Posted by: asprockett | April 23, 2013

A Trip to Taronga Zoo

As an older child, I was not overly fond of the zoo. Despite my childhood reluctance about zoos that has lingered into adulthood, I was looking forward to visiting Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. I had read promising reviews in guide books and received favorable recommendations from people who had actually visited Taronga Zoo. I am happy to report that the zoo far exceeded my expectations. It is well organized, easy to navigate (even for a somewhat map-challenged individual – that’s me, not Dan), and has lots of interactive displays. For an additional fee, it also offers opportunities to feed and take pictures with the animals, but also includes several free presentations from expert zookeepers throughout the day. That may have been our favorite part: we could learn from and ask questions of the people who actually take care of the animals.

We spent a full day wandering around the zoo, so I’d like to share a few of my favorites (with some help from Dan on some of the animal details).

I’ll begin with the giraffe because our youngest niece told us that was her favorite animal. She doesn’t know it, yet, but she’ll be receiving approximately 143 pictures of the four giraffes at Taronga Zoo.


Giraffe fun facts:

  • They have the same number of neck bones as humans—giraffe vertebrae are just much, much larger!
  • Giraffe babies are the tallest of any animal, and can be up to 2 m (~6 ft) tall at birth.
  • The oldest giraffe at the Taronga Zoo is 21 years old, which is normally about how long they live in the wild.  However, in part due to her improved diet and excellent health care, she is expected to live closer to 30 years.
  • The tongue of a full grown giraffe can be up to 45 cm long (~18 inches), and is a deep blue/purple color. The color is due to a high amount of melanin in the tongue, and is an adaptation to avoid sunburn on the African savannah.


Tasmanian Devil fun facts:

  • Tassie Devils have a bad reputation, but they are actually quite fascinating little creatures! They are marsupials, and even though they are the largest carnivores in Tasmania, Tassie Devils are generally scavengers with poor eyesight, relying on their sense of smell to find their next meal.
  • These little Devils are largely independent, but do come together in large groups to scavenge the carcasses of large animals. Competition during these group feeds often leads to a lot of noise and fighting, although they do have some behavioral adaptations to avoid causing too much damage.  For example, when an individual enters a feeding group, it enters rear first. Evidence of this could be seen in the patches of hair missing on their behind. These zoo Devils are occasionally socialized with other captive Devils in staged group feedings.
  • Natural populations of Tassie devils are facing a very serious threat, and could be extinct in the wild within the next 30 years. They’re falling victim to a contagious facial cancer that causes huge tumors to form around their mouth and neck. The cancer cells are transferred between individuals during group feeding scuffles, and can all be traced back to one female devil that lived sometime before 1996.  After the cells are transferred, tumors rapidly grow so large that the devils can’t eat or fend for themselves, and they eventually starve (after only 5-6 months). The new host’s immune system doesn’t recognize the cancer cells as foreign (it’s one of only 3 known communicable cancers), so the devils have no naturally immunity. Originally scientists thought that this was due to a genetic bottleneck that occurred after devils went extinct on mainland Australia around 600 years ago, but new research is suggesting that the story is much more complex (as it usually is when it comes to cancer). If Tasmanian Devils do go extinct in the wild, dozens of zoos across Australia are currently participating in an insurance breeding program, with the goal of breeding 1,500 healthy captive individuals for re-release in the wild.
  • And no, they don’t spin around in circles like in the cartoon…


Kangaroo fun facts:

  • My husband really likes taking pictures of kangaroos.
  • Red kangaroos like to lounge around during the hottest parts of the day, and will take “dust baths” to keep cool.


Red Panda fun facts:

  • OK, so I didn’t actually learn much about the red panda at the zoo other than that it is from Asia, but I really liked its look. I could imagine a coloring book with the red panda and the train of consciousness in a little kid’s head: “It’s gonna wear a mask like a super hero…and have black legs…but I’m gonna color the body red…and make the tail striped…with a black puff at the end of the tail because that’ll look better…”

We also won a game of hide-and-seek with an echnida, but lost against a quoll.

And to finish off the day, we took the Skyway Safari (gondola) to the ferry home.


I would recommend a visit to Taronga Zoo for any Sydney visitors.



  1. […] Andrea has already blogged about some of the more amazing animal facts we picked up, but I wanted to revisit the day and post more of my favorite pictures. I had alot to choose from (…and I do mean ALOT!), so I decided to stick to the theme “animals eating.” At the end of this post you can vote for your favorite picture, and I’ll post more images of the winning animal next week. […]

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