Koalas eat their own poop and are riddled with chlamydia. Let’s give one a hug!

I only had two goals for our trip to Queensland, Australia. One was to go to the Great Barrier. The second was to hug a koala.

Despite being in Sydney for the last four months, I still had not hugged a koala. I had been able to pet one, sure. But I hadn’t yet been able to hold one in my arms, give it a squeeze, and pretend, for just a second, that it was my own.

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So my friends and I ensured that, during our trip down Queensland, that we would visit somewhere that would let us hold a koala. We found a place called the Billabong Sanctuary, which has this banner across the front of its homepage:

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Consider us sold.

The Billabong Sanctuary isn’t your typical zoo, though. Unlike Wild Life Sydney or Taronga Zoo, where animals are untouchable behind their glass enclosures, the Billabong Sanctuary encourages interaction between its visitors and animals. Which is why, at the front entrance, they sell these bags of seed.

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It seems like visitors of the Billabong Sanctuary have been feeding the animals for years. The ducks knew exactly what to do as soon as we stepped into the park.

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We were immediately swarmed by hordes of wild whistling ducks, all quacking and hooting and fighting each other for food. While it was fun feeding them at first…

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…they continued to follow us and fight each other as we walked around the park.

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Those ducks weren’t the only fans of bird feed, either. Wallabies approached us, hoping to get in on the action.

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Kangaroos joined us too!

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The crazy part is, a lot of the animals that live at the Billabong Sanctuary are wild. The park had humble beginnings: A Sydney schoolteacher, ready for a change in his life, moved to Queensland and spent two years building an artificial lagoon. Locals offered up native animals to add to the park. Today, the Billabong Sanctuary does host rarer animals like wombats and colorful cockatoos– but those ducks? The geese that later flew in to fight with the ducks? The tons of turtles, swimming in the ponds? They’re all native to the area and moved into the park on their own. The Billabong Sanctuary is a pretty ideal place to live, so why not?

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In order to deepen the understanding between humans and animals, the sanctuary runs talks every day. They’re interactive! That morning, for example, we were introduced to Hope, a baby cassowary that lives at the park.

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Not only were we able to feed her…

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…we were allowed to feed the larger and slightly scarier adult cassowary as well.

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One of the park rangers took a wombat out of his enclosure and gave a a talk about wombats in Australia. She didn’t even flinch when the wombat proceeded to pee on her boot for a minute straight.

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I still couldn’t resist petting this fat fella, though.

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For $99, you can even feed one of the gigantic crocodiles that live at the park. My friends and I decided to skip this, though, content to watch the park rangers do it instead.

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This was crazy!

And then, finally…

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The koalas!

While admission to the park allows you to view and pet the koalas, to hold them costs a little extra. My friends and I had traveled all this way, so we coughed up the extra $16. This included a professional photo and a print, so I suppose the price could be worse.

We were led to the side of one of the lagoons (gotta have that scenic background, after all) where the ranger took our photos one by one. My friends went first, gingerly clutching the koala and smiling for the camera. And then, my turn came!

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The ranger carefully placed the koala in my arms.

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And fixed my unruly hair for the photo.

Then, finally, I got to hold a koala!

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It was the crowning moment of the entire day.

19 thoughts on “Koalas eat their own poop and are riddled with chlamydia. Let’s give one a hug!

    • It was a fact we learned about koalas while at the park. Koalas eat eucalyptus leaves, which are actually highly toxic without certain bacteria that can break down the toxins. However, koalas are not born with this bacteria. So what do they do? The mother koala feeds her offspring a special excrement called “pap”– basically, a special kind of poop– that contains the bacteria the baby needs.

      Just thought it was an interesting bit of information!

  1. Hi Vy !

    Now all you have to do is kiss a frog and to watch out what happens …. 🙂
    BTW: Those two Koalas on that trunk… looks like a massive hangover to me. 🙂 🙂

    Thank’s for sharing !!

    ’til later

  2. I volunteer at a park similar to that in NSW Australia and our wombat pees on your feet when you hold her too 😛

    As someone who is studying in the animal industry I don’t really like how Zoos like Taronga handle their interactions with the animals. Unless the Koalas are going to the vet or something similar, not even the keepers are allowed to hold them. They say that they are easily stressed animals (which is true) so they don’t want to stress them by picking them up all the time. But if they get used to it from a young age then it won’t stress them. They’re not wild animals while they’re living in captivity, don’t treat them like wild animals that you shouldn’t touch but animals hat are in captivity.

    Sounds like you found what you wanted anyway 🙂 Australian animals are very special.

    • That’s so neat that you get to work in a park! You’re right, Australian animals really are special. I have yet to see an animal that can beat the cuteness of a koala. 😀

      That’s also an interesting point you bring up– a lot of animals are born and raised in captivity, but are still treated as though they’re wild. Do you think animals raised in zoos pose the same danger to humans as the same animals in the wild?

      • There are animals that have to be treated with caution at all times such as elephants, big cats etc. because they are ‘wild’ in the sense that a wolf is different to a dog because a wolf hasn’t been bred for domestication and so has more of a ‘wild’ nature. But no I don’t believe animals that are bred into captivity pose the same threat as those in the wild, but only if they are hand raised so they get use to people and are raised and looked after by people that actually know what they are doing, which sadly is a very small percentage of the people Tay actually work with animals. I would guess based on my own observation that sadly it would be in the area of 10-15% of these people that actually have the knowledge and instinct enough to be able to look after zoo caliber animals properly so as to raise them as not a threat to people.

        So I guess what I’m trying to say (in the most round about way) is that animals born and raised in captivity have the possibility to pose less of a threat to humans as long a they are raised by someone who knows what they’re doing. I mean you can look at incidences where people working in zoos have been ‘attacked’ by lions and then you can look at people like Kevin Richardson who practically lives with them, I would say that it’s the person rather than the animal that causes either safe or unsafe behaviour.

        I hope that makes sense. This is an area that really interests me as I want to study in animal behaviour. It’s like with dogs for example, you look at a pit bull in the hands I one family a pit bull can be a wonderful family dog l, but in the hands of another it can be deemed a ‘man eating dog’ that needs to be put down. Is it really the dog that is entirely responsible for that behaviour or the family that looks after the dog. You look at someone like Cesar Millan the ‘Dog Whisperer’ and how he rehabilitates dogs his philosophy is that a dog acts on the energy that the owner gives him and by changing the owners attitude, behaviour and energy he can cause a dog to go from aggressive to calm and submissive.

        Anyway that’s what I think 🙂 What do you reckon?

        • Very interesting! That makes a lot of sense. I was interested to hear your opinion, since I haven’t worked much with animals. I’ve read articles on the domestication of foxes, suggesting that there are genetic differences between wild and domesticated animals that cause the domesticated animal to be naturally friendly to humans. But of course, the environment plays a huge factor in animal behavior as well. Nor have these genes been thoroughly studied yet.

          Haha sorry, I recently took a class on genetics and animal behavior. I guess I’m trying to say that I agree with you! If an animal experiences positive experiences with humans its whole life, it’s certainly more likely to be calm and submissive around humans, despite its wild background. That’s just my two cents. 🙂

            • We learned a whole bunch of stuff! It was about 50% population genetics, 50% animal behaviour and how the two are linked. But mostly, it was about bees. My professor, Ben Oldroyd, is apparently a leading expert on bees– if you Google him, he’s written a ton of papers!

              It’s hard to summarize the entire class here, but it was definitely the most interesting class I’ve taken in college so far. Maybe because we got to go out and catch bees ourselves. But there were other interesting tidbits as well– such as, how most behavior is motivated by selfish genes, why it’s genetically advantageous for humans and some species to live in groups, and how to tell, genetically, whether or not an endangered species can be saved by human intervention. It was a lot of statistics, but very interesting stuff!

            • I love it how such small creatures that most of us don’t give a second thought to can be someone’s ‘life’ work. Its amazing how we’re all made to have different interests and different levels of concentration ability so that we have some people that are really good at building houses and others that are experts on bees.

              Im really hoping that when I get to pick my subjects for University I can pick a genetics class, genetics just fascinate me.

            • I hope you get the chance as well! If you do anything related to biology, I’m sure you’ll get to take at least a basics genetics course– it’s really one of the fundamental components of biological research today. (In my opinion, anyway!)

  3. Gosh, I went there years ago before I started high school. I’m so glad there is a baby cassowary now. When I went one had died from eating a poisonous toad. Funny thing is I actually go to NEU now as a first year living in IV. Nice to see the cool things that can come in the future

    • Huh, you know, they told us about that! We noticed that all the fences had a metal mesh covering the bottom few feet of the animal enclosures. The tour guide said that those were to keep out those poisonous cane toads.

      No way, you’re a Husky now? Welcome! I remember my first year living in International Village. I hope you’re enjoying Northeastern so far, and maybe see you around campus! 😀

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