Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Day 9. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Today was another opportunity to learn about the animals of Australia during our visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.  It was named after the Lone Pine battle during the Gallipoli campaign of WWI, an important event shaping the Australian identity. The sanctuary is always a favorite stop for the students. After considering several possible bus stops, we made it to the sanctuary.  We had several objectives today. One was to learn more about the native animals that are unique to Australia, the other was to interact with the more glamorous megafauna. The students attended keeper talks and demonstrations about the koalas and the platypus. Koalas feed on 15 species of eucalyptus leaves, out of over 600 species. This reliance on a narrow range of food types can be devastating to the population if habitat destruction occurs. They are adapted to make the most of their low energy, low nutrient diet by moving slowly and spending much of the day sleeping. Each koala enclosure had a faint aroma of cough drops or eucalyptus oil. There were separate enclosures for "retired" koalas, male koalas, and mums with babies. One joey was a few months old, and was enjoying its first taste of eucalyptus.  Students had photos taken while cuddling koalas, and that was a definite highlight.

We had attempted to observe platypus at 3 other zoos or aquariums with no luck. Today was great, as we were able to see platypus swim and feed while the keeper gave a great talk about their biology.  They are smaller than you might think, perhaps a foot long, with dense, short fur and webbed feet.  Males have a venomous spur on their hind feet (one of only two venomous mammals in the world; the other is the short-tailed shrew). They are endangered through habitat loss, and are incredibly difficult to breed in captivity. The first ever to be born in captivity had to wait about 13 years before it was joined by another captive bred individual. They detect electrical currents of prey items with their bill.

Another stop was the sheep herding and sheep shearing demonstrations.  The working dogs were incredible.  The sheep shearing looked uncomfortable for the sheep, but was fascinating to learn about.

The kangaroo paddock was especially interesting because the animals were much more interactive than koalas. Students fed roos, and took selfies. The term "mob of kangaroos" comes to mind as they jostled for position during hand-feeding time. The wallabies were not interested in these goings-on and preferred to wait along the fenceline by themselves.  After many chin rubs and handfuls of kangaroo chow, it was time to say goodbye.

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