Have you ever watched a “making of” documentary and felt that it took the magic out of a film? Going behind the scenes at a zoo is the utter opposite. In fact, I wish I had the keys to every zoo in the land after visiting Taronga.
The journey was slightly hampered by ticket loss, but when I finally arrived on the little island my designated zookeeper informed me that the other couple in our group had only just landed at Sydney airport, so I felt distinctly less terrible. At least until about five minutes later, when I laughed uproariously at his suggestion that there were bull sharks in Sydney harbour, and he revealed that a friend of his had lost an arm while swimming.
Another nugget of knowledge was that koalas are flame retardant, mainly due to the gum leaves they eat, and because they have no hope of escaping a forest fire anyway. I’d like to add that there was no demonstration given.
What surprised me even more was that in New South Wales it’s illegal to handle them because they become extremely stressed. Quite different to the images you see of holidaymakers cuddling koalas like babies.
Speaking of cuddling babies, this sight made our hearts melt.
Strangely enough, this tiny feathertail glider was more than happy to be picked up and to let his heartbeat buzz through your fingers, right before leaping gracefully on to the next person’s jumper.
A handful of mealworms was also content to wriggle in your palm, at least until the zookeeper swallowed them whole and told us that all food in the zoo had to be fit for human consumption. Including the insects.
To turn the conversation towards something more palatable, apparently the Easter Bunny has been replaced with the Easter Bilby so that a native furry creature sells chocolate eggs rather than a pesky foreign one with a population explosion.
Unfortunately some of the native animals don’t exactly help themselves in this regard; we learned that for the fluffy little phascogale, that looks like a cross between a chinchilla and a gerbil, mating was a death sentence for the male as he continues to pump away at his lady until he drops down dead. If nothing else, the little chaps are faithful.
Continuing to hammer home the ghastlier side of nature, the zookeeper cheerily relayed that one of his colleagues had once had two fingers “de-gloved”, courtesy of a playful Tasmanian devil.
Somewhat more depressing is that the Warner Bros. iteration spins around because the first time the animators saw a devil it was in so small an enclosure all it could do was walk in circles all day.
An ideal remedy to all this drama was to stroke a couple of swamp wallabies.
There were some sleepy female kangaroos in with us too, but when we asked about the males, our keeper said that they were kept separate as on a bad day they can disembowel you, and that one of them had almost succeeded with him. He proceeded to show us an impressive bruise right the way from his armpit to his waist, and joked that luckily he had turned to the side when “Apache” had gone for him.
He was obviously a glutton for punishment; during a quick stop at the platypus tank he explained that the males have poisonous spurs on their hind feet, and after another colleague was stung and suffered in agony for 48 hours even while on morphine, he was curious to know just how bad it was and wanted try it himself. Working with deceptively cute animals must mess with your sanity after a while.
Our tour was rounded off with a trip to the cafe while being dive-bombed by rainbow lorikeets and kookaburras, after which we were left to discover the zoo on our own. The tigers, lions and gorillas were all sleeping, but somehow the Australasian wildlife had sated my appetite for fluffy ferocious things.
In conclusion, a behind the scenes tour of a zoo, particularly with a wonderfully crazy tour guide, is a must for any discerning adventurer.
I mentioned that I completed my bucket list by going to Australia, but there were one or two other activities I did in other parts of the world beforehand. Both of which were dependent on weather, so of course it made sense to do them in that bright and sunny part of the globe known as northern Europe.