20 October 2009

Taronga, I Love Ya - A Day At The Sydney Zoo.

Walla-what? Wallaby! This tiny kangaroo species is adorable. Look at him. My god.

I know I keep harping on about my stolen camera, but if there was ever a day that I wish I had my old huge zoom Canon it was on Monday- the day I visited the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Never have I been in a place with so many amazing photo opportunities!

Normally I either avoid zoos or downright abhor them - sad, mistreated animals pacing around behind bars like they've lost their minds so that selfish people can tap the bars and snap flash photos - but Sydney's magnificent Taronga is not like that at all. The animals live in huge enclosures that simulate their natural habitats and are subject to some of the world's most successful breeding programs, a sign that they are calm, happy and well taken care of.

The zoo's acres of dazzling Sydney Harbour views are filled with animals from around the world, but I was most interested in the weirdo Aussie creatures: bilbies, wallabies, platypuses, kangaroos, echidnas, kookaburras, emus, chazzwazzers and many, many more... I remember my grandfather and I reading and re-reading the Worldbook Encyclopedia "Childcraft" books and I was utterly fascinated by all of the strange Chysalid-animals found in the land of Oz. This was my chance to see them up close.

It was sheer luck that the Taronga Zoo offers an amazing advantage to foreign tourists - for a mere 3 dollars (the price of a bottle of water - yes, you heard me - in Australia) - a guided tour of the "Wild Australia" section of the park. I had an extremely knowledgeable and friendly volunteer t myself as she showed me the ins and outs of her country's domestic marsupials and birds.

If you'll be my bodyguard/I can be your long lost pal/ I can call you Betty/And Betty when you call me/ You can call me Al

The first stop? The Koala Bear, of course. Along with the infamous kangaroo this guy is the most famous of all Aussie creatures - other than the drunken Bodhi surfers in Bali. I know they're not bears, and I know you're not supposed to cuddle 'em, but when I saw this eucalyptus-stoned little snugglepants I instantly wanted to throw caution to the wind and snatch him up. Thank god I was in a zoo, otherwise the facial scars could have been disfiguring. Hell, I want one as my personal guard dog - I'll just entice attackers, muggers, stalkers and rapists to hug him (who could resist?) and WHAM! Koala Attack!

Platypus Rock Sculpture - My favourite Aussie animal!

Has there ever been such a strange, mindblowing and completely bizarre animal as the Duck Billed Platypus? They are one of the two egg-laying mammals on the entire planet (along with the echidna, a porcupine/hedgehog lookin' thing) and they also happen to be freakin' adorable. My guide and I popped into their habitat twice with no luck - these guys can be elusive and shy and they often hide from vistor's sight. Determined to see one, I hoofed it back when I was leaving and... success! It was dark in their home and so my photos are all streaky and blurred, but I assure you that it was awesome. They are much smaller than I thought - the size of a flat pug, and that weird ducky beak is a sight to behold. Did I mention they have a poisonous claw on each hand? Platypus WIN.

This bird dresses kind of like my Great-Auntie Dilly...

What the hell? Oh, it's an emu? Carry on.

Something has gone, like, Pet Semetary "It came back wrong" here..... Where is Gage? Oh for the love of god where is GAGE!

Wait, I let you get away with the last one, but what the eff is this thing? Well, my guide informed me that it is a cassowary, a large flightless rainforest bird that is similar size and shape to an emu or ostrich but is a lot more cranky and violent - hence the electric fence. But just look at his colour! And his magnificent creepy feet! They are known for being kicky birds.
Australia freaks me out.

Best. Kangaroo. Photo. Ever.

This lady is just chillin' out and sunning herself like a giant golden retriever. Seeing kangaroos in the flesh made me feel like I was in some hallucinogenic "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" sort of world where things are slightly wrong and it makes your brain hurt. They are so common and so mundane in Aus that having them here in the zoo is purely for us tourists - the equivalent of having raccoons on display in North America. They remind me of a donkey/dog/deer cross - and yes, they do hop and sometimes balance on their huge leg-like tails. I've seen it, but it still makes no sense at all to me.

Along with these hopping beauts my guide took me through the nocturnal display, of which I have no photos due to the nighttime lighting. All manner of weird marsupials are contained within - possums, bilbies, wombats and bandicoots - even the elusive Tasmanian Devil. The whole pouch thing still freaks me out - the babies are born the size of jellybeans and somehow hoist their way blindly into the pouch where the mummy begins to take care of them and they mature for another six months (or less, depending on the species) before actually being "born." Is that gross or magical? I can't even decide....

OMFG. Wallaby. It was soft like a cat! And not one of those janky cats, a nice one!

We made our final stop to see my favourite of the marsupials - the Wallaby. A tiny, friendlier version of the kangaroo - how could that not be amazing? Taronga is unique in a lot of ways - in the kangaroo and wallaby enclosures there are no fences (as the animals are tame and have been mostly hand-reared due to being orphaned) and so if one ventures onto the path you are permitted to pet it. It was my lucky of luckiest days - this was one of the most special moments of my life, right up there with petting this baby elephant.

You can just see the white shells of the Opera House peeking out behind him....

At this point I bid my guide farewell and thanked her profusely for educating me on all of the weird, wacky and wonderful Aussie creatures. I couldn't resist a peek at my favourite of the African species - the Giraffe, another of nature's bizarre R. Crumb LSD animals. Similarly, I also visited the pygmy hippo, but one woman shouting "Thass not verry big, innit?" in a thick British accent and claiming that this hippo was "crap" kind of ruined the experience for me.....

Probably the most entertainment you can have on this side of the law.

It struck me as I spent a full thirty minutes staring with glee at the Meerkats that I have never talked about my cats here on the blog, and I can't imagine why I haven't - I guess they just haven't come up.... I have two cats, Kevin and Trixie, and Trixie (who S calls Tracksuit, or Trackasoo in a Japanese accent) looks EXACTLY like a meerkat, but black and white. She even stands on the edge of the couch and looks around just like one. I love her (and Kevin) more than anything, but if I could trade them in for meerkats I would do it in a second. In a second.

You'd do it too.

Oh, who could resist? I was so enthralled by this gag that I can't remember anything about these sweet little foxes, other than the fact that a) they are cute b) they have big ears and c) they are foxes.

Whee! Little penguins!

The otters, seals and penguins were my final stop. Is it super ignorant to admit that until my visit to Taronga Zoo I had no idea that there were penguins in Australia? Well, there are. And they are little. And they are called "Little Australian Penguins" - that is their actual name. So, screw you Antarctica! I didn't wanna visit you anyway....

It was a wonderful day at the zoo, completely worth the admission fee (50 AUD including ferry.) I learned an awful lot about Aussie animals and birds (I've got my eye on you, cassowary) and enjoyed soaking up the rays in the wonderfully scenic location. While some (hell, most) zoos are unethical and poorly run, Taronga is an exemplary park for big and little kids alike.

Now I just have to find those old Childcraft Encyclopedias and see how it compares....

Up close - Human. Background - Chimp. No sir, not enough evidence for me. Creationism all the way!


Sproglet said...

Ugh!! Brits abroad!

I was wandering through the beautiful, vast, disparate museum that is Florence a few months ago. Whilst strolling past Mercato Centrale and the gorgeous market stalls selling leather bags I heard a woman yell in an essex accent 'look at all the baggy shops innit!'

Despite the fact that I was dying for a conversation in English and not broken Italian, I'd rather have stuck pins in my eyes than even turn around to look at her.

Us Brits have an awful reputation as tourists, unfortunately we mostly deserve it too!

Sam said...

Fennec Foxes are the best things ever. Seriously.

The Bug said...

I LOVED my Childcraft encylopedias! I was such a geek I would just sit around & read them...

The Cincinnati Zoo isn't that bad either - but it doesn't compare with your experience!

Lady J said...

Oh wow! A Wallaby and a baby Elephant?! Super cool.
I picked up a lion cub once (and it was all sorts of awesome) but an Elephant trumps that.
So does the wallaby.

When you come back I need to pick your brain on how to travel better.

amanda said...

Oh boy petting the baby elephant was one of the best days of my life also! Definitely the cutest day.

Grant said...

Auntie Dilly's legs were not quite as sturdy looking and the feathers on her head would have been a little flashier with a sort of cowlick crescendo, but other than that you totally nailed it! A freakin scary doppleganger.

the fashionate traveller said...

Taronga Zoo has to be in one of THE best locations ever :) Anything on the harbour is spectacular - thanks for reminding me how beautiful Sydney is. I love meerkats too, and lemurs - cute as hell!

Anonymous said...

Wow. looks like a great zoo. I didn't have the chance to visit it when i was in Sydney but after three weeks in Australia, I had seen enough kangaroos and wallabies to last me a last time. The best place I went was a natural reservation called Cudlee Creek near Adelaide. We got to pet kangaroos, wallabies as well as to hold a koala. Great place!

Jason said...

I loved the Taronga Zoo on my visit! And, despite your camera issues, I think your pictures are great.

Pat said...

Sounds like a wonderful place to visit. You described it so well. I'd want to hug a koala, too. :)

My all time favorite animal is the giraffe. Love those long eyelashes!

Jeselle Arce said...

Hi, great exhibit. Wonderful photos. Thank you for sharing.