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 9
After the encounter with the Irwin's, my brother and I spent four fun-filled days at the zoo, much of which were spent visiting each individual animal. In my experience with other, larger zoos, one could usually see what there is to see in a single, full day. However, the Australia zoo, though smaller, is 'chock-a-block' with animals and experiences that demand one take the time to see everything. I know I could have spent much longer there and wish I could have made better use of my annual pass than just four visits.
It would be unnecessarily lengthy to speak about each individual animal and enclosure so I will instead cover some of the highlights of my experiences at the zoo and let some of the 2,643 photos I took do the story-telling.-Crocoseum Shows-
After setting up the date of our tiger encounter (which would be on our last day at the zoo) we headed to the awe-inspiring 'Crocoseum' where hundreds of guests could watch the various wildlife demonstrations and shows that Australia Zoo provides.
We managed to catch a couple of those shows when we were there, which included excitement, humour and education about conservation. Birds flew about the stadium, grazing our heads at high speed while hosts spoke about the different species. Snakes were brought about the stadium for people to touch while those in the presentation area were placed in crystal clear water to show people how they swim; most importantly, presenters shared with guests the myths and misconceptions about snakes, their importance to the ecosystem and how people can safely co-exist with them. Perhaps most exciting were the crocodile demonstrations where hosts provided food at close range, just as Steve did, to show guests their stalk-and-ambush style of hunting. Crocs would hide in the clear water, slowly moving toward the shore without disturbing the surface before launching themselves frighteningly at the food provided. They were also encouraged to leap up out of the water to snap food dangled above the surface. As Steve would have wanted it, the crocodiles were the stars of the show and there was an ever-present focus on understanding, respecting and appreciating these apex predators, unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.
Each presentation concluding with the same inspiring messages that Steve emphasized in his wildlife documentaries; in particular, that it is up to us to protect these animals and ensure that this rock called Earth remains a living planet where all life can be supported. -Food-
One of the stereotypes of zoos is that the food is overly-expensive and underwhelming in quality. Not so for the Australia Zoo. In fact, my brother was so impressed with his reasonably-priced hamburger (complete with egg, bacon and beet-slice) that he wanted me to take a photo of it. -Battery-
The impressive crocodiles at the Australia Zoo are plenty and the croc team can't be beat. I already knew that from watching Steve Irwin's documentaries, but I had one encounter that really sold me.
While meandering from enclosure to enclosure, enjoying the gorgeous crocs as they sunned themselves, I noticed something strange. In the enclosure of 'Scrappa', a particularly aggressive croc sired by 'Agro', I spotted a shiny object in the grass right next to the croc. I used my camera's zoom function to snap a photo before determining that it was a battery. I can't be sure how it ended up there, but it likely wasn't an accident. Being an avid zoo-goer, I've seen all kinds of deplorable behaviour from people trying to elicit a reaction from animals people deem too boring. I would wager that someone had thrown it in either to hit poor 'Scrappa' or at least to get it to move. In any case, a battery could potentially do serious harm if ingested; with its shiny appearance similar to the flash of a fish underwater, it wouldn't be too unlikely for a croc to see it is a potential food source.
I wouldn't be much of a Steve Irwin fan if I walked away from that enclosure with that risk intact so I made a point to seek out a member of staff to get the battery out. I found a nearby restaurant and one of the attendants was happy to call the croc team. I returned to the enclosure to meet with them as four of them burst out of the behind-the-scenes area with tools in hand. I showed them where the battery was and before you could say "Crickey!" one of them had fearlessly jumped into the enclosure with back-up at the ready, retrieved the battery and made his escape. If that isn't dedication to a zoo animal, I don't know what is.
After the battery was obtained, the croc team thanked me and went on their way with one shaking his head lamenting, "How could anyone throw a battery at a croc like that?"
A tip to all those reading this... In December of 2007 several young men were teasing a tiger named Tatiana at the San Francisco Zoo; this resulted in the tiger being so ill-tempered that it clawed its way out if the enclosure and killed a man before it was shot. At other zoos, many animals have been sickened or killed by food or other foreign materials being thrown into enclosures by guests, including those that were well-meaning. If you are ever at a zoo at you spot anything in an enclosure that shouldn't be there (batteries, bits of plastic etc.), people throwing things into enclosures or people generally acting out toward animals be sure to inform a staff member or security. Take note of a person's appearance if it is someone behaving inappropriately and give staff a description of that person. The zoo is a home for animals and they deserve to be able to live in a safe, peaceful environment. You can make a difference by stopping a problem before it becomes a tragedy. -Tiger Enclosure/Show-
Naturally, one of my daily missions at the Australia Zoo was to see tigers. At that time, the Australia Zoo was showcasing its Sumatran tigers, some of which were first-generation off-spring from wild tigers on the island of Sumatra. I had also come in contact with a couple of tiger handlers that recommended the daily tiger demonstration.
I made sure to spend quite a bit of time at the enclosure, snapping far too many photos than any normal person would take and making mental notes about the enclosure design and enrichment programs. I was quite impressed with the enclosure layout, which was quite large and diverse. It contained platforms to climb on, spots for sun and shade, an undulating landscape to allow for play-stalking between siblings, a waterfall and a pool. Different tigers were brought in from day to day, which encouraged natural behaviours such as exploring, smelling the scent of tigers that had passed and scent-marking for territory demarcation.
Every day, a tiger presentation was held much like that in the Crocoseum. Hosts would enter the enclosure with the tigers, which were hand-raised to feel comfortable around people and encouraged to perform fun activities to demonstrate their power and natural abilities. The presenters introduced the individual tigers and used toys to encourage them play games of chase much like the average person would do with a domestic house-cat. A ball-on-string toy would be directed up a high pole where tigers would jump up over 10 feet into the air, grab the toy, turn around using their claws and have the incredible flexibility to make a perfect landing. Tigers were also encouraged to make dramatic leaps into the deep pool along with handlers making for wonderful photos, but a shot that was too elusive for me to get clearly! The presentation provided much needed exercise for the cats, but unlike abusive circus acts, animals are not forced to do anything they don't want to do and are simply encouraged to express natural behaviours that they enjoy. It is an engaging enrichment program that I am sure both the public and tigers love.
Throughout each presentation, hosts would talk at length about Sumatran tigers, the threats that face them in the wild and what people can do to protect them. I was impressed with their emphasis on conservation of wild tigers, which is critically important. In addition to the presentation, the entire perimeter of the enclosure has information displays, videos and a souvenir shop to help raise awareness and critical funds for Sumatran tigers with 100% of proceeds going to field programs. It was an overwhelming environment with the entire focus being placed on what matters: the animals and their needs both in captivity and in the wild.
The Australia Zoo's approach to conservation through exciting education is something that I feel is far more effective than that of other zoos which often settle for an informative sign. In order for people to act on behalf of conservation, they not only need to be provided with information about the animals, they need to be shown what is happening and inspired to step up. This is what the Australia Zoo believes and it delivers that message in inspiring fashion.
---Part 10 will be the last journal so stay tuned! -PART 1--PART 2--PART 3--PART 4--PART 5--PART 6--PART 7--PART 8-
-PART 9--PART 10-