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.

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Koala bears or physics lecture? I think we all know what I chose.

Every time I told my friends that I was going to Australia, they would say:

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Or if they were feeling particularly creative,

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After all, they’re Australia’s national icons, right? Yet a month had gone by and I had not yet seen a kangaroo or a koala. Thankfully, I had booked a trip to the Sydney Wild Life Zoo, where some international kids and I would be eating breakfast among the koalas.

Therefore, a friend and I woke up at the crack of dawn and hopped a bus to Darling Harbour. Neither of us had slept much the night before, so we were pretty tired when we entered the zoo.

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There were koalas! THERE WERE KOALAS! OH MY GOODNESS, THERE WERE TWO KOALAS JUST SITTING THERE STRAIGHT CHILLIN’.

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One of the zookeepers graciously gave us a tour of the zoo. The zoo is quite small, mind you– it’s located in downtown Sydney, after all– but there was enough to keep me awake.

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One dangerous snake!

Two dangerous snakes!

Two dangerous snakes!

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Three dangerous snakes!

Australian wild life is no joke! Check out this crocodile, Rex:

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Seriously, this guy is not to be trifled with.

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Yowza. Heck, even this fine bird…

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…is hazardous!

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Oh, Australia. It’s okay, though. This country has plenty of adorableness to make up for it!

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Tasmanian Devil!

Wallaby!

Wallaby!

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Kookaburra!

Kangaroo!

Kangaroo!

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Wombat!

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At the end of our tour, we reached a rooftop cafe surrounded by trees and koalas. Here, we ate our breakfast with these guys staring at us the whole time:

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Koalas actually sleep for 20 hours a day! We got lucky and arrived right when the koalas were being fed, so we were able to see them while they were awake.

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Though, after eating, they went right back to sleep.

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It was really a lovely experience. We had a nice breakfast, got to see the koalas (but not pet them– having tourists handle koalas is outlawed in New South Wales, apparently) and even got our photo taken with one. Around 9, I decided to head out. I had a 10AM lecture that I wanted to catch. I grabbed my friend.

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We headed back towards the entrance, taking our time looking at all the animals again.

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We reached the entrance.

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So we went through the zoo for a third time.

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After a little bit of wandering, we managed to find the exit, which was located at the end of a long series of pathways.

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And we got to the exit…

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Back we went through the zoo for a fourth time.

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And, for the fourth time, we went past the crocodile…

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The kangaroos…

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The various lizards and reptiles…

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…and through the nocturnal exhibit, down the series of hallways, through the gift shop, and finally, the exit.

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So maybe I missed my physics lecture. But hey, just this once– I think it’s totally worth it.

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For sure.