21 December 2012

Ballarat Wildlife Park

I have lived in Melbourne for 30 years and have never heard of the Ballarat Wildlife Park which is a mere 90 minutes away.  A dear friend introduced us to the Park on a recent trip and the journey was well worth the effort.

Kangaroos are a dime a dozen in this country.  You hear about them, you see them on TV, they're Qantas Airlines' iconic emblem, you visit them in the zoo, yet nothing prepared me for the up close and personal experience we were about to have.

The Ballarat Wildlife Park is essentially home to several troops of free ranging kangaroos, along with wombats, reptiles (they're not free ranging, just in case you were wondering), koalas, emus, flightless birds and other smaller animals.

The moment we entered the park we were greeted by a couple of smaller kangaroos, who were keenly searching for the food I held in my hand.  Trini wasn't sure whether she should be excited that she was hand feeding kangas or totally freak out.  Most of the day she remained in this limbo state until the much larger kangaroos (standing at 6 feet tall) was too much to bear and found herself climbing up my friend until he placed her on his shoulders (good strong shoulders there Peter).  Admittedly even I got nervous with the bigger ones and quite happily gained distance from them.

Trini comfortable feeding this little one.
The kangas are quite accustomed to people and being hand fed is as much a pass time for them as it is for the visitor.  Whilst still wild to some degree, treating them with respect means that they are unlikely to behave unexpectedly and visitors have the opportunity to share a rare experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed patting them and being amongst them.  Their fur was wonderfully soft, not quite what I expected.  They don't flinch nor take off if you approach them.  This pic of my friend's son is testimony to it.

Cuddles all round like old friends.
The rest of the highlights at the Park are the shows of 15-20 minutes each where the keepers introduced the koala, boa constrictor, wombat and alligators.  The chance to get close to the first three allows the visitor to pat and interact with both the keeper and the animal.  The alligator show was great from the other side of the glass.

Boa Constrictor

I was convinced Trini would be petrified of going anywhere near the boa constrictor.  Well look at her.  She couldn't handle the big kangas but thought the Boa was beautiful with nice smooth skin.

One of the largest snakes in the world, the Boa is not venomous but just as dangerous.  It will wait silently and patiently for its prey and then coil itself around it squeezing each time the prey takes a breath until it takes no more breaths.


This adorable looking animal is often referred to as a Koala Bear but it's actually not a bear.  Apparently its closest relative is the wombat, not that I can see any resemblance.

With its thick, plush, wooly fur the koala would be totally huggable if it weren't for its sharp claws used for climbing trees.  They also tend to smell like cough drops because eucalyptus leaves are their only source of diet.

Much as the koala is native to Australia, it can only be found in the forests on the eastern side of the country.


This heavyweight nocturnal animal that can weigh as much as 40kg is the size of a pea weighing 1 gram when it's born.  They spend two-thirds of their lives underground often renovating old burrows that may have been dug centuries ago.

The female wombat is usually larger than the male, usually grumpier especially if she has a baby and will usually try to hog the food too.

Funnily enough when wombats fight one another, they usually try to bite each other on the bum.

Ready to scamper off and explore but the keeper had alternate plans.
Maybe another day.

Alligator Feeding

Now anyone brave enough to enter an alligator pit to feed, to play, to tease, is either crazy or dedicated.  The boys in this pit were switched on (in case the alligator had other plans for them), quick on their feet and always ready to jump clear.

The simplest way to differentiate a crocodile from an alligator is by their snout.  The croc's is long and narrow, whilst the alligator is wide and a little shorter.  Also the croc's 4th tooth on the lower jaw sticks out when the snout is closed, unlike the alligator's.  Not that I would consider getting that close to find out.

Trini was absolutely thrilled with the feeding session and the frenzy the keepers were creating for entertainment.  There was no way on earth I could pull her away from the show until it was completely finished and the alligators returned to their usual position of just laying still, looking boring.

Come just a little closer my friend. 
You look juicier than the mice you are feeding me.

My friends joke about my girl's fear of anything that moves and it's true.  She sees a cat or dog and she freaks out.  I had no idea how she would handle this wildlife park which was full of "anything that moves". 

However, with a little encouragement to be more like her latest favorite Princess Merida from the movie Brave, she summoned all her courage and did exceptionally well.  What I didn't anticipate was her fascination with a huge snake and scaly reptiles.

In the end the experience was tremendous.  The wildlife parks throughout the world generally attempt to bring awareness to the plight of animals who are hunted, become homeless due to deforestation and many are on the brink of extinction.  This park's objective is no different and whilst it is not as big as other zoos, it is different in that people can interact with the kangaroos at close range.

Thanks for visiting.  Ya'll come back again soon.

01 December 2012

Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary

With the Melbourne Zoo off our list, Trini and I were ready to visit the second wildlife reserve in Healesville.  Opened in 1934, Healesville Sanctuary is set amongst 70+ acres of natural bushland and it's an hour's drive from Melbourne.

Home to Australia's unique wildlife, here you will find the cuddly koala bear, the hopping kangaroo, the wobbly wombat and the duck-billed platypus. 

The sanctuary welcomes the visitor with a sculpture of a wedge-tailed eagle at 3m high and with a wingspan of 7m, named Bunjil. He is known as the protector of the land, symbolising the strength and beauty of the natural world.

Trini and Bunjil getting acquianted.

Throughout the sanctuary you will encounter several bronze sculptures of animals which have been commissioned for the blind and visually impaired.  Through touch they can get an understanding of what the animals might be like in shape and size.

With prolific deforestation all over the world the Sanctuary also brings the visitor's attention to the marvellous trees that have survived the human logging and have had the opportunity to continue growing and aging.  Some trees here are 150 years old.

With a state-of-the-art hospital on the grounds, the animals and birds are in good hands.  Let me introduce you to some of Australia's iconic animals.

Koala - Sleeping 19 hours a day so as to conserve the energy needed to digest its food, this marsupial lives exclusively on eucalyptus leaves.  Spending its life in the trees it only ever descends to the ground when moving from one tree to another.  Babies are carried in the mother's pouch for 6 months and then on the mother's back for another 6 months.  Thereafter, koalas become a solitary animal.

Wombat -  A burrowing marsupial, it weighs in at about 40kg. It's the closest relative to a koala as they both have a strong build, broad paws and strong claws.  Generally solitary except during mating, young ones follow their mother for about a year.  Naturally long-lived they can thrive for up to 20 years.  Whilst not endangered, their roving habits means that they often become victims to road accidents.

Platypus - This unique duck-billed animal is quite unusual in that whilst it is a mammal feeding its young on milk and having fur, it lays soft-shelled eggs like a reptile.  Apparently the only other animal to have the same traits is the Echidna.  This nocturnal animal spends the day curled up in waterside burrows and emerges at dusk to hunt aquatic insects and yabbies.

Image: http://www.amamoorlodge.com.au/platypus-wildlife-spotting

Kangaroo - Australia's icon, this animal is part of the macropod family meaning 'big feet'.  They come in several sizes with the biggest weighing up to 85kg, whilst the smallest can weigh as little as 1kg.  The long tail aids the kangaroo to balance when stationary or when travelling at high speeds.  The baby kangaroo, known as a 'joey', is usually carried for 6-9 months in a pouch.  Kangaroos can leap 9m in one bound and travel up to 48kmh. 

Tasmanian Devil - Any Looney Tunes fan may know of the Tasmanian Devil 'Taz' who goes about spinning, grunting and eating everything in sight.  Well that's not quite the real Tassie Devil who is the size of a small dog.  Driven out of mainland Australia by the Dingo, it is now found only in the wild of Tasmania (an island State).  A scavenger, the Tassie Devil will eat anything dead regardless of how old the carcass is and will usually finish off every part of the dead animal including the bones and skull.  It is currently under threat of extinction as a mysterious cancer is decimating its population.

Dingo - Thought to have descended from wild Asian dogs, the dingo is the only native Australian dog.  It is found in many parts of Australia, except for Tasmania.  Dingoes never bark; they howl for long distance communications to attract pack members and repel rivals.  Females breed only once a year, with pups born within 9 weeks of conception.  Litters of 4-6 pups are produced.  Whilst predominantly a carnivore hunting animals such as kangaroos, the dingo will also eat plants and insects.  Interestingly, dingoes can be kept as pets in several states of Australia.  Not sure I'd want a wild dog in my backyard with my kid.

Healesville Sanctuary is a terrific place for international visitors who want to be exposed to Australian wildlife or for local visitors who are interested in animals that live in their "backyard".

With Trini living most of her young life in Singapore, I wanted her to get a feel for animals that she is unlikely to encounter anywhere else in the world or in any other zoos for that matter.