Tuesday, 8 August 1995

AUC 1995 - Territory Wildlife Park

A study of the attractions on offer, indicated the Territory Wildlife Park - located only 2 kilometres away from our campsite - would be a worthwhile place as our major thing to see during the course of this day. As an addition, we had the Berry Springs Nature Park, which was between us and the Wildlife Park, so travel was not going to be a problem.

The Territory Wildlife Park is a project of the Northern Territory Conservation Commission - the equivalent of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service - and is designed to show visitors the native and feral animals which can be found in the Northern Territory. It is set on 400 hectares of nahiral bushland and has a variety of exhibits which utilise the natural setting.

The shelters and structures which have been built to house various displays of animals, are unobtrusive and are connected by a series of walking tracks and a bitumen road. A shuttle "train" operates every twenty minutes along the road, allowing those who choose not to walk, the opportunity of being carried to the exhibit of their choice.

Throughout the day, the park has displays which feature the animals of the park.

There is a main kiosk and souvenir shop, ample parking and picnicking facilities. These are backed up by an auxiliary kiosk which operates on the opposite side of the park during the peak season.

About the park, at all displays and near certain enclosures, chilled drinking water was available. You could either drink from a fountain head or refill your containers.

Clearly, deep thought had gone into making sure people and animals were catered for. Our family entry price of $25 was the most reasonable we had paid anywhere, on this trip or on previous ones and we were immediately struck by the warm welcome and courteous manner of the staff as we entered the park and planned our first moves.

We caught our first train ride of the day to the Kangaroo & Friends area, where we were able to observe a 30 minute demonstration and explanation of care and feeding of orphaned and injured creatures. The current residents were two Brush Tailed Possums, who were very cute and playful; an extremely shy Sugar Glider; a small Rock Wallaby that was extremely agile; some small birds which didn't interest me, so I didn't bother to remember their names; and a lonely Shell Duck, which had a chook running about with it for company. Apparently, without the chook, it would pine away and eventually die of loneliness. The level of caring was immediately obvious, especially since this was not even the regular keeper, but a stand-in from the general staff. The regular keeper of this section was on a rostered day off: she had taken with her, one of the exhibits who considered her a surrogate mother!

The other aspect of this section was evident everywhere we went: the care taken to help the public
understand what they were seeing. Adjacent to the enclosure was a series of stones set flush into the
ground. Children were encouraged to hop from one to the next, simulating the action required by Rock Wallabies. A long jumping pit was also there, with a marker eight metres distant, showing the leaping stride of the Red Kangaroo in full flight. Again children were encouraged to try the pit to see how far they could leap.

From this display, we began walking through the feral animals section and viewed some Water Buffalo, but quickly caught the train to the aquarium for the fish feeding. The aquarium complex is typical of the brilliantly designed buildings which exist in this park. Almost hidden in the bush surrounding it, it houses a wonderful array of fish and water animals found in the NT.

Whilst there are many fine aspects to this exhibit, certainly the feature is the walk through perspex aquarium, where an array of fish swim past and over the visitor. Two large Stingrays glide about and block out the light as they pass over the bubble tube in close proximity to the unaware, giving them a start when they become conscious of the large moving mat going overhead. Barramundi of enormous proportions - perhaps 700 or 800mm - swim past the drooling angler. Catfish lurk at the bottom of the tank.

In the midst of this wonder, a diver immersed herself in the water - lime coloured feet first - and began feeding the large fish. Viewing was at a premium as people crowded for good shots of the events taking place and the tunnel became quite crowded and uncomfortable. Eventually, the crowd thinned and we were treated to a marvellous display. On several occasions, the diver counted her fingers after feeding the Barramundi, as their feeding action is a swift lunge forward to secure the prey. This was done with great humour and added to what we were seeing. I was able to obtain much good footage of this and looked forward to reviewing my shots.

As the crowd further dispersed, we continued through the building, until we turned a corner and there was Sam's worst nightmare. In a large tank, set into the wall, was an enormous Saltwater Crocodile: perhaps four metres in length. Sam's head was in real danger of losing it's eyes and it took some time before he stopped staring with the wide saucers he was looking from. It was a magnificent specimen and much lighter in colour than I had expected. It's fearsome jaws showed many of the sharp and deadly teeth which secure their prey whilst they crush and drown them in the water. The external ridges ran down the back in a perfect designfor swift movement through the water.

In a period of nearly thirty minutes we stood, most of us transfixed by this powerful, wonderful creature and in all of that time, it didn't move: didn't even open its eyes. When everyone had moved off, 1 had Sam pose in front of the crocodile by himself: a summary shot of him facing his fears, as it were. It was irony, but it was appropriate, given the expressed fear which had been part of an almost dally routine in the months leading up to our trip. Within seconds of commencing my taping, with Sam in the foreground making faces as if was completely unafraid of this giant animal behind him, the previously motionless crocodile opened his eyes and began rising behind the glass. Sam, oblivious to the movement because he was facing the camera, turned to pull a face at it, only to find it at eye level, where once it had been at knee level. The reaction was caught on tape and never have I been so lucky to capture a moment on video.

We ate lunch outside this exhibit, reviewing how impressed we all were with what we had seen and then moved on to the first of a series of aviaries which were constructed in a circular walk, leading eventually to the large, walk through aviary and monsoon forest walk. This pathway had been named in honour of Harry Butler, the infamous TV naturalist. Among other things, he was one of the founding members of this park and many of his concepts were used in the design of the displays and buildings.

Unfortunately, time was against us - mainly because of our habit of dallying at each display and enjoying the birds we could see living in close approximations of their normal environment - so we cut short our tour and hurried to the Reptile House /or a talk on snakes. The keeper who presented this, had a dry sense of humour and a real love of his charges. During the course of the talk, on snakes in general, he had an Olive Python named Monty strung about him in various states of repose. This was a very informative talk and one which shed a lot of light on a variety of snakes. It also contained some funny anecdotes. Including one about a lady who rang to say there was a large snake eating a cat on her back lawn. "Don't hurry though," she assured the keepers down the phone line, "because it's not my cat!"

The snake - a water python - was captured, but regurgitated its meal In order to make a hasty retreat.
Captured, never the less, it Is still on display at the park. The dead and regurgitated cat was brought to the park and weighed. This hungry snake had swallowed 3.5 kgs of cat, whole !

We walked to the next display, the wonderful Nocturnal House. Here we saw the most varied group of night animals Sue or I had ever seen in this type of display. The cutest was undoubtedly the Bilby, but many others caught the eye, including Chris's favourite, the Dunnart. Unfortunately, we again had to hurry off to catch the show containing Birds of Prey.

Here again, the staff at the Park proved to be amazingly co-operative.

Despite having hundreds of people roaming the park on the day we were there, the staff member driving the train found out visitors at many of the stations on his run were trying to get to the Birds of Prey Display, so he radioed ahead and had the show held up for five minutes whilst he drove us there at express pace.

What came next can only be said to have been something special.

Two keepers took turns to show us a Sea Eagle, Black Kite, Osprey and a magnificent Wedge Tailed Eagle called Jedda. During their demonstrations, the birds flew to perches constructed about the arena and returned feed. The magnificent Sea Eagle, with its wide wing span and keen eyes and the flash of white which marks their underwing was keen to dive and buzz the audience. We were assured by her handler, this was owing to the windy condtions, but he also confided in us she was being put off by the preponderance of Black Kites which were hanging about, trying to poach a feed.

The Black Kite a very cheeky fellow. He tried his hardest to get at the food his handler was hiding from him. trait is caused by his need to cleverly sneak in on the kills of the larger Wedge Tailed Eagles and convince them they should share. There appeared to be a natural cunning in this bird and the handler commented it was enjoying its flying on this particular afternoon.

Each were impressive but there a was a special wonder associated with the Wedgie. To watch this graceful yet powerful creature at close quarters was to be truly awestruck. The huge wing span -which can exceed two metres - and the proud almost arrogant position of the head in response to the stimuli about it, gave it such a presence, we were hard pressed to roll out the adjectives when watching her fly and then, just sit peacefully with her handler and pose for photographs after the show had finished. It was an extraordinary thirty minutes of information, entertainment and spectacle.

From this breathtaking show, we walked back to the main kiosk, where we ate ice creams whilst taking stock of our day and deciding which things we wanted to finish or see again, as the gates remained open until 6:00 pm. I purchased two video productions on the Top End and Kakadu from the well stocked souvenir shop.

A unanimous vote saw us return to the aviaries and the Nocturnal House, both of which had been
interrupted so we could see special shows during the day. As we had seen only four of the small aviaries the first time around, the additional three or four were a treat and the continued impression of the care which had been taken to recreate the normal habitat of each animal - in this case birds - was continued during our walk. The final aviary is a large geodesic dome which operates at three levels. A spiral walkway leads the visitor from their entry point near the top portion of the dome, down through the layers of foliage to the ground dwelling birds. A small stream flows quietly through the dome in a meandering fashion and provides a habitat for Long Necked Turtles and three or four varieties offish.

This was a bird watchers delight, as the thinning of the crowds meant we were the only people in the dome at the time and the bird life was not disturbed by our quiet rambling and observation of their late afternoon preening. 1 finally got my first look at birds I had only seen in Simpson & Day, such as the Spangled Drongo, which is a deep black colour. Bronze Wings and Peaceful Doves joined a restful chorus of bird calls which soothed our now tiring limbs. If a seat had been handy, I doubt we would have left!

From the aviary, the path then leads through a natural pocket of rainforest. Somehow clinging to the small creek running through it, this haven of lush green was a cool place to be, as the heat of the afternoon was starting to irritate us southerners. A combination of boardwalks and track wind through this little pocket, but such is the density of the growth under the top canopy, you are not really aware of the fact you are looping and turning back close to previously walked track.

During this walk, Chris kept his eagle-eye reputation intact, spotting a one metre long snake swimming through the creek several metres below and away from us. We stopped and watched it lazily slide through the near still water, alight upon a bank and go on its way, by now hidden from our interested gaze.

This charming walk brought us out at another road station, but rather than wait for the "train", we walked to the Nocturnal House. The reflected heat from the bitumen and the ambient heat of the afternoon, combined to make us far less comfortable than we had been in the cool of the rain forest.

It was along this short stretch of road, we spotted Gog's favourite bird. At first in a low branch beside the roadway and then, darting down, hovering and circling back to the branch, was a Rainbow Bee Eater. The beautiful combination of colours as it fluttered and turned, gave us a private spectacle many other observers would have missed. Again, this was a feature of the park. There were many birds and animals which still visited and or used the undeveloped sections of bush between each display. Bird nests in the tree hollows; Lace Monitors who wandered the roadways in the late afternoon and evenings; the snake we had seen during the rainforest walk; the annoying Black Kites at the Birds of Prey show. These were all examples of the way in which the ethos of the park creators and the staff could be seen. Rather than try and capture these creatures and cage them, they were allowed to use the bush in their natural way. The keen observer then got the added treat of seeing the natural as well as the recreated natural habitats.

Our final visit of the day, was to the Nocturnal House. As the only people in this area, we saw much, as we crept quietly along on our darkened side of the glass. Two creatures we had not seen a great deal of earlier - the Rock Wallaby and the Bllby - put on great display for us, as we stood in relaxed attention to their antics.

Reluctantly, we left this exhibit and waited at it's "train station", tired but satisfied. When our transport arrived, twenty minutes before the gates closed and with the final ten customers left in the park, we made sure we conveyed our praise to the staff members who had the duty of closing down the establishment.

The park closes its incoming gates to customers at 4:00 pm, but allows customers already in the park the luxury of the additional two hours of wandering. It was yet another reason why we felt we had received superb value for money during our six hours in the park.

This was a day to rival our tremendous experience at Katherine and at a cost of $25, one which had satisfied all criteria !

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