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This review submitted by Mike G. : November 2000
Taronga' is an Aboriginal word meaning 'water view', and it is certainly appropriate to the zoo's location on the north bankof Sydney Harbour with panoramic views across to the Opera House and the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney. Its dramatic location, and the pleasant climate of New South Wales, provide this zoological collection with two advantages that are not available to its counterparts in the UK. It is no wonder, then,that most tourists to Sydney find time in their schedule to take the ferry from Circular Quay to the zoo's doorstep, where they can use either coach or cable car to transport them to the main entrance. Taronga Zoo opened to the public in October 1916. Under the directorship of Sir Edward Hallstrom in the 1940s and1950s, the zoo expanded its collection, but at the same time became something of a sterile concrete environment. Hallstrom was very concerned with hygiene, and his 'concrete policy' achieved good longevity records for his animals, but ideas on how best to keep and display zoo animals were changing. After a critical review in 1967, a new era in the style and philosophy of Taronga began, and the zoo today has become a greener and more 'natural' haven for the world's wildlife. Although Taronga maintains many of the so-called 'ABC' zoo inhabitants -lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, chimpanzees,(Asian) elephants, etc. - it is the collection of native Australian fauna which stands out. It is perhaps a little unfortunate that the majority of antipodean mammals are nocturnal, as in my experience Nocturnal Houses in zoos tend not to be entirely successful. This is the case at Taronga, where the visitor will require both patience and luck to obtain good views of the bandicoots, gliders, quoll [spotted, carnivorous marsupials], and other rarities that are 'on display' in the large nocturnal exhibit. Some of the larger marsupials, including wombats, koalas and Tasmanian Devil, have been given outdoor enclosures....where the public will generally see sleeping balls of fur. It's not the zoo's fault of course: it's just that most furry Australian critters aren't the sort to go capering about in broad daylight. The visitor may fare better with the kangaroos and wallabies, which at least can generally be seen easily enough. One species here is especially noteworthy for the zoo enthusiast: the Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata). This animal cannot presently be seen in any zoo outside Australia. It was long feared to be extinct, until a small population was rediscovered in Queensland in 1973. The name 'nail-tailed' comes from the horny pointed 'nail' on the end of its tail, the purpose of which (if any) is unknown. Another group of mammals which are easily visible in the zoo are pinnipeds (seals & sea-lions), and here again Taronga holds a species very rarely encountered in captivity. This is the Leopard Seal (Hydrurga leptonyx), an Antarctic predator which will attack other seals, and penguins, as well as fish & squid. An interesting fact about this species is that, in contrast to most other pinnipeds, the female tends to be slightly larger than the male. At the time of writing, Taronga has two female specimens of this interesting and unusual creature. Another mammal which many visitors will be keen to see is that duck-billed, egg-laying, aquatic paradox known as the Platypus. This unique animal warrants its own special exhibit, separate from the main Nocturnal House. Although I found it easy enough to see the platypus at Taronga, there is now a second - and better - exhibit of these mammals in Sydney; and that is at the Sydney Aquarium, on the west side of the downtown area. Nevertheless, any animal enthusiast who comes to Sydney from Europe or America will not wish to pass by any opportunity of seeing this fabulous beast! Moving on from mammals to birds, and the collection at Taronga will please the most avid fan of our feathered friends. Only a few non-Australian species are kept, but the variety of native species means that no bird-addict will leave Taronga feeling cheated. A personal favourite was the Satin Bowerbird, the male of which builds a bower adorned with any blue objects he can find...since this colour seems irresistible to the female of the species! Some noteworthy larger birds include the Australian Pelican (not seen in many zoos outside its native country), and the Black-necked Stork (the only stork found in Australia, and another rare sight in zoos).Finally on to Taronga's reptiles, most of which are housed in the modern$1.5 million 'Serpentaria' complex. The climate allows some species to be exhibited outdoors, including a single male Komodo Dragon (the world's largest lizard), the smaller Lace Monitor, various other lizards and freshwater turtles, plus Australian Freshwater Crocodiles. The indoor reptile exhibits are divided into two sections: one arid, and one wet-tropical. The 'arid' area displays many native snakes and lizards, including such highly venomous Australians as the Mulga Snake and Inland Taipan. The tropical section also has many Australian species, but contains a fair number of non-Oz reptiles too. The serious enthusiast will welcome the presence of both species of Fijian Iguana: the banded and the crested. Iguanas have a very interesting distribution: most species of these lizards are found in the Americas, but a few occur on Madagascar, and two occur thousands of miles away on the Pacific islands of Fiji. There are none on mainland Africa, Asia or Australia, so their scattered locations represent something of a zoological mystery. At one time Taronga also boasted an aquarium, built in 1927, but fish are no longer part of the collection. As mentionned above, Sydney now has a new aquarium on a different site, which is not connected to the zoo. The two collections combined probably contain as fine a gathering of Australian fauna as you'll find this side of your dreams: a good reason for putting Sydney near the top of your 'Places I Must Get To' list.
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