Alice Springs Kangaroo Sanctuary: 'Kangaroo Dundee' and giant kangaroo Roger

An absolute giant of a man approaches, kitted out like he's about to go on safari, and carrying two satchels around his shoulders. And inside those satchels are Hope and Patrick.

They are two of the 13 orphaned kangaroos that Chris Barns is currently raising at home. Out in the enclosure, surrounded by a 2.5-kilometre fence that keeps the dingoes out, are 40-odd. Some will eventually go back into the wild, others have a new permanent home.

He lets Hope and Patrick out of their fur-lined bags, and the pair of them scuttle around human feet without a care in the world. Hope has a broken leg, and it's covered in plaster that she'd clearly like to get rid of. "Baby kangaroos often learn to hop before they can learn to stop," says Chris with a shrug of the shoulders.

Chris is a former zookeeper and tour guide whose life changed one day when he found a tiny orphaned joey inside the bloated two-or three-day old roadkill kangaroo corpse. "I gave up tour guiding that week," he says.

That roadside encounter ten years ago set Chris off on a highly unlikely path to TV stardom. He decided to set up a kangaroo sanctuary, and did so with no money. "For six months I slept on a mattress out in the bush," he says. "Then I stayed in the shack for four years." 

Said shack is still at the entrance to the 90-acre reserve where the roos live as wild as they can do without falling prey to dingoes. "A really big brown snake lives there too," says Chris with an astonishingly blasé matter-of-factness that hints at why he has become a small screen hit on the other side of the world. "It lives in the walls – there are a lot of mice in there. That's why I always check it before bringing people in."

Chris is the star of Kangaroo Dundee, a BBC series charting his roo rescue escapades. It has had relatively good viewing figures in the UK (it has also been shown at prime time on the ABC), and the third series is due to kick off in April 2016. 

The Steve Irwin comparisons go beyond the dress sense and clear love of wildlife. Chris has become a star overseas before Australia has properly cottoned on, and he's not afraid to put himself at risk.

One of the stars of the show is Roger, the alpha male. "He's a big boy, and very aggressive," says Chris, lifting his shirt to show off some war wounds.

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"That's Roger," he says pointing at one scar. "That's Roger too. There are another six stitches on my groin. They're Roger."

"Basically he's just a fighter," says Chris. "It's natural for an alpha male. He likes to see the threat go, so will always come out to confront you. If he grabs you, he doesn't let go. You can't get out easily. It's a chokehold. As for a well-placed kick, it can disembowel you."

Roger made international headlines last year when a photo of the muscular giant crushing a metal bucket went viral. 

If visitors are coming, Roger has to be kept out of harm's way in his own paddock. And getting Roger inside the paddock is a surprisingly simple task. "He chases me everywhere, and charges full pelt at me," says Chris. "I just run in there and make sure I run fast enough to keep away from him."

Chris leaps the fence to get in the paddock with Roger, who immediately gets on his hind legs and raises himself to Chris' height. Given that Chris is six foot seven, this is quite the display. And Roger is ripped to high heaven – he's all muscle.

"Humans stand on two legs all the time," says Chris. "But to a kangaroo, that means 'fight'. And Roger thinks I want to fight."

The other roos aren't quite as feisty. Chris does his evening rounds of the property armed with bottles of milk for the orphans that need the extra feed. The tour group comes with him, but this is basically what he'd be doing every evening anyway. And inviting people along helps with the education side of things.

"The idea's not to be the rescuer, but the teacher," says Chris. "The next town south is 700 kilometres away and I can't keep going out as a volunteer driving hundreds of kilometres."

"Out of every ten dead kangaroos I stop to look at by the roadside, one has an orphan in the pouch. It's about getting people to look for that, and know how to rescue and look after the baby.

"Put them in a pillowcase. Or make a bag out of a car seat cover or T-shirt. Hold them – they want to be held rather than put in a cardboard box. It helps settle them down. They're quite happy to sit in your arms – it's the way they're designed."

At the end of the wander round the property, Chris scoops up Hope and Patrick, pops them in their bags and hands them out to be held. These two will probably never go back to the wild, but many of their less sociable cohorts back at Chris' house have a fighting chance. As long as Roger doesn't see to them first…

More information

The Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs (kangaroosanctuary.com) can only be visited as part of an $85 tour with Centre Bush Bus (centrebushbus.com.au). 

The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism NT (www.travelnt.com).

See also: 20 wildlife encounters to do before it's too late

See also: The world's most bizarre animals and where to see them

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