I visited Brisbane over the Easter long weekend to visit Grant and his family, and on Good Friday we visited Australia Zoo.
I was thoroughly impressed by the place from the moment we walked through the ticket booth. The lady who served us was once Steve Irwin's body guard, and spoke with great emotion of her late, great employer (as did all the other staff). It was actually kind of an emotional experience.
All the staff were highly knowledgeable about the animals they handled (who can tell me the difference between the behaviour of (and amongst) crocodiles and aligators? Ooh, pick me! Pick me! I know now!), and quite clearly loved their charges - a couple of handlers looked unimpressed and a little bit upset when visitors would joke about eating the animals!
The cages were also spacious and well laid out. I don't actually recall seeing concrete anywhere but the walkways for humans, although there was probably some around some of the crocodile pools (but a lot of them were surrounded by grass... which, fun fact, has to be mown. One crocodile in particular has single-handedly (mouthedly??) destroyed four lawn mowers and a whipper snipper!). As a tree hugger, this pleased me muchly. The absence of concrete, that is. Not the crocodiles destroying horticultural equipment...
I expected the zoo to have a total focus on Australian wildlife (such as Healesville Sanctuary does), but it actually had quite a range of random animals.
We met an iguana (let's call him Jub-Jub, shall we? I **think** this is a Rhino Iguana, but they do actually have a Green Iguana called Jub-Jub!)
some tortoises having kisses (good to know you can still get frisky when you're quite a number of decades old!)
a wombat (I think this is a Common Wombat) and he really could move!
There were any number of reptiles (unsurprising, given it was formerly a reptile park). Most of the photos turned out blurry due to the low light and my inability to stand still, and it was particularly obvious given the pattern the scales make, so I will only subject you to four photos! And fewer exclamation marks from here on in! I promise! (I'll stop now...)
There was a large aviary, which was quite a serene place to sit and chill (at least, it was once you realised the birds weren't going to fly into you and peck your eyes out... although I do have a story about a magpie that flew into me (sort of), but that's another story for another time).
Then we patted kangaroos and koalas (btw, who thinks I look like a man dressed like this? Because I was mistaken for one. I **had** thought I didn't have a particularly masculine face but perhaps the (borrowed) V8 Supercar hat and work-issued sunglasses tipped it over the edge??)
After that it was time for the midday show, which included elephants
various birds which swooped about to Acca-Dacca's Thunderstruck (including this black cockatoo who strutted his stuff right in front of us, and who then took a swipe at a foreign tourist who thought it would be smart to pat something with a beak designed to crack nuts and strip branches off trees)
I have to say that Bindi is a little bit creepy - she seems totally fake, which I guess is a persona she projects to cope with the spotlight, but it doesn't make it any less creepy. Anyway, for now she seems to be an awesome role model for girls... provided she doesn't do a Miley Cyrus in a few years' time! It's also sad that Bindi and Bob's accents are about 3/4 American and 1/4 Australian now - I guess in the time elapsed since Steve's death they haven't had the Australian accent around home. It must be tough being surrounded by something that he built on a daily basis, and doing it with a sunny smile, so I guess Bindi's plastic creepiness is okay. Interestingly, though, "baby" Bob appeared (to me) to be completely disinterested in the whole thing. I guess he doesn't really remember his dad, so it probably means less to him to keep his memory alive.
Terri appears to have been wearing the same pair of high-waisted jeans like my mum wears since the late nineties, but she's pretty hands-on with the crocs so I guess it's okay about her pants ;)
They also had a massive dig at Channel 7, which aired the infamous footage of Steve dangling baby Bob over a crocodile. They also explained the entire situation from the perspective of experienced animal handlers, and, whilst not something **I** would do, I can see why he did it.
Croc keeper Wes is running from the crocodile here. This is the very same crocodile that put six massive holes in his bum and leg during the floods several years ago when their fences went down and they were trying to repair them before the crocs escaped. He was nearly dragged under the water but Steve saved him. There are photos of Wes' masticated bum up somewhere at the zoo and I must say he's pretty lucky to be alive! But he obviously loves his job, just like the rest of the staff.
Bindi is now old enough to be feeding crocs (under supervision, of course...). Here she is, with Wes literally holding her hand, feeding the croc at the show.
These three are Asian Otters, and they were super-cute. They need to be fed five times a day, and they absolutely knew when their keeper was on her way, because they crowded around the door she would be coming through and made adorable little noises. One of them was a total show-off, whilst another was totally over it and would just chill out and let the others compete for the food.
And I fed a nelephant half a kiwi fruit! The nelephant's name was Bimbo. Giggle. I know, I know, it probably means something cute in another language... One of the keepers told us that Steve Irwin used to go into the "kitchen" each day and pick out some fruit and veg and eat it; if it wasn't good enough for him then it wasn't good enough for the animals. And this crossed my mind as I handed the elephant this totally fresh, unbruised kiwifruit. Suffice it to say I loved the love this place has for its critters.
Altogether I had an awesome day. I was impressed by the keepers, by the facilities (both human and animal) and even by the food - there was a fair variety of healthy food and it didn't cost quite as many bajillion dollars as it did at Sea World. It also cost a little less to get into than Sea World (although a few bucks more than your average zoo - I think adult entry was around $55, and there were discounts for children, students, pensioners and defence force personnel - some of these groups of people would get in at half price. So if you're ever up on the Sunshine Coast, swing by. It's a big day to see everything, and if you have kids in tow you may wish to consider the option of the two day pass (with the second day being half price).
As for the late Steve Irwin, well I always thought he was a bit of a nutter for handling some of those animals/reptiles/arachnids the way he did, and I'm not altogether surprised that his life ended the way it did. But he wasn't anywhere near as reckless as Alby Mangles was (mind you, he wasn't as popular with the ladies as young Alby was, either. Even I, at the age of eight, had a wee crush on him!), and there has never been a shadow of doubt in my mind that he loved and understood the animals he handled, and was genuinely enthusiastic about them and cared about their welfare. There's a big difference between pissing a cobra off, and overfeeding your dog until it can barely walk which is, in my opinion, far worse. Steve and his family have done a lot for wildlife protection and rescue, both on a neighbourhood scale, across the country as well as overseas and that should be admired, no matter what you thought of the guy.