Out and About – Australia Zoo

October 4, 2021


I can’t remember exactly how many years I have lived in Brisbane though I could work it out if I really wanted to. It matters not, but what matters is that in all those many years I have never visited an attraction that appeals to visitors not only locally but from interstate and overseas alike. A place so close to home, a place I have driven past so many times but never thought to visit – Australia Zoo. But our friends Vlanes and Anna enticed us to a visit. For his birthday, Vlanes wanted to feed a carrot to a giraffe. Why not, what a lovely thing to do for your birthday. Personally, I would probably prefer to feed myself some bubbly, but I am always open to new experiences. 

Vlanes and Anna picked us up at 8 am. Why so early? Surely it won’t take the whole day to visit a Zoo. Well, not only did I learn that it does, but I also was amazed by the huge terrain with over 100 acres and the many animals who inhabit it. No wonder, the Zoo runs a number of passenger shuttles around the grounds from one attraction to another. The ride is breezy and comfortable, and I was glad that I didn’t have to walk. 

One of the first animals we encountered was an Aldabra Giant Tortoise. They were used by early sailors as food which nearly led to their extinction. But thanks to one of the world’s first conservation breeding programmes, numbers have now increased to more than 100,000. They are huge. Watching them walk is quite a spectacle. 

Do you know what the difference is between a Tortoise and a Turtle? Tortoises live only on land and have clubbed feet like an elephant, well suited for walking on land. Like Nancy Sinatra’s boots, they are meant for walking. While Turtles live in and around water and are great swimmers. Their feet are webbed, the perfect adaption for water. 

The next species was the Komodo Dragon. They often produce large amounts of saliva when expecting food. The saliva contains several bacterial strains as well as toxins produced by venom glands located in the lower jaw. The jaw is equipped with 60 sharp recurved serrated teeth that it uses for pulling and shearing flesh. The longest tooth can be up to 2 cm long. They get up to 100 kgs, live on the Indonesian island of the Komodo Archipelago and they eat deer, wild pigs, livestock, carrion, and even small Komodo Dragons. They can use their forked tongues to detect carrion from an amazing 11 kms away. On this image you can see its long tongue. Juveniles eat rodents, insects, birds, and eggs.

Another animal that lives on the ground is the Tasmanian Devil. Our friend was stretched out comfortably like a little Dachshund. However, these animals are seriously threatened in the wild from what is known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease. These develop around the jaw and head, blocking the mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. It is estimated that over 70% of Tasmania has seen the disease in their devil populations. 

But it is not all doom and gloom. A disease free, breeding population now exists on Maria Island off the coast of Tasmania. 

You can’t go to a Zoo in Australia without seeing the iconic Koala. This one gave us a nice pose by showing his best features. Male koalas rub their chests on trees to mark their territory. The dirt patch on his chest is where his scent gland secretes an oily substance. It has been likened to ‘eucalyptus cologne.’

I chose not to get too close and personal. Did you know that the further south you go, the larger, darker, and fluffier koalas get?

Our next stop were the Meerkats. They live on the Southern West coast of Africa, live up to ten years, are up to 30 cm tall and eat mainly insects. 

Their dark eye patches help reflect the glare of the sun while the translucent inner eyelids prevent sand from getting into their eyes. They have long curved claws that enable them to dig up food and to move sand for burrows. Their stripes are an excellent camouflage in tall grasses. Meerkats are very vocal, not just for alarm but also to reassure the group. No wonder they are widely used in advertising. 

Our next stop was the picnic area. Anna had prepared a yummy lunch with an amazing quiche whose recipe I am awaiting. It started to dawn on me why a whole day is necessary to see most of what there is to see. Refreshed and revived we took the transport to the African area. 

There we encountered not only one but two and more rhinos. They have been around for over 50 million years and haven’t changed much since prehistoric times. Their diet is herbivore, their lifespan is up to forty years, and they weigh up to 2,300 kg. After elephants, rhinos are the second largest species of land mammals.

Their thick skin protects them from sharp grasses and thorns. These beauties cover their skin in mud to protect them from the sun and biting insects. It also helps them to stay cool. A wide, square lip distinguishes the white rhino from other rhino species. They graze grass low to the ground. 

The rhino’s large horn can be used as protection against predators or in a duel with another rhino. The horn is made from keratin, the same compound as our hair and nails. They have very poor eyesight, but their hearing and sense of smell are exceptional. 

Sadly, up to three rhinos are poached every day in South Africa for their horns. At least a facility like Australia Zoo ensures the survival of its inhabitants. 

Zebras and giraffes live happily in the same compound as the rhinos. Two zebras were boisterously chasing each other and cavorting around. Had I been any closer they might have included me in their frolicking as I blended in perfectly well with my black and white striped top. I started to comprehend why such huge grounds are needed to accommodate all the animals comfortably.

Judging by Vlanes’ excitement I knew that we were getting close to share his birthday wish with him. Geoff and I were surprised to learn that we too could feed a giraffe. Now I really got excited. 

Giraffes live up to 25 years, like the rhino their diet is herbivore, and they reach up to 6 m in height. They live in Africa.

Giraffes have a complex valve system in their neck that prevents blood rushing to their head when they bend down to drink. They have seven vertebrae in their neck, the same number as people. Known as ossicones, the lumps on a giraffe’s head are mostly used by males when sparring. A giraffe’s tongue is 45-50 cm and dark blue to protect it from sunburn when eating. 

We could see two giraffe calves. When they were born, they were already taller than a person of 1.8 m in height. 

Australia Zoo holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s tallest living giraffe, Forest. At 5.7 metres to the top of the ossicones, Forest towers above the rest of his kind. His record was verified on 4/12/2019. 

After Forest, we took the train to the bird and crocodile show. I tried very hard to take photos, alas the birds were too quick and my reach for the camera was too slow. I was amazed how the birds flew to their designated areas on cue.

The crocodile show took place next. It was nice to see the family: Terri, her son Robert, and her son-in-law Chandler handle the crocodile spectacle. Photos of Bindi and six months old baby Grace were displayed on the big screen.

Judging by the audience participation, the enjoyment of the show was widespread. We certainly felt so. We also learned that Australia Zoo runs a 24/7 wildlife hospital. I am in awe of what I saw and experienced and the immense work and organisation that is involved in running a zoo.

I also understand now why it was a good idea to leave early in the morning, as we still did not manage to see everything. Well, there will have to be a next time. 

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