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Wild encounters for a cause

Words: Ronan O’Connell
Feb 29, 2020

Wild encounters for a cause

Words: Ronan O’Connell
Feb 29, 2020

Never before has Australia been so badly affected by bushfires, which have killed at least 29 people and more than 1 billion animals. You can help by visiting the country’s wildlife sanctuaries.

Australia has dozens of zoos and sanctuaries where animals are nursed back to health.

As a wall of flames engulfs a home in the background, a solitary kangaroo bounds through the air. This snap by photographer Matthew Abbott has become the iconic image of the bushfires that have ravaged Australia the past few months, having appeared on magazines, newspapers and websites across the world. The photo sums up not just the terrifying ferocity of these fires, but also their devastating impact on both the humans and animals of Australia.

The house burning in that photograph is symbolic of the thousands of Australian homes destroyed by these bushfires, which are the largest the country has ever seen. Tens of thousands of Australians have been displaced by this natural disaster, forced to evacuate their properties and live in emergency accommodation. Meanwhile, the fleeing kangaroo represents the more than 1.25 billion animals that have died in the fires which have torn through the states of New South Wales and Victoria. 

Native Australian animals like emus have had their habitats destroyed by the bushfires.

More than 100,000 square kilometres of land have been burned by these fires, which equates to about 20 percent of the entire land mass of Thailand. While thousands of Australians have been lucky enough to escape the encroaching fires thanks to public warning systems, the toll on the nation’s wildlife has been unimaginably severe. Unique native animals like kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, emus and platypuses are among the breathtakingly high number of animals to have been killed.

Fortunately, millions of animals have managed to flee the fires and survived. Many of those animals who have suffered burns, smoke inhalation or heat exhaustion are being treated by the admirable volunteers who run Australia’s more than 100 wildlife rehabilitation centres. Tourists can assist these centres not just by donating to them online, but also by visiting them. Many of these organisations help fund themselves by offering paid tours and up-close experiences with their animals. Here are four wildlife sanctuaries you can visit on your next trip to Australia:

Australia Zoo (Beerwah, Queensland)

Managed by the wife of Australia’s most famous-ever environmental conservationist, the late Steve Irwin (Crocodile Hunter), Australia Zoo is a massive facility 70 km north of Brisbane. The zoo was established by Irwin’s parents, who were also environmentalists. 

As well as being a zoo which showcases Australia’s native fauna to visitors, it also boasts one of the world’s largest animal hospitals. Each year up to 8,000 sick or injured animals are treated at this hospital. You can help to fund Australia Zoo’s wildlife rehabilitation efforts by donating online, paying for a 30-minute tour of the hospital, or visiting the main zoo.


Featherdale Wildlife Park (Sydney, New South Wales)

Located in Doonside in Sydney’s Western suburbs, Featherdale Wildlife Park has a wide range of initiatives aimed at animal conservation. It boasts a Plantation Fund to create new habitats for koalas, a breeding programme for endangered species like quolls, conduct research into a range of rare Australian animals, and educate school children about Australia’s fauna.

Featherdale also offers visitors to the park a chance to enjoy hands-on encounters with many native Australian animals. Guests can hold baby crocodiles, cuddle with koalas, and make friends with possums, infant kangaroos or owls.

Taronga Zoo (Sydney, New South Wales)

Australia’s most famous zoo, Taronga is located on a picturesque clifftop overlooking Sydney Harbour and the city’s skyline. Taronga has two Wildlife Hospitals – Taronga Zoo Sydney and Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo – which treat more than 1,000 animals per year.

Sydney's famous Taronga Zoo has two animal hospitals.

Taronga Zoo in Sydney has an eco resort where guests can stay inside the zoo.

The main zoo in Sydney has an eco-resort where tourists can stay in the middle of the zoo itself, which also provides a range of special experiences. These include the ‘Zoo Keeper for a Day’ programme where visitors can help the zoo’s staff to look after animals. There are also a range of animal encounters which let guests get up close to penguins, koalas, elephants and meerkats.

Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (Perth, Western Australia)

Kanyana began 40 years ago with a Perth couple caring for injured birds in their home, and has since grown into an enormous non-profit facility in Lesmurdie in the city’s eastern suburbs. Kanyana’s volunteers care for animals that are sick, injured and displaced, as well as infant creatures which are orphaned. 

Visitors interested to learn wildlife rehabilitation skills can attend Kanyana’s one-day workshops on animal first aid. Kanyana also offers a two-hour Nocturnal Tour, during which visitors can meet the centre’s nocturnal animals, and a two-hour Discovery Tour, which provides insights into the workings of Kanyana’s veterinary clinic. Visitors who want to get closer to the animals can book one of Kanyana’s 30-minute cuddle sessions with an echidna, black cockatoo or tawny frogmouth.



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