Rapt in Raptors

Rapt in Raptors

The Territory Wildlife Park has the Bilby as its symbol. Unlike the Bilby though, the 400 hectare park is in no danger of extinction.

It takes less than an hour to drive the 60km south from Darwin. Make the journey early in the morning as you will need the rest of the day to fully enjoy the Park.

This Park is not your average national park. Throughout the day there are talks given by the keepers to explain about the various animals and how they live in the wild. This is the best opportunity that most people will ever have to see so many wild animals in a natural setting. For disabled people this is a rare opportunity. Many animals are elusive in the wild and at best can only be seen at a distance. In the Park visitors can view them at close at hand.

A four kilometre long road meanders throughout the park. Visitors may walk or catch one of the free trains that run every 20 minutes and stop where or when you fancy. Supplementary walking tracks lead through natural scenery to the various displays. All facilities, including the trains, are accessible to wheelchairs.

Keepers have nursed many of the animals back to health. They provide an insight into the caring of orphaned, injured and new born animals. You will meet Agile Wallabies, Antilopine Wallaroos, Kangaroos and many others.

One display, called Foreign Invaders, illustrates the problems created by feral and other introduced animals. This includes Water Buffalo, Deer, Pigs and Camels. These are best seen by taking the 700m long walking trail that rejoins the road by the entrance to Goose Lagoon.

Many of these introduced animals have spread disease and destruction throughout vast areas of Australia. This is a great opportunity for city dwellers to see at first hand the damage that these animals create in our environment. Visitors move on, more aware of the destruction these pest animals cause.

The aquarium features a smorgasbord of fish and aquatic animals. With Fresh Water Crayfish, Rainbow Fish, Snake-necked Turtles and the rare Pig-nosed Turtles. These were only discovered in Australia just a few years ago. Until then they were known only in Papua New Guinea. Anemone fish swim in the stinging tentacles of their host and Mud Skippers dance across the surface.

A large transparent tunnel forms a walkway through the main part of the aquarium. Barramundi and Stingrays swim around their human visitors. At 12.00 every day keepers hand feed many of the inmates. The keepers do not extend the hand feeding to the neighbouring tank where visitors have the pleasure of approaching to within a hair's breadth of large Saltwater Crocodiles. This is perfectly safe, provided they stay on their own side of the glass.

A short distance from the aquarium a series of aviaries represents 12 different Northern Territory landscapes including wet woodlands, billabongs and grasslands. Walk besides the first 11 and see the Jacana, Sacred Kingfisher and other native birds in their natural environments. The last aviary is a huge mesh dome that you pass through to meet, amongst others, Red Winged Parrots, Pied Herons and Green Pygmy Geese.

Continue along the track on a raised boardwalk through monsoonal rainforest to the Wader Lagoon. Check on entry for the times of feeding. The table manners of the Pelicans, Storks and Brolgas are not a good example to show young children, but the event still delights everyone, including parents.

This is a good exhibit to try out your telephoto lens. The Jabiru has perfected the art of tempting photographers by standing absolutely still, only to move the instance it is framed and focused, before you can press the shutter.

Opposite the Wader Lagoon park rangers explain about Arthropods and Reptiles. Here you can learn about snakes, lizards and spiders before moving on to the Nocturnal House, the largest in Australia. A variety of habitats have been recreated and as day turns into moonlight night watch rare creatures that are impossible to see in the true wildness. A daily talk, called Bat Chat, explains about the unique behaviour of the Black Flying Fox.

Another show is at the Eagle Flight Deck. This is a repeat of the matinee performance held each morning. If you only have time to take in one organised feature this is it. Rangers introduce some of Australia's raptors, birds of prey. After a short talk by the rangers, each bird gives a demonstration of its flying skills.

Small birds often give raptors a hard time and during my visit the Owl was wary of a flock of Plovers on the nearby grass and diffident about giving its usual performance. The Falcon was made of sterner stuff and happy in her freedom. The star of the show however was Yasmin, a White Breasted Sea-Eagle.

Yasmin is a natural performer who revels in her role. During her free flights she swoops down below the canopy of the grandstand to give the gallery a "prey's" eye view of her mighty talons. It is as if she delights in the look of awe that crosses the faces of the audience, only millimetres below. She stole the show.

Back at the kiosk relaxing with a cool drink after the show, visitors were still raving about Yasmin. They were totally rapt in raptors.

Facts File

Best time to go:— Any day of the year, except for Christmas Day, from 9.00 am till 5.00pm. Allow a full day

What to bring:—    Camera, film and picnic. (The kiosk can supply all food and drink if you don't want to take your own).

Accessibility:—      60km south of Darwin. 48kmdown the Stuart Highway and 12km along the Cox Peninsular Roa

Where to stay:—    Tumbling Waters Caravan and Camping park is eight kilometres west along the Cox Peninsular Road.  This is a tidy and well organised park with some wildlife of its own. For people planning to move on to Litchfield National Park, Tumbling Waters saves the return drive to Darwin.

Maps:—                  Not needed.

Entrance fee:—     Adult $32, Children (5 -16) $10, Concession $22.50, Family $87, (2 adults & 4 children).

More information:—  Territory Wildlife Park, Cox Peninsular Road, Berry Springs, NT.

                                  Tel 61 (0)8 8988 7200


© Jim Ditchfield  1996

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