Just outside Dubbo, where there is so much open space, sits the Taronga Western Plains zoo. It is more like a cross between a zoo and what in the UK (at least) would be called a ‘safari park’.
The ticket allows you access into the zoo for two consecutive days so there is not necessarily any rush to get around and see everything on the one day. Also it gives you a second chance to see some of the more shy or just plain lazy animals. How many times have you been to a zoo trying to spot an animal only to be told it is sleeping inside or under something and well out of sight?
There is a 6km road circuit weaving around the zoo passing right beside or close by all the animal enclosures. There are four options for getting around. Firstly you can drive your car in and stop off at the many parking spots then checkout the animals nearby.
Second option is to hire a large golf buggy. This costs extra and is really no different than driving your own car through the zoo roads, but there were plenty who thought it was a good idea. Third option is to rent or use your own bicycle. Lastly of course the oldest form of transportation – walking.
On the first day we chose to walk while Dani rode his own bike. It was hot and sunny and after a while it became quite hard work. Fortunately it was a Friday and many of the schools were still not yet on holidays so it was very quiet. At times we had whole sections of the zoo to ourselves as we strolled/pedalled around.
The wildlife (or should that be ‘captive’ life?) is made up mainly of Australian and African animals who are used to the same temperatures that Dubbo experiences. As you wander around the roads and paths you quickly notice that it has been carefully created to give the feel of a real safari. The animals are mostly separated by moats and/or fences that lie low and basically well out of eyeshot.
The vast spaces they have to roam also makes it feel a lot more like the wild than a zoo. There is even an actual safari section where you board a bus/lorry hybrid with open windows, just like on some real African safaris, and venture into a huge enclosure where the giraffes, zebras and several other non-meat-eating animals are free to roam. That part costs an extra $10 each but for someone of Dani’s age it really is like a proper safari.
There are several species of rhino, lion, giraffe and Sumatran tigers. Elephants and various types of large antelope type animals – some of which I had never heard of. These include the very rare and beautiful bongo, the eland and addax.
The Galapagos Giants
I had seen them on TV wildlife films but never in the flesh/shell. The famous Galapogos tortoise. And they really are huge. The problem is that you do not have anything to reference their size on these photos. Trust me they are big. About the size of a large pig maybe? Yeah, that’s about right.
Most of the big land animals are here too. (Asian) Elephants, hippopotamus as well as lions and tigers. However, there was not much in the way of monkeys and apes. Understandable in some ways. The Siamang apes were good entertainment though on our first day. On the second day it rained a lot so they kept themselves well covered in a suitable box…
There are other well known predators like the cheetah and that old favourite the African Wild Dog – aka Painted Dogs. Next to the elusive painted dogs were the ever popular meerkats. At the time we arrived to see them there was a TV crew filming the Australian version of ‘The Farmer Wants a Wife’, with two of the contestants (?) sharing their date with the cute but mischievous meerkats.
How Many Types of Rhino?
I never knew there were so many different types of rhino. This place has three of them. The extremely rare Black rhino, the endangered White rhino (both African) and the largest of them all, the largest of all the (Asian) Greater One Horned rhino.
Interesting Fact: There is no colour difference between white and black rhino. The white rhino gets its name form a mutation of the Dutch word for ‘wide’ – “Weit” (pronounced vite? Well, something like that). This is because the white rhino has a wide squared top lip which makes it a great grass mower.
Near the centre of the zoo is the Billabong Camp where you can camp out and wake up to the sound of roaring lions. There is also the ‘zoofari lodge’ chalets which sit directly opposite the safari area (see above). With low fences hardly noticeable you can have breakfast with a giraffe leaning over toward your cabin terrace. Needless to say these book up fast and were full when we booked our Dubbo accommodation.
On the second day we drove through the zoo. It was a shorter visit to catch up on the animals we missed the first day and to see a few favourites once again. It was a Saturday, it rained and it was (relatively) very crowded – enough reasons for making our second visit a quick one…
Then a Thought Occurred to me…
While I was reading the information about how endangered some of the animals are I had a moment of inspiration. A bright idea, a brainwave or light bulb moment if you will. Have a read and tell me. What do you think?
Australia is huge and in places, very sparsely populated. With so much open land there is no reason why some of the animals could not be introduced into the open/wild. Without the same threats of human encroachment and poaching/hunting they would surely thrive. Look at how the camel population in Australia has rocketed. Once they were let go after being used as beasts of burden (just as they are in their native middle east and North Africa) they have settled into their new environment and their numbers have soared.
Could a similar thing be done with some of the planet’s endangered species like rhino? A safe and huge country like Australia is the perfect place to save them in the wild.