Australia is known for being a great destination for animal lovers, thanks to a unique and varied wildlife. I remember that when I was a child, one of my favorite cartoon series was the story of a girl that lived somewhere in the countryside of Australia, and she had a koala as a pet. Cuddling a koala was so much one of my dreams that when I demanded a hug from my parents, I’d say I wanted a koala hug.
Already in 1995, The New Scientist published a piece where it begged people not to cuddle koalas. Fast forward to 2018 and cuddling koalas is only allowed in Queensland nowadays. For as much as I would have loved to cuddle one, I am glad cuddling koalas isn’t allowed everywhere and I am supportive of this decision.
While some “cuddling supporters” say that koalas are hardly stressed when cuddled, I can imagine it must not be pleasant for them. A simple comparison with my cat Minnie serves the purpose of proving my point: Minnie doesn’t like to pose for pictures; she can’t stand being held by strangers; she runs to hide under the bed whenever a strangers is around. She stresses a lot, yet she’s what humans would consider a pet. Imagine doing the same to an animal that is meant to be wild and free.
Sure enough, reading around and traveling around the world opened my eyes a lot, and I have finally realized how important it is to think about the welfare of animals and to prioritize their happiness and their needs rather than what may be mere tourist entertainment.
I even wrote a post about it a while ago, where I condemned activities such as elephant riding, unfortunately still very popular in places like India or Sri Lanka, or the awful Tiger Temple not far from Bangkok, in Thailand, and any other dodgy place where tourists can have a negative impact on wildlife.
The good news is that there are many places to visit in Australia where it is possible to get close to animals in a totally ethical way, and visiting them also means supporting conservation programs. Below, I am listing just 7 of them.
7 Places To See Animals Responsibly In Australia
The Kangaroo Sanctuary
Kangaroos are probably the first animals that come to mind when thinking about Australia. They can be spotted pretty much anywhere, at least from a distance. At the Kangaroo Sanctuary of Alice Springs, however, they can be seen from up close.
The Sanctuary was open by a local named Brolga, who made it a mission to rescue orphaned baby kangaroos and nurse them back to health before taking them back to their natural habitat. What started as a small project out of one person’s good will became a real animal hospital, that survives thanks to the donations of visitors, who can go on sunset tours with Brolga. All profits go to the conservation efforts.
Featherdale Wildlife Park
Located in Sydney, Featherdale was once a small poultry farm established in a piece of land bought in 1953 by the Wigg’s, and it now is one of the best privately owned wildlife parks in Australia. It was opened to the public in 1972 by the Wigg’s sone in law, whose academic curriculum focused on Australian fauna.
The park is completely made of Australian native trees, and has the largest collection of Australian native animals in the world.
In 1975 there was a threat that it may be closed to use the land for a housing development, but the interest of the local community for its purpose in environmental and animal education put an end to the threat.
At Featherdale Wildlife Park it is possible to have close encounters with a number of native species, including dingos.
Kakadu National Park
Not many places on earth are dual-listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Kakadu is one of them: it is included for both its natural value and as a living cultural landscape. This already gives a picture of how incredible Kakadu National Park is.
What makes Kakadu an incredible place to visit is the rock art and the archaeological sites that are testimony of the way of life of the Aboriginal people. In addition to this, Kakadu National Park is also home to various species of animals, endemic to Australia, and carefully protected by the park rangers and authorities.
Among the animals living in Kakadu there are two types of crocodiles; quolls, which unfortunately are at high risk of exstintion as they are pray for cats and wild dogs and often eat the poisonous cane toads (the scientific community is working hard to save quolls); and flatback turtles.
Daintree Rainforest National Park
Located in a vast area of rainforest in far North Queensland, Daintree Rainforest National Park has an incredible concentration of endemic plants and animals – that is, species that are not found anywhere else in the world. It is also the oldest rainforest on earth.
The best time to visit Daintree Rainforest National Park is in the winter, as there are less insects around (it is not as humid) and more pleasant weather – though the downside is that there are more people.
The park is home to some incredible and unique animals, such as kangaroos that live in trees, prehistoric birds, mammals, various species of frogs and reptiles. The best way to visit the park is probably on a guided tour, with someone that has a trained eye to spot all the animals. Yet, it is possible to visit it on a smaller budget by car (a 4×4 is recommended) and purchase the audio-guide instead.
It wouldn’t be Australia without koalas, right? The Koala Hospital is located in Port Macquarie. It was established in 1973 as a no-profit organization, with the aim of taking care of sick and injured koalas.
Koalas come into the hospital for many reasons – typically, a bacterial infection; but also following a traffic accident or an attack by a dog. The Koala Hospital of Port Macquarie has an intensive care unit. There also is an outdoor rehabilitation unit koalas. The aim is indeed that of reintroducing the animals into their environment.
It is not possible to touch koalas at the hospital, but guided tours are available, during which visitors can learn more about these lovely creatures. There is no admission fee – but donations are highly appreciated.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary
This animal sanctuary is located in Tasmania, and it works hard to protect animals that have gone extinct in other parts of Australia, such as the Tasmanian devil, the easter quoll, the Tasmanian pademelon and the Tasmanian bettong. The sanctuary is also home to 12 endemic bird species of Tasmania, which are among the most endangered species on earth.
Bonorong works hard to prevent these beautiful animals from disappearing. Since 2010, it runs a 24-hour wildlife rescue service; in the same year it has started raising funds for the Bonorong Wildlife Hospital, which is just about to open; and since 2013 its started a seabird rehabilitation project.
Tours of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary are permitted, and all profits go to the maintenance of the sanctury, its projects and its animals. During the tours, the keepers provide plenty of information about the animals living in the sanctuary, and share tips and ideas on how to conserve the unique wildlife of Tasmania.
Rottnest Island is at an easy 90 minutes ferry ride from Perth. The island is typically associated with quokkas, lovely little mammals about the size of a cat that can be spotted literally anywhere, so much so that there’s really no need to go on a tour to see them.
If the overall quokka population of Australia is of 14000 animals, 12000 of them live in Rottnest Island: this gives a fairly good picture of how easily they can be seen.
Known for their funny features, it’s recently become a thing to go all the way to Rottnest Island to take selfies with quokkas. I have nothing against it, as long as the welfare of these friendly animals is given priority: don’t overstep them, don’t scare them, and by all means do not feed them.
Traveling Around Australia Responsibly (And Comfortably)
With enormous distances to cover, traveling by bus or train isn’t exactly the most comfortable thing to do in Australia. Flying would be the obvious way to move around. Yet, while most people opt to fly to cover the longest distances, it is worth pointing out that plane travel comes at high environmental costs.
Having said so, the best way to travel around Australia in a responsible, environmentally friendly yet comfortable and efficient way is probably by car, van and/or with a trailer. There’s lots of places to stop while traveling, and the good news is that wild camping is possible in Australia. Nothing better than keeping the responsible tourism spirit than sleeping completely surrounded by nature!
Companies like Gumtree are excellent to look for good deals on and buy (and obviously sell) second-hand cars, vans or trailers.
To find out about more places to see animals responsibly in Australia, check this post by The Crowded Planet.
Care to become a more ethical tourist? Check out my post “The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.”
Do you know of any other places in Australia where it is possible to get close to animals in a responsible way?