The an­i­mal king­dom comes to town

Syd­ney has a wild new at­trac­tion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PETER NEED­HAM

BIL­BIES for­age, pademel­ons dis­play their red legs, emu chicks sport stripes and trot around side by side in a cute, al­most chore­ographed fash­ion. The an­i­mal king­dom is do­ing its stuff at the new-look Wild Life Syd­ney, next to Syd­ney Aquar­ium at Dar­ling Har­bour.

The venue, for­merly Syd­ney Wildlife World, has been re­vamped and now presents Aus­tralian wildlife in eight dis­tinct habi­tats, in­clud­ing Kakadu Gorge, Dain­tree Rain­for­est and The Out­back. Each habi­tat cor­re­sponds to a ge­o­graphic area and is pop­u­lated with ap­pro­pri­ate an­i­mals. To de­liver the wow fac­tor, the at­trac­tion de­ploys Rex, an enor­mous salt­wa­ter croc­o­dile mea­sur­ing more than 5m. Rex is a rene­gade, a rep­til­ian psy­chopath with im­pres­sively big teeth. He killed the first two breed­ing fe­males in­tro­duced to him on the croc­o­dile farm where he used to live. Rex didn’t get a third chance — he was dis­patched to Syd­ney.

Wild Life Syd­ney is, un­der­stand­ably, favoured by chil­dren and school par­ties. It’s also prov­ing pop­u­lar with over­seas tourists and Aus­tralian vis­i­tors, too. In the space of 90 min­utes or two hours, you get to tra­verse spans of land­scape that would take weeks or months in the wild. You can snap im­pres­sive close-up pho­tos and cap­ture the clas­sic out­back shot of red kan­ga­roos loung­ing against ochre-soil out­crops un­der gum trees. (Tip: Keep the cam­era fo­cus tight to elim­i­nate back­ground dis­trac­tions such as sur­round­ing sky­scrapers.)

By the time you reach Wild Life’s ded­i­cated koala habi­tat, on the rooftop over­look­ing Dar­ling Har­bour, the back­ground doesn’t mat­ter. What’s im­por­tant is the an­i­mals and the staff, who have an ob­vi­ous rap­port.

The most chal­leng­ing species to deal with dur­ing the cen­tre’s re­fur­bish­ment was one of the small­est. Shift­ing a bull ants’ nest is tricky; ants re­sent peo­ple mess­ing with their queen. Wild Life’s life sciences man­ager Mike Drinkwater ex­plains that bull ants are re­lated to wasps and able to swivel their ab­domens to de­liver a venom-loaded st­ing that can plunge some peo­ple into ana­phy­lac­tic shock.

Wild Life Syd­ney con­ducts guided talks and feed­ing ses­sions reg­u­larly each day. You can have your photo taken with a koala and, yes, you can pat one.

Apart from its rooftop level, Wild Life Syd­ney is in­doors and air­con­di­tioned. Res­i­dents in­clude en­dan­gered species such as the cas­sowary, billed as the world’s dead­li­est bird, pos­sessed of a dag­ger-like in­ner claw. Snakes trig­ger won­der and oc­ca­sional shud­ders. ‘‘The in­land taipan, world’s most ven­omous, lives in re­mote ar­eas and feeds mainly on plague rats,’’ an­nounces a sign. A red-bel­lied black snake lies coiled like bur­nished steel; nearby cousins in­clude striped pythons, male and fe­male; a tiger snake and an east­ern brown. Vis­it­ing fans of Man vs Wild earnestly dis­cuss the dead­li­ness of each.

Un­less you are a con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist, or Bear Grylls, you are sure to depart Wild Life Syd­ney with en­hanced knowl­edge about our unique Aus­tralian an­i­mals. Peter Need­ham was a guest of Wild Life Syd­ney.

A koala at Wild Life Syd­ney

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