Australia has some amazing animals not found anywhere else in the world. At the Featherdale Wildlife Park outside Sydney, I was able to get up close and personal with some of them.
Koalas are not really bears, they’re marsupials. Some koala fossils have been found that are 50 million years old. They have two opposable thumbs on each hand, and are one of the few mammals that have fingerprints. The male koala has a bifurcated penis. I’m not sure what that is, but I don’t think I want to know. It must be related to the fact that the female koala has two vaginas and two uterii. Two times the fun. The koalas are the only animals on earth whose brains have shrunk over millions of years to the size of two walnuts, and the rest of their skulls are filled with fluid.
The kangaroo is the national symbol of Australia. There are over 50 different kinds of kangaroos. They are the only large animal that use hopping as a method of transportation. Of course the female kangaroo has a pouch to hold her baby, called a joey. Joeys live in the pouch for up to nine months after birth. Male kangaroos are known for fighting. They usually fight over females and drinks, just like humans.
A common myth about the kangaroo’s English name is that “kangaroo” was an Aboriginal phrase for “I don’t understand you.” According to this legend, Captain Cook and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks were exploring the area near Cooktown when they happened upon the animal. They asked a nearby local what the creatures were called. The local responded “Kangaroo”, meaning “I don’t understand you”, which Cook took to be the name of the creature. Alas, linguists have proven that this is not a true story…
The kangaroo has adapted very well to the arrival of Western settlers. Today there are more kangaroos than ever before, and more kangaroos than people in Australia. They’re shot for meat and hides, and to protect grazing land. I had a kangaroo steak in a restaurant in Port Douglas. It was excellent and tasted similar to venison.
A wallaby is any one of the thirty species of small kangaroo.
The wombat is a four-legged marsupial that digs lengthy burrows in the ground with its rodent-like teeth and powerful claws. Since the wombat is on all four legs close to the ground (unlike the kangaroo hopping on two big rear legs), it’s pouch is backward facing. This means that while digging, the mother wombat doesn’t gather dirt in its pouch on top of the joey. Ingenious!
Wombats are the prey of dingoes and Tasmanian devils. Their main defense mechanism is a hard butt. When threatened, they dive into a tunnel head first. Their butt consists of a toughened hide overlaying cartilage. This might help them withstand the dingo’s bite.
Startled wombats have been known to charge humans and bowl them over. Watch out!
Kookaburras are best known for their unmistakable call, which sounds uncannily like loud, echoing human laughter. This sound is used in jungle settings in many TV shows and movies, even when the show isn’t set in Australia. Maybe the sound editor should learn some zoology. As we all learned as children, the kookaburra sits in the old gum tree. And those trees (eucalyptus) are mostly found in Australia.
I don’t know what kind of bird this is, but it has a personal attendant to take care of its tail.
The little penguin is the smallest species of penguin. They are about one foot tall. They spend their days fishing in the Southern Ocean. At dusk they go back to their colony on shore and tell their wives stories about the big ones that got away. They don’t mention how much beer they drank.