TARONGA ZOO, SYDNEY – serious questions

A curious overseas visitor.

‘He’s called a mata-mata and he’s come all the way from South America.’

‘Why?’ The five year old of our family is very interested in animals.

The zoo keeper holding the strange-looking turtle is pleased to have an excited customer. ‘He was a present from an American zoo to our Taronga Zoo here in Australia.’

‘When is he going back home?’

‘He’s going to stay here now. He’s not going home.’

‘Does he miss his mummy?’

It's hard to say he looks happy, but he does look interesting.

Mevrouw T and I have been regular visitors at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and thought it worth our while becoming Zoo Friends ($110 adult, $260 family).

When we bring the younger family members, we always spend a lot of time at the reptile and amphibian house. The big cats, giraffes and elephants may be more spectacular, but you can’t get as close to them as you can with the amphibians. It costs money to be photographed with a koala, but you can touch a tortoise for nothing. And the reptile house is just inside the top entrance, on the right.

I like amphibians too. They sit still while you adjust the camera settings. This is a green and golden bell frog - a 'vulnerable' Australian species.

‘Oh look, there’s a lizard in there,’ says a lady, spotting a small reptile in the alligators’ enclosure.

The five year old quickly points out her error. ‘It’s not a lizard, it’s a water dragon.’ (We saw one near the Parramatta River recently.) ‘But it hasn’t got wings,’ he adds.

Eastern Water Dragon. Locked in the alligator's cage, he may wish he did have wings.

The zoo is not large, and on a rather cramped site, though a spectacular one, overlooking Sydney Harbour.

We always start our visit with a ride up from the ferry on the Skytrain. Does any other zoo in the world have a view like this?

Wisely, the zoo has opted to have less different kinds of animals on display, while giving the ones they have better facilities. The serious breeding program goes on at Western Plains Zoo, the open range zoo at Dubbo in the west of the state. A visit there is recommended too, if you’re out that way.

Taronga’s modern enclosures, with no bars, let the chimpanzees and gorillas roam freely on grass and climb on their play equipment, separated from visitors only by a moat.

Get involved with no evil, eat no evil, get bitten by no evil.

Three new Sumatran tiger clubs are on display between ten and two daily.

My photo of the tiger cubs. Maybe those in the front got better ones, but I'm not so sure about that.

The bears are nowhere to be seen. Bears are always sleeping when we come past.

‘Why?’ asks the five year old.

‘Because they’re tired.’ (Like me)

A volunteer has a bear skin on display, however, and lets the children feel it.

‘Is it a real bear?’

‘He was a real bear, until he died. His name was Barney.’

Oh. I find this a bit creepy. I remember Barney, the giant kodiak bear who was a zoo favourite for years. I don’t think I want to feel the claws I’ve seen ripping into a fish in an iceblock.

‘Has Barney gone to heaven?’

The volunteer smiles, ‘I think so.’

‘Then why is his skin still here?’

‘Come on,’ I say, ‘Let’s go and see the elephants doing their show.’

That’s popular too, so much so that the children have to crawl between adult legs to get a spot at the front. The keeper doing the commentary tells us that most of the Taronga elephants have been rescued from Thailand where they are no longer used for logging. They and their handlers are forced to work in shows for tourists. These Taronga elephants love doing their show, playing football and performing balancing feats.

The commentary may be a little stilted, but the elephants seem to enjoy their work.

A few minutes is enough for the younger family members. They still have a lot of questions, though they’ve switched topics:

‘Can I have an icecream?’, ‘Can you buy me a toy tiger at the shop?’ and ‘Why not?’

The thing about turtles is that they don't mind you coming close to them.

Taronga Zoo’s entrance price is $44 for adults, and $112 for a family of two adults and two children.


Filed under Travel-Australia

5 responses to “TARONGA ZOO, SYDNEY – serious questions

  1. I haven’t been to Taronga zoo since I was very young. I think I need to go back.

  2. michael

    Gee, $44 entrance fee! I suppose if I were to flash my card that instructs people to be nice to me because I’m ‘a valued member of the community’, I might get a discount…Or maybe I can con my way in, by dropping my heffalump connections.
    I’ve always loved Taronga, not least because of the ferry ride. They didn’t have a sky-train last time I went. It seems to me to have always been in tune with the latest ideas on how zoos should be, if we must have them.
    And we surely must! If we didn’t have zoos, where kids can get really close & personal with the animals, how could they grow up loving wildlife. Good zoos now are very conscious of the needs of animals, and staffed by keepers who are dedicated to their welfare.
    re. Elephants & ‘circus tricks’: domesticated elephants, from Thailand at least, were formerly used in forest industries, but now that logging is banned they are unemployed. They’re extremely intelligent & emotionally sensitive, so, once trained, they have to be drilled regularly – otherwise they fret (similar to dogs). Elephants have a sense of humour. They ‘send up’ their mahouts in really clever ways, & become very attached to them, if they are kind (unfortunately, some are not). They quite obviously enjoy contact with humans. It’s very difficult to ‘re-introduce’ them to the wild. (Think of re-introducing a dog or cow, after hundreds of years of domestic breeding!) And there is just not enough habitat left in Thailand to support them. There are some re-introduction programmes, but the process is a very long one with each animal, and it’s fraught with failures & dangers – it’s impossible to build elephant-proof fences around national parks, & elephants can’t see the difference between tasty vegetation in farms & village gardens, & the jungle.

    • You’re an elephant expert, Michael. I’ve seen a few elephant shows, in Thailand as well as Singapore and Australia. The elephants do look as if they’re having fun, and of course I understand that reintroduction to the wild is not an option.

      All Taronga’s elephants were born into many generations of captivity. The youngest ones were even born in Taronga itself.

      • michael

        Yes, & they always get a mention in the press over here (not that anything of any interest on the local scene does – I’m NOT talking abou heffalumps!) I’m not an expert, BTW; I’m an expat.
        re. Elephants having fun – some of my mahout friends ‘talk’ with their charges. There’s nothing I love more than coming across an elephant & ‘kwang chang’ lumbering down the track squeaking at each other.

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