68. Going to the Zoo Zoo Zoo

The hard work of a volunteer keeper
At Cairn Tropical Zoo I'm soon back into the zoo swing of things; changing gum branches for the koalas, preparing various foods and one of my favourite tasks cleaning and clearing up. Being in reptiles once a week means feeding all the lizards, frog and geckos as well, which is fun even if their breakfast often tries to run up your arm, it's never a pleasant feeling having a cockroach run inside your shirt.
Its amusing on my first day in reptiles, Kristy; one of the keepers, just assumed(correctly) that I'm good with snakes and I end up carrying a few and helping out with the snake show before she checks I'm not scared of them. A little late to ask and highly unlikely since I'm happily talking to the snake that's draped round my shoulders at the time. Quite a few of the geckos and lizards are very cute and even one or two of the snakes actually have cute little faces.

One of the days I'm in reptiles, myself and one of the vet interns get to help out during the snake milking where they are collecting the venom for the near by university. Quite a lot of the scary deadly snakes are brought out to play at this time.

Collecting snake venom
After lunch every day the guys in 'reppies' put on the croc show and so I watch head keeper Alex on one of the days. It's quite a good show if quite scary as times. One of weeks while I'm at the zoo Naval Marines actually come to the park to be taught all about the dangers of crocs and I assume what to do to avoid attack etc. As well as all the big scary crocodiles there's some little baby ones as well which the public can have their photo taken with and stuff but part of the afternoon feed out is throwing baby chicks (dead ones I'll point out) to the little crocs and feeding rats and mice to the lace monitors and bigger lizards. Gorey stuff sometimes.

Most of the week however I spend in the Mammal department where the start of every day is changing over Eucalyptus branched for the koalas and not talking and playing with them at all. On Wednesday's they get weighed and given vitamin syrups and occasionally medicated which I got to help out with on my first day.

There's always plenty to do at Cairns Zoo so I get to be involved with a lot of tasks including getting to walk the dingo every so often which is quite cool. The dingos are pretty friendly and will walk on a lead if you follow the right procedures. The dogs have to like you and recognise you in order to let you get close and pat them. Luckily both of the zoos dingos liked me and I got play around with them. On my last day though the female dingo, Lucky, showed her wild side when one of the work experience kids got a bit too close and snapped at her.They are clearly still wild animals and do very much pick and choose there friends. Luckily, Frazer and Lucky were happy to be with me but even some of the other keepers can't walk them.

Joey at lunch
Some of the cutest things at the zoo are a number of orphaned joeys who are being hand reared by various keepers. When I arrive there are actually six different joeys at the zoo that you often see keepers carrying them around while working. One of the fun things I get to do is babysitting the joeys during the keepers lunch breaks in order to give them a break. It's a horrible chore but someone has got to cuddle the babies and feed them bits of apple. In my last week a few of the babies manage to get a place in a soft release program a bit further north so there are a few sad keepers and the joey crèche built at the back of the zoo looks very empty. But even with a few cuties gone I still get to play with baby koala Cooper every day.

There's always plenty of feeding to do after lunch so once we're fed we go to do the animal feed out. The potoroos, sort of half giant rat half kanagroos, are always fun to watch when you put their food in and feeding Bonnie the bandicoot is always a challenge as she's not too friendly and likes to bite ankles. The squirrel and sugar gliders are always good to feed as they usually appear upside down above your head to grab a piece of fruit but they also eat a syrupy solution which they always manage to get all over their little faces.

Cooper the koala
A few possums are doted around the zoo including an unfriendly growling one that needs to be locked in it's box in order to put a feed bowl in. The kangaroos get fed around 4 before I leave but feeding the males is a little scary as they're big muscular animals who can be quite temperamental and often get violent among one another.

While I was there we helped out with some cage renovations and various odd jobs as well but all in all it was a every hands on animal experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I got to plays with lots of adorable animals including red pandas and wombats which I found out can actually crush a dingos skull with a cartilage plate along their back. So maybe there not so adorable if you get on the wrong side of one. Plenty of animal handling was learned and I think I've got the koala keeping mastered and we all know how useful that will be when I get back to Scotland. I handled more snakes than I've ever even seen in my life and got to have lunch with baby Aussie icons every day. I definitely didn't want to leave the zoo but I must continue my travels leave my new animal friends behind.

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