I've always enjoyed being around animals - domestic, livestock, or wild. One of my favorite memories is of traveling to Australia back in 1995. Traveling along the east coast from Sydney to Cairns, there were many opportunities to see wildlife - the majority of which I have never seen in the United States.
By far, the most vivid memory I have is of visiting Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane (Australia). It's the world's first and largest koala sanctuary and has over 130 koalas. It is rated as one of the top 10 zoos in the world by AOL.
In addition to enjoying seeing the widlife in a beautiful, natural setting, there are opportunities to hold koalas and hand-feed kangaroos.
Me holding a koala.
See the koala's paws? Apparently if the koala is comfortable, it will tighten its grip - just like it would in a tree before it rests. I became the tree moments after this picture was taken. The little koala there had quite the grip. I didn't mind for a while because it was soft and such an incredible opportunity.
Another interesting thing about the koala's paw: there are five digits on each front paw, two of which are opposed to the others, much like our thumbs are able to be moved differently from the fingers. This helps them to hold firmly onto the branches and to grip their food. The second and third digits on their hind paws are fused together to form a grooming claw.
Since visiting Australia, holding a koala has been banned in New South Wales (a new law in 1997). However, people can still hold koalas in Queensland - where Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is located.
In Queensland, koalas can only be held for less than 30 minutes per day. They must also get every third day off. This ensures that they get plenty of time to eat and sleep. At Lone Pine, they "clock on" and "clock off" their koalas when they go to the koala cuddling area.
According to the Australian Koala Foundation, "Koalas are in serious decline suffering from the effects of habitat destruction, domestic dog attacks, bushfires and road accidents. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are less than 80,000 koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000."
To read more about koalas, visit the Australian Koala Foundation.
The other animal that stands out from the trip to Australia is the kangaroo. I had never seen a kangaroo (except on t.v.), so this was incredibly interesting for me to see them hop around. I was able to feed some kangaroos at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where there was a 5-acre kangaroo reserve.
There were over 100 kangaroos and wallabies hopping about. Thankfully, not that many swarmed around when I came in with a bag of kangaroo food that was available at the little stand at the sanctuary. (I would have been a bit scared if that had happened.)
I remember opening the gate and going into the enclosure, and wondering where all the kangaroos were. It was only a few minutes and there they were - standing at the top of a small hill. Then they starting hopping down towards me. It was a bit intimidating until only a brave handful of kangaroos came to me.
Me feeding some kangaroos
This small group of five kangaroos were the most eager to eat. The little ones were less intimidating than those two larger ones that were almost as tall as I was. It was fun to feed them. They were all quite docile and friendly. Though, one of those big kangaroos, wasn't too happy when the food ran out. It wanted more. I felt like that would a great time to leave the enclosure...I didn't want to know what a kangaroo who wanted more food was capable of doing.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary had five different species of kangaroos and wallabies (Grey Kangaroo, Red Kangaroo, Pretty-faced Wallaby, Swamp wallaby, and Red neck Wallaby). The kangaroos I fed all appear to be the same species to me.
What was exciting, too, was that there were all different ages of kangaroos there. I especially enjoyed seeing the joeys inside the pouches. It reminded me of the Halloween costume my mom made for me one year when I was about six years old. I was a kangaroo and my mom put a a toy kangaroo in the costume's pouch.