Echidnas at the Melbourne Zoo(Here is one of my diary entries from our three-month stay in Melbourne in 1999.)
Last week I made my first visit to the Melbourne zoo. It has recently been renovated so that most of the animals are now in natural enclosures. I am particularly interested in the native species and enjoyed watching a group of echidnas (creatures that look a bit like porcupines with long noses) scurry around their enclosure. Apparently, when they are alarmed, they curl up into spiny balls, an effective defense against most predators. Echidnas (also known as spiny anteaters) are the only other egg laying mammal besides the platypus.
Echidna foot, designed for diggingOne of the echidna keepers was chatting with patrons. Somebody asked him a question which he interpreted as needing a closer look, so he simply went over to one of the echidnas and grabbed it and brought it over. He said that after you've done it once you get used to it and never use gloves again. He had just fed the echidnas their dinner--not ants, but a gloppy mixture of protein chow and other stuff--and it was neat to see the animals stick out their long, pink tongues and reel in the food.
Wombat, Melbourne ZooThe zoo also has a nice wombat exhibit where you can see the wombats (animals that resemble a cross between a dog and a bear) both in their underground warrens and above ground. There are many good exhibits at the zoo including an incredible butterfly house where the air is filled with hundreds of colorful butterflies that will actually land on your finger or hair if you stand quietly. The Melbourne Zoo has a bobcat, but somehow it seems out of place in the southern hemisphere! They also have a fishing cat (from Asia I think) with four lively kittens who like to bat things around in the small pool in their enclosure. Of course, except for the dingo, there are no native non-marsupial predators in Australia. The zoo also has an enormous aviary where you can see birds up close, but we have actually seen many of the same birds in the wild. Last weekend we had our first sighting of wild kookaburras and heard their eerie, loud, laughing call.
Healesville Animal Sanctuary
Dingo taking a walk, Healesville Animal SanctuaryWe saw the kookaburras on the way to the Healesville Animal Sactuary which is about 45 minutes east of Melbourne in the beautiful Yarra Valley. The Yarra Valley is a fruit and wine growing region that is very similar in its appearance to Sonoma and Napa counties in Northern California. We stopped for lunch along the way at a place called The Dairy, which is an actual working dairy that has a small restaurant where one can sample their cheeses and look out across the landscape. We arrived at Healesville toward the end of the afternoon which turned out to be clever planning because we found a great many of the animals active and busily moving around in their enclosures. Healesville only has native Australian animals, and most of these are nocturnal so it is usually difficult to find them awake. We were surprised to find even the koalas climbing around in their branches.