By Rafaela Kuznec @RafaelaKuznec

A DAD of three keeps over 100 native animals in his private zoo home in Mount Egerton, Australia

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Videographer / director: Jesse Vogelaar

Producer: Rafaela Kuznec, Ruby Coote   

Editor: Alex Lubetkin

 

Michael, 29, founded wildlife education company, The Rookeepers, in 2012. 

Michael told Barcroft TV: “I just love having lots of animals around, they're an extended family.”

Since 2012 The Rookeepers have grown to become a recognised name in ecological learning across Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Michael’s goal is to connect children and adults alike with nature and encourage more sustainable ways of living.

Michael said: “I’ve been working with animals for about 10 years now.

“I've been running the zoo for about seven years.

“My main mission for this business is to go out and just inspire as many people as possible -  whether it's students or adults into just looking after our ecosystem and our habitats and just really caring for these animals.

“If we don't care for these animals in the next hundred years, we're probably not going to be here.”

The mobile zoo is home to a wide range of Australian native animals including reptiles, birds, mammals and marine life.

Michael said: “We've got dingoes, crocodiles, snakes, koalas, turtles, frogs, lizards, anything you name Australia can throw at us.

“Our zoo is home to a few endangered animals: we’ve got the polar bears, we’ve got the koala there.

“We’ve got snakes down there which are endangered.

“We’re pretty lucky to have them and we try and breed them and ensure their population for future generations.  

“It’s not uncommon to have endangered animals here given what’s happening to the world.

“Everything is disappearing and Australia has one of the worst extinction rates in the world so it’s quite sad.

“We’ve got to act on that, that’s why we try to educate kids, create awareness and create change.”

The wildlife enthusiast said that even though he loves all animals equally he’s got a special bond with the two-year-old koala Winnie.

He said: “Winnie is absolutely beautiful, really, really hard to get.

“And they [koalas] are endangered as well. 

“There used to be 8 million of these guys - now, there's only about 80,000 left. 

“It's expected in the next 30 years that you won't see these guys in the wild.

“It’s quite a shame.

“Winnie will come in and sit on the couch at night and watch TV with us.

“She used to sleep on my chest in bed with me at night.

“I don't know many people that have koalas that sleep in bed with them.”

Michael said that pythons are probably the most dangerous animals at his zoo.

He said: “We’ve got snakes that will do some real damage if they were to bite you.

“But everything’s got its risks and you sort of play it by ear.

“I don’t get bitten by snakes too often though I can probably count on two hands the number of times I’ve been bitten in my career.

“We try and give them the best life possible.

“All the animals have got the captive-bred, they can't be released into the wild.

“They're not brought up in the wild.”

Michael continued and said animals are now a huge part of his life: “I could imagine my life without animals, it would be a lot easier, a lot less stressful.

“But would I like it? Probably not. 

“These animals just give so much to my life, I'd be lost without them.”

And his partner, Tegan Waterhouse, told Barcroft TV: “Michael's really good with animals.

“He just loves and adores them.

“I think every little step that he takes is going to make a difference.

“So if anyone asked me what my partner is, I kind of say with pride that.

“Wildlife educator and running a zoo – what a cool job.”

Michael believes that it is vital for kids to learn about wildlife.

The Rookeepers present interactive wildlife shows for early learning centres, kindergartens, primary schools and kids parties.

Michael’s daughters, zookeepers Yarra, 2, and Zali, 3, are huge wildlife enthusiasts and help their dad to look after the animals.

Michael said: “They're always a part of it and I try to get them as involved as possible because I think connections with animals and kids at a young age is really important.

“Australian animals are really dear to me and it's my mission to wake up every day and educate people just so that they are aware of the threats animals face.

“I love all the animals, they’re my passion. 

“It is a pretty big responsibility to educate kids.”

“We're out there, educating the future biologists and conservationists and zoologists.

“Hopefully one day they can pick the passion up and go out and follow in their footsteps.”