March 5, 2009 – Cleland Wildlife Park
It’s Friday as I write, at least on this side of the world. I’m behind on the blog, but yesterday’s visit to Cleland Wildlife Park was such a highlight that I am eager to share some photos with those of you who do me the great honour of reading these travel notes.
Cleland Wildlife Park is twenty minutes east of Adelaide, in the hills that flank Mount Lofty. Developed in the 1960s, the park is dedicated to the preservation of native flora and fauna. Many of the animals in it are orphans hand raised by the staff. Accustomed to humans, they are ready to assume the best – i.e., food – from the travelers who wander through their large enclosures.
Our visit began with the Tasmanian Devils, whose feeding time coincided with our arrival. The winsome face in this photo is of a female who, along with her sister, was donated to the park when she passed breeding age. So many of these and other small native mammals have succumbed to human impact and imported foxes that only zoo and refuge breeding programs are keeping them from extinction.
From the Devils we wandered through one of the kangaroo enclosures. In the broad expanse of grassland, the roos could easily avoid their human visitors. What brings some of them up to nose around hopefully are the little bags of pellets sold at the entrance. Stand still or hold out your hand, and it won’t be long before a roo comes sniffing around or pats you with its paws. Fill your palm with pellets, and you’ll have a soft muzzle gently emptying it.
Until the visit to Cleland, I didn’t know how to identify a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch from a distance. Now I’ll recognize the telltale sag and size of the pouch. We saw only one joey poking its head out for a peek at the outside world, but we saw other kangaroos with saggy pouches. The future population is assured, though it was never in doubt in this roo-laden land.
Dingos are less likely to be around in future, at least in the wild. Domestic dogs have interbred with this Australian wild dog. The keeper told us within ten years pure dingos will only be found in captivity, where breeding programs keep them from complete extinction.
Typical of canine packs, the four at Cleland have a hierarchy, with one of the young females at the bottom. The day we visited, the youngster was limping, likely having come out on the bottom of a squabble over food. Her stronger brother didn’t really want the bone the keeper gave the young female, but he didn’t want her to have it either. She would drag it away, take a few gnaws, and then watch him snatch it away and abandon it elsewhere.
After we left the dingos, we stopped at the bird sanctuary to watch ibis, pelicans, pied cormorants, Pacific Black ducks, Cape Barren and magpie geese, and white herons. These birds, too, are comfortable with humans, though it’s mostly the geese and ducks who nudge humans for pellet treats.
We were lucky to see the yellow-footed rock wallabies. These shy marsupials don’t always let tourists see them. The ones in the photo put up with our stares and photo snapping for a short while, then bounded off.
I’m not sure why emus are not among my favourite birds. Perhaps I’m intimidated by the stories told of emus’ aggressive behaviour. Or perhaps it’s just the oddity of a large, flightless bird. At any rate, we spent little time among the half dozen at Cleland, turning our attention back to the free-roaming kangaroos, whose quiet friendliness enchanted me.
The tawny frogmouth was one of the last animals we saw before reluctantly leaving the park. It was on the floor of the enclosure as we entered to see the mallee birds but immediately flew up to the tree you see in the photograph. Shaped like a small owl, the frogmouth is from the nightjar family and is common throughout Australia.
While our koala visit fell in the middle of our tour, these delightful marsupials were what I most wanted to see. So I have saved the best for last.
Koalas sleep nineteen hours and feed the other five. They never drink except when drought and intense heat lower the water content of the eucalyptus leaves that comprise their entire diet. This little guy had just awakened when we approached the enclosure. Others were sleeping in the crook of trees. I feel instantly in love with their fuzzy ears, their flat noses, their squat bodies, their thick fur.
I snapped a couple dozen photos and then joined Robin in the line to meet one of them. The keepers scoop up one of the tame beasts and bring them to be fondled by visitors. Osmo was the little guy into whose fur we sank our fingers. He munched contentedly, completing ignoring us, as we snapped photos and stroked his back. How could anyone resist a face like his?
So there it is…a day at Cleland Wildlife Park. The native flora and fauna of Australia – as well as those, like the dingos, who were introduced thousands of years ago – are among the strangest and most fascinating to be found on any continent. How lucky we are to have spent the afternoon in the company of this handful of animals who have been given sanctuary here.
N.B. An illustrated transcript of a lecture by Dr. Tim Flannery, author of The Future Eaters, is well worth reading for anyone interested in the flora and fauna of this beautiful, old, harsh, captivating continent.