Australia’s wildlife is completely unique, and incredibly diverse. Australia’s native animals are completely different from those of the rest of the world, because of Australia’s geographical isolation. Australia’s wildlife is also extremely diverse because of Australia’s distinctive landscape. Australia has deserts, lakes, mountains and rainforests. Because of this, there are many different types of animals that are native to Australia.
Australia’s Delicate Ecosystem
Australia’s ecosystem is extremely fragile and it is important to remember to look after it. The best way to make sure that you don’t damage the environment is to follow the guidelines set out by local officials – for example, parks and beaches often have signs explaining what is allowed and what is not allowed in these areas, such as littering (which is not allowed anywhere!), fishing, etc. It is important to remember to avoid disturbing animals if you see them in the wild, as many feral animals are unpredictable – bothering them could result in damage to you or to the animal. Following these rules helps to maintain the delicate balance of Australia’s ecosystem.
Experiencing Australia’s Wildlife
Although it can be harmful to disturb animals in the wild (see above) there are lots of ways to experience Australia’s wildlife safely. There are many zoos in Australia where you can get a closer look at endangered species, and places where you can swim with dolphins or even sharks! Some zoos and aquariums have shows involving an animal that you might not be able to see close-up in the wild – such as crocodiles.
Koala Contrary to popular belief, koalas are not bears, although they are bear-like in appearance. Koalas spend most of their lives asleep in Eucalyptus trees, the leaves of which form the main part of their diet. Adult koalas may be aggressive in terms of their territory or their children, but they are rarely a danger to humans.
In terms of conservation, Koalas are listed as a vulnerable species, as their numbers have significantly declined in recent years due to disease. The number of koalas in Australia is somewhere between 100 000 and 1 000 000. Koalas are not found in Tasmania or Western Australia. They can be found on the east coast of Australia, including Queensland and New South Wales, and on the south-east coast, including Victoria and South Australia.
The word ‘Koala’ comes from the Aboriginal word for ‘no drink’. Koalas are rarely seen drinking, because they get most of the water they need from the eucalyptus leaves (gum leaves) that they eat.
Koalas are part of the group of animals known as marsupials, which do not give birth to fully developed young. Instead, they give birth to underdeveloped young, who continue to grow in a pouch, usually located on the mother’s stomach. Other Australian marsupials include kangaroos, wombats and possums.
Crocodile There are two types of crocodiles in Australia, the Freshwater and Saltwater crocodiles. The Freshwater Crocodile (‘Freshie’) is found in lakes, billabongs (which are like small lakes) and rivers in the northern regions of Australia. It can grow to a length of 2.5 meters, but unlike the Saltwater Crocodile, it does not usually attack humans.
The Saltwater Crocodile (‘Saltie’) is the largest reptile in the world, and can grow to a length of 5 meters. The Saltwater Crocodile is very aggressive and if disturbed, will attack humans.
The crocodile population dropped to dangerously low levels in the 1970s, but has recovered somewhat. The crocodile population of Australia is thought to be about 70 000.
Platypus The platypus is one of the most interesting animals in Australia and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. A platypus looks a bit like a cross between a duck and a beaver, as it has a bill like a duck, a large flat tail like a beaver, and is covered in hair. It lives underwater although it can survive on land. Although it is a mammal, it lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young like other mammals. The platypus is considered sacred by Aboriginal Australians.
The platypus can no longer be found in South Australia; however, it is not endangered or extinct in any other Australian state.
Shark There are 375 species of sharks to be found in Australia, although most of these species are not dangerous. The popularity of shark meat (known as ‘flake’) at various fish and chip shops on beaches all over Australia means that humans probably eat more sharks than the other way around!
Great White Shark: Also known as a white pointer, white death or white shark, this is the largest predatory fish in the world. It is one of the few shark species that will attack humans, although these attacks are not always fatal.
Grey Nurse: The grey nurse shark is usually not dangerous to humans, although it will react if provoked. It gives birth to live young and is listed as a protected species.
Port Jackson Shark: The Port Jackson Shark lives in the south of Australia and is aggressive towards humans. It eats only shellfish, although the sharp spines on its back make it slightly dangerous. The eggs of a Port Jackson Shark can take up to 7 months to hatch and are protected by a spiral-shaped case once they are laid. These cases occasionally wash up on beaches.
Wobbegong: Also known as a carpet shark, the Wobbegong lives on the bottom of the ocean floor. Although they can be aggressive, they are usually not dangerous to humans as they rarely stray from their habitat.
Sharks are listed as threatened species in Australia, with the Grey Nurse Shark considered to be critically endangered.
Dingo A dingo is a type of wild dog native to Australia. Dingoes are carnivorous although they are rarely a danger to humans. Unlike dogs, dingoes do not bark, but rather howl like wolves. Dingos may be found in rural areas of the Australian mainland, but not at all in Tasmania.
Dingos are in danger of becoming extinct due to cross-breeding with domestic dog breeds.
Kangaroo Kangaroos are found only in Australia. They have powerful hind legs that they use for jumping, and a large, heavy tail that balances them when they travel this way. An adult male kangaroo can travel at speeds of up to 70km/h (43mph). The kangaroo can be found on Australia’s coat of arms, because, like the Emu, it is unable to walk backwards.
Grey: Grey kangaroos are the most common species of kangaroo. They tend not to grow as large as the red kangaroo. The Eastern Grey kangaroo is found on the east coast of Australia, and the Western Grey kangaroo is found along the coast in West Australia, South Australia, and the Darling River basin.
Red: Red kangaroos are less common but more distinctive than grey kangaroos. They can grow to heights of up to 2 metres and may weight as much as 90kg. They live in the dry centre of Australia.
Wallaby: Wallaby is a term applied to any kangaroo-like animal that is significantly smaller than a kangaroo. They are close in appearance to kangaroos, despite being slightly smaller and stockier.
The kangaroo population, unlike that of many native Australian animals, is not in any danger of dwindling; instead, kangaroos are regarded as a pest by many farmers, because they can destroy fences and often compete for food and water with cattle and other livestock. The kangaroo population is more than 20,000,000.
Possum Possums are tree-dwelling animals that live all around Australia, including in suburban areas. The Sugar Glider is a species of possum that can fly from tree to tree, as it has membrane between its front and back legs that acts like a parachute.
Possums are often found in residential or suburban areas, as they tend to feed on vegetables or plants in the garden. They often nest in rooftops. Although this can be a nuisance to residents, Possums are a protected species and so cannot be killed.
Wombat Wombats are small furry animals that live in burrows in the northern, eastern and southern parts of Australia. They have short legs but an extremely solid body. There are two main species of wombat in Australia: the Common Wombat and the Hairy-nosed Wombat. Wombats are burrowing animals, and mostly nocturnal, so they are rarely seen in the wild. They are the largest herbivorous burrowing mammal in the world, and can grow to weigh 36kg. The Wombat is the closest relative of the Koala.
The Wombat population has been diminished in several areas due to human activity. They have been classified as a protected species in Australia since 1970.
Emu Emus are Australia’s tallest birds. They often grow up to heights of 1.9 meters and weigh from 30-45kg. They are similar in appearance to ostriches, and like ostriches they are flightless. The Emu is on Australia’s coat of arms because, like the kangaroo, it cannot walk backwards. The Emu has become extinct in Tasmania because of European settlement, and they are listed as protected animals in other parts of Australia, particularly in coastal areas.
Emus are now mainly found in the drier inland areas of Australia.
Kookaburra A kookaburra is a type of kingfisher bird. It is called ‘kookaburra’ because of the noise that it makes, which is very distinctive and similar to human laughter. There are four different types of kookaburra found in Australia: the Laughing Kookaburra (sometimes known as the Laughing Jackass), the Blue-winged Kookaburra (whose wings are a beautiful azure colour), the Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, and the Spangled Kookaburra, a rare species.
Kookaburras are not an endangered species and can be found all over Australia.