Australia is home to an incredible variety of animals, most of them endemic to the country. More than eighty percent of mammal and reptile species that inhabit the different regions of this vast southern-hemisphere country are found nowhere else in the world.
The country also boasts the world’s largest and most varied species of marsupials. More than 140 marsupial types, both carnivorous and herbivorous, are found here, including wallabies, wombats, koalas, quolls, the Tasmanian devil, and the iconic kangaroo, to name a few.
Unlike Africa, Australia is not known for large predatory mammals. The dingo (wild dog) is the largest carnivorous mammal in the entire continent.
The world’s largest crocodile species, the saltwater crocodile, is also found in big numbers in Australia. Also known as the “salty,” the males can grow up to 7 meters (22 feet) and are known to kill people.
The freshwater crocodiles of northern Australia, however, are not considered a threat to humans.
Coastal Australia attracts different species of sea turtle, including the leatherback, the flat back, the loggerhead, the green sea, the olive ridley, and the hawksbill sea turtles – all of them protected by Australian law.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef consisting of over 3,000 individual reef systems with hundreds of islands and coral cays, is home to an unimaginable array of marine life including countless fish species, turtles, clams, and seaweed.
Australia’s marine ecosystem supports some 5,000 fish species, 1700 coral types, and 30 of the world’s 58 sea-grass species.
Over 160 shark species inhabit its coastal waters and estuaries, including the great white, the bull shark, and the tiger shark; all three are known to be dangerous to humans.
Larger marine animals include the humpback, southern right, and orca whales, as well as the largest fish in the world and also one of the gentlest – the whale shark, which can grow up to 40 feet and weigh as much as 20 tons (40,000 lb).
Australia is the only country – in fact, the only continent in the world – that has more venomous snakes than non-venomous ones. It is also home to venomous monotremes (egg-laying mammals) like the peculiar looking platypus, spiders, octopi, jellyfish, stingrays, molluscs, and scorpions.
More than half of the 828 bird species found in Australia are indigenous to the country, ranging from the tiny honeyeaters to the two-meter-tall flightless bird, emu.
Out of the 55 species of parrots found in Australia, the most spectacular and colorful species include the cockatoos, rosellas, lorikeets, cockatiels, parakeets and budgerigars, among others.
While most of Australia’s endemic wildlife is difficult to spot in their natural habitat, you can be assured of seeing these unique creatures up close in the country’s numerous world-class zoos, wildlife parks and conservation facilities spread across major cities and regional areas.
Here’s a list of Australia’s famous zoological parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
- Adelaide Zoo – Adelaide, South Australia
- Alice Springs Reptile Centre – Alice Springs, Northern Territory
- Australia Zoo – Sunshine Coast, Queensland
- Australian Reptile Park – Somersby, New South Wales
- Billabong Zoo – Port Macquarie, New South Wales
- Halls Gap Zoo – Halls Gap, Victoria
- Healesville Sanctuary – Healesville, Victoria
- Hobart Zoo – Hobart, Tasmania
- Kyabram Fauna Park – Kyabram, Victoria
- Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – Brisbane, Queensland
- Melbourne Zoo – Melbourne, Victoria
- Mogo Zoo – Mogo, New South Wales
- Monarto Zoo – Monarto, South Australia
- Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park – Pearcedale, Victoria
- National Zoo & Aquarium – Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
- Shoalhaven Zoo – South Coast, New South Wales
- Tasmania Zoo – Launceston, Tasmania
- Toronga Zoo – Sydney, New South Wales
- Werribee Open Range Zoo – Werribee, Victoria
- Wild Life Sydney – Sydney, New South Wales
The most memorable wildlife encounters – as difficult, fleeting, and sometimes even strenuous, as they may be – are the ones that take place at the animal’s natural habitat; where you are not, consciously or subconsciously, aware that you are watching the animal in a controlled environment – an orchestrated display, if you like.
Keeping all of that in mind, we have compiled here five of the best wildlife experiences in Australia that are sure to stay with you for a long time to come and may even beckon you again and again for newer adventures.
Come face to face with the great white shark (Port Lincoln, South Australia)
Let’s make it clear at the outset; this is not for the weak-hearted.
If you are ready to be lowered underwater in a steel cage, in an area infested with one of the most efficient predators of the oceans, then this is sure to be the most terrifyingly-thrilling wildlife encounter you can ever hope for.
Just imagine yourself in a submerged cage with a great white charging towards meat dangling in front of you, with only the bars of the cage between you and certain death, only then will you realize the kind of adrenaline rush we’re talking about.
Adventure Bay Charters, Calypso Star Charters and Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions operate specialist tours to take you off the coast of Port Lincoln, on the lower Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, for this chilling, yet thrilling, underwater adventure.
Swim with whale sharks (Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia)
The whale shark is one of the gentlest giants of the oceans – a slow-moving, plankton-feeding 60-million-year-old species that can reach lengths of up to 40 feet and weigh as much as 20 tons.
Swimming with these migratory wonders of the watery world is possible between late April and early August when they grace the Australian shores with their immense presence, literally.
Tours out of Exmouth and Coral Bay can be availed to enjoy this popular activity, among many others in Western Australia.
Encounter a cassowary (Mission Beach, Queensland)
Driving through north Queensland territories, if you happen to notice a human-sized, flightless bird with a brilliant blue head and neck, high brown helmet, drooping red wattles, and long, black feathers, be assured that you are looking at the magnificent cassowary.
It is advised that you enjoy this beautiful bird from the safety of your vehicle as their sharp dagger-like claws can be potentially lethal.
If you ever come across one of these unique Australian birds while hiking or trekking, make sure to back away slowly and try to get to relative safety behind a tree or a large-enough object, for want of better options.
Spot a platypus (Eungella National Park, Queensland)
Native to Australia, the platypus is a semi-aquatic, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed, egg-laying mammal that appears to have come straight out of a comic book. The male platypus is capable of delivering venom from a spur on its hind foot that can be severely painful to humans.
They are elusive animals difficult to spot in the wild. Your best chances of seeing one in its natural habitat is from the Broken River viewing platform in Queensland’s Eungella National Park.
Take pictures of Kangaroos relaxing on the sand (South Coast of New South Wales)
The popular surfing and bushwalking spot some 270 kilometers south of Sydney, New South Wales, is the best place to observe and photograph eastern grey kangaroos that assemble in large numbers on the grass and sand to relax and soak up the abundant sunshine the region is blessed with. It is, indeed, a sight to behold and capture in your camera!