Loveland Wildlife Inc.

Written by Hannah Mulvany

Ken Loveland, the owner of Loveland Wildlife Inc, starts his day at sunrise when he is greeted at his front door by a mob of hungry kangaroos. But this isn’t your average mob, as it is composed of orphaned individuals that Ken has known since they were all joeys and has reintroduced and rehabilitated himself. The mob also differs from the norm as it contains red, grey and euro kangaroos, albeit with some individuals happier to socialise than others.

 Loveland's western grey kangaroo mob gathers for the morning feed

The morning routine starts in the closest paddock to the house, where Ken fills a trough with food for a small group of kangaroos. He then returns to the shed to refill his bucket before completing a process which he calls ‘running with the kangaroos’, which I initially thought to be some kind of collective exercise routine. The comical reality of the process was Ken filling a huge bucket with food before sprinting across to the other side of the paddock, all whilst attempting to outrun the kangaroos, who were all desperately trying to be the first to get at the contents. After pouring the contents into a huge trough, Ken returned to where I stood and had a moment’s peace before the bossy euros came to ask for more food after being bullied away from theirs by the greys. Ken, wanting to ensure that everybody had their fair share, redistributed some muesli to the hungry euros who didn’t fancy their chances against the greys.  What they lack in ferocity against the greys, the euros make up for in their bossiness towards Ken. 

Ken doesn’t only take on western greys, but will also take on euros, also known as wallaroos, and a couple of red kangaroos, which are not native to the area. These species are rehabilitated differently to the western greys as euros are solitary and there are not enough reds on his property to form a mob. But Ken would never turn down a ‘roo in need of help. The different personalities and social features of each species is never more evident than at breakfast time when the western greys all happily share, while the euros are each given their own separate pile that they must consume as much of as possible before the greys finish theirs and come over to steal it. The euros won’t share with each other, not even Bella with her newly weaned offspring, Johnny, as her focus is now on the hungry new joey that is constantly drinking the milk from within her pouch.

 

 TJ (left) and Molly (right) share their feed

Euros are actually the most widespread kangaroo species in Australia but are much more difficult to see in the wild than the conspicuous mobs formed by other species, due to their solitary lifestyle. The solo red kangaroo I met, Annie, could be immediately distinguished from the others by the white pattern around her mouth, chunky body, reddish fur and slightly squared face shape. She is also very willing to give Ken a ‘kiss’, which can occasionally be followed by a little bite, depending on her mood.

Annie, one of the red kangaroos in the mob, gives Ken a kiss

The 308-hectare property is like the primary school of an orphaned kangaroo’s education process, where it learns the vital skills necessary to be released into the wild. Before Ken takes on an orphaned joey, it will have been raised by a carer who, depending on the stage at which they took it on, will have been responsible for feeding it up to six times a day, at regular intervals. If a carer receives a joey as a ‘pinkie’, which many of them will not take on due to the extreme dedication that it takes to raise one, things can be very touch-and-go and many do not survive. The pinkie has to stay within an incubated cot to keep their furless body warm and the carer must feed the joey every four hours, day and night. As the joey grows, the carer can remove the joey from incubation and instead place it within a custom-made furry pouch. As the joey’s fur grows the amount of feedings becomes less frequent.

At around a year old western greys are passed over from their carers to Ken, who joins together eight or nine individuals to create a mob. This newly formed mob is placed within a soft release enclosure where there is plentiful forage which is supplemented by ‘goat muesli’ – the same combination of oats, grains, seeds and a little bit of molasses fed to the others - heaven for hungry roos. Over time the roos form an alliance and will start to determine social rankings within the group. Once Ken is sure that all members of the mob are big enough, around 12 kilos, and that they are properly mobbed and will look out for each other, he simply opens the gate to the outside world and the roos can leave at their leisure.

 

Dense bushland surrounds the spring on the property

When we entered the soft release enclosure, the interaction between the roos and us was completely different to the ones that had been impatiently waiting at Ken’s door at sunrise, as they were extremely skittish and bounded away from us as soon as we entered the enclosure. “They’ve gone feral – that’s a good thing”, Ken explained, as he hopes that these individuals will go out into the bush and not return for food like the others.

Ken has been on a serious rollercoaster ride with the development of the sanctuary and has had many a steep learning curve along the way. He has released over 200 kangaroos back into the wild through his rehabilitation programme; most of which have happily gone into the bush and do not return but around 20 greet him at his door each morning demanding to be fed. Recognising that he would prefer they didn’t do this and would forage in the bush instead, Ken now tries very hard to ensure newly released roos do not return to the house through his ‘tough love’ approach and is having much more success. Most of the individuals who hang out around the house are from 12 or 13 years ago, around when he first started the sanctuary, but his learnings in husbandry techniques have continuously improved over the years. The individuals in the soft release enclosure that I saw on my visit were ready for release, but Ken had not yet opened the gates to the outside world as there had been no rain for a long time and there is limited forage on the property. As soon as the rains come, they will be released and the new batch will arrive, starting the process all over again.

 

Rehabilitated kangaroos are slowly released onto the property 

Ken has slowed down his rehabilitation and release programme in recent years as he is conscious that he doesn’t want to overload the property and there is limited potential for dispersal in the area. Translocating kangaroos for release is something he would love to be able to do but the availability of suitable land is problematic and previous attempts to obtain release sites have been fruitless.

Ken’s dedication to his kangaroo family is obvious to see and his plentiful stories vary from joyous to woeful. His all too regular sightings of dead kangaroos from his property on the side of the neighbouring highway an example of the latter, but his recent discovery of a pinkie in the pouch of a dead female that is now in the capable hands of a carer put a distinct silver lining on the story. No amount of husbandry seems to be able to make kangaroos afraid of roads, which are one of the main causes of death these iconic animals.

Annie, currently the sole red kangaroo on Loveland

Each of the kangaroos who are regular visitors to Ken’s front door are referred to by name and their unique personalities are well-known to Ken who can tell you numerous stories about each of their lives. In Ken’s eyes you can see his fondness for Molly, the first and oldest kangaroo on the property, the mutual respect between him and Jack, a huge male who made me feel even smaller than I usually do, and his compassion for Bella, the mother euro who did not seem to be able to keep hold of her pile of food for longer than 20 seconds. We were also visited by Stu, which Ken told us was definitely not a good thing, as this was a very large male euro with a seriously bad attitude. Due to his stressful youth, Stu had developed a muscle wasting disease, which caused him to have to walk on all fours. Kangaroos feel stress over 200 times more than humans and any glimmer can cause serious damage and, often, death. After being treated as a king in his early years, Stu has a problem with entitlement and can, at times, be aggressive. This encounter was a stark reminder that kangaroos are still wild animals that must be respected at all times, even if they have been hand-reared.

The dedication of not only Ken, but the collection of people who work together to save kangaroos, is truly astounding. Care is often paid for completely out of their own pockets with very little support available. Ken explains that the people he knows within the community are so dedicated and can’t stop doing what they do, despite the hardships. His kindness extends not only to his kangaroos, but also to the chickens he rescued from a local egg farm which have never laid eggs as long as he’s had them, but whom he believes have the right to live out the rest of their lives in a happy environment. He even stops to admire the Port Lincoln parrots sat high up in a red gum tree, despite the fact that they ate pretty much the entire harvest from all of his olive trees.

Vegetation on the property withstands the arid dry seasons to flourish in the wet season

The property is not only home to an abundance of kangaroos but also emus and echnidas, and a diverse array of flora. In the vicinity of the natural springs there are two large woodlands filled with huge Melaleuca trees - also known as paperbarks - slow-growing, water-dependent plants that must have been there for hundreds of years, based on their magnificent size. These woodlands have been fenced off to avoid overgrazing. Around ten metres away, the ground seems to lose any hint of moisture and is covered in sharply spiked low-lying shrubs that are utilised by resourceful small birds that are able to carefully navigate their way to the centre to build their nests, keeping their young safe from the jaws of any would-be predators.

Ken has made a huge effort to plant native plants all around the entrance to the property, including Eucalyptus macrocarpa, which develops beautiful red and yellow flowers, and Geraldton wax which seem to like the property as they keep popping up everywhere, much to Ken’s delight. The appearance of the land is vastly different between seasons, with the small trickle of the Hill River that runs through the property swelling during the winter rains, and the colouration of the landscape changing from straw brown to an almost luscious green. Throughout this period, a lake develops on the land, which is visited by migratory birds but was merely a barren dip in the landscape during my visit.

Watering holes are vital for newly released kangaroos

Ken attributes the many different floral habitats to the strange geology of the property, which creates very wet boggy areas, as well as arid scrubland, and gives many plant species the opportunity to thrive within close proximity, despite their vastly different habitat requirements. He has a constant battle with invasive plant species which include deadly nightshade and the poisonous ‘pig melon’, which was introduced to Australia as graze for camels many years ago. Despite the health of some natural habitats on his property, Ken has noted in recent years that there has been an abundance of tree deaths, with many of the larger trees now lying on the ground. Some of these deaths can be attributed to parasitic native mistletoe which is transferred when mistletoe birds dispose of seeds from previously consumed mistletoe berries onto the trunk of a tree, which germinate within 24 hours and begin to suck the nutrients out of the tree. Possums usually keep the mistletoe at bay by eating it but due to the absence of possums in the area, the mistletoe can often be responsible for the eventual demise of its host tree.

 Native trees are killed by invasive plants like mistletoe

Once a ‘city-slicker’, Ken bought the property after becoming tired with his bank job and envying his farmer uncle who he frequently visited on weekends. When putting on his suit on a Monday morning and reflecting on the fun he’d had being outside, he constantly wished he could live that life through the week too. He had always loved growing his own vegetables and looking after the environment and is dreams came true when he bought the block that he now calls home. Some of his farmer neighbours thought he was crazy to buy a block with so much bushland on it as they thought it would be a nightmare to clear, but this was never his intention as he wanted to protect the native bushland and has never touched it. Ken tried his hand at sheep and tree farming after buying the property, but soon returned from a holiday to find that his then-wife had become a joey carer, which is when the love affair with kangaroos began. Ken isn’t sure quite what the future holds at Loveland, but he would love to have the opportunity to start a connectivity project with other landowners to allow the dispersal of the kangaroos from his property, as well as other wildlife.

Loveland is open to visitors who either camp or stay in the onsite accommodation. All of the revenue from tourists goes straight back into the operation of the sanctuary, which Ken has worked on full-time for the past 10 years. Ken also rents out paddocks to farmers at certain times of the year to create revenue for his project.

I can’t help but think that Ken’s surname was a sign of what was to come in his future, as his property is truly a land of love.