One of the most exciting things about visiting Australia was getting to come face to face with a whole slew of animals that I had never seen (and in some cases never even heard of) before. Coming from Canada, I am familiar with animals like loons, squirrels, moose, and bears, but ask me to identify Australian wildlife and I’ll be stumped. This is why I loved visiting The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in the Gold Coast of Australia – not only did I get to see Australian creatures up close, but I also got to learn a lot of cool facts about them. So let’s have a look, shall we?
Flickr image by Travis Simon via CC BY 2.0
Not only is the cassowary one of Australia’s most dangerous birds, but it’s also one of the strangest creatures I have ever encountered. Seriously, it’s like a giant super bird with a really bad temper.
The cassowary looks like a black emu, it has a blue and turquoise head like a peacock, and it has red wattles like a rooster. It walks on three-toed feet with dagger-like claws that are slightly reminiscent of a dinosaur – these are particularly dangerous since cassowaries have been known to kick humans and animals – oh, and did I mention it also has a horn on top of its head? Yup.
If that’s not enough, cassowaries can run up to 50 kilometres an hour, they can jump up to 1.5 metres, and they are good swimmers. Ha, try escaping one of those!
And then you have that stare; their faces are expressionless and they glare at you with emotionless eyes that say, “Don’t you dare mess with me.”
As cool as it was to see one, I hope I never encounter one in the wild…
Again, kind of embarrassing to admit this, but I had never heard of echidnas prior to visiting the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary…
I learned that the echidna is a solitary mammal which can be found widely across Australia. They are covered in coarse hairs and spines (great for protection), and they also have large claws which make them powerful little diggers. While they don’t have any teeth, they do have really long tongues (around 18 centimetres in length!), which allow them to reach insects in hiding.
Another fascinating wildlife experience fact: the echidna and the platypus are the only egg-laying mammals alive today.
Flickr image by David Lochlin via CC BY 2.0
I was walking through the sanctuary with one of the guides when she offered to show me her favourite animal – the tree kangaroo. I stared at her blankly, “You mean like regular kangaroos except they live on trees?”
Well, not quite…
I’m honestly not surprised I had never heard of this animal. The tree kangaroo inhabits the tropical rainforests of New Guinea and parts of northeastern Queensland – nowhere near where I live!
When we arrived at their enclosure, I was surprised to see that the tree kangaroo doesn’t actually look much like your average kangaroo…
They look more like little brown bears with a bit of an orange tinge, and they have really long tails which help them remain balanced when they jump around. These guys are quite agile and can jump up to 9 meters from tree to tree, and 18 meters to reach the ground, however, once they’re on solid ground their movements become a bit clumsy and awkward.
When it comes to the ‘roos, I got to learn some new terminology. Apparently a male kangaroo is called a boomer, a female kangaroo is called a flier, and a baby kangaroo is called a joey.
One of the cool things about coming face to face with the kangaroos at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is that the animals were incredibly docile and not at all afraid of humans. This of course has a little something to do with the fact that you can feed the kangaroos pellets. Since I visited early in the morning, most of the kangaroos were napping out in the sun, but a little shake of the cup was enough to wake them up from their slumber.
I got to learn quite a bit about kangaroos during my visit, but what made my jaw drop was learning how they are born – it is one of the weirdest and most fascinating births in the whole animal kingdom!
So, basically a newborn kangaroo is about the size of a jellybean when it emerges from one of its mother’s two uteri. At this point the kangaroo hasn’t even developed eyes, yet it somehow manages to hang on to its mother’s fur and instinctively climb all the way up into her pouch. Once inside the pouch it will latch on to the mother’s nipple where it will feed and continue to grow over the coming months.
I stared at the guide with disbelief as she was telling me this – seriously, how does something the size of a jellybean manage to blindly climb through fur without losing its way or dropping to the ground? – I thought she was pulling my leg, but that is indeed one of nature’s marvels. Seriously, you have to watch this 2-minute clip from the National Geographic showing the whole process unfold. FA-SCI-NA-TING!
“Oh, it’s a cute kangaroo!”
Those were my words the first time I saw a wallaby. You see, before coming to Australia, I had never even heard of wallabies, so when I saw a cute little animal that resembled a kangaroo I thought it was the ‘real’ thing. Truth is that while wallabies and kangaroos belong to the same family of macropods (they have large feet) and marsupials (they have a pouch to carry their babies), they are quite different from each other.
Let’s start with their height; kangaroos can tower at a whopping 8 feet, while wallabies are about 2 feet tall. Kangaroos have giant disproportionate legs which are ideal for speed, while wallabies have smaller legs which are good for agility. Also, since kangaroos inhabit the grasslands they prefer to eat grass, while wallabies live in forested areas and prefer a diet of leaves.
As for similarities, both wallabies and kangaroos communicate with each other by thumping their feet when they sense a nearby threat.
First things first, the koala is not a bear. They may be furry and live in trees, but if there’s one sure way to piss off an Australian, it’s to call these creatures koala “bears”.
During my koala encounter, I learned that koalas love to sleep (as you can probably tell from the photo above), and they can nap around 18+ hours a day. When they aren’t snoozing, they love to eat, and since they live in Eucalyptus trees, their diet consists of Eucalyptus leaves. While eating such large quantities of these leaves would be poisonous for other creatures, koalas have a long digestive system which helps them break down the leaves.
I also learned that koalas don’t normally need to drink water because they absorb enough moisture from the leaves they eat. How about that?
I met a German traveller on Magnetic Island and he had horror stories to share about dingo attacks. He had been backpacking around the country for half a year and had spent a lot of time in backpacker hangouts; the clear theme in his stories was that when there is too much alcohol involved, stupidity ensues.
So how do these dingo attacks on backpackers come about? Well, backpackers decided to spend the night camping on the beach, you throw a lot of booze into the mix, a drunken individual stumbles away down the beach, they pass out cold, and next thing you know they wake up to a hungry dingo mauling their arms and legs. It sounds crazy and it is rare, but it happens.
One of the perks of arriving at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary as soon as it opened was getting to feed the rainbow lorikeets. These colourful parrots know 8:00 a.m. is feeding time and they were chitter-chattering on the branches in anticipation for breakfast.
I was handed a dish with milk and honey and before I knew it the birds were landing on my arms, shoulders, and head. I kind of felt like the pigeon lady in Mary Poppins.
They also feed the lorikeets in the afternoons at 4:00 p.m., so don’t worry about not being able to make the first feeding time.
And that’s my little intro to Australian wildlife! If you ever find yourself in the Gold Coast, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is a really fun place to check out. I’ve just highlighted a fraction of the animals they care for, but you can also find emus, wombats, Tasmanian devils, macaws, cockatoos, bearded dragons, and more.
Have you visited the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary?
What’s your favourite Australian animal?