The chance to come face to face with Australian wildlife is a powerful reason why many tourists travel down under. Even Oprah Winfrey and best friend Gayle were eager for an opportunity to hold a koala on their ‘Ultimate Australian Adventure’ visit in 2010.
At the Hamilton Island Wildlife Sanctuary, the ladies were able to cuddle the very cute and fuzzy Phoebe and Elvis and also got to see a six-month-old ‘joey’, a baby koala that had just ventured out of its mother’s pouch.
Happily, there are many zoos, sanctuaries and attractions across the country where visitors can have their photos taken holding koalas. It’s an activity that’s on the ‘must-do’ list of animal loving tourists from the world over and never fails to delight.
At some venues, it’s also possible to hand feed kangaroos, something that can be a little daunting at first but as long as the animals are used to being around humans, it’s usually without drama.
Out in the wild, there can be greater risks involving close encounters with Australian wildlife. Kangaroos are notoriously protective of their territory and have been known to attack humans, causing injury and even the occasional death.
The National Coroners Information System (www.ncis.org.au) summarised all deaths caused by animals in Australia between July 2000 and November 2010. During that 10-year period, kangaroos killed eighteen humans. Not a gigantic number by any stretch but still enough to see that they should be approached with caution.
Less surprising is the number of deaths caused by less ‘cute and cuddly’ animals. Sharks killed 16 people, snakes killed 14, crocodiles killed 9 and ostriches or emus were responsible for the deaths of five people. Australia’s reputation for being the home of some pretty nasty fauna is well deserved, and we haven’t even touched on spiders!
Still, even though these ‘creepy crawlies’ can be unappealing to the eye, tourists are often infinitely fascinated by them. All over the country, there are attractions that offer the opportunity to have a snake draped around one’s neck. Naturally, it’s never a venomous serpent but a harmless python, magnificent in its size and appearance which absolutely makes for a spectacular photo.
Every country has its good, bad and ugly animals. When it comes to Australian wildlife, people all around the world can usually name which are which and not everyone agrees on their categorisation. Even sharks have their fans who are in awe of their power, strength and primal ancestry.
There’s no denying that a shark is a formidable predator, a fact that earns them a great deal of respect and admiration. It’s a similar story with Aussie crocodiles (both saltwater and freshwater) which are found in the northernmost regions of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.
The stingray was always thought to be a non-threatening creature, until that day in September 2006 when Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s chest was mortally pierced by a stingray barb.
As ugly Australian wildlife goes, not everybody agrees. One person’s “ugly” is another person’s “interesting”. And while the koala, kangaroo, wallaby and platypus are the darlings of the cute set, forty-five per cent of the 300 mammal species in Australia are actually bats and rodents. Keen mammal lovers will empathise with the plight of the white-striped free-tailed bat or the eastern swamp-rat.
Another creature that’s often said to have “a face only a mother could love” is the Tasmanian devil. At risk of extinction, mighty conservation efforts have been in place for decades to try and save it. In the 1970s, studies showed that the Tasmanian devil was often the only thing people abroad knew about Tasmania, giving it huge worldwide significance.
If you’re planning to travel to Australia, then here are some facts that will switch your curiosity up a few notches!
If you’re an animal lover, you’ll find Australian wildlife to be extremely colourful, intriguing and polarising. There’s the warm and fuzzy versus the cold and prickly.
Love it or fear it, it can’t be denied that it’s got something to offer for everyone and is a huge part of why Australia attracts such huge visitor numbers, especially considering how far away the country is for most.