Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Travelling in Australia, part 9

Healesville Sanctuary – a must for all animal lovers
First some facts…
Australia´s unique animals are one of the many reasons people visit the country, we included. Australia has more than 378 mammal species, 828 bird species, 4000 fish species, 300 species of lizards, 140 snake species, two crocodile species and around 50 types of marine mammal.
More than 80 per cent of the plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are unique to Australia and are found no-where else.
Australia has more than 140 species of marsupials, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and wombats. There are 55 different native species of kangaroos and wallabies. Kangaroos and wallabies vary greatly in size and weight, ranging from half a kilogram to 90 kilograms. The main difference between them is size — wallabies tend to be smaller. Estimates of Australia’s kangaroo population vary between 30 and 60 million.
Australia doesn’t have large predatory animals, the dingo, or wild dog, is the largest carnivorous mammal. Other unique carnivorous animals include the Numbat, Quoll and Tasmanian Devil, but none of these are larger than the size of an average house cat.
Another animal group only found in Australia is the monotremes, or egg-laying mammals. The most distinctive is the platypus, a river-dwelling animal with a bill like a duck, a furry waterproof body and webbed feet. Platypuses live in burrows which they dig into the banks of rivers. They are very shy and difficult to spot, but your best chances are in the eastern coastal areas in small streams and quiet rivers.
Of the 828 bird species listed in Australia, about half are found nowhere else. They range from tiny honeyeaters to the large, flightless emu, which stands nearly two metres tall.
Australia has more species of venomous snakes than any other continent, 21 of the world’s 25 deadliest in fact. But not all are poisonous; Australia also has some stunning pythons and tree snakes.
..and then some fun
We did not come to Australia to see tigers and giraffes, interesting as they might be, but to see the animals we cannot see anywhere else. Of course, only some of the above mentioned animals can be seen visiting just one place but as far as we were concerned Healesville Sanctuary was our best bet.

We knew we were in the right place when we saw this plate in the parking place.

Healesville Sanctuary are a not-for-profit conservation organisation dedicated to fighting wildlife extinction. They do this through breeding and recovery programs for threatened species and by working with visitors and supporters to reduce threats facing endangered wildlife.

They have facilities for treating the injured and sick animals.

A recovering patient. A quokka, six months old. Isn´t he cute or what?

Mr or Mrs Kookaburra on the mend. This is the bird that ´laughs` rather than sings.

Emus cannot fly. However, they can run, and reach speeds as fast as 29km per hour. Here you can see why they are such good runners. Just look at these feet.
An adult Emu stands up to 2 metres tall and weighs up to 50kg.
Emus have a broad diet and will eat insects and bugs such as caterpillars. Most of their diet is from vegetation such as fruits, shoots, leaves, seeds and native flowers.
Emus are able to survive in most habitats except for tropical rainforest and very dry desert conditions.
The male builds the nest and incubates the eggs. The female lays 5 to 15 eggs but has no further role in her offspring’s lives!  Chicks gestate for about two months, and the father protects the eggs for most of this time. After hatching, it is their father who cares for the chicks, for up to 18 months, until they can fend for themselves.
Emus’ life expectancy is five to ten years.
For extra charge you can get up-close access to the animals; feed them and pat them when their carers tell you that it is OK to do so.

This koala is doing what koalas do best. They don´t waste their energy on jumping about and why should they, as they are asleep almost on their ´plate`. The name koala, comes from the Aboriginal saying that means "no drink". The Koala obtains enough moisture from the eucalypt leaves that it lives on.
The Koala prefers to move around just after sunset. Usually daytimes are spent asleep in the fork of a tree, as 80% of its time is spent sleeping.  For a couple of hours after sunset it will move around quite a bit feeding and can often be heard "barking" aggressively at other koalas.
It does, however, at times feed at night and during the day. The koala is a solitary animal having its own specific home range.
The greatest threat to Koalas is loss of habitat, cut down for agriculture or housing. Since European settlement in Australia, about 80% of their habitat has disappeared, and little of the remaining 20% is protected. A disease called chlamydia is also contributing to the Koala’s declining numbers. Predators such as feral dogs and dingoes are also a problem, as is traffic on the highways.
This koala is on the lookout, but as everything seems to be alright, there is no reason for panic.

The platypus is not presently at risk as a species (the species is listed as ‘least concern’ but many researchers have noticed a decline in numbers over the last 10 years). However, these animals rely on the health of the waterways in which they live. You can help preserve a healthy environment for platypuses by using phosphate-free detergents and reducing or eliminating your use of plastic bags, which are deadly for the animals of our creeks, rivers and seas.
Healesville Sanctuary is internationally renowned for its role in platypus care and research and was the first in the world to breed this unique creature in captivity.
Platypuses are most active in the early morning and late evening and spend most of the day in a burrow. The front paws are webbed and are used like paddles. When swimming, their eyes and ears are closed, and the sensitive bill sweeps from side to side searching for electrical impulses of their prey. Platypuses can stay underwater for several minutes and store food in their cheeks before coming to the surface to grind it up and swallow.
Rescued Platypus in safe hands

The vet team at Healesville Sanctuary worked overnight to save this baby Platypus found with a rubber band around its neck in Brushy Creek, Croydon. Sadly, vets believe the baby male had also been attacked, possibly by a dog. (Picture and text from Healesville Sanctuary web page)

We saw an echidna crossing the road when driving in the countryside, as you might remember.
The echidna found in Australia is the short-beaked echidna and along with the platypus are the only members of the monotreme family which are mammals that lay eggs and produces milk for its young.
Echidnas (pronounced "E-kid-na"), sometimes referred to as spiny anteaters, resemble the hedgehog and the porcupine in that they are covered by sharp spines.
The echidna has a pointy snout and an extremely long sticky tongue to catch ants and termites.
The echidna´s feet have sharp claws for digging and, though, like the platypus the male has a spur on its ankle, it is not poisonous They make a sniffing noise when they search for food.

Striking a pose. Look at those slender but powerful legs.

This guy is a tree kangaroo. Bet you did not know the kangaroo could also live in the tree!
The Lumholtz tree kangaroo has a short stocky body with an extremely long tail which it uses for balance, not as an extra limb to grab branches. They have longer forelimbs than "ground" kangaroo. Their fur colour ranges from black through the browns to a tan. They have short rounded ears. Their hind feet (squarish in shape) have special non-slip soles.
Tree kangaroos are listed as endangered due to loss of habitat due mainly to logging.
Taking shelter from the heat of the day.

Where is my food?
I have a hard time telling whether these are kangaroos or wallabies. Wallabies are normally smaller so I think they are wallabies.
We could walk up to them and mostly they were not bothered but didn´t like you getting too close, anyway.
It took us four days before we spotted the first roos of our trip. Driving on the highway made it pretty clear why the numbers are not higher than they are. They are on the move especially at dawn and dusk, so if you are driving, be careful! If, however, you hit one, always check the pouch for joeys, wrap them in something warm and take them to the Animal Rescue or nearest vet.

No, this picture is NOT upside down. These guys are flying-foxes, Australia´s largest bats.
They feast on fruit and nectar, which makes them important seed dispersers and pollinators helping renew plant and tree communities. Flying-foxes are intelligent and very social; they live in camps that may contain thousands of bats. In this great crowd, mother bat can find her own pup by its smell and calls when she returns from feeding.

Male Red-tailed Black Cockatoos are black with red tail bands, while the females are a little smaller and have some yellow patches on their chest, crest, cheeks, wings and tails, so this here is a handsome male.
These are large cockatoos, about 60cm in length when adult. They weigh upwards of 600g; some of the males may weigh as much as 900g.
Red-tailed Black Cockatoos eat seeds, mainly Eucalyptus seeds, but also nuts, berries, fruits and some insects.

They let you hold the birds and feed them nectar and seeds.

A crane

Somebody is very sleepy.

Royal spoonbill

Here you can see his “spoon” at work.
The birds on both sides are Plumed Whistling-ducks. Look at the beautiful patterns on their wings. They are called whistling-ducks after the whistling sound their wings make in flight.

Can we have some service here! Mr Ibis thought to himself…

Tasmanian Devils by nature are not aggressive until it comes to food. Then they are protective of its find and/9or kill even to the extent of killing another Devil that wanted its catch. These fights result in many a Tasmanian Devil having bald patches of missing fur.
Tasmanian Devils prefer to eat dead animals. They will eat anything lying around no matter how old and rotten, and their powerful jaws will help them crush bones so they can devour the whole carcass, meat, fur and bone, leaving nothing to pollute the environment. These guys in the picture only came out of hiding because their carer threw them some treats.
We were told that Healesville Sanctuary has been successful at keeping its devils healthy. There is also an ongoing argument about the devils´presence in Healesville as the Tasmanians think that it puts their tourism in danger if people can see devils outside Tasmania. The trouble, however, is that the devils have a very powerful enemy in Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), which is an aggressive non-viral transmissible parasitic cancer and which will put the devils´ very existence in danger.
The disease has mainly been concentrated in Tasmania's eastern half. Visible signs of DFTD begin with lesions and lumps around the mouth. These develop into cancerous tumours that may spread from the face to the entire body. The tumours interfere with feeding, and the affected animal may starve to death. At present the population has dwindled 70% since 1996. Numbers as of 2010 show an 80% rate of infection throughout the population. It is spread by devils biting each other's heads when fighting over food.
Needless to say that there is no cure. The only chance to save the population is breeding in captivity and this is what they are doing in Healesville.
It is difficult for me to understand that people in this day and age should put tourism before the wellbeing and preservation of endangered animals. The sign below about sums it up- in some case at least.

This will be the end of Travelling in Australia. But there is more to come, so watch this space.