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Australian wildlife/national parks

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Did You Know … ?

  • Australia has 21 of the world’s 25 deadliest snakes.
  • The fastest recorded speed for a kangaroo is 40 miles per hour.
  • Australia’s giant Gippsland earthworm can measure up to 10 feet long.
  • Daintree is the world’s oldest living rain forest, more than 110 million years.
  • Kangaroo and koala are Aboriginal words.

Of marsupials and monotremes

Just about everyone (make that everyone) who goes to Australia wants to see some of the continent’s unique animal life, beginning, minimally, with kangaroos and koalas. They can be seen in zoos and other controlled environments, but also in natural settings, kangaroos more easily than koalas.

The two are marsupials, meaning mammals whose young spend some time after birth in the mother’s pouch, but Australia boasts more than 140 marsupial species. For the dedicated, there is much to look for.

Australia also is the only place on Earth where monotremes (egg-laying mammals) live. The platypus and echidna, or spiny anteater, are the best known and can be seen in selected parks and, in the case of the anteater, on Kangaroo Island — along with a lot of other fascinating native species.

Australia has typical mammals, too, but the dingo, or wild dog, is the country’s largest carnivorous mammal.

Vacationers who visit with diving topmost in their minds are seeing, in the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living organism, occupying some 133,200 square miles — half the size of Texas. Coastal areas offer access to a wide variety of marine life including dolphins, fur seals, sharks, whales, even the dugong.

Of the more than 800 bird species listed in Australia, about half are found nowhere else. The best known are the flightless emus, which are around six feet tall, and the beyond-adorable penguins. Both can be seen in natural environments, as well as in zoos. But, for the serious birder, they are just the beginning.

As for reptiles, the famed crocodiles, plus lizards and turtles, can be seen in selected locations. The poisonous snakes, however, are best seen in only one place, i.e., a controlled environment.

Generally, visitors combine wildlife viewing with Australia’s cities, Aboriginal culture, coastal areas for beaches or the interior for Ayers Rock/Uluru, for example. However, the dedicated wildlife enthusiast has more than enough fodder for building an entire visit around favorite animals or animal types. Depending on the species, many critters can be observed in the country’s fine zoos, in its 550 national parks and in the wide-open spaces or at sea.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Take advantage of the greatness of the Great Barrier Reef and plan some diving. Sailing, snorkeling and swimming the reef are other options.
  • Camp overnight at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, then take a behind-the-scenes tour and learn how and what some animals are fed.
  • Hear Aboriginal guides tell Dreaming stories and discuss the relationship between Aboriginal culture and Australian wildlife, on the Yurridla Aboriginal Trail in the Adelaide Hills.
  • Swim with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef. Or, ratchet up the action a bit: Get into the water with great white sharks at Port Lincoln in South Australia.
  • Or, sign on for the Shark Dive Xtreme experience at the Melbourne Aquarium. Come face to face with huge sharks, stingrays and turtles.
  • If heading to Queensland’s Gold Coast for a little surfing, consider taking time for whale watching. Also, the Gold Coast’s David Fleay Wildlife Park and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary are places to see Australia’s unique animals.

Things to do for Centrics

  • At the Australian Reptile Park north of Sydney, which supplies venom used to create serums to counter bites from the deadly funnel web spider and from a half dozen poisonous snakes, watch handlers milk some of the snakes. No one touches the spider to get its venom.
  • Take the binoculars to Kakadu National Park, home to one-third of the country’s birds. Millions of migratory birds may be seen in the park’s wetlands. The Broome Bird Observatory is another place to view many species of wetland and migratory birds.
  • Overnight in safari tents at Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. This zoo’s animals are mostly large, open-range critters.
  • If turtles are your favorites or among your favorites, look for some of Australia’s 13 species at Ningaloo Reef midway along Australia’s west coast or Eco Beach in Broome, on Australia’s northwest coast.
  • Zoodoo Wildlife Park on Tasmania is the place to go for an up-close experience with Tasmanian devils. Take a safari bus tour in this park.
  • Look for some of Australia’s nocturnal animals such as bandicoots, bilbies and mountain pygmy possums, at Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria. Also, see the sanctuary’s interactive platypus show, as the animals interact with their keepers.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Spot whales in Western Australia between May and September.
  • In the evening on Kangaroo Island in South Australia or Phillip Island in Victoria, watch pairs and groups of little penguins make their nightly journey to the shore. It’s an engrossing parade.
  • Take a behind-the-scenes tour, and time your visit for a chance to hand feed animals at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium.
  • Observe koalas in the wild on Victoria’s Phillip Island or in Yanchep National Park in Western Australia. And, look for the echidna, or spiny anteater, in the wild on Kangaroo Island.
  • Listen for the hysterical, human-sounding laughter of the kookaburra. You may spot, as well as hear, this bird in the countryside or in city suburbs.
  • At Crocodylus Park in Darwin, meet a crocodile under water. You will be safely protected by a plastic cage.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Tourism Australia at www.australia.com