During the 12 years I worked in wildlife conservation, I had some incredible encounters with Australian animals and learned some astonishing secrets about their habits, likes and dislikes.
I have poked and prodded, rescued and reared hundreds of orphaned and injured animals, and I can tell you that each and every one of them has her or her own distinct personality.
Here are ten of the funniest, cutest and craziest things I have learned while working with Aussie animals.
1. A kookaburra can and will swoop down and steal one of your sausages straight off the barbeque while your back is turned.
2. Baby koalas make excellent head massagers. Just make sure they’ve been to the toilet already before you let them crawl up on top of your head!
3. Cormorants do not appreciate being handled under any circumstances. Even after you have removed a fish hook from an injured bird’s beak, treated his wounds and released him into the water, he will still follow you back up the beach and bite you on the leg for it.
4. Do not expect to get a wink of sleep if you camp anywhere near a breeding seabird colony. A million shrieking seabirds can easily drown out a Manowar concert.
5. Wombats sometimes make their home in caves. A wombat will not be impressed if you drop by his cave unannounced. He will scream at you to leave, and if you don’t comply fast enough, he will charge.
6. A distressed koala joey is capable of producing 10 times more pee than you think is physiologically possible for such a small animal. Make sure you are holding him from behind. Anyone standing closer than two meters in front of you is in the “splash zone.”
7. A female masked owl is more than prepared to stand up to you, and your Hilux ute, if it means not having to let go of the ringtail possum she has just pounced on. You will just have to reverse back down the trail you drove up, and find another way round, because she is not moving.
8. Baby flying foxes are nicotine junkies. Do not let one anywhere near an ashtray – he will eat every cigarette butt in sight.
9. A ringtail possum joey will happily climb down your throat to retrieve that piece of chocolate you just ate.
10. Shearwaters only know one way to land at their breeding colony – and that’s crash landing. If you walk through a shearwater colony at dusk, expect to be hit by an out-of-control avian missile. More than once.
There is always something new to learn about Australian wildlife from each new encounter I have. One thing that remains the same is that wild animals never fail to surprise and fascinate me.