After begrudgingly taking up Work Ed. as a subject as high school, I never could have imagined it would have led me to obtaining a job at a wildlife park at 16 years of age. Shyly handing in my application for work experience lead to a wonderful week of hands on wildlife work, which then lead to my decision to begin volunteering my time on the weekend at the park. After one volunteer shift, I received a call from the boss asking me if I would like a job (Though asking me if I would like a job with animals was like asking if the sky is blue :P). A year ago, my time at Dundee’s Wildlife Park ended due to its closure, and this month I have been feeling particularly nostalgic. From having being chased by a horny koala to being beaten up by a kangaroo, these are some of the most memorable experiences and animals that I encountered in my time at Dundee’s 🙂
Sweety the fat ass Donkey
Cranky, pushy, manipulative, stubborn, a complete pain in the ass (see what I did there ;)), the word ‘Sweety’ did not really extend much past her name 😛 As much as she was frustrating, you became accustomed to hearing her screeching ‘EEEEYYYOOORRRREE!’ the moment you opened the front doors of the park in the morning, and I loved her dearly. Yes some days she caused complete havoc for us keepers because she had opened all the gates overnight and let the wallabies out which means you had to round them up (imagine 10+ little jumping animals over about an acre of land….. I did a LOT of running those days), yes she would break into the hay shed and eat a weeks worth of hay in one sitting, and yes she would pretend to get stuck in gates so customers would pay her attention and then she would steal their food, but she will always be one of my favourites, the cheeky little shit 🙂
Cooper the kickboxing Kangaroo
This is the kangaroo that one day made me his own personal punching bag. During our morning rounds, we had to do a clean up in Cooper’s enclosure, which involved simply sweeping the pavement. Cooper seriously made this easier said than done. See, he hated the broom. He would attack it when ever he saw it. Give said broom to a short 16 year old female, and put her in an enclosure with a broom hating MALE kangaroo who is going to try and exert dominance over and is taller than said short female, and you have just condemned the poor lass to a beating. This particular morning, Cooper decided the usual push and shove that he usually gave me wasn’t enough. After being able to clearly read his particularly aggro mood, voicing this to my superior, and still being forced to go in with him due to my bitch supervisor, he cornered me at the far end of the enclosure, and started attacking me! He bit, clawed, pushed, punched, head butted and finally, stood up on his tail and kicked me in the chest with his hind legs. Now, this move by kangaroo is powerful enough to break ribs! Luckily for me, the kick was only half assed, nonetheless, I still was left winded with a great whopping bruise across my stomach and chest! I always disregarded my supervisors demands to clean his enclosure after that 😛
Claus the cuddly Koala
Being hand raised, Claus (who was born around Christmas, hence Claus from Santa Claus…… I still think for a koala a better name would have been Claws :P) liked his cuddles, and he would go to any lengths to get them. When he was a baby, we used to have him sitting on a branch in the gift shop, with the shop attendant looking after him for the day. On one of my shop shifts, Claus was obviously trying to get my attention for cuddles, and I must have been particularly and annoyingly ignorant. He definitely managed to get my attention after a while …… by climbing up my leg like a tree! After he climbed the rest of my body, he sat quite smugly in my arms while visitors where oohing and aahhing over how cute his little stunt was, while I was trying not to openly agonise over the gouges of skin that had just been removed from my leg 😛
Dundee the horny Koala
Placing this guy in an enclosure right across from a female in breeding season never ended well for us keepers. With all the super sexy female koala hormones sending him into a sex crazed state, sometimes Dundee liked to try his luck on who ever came into his enclosure. As soon as you entered, he’d already whipped it out. As soon as you had your back turned, he’d strike. After a while, having a horny male koala run after you and try to make sweet koala love to your foot was just a part of the morning rounds, but we would still run away squealing if he started getting a bit too jiggy with it 😛
Bobbi and Yella the Black Cockatoos
These boys were my life and joy at the park. Their enclosure would be the first I’d visit in the morning, and the last I’d visit in the afternoon. Black Cockatoo’s are very intelligent birds . . . . and also very cheeky! Bobbi, the White Tailed Cockatoo, was the more gentle of the two, even with that huge powerful beak. He liked to sit up on my shoulder close to my ear, groom my hair and make little whistle noises and murmurs in my ear. The only time he’d ever nibble and bite my hand was if I was trying to remove him from my shoulder! 😛 Every time he saw you he would always call out to you and make a racket until you would go and visit him. Yella, the Yellow tailed Black Cockatoo, on the other hand always made a racket! While he too liked to sit on my shoulder, it wasn’t to be cutsie, but to steal hats, sunglasses (and break them :P), and play with and pull out my hair! He’d swoop you, hang above your head upside down, and even give your nose a good honking if you gave him half a chance! They both had completely different personalities, but I could have never ever chosen between my feather babies! 🙂
Buff the Water Buffalo
While weighing up to 3/4 of a tonne with horns that stretched 2 metres in length, this guy was nothing but a big softie! 🙂 At first I was so scared that if I went near him he’d gore me with those sharp horns, but soon realised that he was a big gentle giant who loved his hay and carrots. When ever I went in with him to change the water in his trough I kept a safe distance, as he did from me. But once I was safely on the other side of the fence again, as if he knew it were now safe, he would come up for pats. I happened to discover he also enjoyed licking, when one day I had my face near him and he decided to cover it in friendly buffalo slobber 😛 This giant animal wouldn’t hurt a fly, which is why I got so angry when I caught some customers throwing rocks at him and his ostrich companion one day. In my murderous rage I struggled to stay professional while telling them to stop what they were doing, but when the little 15 year old bitch gave me attitude, I couldn’t help but lose my shit and start yelling at her. If I recall, I called her an idiot and told her to ‘Get the f*ck out.’ She wasn’t so high and mighty then as I personally kicked her out of the park >:) Meanwhile Buff was waiting by the fence for me for a pat, making me wonder why someone would ever in their right mind throw things at him. This quote from ‘Family Guy’ describes me perfectly in these situations: ‘I’m like one of those bald eagles on the Discovery Channel. Beautiful to look at . . . . . . . but mess one of my chicks and I’ll use my razor sharp talons to rip your f*cking eyes out!’ 😛
The Psycho Emu Gang
Apparently a normal female + a normal male = completely schizophrenic babies! After the emus first lot of eggs hatched, it was obvious the three little munchkins were just born weird 😛 When they were little enough, they’d sneak through the gaps in the fence and try to chase the alpacas. When they were a bit older, they would chase each other around the enclosure in complete terror of one another. They would run in circles for absolutely no reason. They would literally stare at their food for 15 minutes like they didn’t know what it was, then chow into it like their was no tomorrow. When I was in their enclosure, they would play with my hair, took great amusement it biting my butt, and loved it even more when they had a chance to chase me. I would also regularly get a bath when changing their water trough. Emus love water, so when I emptied their trough on the ground, they would sit in it for ages. After they were thoroughly soaked to the bone, they would stand up, come over to me, and shake themselves like a dog. I think I came home smelling like emu a lot 😛
Heartburn and Julius the Crocs
We had many crocodiles at Dundees, but none was more of a pansy than Heartburn, the largest crocodile in the park. 17 years old and 3 metres long, Heartburn was a pipsqueak for his age, and unfortunately for him, he never did make up for size with his lazy attitude 😛 When we emptied his pond to clean it, he would go have a sook in the bushes on the bank until we returned is pond to its normal state. These sulking fits went as far as us being able to pat him without him moving (on the tail mind you, though he was lazy and a push over, there was still no way I wanted to be anywhere near those jaws! :P) Julius on the other hand was small and young, but ferocious as they come! About a metre and a half in length, Jules would always jump out of the water snapping his jaws trying to get you as you passed his pond. When you cleaned his pond, you needed everyone to help, whether they were cleaning and watching, and you had to be on guard at all times! When I went into work one morning and my boss Maurice told me we had to move Jules to a new pond up the top of the park, I assumed there was going to be more helpers, but it turned out it was just him and me! Firstly, we had to loop a rope around his top jaw. Once this was done, Maurice got into the enclosure to tie his jaws while I was holding onto the rope making sure he didn’t get away. After lots of struggling and splashing, his mouth was finally tied. Next step was a bit tricker, we had to get him out of his pond, which was deep in the ground, had no gates and a metre high fence that a person could climb easily on their own, but a crocodile in tow made it a little more difficult 😛 Maurice passed Jules up to me, and I had to haul him over the side. When I finally got him over the fence, he started thrashing, and recalling every Steve Irwin move I’d ever seen, I sat on top of him and held him down. Just call me the Crocodile Wrestler 😉
The ones that were lost
Along with all the wonderful animals that still live, there have been many that have also passed away that made my time at Dundees so special.
Rufus was one of the first animals I fell in love with. He was a hand raised Kangaroo with Mickey Mouse ears. He was such a loving little animal and I spent lunch time sitting with him while he lazily sunbaked in the beautiful weather. He would always find you in the morning to greet you, and planted big wet kisses on your cheek. After a year of working there when my supervisor told me he’d had a seizure, I was heart-broken. I found him lying under a little shelter twitching, grunting and almost lifeless. If I thought I spent a lot of time with him before, now I was spending every spare second I had with him. He couldn’t get up and move at all, so instead I hand fed him and gave him water out of a bottle. When I returned a week later and he was still holding on, but had been next to forgotten about and left to lie in the dirt and as a result had gone blind in his left eye, I was furious. I found a blanket, and lifted my 70kg baby onto it and bathed his eye. The next morning, I was told it was the day he was going to get put down. I battled for control of my tears most of that day, but at the end of my shift I broke down. I went and sat with him, cuddling him, telling him how much I had loved him and holding him close with his head resting on my lap. After an hour, I finally had to walk away, knowing that I would never spend another lunch time enjoying the sun with my dear friend. I’ll never forget that kangaroo.
In my third year at Dundees, there was a severe fire that completely burnt out the bottom of the park. In it, we lost some wonderful birds and owls. Woof was a Barking Owl, and he was quirky and loved for people to bark back at him when he called out, which sounded like a dog. Another bird we lost was Rosie the Major Mitchell, who loved daily scratches and talked to you non stop. Both had been there right from the start, and it wasn’t the same without them.
Sooky the Galah didn’t actually pass away, but instead was stolen! This beautiful little bird lived up to her name to the fullest, loving cuddles from anyone at any time, so obviously someone decided they’d take her for themselves! Sadly, this was not the first or last time an animal was stolen…. sometimes I question people’s sanity! I have just always hoped the person that took her has looked after her well, she was a complete diva that needed papering to the fullest extent!
So many animals at that park over the 4 years have left me with so many wonderful memories. The good times, the bad times, the sad times and the times that made me laugh till my stomach hurt, I will never forget my time at Dundee’s and most of all the wonderful scaley, feathered and furry friends that made me look forward to work each day 🙂