“Excuse me,” demanded the woman who marched up to the main desk in Flinder’s Chase National Park office on Kangaroo Island. She had a pompous, patronizing air about her that endeared her no end to the harassed and overheated person manning the desk. “Excuse me. Where can we see actual kangaroos?”
Sadly I didn’t stick around to hear the response to this question, but the question amused me no end as it perfectly demonstrated the strange entitlement that some people show when it comes to wildlife. Animals and birds don’t bumble around in the undergrowth waiting to put on a show for tourists, no matter how much money they’ve spent, but somehow this fact seems to pass many people by. And while there is the argument to be made that naming an island ‘Kangaroo’ does imply a certain abundance of leaping marsupials, it is surprisingly difficult to see ‘actual kangaroos’ without making a little effort. Living ones anyway. Sadly, we saw plenty as road kill. Kangas are most active at dawn and dusk when the temperatures are cooler, and unless you are out and about early or late, or visit the major wildlife park on the island where the animals are in enclosures and sightings are pretty much guaranteed, you are actually quite unlikely to see them.
When we set out on our walk through Flinder’s Chase National Park, a short bumble through the bush to some known platypus burrows, we had no particular expectations of seeing animals. However, we set out nice and early on a cool overcast morning, we walked slowly and quietly, and kept an eagle eye out for the slightest movement in the bushes and trees. And we were very lucky. A 4.5km walk that should have taken two hours tops turned into a four hour wildlife extravaganza.
Within 100m from the visitors’ centre we came across two kangaroos having a leisurely breakfast, and by the time we made it to the platypus pools the tally had risen to five kangaroos, two koalas and a hoard of various small birds. During the summer months when water levels drop and pools dry up, platypus tend to enter a state of torpor and are even harder to see than normal. But in the bushes near one of the pools, Chris encountered this guy.
This adorable ball of spikes is an echidna, one of only two extant monotreme (egg-laying) mammals in the world, the other being the platypus. Normally they are quite shy of humans, curling up into a ball or running away. But this guy was completely chilled out, bumbling right up to the edge of the path, using its front paws to tear into an ant nest and hoovering up the insects with its straw-like beak.
Actually, I learned a fun echidna fact the other day. The female lays an egg that she carries around in a pouch on her belly. When the baby echidna hatches it rides around in the pouch until it is old enough to be left in a burrow while its mother goes hunting. The official name for a baby echidna is a puggle. Yes, a puggle. I pretty much died from cute overload.