We arrived at Tasmania Zoo, and piled in at a jog to see the famous meerkats. They are right at the entrance, in fact their glass-fenced enclosure opens on to the zoo cafeteria. You can sit at a table, enjoy meerkat activity and have a Slushee or a fisherman's basket at the same time. The radio is also on, and while we were there the meerkats enjoyed some Midnight Oil, Counting Crows and Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen.
They are completely loveable. They are a bit smaller than I thought, but very active. They were nibbling on scattered bits of stuff when we arrived, so we thought the "feeding" would probably not be a big deal for them, but they jumped to attention when the keeper went in with a bucket of grubs. They did quite a lot of the sitting-up-on-hindquarters thing that we all know and love. One of them was up on a little central perch, keeping a perky weather eye on the primates, Tasmanian devils and the Tasmanian masked owl. As those guys are all also in cages and pens, I don't think he really had much to worry about.
The rest of the zoo was pretty good, although quite bird-heavy. And I don't think I am much of a bird person. The blue and gold macaw thought it was pretty funny to make an appalling beak-squeak on the metal struts of her enclosure. You could tell she thought it was funny as it was followed by a frightening "HA HA HA HA HA HA!" remniscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
The Tasmanian devils were in a good mood - well, mostly asleep, but I did get a photo of one looking quite friendly. I think she was just working out how much of my arm she would be able to take off if I just leaned a little closer.
The cage I really couldn't tear myself away from was full of these guys.
This is a pic from the zoo's facebook page - all my photos were kind of blurry and cagey. They are some kind of ape - I never managed to find out what kind on the day, and looking at the zoo map now I still can't work it out. They are tail-less, so i don't think they could be macaques. Whatever they are, they were eyeballing us very closely, and the message I was getting from that look was "get us out of here and take us into town with you so we can go shopping". They were so human-y. They kept reaching through the wire for handfuls of particular rushy grasses, and failing to uproot them. Marcus would pull up a few and try to share them out equally, but one guy was getting them all. When Marcus held them back out of his reach, he gave him the full teeth-revealing hiss of anger. It was pretty confronting, speaking as a fellow ape.
The cotton-eared marmosets were very engaging - one of them spent a lot of time millimeters from me, hugging his side of the bars. I felt like he really, y'know, understood me? He looked deep into my eyes and also asked me non-verbally if we could get him out of there and perhaps get him a skateboard and some sugary snacks. (I feel like I have just foretold the kids movie blockbuster of the summer, Las Vegas Skatin' Cotton-Eared Marmoset).
The croc house was disappointing. Crocs might be quite happy to have a concrete basin of water and a stretch of fake grass each - they might love it. But I was expecting some mudflats, some vague stab at a natural-ish environment. Maybe this is temporary.
My big gripe applies equally to all zoos and wildlife parks - if an exhibit or cage or enclosure is out of action or empty - put a sign on it. No-one wants to be the kind of zoo visitor who impatiently blows past a whole bunch of enclosures because there doesn't seem to be much happening. But when you have limited time to get around a big zoo, its maddening to find you have been patiently waiting for ... nothing. The nocturnal house, as far as I could tell, had one occupied enclosure out of about 20. I am sure there were at least a few more furry friends in there, but the majority of those glass boxes could have had a standard card in the window that just said "Sorry, nothing to see here right now".
|Yellow bucket = mandrill food. Metal bucket = something dead for the devils.|
Having had our fill of fauna, we went back into town to suss out the caravan park. How bad would it be? The caravan smelled pretty stale but that didn't last long once we opened everything up. Marcus and I went off to get dinner. After sausages and salad we broke our "no-buddies" rule and went to visit Joe and Jill and William. As usual William, Marcus and Michael had anarchic fun with a lot of ear-splitting laughing from William - again, a bit The Shining-esque. After a few beers, some school talk and half an A-League game, we had to let William get to bed. We went back to face the music at Glen Dhu Treasure Island caravan park.
Glen Dhu is the part of Launceston where my Dad grew up. That was before the expressway cut it in two. Dad's old primary school is now hard by one side of the Southern Outlet, and his father Didds' old workplace Coats Patons woollen mill is hard by the other side. I had never had a close-up look at Coats Patons before - it is really very, very big.
As it happened we had a terrible night, and none of us really slept. We just drifted through the next day in a group mind-fug. The road was so noisy, and the kids in the next caravan had a drunken revel until 3 or 4. I tried to make myself sleep by going through the nations of Africa and putting them in alphabetical order, then singing every Billy Bragg song I could think of to myself. To no avail.
Sigh. We live and learn. Cheap is not always everything.