Healesville Sanctuary

3 Jun

For months, I have been dying to go to Healesville Sanctuary, a small zoo in the Dandenong Ranges which has all the characteristic animals of Australia and even offers opportunities to get up close and personal with some of them.

Finally, two weeks ago, after seeing all the cool pictures of the animals posted on Stumble Down Under, I made it a point to go and spend a whole day there, and now I’m finally getting around to posting some of my pictures (which are admittedly not as good).

Previously, their Magic Moments close encounters were $35 per person, which I always thought was just too much, but now that is off-peak season, they have dropped their priced down to $10 per person. As much as I love koalas (they are, without question, my favourite Aussie animal), spending $10 just to get a photograph with one that a handler is holding seemed like kind of a rip off. You’re not allowed to touch them at all because it stresses them out. So I opted for a Magic Moment with my second favourite animal, a kangaroo, where you get to pet and feed them. More on that in a minute.

First things first.

Upon walking through the gates, you immediately come to the emu enclosure. I’ve seen them at a distance in the wild at Wilsons Promontory, but up close, they are a lot more impressive.


Next was the koala enclosure, where trees have been cut into Y shapes to give them sleeping spots.


Of course, some koalas turn up their noses at the manmade beds and prefer to sleep on branches as thin as dental floss. You would think this little guy would be uncomfortable, but apparently, koalas have hard pads on their bums that enable them to sit and sleep comfortably on even the thinnest branches.


Next, we went to the kangaroo enclosure, where they have wallabies, grey kangaroos, and red kangaroos. The red kangaroos are the ones that can grow up to six feet tall, but only the males are ginger in colour, whereas the females are a bit smaller and are a blueish-grey. The grey kangaroos are a bit smaller than the red kangaroos, but the males can be twice as big as the females.


On our way through the park, we passed by some brolgas. Brolgas are also known as Australian Cranes and they are known for their intricate mating dances. They also have a very modernised take on gender roles, with both the male and female helping to build the nest, and incubating and guarding the young chicks.

We passed by the wombats on our way to the Tasmanian Devil enclosure. I adore wombats. They are so cute and cuddly looking, although I’ve read they can be aggressive when threatened and have actually caused severe injury to people. I got pretty up close and personal with one at Wilsons Promontory, who didn’t seem to mind my company, but had I known then that wombats can and will maul people, I would have probably not gotten so close. In any case, this pair seemed pretty calm and they were polite enough to pose together for me for a picture.


Although I find Tasmanian devils very ugly, I was keen to see one because it (along with the platypus, of which I could not get a good photo) was one of the few iconic Australian animals that I had not yet seen anywhere. The Tasmanian devils have suffered a few hard knocks, first becoming extinct on the mainlaind, probably due to the introduction of dingoes, and are now threatened by a contagious cancer called ‘devil facial tumour disease‘ which they transmit through biting each other and which causes tumours to form around the mouth. The tumours eventually interefer with feeding and the afflicted devil then starves to death. Poor things!

tasmanian devil

We made a stop in the reptile area. I didn’t get any pictures because the lighting was dim and they were all behind glass, obviously. They had Australia’s 10 deadliest snakes. Number two was the eastern brown snake and number one was the inland taipan. I have a problem with this, because while the taipan is more venomous than the brown, no known fatalities have ever been attributed to the taipan, as it doesn’t come in contact with humans that often, whereas the brown is attributed the most human fatalities, being found in populated areas and being very fast and aggressive. The taipans are fairly docile and only attack if provoked, whereas brown snakes need very little provocation at all and will even chase a person down. If the list is going to be called the “deadliest” snakes, then the brown should be number one. The taipan should only be number one if the list is called “most venomous” snakes. Very misleading!!!

Anyway, reptiles disgust me, especially snakes, so onto more pleasant animals!

One of my favourite things about Australia is all the unique and colourful bird life. I especially love all the varieties of parrots, so when I heard that you could actually feed and hold them in the parrot enclosure, I went straight there. After getting some nectar from the keeper, I ended up with two green lorikeets in my hand. I didn’t even get pooped on! Here are some of the awesome birds in the parrot enclosure.

A red-tailed black cockatoo, who was very friendly and very interested in the girl sitting below him with a shiny cell phone. Apparently, these birds are very well suited to aviculture, but can be very expensive. In the US, they are rare to have as pets and to get a hand-raised bird, you’d be looking at paying five figures for one.


This pretty cockatiel (also a popular pet bird) posed for a picture. My family had a cockatiel once when I was a kid. I remember I hated that bird because he would sit on my shoulder and bite my ear really hard and pull my hair. I was also deeply disappointed that he was too dumb to talk and all he could do was whistle “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. I guess I prefer them better in the wild!


The birds I got to feed were scaly-breasted lorikeets, so named for their yellow breast feathers which look like scales in contrast to the surrounding green feathers. These are EXTREMELY noisy birds and they are constantly screeching to one another. They are very playful and the first bird I attracted was more interested in showing off its acrobatics that coming to sit in my hand like a good bird to get its dinner. It only came and sat in my hand when another lorikeet landed on me and had a better position to get at the nectar.

Also in the enclosure were a pair of Ecletus parrots. They are the most sexually dimorphic of all parrot species, having completely different plumages. The males are green, while the females are red. For a long time, they were thought to be two distinct species of bird. The females are very defensive of their nesting sites and will fight off other females, even to the death, although as pets they are very calm.


Following my close encounters with parrots of all kinds, we proceed to the bird show, which was pretty cool.

As we sat waiting, an ibis came around, pecking up all the crumbs people had left behind. The ibises roam free around the park, cleaning up after people.

Included in the bird show were several species of cockatoos (I love them!!!), including my favourite, the sulphur-crested cockatoo, of which I couldn’t get a good photo (it’s not uncommon to see flocks of them in the city, so maybe another time!), as well as a Major Mitchell cockatoo, which I had never see before. They have a pretty pale pink plumage with a crest that is bright red and yellow when fully displayed.


Another interesting bird was the black-breasted buzzard (or kite), which is known for slamming stones onto large eggs to break them open in order to open them up and eat the contents.


H loved the wedge-tailed eagle, which is his favourite bird. He had a huge grin on his face the whole time the eagle was flying around, especially when it landed right in front of him.The wedge-tailed eagle is the largest bird of prey in Australia and also one of the largest in the world, with a wingspan of up to 227cm.


After the bird show, it was Magic Moments time, so we went back to the kangaroos so I could pet and feed and love them. I was so excited! We got to feed the female Kangaroo Island kangaroos. The males can be a bit aggressive, so we weren’t allowed to feed or pet them. I fed a 15-year-old female named Josie, who was mostly blind. That’s pretty old for a kangaroo! She was very sedate and ate slowly and didn’t mind being petted at all. At one point, a second kangaroo came over to partake in the handouts, so I had two to pet for a while. From a distance, their fur looks quite coarse, but it is actually extremely soft and plush. I just wanted to bury my face in it and take them home and use them for pillows! It definitely the coolest part of the day.

The only things left to see at that point were the dingoes and the wetlands track.

The dingoes at Healesville Sanctuary are treated awfully well. Let me tell you, they are living the high life. Not only are all their needs provided for, but they also get a lot of perks that other animals don’t get, including walks around the park and massages! Heck, they live better than most people!

Dingoes are descended from the Asian grey wolf and have only been in Australia for about 4000-5000 years. Only about 75% of dingoes are ginger coloured. The rest are black, white, or tan. Unfortunately, true dingoes are threatened because of interbreeding with domestic dogs.

Lastly, we took a stroll through the wetlands track, which is a marshy area with all different kinds of Australian wetlands birds. Very pretty and peaceful, and as it was only an hour before closing, we were the only ones there. It was a nice change from the crowds earlier and it was pleasant to end the day on a quiet note of solitude.

4 Responses to “Healesville Sanctuary”

  1. maggiemyklebust June 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    That was nice and interesting… Thanks!

  2. Cosette June 4, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    I’m so glad you finally went and your images are beautiful. I’m envious you saw wombats! I’ve been to at least two animal parks with wombats, but they’ve been away each time. I’ve yet to see one.

  3. Texas Rambler June 4, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    Great post and photos… I’m with you with regard to reptiles… I miss Australia…

  4. keepingiteasyandsimple June 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    I love visiting zoos, they give me such an appreciation for animals I have never even heard of. I know many today feel that all zoos should be closed, but posts like yours are why I think they are very important. Lovely photographs!

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