11.28.2014

The Sanctuary District - Healesville Australia

The most poisonous snake on Earth is the Inland Saipan native to Australia, if the zoological experts at the Healesville (Australia) Animal Sanctuary are to be believed. Additionally, the top 10 most poisonous snakes in all the world live in Australia. While there are no documented human deaths from the Inland Saipan, it is a moody and unpredictable beastie. The key word, of course, is documented. I can imagine someone deep in the Australian bush getting bitten and, with no way to get help, never being seen again. That would be an undocumented death. Still, it seems to me anyone who goes out into the Australian bush ought to know what they are up against, so maybe no one has died from that particular snake. But people have surely died, with documentation to confirm it, from the bites of the other nine species of venomous* snakes in Australia, like the Brown and Black Snakes.

Today, my family toured the Healesville Sanctuary, a zoological park (zoo) filled with native Australian animals. My sister and I have been there before, when we visited Australia as kids. I remember being allowed to pet kangaroos and wallabies as a kid, but that has changed a bit now. While you are not strictly speaking forbidden from petting these animals, you can only do so if they come to you, and this is highly correlated with whether you are presenting them with a foodstuff that they like to eat (and is legal to feed them). Suffice to say, no petting occurred this time, but we still got up close and personal with them in their enclosures. They are quite tame, so they mill about in their areas separated from the people by just a rope that signifies the edge of the walking path. They have monetized the official animal petting experience now, charging $12 for what they call "Magical Moments" with the animals, complete with photographs of your animal encounter available for an additional cost. I am not one to succumb to such marketing ploys. If the animals don't want to come get petted by me of their own free will, I respect them all the more for it. We did see some other people having their magical moments with the beasties. The vicariousness of that was sufficient.

In order to get some much needed exercise after all the delicious but not low calorie Australian food I have been eating, I parted ways with my family for an hour or so to pound out some power walking through the fairly large zoo grounds. I spent some time in the Lyre Bird aviary talking to a zookeeper who was there to feed the elusive birds. The Lyre Birds did not show, although a Bower Bird did. Apparently, the male Lyre Bird had recently shed his showy tail feathers and when that happens he becomes very reclusive and shy, like a woman might be hesitant to go out in public without makeup or decently stylish clothing...but if she is hungry enough, she might. The female Lyre Bird apparently does as the male does, because she did not show either. They Lyre Birds did not sing as far as I could tell, although this is questionable, because Lyre Birds can perfectly mimic other birds, and in fact almost any sound they hear. They have an organ in their throats called a syrinx that is made of keratin and it is believed to account for their amazing mimicry. The Lyre Bird's syrinx is the largest of any known bird species. The zookeeper said he once heard the Lyre Bird making a strange call he had not heard before and a Vietnamese visitor to the zoo said it was Vietnamese. They will also mimic the sound of a few dozen school children at a distance, because school trips to the sanctuary occur almost daily. It was quite educational talking to the zookeeper even if the birds were AWOL.

During the heat of the day, most of the animals were fairly dormant and just lying about here and there. The koala bears were asleep in their gum trees when we arrived late morning, but later in the afternoon, shortly before we were due to leave, I caught a koala milling about. Koalas are not pettable at any time because they have razor sharp claws. They may look cute but they will make every attempt to disembowel you if given the chance.

The dingos were also up and about later in the day. These animals fill the niche of wild dogs in Australia. They are, in fact, a type of dog and can interbreed with domesticated dogs (and sometimes do), but interestingly, dingos do not bark. They make all kinds of other howling and chattering sounds...but nothing that could be defined as a bark.

We watched a decent presentation about the Duck-Billed Platypus, a primitive mammal called a monotreme that lays eggs but nurses its young after they hatch on "milk" that comes out of sweat glands on the beastie's abdomen. They are not even developed enough to be called teets. Male platypi, but not females, are venomous. They have a bony spur behind each of their hind legs that is supplied with a quite painful venom stored in a gland in their thigh. If Creationists really wanted to make a compelling case for their bogus beliefs, the platypus would be a great specimen, albeit not a very intelligently designed one. It is almost like God's zoological technicians biffed and accidentally combined bird and mammal traits in one creature. In fact, Australian Aborigines believe that platypi are the result of that kind of "just so story." According to their Dream Time origin myths, a swan and a water rat fell in love and got married. The platypus was their ungainly offspring, part egg laying duck and part water dwelling, milk producing rat.

I learned quite a bit today. It was a marathon trip to the zoo to be sure. I had a couple of meat pies (Australian staple) for lunch at the zoo cafeteria, as well as an Asian salad of some type. I felt OK with that given all the calories I burned walking. A woman from Seattle stopped me to chat briefly about the Leinenkugel's beer shirt I was wearing as I was power walking my way around the zoo grounds. Apparently, she had stopped at the Chippewa Falls WI brewery en route from Minneapolis to Door County in some earlier chapter of her life and had greatly enjoyed the beer.

We hit a grocery store in Healesville before we returned to our hotel in Thornton, several kilometers away through the perilously narrow and windy mountain roads of the Great Dividing Range. These mountains are not huge by any means but the shoulders on the narrow roads are virtually non-existent and it is not easy to keep a large minivan between the lines, but my dad did so exceedingly well. The rest of my family was panic stricken in the rear of the mini. I am really hoping I do not have to do any driving while I am here, since they drive on the "wrong" (left) side of the road in Australia. America should make a deal with Australia that we will switch to the metric system of measuring things if they switch to driving on the right side of the road. I don't think the Aussies will take that wager, because they probably don't give a shit if America goes metric.

At the grocery store, we got some sandwich fixings for our long road trip tomorrow down to Phillip Island where there are penguins. Restaurant food here is ridiculously expensive, even given the fact that taxes and higher wages are factored into the prices. It is more economical to shop at a grocery store and make food at home (hotel). I got a whole kilogram of sliced turkey deli meat. This is over two pounds of meat, so I will be making some THICK sandwiches tomorrow morning before we hit the road. We also bought some fruit, which will supplement our cereal based breakfast. We have muesli and some ancient grain flakes (amaranth and shite) we bought yesterday to use up, along with a jug of damn tasty soy milk. I could live in Australia, I really could. And probably should.

Tonight, notwithstanding the grocery store run, I succumbed to the temptation of hotel restaurant food and that was not a bad choice, exorbitant though it was. I got grilled fish (not battered) and chips. The fish of the day was sea bass. It was great. I also had a tasty pint of Carlton Dark Ale, an Aussie beer.

This weekend we'll take a ferry across the Heads of Port Phillip Bay and visit Point Lonsdale where my dad's parents had a resort property my sister and I went to a few times as kids. The sale of said property is actually largely underwriting this trip. When my paternal grandparents built their "resort" house in Point Lonsdale in the 1950s, the area wasn't actually yet a resort area. Over the years, as people began to recreate there more and more, a resort community grew up around the property. The house on the property had been rented out after my gramma died (my dad inherited it), since we all lived in the States. Some bad renters gutted and vandalized the place a few years back and my dad decided to sell rather than remodel and rent again (the last time I was in Australia was actually accompanying my pops in this mission to determine the fate of the property). He still made bank notwithstanding the poor shape of the house on the property. Presumably the developer who bought the property demolished the house and built some new ritzy dwellings there for people who make far more than I do (but someday I'll be independently wealthy and swoop in to reclaim the family property again...hahaha!). So we will have to swing by the address and see what they have done with it.

Well it has been a long day and I suppose I ought to catch some ZZZs.

*I am well aware that the words venomous and poisonous mean different things zoologically, but I shall use them interchangeably here because my blog is for laymen and I do what I want to as a free agent in the cosmos.

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