Koalas, Kangaroos, and Kookaburras, oh my!

“Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree-e…” Do you remember this old children’s song? I can’t get it out of my head since I saw my first kookaburra here in Australia. Well, in total I have only seen two, but they are really, really kool, oops, I mean cool.

Interestingly, to keep herself cool and hydrated, kookaburra needs drink no water, she gets all the liquids from her food. Both times I have seen kookaburra close and personal she was eating (it is a she, don’t you think, kookaburra must be a she, though, now that I think of it, the songs says it is “king of the bushes”, bummer). We were sitting on a deck overlooking a lake with the nice Airbnb hosts who cooked us an Aussie dinner with the best bbq steak ever, when a young kookaburra alighted on the nearest branch. I am not a birdwatcher and my species recognition doesn’t go much beyond the difference between a pigeon and a sparrow, but I knew instantly it was a kookaburra. Must have been those Mother Goose illustrated kids books. While I was making all sorts of excited noises the hosts nonchalantly took a piece of steak and put it on the railing saying,

“Usually it will eat out of our hand, but tonight it might be a bit nervous with strangers around.”

Australian Lana

The second time I encountered a kookaburra, a young ranger called Lana at the Australia Zoo was attempting to entice her to eat pieces of mice by throwing the bloody carcasses into the air towards her stubby beak. Either Lana was very bad at throwing or kookaburra was not happy with the menu choice.  I was eagerly waiting for her to laugh out loud at Lana’s feeble attempts but I guess it was not a Laughing kookaburra after all, but one of the other four subspecies. Only after numerous attempts did she denigrate to catch a piece and chew it with a bored expression.

Australia Zoo was our first and last attempt at being mainstream tourists. Paying homage to Steve Irwin, the founder of the zoo was part of my willingness to dish out a large amount of money for what turned out to be an annoying Disneyland rah-rah animal show infested morning. You might remember the late Steve Irwin aka Crocodile Hunter from the kids show Animal Planet. His was the antithesis of the old slow velvety voiced National Geographic programs and his approach could be a bit over the top showman like but he certainly succeeded in getting many kids (and their parents) excited about well, all sorts of animals. Just like at the airport where you have to get through the gauntlet of perfume and electronics shops to get to your gate, at Australia Zoo you you have to get through the souvenir shops and photo cutouts and stamp your coin stations and buy your extra personal animal experience to get to the real animals. All the while listening to annoying kids songs singing about famous Steve who was not just a great naturalist but also the best dad in the world because he cooked dinner ever single night for his family. While with the other hand wrestling snakes and crocodiles in the wild, I am sure. When I mentioned this to our Australian friends the blame fell squarely on his wife, now his widow. (Steve died of a rare stingray sting to the heart while filming a documentary).

“You know, she is an American and she brings in the American idea of entertainment. Now as a widow she capitalizes on the memory of her late husband and brings in her kids to seal the deal.”

In the middle of the Zoo is a huge arena where numerous times a day an educational show is performed. I would put the emphasis here on the show with some educational facts thrown in. It is full of eager young people who have perfected their routine of teasing and feeding crocodiles or birds of pray all to the loud upbeat music. And now ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, let’s give a big hand to the leaping crocodile…

Indeed under the leadership of Mrs. Crocodile Huntress the Zoo has more of a themed park feel now, making millions of dollars with shows and entertainment.  It is staffed with hundreds of very young, safari uniformed people, some walking around with koalas so excited tourists like us can pet them.

Sam and koala

I have a hard time with that whole concept of treating wild animals as pets and am not entirely sure it is good fun for them at all. I think wild animals should not be touched for our fun but for their benefit only, like brushing out a matted fur or scratching or scrubbing a turtle shell in rehabilitation facility to get rid of the itchy algae. I agree with Coustou’s philosophy of “Watch and don’t touch nature”. Personally I am not entirely against Zoos, I believe they can play a vital role in educating the public about the animal world and promoting conservancy. Especially when they are well designed with large enclosures and especially if they have an added component of research, breeding of endangered species or rehabilitation. And lastly why would only the rich be able to see the animals on expensive wildlife safaris?

Before I conclude this slightly annoying rant, may I bring your attention to a somewhat unrelated animal topic that I also feel strongly about? No? Too bad, it is my blog 😉

RIDING ELEPHANTS. Just— don’t. It is not good for their spine, in fact it is really bad for their spine. Unless you are a trained mahout and you sit right behind the elephant´s neck. I am ashamed to say I have ridden elephants a number of times (in fact I can assure you that sitting in the “howdah” with the iron railing is very uncomfortable) until I was enlightened to the painful practices of training elephants for tourist trade. So yeah, take that off your bucket list.

Now that we have that sorted out let’s go back to cute cuddly koalas.

These cuddly koalas actually have very sharp claws (to hold on to the trees while sleeping or climbing, of course) and they scratch. But while they are not exactly cuddly, they are in fact cute. Very, very cute. Koala bears. Teddy bear cute. Except they are not bears at all, they are marsupials and mama koala carries her young baby joey  first in her pouch and then on her back for a year.

They are quite difficult to see in the wild as they live mostly up in the trees. They spend about 20 hours a day snoozing to conserve energy, gained from chewing eucalyptus leaves only. Sometimes they do come down and they are not very fast on the ground and if they cross the road they can and do get injured or killed by cars.

We had a nice visit with some recovering koalas in the Koala Hospital at Port Macquarie. Some cute koalas and interesting stories, too.

Poor Randy

Now hop-pity hop on to kangaroos.  Nah, this post is long enough. Hop on over to the next one.

Follow me, matey!

6 thoughts on “Koalas, Kangaroos, and Kookaburras, oh my!

  1. Tom and I are jealous of your visit to Australia. I agree it is lovely to see the animals in the bush and often we did. However, as you mentioned the Koulas with long nails, are not for petting…look don’t touch.
    My Kennedy family is heading down under for the next two weeks. Probably will be mainly in Sydney and Melbourne, their home for 10 years.
    We love your blog……I am interested in the next one about Kangaroos.
    Maryellen

    Like

  2. Really nice photo of the koala in amongst the gum tree leaves….I think zoos may be the only place in the future where the koalas can survive with the significant losses of their habitats in Australia. So just like a seed bank for endangered trees, the koala eventually will only be found in zoos. Not proud of this fact as an Australian but many farmers see the koala habitats as annoying impediments to profits. And when we have severe droughts and fires (both of which are on the rise with glabal warming) the numbers are shrinking historically fast. So sad to see this happening.

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