From Australia: Koala, Kangaroo & Emu - Oh, My!

by Melissa Brunner

They don't roam entirely free, the guide started to explain before suddenly running across the enclosure. Sorry about that, she said a moment later as she returned, koala balanced like a child on her hip. So goes the conversation at Sydney's Featherdale Wildlife Park. The park is home to nearly 60 koala - along with dozens of kangaroo, wallaby and wallaroo, a few wombat and dingos, lots of lizards, hundreds of birds, one big crocodile and a whole lot more! Many of the animals are kept in enclosures, but the koalas, kangaroo and wallabies are, for the most part, allowed to meander amongst the visitors. Or maybe it's that we meander amongst them! The wallabies and roos seemed to know the drill quite well when humans ventured near - chances were good, we'd have food! The little guys would come right up to you and wrap their "hands" around your own, forcing your plam open to reveal a tasty treat - at least, they hoped that was the case!

It was pretty amazing to feel those little wallaby paws with their pointy claws wrap around my fingers. I gladly obliged with food - it was typical grass and grain, using an ice cream cone for a container. We soon learned they appeared to like the cone much better than the intended food! They don't keep the big kangaroos there. They tend to be more aggressive, so it wouldn't be as safe to have them interacting so closely with people.

As for the koala, the guides supervised a few of the animals at a time for people to pet and pose for a photo. But their enclosures were open, meaning those that got an inkling could simply jump over to the gate, then over and up the nearest tree to settle in for a nap. They put a cover over the area at night so the animals can't actually climb all the way out, however, it's not unusual to show up in the morning and find the animals on those higher perches. They simply wait for them to come down, then scoop them up and put them on the lower trees in their enclosures, so they can stay a comfortable distance from any crowds. I turned around once and came face to face with a koala climbing down a tree - and the guide rushed off when she spotted one of the guys jumping over to his gate - she told us the four boys in the corner have a habit of getting rowdy like that!

It was a truly amazing experience! I caputured a bit of it on video - it's posted along with some photos at www.facebook.com/wibwmelissabrunner. Take a look and enjoy!

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