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.