Heart of Louisiana: Barn Hill Animal Preserve

Barn Hill is the home to many critters that you wouldn't normally find in Louisiana.
Barn Hill is the home to many critters that you wouldn't normally find in Louisiana.(Dave McNamara)
Updated: Feb. 26, 2020 at 8:26 PM CST
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ETHEL, La. (WVUE) - The young red kangaroos, or joeys, seem perfectly content nibbling on the green grass of their Louisiana home.

“They're out of the pouch at this time of day, but they go back in for naps. They stay in a pouch at night. When they started out 10 months ago, they were the size of jellybeans. A male will be 200 pounds, six feet tall when it’s full grown,” said Barn Hill Preserve owner Gabe Ligon.

Ligon started the preserve in the small town of Ethel eight years ago. A lot of people who come to Louisiana are thinking about seeing alligators, snakes, the swamp critters. But why a kangaroo?

“They're such a unique animal. On their locomotion, they can only hop with both feet at the same time. They have a pouch. Um, they can have several babies at one time,” Ligon said.

Also from down under, the preserve features a black red-tailed cockatoo named Banks.

“So, we’re training Banks. He’s learning how to do kisses. Give me a kiss Banks. Good boy”, said Valerie Nunez, a Barn Hill employee.

On the much less-active end of the scale, you find these really slow moving sloths who never seem to be in a hurry, even at lunch time.

“This here is a baby two-toed sloth and you can tell that by the two hook-like fingernails on the front of their feet. But all sloths have three on the back,” said employee Timothy Camerano.

The ultimate interaction is jumping in a heated pool with a couple of frisky Asian small clawed otters.

The otters are basically just swimming around you and you're … you're on their turf. So, whatever they want to do is, that’s their day. But it's a really memorable experience,” Ligon said.

And if you think you’re smelling buttered popcorn, you’re probably getting close to the southeast Asian binturong, commonly called a bear cat. They are omnivorous and will eat a little bit of anything.

Most of the animals there come from zoos, or occasionally a private owner who no longer wants an exotic pet. Some are part of a breeding program. And Barn Hill sends staffers to schools to introduce the animals to children.

“I think it's really important to get the younger generation interested in these animals. So hopefully they're going to fight for them in the future and make sure that these unique animals are on our planet,” Ligon said.

The idea is that you’re more likely to care about something after you have a chance to get up close and personal.

All visitors to the Barn Hill preserve get a guided tour. A swim with the otters comes at a premium price.

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