All down “Steve Irwin Way,” Steve’s permanently surprised face greets us as we head to Australia Zoo. The zoo is his legacy, and its reputation precedes it – Lonely Planet hypes it as a “world top ten,” and that’s not just for zoos, but for destinations. It has a lot to live up to, but it succeeds – and in many ways it surpasses our expectations.
Must love Crocs
What is the main attraction for a zoo owned by the Crocodile Hunter family? Alligators of course! Jokes aside, crocodiles are everywhere. Huge, pristine enclosures hold one or two crocodiles each; it is a startling change from the croc enclosures in Botswana and Tanzania where hundreds of crocs swarmed en masse in dirty water. The crocodile show is exciting and different. No matter how long these massive reptiles have been in captivity, none of them seem remotely tame, and the trainers are clearly nervous and treat these animals with respect. Even though “Graham” the croc is being gentle today, the few strikes he makes at the trainer (who is bravely dangling what looks like a rasher of bacon in front of Graham’s jaws) clearly showcase their enormous power. Three hundred pounds of pressure is contained within those torpedo-like bodies.
Mixed with the displays of power is a discussion on how to deal with crocodiles in the bush. It’s scary to think about how some of the world’s most dangerous animals are a part of daily life for some families, especially in the Northern Territories and outback Queensland. In fact, as I wander through the “Venomous Snakes” enclosure, I overhear a conversation between a man and his son. They are looking at the taipan, one of the most venomous snakes in Australia. The man turns to his son and says, “Now see what I told you? Next time you see one of those on the farm, you stay away.” Scary.
Bindi the Jungle Girl says: “Save our Planet!”
The other main focus of the Australia Zoo is conservation. Throughout the day, Bindi, Robert and Terri Irwin deliver TV messages about the importance of preserving the planet. As visitors to the Australia Zoo, we have all been entered into the league of “Wildlife Warriors.” Some of the videos play like the Irwin family home movie time, but you can’t help but be caught smiling at their slightly off-kilter, over-the-top Ozzie antics. And their intent is better than good. Allow people to interact with animals, fall in love with them and then want to help them. It works with us. We are in line for the koala photos, the bird of prey shows, the elephant feedings and the tiger temple. We are spending our hard saved backpacker dollars, and anything that makes a traveller part with their dough must be worth it. The Australia Zoo is.
My favourite animal? Why, the little echidnas of course! Half-hedgehog, half-duck, they are the weirdest, wackiest animal in Oz. And pretty darn cute as well.