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  • [In 2003, in between my sophomore and junior year at college, I traveled to Australia for the very first time with a volunteer tour group. For two weeks, we volunteered at a family-owned animal park in Renmark - about four hours out of Adelaide - before travelling the rest of the country for another two weeks. This story takes place about a week into working at the park.]

    When yet another game of Trump started, a game I convinced myself my co-volunteers kept playing because they knew I refused to learn it, I decided it was time to take a break from trying to fit in. I released my clutches and followed Scott to the snake hut.

    Scott gladly spent most of his time with the animals while the rest of us enjoyed our elongated smoke o's [aussie version of a coffee break] devouring packages of Tim Tams in one sitting. I wish I were comfortable not being a part of the larger collective, able to enjoy solitude knowing there was a party going on elsewhere. But while Scott voluntarily segregated himself from the group, it was the group that was slowly segregating themselves from me. There's a big difference.

    Scott was on this trip for conservation work as opposed to getting laid in a foreign country, which appeared to be everyone’s else’s main objective. He was excited by all animals at the park, but he especially loved the reptiles. He thought they were cute the way normal people think a newborn kitten is cute or a baby dressed as a pumpkin is cute. I'm more of a Big Eyed Puppy Wearing a Bow kind of girl, but I was mesmerized by the snakes. They have amazing muscles – you can hold one by the tail and it will be able to support the rest of its body upright. I can't even do a cartwheel without fumbling under my own weight. Then again, I can ride in a plane without any hassles, so you win some, you lose some. Sorry, snakes.

    Joe, the owner of the park, was inside, holding a tuberware container. He motioned us over and we curiously looked inside. Five tiny mice shivered inside, each no more than a day old. They were the same size and color of pink Runts candy. The baby mice hadn't yet grown fur, and they would never get the chance to. It was the snake's smoke-o, and since they can't eat Tim Tams, they snack on baby mice.

    Scott picked one up by its tiny tail, careful not to pinch too hard between his fingers for fear of squishing it. What could it matter, though? What's the point in gently handling this baby mouse one minute before its painful death? We're accomplices in its murder, guilty as much as the snake.

    Scott placed the baby mouse in the cage at the oppose side of the snake. Slowly sensing another body in his space, the snake slithered until it found its prey. It had no difficulty snapping the small rodent into its mouth, tiny trickles of blood coming from its mouth.

    After its meal, the snake continued to slowly move throughout its cage, indifferent, like an hour after eating Chinese food. "What, that was it? I'm hungry again." Poor mouse didn't even live long enough to become a decent meal. Some creatures just get the short end of the stick.

    * * *

    We feed animals, then ourselves, back and forth, day in, day out. That night we went to a nice restaurant in town for dinner. It felt good to wear makeup and spend a night out of my hiking boots.

    At the restaurant, which was not The Outback (to my dismay), we were seated in a private room with white linen tablecloths and candelabras. This room is entirely too mature for eight juvenile college students on vacation. At least they kept us distanced from other clientele, away from our sex talk and Nancy’s obnoxious Midwestern accent. Without hesitation I pick my meal: kangaroo. Now, kangaroo isn't sold at every McDonald's in Australia - only the nicest restaurants serve it, like duck or veal back in the States.

    When dinner is served, I'm given a plate filled with hunks of raw kangaroo meat and a steaming stone grill. You put each piece on the grill and cook it to your liking. I'm suspicious why I'm spending so much money on a meal I have to prepare myself, but when you're in Australia, do as the Australians do: cook a cute animal medium-rare.

    Kangaroo turns out to be delicious. As a bonus: doesn't have eyes or tentacles or squishy, chewy parts that have to be consumed whole. It's a strange thing to be eating, but it still resembles meat.

    Now, I've never wanted to pet a shrimp or a duck. On the same note, I've never had a craving for goldfish or swan. I think cartoon cows are cute, but I'm highly unimpressed the few times I've been confronted with the real thing. So the kangaroo remains the only animal I wish I could own as a pet and that I also think is scrumptious. That's one big conflict of interest. I'm sure farmhands often become very attached to the hogs they raise and eventually slaughter, but as I'm sure you've deduced at this point, I am not a farmhand. My only experience with animals at this point in my life was my Akita growing up and McDonald's hamburgers. For-petting animals and for-eating animals were mutually exclusive until I met the adorably delectable kangaroo.

    * * *

    The next day while we're doing our morning feeding (I spend an extra ten minutes at the ram's pen, entranced by their square-shaped pupils) Joe drives his pick-up into the park. He found a dead kangaroo in the road, normal Australian roadkill as typical as possums in America. Australian law prohibits you from moving a dead animal, but in Joe's way of thinking, this could be an entire meal for another animal. At least this way the kangaroo would serve a purpose.

    Nobody's eating me. Do I still serve a purpose?

    Joe decided we'd feed it to the dingoes, the vicious meat-eaters that look like huskies. I felt bad for the dingoes, trapped in their cage. They're furry and friendly, and I want to let them roam free and throw them a Frisbee and rub their bellies. But I have to remember that looks can be deceiving. Dingoes come across as normal dogs but they have the minds of wolves.

    It's bad for the dingoes to ingest every part of the kangaroo, so the guts have to be cut out. Mike, the med student in our group, figured he'd eventually be doing this anyway, so he volunteered to operate on the dead animal. Guts-ectomy.

    Upon inspection, Dr. Mike discovered a fetus inside the female kangaroo's pouch. It reminded me of the mouse, not yet one day old, but much larger, curled up in the fetus position, as a fetus is wont to do.

    Mike leans down, cuts into the kangaroo's flesh. I avoid looking at its face, its eyes popped out of their sockets. I can understand hitting a possum on a freeway, but how could you not see a medium-sized kangaroo on an empty dirt path around here?

    The fetus and its mother didn't feel real to me. They looked fake, like props, Muppets on a Sesame Street episode about the reproductive system of marsupials. Throughout the gutting and skinning, I'm more awestruck than disgusted. This is one of those experiences that I am absolutely certain will never repeat itself again in my entire life. I enjoy the horribly putrid smelling moment.

    It smells awful, worse than sulfur. He slops the purple and forest green guts on the ground. The dog comes over and licks it, eats a little, walks away, and throws up.

    Mike carves the kangaroo's limbs off like we're at a bizarre Australian-themed Thanksgiving, and then skins it. I recognize the hunk of meat I had for dinner last night. It was from the leg.

    I immediately regret not ordering the chicken.

    Joe and Mike throw the kangaroo limbs inside the cage. The dingoes casually walk over and start feeding. I assumed their wild nature would now show itself, survival of the fittest, but their dining is completely civilized. One of them dabs a napkin on either side of his maw.

    If I had seen the kangaroo alive before it was gutted, skinned and chopped into pieces, I bet I would have been more revolted. But as it is, I remain a carnivore today.

    I don't recall whatever happened to the kangaroo fetus. Small, pre-skinned, pre-gutted – it would have made a pretty decent appetizer.
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