“Croc Hunting” in Beerwah

We visited the Australian Zoo, and it was incomparable. As a pre-veterinary student I love to see and learn about any and all animals so I thoroughly enjoyed this day.

As we walked into the zoo, the first thing that I noticed was the physical landscape of the zoo. It was fresh, green, and full of native trees and plants to make the animals feel right at home. We had from 10:00 in the morning to 3:00 to cover all of the exhibits in the zoo, and by 2:00 some of us were running to see as much as we could that we hadn’t seen. Needless to say, it was a massive zoo.

It was also a really special day because we got to see the Irwin family–Terri, Bindi, and Bob–at a crocodile show that they put on. The Irwins are well known throughout Australia and all over the world, in large part thanks to the success of the late Steve Irwin’s television show, “The Crocodile Hunter.” They are widely respected for the conservation gains that they have accomplished for animals.

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A handler backs up Terri Irwin (center) and Australia Zoo Director Wes Mannion (right) as they try to wrangle Mossman.

Nearly everyone named the crocodile show as one of their favorite attractions at the Zoo. To begin the show, Bindi Irwin, Steve Irwin’s daughter, put on a dancing and singing performance for the crowd with her pop group, the Jungle Girls. After the performance, two Sheela’s came out and introduced some of the fastest and most vibrant birds I’ve seen, most of which were native to Australia. Keepers had trained the birds to fly around the stadium in a perfect routine to show themselves off–this was an amazing sight. The Irwin’s came out next to introduce the crocodile that was about to arrive. I thought that it was so heart-warming to see them extending Steve Irwin’s legacy in such a positive manner.

The crocodile that they showed the audience–Mossman, an 1100 pound saltwater croc nearly thirteen feet long–was straight from the wild. His own life was threatened after he murdered a pet dog that got too close to the waterway where he lived. The whole crowd could sense that the Irwins were scared to get close to the croc, which made the show intense and unpredictable. The croc played mind games with them until it launched out of the man-made pool to get the meat that handlers were slapping against the ground near him. He was not fond of the handler, Wes, that went into Mossman’s territory, submerging himself temporarily in the clearwater pool. Throughout the show, he would move closer and closer to his target (always a person) to attack. Crocodiles are keen, intelligent creatures, and the Irwin family clearly values them deeply as a species. At the close of the show, they advised the audience to refrain from buying crocodile skinned objects.

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Courtney pets Frankie, a sleeping koala, under supervision of a keeper.

Walking around the zoo, I was amazed at the trust that the zookeepers had for us as visitors. We saw an exhibit featuring tortoises the size of small elephants; zookeepers stood inside the cage with families, letting them touch the tortoises and take pictures with them. I was completely shocked. In many US zoos, the keepers are rarely seen in the cage, and visitors are strictly prohibited in the cages for safety reasons. Along the way to different exhibits at the Australia Zoo, zookeepers held different animals to show us and educate us. There was one animal in particular that stood out to me, and it was called the shingleback lizard. It literally looked like its name–a back full of hardened shingles. The most interesting part of the lizard was its tail, which resembled a box. The end of the tail had a roundish shape, making it look like a head. The tail is not filled with any vital organs, so as a defense mechanism, a predator would most likely bite the tail thinking it was the head of the lizard. Luckily for the shingleback, as is true of most lizards, its tail will grow back!

Another stimulating exhibit was the one including the kangaroos. Visitors could enter this vast, grassy exhibit too. It was such a thrilling experience to pet and feed a native Australian animal. They were completely docile and not at all like the ones you see on Facebook videos or on TV. One thing that I didn’t realize was that there were different types of roos. There were two types of kangaroos, Reds and Eastern Greys, and also wallabies–both of which come from the marsupial family.

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Our whole group at the entrance to the Australia Zoo, waving our UW flag.

It always amazes me how so many zoos work to protect any and every animal that they can, even if they are not from the local region or surrounding countries. At the Australia Zoo, there were exhibits including elephants, red pandas, tigers, giraffes, zebras, and rhinos. Do all of those animals get shipped to the Australia Zoo? These animals are most certainly not from Australia, and are instead from Africa or Asia. The red pandas were interesting: one of the signs said that they use their long bushy tails to stay balanced in trees. In the bird cages, a sign stated that: “The protein of which feathers are made is also found in lizard skin.” There was so much to learn, and so many interesting animals in the zoo to see, and not nearly enough time to see all of them.

On our way out of the zoo, we visited the animal hospital in which veterinarians and their assistants care for both the zoo animals and other imperiled or distressed wildlife (for instance, the hospital often treats koalas that have been burned in bush fires). The veterinarians on sight are fortunately in very close proximity to the zoo to care for the animals. When we got to the hospital, we could see the vets giving a koala anaesthesia in order to start surgery. There were a couple of other koalas there as well, getting rehab. One koala in particular, DJ, was hit by a car when trying to cross the road. She had only been away from her mother for two months at the time of the accident. She suffered internal bleeding, scratches and bruises, and fractured bones in her arm. Luckily, a kind police officer rescued her and she ended up at the Irwins’ Wildlife Hospital. Staff there are doing what they can to help, and soon she will have a happy return to the wild.

Zoos are controversial, but I had a good feeling that the Australia Zoo is an organization trying to do all it can to make animals feel at home and to ensure the preservation of many species.

-Taylor

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