Upon arriving in Sydney, we tried to fight our jet lag with a fun filled weekend with lots of different activities. We got our first views of the Opera House, and the Harbor Bridge. We saw Mrs. Macquarie’s chair, and were able to look out over the harbor from a cool perspective. Later in the day we took tours of some of the historic areas of downtown Sydney. We went to the Rocks to hear about the history of the criminals that landed here, and saw what was left over from the houses the first Englishmen in the area lived in. Although all of these experiences were fun, we all really wanted to go to the zoo so see the animals in the country.
One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about Australia would have to be kangaroos. On our way to the Blue Mountains we stopped off at Featherdale National Park. This zoo contained only animals that were only found in Australia. Not only were we able to see kangaroos, but also an abundance of other animals including dingoes, Tasmanian devils, emus, crocodiles and more. However, one of the things I really wanted to do here was be able to hug a koala. When meeting the koalas, I was heavily disappointed that we could not actually hold them because it was against the law. We were allowed to pet them, and they were not behind a cage, but we were told very strictly that there is no way we were allowed to pick them up or hold them. So this made me think that there had to be some story behind why we can’t hold these creatures.
Koalas have a very rich history in Australia. In fact their ancestors have been in Australia for 25 million years. They had been abundant all over the country before the English arrived, however John Price was the first Englishman to discover the creatures. It received its scientific name by 1816, which they mistakenly classified the species as a bear opposed to a marsupial. The term “koala” supposedly means “no drink” in the Aboriginal language and the creatures were featured in many of their myths and legends. Although being symbolic and respected by the Aboriginal people, the Englishmen saw them as a source of profit. As the new colony progressed, their habitat were destroyed. In addition, millions were shot so their fur could be traded. By 1924, they were extinct in all of South Australia, severely depleted in New South Wales, and the number had dwindled to only 500 creatures in Victoria. The public outrage made each state government declare the koalas a protected species. However, this law did not apply to the gum and eucalyptus trees that were the Koalas only source of food.
Today, Koalas are considered a “vulnerable species” across all states. Their numbers are still severely declining and most organizations are working to get their status upgraded to “critically endangered”. According to The Australian Koala Foundation, their best estimate is that there are less than 80,000 Koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000. The only states where Koalas remain are Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
There are only two states in Australia that allow visitors to hug their koalas, and those are South Australia and Queensland. However, each koala is only permitted 30 minutes of hugging a day, and they get every third day off. In New South Wales, Featherdale is actually the closest place to hugging koalas possible because they are not behind bars. Being able to touch them is the farthest contact we can make with them, but it is still more contact than any other zoo in the area. A few weeks later we went to Taronga Zoo, again under the impression we could hold the koalas and were disappointed again. However, this time the koala was far away and we could not actually touch them.
After further research, the three coolest places to see koalas are Dream World in Gold Coast, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane and Bungalow Bay Koala Village, Magnetic Island, Townsville. Each offers a little bit of a different experience. Dream world has blue eyed koalas. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the largest and oldest koala sanctuary with over 130 koalas. Finally, Bungalow Bay Koala Village is not only home to many koalas but also a resort. Unfortunately I do not think I will be able to make it to these sites during this visit because of their locations, but hopefully one day I will.