Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo

Imagine an experience similar to a young child’s first time at Disneyworld. The never-ending excitement and anticipation of meeting Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the Disney Princesses, the Seven Dwarves. The joy of them finally being tall enough to get on that rollercoaster they’ve been dreaming to ride. It’s hard to put into words how amazing this kid is feeling; they have a smile on their face that can’t be wiped away and a spontaneous laugh that is contagious. The first experience at Disneyworld will forever be ingrained in that child’s mind for the rest of their life.

As we get older and we experience various things daily, it’s rare to find an experience so intense that it will make it’s way into our life-long memory box. The sort of experience that leaves you smiling for hours after it is done, and makes you want to go back right after you left. I recently found an experience that fit this criterion to a tee as managed to blow the criterion away and surpass my expectations. Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo located in the Sunshine Coast, QLD is a magical place where you can feel like a kid again and not feel guilty about it.

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The Australia Zoo opened on June 3rd 1970 by Steve Irwin’s parents Bob and Lyn Irwin. Steve Irwin took over the responsibility of the Australia Zoo in later years, and was passed through his family following his tragic death in 2006. Many of the projects and exhibits that are now coming together in the Zoo were Steve’s planning, and his family felt it was their responsibility to go through with many of his plans.

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The Australia Zoo has over 1,200 animals coming from various places in Australia, Asia, Africa and all over the world. On a daily basis the zoo offers guided tours, free interactive wildlife shows, animals encounters and more! There is something for everyone who visits, and if you are lucky you may be able to snap a special photo with your favourite animal.

When I visited the Australia Zoo, I was lucky enough to have a guided tour to maximize my time at the zoo. With over 100 aches of land, you need all day to experience all the magic that the zoo offers. As you enter the zoo you pass a section of incredibly docile alligators in their enclosures. I was told that alligators are a lot friendly than crocodiles – it has once been reported before that when a keeper went into a crocodile’s enclosure to clean up the croc struck out and grabbed hold of the keepers lawn-mover and ripped it away from him. As I have mentioned in previous posts, crocs hunt for humans if they have an empty tummy. The American Alligator is generally timid towards humans and tend to walk or swim away if one approaches. I personally have a hard time telling alligators and crocodiles apart, so to be safe I think I’ll avoid both species all together.

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One of the iconic and memorable experiences at the Australia is the world’s largest crocodile model on display for people to take pictures with. Cameron the crocodile is a replica created to mimic the dimensions of a real crocodile that could still exist today in the wild. Cameron is huge, he’s 8.23 metres long and weighs 930kgs (2050 pounds)!

Moving onto Asia, the Red Panda is another unique species that is featured at the Australia Zoo. The original Panda until the Giant Panda was discovered, these guys look similar to a fox with the shape of a raccoon.

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They are known to be extremely friendly, and you can purchase an animal encounter with them at the zoo. They are absolutely adorable and I think they know it too… this little guy had no problem posing and working the crowd to ensure all angles of him were seen.

Continuing through the zoo we met up with the tigers at the Tiger Temple. Bengal and Sumatra tigers were on display and were about to go through with some daily check-up routines. It was so neat that behind the observation windows we were able to see a tiger undergo a few procedures (teeth cleaning, etc) with the use of dripping milk. Instead of sedating them to keep them under control, the milk soothes them and allows for the zookeepers to get up and close to perform their check-ups. It was really neat that the Australia Zoo has routines like this, and the general public is able to see them live. By the end of the presentation I had fallen in love with one of the tigers and didn’t want to say bye.

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Well behaved is an understatement.

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Paws up kitty – you are guilty of utter cuteness and great showmanship!

The koala enclosure is also a must-see when you go to the Australia Zoo. Unlike ever other zoo or wildlife habitat I have been to, I have never seen so many koalas all co-existing in the same environment. There were over 20 koalas throughout the enclosure – some more easily identifiable then others, and one that had a joey in it’s pouch! Since the Australia Zoo has so many animals and they are constantly putting new animals into their public displays, you have the chance to see animals in every stage of life.

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I have a hard time writing about the next section of the zoo we went to without smiling and laughing uncontrollably. Many of the encounters you have at the Australia Zoo are by purchase only; however if you want an encounter that will top a lot of things in this universe… visit the Australia Zoo kangaroo enclosure. Maybe it is something in the water in Australia, or the food these guys eat, but these kangaroos are hilarious. I think the pictures speak for themselves that these guys enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed theirs.

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AWESOME ALERT! – Okay, so the next experience available at the zoo has got to have made it to the top of the “awesome cool things” I’ve done in my life list. I haven’t actually written that list down yet, but if I ever do, it’s going to be on there… probably fitting somewhere in between the 1st and 10th spot. I’ve done a lot of awesome cool things before, so ranking that high is quite a statement. The Australia Zoo offers an encounter that brings animal encounters to a whole new level – the biggest and best encounter ever… the elephant feeding encounter.

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During this encounter, you have the opportunity to be placed in front of the two elephants (both female elephants, age 54 & 55) and hand feed them. It was amazing – you really get the chance to see close up how HUGE these animals are, and how strong their trunks are. They have thousands of individual muscles in their trunks and they all help to maneuver it to direct food into their mouths. After hand-feeding the elephants through their trunks, I was able to touch one of the elephant’s tongue! They are so pink and soft, and you can tell the elephants really like the attention as well. The elephant feeding was such a surreal experience that you MUST add to your bucket list if you are ever heading to the Australia Zoo.

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No need to get on a plane to experience the magic of Africa! Africa has recently been opened at the Australia Zoo after many years of planning. Before Steve died, he began the planning of the Africa exhibit, and fortunately his family was able to make his dreams a reality a couple years ago.

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With giraffes, zebras, and rhinoceros currently on display in the Australia Zoo, you really get a nice sample of the some of the African animals. There are 4 giraffes, and one of them is currently pregnant! It is incredible to see the big bump on the mother’s stomach, and then imagine a baby giraffe growing inside of her.

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A baby rhinoceros named Mango has also recently been born (Feb 2013), and put on display in Africa. The name Mango came from a naming contest put on by the zoo, and the little girl who named her had picked up a mango and said how she thought the baby rhino’s head looked like a mango. I think the name suites her perfectly.

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Saira (my wonderful tour guide) told me a fascinating story about what Steve envisioned when he was planning out Africa. He pictured the lions to be in the distance, looking over the rest of Africa (think Lion King). I mentioned that that idea reminded me of Lion King and Saira pointed out Pride Rock, which is located in the centre of the Africa exhibit. The animals all co-exist peacefully with each other and you can tell that they are very well taken care of by the staff and volunteers.

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There are so many things that make the Australia Zoo absolutely incredible. First and foremost, the staff and volunteers. The Australia Zoo has over 300 staff and volunteers that have a huge passion for the animals. To them it is not just a job; it is an opportunity to help out with the conservation and well-being of some of the most incredible and rare animals in the world. As you walk through the zoo, you can’t find an employee or volunteer without a smile on their face – you can tell they all love what they are doing. You can really feel the energy from the staff and volunteers when you visit different exhibits, and it truthfully makes for a heart-warming experience. Additionally, the treatment of the animals is top-notch. They are not seen to the employees as a typical “zoo-animal” on display; they are treated and cared for as individuals. Zookeepers are assigned to specific animals and they give their all to ensure the animal is healthy and happy. A happy animal makes for a happy staff, which makes for a happy zoo.

Another aspect of the Australia Zoo that sets it apart from other zoos is the Wildlife Hospital located directly beside the Zoo grounds. Within the Wildlife Hospital is a passionate team of staff and volunteers whose main goal is to help injured or sick animals. It costs about 2 million dollars a year for the hospital to run, and it is purely funded through donations. Being given the chance to have a tour through the hospital was incredible.

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There are various observation windows for visitors to take a closer look at the work these highly talented doctors, and surgeons do on a daily basis. If you are interested, you are allowed to watch a live surgery while it’s happening through one of the windows. The wildlife hospital is a very welcoming environment and I believe that is one reason why they are able to keep it running year after year. The donations they receive each year come from people who have visited the zoo and felt somewhere in their heart after leaving that they wanted to help the animals.

20130612_161734 Some animals (i.e. Stuart the Koala) have been in the hospital for years and they are making progress day by day to fully recover. Stuart who managed to pull on my heartstrings while I was there, was found after being hit by a car about a year or so ago. He was brought to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital and put through various surgeries and procedures to help him get better. Through all the great work and patience by the hospital staff, Stuart is making great progress and will be released into the wild in no time at all.

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The greatest joy any of the staff and volunteers at the hospital get is seeing an animal get better and be able to be released back into the wild. Save One, Save the Species is the Wildlife Hospital’s motto, and I can truly see the work and passion put in from the staff to keep this motto valid.

If you are interested in becoming a Wildlife Warrior and donating to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, please feel free to by following the link here. All donations are used to help feed orphaned animals, care for critically ill and injured patients, get confiscated wildlife back into the wild, and help perform life saving surgery. Animals like Stuart would very much appreciate any help they can get!

Visiting the Wildlife Hospital after my tour of the zoo was the perfect way to end the day. It really made it clear the amount of passion and love Steve Irwin had for animals, as well as his ability to inspire others to have the same.

The Australia Zoo is an experience I still find myself smiling about 2 days later. The interaction with the staff, animals and zoo as a whole have left a huge impact on me, and I can’t wait to become a Wildlife Warrior to help keep this magical place running.

A place that makes you feel like a kid again, brings a smile to your face and warms your heart; make sure to Add “the Australia Zoo” to Your Bucket List.

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