I’m a sucker for zoos. Whether it’s from living among the animals in my hometown (cows and horses and deer and elk and bears and dogs and cats and salmon and trout and crabs and clams) from my childhood or just an ongoing fascination with the animal kingdom’s incredible diversity, I never turn down an opportunity to visit a wildlife park. This excursion was certainly not a disappointment. (Healesville Sanctuary, by the way, is not really a zoo. It’s flying under true colors–it’s a wildlife sanctuary, just as it says, devoted to giving species, especially endangered species, a safe haven.)
I can’t talk to the animals like Dr. Doolittle but I can fancy myself singing with Bobby Darrin (or Rex Harrison or Sammy Davis, Jr.):
If I could talk to the animals, just imagine it
Chattin’ with a chimp in chimpanzee
Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting with a cheetah
What a neat achievement it would be…
The second verse says if he could he’d “take an animal degree,” studying “elephant and eagle, buffalo and beagle, alligator, guinea pig, and flea.”
I wouldn’t study flea. I’m more like the fellow who wondered why Noah didn’t snuff out those two pesky mosquitoes in the ark when he had the chance. And I wouldn’t study parseltongue, either. Harry Potter could talk to snakes in their own language, but I can’t. And don’t want to. Never been too fond of snakes, even the tame garden variety we had in Tillamook.
But with these few exceptions and a couple others, I’d really would like to talk to the animals. I’m pretty persuaded that a pet dog does understand its human companion, even without being able to respond in proper English. Anyway, not possessing the skill to talk, I’m still always eager to look and walk among the animals. To admire them, even. And in Healesville Sanctuary, about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Os (Candy and Michael) and the Ls (Roy and Joy) did just that.
The place was crowded. Perhaps being New Year’s Day had something to do with all those people crowding the exhibit areas. I think the children accompanied by parents got in free. Half the fun was in watching the animals, the other half was watching the children watch the animals. And for us, watching the parents watch their children watch the animals. (I’ve run out of halves, you’ll notice.) Anyway, it was a spectator’s haven.
We arrived just in time for the predator bird show, where various types of hawks and parrots and owls dazzled us with their showmanship. (About the owls. I remember how disillusioned I was many years ago to discover that those beautiful, wise-looking, seemingly harmless birds were actually killers. It was like learning that beautiful little lady bugs (lady birds in Australia) are actually beetles. I was never very fond of beetles. I still make an exception for lady bugs, though.
Back to the birds. Among their other tricks they’ve been trained to swoop low over the audience—we ducked!—mimic human speech, dance, and do other tricks to please the crowd. They even presented the commercial at the end of the show, unrolling the little banner encouraging us to use recycled toilet paper—to “Wipe for Wildlife.” That’s to save trees which provide the birds’ increasingly endangered habitat. Pretty clever use of birdpower, that stunt.
Other highlights were the dark rooms for nocturnal animals like kiwis, various members of the rat family, owls, possums, and some others who didn’t come out of hiding. They weren’t inside the dark room, but we did get a good look at some other nocturnal animals–the bats.
These are Australian species, so we didn’t see giraffes, elephants, zebras, gazelles, large cats and other star tourist attractions in Africa, but nowhere but here could you find the native platypus, kangaroos, wombats, Tazmanian Devils, koalas, dingoes, emus and wallabys.
As we left I remembered the time Joy and I were flying home from India. Our plane left Bombay late so we missed our connection in Rome. That meant a nine-hour layover in Rome airport. It was a memorable trip made more so by Joy’s illness. It’s no fun sitting at a terminal gate too sick to leave, too sick sit, even. She could sleep, though. While she was doing what she could do I entertained myself watching airplane passengers boarding and leaving their planes. It seemed that people from all over the planet came through Rome that day.
Every race, every religion, every body type, every skin color, almost every conceivable costume. I could only conclude, after a day of observing, “God must love variety.”
A trip to Healseville Sanctuary leads to the same conclusion. God does love variety–among the animals and among humans. So do I.