Falling in Love with the Endangered

A visit to the Steve Irwin Zoo, near Noosa, really made me contemplate the affects we humans have on so many rare animals.

Steve’s goal at this park was to let people come in contact with animals, creating a love between them, and then urging visitors to make a difference when it came to their normal lives. After touching giant tortoises, who live up to 200 years, cuddling koalas, who sleep most hours of the day, and petting both red and grey kangaroos, I have to say I understand better why we need to make sure these creatures don’t become extinct.

For example, 4,000 Australian koalas are killed every year just because people let their dogs run wild at night. The second cause of harm to koalas is land clearing for resorts and building. At the present rate, they will soon only be seen in captivity.

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Very interesting to me were the giant tortoises, which have been on this planet for ages. Because they are only successful in mating 1 out of 100 times, they are on the brink of becoming extinct. Thousands of turtles are killed every year to make turtle soup and tortoise shell souvenirs and jewelry. Currently there are 80,000 left in the world, but this was the case with tigers 50 years ago…and now look where they stand on the endangered list- toward the top.

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The cassowary bird is a very popular icon of the Australia rain forests but became endangered in 1999. It’s a large flightless bird and in Mission Beach area there are only 17 breeding females! It is said that there are fewer cassowary birds than there are pandas in China and tigers in India. 900 cassowaries are now left, due to rain forest clearing.

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Some of the most impressive creatures were the snakes, since Australia is home to 20 of the 25 top most venomous snakes in the world. The largest was the reticulated python, stretching 5 meters long. I found it interesting that the name “python” came from the huge snake that was killed by Apollo, the Greek sun god. And I am proud to say, I am not as scared of snakes now after taking some time to learn about them.

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In order to help preserve these creatures, the zoo suggests not buying products made from endangered wildlife, such as ivory, tortoise shell, or crocodile skin. It also mentions that when possible, we can vote against land clearing and vote for wildlife preserves, which people will enjoy strolling through, instead of from a 50 story high rise building.

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The Family Feeling (from Brisbane), Noosa and the Australia Zoo

Brisbane Family Photo

Crossing state boundaries from New South Wales to Queensland, we arrived into Brisbane midday.  With a population of close to two million, Brisbane is roughly the size of Houston, Texas and is nestled a bit inland on a winding river.  After a short train ride from the bus station, our friend Sarah from SF’s mum, Shelley, picked us up and drove us the short distance back to their home in the southern suburbs.  A few hours passed, then days, and I soon realized an important lesson, one I will carry with me and share with others for the rest of my days. 

Generosity is commonly defined as follows:  The habit of giving. Often equated with charity as a virtue, generosity is widely accepted in society as a desirable habit.

Upon arrival to their home, we were shown to our room where the sheets still smelled fresh-out-the-dryer, and towels and washclothes had been laid out.  A quick tour followed and we ended up out back where a full platter of “nibbles,” cheese, sausage, gerkins and crackers had already been prepared for us.  The fridge was full of beer, canned cocktails (very popular in Oz since glass on the beach is probably not the greatest idea,) wine, and champagne and we were instructed to have as much as we liked.   Shelley, a real estate agent, returned to work and left us with one simple instruction; make yourself at home.  We happily obliged.

A few drinks and pool dips later their son Simon arrived home, grabbed a drink and came over to us for a chat.  Pete, the dad, was home soon after.  Shelley had to work late so the boys, as they’re affectionately referred to in the household, had already picked up dinner for us consisting of  roast chicken and salad.  We all sat down out back, having drinks and chatting away the night until Shelley came home and joined the party.  I’ve never felt more comfortable around a family considering I had just met them all just a few short hours ago. 

The next evening, after another home cooked meal, the family took us to the South Bank where we had a picturesque view of the river, bridges and downtown skyline.  Afterwards, we drove up to Mount Coot-tha (pronounced Koo-thah) for another great pan-am view of the entire city.

The following days were much more of the same.  Chilling at the pool, drinking coffee and canned cocktails, and many more dinners.  We felt right at home with this family and looked forward to the time every night where we would all be home, have some drinks and dinner and talk until we were too tired to continue.  There were several times where I would be up well past midnight just chatting away.  Shelley, Pete and Simon quickly became known as my Australian Mum, Pop, and Brother, respectively.

Shelley took Erin to a Hen’s party on Saturday night, so Simon and I went to the International Car Show.  I’m not a big car buff but I can appreciate those that are and Simon (and Pete) are big into cars.  Utes are huge in Australia and it was especially interesting for me to see the cars and trucks you just don’t get in the U.S.  A Lincoln truck was priced at over $125,000!  I guess shipping costs run high.  Fords are huge down under and they are reasonably priced.  I also got to see the full line of Holden, Peugeot, and all the new Audi’s including the newly introduced Q7 diesel.  Better save my pennies.

Erin’s birthday was soon approaching so after a quick shopping day downtown for birthday supplies, a cake, hats, and all other sorts of gimmicks (animal balloons were a real hit), Phil and Holly took the bus back with us to the Holtom’s (Simon saved the day by picking us up from the station) and we had a miniature party to celebrate.  It turned out to be a lot of fun and I even managed to sneakily buy Erin some gifts, her favorite being a dress that can be worn 100 (maybe 1000?) different ways. 

We encountered a baby Possum one day in the city and Simon (an Eagle Scout and in the Army Reserves), not wanting to see it run over as it ran into the road, captured it and took it to the RSPCA.  Such an amazing thing to do and he received praise throughout the streets as he asked what to do with the cute little animal.  We named it Simon, Jr.

The following night, saying goodbye to our Australian fam, we hopped the bus back to the city and booked a hostel for our last night.  We had one more night out with Phil and Holly and ended up out late until 4 at a casino.  Shamefully hungover the next morning, we woke late, had a final lunch with Simon and hopped the bus to Noosa. 

I learned so much from the Holtom’s, but most importantly, I was amazed by all of their generosity.  Speaking with Shelley about it late one night, she replied something along the lines of “we’ve all been in your shoes and we know how hard it is to travel.  Our kids travel and we travel and it all works itself out…the more we give the more we receive.”  Simple code of conduct.  Call it Karma or call it the Golden Rule.  Whatever it is, it works and I like it. 

Noosa

Noosa’s a cool little surf town with a great beaches and an even better vibe.  It’s kind of well-to-do though with shops and galleries on the main street.  We checked into our hostel, booked at a discount from our travel people in Sydney and we soon learned why it was so cheap. 

The Australia Zoo, a Steve Irwin product, is an hour-long free shuttle ride away and is a must do if you’re in the area.  Rising early the next morning to make the bus we soon found out that you had to book ahead.  A bit defeated and ticked at our hostel for not mentioning this to us upon inquiry the prior day, we head to the beach.  Yeah, Yeah…it could be worse.  We went out that night for a nice dinner to celebrate Erin’s birthday.  She was craving shrimp and I had a nice Paella.  Also, since the elusive Kingfish escaped her in New Zealand, she ordered it off the menu.  It was flaky, white, and unbelievably delicious.

We went to bed early again since we’d be heading to the zoo (again) the next day, but our hostel is party central.  The bass was bumping and we both had a hard time falling asleep, not to mention the fellow dormers coming in at 3 am screaming and shouting.  We were thinking of staying another night here, but this was the icing on the cake to ensure our departure.  Worst hostel thus far, Koala in Noosa. 

Australia Zoo

Well, it was worth the wait.  It was a pricey ticket too, but again, still worth it.  We missed our connecting bus to Hervey Bay, but again, still worth it.  This place was awesome and seeing the variety of animals I’ve never seen before was a real treat.  Koala’s (which I learned are not bears, but actually marsupial,) Wallaby’s, Echidna’s, Cassowarys, and of course, tons of Kangaroo’s.  We got to feed elephants and pet both Koala’s and ‘roos.  A truly amazing experience, we also learned that the snake encounter on Mt. Warning was most likely a Carpet Python, not venomous but if it wanted, could strangle you to death.  Still scared of them, even if they’re behind glass. 

Back to Noosa and checked into the YHA hostel.  They gave us a complimentary glass of wine and then had an Aussie BBQ (throw it on the ‘barbie), as well as live music with a snare and an acoustic.  This is more my style.  Maybe I’m getting old?  Oh well, if that’s the case (and it is), I enjoy it.  What can I say, I like to chill.

Today, we got the free surfboards from the hostel and head to the beach.  No waves so we just relaxed for a few hours.  We’re hopping on the bus in an hour and heading four hours north to Hervey Bay.  We’ll be on the ferry on Wednesday to go 4×4’ing on Fraser Island!