Kangaroo Island II
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This page is on the wildlife of the Kangaroo Island. As mentioned before, the island was separated from the mainland some 9,000 years ago as the sea level rose. The island thus suffer less of the impact of European settlement and escaped quite a few ecological disasters brought by the European colonists, notably the careless introduction of rabbits and European red fox. As a result an abundance of native species are preserved and thriving. Today, one third of the island's landscape is protected in 21 national and conservation parks.
As usual, we start with mammals. The dominant mammals in Australia are marsupials; and being in the Kangaroo island the first thing come into mind is kangaroos of course, plus various sizes of wallabies and koalas. The Kangaroo Island Kangaroo (1st 5 pix) is a sub species of Western Gray Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus). 9,000 years of natural selection has made the island species smaller, darker, and furrier. In the last picture is a group of nocturnal Tammar Wallabies (Macropus eugenii), a much smaller species of kangaroo. Barely larger than a cat (weight about 8 kilo), the Tammar wallaby is the little devil that has done the biggest damage to our trip.
So here's a good place to tell our horror story. One night, around 10pm, we drove home from our little penguin trip (you'll see below). All along the road we see lots of shiny eyes peeking from the bushes -- the wallabies are coming out to feed. By the way, it was the wallaby season; they breed like crazy. Several of them tried to run across the road; some hesitated and jumped back and some made it across. Anyway, I was able to brake promptly for several times, until a big one caught my bumper from the left in a very weird angle. It was not crashing into the car head-on, but instead was running in the same direction with the car with an angle -- I didn't see it clearly from the headlights -- and jumped into the bumper, then roll under the tires, and gone... I could hear its bones pounding the bottom of the car for several times and the car shivered... We weren't in the mood of stopping in a moonless night to check on a bloody murder scene so we moved on, although felt a bit uneasy. The next morning we returned to the same spot and what do you know, the poor bastard was decapitated, with the deformed body moved to one side of the road, and the head on the other side... If anything made us feel better, it was the fact that wallaby is considered a pest in the Kangaroo Island -- too many of them damage the habitats of echidna. For our accidental contribution to the preservation of the ecosystem, we paid dearly. The suicidal impact cracked our front bumper and deformed the radiator, which cost us an equivalent of $1,200 USD (summer 2008 exchange rate). The lesson? Try not to drive at night in the Kangaroo Island.
More Kangaroo pix from Paul's Place, where we pet the kangaroo closely. In Chinese kangaroo is call "pouch mouse," which I think is rather appropriate because its head really resemble a mouse. They've got really sharp front paws, so be very careful when you try to feed them. Also, they stink.
The Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is certainly much more agreeable. It's got my vote of "the cutest marsupial." Lazy, slow, plumpy, dozy, and as far as I'm concern it'll never jump into your bumper for a suicide. Koala was introduced from the mainland in the 1920s for conservation purpose. Without any predator in the island, the koala're doing very well, in fact maybe too well. The population exploded from 18 in the 1920s to > 5,000 late last century. Eventually there're not enough eucalypt trees on the island to feed the whole koala population (that's euphemism for "became a pest"). So the government was force to export some Koala back to the mainland. But well... they're cute.
More marsupials. This big rat-like creature is a Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus). It does have a pouch and is unrelated with Indian Bandicoot rat. In fact it's more of a miniature kangaroo, and it does hop around.
Another specialty of Australia, the monotreme, a confusing class of hybrid creatures with characteristic of mammals, reptiles, and birds. They are warm blooded, and they suckle their young; yet they lay eggs, they have only one outlet for evacuation, and like reptiles, their limbs are grown on the side of the body, not underneath. The classification of these creatures was under much debate before they were finally categorized as the mammal. Here we have a Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), the most wide-spread monotreme that can be found all over Australia. The thorny little ball feeds on ants, termites, and the likes and has a very specialized sticky tongue for that.
A large colony of Australian Sea Lions (Neophoca cinerea) in the Seal Bay. They're pretty fun to watch.
Little cubs. Oh look at those huge watery eyes...
Birds. One of the famous attractions of the South Australia coast is watching the nightly Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) "parade." That is, the return of a large group of adult penguins at night to their stone burrows to feed the young, after a day's fishing in the sea. The little penguin is the smallest species of penguins, which measures about 43cm (16 in) tall and weigh about 1 kilo (2.2 lbs). they are not sensitive to the long wavelength end of the visible spectrum (meaning red light) so our guide brought a red flash light to minimize the disturbance to their colony. The following pix are hungry chicks (1st 4 pix) and returning adults (5th pic). The last pic was taken in Sydney Aquarium.
Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is the 2nd largest bird in the world (after ostrich), with height up to 2m (6.5ft) tall and weight up to 55 kilo (121 lbs). It's virtually a gentle and harmless bird that allows you to get very very close. It's an emu egg in the 3rd pic, with an interesting cyan gloss. It's heavy; weigh up to 2 lbs or an equivalent of some 12 chicken eggs. In the last 3 pix is a group of graceful Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) in a rainy day. Even in such gloomy weather, these birds preserve their elegance properly.
A Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster, juvenile) is hovering along the beach (1st pic). At the sight of predator, a group of Crested Terns (Thalasseus bengalensis) fled in a panic (3 pix). In the last pic is a Pied Oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris). Btw, oystercatcher is very much a misnomer. These wading bird rarely catch oysters, which live in rocky coastlines. Instead oystercatchers are mainly found in sandy beaches, feeding on bivalve mollusc such as clams and mussels.
More birds. A wading Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus, 1st pic); a group of Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) enjoying the sun (2nd pic); a group of Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius, 3rd pic) on the rocky shore; in the last 2 pix is a Mask Lapwing (Vanellus miles), easily recognizable by the bright yellow face.
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) is a magnificent bird with a bright red long tail. You can see a hint of that bright red in the 1st pic. It's been constantly listed as an endangered species. In the last pic is a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita), also called White Cockatoo, a very noisy bird.
Reptile. The Heath Goanna (Varanus Rosenbergii) is a ferocious-looking monitor lizard with impressive size (up to 1.5m in length) and that threatening snake-like flicking tongue thing. But it's actually quite shy. They are predators of small reptiles, mammals, and birds. However, more often we spot them scavenging on roadkills... They usually lay their eggs in termite mounds, so when the eggs hatch, there'll be a feast waiting.
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