By James Cook
When I was younger I went through a phase of being terrified that I would be eaten by Tasmanian Devils. I have no idea where this fear stemmed from or even how I had heard of Tasmanian Devils (we lived in a small village), but at the Australia Zoo I finally confronted my fears and got close to a Tasmanian devil. I discovered that they are not, in fact, the blood-thirsty demons of my youth. Rather they are some of the cutest creatures at the zoo. That is saying something as Australia Zoo seems to be around 50% cute animals and 50% animals that look like they would try to kill you in your sleep!
Australia Zoo did not always have such a balanced ratio of cute to deadly. When it first opened up as the Beerwah Reptile Park none of the animals were cute or cuddly! That is unless of course like the founder of Australia Zoo you find Crocodiles and Snakes to be cute.
I am talking about possibly the coolest conservationist ever. The legendary Steve Irwin. Better known as the Crocodile Hunter. Throughout most of the 90s Steve would travel around Australia with his wife, Teri, and document his encounters with some of the worlds deadliest animals (weirdly I don’t think I ever saw one where he talked about the Tasmanian Devil, more evidence that my fear came from nowhere!). Steve unfortunately died in a filming accident when he was stung by a stingray whilst filming for a documentary series where he was planning on showcasing off the fantastic and unique sea life around Australia.
As it was founded by a conservationist, Australia Zoo is heavily involved in conservation in Australia. Australia Zoo has brought 4 large areas of land and created private wildlife reserves (the largest of which is 330 000 acres). They have also been at the forefront of wildlife rehabilitation with the formation of the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. A veterinary hospital that is one of the best equipped in the world. They also run International Crocodile Rescue, this is a program that captures problem crocodiles and either relocates them to a more suitable area, or if it is deemed they are to dangerous to be released, cares for them in the zoo.
Australia Zoo is also know for how “hands on” they are. Every day gives you the opportunity to hand-feed Asian elephants. There is also the opportunity to have an “animal encounter” these are not included in the ticket price but when else are you going to get the chance to feed a cheetah or get close to a komodo dragon? These encounters sell out fast due to their popularity, so be sure to book ahead. Throughout the day there are also keepers walking the animals. So keep your eyes peeled and you may be able to sit in on a talk about Dingos or Tasmanian Devils. One of the best things we did whilst at the zoo was touching the kangaroos (which were a lot smaller then I thought they would be) and the koalas. Their fur is so soft and they looked dazed and confused at everything.
At 1100 every day there is a live show at the “Crocoseam”. This shows of some of the animals in the park from the Elephants to Parrots. The highlight though is seeing the crocodile. It is lured into the area by a (somewhat nervous looking) zoo keeper splashing in the shallow water.
The crocodile is then taken to deeper water where they showcase just how high they can jump out of the water. They dangle a piece of meat about 6ft from the surface and the crocodile jumps for it. There is then a demonstration of how the crocodile would hunt in the wild. The keeper again splashes in the shallow are tempting the crocodile over. He throws it a ham (a full ham, sort of jealous of the crocodile at this stage!) that is tied to a rope. As soon as the crocodile takes the rope it begins a game of tug of war with the keepers. This ends when the crocodile does a “death roll” and “drowns” its ham. This show put me off going in, or near, any waterway in Australia!
When we went to Australia Zoo they were putting the finishing touches on their Africa exhibit. This is a large enclosure designed to simulate how different animals interact with each other in the wild. It was great to see the giraffes, rhinos and zebra roaming around together and will, hopefully set the bar for other zoos to follow. Australia Zoo also has the best tiger enclosure I have ever seen. It includes an underwater viewing area as tigers like to swim. Fun tiger fact: They have webbed toes! Australia Zoo also has Australia’s largest Elephant enclosure measuring 12 acres!
Get there early. We arrived at 10 and at the end we wished we had spent an extra hour there.