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Dawsonville marsupials appearing on 'Today' show

Kangaroo Conservation Center directors excited

POSTED: July 13, 2008 5:01 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Kangaroos relax at the Kangaroo Conservation Center in Dawsonville.

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The directors of the Kangaroo Conservation Center hopped on a plane to New York City with four of their marsupials Tuesday to make an appearance on NBC’s "Today" show.

The segment will feature footage of the Dawsonville facility and directors Roger and Debbie Nelson will talk about some of the more unusual species at the center. It will run on Thursday’s show between 7 and 10 a.m., NBC "Today" Producer Mollie Parnell said.

The Kangaroo Conservation Center raises 12 species of kangaroos along with other marsupials, birds and reptiles from Australia and nearby islands.

"As well as a breeding facility we are an educational and agro-tourism business," said Kate Pika, tour sales manager for the center. The center boasts the largest kangaroo collection outside of Australia.

Pika said there are 67 species of kangaroos and many people do not realize how diverse kangaroos are.

People most commonly envision the Red Kangaroo when they imagine what kangaroos look like, said Jeremy Maneyapanda, the facility manager.

"It’s the iconic species for Australia," he said.

And because the animals originate on the other side of the world, many people don’t know much about them, Pika said.

"Do they really box? Are they dangerous?" Pika said people have asked her, probably referring to the image of the Looney Tunes kangaroo character Hippety Hopper that would beat up Sylvester the Cat.

Some of the lesser known species of kangaroos from the center will appear on the "Today" show Thursday.

Star, a potoroo, is a rat-like species of kangaroo that is much smaller than the kangaroos most people are familiar with.

"It’s one of the smallest species of kangaroos. She’s on the endangered species list," Pika said. "We have the only breeding potoroos in North America."

A Western Grey joey, or baby kangaroo, named Amaroo also made the voyage to New York City.

"Amaroo means beautiful in Aborigine," Pika said.

The other marsupials making their TV debut are Bindi, an Agile Wallaby, and Sugar, a Sugar Glider. Sugar Gliders are similar to Flying Squirrels.

Parnell said she read about the Kangaroo Conservation Center while on an airplane with NBC correspondent Amy Robach.

The Delta Skymiles Magazine, which is available on Delta flights, ran an article about the center. Parnell said neither she nor Robach, who graduated from the University of Georgia, had heard of the center.

"We both agreed that it looked really neat and interesting and so we said let’s see if we can do a story on this," Parnell said.

Parnell spent the day at the Kangaroo Conservation Center June 18 with a camera crew filming and experiencing the different aspects of the center.

She said after spending time there she thinks of it as a "best-kept secret."

"I don’t think it’s such a well known place yet," Parnell said. "Even folks locally didn’t seem to know it existed."

So how do a bunch of marsupials make their way to Rockefeller Plaza?

"We’re part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and we are really a breeding facility for kangaroos for facilities world wide," Pika said. "So this is just kind of a day in the life for us."

Maneyapanda said because all of the species traveling to the "Today" show are small, they flew in the cargo hold of the plane the Nelsons were on, much the same way a pet dog or cat would fly.

"The animals we brought are 15 to 20 pounds at most," he said.

However if larger animals were coming along, they would need to be driven in a special trailer that would double as temporary living quarters.

"We have very specially designed and prepared crates for them to travel in that have appropriate accommodations inside, appropriate dimensions. The roofs actually have padding on them and we’re able to load the animals to that and it’s a very safe and easy trip from A to B," Maneyapanda said.



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