We had one day in Brisbane, and we chose to spend it at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. We had spent twelve days exploring the east coast of Australia, and had yet to see a single koala. I wasn’t going to go home without a good look, even if it had to be at a zoo.
You might get the impression that the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary only contains koalas, but in fact they have a wide range of indigenous Australian mammals, birds, and reptiles, plus an abundance of local birds who just come to visit for the free handouts. And while we certainly enjoyed seeing the koalas up close, I was just as thrilled by good views of a Tasmanian Devil, dingo, duck-billed platypus, and some extremely venomous snakes (safely behind glass). Plus, I got to pet an emu!
We arrived just in time for the raptor show, where free-flying raptors show off for an adoring public. I’d seen plenty of raptors on the trip, but they were always high in the sky, and I had to greatly enlarge my photos to identify the speck in the middle. Here, the birds were just a few feet away, and we could watch and photograph them, both as they flew and while they were posed on perches.
Four birds were featured that day. The Barn Owl looked just like the one at our local zoo, or the ones I’ve seen birding here in Colorado, but how often do I get to see a Barking Owl, Black Kite, or Wedge-tailed Eagle? Of course, I won’t count them on my life list (they’re not truly “free and unrestrained), but there’s more to birding than just racking up the species.
Next on the agenda were the various exhibits. As I headed up the path, I passed a zookeeper walking a wombat on a leash. I’d seen them as roadkill; the live one was much more interesting!
A freshwater crocodile (much smaller and less dangerous than the saltwater variety, but still with needle-sharp teeth) and a pair of cuddling Lace Monitors caught my attention. I was unlikely to see these in the wild.
The aviary walkway was lined with local birds in cages, many of which I had already seen in the wild. I took careful note of the rest, so I would recognize them if I saw them.
Not all the birds were in cages. With its lush plantings and an abundance of food and water, the zoo was highly attractive to the local avifauna. Rainbow Lorikeets screeched in the branches. A small flock of Bush Stone-Curlews wandered through the picnic tables by the café, hoping some child would drop their lunch. The crowd of Australian Brush-Turkeys were more aggressive, actually hopping up on the tables and demanding a handout.
The highlight for me was petting an emu. On one side of the park, the huge birds wandered a large, open area that also contained a variety of kangaroos species. Coin operated dispensers offered feed. but the kangaroos were so sated, they ignored both the pellets and the eager visitors petting them. I knelt and patted a sleeping ’roo, just to say I’d done it, but my attention was focused on the emus. I let them approach me, and they did, apparently from curiosity. When will I ever get another chance to feel their silky feathers?
Of course, most visitors come to see and hold a koala. The sanctuary houses over 130 of these cute little marsupials, of all ages, with most on display in a variety of enclosures. There they sit on simulated eucalyptus trees, munching on fresh leaves or, more likely, napping.
I passed up the opportunity to hold an animal. For one thing, there was a significant additional fee for doing so. But we might have coughed up the extra dollars if I hadn’t read that being held is stressful for the koalas. New South Wales has now banned the practice (Brisbane is just across the border, in Queensland). The primary reason it’s still allowed elsewhere is that it raises a lot of money, and zoos are expensive to operate. I didn’t feel deprived from skipping the cuddle—I was still able to approach within a few feet and take as many photos as I wanted.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our day at the sanctuary.
Photos, from top: Koala, Dingo, Tasmanian Devil, Wombat, Freshwater Crocodile, Lace Monitors, Australian Brush-Turkey, Bush Stone-Curlew, Kangaroos, Emus, Koalas.