Sam and Dana Mitchell met while working together at a wildlife park in Victoria in 2011. In December 2012, wanting to fulfill a shared lifelong dream of owning their own park, the couple began looking into building their own park in Victoria. However, the task proved to be nearly impossible, with the amount of infrastructure required, licensing, permits and animals, so instead they looked into parks that were already for sale.
They remembered that years ago a friend mentioned a park on Kangaroo Island that was for available, and they checked to see if it still was. Sure enough, the then-named Parndana Wildlife Park was for sale. They jumped in the car that night and drove from Victoria to Kangaroo Island.
After checking out the park, Sam and Dana had to look into licensing to make sure they could get the appropriate wildlife license to be able to own it. They were approved for the license and sold all of their assets to be able to buy the park. The husband and wife duo took over July 1, 2013, changed the name to Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park and have been working 24/7 to rebuild, renovate and upgrade the location.
More from SwimLife
Their passion for wildlife has seen a complete overhaul of the park and the addition of many new species, such as little penguins, reptiles, aquariums, dingoes and more. Sam and Dana rescue and raise a lot of their animals from koalas to kangaroos, birds and echidnas. They still have many more plans for the park and are continuously striving to provide the animals they care for with the best life they can.
"Kangaroo Island is a hidden gem of South Australia,” Sam told SI Swimsuit. “It is a lovely place to visit, the locals are great and it is a great place to work and raise a family.”
Everything you want to know about KI Wildlife Park.
Where is Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park located?
KI Wildlife Park is located in the center of Kangaroo Island 3km past Parndana, at 4068 Playford Highway.
What kind of tours does Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park offer?
KI Wildlife Park is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day. There are daily presentations and encounters, as well as all-inclusive private tours, which give visitors a private up-close, interactive experience with the beautiful animals.
Where do you find most of your rescues?
Most come in from road accidents, dog attacks and heatwaves.
What is something everyone should know about taking care of these rescue animals?
Rescuing animals is a 24/7 commitment. You become their mother and they rely on you. It is very rewarding, but it can also be heartbreaking.
What steps do you take to acclimate them into the park?
Once the joeys come into care, they quickly become dependent on us. When they are big enough to join others in the park, we have halfway enclosures so they can learn to be an outside animal while getting used to their new friends safely through a fence.
How would you describe the experience at KI Wildlife Park?
Being able to get up close and interact with our animals in a fun, educational environment is simply amazing. We love to share our passion for wildlife with everyone and are lucky to be able to do that everyday. You can see, pet and interact with lots of animals here, and we strive to give everyone the experience of a lifetime that they can take away and remember.
Why are all the animals at KI Wildlife Park so special?
We have a one-on-one bond with all of our animals. Many are rescued and hand-raised by us and our keepers. Our day is spent feeding and caring for all of our animals. Being able to work up close with them is amazing and we are glad to be able to share that with visitors.
Will I be able to hold a koala at KI Wildlife park?
Yes. Our handling koala are all orphans that we have raised from joeys, and they love to be cuddled. We run several sessions a day where you can book a time to hold them.
What are some fun facts about a koala?
Koalas sleep from 14-20 hours a day. They have brilliant smell and hearing which makes up for their poor eyesight. Southern koalas are larger, darker and have thicker fur than northern koalas. They have a bony plate on their rump, which allows them to sit long periods in a tree without needing to move or stretch.
Can you tell us a little bit about their species and some of their traits and behaviors in the wild?
There is no group term for koala as they generally live alone. They can be seen together during breeding season and when a mother has a young joey with her, but otherwise they tend to stick to themselves.
They solely eat eucalyptus and are very fussy with which species they eat. Each region of koalas will eat about 20 species but have about five favorites. They generally have no predators. Due to what they eat they tend not to taste very good. It is said you are better off eating the tree they are sitting in then the koala itself. They spend most of their day asleep and are most active overnight, when it is cooler and takes less energy to move around.
What are some fun facts about a black-headed python?
These snakes get their name from their black head. When the sun comes up, the snake will put just its head out, absorbing the warmth which it uses to heat its whole body. Black-headed pythons eat other reptiles, including venomous snakes. This means that they are one of the few snakes that are immune to snake venom.
Are the black-headed pythons dangerous? How can I tell if it is a male or female?
Being a python, they are nonvenomous. Black-headed pythons are generally quite placid snakes and are active mostly at night. A bite from a black-headed python will hurt but not kill you. Gender sexing snakes is a delicate process called probing. They cannot usually be identified from their looks.
Can you tell us a little bit more about their species and some of their traits and behaviors in the wild? Do they stick together? What do they eat?
Most snakes are solitary, only coming together to mate. In the wild it can depend on the snake's personality to how they respond to humans. Some are placid and will just go on their way when disturbed where as others will arc up and defend themselves. Most are fairly placid. As long as they are left alone they are good. Quite often larger black headed pythons will get hit on the road by cars. Natural predators such as birds or goannas and feral predators, such as cats and foxes will attack small snakes, but the larger ones generally don't have many.
What are some fun facts about wombats?
Wombats can run up to 20km an hour over short distances. They are the closest relative to koalas. They are nocturnal and only really come out to eat at night. They are very solid animals and are about 80% muscle.
How much does a wombat weigh?
On average a wombat weighs 20-30kg on average
Can you tell us a little bit about their species and some of their traits and behaviors in the wild? Do they stick together? What do they eat?
Wombats are usually quite solitary apart from breeding season and when a mother has a baby. Their main threats are cars and disease (mange). Due to their size and defense, they generally don't have many predators. Dogs and dingoes will attack them if they can. Wombats can be quite feisty in the wild and can defend themselves if needed. Grasses are their main source of food, but they also eat roots and shrubs.
What are some fun facts about dingoes?
Pure dingoes don't have a smell, meaning they don't have an odor like a dog. Their teeth are larger than domestic dogs and their bite force is also much stronger.
Where did the dingo you have at the park come from?
Our dingoes came down from Sydney when they were six weeks old and were raised here at the park. Loki was the name of the dingo who posed for SI Swimsuit 2019 with model Myla Dalbesio.
How was Loki, the dingo, trained?
Loki was trained from young and has his training daily to keep up his routine. Although he is trained, dingoes are not like domestic dogs and will not do anything they don't want to. They have no need to please humans.
Can you tell us a little bit about their species and some of their traits and behaviors in the wild?
In the wild they are pack animals with up to 20 dingoes traveling together. They will hunt as a pack taking down prey much larger than themselves. They are very important to our ecosystem, helping to control feral species, such as cats and foxes, as well as native species population control. In the wild they are naturally cautious of humans and generally stay away from conflict. The trouble with dingoes in the wild comes from the ones who are cross-bred and have which have lost their natural fear of humans. That and the easy source of food they get from campsites. When food is left out, they often come in to steal it, which can cause danger to campers.
What are some fun facts about kangaroos?
Kangaroo Island kangaroos are a subspecies of the Western Grey kangaroo. They are the only species of kangaroo that can't undergo embryonic diapause, which is the ability to pause pregnancy.
Can you tell us a little bit more about their species?
A group of kangaroos is called a mob. They will generally run away from humans unless they are used to being fed in an area — then they can become quite calm and tame. They mainly eat grasses, leaves shrubs and tussocks. Dingoes will prey on kangaroos, as will dogs.
How many joeys can they carry at once?
Kangaroos can generally carry one joey at a time. They have two teats though, one to feed their pouch joey and one to feed their foot-young joey who is no longer in pouch.
At the KI Wildlife Park can you pet a kangaroo?
Yes. You can feed and pet kangaroos any time of day during opening hours.
Anything else they think is important to note about Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park?
We have a lot of visitors tell us that the reason they love it so much here is because of the open spaces and the time they get to spend one-on-one with animals. Visitors love how close they can get, how friendly and caring our staff are, and that they can spend time with the kangaroos and wallabies and at times have it all to themselves.