Many people share their homes with friends, family and perhaps a cat or dog. Margit Cianelli does things a bit differently.
The former zookeeper shares her Australian home with any nature-loving visitors who book a stay — and whatever wildlife happens to wander in.
Cianelli says it wasn't her idea to turn her home, which is situated on 160 acres of rain forest in Queensland, into a bed-and-breakfast. She simply got so many requests from people who wanted to visit and learn about the local wildlife that it just sort of happened.
"In the evening we talk about the unique wildlife of the Wet Tropics, share books and experiences, and enjoy the animals that pop in for a visit or the joeys that are in my care," she said.
But her true passion isn't the bed-and-breakfast. It's the animals.
The more permanent residents
Cianelli regularly takes in orphaned or injured animals, and she's cared for virtually every species that lives in her corner of the rain forest.
Most of those animals are marsupials that come to her when they're quite young. Typically their mothers are victims of dogs or cars, but the tiny joeys survive in their mothers' pouches.
"Some are just 'pinkies' with no fur yet. Their eyes might still be closed, their ears still stuck to their heads. You can see the organs through their skin," Cianelli said.
“These animals need special care around the clock. Other joeys might already have fur but suffer such mental trauma from losing their mother that they simply want to give up.”
She gives them all the necessary care, as far as food and medicine, but the furry, scaly and feathered residents of Lumholtz Lodge get much more than just the bare necessities from Cianelli.
"A very important aspect is encouragement. I tell them how clever they are. I’m always talking to them in an approving tone. This helps to build confidence and mental strength, which is often underrated but so important for their future life. I don't just want to release a physically strong and healthy animal, but one that is mentally able to deal with conflict, competition and other pressures."
Meet the tree kangaroos
Cianelli is currently sharing her home with two adorable tree kangaroos named Kimberley and Anneli.
Kimberley came to Lumholtz Lodge in September after falling from her mother's pouch. Her mother wouldn’t take the 2-pound joey back, so Cianelli took her in.
"The next day I knew the reason why her mum did not let her back into the pouch — she had actually given up on her because she could not cope with her! Kimberley is such a handful, the most hyperactive joey I've ever had. Kimberley jumped around in the trees like a gibbon, not a tree roo."
Anneli arrived in late December after being found leaning against a shed. She was dehydrated, malnourished and had a wealth of medical issues. She'd been out of her mother's pouch for a week.
"We did not hold high hopes for her survival. She was put on an IV drip for seven days. I sat with her every night till 3 a.m. when she was due for another injection. She obviously had a strong will to live. Anneli has fully recovered and has turned into a bouncy, mischievous joey."
Rehabilitation is a slow process for tree kangaroo joeys. In the wild, they stay with their mothers for about three years.
Cianelli estimates Kimberley and Anneli will remain at Lumholtz Lodge for another two years, and it's a full-time job — one she compares to living with 2-year-old twins.
"The girls basically spend 24 hours a day with me," she said.
The animals spend nights in Cianelli's room, and when she's busy with household tasks, they nap in her shirt or explore the house. They leap onto shelves and climb whatever they can find — it's impressive she still has frames on the wall and curtains on the windows.
Three times a day, Cianelli takes the girls to an outdoor enclosure that contains logs and branches of varying sizes. Some have bark while others don't, and they're deliberately placed at certain angles to challenge the tree kangaroos' climbing skills.
Cianelli also ties thin twigs to the branches, so the young animals can experience falls like they would in the wild.
"They are not born good climbers and have to learn these skills over a long period of time. I must say that these exercises would give me a heart attack if I had to witness them 20 meters up a tree."
But the highlight of the girls' day is when Geoffrey visits. A 10-year-old male tree kangaroo that Cianelli raised by hand, Geoffrey stops by Lumholtz Lodge about five days a week to munch on almonds, sweet potatoes and his favorite treat: spaghetti.
"The girls get the head wobbles with excitement when they see him. I am also very excited about his visits. He is so handsome, and I am so proud of him. He is the alpha male in my forest, and that is pretty special for a hand-raised animal."
Eventually, Kimberley and Anneli will join Geoffrey in the wild, but they'll start slow.
Cianelli will fit them with radio collars and allow them to explore the rain forest alone, but at night she'll bring them inside to rest.
But ultimately, Cianelli knows she'll have to say her goodbyes.
"Over weeks and months the animals spend more time outside. They spend less in the house and might only come in for the occasional treat, a piece of sweet potato, or a little rest if the weather is too miserable."
She says her animals release themselves when they're ready, and it's her job to prepare them for that moment.
"I will do everything in my power to help so they will not be disadvantaged for having had to grow up without their natural mother," she said.
Watch Cianelli and her tree kangaroos — who munch on spaghetti and wrestle teddy bears — in the video below.
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