Let me say at the outset that I have mixed feelings about zoos. On the one hand I’m sure animals would prefer to be in the wild, following their own inclinations and schedules rather than being gawped at by humans. On the other hand, as humans take over more and more of the earth’s living space and modify the ecosystems of other species with development and climate change, zoos may be the last places where animals, especially the larger ones, can find refuge and possibly some protection from extinction. There are already many breeding programs in zoos around the world which offer hope to species such as pandas which are no longer able to breed in the wild. They also add to our knowledge about animals which may contribute to the survival not only of those injured as a result of fire or road trauma, but even whole species such as our own Tassie Devil, when they fall victim to devastating diseases.
|"Sooo soft!" Although the girls have seen many wallabies, hand feeding them is still a thrill, so is seeing all the white ones|
Much as I prefer to see them in their natural environment it is rather amazing being able to see exotic animals in real life, not just on television or in books. Not all of us can get to the Serengeti or the Amazon. One hopes it leads to greater respect for both the animals and the sheer diversity of nature.
Of course there are zoos and there are zoos. No one wants to see those like a bear ‘sanctuary’ I saw in Japan, where the bears were crammed shoulder to shoulder in a concrete bunker, but then again, they may have been rescued from a worse fate as bile bears, which are tortured for their entire miserable lives.The good news is that more and more Wildlife parks and zoos are moving towards the concept pioneered by Tasmanian Devil Unzoo. Instead of the animals being imprisoned for the amusement of humans, traditional enclosures are removed or hidden so animals can interact on their own terms giving the animals “…more freedom, dignity and self determination,” says their website. Yep. Seems like a good plan. Cage the people for their own protection and let the animals run free.
|A big Hi! from Huey the camel|
I haven’t been to that wildlife park yet, but with some trepidation and two young children in tow, I visited Zoodoo Zoo, a small wildlife park near Brighton, not far from home.
It was around 30° C when we arrived and the aroma hit us as soon as we walked in the door. You don’t get that in picture books! There didn’t seem to be much in the way of green grass or shade and where there was a bit of shelter it was mostly under corrugated iron which exuded great waves of heat. Nevertheless, at least the animals had plenty of space and the girls delighted in feeding the kangaroos and feeling the softness of their fur. There were several white wallabies in this mob which I have otherwise only seen and heard of on Bruny Island. White animals do not generally survive well in the wild. The children also enjoyed seeing the antics of a tiny devil, the monkeys and one tiny meerkat. Most other animals had the good sense to hide in whatever shade they could find as is the custom among most of our native animals. They hide (or aestivate) during the heat of the day and mostly graze at dusk, which is why this is the time to be most careful on our roads. Many of the animals here are ‘rescues’ after unfortunate encounters with cars.
|Look closely and you may spot a baby Tasmanian Devil|
After about an hour, one of the safari trucks returned - the first one was chock- a -block with visitors, and took us to the far reaches of the zoo where the larger animals are kept. We were each given a small beaker of appropriate food and allowed to feed the emus which stuck inquisitive beaks inside the truck. Then it was on to the zebras which I was very surprised to see. How lovely they looked in their smart black and white coats - just like in the picture books, but perhaps a bit smaller than I had imagined. The youngest, which still had its brown coat was born here - a first for Tasmania. Its coat will also turn black when it is a little older. Next up, we visited the camels which looked most regal as they sauntered up to the truck. Their story is rather sad. Once the pack -horses of the inland, they were abandoned to their fate once cars and roads came along, and continued to breed. With an estimated 1.2 million wild camels now roaming the inland, they are regarded as vermin which must be eradicated because their grazing does much damage to what little vegetation there is, hastening desertification.
(The same has happened with horses as well with an estimated 400,000 brumbies roaming the interior and the highlands).
We visit bird enclosures and reptile pens and then wait around in a hot tunnel for lion feeding for which the whole park seems to have turned out. Eventually the girls get their turn holding out the long tongs with a lump of meat on the end to a hungry lion. After all the waiting it’s over in a snap and the girls are hot, tired and hungry. The lion looked faintly annoyed too.
|There's a tiny meerkat sheltering under the palm and another in the hollow log|
We decided not to wait for the reptile -handling and the devil talk though these were obviously of great interest to international visitors. Instead, the little girls were just as thrilled at being allowed to pet domesticated animals which were housed near the front door – a couple of Shetland ponies, the cutest baby rabbits and guinea pigs, and two little baby goats, while poor Mama goat panted visibly in the heat. I felt much the same, but the girls still had enough energy for a quick play on the bouncing castle.
|Too cute - Baby rabbits and tiny guinea pigs were a big hit|
Despite my initial misgivings and wishing there had been more shade, the animals did look well cared for. For urban dwellers and those who do not have time to see animals in the wild, this is an easy place to meet and greet them without having to go too far afield. We do see lots of wildlife when we are out and about, but it was a thrill for the girls to be able to touch and feed animals and to see some of the more exotic ones at close range. Babies were a big hit, regardless of species.
If you are visiting Tasmania, there are several other wildlife parks and sanctuaries, though I have not visited many of these:
Zoodoo – Richmond – native and exotic animals, small personable
Boronong Wildlife Park – Brighton Specialises in Native Animals and rescue operations
Tasmania Zoo - Just outside Launceston – over 100 hundred rare, native and exotic species, especially primates in a large parklike acreage
The Platypus House –Beauty Point, West Tamar – Monotremes – platypus and echidna
North – Central
Wings Wildlife Park – Gunn’s Plains – exotic animals, farm animals, reptiles and native animals and birds
Trowanna Wildlife Park – near Mole Creek – Native animals especially wombats, devils and quolls
Devil’s Cradle Devil Sanctuary– Near Cradle Mountain- specializes in Tasmanian Devils and other carnivores such as Quolls. I hadn’t heard of this one before
Natureworld – near Bicheno – Parklike setting, Tasmanian Devil Conservation Program, reptiles, seabirds in a parklike setting
Can’t make it to Tasmania? No problem. See the OzAnimals site for other places around Australia where you can see our amazing fauna.