Australian Native Animal Pt1

Australian Native Animal Pt1

Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Kangaroo Island

Hundreds of lightning bolts rendered the sky, 13 bolts striking across the Australian Island of Kangaroo Island. These ignited the tinderbox of dry expanses 12 bushfires, and many of these joined and became four massive fires across the Island. This night was only the beginning of a catastrophy that would last for ten days and nine nights when it was brought under control by hundreds of fire fighters, planes, water bombers and emergency units which had come in from across Australia.

A few months earlier Evelyn Keyes, my wife, and I accepted the position as Residential Managers of the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary - having completed a contract as Managers of the Longreach Residential College in Longreach, Queensland. So when the opportunity opened for us to take the position, apart from being huge animal lovers, we felt that after managing a residential college of students who were aged between 12 and 17, male and female, 7 days a week - and most going through puberty - that looking after a wildlife sanctuary would be a breeze, and didn’t hesitate in accepting the position. Shortly after we made the long road trip from Longreach to the beautiful South Australian Island of Kangaroo Island.

Our love of native Australian wildlife took bloom when Evelyn and I shifted from The Netherlands after two years there, and purchased a totally energy self-sufficient home (Solar, Wind and Hydro Energy, Nature Loo, etc) with 23 Acres atop of Mt Elephant on the East Coast of Tasmania. What was great with that property was that the boundaries backed onto two national forests and, with no fences dividing, it was like living in a beautiful natural wonderland with an array of native wildlife which many zoos could only dream of. Our home perched on the mountain overlooking the Chain of Lagoons to Fairy-Penguin-famed Bicheno, with Piccaninni Point directly in between. A gorgeous part of the Southern Hemisphere.

Evelyn and I fell in love with this region of Australia after we visited it on our honeymoon in early 2004, and it was then that Evelyn decided she would prefer to live in Australia rather than in her homeland of Zeeland in The Netherlands. I always loved Tasmania but even more so when I learned from my daughter Tracey Ann Keyes that one of our relatives had been a convict, deported from England to Van Diemen’s Penal Settlement in Tasmania for participating in a protest over some obscure thing. He got seven years, but these sentences usually converted to life as few convicts could return to their homeland of England or Ireland without a ticket.

Apart from the beauty of our surrounds, we were blessed to also have the Bicheno Nature World Park only minutes drive from us, and we visited it so many times that many folk thought we must be staff. It was at this time that I became a snake wrangler too, having to remove many black tiger snakes from properties, especially ours, and placing them in the Nature World care domain. We also took all our visitors from the mainland to Nature World as a treat and explained the many idiosyncrasies of the Tasmanian Wildlife. Unbeknownst to us at the time we would be employed to care and take tourists on wildlife escapades and adventures just three years later, sharing the knowledge we gleaned from this Nature World and the unique native animals we studied.

To give you a little idea of what I mean by unique, the following are a few titbits to savour:

  • The word Koala in Aboriginal dialect means 'animal that doesn’t drink'. In fact, around 95% of their fluid intake is from Eucalyptus leaves juices. The other 5% is normal drinking, except in the case of fire, then the Koala drinks from any water source due to their natural food being destroyed.
  • Many people think that as the Koala eats around two kilograms of Eucalyptus leaves a day, and that because Eucalyptus is toxic to most other animals, that the Koala is spaced out or drug affected. In fact, their metabolism is such that they sleep approximately 19 hours a day allowing the metabolizing of the fluids from the Eucalyptus leaves. But when necessary they do have a lot of energy, especially during mating season.
  • There are two types of Koala: the mainland Australian Koala which is grey & white and smaller then its cousin, the Kangaroo Island Koala, which is also darker in colour. The male has a scent gland in the centre of its chest, and rubs this on trees to stake out his Territory and to let the female Koala’s know they are about. The male makes a sound like a cross between a Harley Davidson motorbike and a pig. And the female makes a sound like a squealing Banshee. It is mainly only during mating season that you hear them about and see that they do get very active in the mating rituals. And this is also normally the only time they raise their voices too.
  • Finally regarding the Koala, it has the closest finger print to a human being. It is extremely hard to see the difference, as the whirls, loops and composites are almost identical. Many people assume a monkey or a primate would be the most near the human fingerprint, but in fact it is the koala.
  • Kangaroos and Wallabies are part of the Macropod (big foot) family of mammals. Many folk are unaware that there are only three types of Kangaroo, the smallest being the Western Grey Kangaroo. The other two are the Eastern Grey Kangaroo and the Big Red. There are many varieties of Wallabies with many different idiosyncrasies but all have one thing in common, they feed their young from four teats in their pouch.
  • Another little known fact of the Macropod is that the female can be pregnant and have a very young one in its pouch 24-7 until it is old enough to go out into the world. And then, at a few months old, it can feed on the very rich milk of its mother from outside the pouch, while another young one can be born and enter to the pouch to attach itself to another teat. The milk's strength is totally different for each - a bit like super gasoline and diesel, but of the Macropod milk variety.
  • Another amazing fact is that in times of drought the female kangaroo can place the embryo of a joey into a type of suspended animation within her body and it can stay there dormant for up to two years. When the drought breaks, or when water and feed is available, it can then be reanimated and born (about the size of a jelly bean), eyes closed and two stumps to drag itself from the birth canal into the pouch, then attaching itself to one of the four teats.
  • Australia is unique globally as having the only two species of Monotreme Mammals. These lay eggs and when they are hatched the young feed on milk. Unlike other mammals, the milk is secreted out like sweat, and the babies lick the milk from their mother’s tummy. The two types are the Echidna and the Platypus - the latter my favourite animal of any type.
  • The Rosenberg Goanna has a unique relationship with termites, as the termites build their home many metres high and maintain it for the termite colony. The Rosenberg Goanna, when it is ready to lay eggs, will back into a termite mound after digging a hole into it like a small cave and lay around 13 eggs inside. It then leaves the eggs as it knows that the termites, being the fastidious creatures that they are, want their mound back to its original condition, and they enclose the eggs. Amazingly, the temperature inside a termite mound is around 32 degrees celsius, so the perfect incubator. They eggs remain in the mound over winter and when temperature outside reaches around 30-32 degrees, they hatch, have a lovely meal of termites and then dig their way out, gaining more strength from the termites they eat.
  • I share a few of these facts so that you are aware of their normal idiosyncrasies because during major bushfires their behaviours change. I will tell you more details in Part 2 of this story.

    But while we are still on Tasmania, let me share with you one of the joys from Bicheno which is its shoreline and some of the best seafood, especially crayfish.

    For my wife’s first Christmas present in Australia I purchased a cray pot and a cray licence for us both, and during that Christmas and New Year we managed to catch 29 crayfish (lobster) ranging from 1kg to 5kg. Our Bank Manager, Rob Rowe, his wife, Wendy, and their two daughters, Kate and Cara, came to visit from Victoria around this time, and for a treat we each had a crayfish. Now just seeing those pictures makes my mouth water! There is nothing better than catching a cray in the morning and having it for lunch or dinner.

    To return now to our journey from Longreach to Kangaroo Island.

    This was an eventful trip with perhaps the pinnacle experience being the millions of stars we observed when we camped overnight near the back of Bourke. With no light from the cities or any other source, here, in the middle of the Outback, the galaxies appear like through a telescope. A wonderful aspect of Australia is you don’t need to go too far to escape intruding transient light to view the Universe.

    We arrived at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on a beautiful day, and in high spirits as we had already seen many native Australian animals from our road trip. Hanson Bay is host to an array of sea life, including Australian and New Zealand Seals. It also has many thousands of Tamar Wallabies and several hundred Western Grey Kangaroos. The Wildlife Sanctuary itself is 9,500 square acres in size with about 3,000 square acres, cleared for grazing by returned soldiers from World War II.

    There are five different dams scattered throughout, and a sixth (very) large dam which was totally dry at the time, near the Manager's Residence. These would prove to be lifesavers for both my wife and I, and the many thousands of Kangaroo Island wildlife.

    An interesting fact is the Sanctuary had at the time of our experience the largest colony of koalas, and we can testify to this from the many sleepless nights we spent as koalas ran over our corrugated iron roof. At times we thought a rugby or football match was in progress. But we settled in well and quickly grasped the many duties of a Residential Manager and Animal Carer.

    Some months later we received a weather warning about Kangaroo Island on the television; a major lightning and thunder storm was about to hit. This was to be a life-changing experience. The lightning sparked a number of fires, several converging into four major bushfires around the Island. And they raged for ten days and nine nights.