Australia Zoo Journal-PART 1--PART 2--PART 3--PART 4--PART 5--PART 6--PART 7--PART 8--PART 9-
-PART 10-Australia Zoo Journal - Part 10Snakes-
On the second day at the zoo I was able to make my way to the dark and gorgeous indoor snake house. There, the Australia Zoo hosts some of the most venomous snakes in the world including the most venomous snake, the fierce snake.
Snakes were one of Steve's favourite animals and are number one in Bindi's books. It was a must to visit and I made sure to take my time when I was there. Each enclosure provided information about the snakes, where they occur and the potential threat to people if a bite occurs. Although it was fascinating to get up close to some of the big scaries like the fierce snake, taipan and king brown, I was particularly fond of the woma.
The woma is a non-venomous snake native to Australia* that grows to a length of about 2.3m and has striking coloration. It will eat small mammals and reptiles and loves to hang about arid woodlands or shrublands with plenty of spinifex. Unfortunately, they are also an endangered species with much of their habitat being subjected to clearing and burning. Australia Zoo is the only zoo in the country that holds the form found in south-east Queensland and plan to breed it for release in protected areas.
I was quite inspired by this gorgeous snake who decided that it liked following me around as I attempted to take photos of it. I wasn't sure if it saw its reflection in the camera lens and thought it was another snake, but in any case, it was absolutely adorable. It flicked its little tongue at the camera and was curious and animated as any other charismatic animal. What a little beauty! -Cheetah-
During our trips to Australia Zoo, we made our home base a local town named Caloundra. We were provided with complimentary shuttle services to the zoo and back every day. On the second day, our driver informed us that if we were in the right place at the right time (she may have let slip where and when) that we could spot one of the zoo's cheetahs on a walk with a handler.
Sure enough, we were rewarded with the appearance of a handler just beyond one of the fences where internal zoo vehicles travel. The cheetah was on a walk for enrichment and perhaps to reinforce its bond with its handler and people in general. It was given a lovely frozen milk treat to slurp with its happy handler as he talked to guests, answering any questions they have. Although guests couldn't touch the cheetah, it was nonetheless impressive to see it at such close range. Everyone involved seemed to enjoy the experience, though I think the cheetah might have been especially spoiled with the treat. -Hospital-
Australia Zoo began as the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park with owners that would not only operate a zoo, but also rescue animals. As the "Crocodile Hunter" films gained worldwide appreciation, more money flowed into the zoo, which allowed it to expand its operations. One of the ways it has stayed true to its origins is in the operation of the Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors Australian Wildlife Hospital, which rescues and rehabilitates all manner of injured wildlife that citizens report. Whether the animals is a fluffy koala injured by domestic dogs or a snake that has been hit by a car, the wildlife hospital will do its best to provide the care for the animal that no one else is willing to provide.
While making the necessary arrangements for our tiger encounter at customer service, we also purchased passes to go on a tour of the wildlife hospital.
The building itself was built out of sustainable materials and is energy efficient and is professionally designed to handle the many patients that come through its doors. Koalas are often victims of the increasingly human dominated landscape. We were able to meet some of the more healthy koalas and see some of the rehabilitation that was in progress with one that had been hit by a car. We also learned about some of the other threats facing koalas including habitat loss and disease.
One of the more adorable encounters on the tour was getting to see a poor turtle that had been recently bandaged by one of the dedicated staff members. They also had recently admitted an unfortunate king brown snake that had been injured by a car; fortunately, a courageous member of the public had spotted it and called the hospital rather than leaving it to die.
The hospital is truly a legendary place and another example of how Australia Zoo is helping Australian wildlife. I suggest anyone headed to the Australia Zoo check it out and anyone in the area to consider volunteering! -Tiger Encounter-
As a result of our serendipitous meeting with Terri Irwin, my brother and I had the wonderful opportunity to have a tiger encounter with one of the zoos Sumatran tigers. After signing a waiver that seemed to go on forever, we were driven by a personal photographer to the behind-the-scenes entrance at the Sumatran tiger enclosure.
We learned that the tiger encounter program was one where tigers are on a general rotation, but tigers that don't want to participate are not forced. Naturally, the zoo and guests prefer a tiger to be having a good day when out for a walk. We were also told about the many rules guests have to observe when with the tiger. Aside from the obvious "no sudden movements" and "do what you are told" rules that ensure safety, there were also rules that focused on the well being of the tiger. We could have photos taken with the tiger up close at the discretion of the handlers which only happen when the tiger is stopped and resting. If the tiger doesn't stop for a rest and is not feeling up to having people around it, there are no photos (and no refunds). However, normally the tigers are quite agreeable and enjoy the experience as part of an overall enrichment program. I was rather impressed.
After being directed behind the scenes, we met up with one of the senior tiger handlers who walked us across a vast expanse of undeveloped land to the awaiting handlers with a subadult male tiger named Bashii. Among the handlers was a lovely fellow named Matt whom I had been in touch with long before my trip. The tiger was lying down and watched us approach with mild interest. We were then invited to crouch behind it and have our photos taken while petting it. We were also given permission to hold its surprisingly heavy tail in our hands, something I had not done before at Jungle Cat World. I later learned that my brother was more apprehensive to do this out of fear that he would accidentally touch the tiger's exposed 'balls', sending it into a hormonal rage.
When the tiger would decide to get up, we quickly stood and backed off. For being in such close proximity to one of nature's most formidable predators, I felt quite safe. The numerous tiger handlers that were there to ensure our safety are world class, understand tiger behaviour, are tough as nails and take their job seriously. This is what sets them apart from many others in the field, as well as those who think they can safely own or handle a big cat.
Each time we stopped, we were able to pet Bashii, then completely at ease. It was a sublime encounter, especially when placing my hand on its side, feeling it breathe slowly. It is something that I will never forget and although we spent quite a bit of time with him, it was nonetheless too short for this tiger admirer.
It is the kind of experience that evokes awe and wonder. Sure, people all over the world take advantage of unscrupulous zoos and have the same experience with tigers that are not well cared for or well secured, but it is something different when you are with caring staff and a healthy animal that enjoys the experience, acting as a true ambassador for its wild counterparts. It is not just that you have the honour of being so close to such an amazing animal, it is that you are also truly helping support their conservation in the wild. As with everything at the Australia Zoo, it emphatically about the animals and their conservation, not inflating egos or wallets. -Conclusion-
The last day at the Australia Zoo was quite tough. I didn't want to leave and, in fact, I was trying desperately in my mind to come up with any kind of unlikely plan that could allow me to stay. However, reality is often a terrible buzzkill and I knew that I had to board the bus that was going to take me away. It was tough fighting back the tears and to look as unassuming and manly as possible when leaving. Nonetheless, I never thought I would be there in the first place and something told me that I would be back someday.
I began my trip to the Australia Zoo with a well established idea in my mind what it would be like. From the "Crocodile Hunter" films, I had learned all about the zoo and its philosophy, but in reality I had no idea until I had actually visited. Despite visiting with high expectations, the Australia Zoo managed to surpass them.
Although Australia Zoo is Australia's number one tourist destination for foreigners, it is dedicated to showcasing the country's wildlife to its own citizens. It enthusiastically encourages Australians to become educated and active in protecting the countries natural heritage in addition to introducing foreigners to what Australia has to offer. It courageously rescues animals that need help, even when no one else is there. Moreover, much like Steve Irwin, the zoo strives valiantly to defeat people's hatred toward animals like snakes and crocodiles and build up a respect and admiration for them.
Australia Zoo is also there for animals from all over the world. Whether it is elephants, cheetahs or tigers, the conservation message is always present in every single sign or presentation and it delivers the message in an engaging and exciting way. The zoo's popularity has allowed it to be active in fundraising for important projects to secure protection of these animals, a crucial element for any conservation program to be successful.
You would think that the Australia Zoo, given that it has enjoyed a new level of success with Steve and Terri's "Crocodile Hunter" films, would place the focus on them. In some ways this is true, but it goes deeper than the promotion of celebrity. Sure, Steve and the Irwin's are clearly visible throughout the zoo, but after spending time there it becomes clear that it is about their message and how they tell it rather than themselves. It has always been about the animals for the Irwin's and their mission has been to take people with them on different adventures to encounter amazing animals, even if it is through a television set or a glass panel separating guests from a Sumatran tiger. This engaging approach to education ensures that people are not only informed, but they are also inspired to help and that is something that sets the zoo apart from anything else. The zoo lives and breathes conservation.
Steve Irwin is and always will be a personal hero to me. He is everything I want to be. I was devastated hearing the news about his death and the thought that his unmatched passion and enthusiasm would die with him was a shadow that has followed me. However, meeting the Irwin's and seeing the zoo that had been so close to them and Steve, the shadow is no longer there. Everywhere you go at Australia Zoo, Steve's message is alive. Everything Steve stood for is a driving, palpable force that pervades the very air itself. It is impossible to avoid. I felt as though being reminded of Steve constantly at the zoo would evoke sadness, but it did the opposite. It encouraged me to be a better person and to fight harder than ever for the animals on this planet that I have grown to care for. Steve Irwin may not have been there physically to shake my hand that first day I visited, but for me he might as well have been right there to greet me...and I reckon his message would be exactly what he said throughout his amazing life
"Come with me! Share it with me! Share my wildlife with me! My job, my mission, the reason I've been put on this planet is to save wildlife...and I thank you for coming with me.
Yeah! Let's get 'em!"
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