Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Aussie Road Trip: Koala Patting

Australia's unique animals are a big draw for a Northern hemisphere native. Apparently, this attraction is not as strong for people from Southern hemisphere island nations where the only native species are birds. My Kiwi Hubby enjoyed the stranger marsupials at the Sydney zoo, but rolled his eyes whenever I expressed my desire to visit the Billabong Koala Park on our way north from Sydney. The guidebook said that they would let you pat a koala, and once I read that, I knew we had to visit.

Koalas are a big deal in the U.S. It was national news when the San Diego Zoo got its first bunch of koalas, and the koala exhibit still draws sizable crowds despite the fact the star attractions are usually asleep. The koalas we saw at the Sydney zoo seemed more active than the ones I was used to back home. Several were noticeably awake, and one was even swinging from a tree branch. This just whetted my appetite for a closer encounter with a koala. Hubby tried to disuade me by telling me that koalas are drugged out, stupid creatures that eat their own poop. All of this is true, but they are also cute and furry. I was adamant- we were going to the Billabong Koala Park.

We stopped in on the second day of our Aussie Road Trip. We bought wallaby food and chased futily after decidedly non-hungry wallabies, trying to get them to eat from our hands. It was already mid-afternoon, and the wallabies had clearly had enough of their food by this point in the day. I finally got a wallaby with a joey still in her pouch to eat a little bit from me, which was cool. The main attraction was yet to come, though. At the appointed time, we gathered at the koala enclosure with the other tourists. One of the keepers gathered a koala into his arms, and while she dozed/stared vacantly into space, we all lined up to have a pat. Koalas are surprisingly fuzzy. I am not sure that this is the best way for a koala to live her life, but it was certainly a great experience for me- I pick it as one of the highlights of our trip. Hubby just rolls his eyes when I say that and reiterates his objections to the koala's eating habits. This from a man whose favorite North American animal (the squirrel) habitually eats out of garbage cans.
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