Who better to let us in on where to spot the coolest native Australian animals than Wildlife Ecologist and Explorer Project member Caitlin Weatherstone? Don’t don your khakis just yet! You’ve got reading to do.
Australia is known for its weird and wonderful wildlife. But mostly for the deadly stuff. We have everything here – from big, flightless birds and kangas that can kick with one swoop, to highly venomous desert snakes that can exterminate in seconds and a myriad of ocean creatures that want to spike, sting, envenomate and bite us.
Deadly or not, it can’t be denied that Australian wildlife is uniquely beautiful, thanks to our long geographic isolation and harsh climate. Australian wildlife has adapted to living here alongside humans, the land’s Traditional Owners, for over 40,000 years.
In my job as a Wildlife Ecologist I’m lucky to get up close and personal with wildlife in their natural habitat. I hold the species below close to my heart, they’ve overcome the odds of survival in a modern world – although some are only just holding on. They’re all brilliantly adapted to their environments and demand respect. And most importantly, protection.
Etty Bay – far north Queensland
The endangered southern cassowary looks more velociraptor than bird and can only be found in tropical far north Queensland and Papua New Guinea. It’s Australia’s heaviest bird species and probably the most dangerous, so it’s surprising that most of their diet is fallen fruit. Coming across one in its natural habitat is an exhilarating experience and all the more special knowing that there are only a few thousand left in the wild!
Listen out for their booming warning call when you’re in the rainforest – they are camouflage ninjas. The challenging way to see them is to climb Queensland’s highest peak, Chooreechillum. If you’re not up for the slog, an easier option is to spend a day south of Cairns at beautiful Etty Bay, where the rainforest meets the reef, and you’re bound to come across one. The cassowaries that live here are used to humans, so will come in close for an inspection and to try to steal your fish and chips (Remember: it’s illegal and dangerous to feed wildlife).
Tip: If approached by a cassowary you can still get the shot, but start carefully backing away and keep your eyes on them at all times, you don’t want to cop a talon to the chest.
The Red Centre and Alice Springs – Northern Territory
There’s no species more iconicly Aussie than the red kangaroo. You can see the odd one bouncing around as you travel between Uluru, Watarrka and Alice Springs, but the best place to see them up close and personal is at The Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs.
Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns, also known as Kangaroo Dundee, rescues injured and orphaned kangaroos and raises them on his sanctuary. He runs very limited tours, and only at sunset when the kangaroos are waking up, and all the money raised goes towards helping these kangaroos and other rescued wildlife. A must-see if you’re visiting the Red Centre. I had a cuddle and fell in love with a joey called Max, and I’ll never be the same again!
Cape Byron, Byron Bay – northern New South Wales
Every year from March to November, humpback whales leave their feeding grounds in Antarctica (mmm plankton) and visit us along the west and east coasts of Australia on their way to tropical waters to birth their calves. Where better to view them from than the most easterly point of Australia’s mainland in Byron Bay on the north coast of New South Whales… I mean Wales. While you’re there, learn about the cultures of the traditional Arakwal people and their relationship with the wardjam.
There’s over 30,000 humpback whales on this east coast migration run (with number still bouncing back from hunting days), so chances are you’ll see at least one! If you’re at the Cape Byron lighthouse between June and August it’s pretty much guaranteed. Don’t forget, when you’re surfing at The Pass, to dive under the blue and hear the whale song echoing through the Bay and feel it reverberating through your body.
Mareeba – far north Queensland and Tasmania
Quolls are cute (and surprisingly vicious) little carnivorous marsupials and we’re lucky to have 4 species in Australia – the western quoll, spotted-tail quoll, northern quoll and the eastern quoll. Just like their cousins, the Tasmanian devil, all have declined in numbers significantly since the arrival of Europeans to Australia and, for the northern species, particularly after the introduction of the poisonous cane toad in 1935.
For the northern variety, if you’re into walking around after dark with a spotlight, there are some great National Parks you can still find them in. One such place is Davies Creek/Din Din National Park in Mareeba, far north Queensland. Two of the four species live in this area, the northern in the open woodland and the spotted-tail in the rainforest. If you’re super adventurous, hike the Kahlpahlim Rock track in the afternoon and come back in the dark (with at least two spotlights). Also look out for the endangered and cryptic northern bettong who lives in this park as well.
For the spotted-tail and eastern species, they can both be found in Tasmania. Mount Field National Park is a great place to start, with epic wildlife and waterfalls aplenty.
Wet Tropics region – far north Queensland
Just for the budding entomology nerds out there, I’ve included Australia’s most striking butterfly species. The Ulysses butterfly can be seen flitting through the rainforest canopy in tropical Australia. It’s also found throughout the tropical Pacific islands close to Australia and Papua New Guinea. Its erratic (and very hard to photograph) flying pattern is attributed to the fact that it’s the brightest blue creature you’ve ever seen and is a major target for predators!
To spot this elusive gem of the tropics, I recommend to sit quietly by a rainforest stream, wear bright blue and wait. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll attract a cassowary instead who thinks you’re a big, blue plum.
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