An easy, 20-minute ferry ride in the Sydney Harbor brought us to Toranga Zoo, on the north end of the Harbor. This large, 2,500 animal zoo has a particular focus on indigenous Australian wildlife, although it also has a substantial collection of African and of some Asian animals. Animals are generally displayed in open environments that are similar to their natural environments. It also has some of the world’s most successful breeding programs for endangered species ranging from the Asian elephant to the platypus.
Our primary focus was to see the Australian animals, especially those that we had not seen in the wild or in Tasmania’s Natureworld Biucheno reserve.
The zoo contained multiple exhibits for some of the most popular of these animals such as kangaroos, wallabies, emus, Tasmanian devils, wombat echidnas, platypus and especially the beloved koala, (for which one could paid to have a personal encounter). The zoo also had many smaller, less well known species such as the bandicoot, bilby, quoll, betong and different species of owls, rats, mice, possum and a number of indigenous, amphibians, reptiles and many, many different bird such as parrots, kookaburra, and of course Little or Fairy Penguins (the smallest of all penguin species) and the cassawary (the 3rd largest bird in the world and the most endangered of all Australian birds).
Although the zoo was much more focused on allowing people to see animals, rather than learn about them, it did provide basic background information on all species and some very interesting tidbits about some of them. For example:
- Koalas are born in 35 days, but after crawling from their mother’s womb into their pouch, they spend three months attached to the teat and another three months before they even begin peeking out. Nor do they see much more activity as adults—eating about four hours a day and sleeping (while digesting the very low nutrition eucalyptus leaves they eat),
- Tasmanina Devils, which weigh only about 10 kg, eat up to 3 kg per day (often in a single meal). These scavengers can chew and digest virtually any animal remnant, including the densest bones, the thickest hides and even hooves. One of the greatest threats to their survival is a very contagious form of facial cancer that seems to be unique to the species.
- Cassowary males are particularly dedicated fathers, incubating their partner’s eggs and then caring for the chick for 18 months after it is born.
- Platapus, in addition to being only one of two species of mammal to lay eggs (in addition to echidna), is the only venomous mammal (through spurs on its back). Its feet, meanwhile, have both webs (for travel in water) and claws (for land).
- Kangaroos and wallabies are the only animals more than 50 cm (about 18 inches) that hop. Their leg tendons act as springs and their tails as stabilizers that allow them to cover great distances quickly, with kangaroos leaping up to 20 feet in a single leap and the smaller wallabee about six feet.
- Tree kangaroos are a small species that adapted to living in trees. They eat leaves and can leap long distances among treetops, but are ill-suited to life on the ground.
- Small squirrel gliders can glide up to 150 meters (about 500 feet) in a single leap.
- Nocturnal Australian marsupials and mammals typically share a number of features that are optimized for hunting in the dark. These include large ears, very acute sense of smell, whiskers that serve as feelers and monochrome eyes (that require less light than eyes that see color) with large pupils and mirror-like structures that amplify whatever light is available.
The zoo, however, has much more than Australian animals. Its reptile collection contains a roughly six-foot Komodo dragon (smaller than many of those we saw in the wild on Komodo Island), Gila monsters, anaconda, a huge 10 meter reticulated python (and a smaller one that was in the midst of devouring a smaller snake) as well as dozens of other snakes, lizards, skinks. turtles and frogs (without a distinction that we noticed that frogs are amphibians, rather than reptiles).
The zoo also has a high-level display of African mammals including elephants, giraffes, hippos, fishing cats, gorillas, gibbons, lemurs and various other types of monkeys.
And boy does it have views! Set on a hill on the other side to the harbor from downtown, the zoo provides a great view of the harbor, the city, the bridge and the opera. Even the animals have a great view. In fact, the zoos top restaurant, where we had a pleasant, if not especially memorable meal is named The View.
Toranga Zoo Restaurant
The View (Toranga Zoo) overlooks the city and the harbor. And we got the best possible view from a table on the terrace. We split three dishes, beginning with spicy Spanner crabcakes with tomato salsa and paprika aioli; and chicken liver parfait with brioche toast and grape chutney. All were quite good. Although the main course menu was limited, our cod and chips (with tarter sauce and leaf salad) was good, if not especially impressive. And then there was the view and the surroundings of the wonderful zoo.