This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Valley India Times.
It is common knowledge that the kangaroo is one of the most iconic animals of Australia. It is also an unofficial symbol of Australia and is important to Australian culture and national image. Koala is another lovely native animal of Australia. Since we were keen to glance at these adorable Australian creatures, we made Koala Park Sanctuary a part of our itinerary during our five days’ stay in Sydney, Australia. We wanted to see them living naturally in the eucalyptus groves and native gardens, so instead of making a trip to the Zoo that was close to our hotel, we planned to visit Koala Park Sanctuary that was about an hour’s train journey from Sydney. We boarded the train from Central Station for Pennant Station at 10:00 am; from Pennant station we took a bus and reached Koala park sanctuary at around 11:20.
Far from the madding crowd of Sydney, the Koala Park is nestled in 10 acres of lush rain forests. It was started by Noel Burnet in October of 1930 who became alarmed at the high numbers of koalas shot for the large export fur trade and was afraid that this lovable and unique animal might disappear from the face of the earth. He created this sanctuary to provide a safe environment to koalas in which they could live and breed naturally. Later he brought in other native Australian birds and animals like kangaroos, dingoes, wombats, echidnas, emus, tiny penguins, many wallaby species, cockattoos and many other Australian native birds.
It being summer vacation in Sydney, the park had come alive with joyous chatter of kids in the age group of 2-10 who were accompanied by their parents and teachers. Eagerly looking for the signs of kangaroos or koalas, we turned to the first sign that read ‘Koalas’ and spotted a bunch of koalas clung to the Eucalyptus tree in their thick ash grey fur. It was fascinating to see that except for one, all the 10-12 koalas were asleep. That single koala was munching leaves and climbing up and down the tree while all its other companions closely clasped the branches in deep slumber.
While we were absorbed in fondly gaping at these little creatures, one of the zoo keepers came up to present the scheduled show at 11:45. In a small talk on koalas, she informed us that the koalas often sleep for 18-20 hours in a day and they like to sleep at the topmost point of the tree. They have special enzymes that make them digest Eucalyptus tree leaves which are otherwise poisonous. Most of their time is spent sleeping because it requires a lot of energy to digest their toxic, fibrous, low-nutrition diet, and sleeping is the best way to conserve energy. She also told us that koalas receive over 90% of their hydration from the Eucalyptus leaves they eat, and only drink when ill or times when there is not enough moisture in the leaves i.e. during droughts etc.
After the talk, she pulled down the hero of the show, the one and only active koala, and seated it on the fence. She then directed the visitors to form a line so they could cuddle it and pose for pictures. She also warned that koalas are very aggressive creatures, so we should not try to feed them. However, with the zoo keeper standing right next to it, the koala behaved like an obedient and docile kid while everyone took their turn in patting and posing for pictures and videos, the camera flashes constantly glinting into its eyes. In 15-20 minutes, the show was over and the performing koala was carefully placed by her caretaker on the branch where it again started munching leaves. Just then, I spotted another one waking up slowly, and I speculated if this one was going to be the performer of the next show scheduled in two hours.
We would have spent the entire afternoon watching these adorable sleepy creatures, but the curiosity to glance at the kangaroos motivated us to move ahead in search of the sign of kangaroos. They were placed in the feeding area not far from the koalas. The visitors were allowed to step in and experience the company of wandering kangaroos in the feeding area. Initially, I was scared to go close to them fearing they might not like human closeness, so I preferred to maintain a distance. Seeing other visitors, including kids cuddling and feeding them without any park employee to watch over them or any signs of warning to keep a distance, I gradually let go of my fear and stepped closer to the one who stood a couple of yards away, staring vacantly. I slightly touched him on his back. He appeared to be neither pleased nor annoyed, but somewhat indifferent, which encouraged us to remain in the feeding area longer to watch their movements. One of the kangaroos slowly moved on his hind legs and tail and started sniffing the large blue bag that hung on my husband’s shoulders, apparently looking for some food, but unfortunately, we forgot to buy food for them.
Strolling around the huge open area, we were having fun watching them hopping around with their small front legs and long hind legs. We also spotted one of the kangaroos in a corner affectionately cuddling another kangaroo. My husband quipped, “Looks like he is wooing his lady love.” “How cute!” I said. I felt that the presence of human beings did not seem to bother them a bit; in fact, they appeared to enjoy it. We, too, enjoyed the hospitality of these incredibly amiable and somewhat meek creatures who had so warmly welcomed strange humans to their homes.
Moving on, we said bye to our friends and stepped out of the area to get acquainted with other wonderful inhabitants of this sanctuary. Passing by an enclosure, we stopped when a bird attracted our attention with its greeting ‘hello’. We noticed that when these birds called cockatoos, shrieked in excitement, their feathers opened up. These enthusiastic and friendly birds enthralled us for as long as we stayed outside their cages, and when we parted, we could hear them bidding us farewell by a distinctly audible “bye”.
It was 2:00 pm, almost time for the sheep shearing show which we didn’t want to miss. So we began strolling up to the venue of sheep shearing while gorgeous peacocks leisurely crossed our path. We seated ourselves in the first row 10 minutes before the show time in order to get the best view. After a small talk about the equipment used in shearing the sheep and about the process of sheep shearing, the shearer pulled out a sheep from behind the enclosure and started shearing it. It took him about 5-7 minutes to strip the sheep of all its woolen fleece. To my amazement, the sheep appeared to be pretty accustomed to this painless routine that each sheep has to go through every year.
Thoroughly fascinated by this wonderful act, we headed to the last show of the day- the little penguins’ show. These tiny penguins weighing only one kg are inhabitants of Australia and eat only fish. The 10 minute show demonstrated each of the three penguins jumping up to grab fish from the caretakers and then hopping around the small pond joyfully.
I must say that while roaming around the Koala Park for a couple of hours and witnessing these amazing creatures perform in their natural abodes, we established a sense of connection with them. Even though they did not speak our language, they easily connected with us, communicated with us in their own unique ways, and made us feel welcome in their homes.