My running partner was the first to mention Australia Zoo to me when I started asking her about the “not to be missed” places around her husband’s home town, Caloundra. Her advice was the Australia Zoo, you know the zoo that Steve Irwin founded and his family operates? Actually, I had no idea that Steve Irwin founded a zoo (his dad started it with a few crocodiles), but Scott and I both have very fond memories of the Crocodile Hunter and his passion for animals. Once we arrived on the Sunshine Coast, people continued to mention Australia Zoo and online reviews agreed, so we took a day and I even signed up us up for animal encounters a few days before our visit so we could get the whole experience.
We started our day early, spending time with this handsome boy, Pasang, meaning “born on a Friday” in Nepalese, a ten-year-old Red Panda. He knew the drill well, climbing up into our laps to eat his breakfast of carrots and pears out of hands.
His favorite tidbits were the pieces of pear and you couldn’t help but smile at his business like attention to each of us as he efficiently ate his food.
He was so soft and fluffy except for his sharp little tree climbing claws.
He was funny little guy. It was so hard not to pick him up and cuddle him (his idea of torture according to the zookeeper). Other than that restriction, we were allowed to pet him as he climbed up and down onto our laps to find his breakfast.
Pasang wins the cuteness award and our hearts, even though it was clear that we were only his breakfast food bowls.
When he had finished his breakfast he made one last methodical check of each of our hands and laps and then back into the trees he went to groom himself in case a lady red panda wandered by later in the day.
Next stop was the kangaroo enclosure where kangaroos roamed in a wooded pasture area and one could mingle and feed the giant marsupials if so desired. I have never been a fan of kangaroos, they seem a little untrustworthy to me, but Ashley had fun feeding and petting them. There was an area that was fenced off from people where only the kangaroos could go if they wanted to be away from people. The Australia Zoo believes in putting the animals first and it is evident all over the zoo.
Obviously, Ashley thinks these cheeky marsupials do not have good manners.
Is it a mob, herd or troop? And look at that really big one! I like the baby getting a drink from its mama.
Scott and his new friend.
Grant and Scott met this magnificent wedge-tailed eagle named Amelio. These are the largest raptors in Australia and the female is twice the size of the male. His mate does not do interviews but he sits on the arm of no more than two people day for a total of 15 minutes. Amelio is twenty-two years old and one of the longest residing folks at the zoo. He is also a member of the free flight bird team which are the birds that are trained to fly around and return for their own enjoyment and also for visitors to admire their beauty in a short free flight bird show. He was not born into captivity, but rescued by a family when he was kicked out of his nest by another chick. Once raised, he was released back into the wild, but he continued to return to the family that had raised him and cause trouble.
Ashley walked a minibus, I mean she walked Minibus, the wombat. Mini was brought in by a man in a minibus and so the name stuck. Australia Zoo has a hospital where many critters are brought after being hurt on the highways. Sadly, Minibus’ mom was killed crossing the road and the man in the minibus stopped and found a baby in her pouch. Mini spends her days burrowing tunnels in her enclosure and taking walks around the zoo and to her grazing area. Surprisingly, these dense little animals can go from 0 to 25 mph in a couple of strides, so the way to walk a wombat is to stay out of the way and let go of the leash if the wombat goes AWOL.
Then there was Ellen, named for our own lovable Ellen Degeneres, who visited the zoo soon after this koala was born and so they named her Ellen. She is sweet and her keeper says that she really enjoys cuddling with visitors, but like all of the residents of Australia Zoo, Ellen is carefully protected and only works for 30 minutes a few times a week. She spends the rest of her time eating freshly harvested eucalyptus leaves and sleeping in her choice of trees in the huge koala area. Note the proper koala holding technique before moving on to the next picture.
Ashley could not help getting into the cuddle which challenged Ellen’s keeper a bit. Understandably, the keepers want you to hold the animals just so and keep your hands away from their faces and your face away from their faces. Ashley’s left hand would creep up and her face would sink down, over and over again into a giant koala cuddle. Ellen didn’t seem to mind too much.
We have this same pose from seventeen years ago and our first trip to Australia.
What is cuter than a baby koala? I don’t think I know. This baby seemed much more active than the adults in the surrounding trees. Maybe this is the tired mother. The koalas at Australia Zoo are doing well and reproducing in captivity, but the wild population is endangered by loss of habitat and the danger that comes with those circumstances like dogs and cars. They also suffer from disease that quickly wipes out whole populations in the wild.
We watched this baby for a long time until it got tired and curled up under its mother, out of view, for a nap.
The animals are great to watch and interact with at Australia Zoo. I really loved some of the signs though, especially the signs warning of the the dangers of the animals that you shouldn’t interact with, like another Daisy!
Instead of a “Beware of Dog” sign…
It always surprises me the kind of warnings that need to be posted.
These little fellows, Eastern Water Dragons, are everywhere we go and they are so cute in all of their poses.
Tasmanian Devils make me happy. I have been looking for a Tshirt that says “I love Tasmanian Devils!” They look like stocky little pig-bears as they lope the perimeters of their enclosures, disappearing momentarily from view as they run through their tunnels and on into the next enclosure. All of the sudden, a smug little face appears on a rocky outcrop to survey the territory. I watched one carefully eye the distance between his rocky outcrop and the roof of the Tasmanian Devil building. Believe it of not, these fierce little bundles are the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial and pound for pound can deliver one of the most powerful bites of any mammal. Like other marsupials, when they are well fed, their tails swell with stored fat (bet you didn’t know that).
I am not a fan of zoos for all kinds of reasons both noble and other (like I am lazy and zoos are hot and stinky and a long day). I thoroughly enjoyed Australia Zoo. It is hard not to be impressed at the level of care and attention the residents receive. Again and again we encountered a keeper out and about with an animal allowing it to explore, graze. dig or wander at will. One of the keepers told Scott that the tigers are walked every morning on the property and sometimes the walks can last hours if the tiger is interested in the walk. There were often keepers out with animals that one could touch or hold, but those animals were on a strict work schedule and were only handled for 15-30 minutes a few times a week or month depending on the animal. The property was beautiful as well, like a huge park with signs here and there noting a nest in progress or other interesting event. The enclosures where the animals lived were big and more often than not it was impossible to see the entire area from one vantage point. It is a good place to spend a day, especially if you have ever had a soft spot for Steve Irwin or a love for animals. And, I actually took the advice of some online reviews and booked animal encounters in advance…the Wombat was a little boring, honestly, but the Red Panda is not to be missed!