“Do you think we can just park the campervan in the zoo’s car park for a few nights? We’ll just camp there.” We joked as we drove towards the world’s largest open-range zoo, just outside of Adelaide. The plan was to spend a week going around Monarto Zoo. We’d camp as close as we could. It turned out that “as close as we could” was actually less than half a kilometer from the entrance. Not that it really helped that much – we still struggled to get there as the gates opened at 9.30.
Monarto Zoo is set out so that you sit on a bus, with a volunteer guide giving a running commentary about the animals that you pass. There are viewing platforms at a many of the animals, so you have the option of getting out of the bus and sitting on the viewing platform to watch the animals.
We went spent each day at the zoo for a week. Each morning we’d discuss, ” So, which animal are we going to sit at today?”
The first day we mainly spent travelling around the zoo on the bus.
We headed for the giraffe viewing platform on the second morning. It was hot, but the breeze in the shade of the platform kept us comfortable. During the keeper talk, kids had the opportunity to feed the giraffe, which was very special. We were all entertained with the way they moved, and in particular the way that blue tongue licked its face, and even inside its nostril. It was interesting to find out that the tongue is blue to prevent it from getting sun burnt.
Ten year old Peter and nine year old Susan love listening to the information about the animals, so they were just quietly listened to the guide. Peter in particular asked about a hundred questions about each animal, trying to get more and more information. Some of the questions weren’t very well thought out, but others were great. It was usually a different guide each time we got on the bus. Most of the guides were reasonable, a few were great, and a couple were terrible.
Many guides tried really hard to answer the kids questions. One only was annoyed about the many questions that the kids asked.
“The bison can smell water from eight kilometers away,” the guide told us.
“How do they smell the water?” Peter asked.
“Oh, the questions kids ask,” The guide laughed. “I once had this little girl on here with pigtails and all in pink. I just knew she was going to be trouble, and I was right. She asked so many questions … ”
Jarrad and I exchanged glances, really annoyed at the guide for his response. We’d thought it a good question. Besides which, we have always encouraged the kids to ask lots of questions so that they can learn. Obviously this volunteer didn’t like questions being asked, though. I was sitting next to Peter, and I quietly said to him, “Ask me the questions for the moment. If I don’t know, we’ll try and find out, or we’ll ask the guide on the next bus.”
Other guides were fantastic. One time we got on and saw that there was no one else on the bus. The volunteer asked if we’d been to Monarto Zoo before. His response to hearing that it was the end of our third day was, “Well, you can probably do this talk as well as me. Come here, young man.”
Peter moved up to the front of the bus, and the volunteer put the microphone on his head. “Coming up next is the scimitar-horned oryx. They are called scimitar because their horns are in the shape of the old-fashioned scimitar sword. If they damage or lose a horn, they can’t grow it back.” He faulted, and the guide prompted him,
“What is their conservation status?”
“They are critically endangered. Monarto Zoo wanted to breed them, but this group here didn’t have any babies at all. Now they are too old to breed.”
He continued on in this fashion for the rest of the trip. Peter was so excited at being given the opportunity, and we were really proud and thrilled for him.
Thursday and Friday were both terribly hot. The animals sat around doing very little. So did the people. We sat at the viewing platform between the lions and the African painted dogs. The dogs did very little and stayed away from the viewing platform except for at feed time. Feed time was a noisy affair, that looked chaotic to us but apparently the dogs prioritised themselves according to their heirachial status on who got to feed first and most.
The new lion cub had just been put out on display the week we were there. Although she had a tendency, like the older lions, to snooze a lot, she was also quite playful. We got to watch her climbing on a log, stalking through the grass to catch an imaginary prey and snoozing in the shade of a tree.
We were about the only visitors on Friday, which was 37 degrees. There was a decent breeze, which meant that in the shade of the viewing platform it wasn’t as unpleasant as it would have been otherwise.
Every afternoon we spent the last hour or two relaxing at the chimpanzee enclosure. We watched the chimps swinging from ropes, and flipping through magazines looking for treats. We watched as they picked lice from each others coats, played together, and fought. The fights were noisy affairs, that seemed more about intimidating each other than a genuine attempt to hurt each other. It was a great way to finish off each day.
What a great way to spend a week!