Beyond a set of large wooden doors, kangaroos graze, wrestle and nap inches from their human observers.
There are no barriers here limiting interaction. At the Minnesota Zoo’s Kangaroo Crossing, a seasonal exhibit opening Saturday, visitors are allowed to walk freely among red kangaroos, wallabies and their joeys.
The experience begins outside a stalled Dodge M37, a retired military vehicle refurbished to look like a safari truck, where guests are instructed by radio to examine their surroundings.
“It sets you up to explore,” said Nicki Matson, an interpretive program developer who designed the exhibit. “We want people to experience the outback while they’re Up North.”
Guests are asked to remain on a winding path as wildlife hop along beside them or rest nearby. When he’s in the mood, a young male kangaroo named Blue Kardashian will strike a pose for his admirers, then nap the rest of the day.
In total, 18 kangaroos and 18 smaller wallabies — as well as nearly a dozen joeys nursing in pouches — will roam the 5-acre parcel in Apple Valley, meant to emulate the Land Down Under. A herd of emus struts in an enclosure next door.
Minnesota Zoo director John Frawley called the exhibit a “Midwest must-see this summer.”
Marsupials tend to be more active in the morning and toward dusk, said Jim Sanford, assistant curator for the exhibit.
“They aren’t terribly scared of humans,” Sanford said. “People think it’s fun and unique because it’s a total curveball from what they typically see in zoos.”
Those willing to splurge $100 each on a backstage pass get to help zookeepers feed the animals and do some behind-the-scenes chores.
Even the zoo’s snacks have evolved to fit the theme.
Boomerangs now adorn the Walkabout Grill — formerly Russia’s Grizzly Coast Cafe — which serves Aussie burgers ($5.99), shrimp on the barbie ($12.99) or croquettes, a funky take on French fries ($3.49).
The experience, included in zoo admission, runs along the outdoor Northern Trail. It will remain open through Labor Day.
“This is another gold star for the zoo,” Sanford said.