Cuddling a Koala at the Bungalow Bay Koala Sanctuary

Crocs, Cockatoos and Koalas can only mean one thing; today was our trip to the Bungalow Bay Koala Village’s on site Koala Sanctuary. I was really looking forward to this as I’d read some good reviews and was looking forward to getting to cuddle a koala.

After waking up around half 8ish we quickly got up and ready to go. The girl who’s also staying in our cabin had to be at work at the sanctuary for 8 so had got up at 7 and I’d been woken up. I didn’t mind though as it gave me a chance to read a few more chapters of my book ‘Confessions of an Undercover Cop’ and drift in and out of sleep which I actually quite enjoy. I think Codie went back to sleep until 9 though then quickly woke up to make himself some toast before we had to leave. I chose not to have any, partly because dry toast is never that great but also because I was too excited to see the animals to eat. It surprised how cheap it actually was for everything once we’d reached reception and paid for entry and the koala photos. For $74 (about £39) we had entry for two people and a photo each of us holding a koala. At home, that’d barely get you into a zoo so it was a nice change!

When the ranger came to collect the tour group, we all trundled off towards the entrance and we managed to find ourselves at the front, though not intentionally. It didn’t mean much as everyone would get the chance to hold things but it did mean that we were able to see a huge blue butterfly flutter right past our faces and a bee with a nest type thing on the gate which was quite interesting to see. We were told to wait for a while at the gate as the ranger needed to see how many people were on the tour with us. There were lots. And lots. They just kept coming and although I know we’d picked a Saturday to do the visit so there was inevitably going to be busy, I wish we had a little bit of a smaller group as there was a lot of people to go around so it took lots longer to do certain things. Once we were allowed in, we all made our way over to a couple of benches  all in a circle facing a table in the middle and sat down. To be honest, it felt as though any second the rangers were going to bring out some kangaroo bollocks and a crocodile head for us to eat like “I’m a Celebrity…” with the way it was all laid out. Luckily, this didn’t happen and instead they brought out the first animal for us to see.

Donatella the freshwater turtle

Donatella looking at me suspiciously
Donatella looking at me suspiciously

Donatella came out with her eyes wide and curious, if a turtle can look like that. She wasn’t a ‘usual’ turtle as she was a river dweller rather than the sea and really was interesting to see. As there’s no freshwater on Magnetic Island and obviously it’s surrounded by saltwater, this species of turtle cannot survive here naturally and with her being found not too far away, it’s thought she was an unwanted pet. It’s really sad to think that people buy little creatures like her and then a few years down the line, give up on them. Apparently, when they found her she was in a sorry state and her shell was soft but now she’s thriving with her two other freshwater pond mates which is good to see. Poor turtle.

We all had the chance to hold her and I was a bit worried about it as she seemed quite kicky. I didn’t want to be the person who dropped and damaged her in front of everyone so I paid very close attention to the method which involved a firm flat hand on top and underneath incase she tried to kick herself away (I knew she was kicky!) As she was carefully moved from one person to the next, the rangers warned us that if you feel something trickling down your arm it was water she’d collected in tiny little sacs by her tail which allow her to breathe underwater. I’d heard about this before but it was really interesting to actually see them as opposed to just reading about it. I was too busy listening to be paying attention to Donatella who was heading towards me and suddenly it was my turn to hold her. She was a lot smaller than she looked so holding her wasn’t the problem I’d anticipated it to be and she even looked at the camera. What a lovely cooperative turtle. We later learnt that the reason why the other two turtles weren’t brought out was because they were bitey and not quite so helpful. After I’d had a go and Codie had too it was time to look at the really tiny baby one which was now being shown around. If turtles can’t look curious then they can definitely look shy as this one looked like it was trying to hide it’s rather large head in it’s too small looking shell. There was understandably no holding of this one and once the ranger had walked around with it quickly but carefully, the turtles were returned to their homes and it was time for the next creature.

Shadow the Red Tailed Black Cockatoo

Kisses for Shadow
Kisses for Shadow

Squawking, screeching and swooping about. These are the words I would describe the cockatoos we’d seen so far but Shadow was the opposite of this. He was also a black cockatoo rather than the sulphur crested white cockatoos we’d seen so many times before in Airlie Beach and indeed on Magnetic Island. As the ranger walked into the centre of the bench ring, he sat perched on her arm and appeared to survey the area. Once we’d been given a bit of information about the species, we were told about his ‘party trick’. He could kiss people. Well, he could carefully take a sunflower seed from in-between your lips but in bird terms, that is a kiss. As with Donatella, I was a bit worried about this as they seem such big birds and after watching sulphur crested ones standing on someone’s arm in Airlie Beach, I knew they had quite sharp claws which seemed to dig in a bit. Shadow was careful with his claws though so when it came to my go, he just sat there waiting for his sunflower seed then carefully took it. He was a lot lighter than I was expecting too as they look so chunky so that was quite a surprise. Codie’s camera had failed a little bit and wasn’t taking any photos which meant that we were having to use our phones instead. This wasn’t a problem at all as it meant that we could use the burst setting to get every moment of the cockatoo “kiss” and once both of us had had a go, we sat back and waited to see what happened next.

Mango the Eclectus Parrot

Lovely Mango
Lovely Mango

The next bird to be brought out was Mango, a brilliant green little eclectus parrot. He was a really chirpy little thing who seemed interested in everything and as a result, was quite difficult to hold as he kept wandering up and down your arm. The man next to me ended up having to twist his hand into a really awkward position in order to make sure he didn’t fall off.

Unlike the turtle, we were allowed to pass Mango to each other by raising a hand in front of him to encourage him to step across to your hand. This is because birds like to step up onto things rather than down which I didn’t know previously but it made a lot of sense regarding various past bird encounters! Eventually, he stepped on to me and after a few photos and him wobbling around on my arm, I passed him on to Codie. Or I tried to. He was a very stubborn bird and only left my arm once he could step onto the ranger’s before stepping on to Codie’s. It was nice to see and hold these birds as they’re not the type of animal I would usually want to hold. I’d happily hold a snake or a spider or a little mouse but not birds. I’m not entirely sure why as I enjoy watching them and getting up close to them but not too keen to have one on me. Perhaps it’s all the flapping… I’m quite happy to hold them now though as it was a really good experience and showed my mental brain that they aren’t all flappy, out of control things!

Harry the Hairy Nosed Wombat

Harry clearly not interested
Harry clearly not interested

Harry was next on the list and we headed over to his enclosure, quite a spacious little place with a little shed for him to sleep in during the day, a pool, trees and a log which a beautiful red dragon fly had taken a shine to. With wombats being nocturnal, it was obvious we weren’t going to get a long look at Harry but I was happy with a quick look as they’re such intriguing little things. The ranger gave us a little bit of information on Harry and explained that Harry is called as he has a little scar above his right eye that they thing he’s had since birth. We also learnt that he was found as a tiny baby after his mother was sadly hit and killed by a car. A few people driving down the road saw the mother’s body and, knowing that wombats are marsupials, decided to pull over and check her pouch were they found Harry. It’s horrible that animals are hit and killed by cars on a daily basis and I think more needs to be done to reduce it but it’s always nice to know that there are people who help out.

Back to today and the ranger explained that she was going to get in to the shed to encourage him to step through the doors and have a quick wander outside. Almost immediately he popped his head out and came through his little door but just as quickly, he turned around and popped back inside. The same happened again. It seemed like the little wombat was a bit too sleepy today for the time being. We’d managed to get a little look at him  which I was happy with but I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t managed to get a decent photo of him although it wasn’t the end of the world. Whilst waiting for him to pop out again, we were told about the wombat species in general and it was amazing to find out more about them, particularly their boney plate. Just like koalas, wombats have boney plates in their backsides containing no nerve endings at all but unlike koalas, it isn’t so that they can sit in uncomfortable places; it’s more of a defence. If a wombat is snuffling around and is spotted by a dingo, they can run to a hole to hide however rather than trying to get in where the dingo can follow, they use their backsides to block the entrance. Without nerve endings, the wombat can practically ignore the wombat scratching and nibbling at it until it tires and gives up. Cleverly, it sometimes leaves a little gap at the top to trick the dingo into thinking it can get in and once it tries, the wombat quickly slams it’s head against the roof often cracking it’s skull and killing it instantly. They really aren’t the cuddly things they appear to be!

The ranger tried one more time to get Harry to come out but after one quick final appearance, he hurried back to his cosy bed presumably for another sleep. We’ve seen wombats very briefly at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane and they were fascinating then and so to see another, albeit a very quick look, was definitely one of the highlights of the visit.

Reptiles

Baby croc
Baby croc

I enjoyed this section of the tour loads as we had the chance to hold, very carefully, a tiny baby saltwater crocodile. To begin with, we had a little look at the freshwater crocodiles lazing around in their pond. As magnificent as they are with their long pointy snouts and somewhat relaxed demeanour, they just don’t seem to have the same heart fluttering impact that the big salt water crocodiles do. If you come face to face with a freshwater crocodile, as long as you don’t disturb it, chance are nothing will happen but you definitely cannot say that about the “salties”. Once you’re in the water with them, “unless you’re an olympic swimmer you won’t be getting away” which is really quite exciting to thing to think in terms of their strength in a morbid sort of a way.

Before we were given the chance to hold the tiny little one we’d be shown, myself and Codie had a go at holding a couple of lizards. Everyone got to have a go but as there was so many of us, the crocodile was taking a while to make it’s way down the line and we were lucky to be close to the lizard entry point. The first lizard we held was a squashy brown one that, according to Codie, “felt like playdough”. Funnily enough, this wasn’t it’s actual name which was a blue tongued lizard because it had a blue tongue (very creative name!) I had it passed to me first and it felt incredibly weird, really soft and shiny and I imagine quite squidgy if you squeezed it (but I didn’t of course). I always expect lizards to be quite wriggly and wanting to move around all the time but this one remained all calm and happily sat on my hands, flicking his little tongue out every now and again. After a little while, I carefully passed him on to Codie and he was exactly the same with him which was good!

Pine cone lizard
Pine cone lizard

A shingle-back lizard was next on the list and she was very cute for a reptile looking like a pine cone! The rangers explained to us that this species of lizard is monogamous and stays with her partner for life which often means that if one is found dead then the other is found lying somewhere close by. When holding her, we had to ensure that we supported her tail at all times as she was liable to wee if not and nobody wanted that to happen. Just like the blue tongued lizard, this little moving pine cone remained calm and quiet and just sat in our hands again feeling just like a real pine cone. I think she was my favourite simply due to the fact that she was fascinating.

By this stage, the crocodile was nearing our position in the line and after carefully passing the lizard on to someone else to have a go (though we didn’t want to) we stepped up to have a hold. Codie went first this time and had to make sure he was holding it properly so it couldn’t whip it’s head around and bite him. To make sure this didn’t happen, you have to make two rings; one loosely around it’s neck and one loosely in front of it’s back legs. That way he couldn’t nip you with his small but razor like teeth and couldn’t kick his way out of your hands. The croc seemed quite happy and sat there for a while before he was passed on to me to for a little hold. It was strange holding him as he was so small at the time but you know he’s going to grow into a beast. Despite being so small though, he still had eyes that said that you shouldn’t mess with him as he’d try to nibble off your fingers. Saltwater crocodiles seem to have constant smirks on their faces like they know they’re trouble and I like an animal that has attitude!

Thor the Koala

Me and Thor
Me and Thor

Thor was the animal everyone was looking forward to seeing, a little koala. Despite what many people assume, koalas are not in fact bears at all and their nickname ‘koala bears’ is derived from a more sinister thing. When European settlers arrived they found the koalas just doing what koalas do but rather than watch them or study these unknown and odd looking little things, they did something a lot more grim. They plucked them out of the gumtrees, killed them, stuffed them and then sold them as ‘koala bears’ in Europe which is really quite creepy! This isn’t the first negative story I’ve heard in Australia about Europe which probably isn’t the best but it does make me want to learn more about the history of the country.

Once everyone was settled on some benches and those holding the koala had handed in their tickets, it was time for Thor to be brought in. He seemed to peer across at everyone as he was carried across, almost as if he was weighing up whether he’d enjoy being held by this group. I hoped he would. In order to stop him becoming stressed or having our arms shredded by his long claws, we were shown how to hold him in advance so that when it came to our turns it could be a quick and efficient transfer. It really was a quick transition as despite there being a large line of people, it soon came to our turn and Codie went first. I couldn’t help but laugh when he stood next to the current koala cuddler and had to pretend to be a tree. It looked like he was doing some sort of wooden ballet position which was really funny. I didn’t have much time to laugh though as after he’d had his photo taken and I’d taken a few, it was my turn and I stood up to form by wooden tree position. Suddenly, Thor was transferred to me and he wasn’t what I was expecting at all. For a start, he was a lot lighter and a lot fuzzier than I thought he’d be. They look quite chunky so you’d think they’d have a bit of weight on them but he really didn’t, he was the perfect size. Of course you weren’t actually allowed to cuddle them or he’d think his comfy tree was moving and would dig his claws in and so you had to stay really, really still. Apparently, whilst I was having my photograph taken he was falling asleep in my arms so I either make an excellent tree or I’m really wooden…

IMG_7706Kim, the girl we’re sharing a cabin with, asked if we’d like a photo taken together with Thor and then took a few of us on my camera which was nice. All too soon though it was time for him to move on and with a raise of his little arms, he made his way to the next human tree. Once he’d been round everyone else, the ranger brought him round everyone one more time so we could have ‘selfies’ with him as he went past. Codie took his, then me and they seemed quite good but when they reached the other side of the ring, Thor reached his head out to sniff someone’s head which must have been a great shot. Little bit jealous of that! Holding a koala was a really odd experience in that it was nothing like I thought it would be and I didn’t want to let him go! I’m a little bit worried about the stress it may cause him but I’m quite confident that the rangers are very careful and do what they can to prevent it.

Jimmy and Murray the Snakes

Ssssss
Ssssss

Once Thor (and his hammer) had disappeared back into his leafy enclosure, there were a couple more slithery guests to see;  Jimmy and Murray the snakes. Murray was a 30 year old carpet python and I think Jimmy was too but was only about 8 years old. Since we saw the brown snake in Airlie Beach I’ve developed a new appreciation for them and was looking forward to holding one here. I’ve never had a fear of snakes and have held them in the past but I haven’t really paid an incredible amount of attention to them until now. They are amazing creatures in every way from the way they move to the way they eat and getting to have one wrapped around my neck reminded me how powerful they are. Unlike Thor,  Jimmy was a lot heavier than I thought and when he was placed around my neck, seemed to do all he could to wrap himself around me. We were told that as long as we didn’t squeeze them at all, they wouldn’t harm us in any way but a part of me did wonder whether I’d end up squashed with a snake around my head. We both had a hold of him and had a few pictures before Codie volunteered to hold Murray, the much larger version.

Murray was a monster, in size anyway, and after Jimmy’s little squeeze I was a little more concerned but Codie looked like he was having fun. I took a few photos of him with Murray creeping up and down before I was given a go. He was so so heavy that it felt as though my shoulders were being forced down. It was really odd because rather than a snake, he felt more like a long scarf trying to escape. Everyone knows the scarf situation when it hangs down and drags on the floor without you noticing until it’s pretty much off you and Murray was just like that. At one point, he refused to stay on my hand at all and just drooped down. I found myself having to resist holding on tight to him so he wouldn’t slither away partially as I didn’t want to lose him and also because I didn’t fancy a snake bite. The ranger had become distracted talking to another tourist which meant that I was left with this big, slithering lump around my neck for a lot longer than I thought and he was squeezing me more and more. It was a bit worrying because I wanted him to release my neck a bit once it had passed the nice massage stage and had started to hurt a bit but she soon noticed and took him away. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing experience to hold both the snakes but it’s also nice to give them back.

Bird Eating Spider

IMG_3443Our final critter to meet was quite a large bird eating spider who was sitting in a little plastic box. We’d stayed behind in the snake section to ask what the ranger thought the snake we’d seen in Airlie Beach was (seems like a brown snake is likely) and thought it’d be quite busy when we got there. They’d announced they had one more “cuddly” animal for us to see but unsurprisingly, there was barely anyone left when I presume they’d realised it was this hairy legged and evil looking arachnid. A few of us crowded around while he was poked with a stick to make him move but Codie wasn’t so keen to see him. I was though as I remember learning about them in Year 4 and thinking they were the best spiders ever. The fact they can grow to the size of a dinner plate amazed me and did today but I have to admit, that feeling soon crept away once we were told that they were in the area!

The trip to the koala sanctuary was really good and I enjoyed every minute of it. I was pretty disappointed that I hadn’t brought my long lens to get some closer shots of the animals but it was also nice to focus on just enjoying seeing them instead. Although it was a small space, you could tell the rangers enjoyed their jobs and were really knowledgeable about the species they looked after. I think some grumpy people on the tour were annoyed it wasn’t bigger but you have to remember that the clue is in the name, ‘Bungalow Bay Koala Sanctuary’. A lot of the animals are rescues and the focus is on ensuring that they have the best quality of life as opposed to putting the tourists first which is a refreshing change. I particularly enjoyed the souvenirs available at the end next to the spider and I ended up with some stickers, a sticker for my mac and a temporary tattoo. I don’t know what it is about souvenirs but they always get me; at least it was for a good cause though as all the proceeds go towards the Australia Koala Foundation and protecting the species. Overall, this was a really good couple of hours and well worth the money, all of which has been donated to protecting the wildlife of Magnetic Island, and it’s somewhere I would wholeheartedly recommend others should visit!

To be continued…..

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