On Walkabout At: The Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Australia is filled with many great zoos and wildlife parks, but my favorite location to view Australian wildlife and one of the best zoos I have been to overall is the Healesville Animal Sanctuary located outside of Melbourne, Victoria:


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There is a major highway from Melbourne that allows residents of the city to easily visit Healesville, but since I lived out in a small rural community this is the road I drove to reach Healesville that provides a pretty good indication of the beautiful bush setting that the city is located in:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

These large trees that cover the mountains around Healesville are called mountain ash and can grow to heights of over 100 meters, which makes these trees the world’s 2nd tallest behind California’s redwood trees:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Healesville is a small village with a population just over 6,000 people that is a popular day trip location for people that live in the Victorian capital of Melbourne.  The city is located in the beautiful Yarra Ranges, which is well known in Australia for its various wineries.  This means Healesville is popular with locals for winery tours, hiking, shopping at the various little shops, and eating out at its various restaurants.  However, without a doubt the most popular attraction in Healesville is its famous animal sanctuary.  Here is a brief overview of the history of the Healesville Animal Sanctuary from its website:

Healesville Sanctuary was founded by Dr Colin MacKenzie, who in 1921 was granted 70 acres of land at a lease of one shilling per year, to establish the Australian Institute of Anatomy. The institute aimed to study native fauna for the purpose of medical research.

Dr MacKenzie’s work drew scientists from all over the world. When he moved to Canberra in 1927 to head a new anatomy institute, the land was handed over to the Healesville Council.

After much work from the local community and the Sanctuary’s new curator, Robert Eadie, the Sir Colin MacKenzie Sanctuary for Australian Flora and Fauna was officially opened to the public on 30 May 1934. During this time, Healesville became internationally renowned for its role in platypus care and research. It was the first organisation to successfully breed platypus in captivity. The 1940s saw the first hatched platypus ever bred in captivity (Corrie), an event that made the front page news in London and New York. (It took 55 years to repeat that success with the birth of twin platypus Barak and Yarra Yarra in 1998, and again in 2000, with MacKenzie.)

By 1947 the Sanctuary had developed into a popular tourist destination renowned for its fauna. It was considered an important asset to the state, and the Victorian State Government took over managerial responsibility.

Since 1978, Healesville Sanctuary has been managed by the Zoological Parks and Gardens Board of Victoria and has developed into Australia’s premier wildlife Sanctuary. This is highlighted by the openings of the Sidney Myer World of the Platypus in 1994 and the $6 million Australian Wildlife Health Centre in 2005.

Healesville Sanctuary continues to grow with the recent addition of Tasmanian Devils to its animal collection. Captivating presentations and tours such as Birds of Prey, Parrots in Flight and the Burra Burra Yan ensure visitors connect in meaningful ways with wildlife in its natural habitat.

What really makes this zoo different from other ones I have been to is that it really doesn’t feel like a zoo.  It is not a depressing place with animals put into a bunch of cages, but is instead a spacious area of beautiful Australia bushland sectioned off for the various animals that live in the Australian bush:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

The sanctuary even has a creek that runs right through it:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

The fact that there is only native Australian wildlife is an important distinction about this animal sanctuary.  Don’t expect to come here to look at lions and zebras, Healesville Animal Sanctuary is strictly for native Australian wildlife and if you have traveled all the way to Australia why would you want to see lions and zebras anyway?

The park has all the popular Australian wildlife that most people are most familiar with such as kangaroos and koalas.  The koala area is quite well done with an elevated boardwalk that allows visitors to view the koalas in the small trees they have there for them:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

I didn’t know much about koalas until I visited this park.  Koalas like most animals in Australia are marsupials that are a cousin of the wombat, which is a animal that lives on the ground in Australia.  Sometime long ago the ancestors to the koala decided to start living in the trees and eating the gum tree leaves instead of foraging on the ground like the wombat does.  The koala only eats the eucalyptus leaves of the gum tree, which is actually a poor choice of diet since the leaves are not very nutritious.

This causes the koala to have an extreme lack of energy that forces it to sleep for about 18 hours a day.  The time that the koala is a wake is mostly used to eat, reproduce, and care for its young if the koala is a female:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

As far kangaroos are learned that there are in fact many types of kangaroo like marsupial species in Australia.  The animal sanctuary has just about everyone of them to include a number that are endangered. The plentiful eastern grey kangaroos and wallabies that are found in the Australian bush and the red kangaroos that are only found in the Outback are kept in an enclosure that visitors can walk into and feed the animals:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Here is a picture of my wife feeding one of the wallabies:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

The red kangaroo is the largest kangaroo in Australia:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

I thought the red kangaroo at Healesville was quite big until I traveled into the Outback and saw much larger ones that live out there. Anyway here is a couple of more pictures of the kangaroo like marsupials that live in the sanctuary:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Here is another unusual animal at the sanctuary the echidna:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

The echidna is very unique because it is one of two known monotremes in the world.  Monotremes are warm blooded animals like mammals and marsupials, but they lay eggs like a reptile.  The only other monotreme is the world is the platypus.  The sanctuary has a large platypus enclosure where visitors can view this unique animal as well, but taking a picture is not possible since flashes cannot be used within the enclosure.

The park also a number of emus that can be found just about anywhere in Australia:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

The emus are the world’s second largest bird and look quite ugly and a bit menacing though they are pretty passive animals if you don’t agitate them.  What is unusual about the emu is the fact that after the female lays its eggs it is the male that sits on them until they hatch while the female goes on her way.  After the eggs hatch the male than cares for the baby chicks until they reach maturity.  It is actually quite a site to see a emu walking around with a line of cute little chicks following it in a single file line.  The emu chicks are also quite cute.  In this prior posting of mine you can see the amount of wildlife I had living around my home to include a picture of an emu chick.

Besides emus the animal sanctuary has a huge variety of other Australian birds as well:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Many Australian birds are quite colorful:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

With so many colorful and unique birds, I don’t think there is a better place in the world to view bird life than in Australia:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Here are a couple of large pelicans at the park:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

These pelicans were much kinder to me than the one I ran into at Shark Bay out in Western Australia who wanted to fight me.  However, this black swan I came across at the sanctuary was not too happy to see me and actually came at me and tried to bite me:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Besides birds the sanctuary also has bats to look at as well, which during the day time they are all asleep:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Here is another widely known Australian animal, the dingo that really isn’t a native Australian species:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

It is believed that the dingo was brought to Australia by Indonesian traders about 4,000 years ago.  Once in Australia the dingo spread rapidly since it was an apex predator.  It is believed that the dingo was responsible for the extinction of a number of Australian mainland species such as the Tasmanian Tiger and the Tasmanian Devil that had to compete with the dingo for food.  Since Tasmania was cut off from the mainland 12,000 years ago after the last Ice Age that protected these species from being wiped out there from the dingo.

Australia is well known for its reptiles with the country’s crocodiles being one of its most well known forms of wildlife.  You can see some pictures of my encounters with these massive predators  here and here..  The sanctuary doesn’t have any of these massive crocodiles because Victoria is just too cold for these reptiles to survive in, but in the reptile enclosure that the sanctuary has, there is a small fresh water crocodile for people to look at:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

The reptile enclosure of course also had a wide variety of Australia’s venomous snakes.  Here is a lowland copperhead that is native to the sanctuary:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

This next snake, the eastern brown is also native to the sanctuary and has the distinction of being considered the world’s 2nd most poisonous snake:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

I actually almost stepped on one of these snakes when hiking to Steavenson Falls just down the road from Healesville.  Australia lays claim to all of the world’s Top 10 most venomous snakes, however these snakes are not that deadly because they rarely bite people.  These snakes are very passive because they have few predators and when near people just tend to slither off instead of getting aggressive to defend themselves like rattlesnakes in the US do.  You can read about my near bite experience with a rattlesnake in New Mexico at this link.  An additional factor that causes there not to be many snake bites in Australia is the fact that the continent is so depopulated compared to other nations where less venomous snakes kill many more people each year.

However, there is one snake in Australia that is a bit aggressive, which makes it the most deadliest snake in Australia which is the taipan:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

The taipan is found in the warmer tropical locations of Australia.  The taipans are infamous for frequenting sugar cane fields in search of small rodents nibbling on the sugar cane to eat.  It is in these sugar can fields that workers often get bit by these snakes.  Besides crocodiles and snakes, some other reptiles that Australia has in abundance is lizards.  Here is are some shingleback skinks:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Australia even has the world’s largest lizard, which is the goanna that can grow up to 2.5 meters long.  The goanna though at the sanctuary love to hide out in the logs that are in their enclosure:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

This next lizard the frilled-neck lizard was quite mean looking because it puffs itself out when confronting danger:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

These lizard is well known in Australia for fleeing danger by running away on its back legs like it was a human.  There is plenty more reptiles to see in the enclosure along with plenty of other native Australian animals spread around the sanctuary, but these pictures should give everyone a good indication of what to expect when visiting the park.  However, for anyone visiting the park I highly recommend checking out the various programs that the sanctuary puts on for visitors.  The gentlemen pictured below is of local aboriginal heritage and put on quite a show with his boomerang:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

He was able to toss multiple boomerangs around and do some pretty incredible things with them.  The most impressive thing was that he was doing this in the wind and rain that was falling the day we watched the show.  Something else that was pretty cool was that his primary boomerang that he threw was the original boomerang that his great grandfather used and has been passed on through the family to him.  Well worth checking out and after he completes his show he sells his hand made boomerangs to the crowd.  I bought one from him for $10 and it is a great boomerang.  You can see me throwing it around at this prior posting.

The park personnel also bring out the dingoes for people to get an up close look at as well:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Probably the most impressive show is the one where trained birds wow the crowd with a number of tricks:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

This big, wedge-tailed eagle was my favorite bird because he was really funny because he was a bit clumsy:

Picture from the Healesville Animal Sanctuary

After conducting one trick he landed on a fence behind the audience and fell off of it because he is so big and awkward.

Most people probably spend about half a day visiting the sanctuary, but it is easy for a visitor to take up an entire day by attending all the scheduled shows that occur throughout the day.  Visiting the sanctuary is a bit pricey so you might as well stay the entire day.  It costs $25.40 per adult and $12.60 for kids.  My wife and I visited the sanctuary many times with various friends and family members that came to visit us in Victoria and we always had a great time going to Healesville and stopping by its animal sanctuary.

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5 Responses to On Walkabout At: The Healesville Animal Sanctuary

  1. Julie says:

    Are the emu in an open range area? As in do they walk around freely and get close to you or are they behind a fence. I wanna go see some emus

  2. Dobbs says:

    Julie, the emus are in their own enclosure but there is a fence that prevents people from walking into the enclosure. If the emus are near the fence you theoretically could touch them but most emus are shy.

  3. Richard says:

    The pic below the taipan snake is erroneously labelled bearded dragons, but they’re actually shingleback skinks.

  4. Richard says:

    Oh and the emu’s at Healsville sanctuary, they’re *supposed* to be fenced, but in reality they walk over/under the barrier, so are basically roaming around free. One of them was seemingly stalking my girlfriend, and she was a bit freaked out!

  5. Dobbs says:

    Richard, you are right those are skinks. Thank you for the clarification. The posting has been updated.

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