Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 2 - Taronga Western Plains Zoo (aka Dubbo Zoo)

A slow morning. Daughter is working her way through a “clinical” lecture in preparation for a clinical exam on her return to uni. I slowly blog and field teasing from mum who cannot imagine why I would want to know the colour top the young land rover driver was wearing, (I am sure he was wearing a white singlet top) or how one would describe the way the lady at the strawberry stall was walking. Oh yes, and I am deeply remiss in failing to mention that the plate of bruschetta at The Harrison looked like three neat pigs trotters sitting on the plate. Have I ever mentioned mum spent many hours in childhood finding images in clouds and peeling paint? She has never lost enjoyment in the practice. Oh well, breakfast and blogging completed. Daughter finishes her lecture and we set about preparing for our day at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

We are in dire need of a trip into the supermarket, so we explore down into central Dubbo for the first time and find it to be another charming town, somewhat reminiscent of Orange with the bare deciduous trees lining the streets. A group of primary school aged kids are selling raffle tickets. We buy one. Maybe win a car.

As we queue in the line of cars entering the Zoo we get a call from the info centre, anxious that we should be signing the disclaimer in preparation for our Big Cat Encounter which is only half an hour away. We seek advice from the lady on the gate as to when and how to hire the electric carts, but she advises that it will not assist us as you are required to park the carts in the parking areas same as a car and are not allowed to take them into the paths in those areas where a cluster of exhibits requires some walking.

We navigate the fencing and witches hats where the construction of a new information centre is nearing completion and find a convenient parking spot. Having done the necessaries, promising to behave ourselves and not blame the zoo if something untoward happens to us during our encounter we make our way around the circuit to the Sumatran Tiger enclosure.

We meet the keeper at the entrance where the signage indicates. Some people are trying it on and suggesting to the guide that perhaps they could each take in their own private photographer? Nice try but no. We head around and enter the behind the scenes world of the Sumatran tiger. With plantings of bamboo and dense greenery the zoo has attempted to provide an environment somewhat similar to the natural environment the tigers prefer.

First up the brush wood paneling is opened to reveal the tiger whose turn it is to entertain the tourists this morning. The general hoi paloi only get to see one tiger at any one time. Today this is a young sexually mature female who is very important genetically as she introduces new blood into the breeding program in Australia. This young lady was hand reared at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast and took part in their experiences until she was judged to be getting a bit too risky in the way she was behaving. Queensland is the only State in Australia where you are permitted to get up close and personal with such large carnivores without an intervening barrier. This feisty girl is judged to need the barrier.

Tigers being solitary animals they are kept separate from one another and take it in turns in the various areas to provide some change of scene. The pay off for having to entertain the tourists is that you also get the large public display area to play in overnight. Each of the tigers has a large space with some grass in which to play around. Much effort is put into designing enrichment experiences to keep the tigers from getting bored. The tigers supplement these with their own efforts. Maybe catch a possum passing through. This sort of opportunistic predation is by no means unusual. Indeed daughter saw a snow leopard pull a possum through the wires of it’s cage when she did roar and snore at Taronga in Sydney. She reported that you look closely you could see bits of fur where other possums had met a similar fate in the past.

We each take it in turns to feed chicken necks to the tigers through the wire mesh with a long pair of tongs. The tigers stand up against the wire and know the score. In description it sounds quite a tame activity but when you are there in the flesh it is really cool. Our second tiger is a male at the peak of condition. He is so much larger than the female. He is a magnificent creature and when he stands up on the wire, all 100 or so kilos of him, there’s only one thought in our minds. “Gosh I wouldn’t like to have him hunting me.” You would have no chance. He’s thirteen years old and from here on in its all down hill for him. The oldest tiger at the zoo is 19. Nineteen is extremely old for a tiger. This elderly female would not be alive in the wild and her behavior suggests she knows it. She couldn’t be bothered coming over for a feed, but that’s OK. It’s tiger sleep time if they had their “druthers”.

Having met all the tigers and listened to a great deal of information about the way the tigers are managed and entertained, as well as the international breeding program for them we finish up with a briefing on the current campaign to have manufacturers label products to show whether or not it contains palm oil. The only hope for the Sumatran tiger is to preserve some habitat. Same habitat is required for the Orangutan. Apparently Coles has indicated that it will introduce this labeling on it’s brand of goods. You can join the campaign online via www.taronga.org.au/palmoil

We check the timetable and find that the next feasible destination is to the Siamang feeding. We head around there just in time to see the keeper in his little tinny departing one side of the enclosure and making his way to the far shore. Two siamang have been sitting on the grass and periodically putting on a marvelous display swinging around the the network of ropes in their enclosure. Then all of a sudden the two apes commence a wonderfully impressive and loud display of calling, displaying and general showmanship. It is like a choreographed performance. They are most impressive apes. They are so seriously cool. A must do if you’re visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo that’s for sure.

There’s not time to get round from the Siamangs to the Cheetah talk which follows soon after, but we’re all pretty hungry so head to the streets café to eat and watch the small herd of zebra and their young calf. We find the fish and chips is pretty good. Real, fresh fish and quite good chips. Reasonable price too at only $7.50. This was a bit of a surprise because the same outlet sells those individually packaged cakes and stuff, which I find is usually a sign that you need to take a good deal of caution with what you buy... so I have been waiting to see what this stuff mum and daughter have bought is like. Meanwhile I opted for yoghurt and muesli. Silly me I was expecting the thick greek style yoghurt but its just strawberry ski and the muesli is soggy as. Disappointing, but not surprising I suppose. Daughter’s hamburger has potential but they have opted for a quite sausagey meat patty which while a fairly good one for its type is not what we like in our burgers, so that’s a bit of a disappointment. I guess kiwis would like it.

It is only about 2pm or so, but the weather has cooled and we’re getting pretty tired. We decide our last stop for the day will be the tortoise talk at 3pm. On the way around there we watch as a keeper throws bread to the greater rhea and guanaco. Mum tries her hand at getting a photo of the Brazilian Tapir and we note the group of Cavies across towards the back of the enclosure. Time is pressing though and we need to get into position for the Galapagos Tortoise talk that daughter is so looking forward to.
Cruising around the circuit we pass a pretty lake which features a nesting colony of sacred ibis. We understand they have changed the common name of these birds. Not sacred any more apparently. I wonder if they've decided to adjust the accuracy and perhaps now they call them bloody pest ibis. Nah, but seriously you wouldn't want to get into the habit of feeding these guys in this zoo. Could be a problem. I'd also choose somewhere else to picncic. Speaking of picnics, there are a number of nice picnic areas around the zoo. the generally have electric barbeques and I would recommend that the best way to feed yourself at the zoo, if you have a couple of days there is to bring a bbq picnic. Has to be better than the food outlets on site at any rate.

The tortoises have a large enclosure, but at this time of year when it is still quite cold, these tropical reptiles are provided with a heated house with under floor heating. There are 5 tortoises here of unknown age. It is apparently very difficult to tell the age once it is an adult and they have an inordinately long life span. Totally herbivorous at this time of day they are just given a snack of fresh green grass. Once a week they get some high energy fruits and things, which they really love. The keeper relates a range of information about the care and management of these beauties and several people in the audience enthusiastically ask questions. We take some still photos and some video and head back to the car. The maned wolf is next door but we can’t summon the enthusiasm required just at the moment and it’s back up the very slight incline, so for mum we’d need to do another circuit of the zoo. We’re back tomorrow so decide to call it a day and head back to our apartment.

Before we leave the area we decide to take a bit of drive around the tourist circuit. Dundullimal Homestead is only open during the week, but we head in for a bit of a look around Dundullimal Reserve. This involves a good dirt track that winds its way down along the river and back up to the road. We pass a motley crew of heavy horses, a donkey and a shaggy pony who are clustered together under a tree. The donkey looks very fat and oddly misshapen.

We continue on the circuit past Dubbo observatory and a vineyard, which seem to be the same premises. There is a lot of potential for future tourist enterprises along this route.

It’s a simple route back to town, we follow the signs to sus out where Old Dubbo Gaol is, surprised to find its smack bang in the middle of the main road, down a little alley way. Then we miss our turn and turn in the next street. We need some milk, so pull up at the mini market and daughter heads on in to do the deed.

She seems a long time but eventually returns with the milk and a white bag. All smiles she offers us the bag. Lollies. Looking inside these are things we’ve not seen before. One is wedge shaped and striped green white red. Sour watermelon gummy. Yum. Apparently this modest little store has a whole stack of interesting lollies. All three of us head back across the wide road which seems wide enough for a horse and cart to turn in, and introduce ourselves to the lady serving and what appears to be her kids. We spend some time questioning selecting, a little sampling. We laugh with our hostess and finally we are waving goodbye and heading back to the car. Souvenirs in hand. Great little shop and friendly people.

Back at the apartment daughter and mum head off for a nap. I should too, but for some reason I’m mucking about and never make it to the bed. We’re none of us particularly hungry after what proved to be quite a substantial lunch. Mum has her doggie bag from last night, daughter and I sup on some food we brought with us. We vege out doing not a lot then hit the sack.

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