against diarrhea pulled us straight into reality. Nobody of us expected this job to be that hard. We all started the job at about the same time. We're all new, we're still overwhelmed by all the information, we feel like we're busy 24/7, we're doing housework and the whole kangaroo routine, we're struggling with lack of sleep and then there's the Henry story. Ciao - that was too much.

Here we go. In the evening all my emotions go crazy and I burst out into tears and decide not to stay here for six weeks as planned. That's just too much. I really enjoy working with the little kangaroos and I love each of these little monsters, but the 7 day week and the lack of sleep are killing me. I have no idea how mothers manage it... So shout out to all mothers in this world - you have my full respect!!! That night I go to bed super early, completely exhausted and knocked out with a cold on the next day. I don't know if the air conditioning was giving me the rest or if my body was just giving me a signal of having a break. However, one thing is clear... that's it - I need to stop this. I stay in bed for a day, catch up on what feels like 4 weeks of sleep and make the decision to continue traveling on August 18th. The decision was extremely difficult for me because I really enjoyed working with the joeys and I don't want to let anyone down, but the all in all, it was just too much and I need to look after my health, too.

Today, 1.5 weeks later, I feel completely different: We are now a well-coordinated team and in most of the cases, we know what to do. We know each of our 10 babies' names (some even listen to them) and we handle the night shifts pretty well. Also we just got a new volunteer for the team and she is also from Cologne - a little bit of home that really helps me a lot. And actually it is exactly as Lisa told us: there are sad times, but also a lot of beautiful moments - and these outweigh them. However, my decision is made and I need to move on.

Haha I am sure I sound like a crazy kangaroo mum: Our babies grow every day, learn new things, develop own character traits and each of them takes over its role in the group. Seeing this makes mit super happy and so proud. No matter how hard it was, I am super grateful for this experience.

If I regret my decision of leaving earlier? No! I listened to my body and this was absolutely the right way to go. And my plan to stay here, bridge time and save money for New Zealand? Cancelled. As I said before, planning is not everything. Plans change and if you are not happy with something, move your ass and change it.

What I want to do know? I will go to Broome on the 18th of August. After exploring the city for a couple of days, I will fly to Perth and then fly to Indonesia. Beauty and Yoga in Bali and surfing in Lombok.

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