Saturday, 9 June 2012

Days Five of a Camper Holiday! - Crikey! Australia Zoo

Visiting Australia Zoo was interesting. While Australia Zoo is famous for its crocodiles the zoo has an extensive collection of other animals including Asian Elephants, Tigers, Koalas, various birds of prey, and dozens of Kangaroos.

Someone gets paid to paint the toenails
of kangaroos. Seriously.
I feel that Australia Zoo has become a victim of its own success - a certain commercial glitz exists and it exudes from the 1500 seat eatery, the massive 5000 seat 'crocoseum' show area, and brand Bindi: Bindi the jungle girl, Bindi the wildlife warrior, Bindi stars in free willy, Bindi presents her new 'Boot camp' TV series, Bindi towels, Bindi drink bottles, Bindi books, just Bindi Bindi Bindi Bindi. It feels like a stage production rather than a zoo. Every possible merchandising angle is exploited - there are gift shops scattered throughout the zoo. I imagine had Steve Irwin not achieved international TV success his zoo would feel much more like Mogo Zoo near Batemans Bay: a quiet and simple layout with modest buildings and animal enclosures.

Wandering around Australia Zoo, I was amazed to see their kangaroos receiving a pedicure. The kangaroos were having their toenails painted. With nail polish. When I asked the woman who was applying the nail polish about what she was doing, she explained that painting the toenails of the kangaroos each week was better and less invasive than using an ear tag for identification. She detailed how each kangaroo had its own nail polish colour and this was required so accurate records could be kept regarding health, feeding and other observations.

Yes, it's a cutesy-wutesy joey koala -
eating from it's mother's butt.
At the koala enclosure many people were listening, enthralled by the keeper talk. Enthral turned to disgust when the keeper explained that baby koalas are first weaned off milk and on to pap: specialised poo from the mother which is easier to digest than fresh leaves, and this weaning process also helps the joey to inherit suitable stomach flora appropriate for the digestion of fresh eucalyptus leaves.

But it is just nature - this is what works for koalas.

The croc demonstration in the Crocoseum began with a showing of various snakes and included a demonstration of how to apply first aid for snake bites. After a showing of the birds at the zoo, we finally got to see one crocodile put through his paces. We were shown how far crocodiles can lunge: when they are in water, they can lunge a good body length, yet once on land they are rather slow. We were told that this ability to lunge is all thanks to crocodiles having a very powerful tail.

I respect what Australia Zoo does. They have a strong and consistent conservation message, and the passion of the now departed Steve Irwin cuts clearly through the blatant commercialism and milking of tourists wallets. I was was worried that my Australia Zoo experience might have been a visit to a shrine to Steve, I was instead very impressed at the balance which has been achieved between keeping his conservation message alive, and getting on with business.

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