Wild animals don’t seem very comfortable in captivity, so Elizabeth and I are not big fans of zoos. But we made an exception for Sydney’s highly-regarded Taronga Zoo, hoping to get a better look at some of Australia’s unusual animals that we hadn’t had a chance to see yet. We’d had some close encounters with koalas at Binna Burra, with their strangely graceless and unbelievably loud territorial calls, and a brief nocturnal glimpse. They sleep 18 hours a day, and do precious little when awake. So we were looking forward to getting a closer look at some at the zoo. They could have been stuffed, for all we could tell.
Familiar with kangaroos, we didn’t appreciate the great variety and size of macropods, hopping marsupials with extremely large rear feet. Surrounded by dozens of unphotographable pademelons , the roo’s smallest cousin, during evening flashlight walks, we were disappointed not to get a good look at one at the zoo.
We did get some good looks at a couple of different kinds of ‘roos, though. They were only slightly more alert than the koalas.
The two most characteristic features of Australia’s mammals are the fact that they are all nocturnal, rarely appearing in the daytime, but coming out in droves at night, and that they are all incredibly weird. There must be a portal between Oz and Narnia. The echidna , with its spiky exterior, functions in the same ecological niche as the North American porcupine (which to be fair, doesn’t have any more personality than a koala).
One disappointment was not seeing a platypus. We knew that they are nocturnal, relatively shy, and hang out in places where we are unlikely to go, like swamps. The Sydney zoo goes to heroic effort to turn day into night, maintaining hundreds, if not thousands, of marsupials, spiders, reptiles, and birds in a sort of perpetual jet lag. A lavish indoor outdoor platypus pen had an attractive outdoor pool, filled with large blue crayfish, none of them being snacked upon by a platypus. The indoor half of the exhibit intended for the duck bills was closed, with only the ass end of a wombat for consolation.
Daytime in Oz belongs to the birds, which were well represented at the Sydney zoo. We walked through a series of aviaries where we could have close encounters with emus.
and the Australian King Parrot.
The Kookaburra is an Australian kingfisher that turns out to be much less shy than its North American cousins, and especially less shy than the English variety (which apparently refuses to mate if too many photographers are in the vicinity. The kookabbura, with a jungle cry beloved of amusement parks around the world, was not in a cage, but was flying free. Maybe the fed the thing, but we had the impression he just liked being there.
As covered in the previous blog entry, we also had a long visit with the Tasmanian devils. The purpose of going to Taronga was to see the indigenous fauna, but once we finished with that, we still had a couple of hours to kill, so we went on a tour of the bears and big cats. The snow tiger was pretty impressive, even without any snow.
I’ve seen lion king, but somehow, I’ve managed to live my entire life without fully appreciating the meerkat. These little guys have a very efficient system, always leaving one very alert fellow on guard, while the rest of the meerkats do whatever it is that they do. We stayed for awhile watching the changing of the guard.
After a late lunch, and some time with the elephants and giraffes, we decided to head back for the Sydney ferr.