Australia Native in Kentucky Mourns Loss in Raging Wildfires

Jan 9, 2020

Mick McGill, general manager of operations at Kentucky Down Under, is a native of Australia.
Credit Lisa Autry

Australia is burning, and across the globe in Kentucky, one man is watching in horror and disbelief.

More than one billion animals have perished in the devastating wildfires ravaging the country, and that staggering loss of wildlife is hard to accept for Australia native Mick McGill, who manages Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo

"Excuse me, excuse me," McGill says as he enters the kangaroo enclosure. "There are 30 kangaroos in here and it’s feeding time now.”

Even 10,000 miles away, he feels at home.  McGill's face beams as he picks up Weston, a red kangaroo who is spoiled.

“He’s my good boy. This is my little baby I raised at home. He thinks I’m his mother," McGill says. "He’s about a year and three months now. When he grows up he’s going to be over six feet tall.”

This 12-acre attraction in Horse Cave has 37 species of animals from kangaroos and wallabies, to camels and emus.  For someone who loves animals and his home country, the news these days is hard to watch for McGill.  It’s the middle of summer in Australia and wildfires have burned more than 12 million acres of his homeland.  At least two dozen people have been killed and more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed across the country. 

McGill grew up in the state of Victoria where he still has family.

“My uncle posted a picture from his front porch, and one morning the entire skyline was on fire," he said. "It’s really heartbreaking to see.”

The wildfires in Australia began in September and are expected to last several more months.  Firefighters are struggling to get the upper hand.  The country is experiencing the worst drought and hottest temperatures on record.

"The issue with the Australian wildfires is that they travel so quickly because the eucalyptus trees that are down there are highly flammable, and the entire country is filled with eucalyptus trees," explains McGill.

The fires are fast-moving and the animals can’t get out quickly enough.  Even kangaroos that can travel 25 miles an hour can’t escape the flames. McGill felt like he had to do something about the number of animals that have been wounded in the fires.

Fifty percent of the attraction’s proceeds this month will go to Australia Zoo, which is coordinating efforts to care for the animals.

"All of them have been suffering burns, but even their food source is now wiped out," McGill said. "They can only eat eucalyptus. That’s the only food they can eat, and out of 30 species of eucalyptus, they can only eat six or seven. Even the ones left behind are going to be facing food shortages.”

It’s the off season at Kentucky Down Under.  The zoo typically gets only a couple of calls a day during the winter, but McGill says he’s been fielding about 150 calls lately from people wanting to make donations to relief efforts in Australia. 

McGill says he’s amazed by the show of compassion from the bluegrass to the outback.