In the Okanagan, as spring approaches, it’s basically business as usual for Mother Nature with, perhaps, one exception.
At a nearby hobby farm some less than typical creatures are getting ready to go through their own seasonal rite of passage. Little Joeys are nearing the time when they’ll roll out of the pouches they’ve known as home, stretch their wobbly limbs and breathe in the great outdoors for the first time.
That’s right, Joeys…as in kangaroos.
Not exactly wildlife one may associate with the Okanagan, or Canada in general, but just a 10 minute drive out of Kelowna, kangaroos have made a cozy home for the better part of two decades.
“Most people don’t realize I have them, even though I’m in a mildly urban area of Winfield” said Caroline MacPherson, the woman behind Kangaroo Creek Farm, where kangaroos and wallabies are reared for adoption to other farms.
The acreage is just a Roo’s hop, skip and a jump away from two highrises, the region’s main highway and numerous businesses.
In spite of all that she’s kept it rural, mostly private and a touch exotic, allowing lemurs, kangaroos and a handful of other uncommon creatures to stay oblivious to their urban digs.
This spring, however, the quiet they’ve enjoyed is bound to change when they open up their cosy outback oasis to visitors, as a petting zoo of sorts .
“We’re not entirely sure how it’s going to work, but we’ll open in some way,” she said, noting the spring opening will be experimental, and if it doesn’t go well short-lived.
MacPherson is tentative about her plans for a number of reasons, not the least of which being opening her family’s schedule and home to strangers.
Another is the reaction a small percentage have already had to her kangaroos.
“Even though I know 95 per cent of people will be delighted, there’s always that minor number who have a negative opinion based on erroneous information and you can’t change their mind,” she said.
Concerns she’s heard to date have to do with the fact that the kangaroos aren’t indigenous to Canada, they shouldn’t be in captivity or that they could be carriers of some sort of disease.
“They’ve not been snatched from the wild— they’re completely domesticated,” she said.
In fact, the first kangaroos she got 20 years ago weren’t even Aussies.
“A friend of mine decided to buy kangaroos from a farmer in New Zealand, where they’d been transplanted from Australia a long time ago,” she said, noting their lineage could be traced into the 1940s.
Domesticated or not, they still had to jump through some hoops before they made the continental leap. Based on Agriculture Canada regulations a quarantine was in order, but MacPherson’s friend learned his land wasn’t suitable.
With farmland on either side of his property, Ag Canada explained the creatures posed a risk. MacPherson, however, had a decent amount of land hemmed in by urban space, making her home the ideal quarantine-zone for the transplanted Aussies.
“He brought in 10 for the 30 day quarantine, and he never came back,” she said, noting she became a kangaroo lady through “one of those weird circumstances.”
“They didn’t belong to me, so I couldn’t sell them or do anything with them.”
She continued along in a kangaroo holding pattern for two and a half years, until the friend sold her the original 10— throwing in the 18 extra they spawned in intervening years.
From that moment forward, things changed.
She started to sell the marsupials to others interested in hobby farming, took on a few other creatures—ask about a lemur named Rupert when spring rolls around—and even managed to squeeze in a few kanga related adventures.
Kangaroos and wallabies, it turned out, are a bit of a draw for people all over the globe, and those with the means will go to great lengths to make one their own.
A German man, for example, once wanted a kangaroo all his own so badly, that it led him to synthesize an over the top habitat for the animal, just so MacPherson —who admittedly has high standards for her roos–would approve a sale.
Shipping the creature overseas, however, posed a problem.
“There were too many transfers,” she explained, noting it would mean the baby roo would miss a meal.
Instead of having that happen, the German paid for MacPherson to hand deliver the Joey.
“It was all fine until I had to go through security,” she said.
Until then, the Joey was hidden in a bag. Once the bag had to be scanned the kangaroo was revealed to everyone in the airport, and MacPherson was swamped with attention.
“I don’t really like that kind of thing,” she said, noting once the fanfare died down, and the trip was completed the trip turned out well.
It turned her on to an understanding of the draw of Kangaroos that she and her husband Greg Wightman— known as the Roo Man—encourage people to pursue in a more controlled environment than that day in the airport.
“We’ve spent the last 20 years taking the baby roos to retirement homes, paediatric wards and various schools where they have been greatly enjoyed. These visits have been made in the spirit of community and have been done for free,” she said.
“It provides people with stimulation they wouldn’t ordinarily get … It basically makes them happy to see something they haven’t seen before.
“I’ve been told by elderly people, ‘I never expected to see a kangaroo, let alone touch one at this stage of life.’”
They usually do the tour every year when a baby is born, hopefully hitting three to four retirement homes.
A nine month old joey named they currently have has already been to three, and likes nothing more than being held in someone’s warm embrace.
And it’s not just the joey and the person holding it, who enjoys all that’s happening.
MacPherson and Wightman may have seen their fair share of kangaroos, but there’s something to be said for seeing someone else get a bird’s eye view.
“I get a real kick out of people’s delight,” said MacPherson.
When spring rolls around, be sure to check out kangaroocreekfarm.com to find out if the site is open.
“We are thinking that we will keep things very casual. The plan is to put a gate at the top of the drive. If the gate is closed, we’re closed. If it’s open, we’re open,” she said.
Phone first to avoid disappointment. No admission fee will be collected but donations will be gratefully accepted.
Kathy Michaels is a Black Press reporter.