Stroking the starfish (not a euphemism)

Canberra February 2015 111It's Day 2 in Canberra: zoo time! Cue pictures of animals, fish and reptiles...

I haven't been to many zoos - can't even remember the last one. They don't appeal to me (it's the cagey thing). But I was being a tourist in Canberra, and the National Zoo and Aquarium is one of the main attractions, so off I went.

By bus.

Now, Canberra's public transport is, er, interesting. I found only five buses a day for the zoo (that's five buses IN TOTAL for a major tourist attraction). In contrast to the previous day's 'Where are all the buses?' mystery, however, the endangered species that is the lesser-spotted Canberra Bus popped up just when I wanted it to this time.

Side note: Canberra buses are a revelation (when you can catch one). Might give them their own blog post one day. Might. 

I did actually think I may be at the wrong zoo when the bus pulled up; the entrance was so unassuming. But I jumped off the bus anyway, confident that I would be seeing a zoo, if not the zoo. Turned out this is simply Australia, not America - no need for flashiness here. I followed the little track and, sure enough, came to the tiny entrance for the country's National Zoo. Every day brings another reason to love Australia.

Here's where I want to show you my pictures rather than bang on about the zoo; before I do, though, guess what happened at the aquarium? I was lucky enough to meet a lady with an unusual boa round her neck. No feathers here: Bart was a boa of the constrictor variety.

The lady and I had a chat about one of the tanks and its largest inhabitant. As we crouched to spy the prehistoric-looking Giant Moray Eel hiding, I forgot all about Bart slithering around our shoulders. He was a most affable eel-spotting companion and I gave him a stroke for his trouble.

Following this successful reptilian encounter, I decided to have another go at stroking the starfish (not a euphemism) that I had seen on the way in. Stroking the starfish is encouraged here, but something about the idea was really off-putting.

The starfish I had earmarked for stroking duty at the start had moved from the traditional starfish position


and was now halfway up a wall with his legs partially out of the water.

Canberra February 2015 206

Not to be deterred by this twist in the script, I reached out, tentatively, and...put my hand in the water.

I was building up to actually touching him, I promise.

Muttering to myself about only regretting the things you don't do, I progressed from the dangerous art of water-touching to actual starfish contact. Eek!

He didn't feel the way I imagined. Neither did he taste like chicken. Overall, however, I felt FAR more comfortable with the boa constrictor.

A brief summary of zoo time

I spent two hours in the zoo and one in the aquarium: excellent value at $40. There were plenty of conveniences on the way round and even a dedicated smoking area away from the animals. I also liked all the bins and recycling facilities: decorated with animals and cute slogans to encourage recycling, I didn't see a single piece of litter in the well-maintained grounds.

Information about the animals was presented effectively; I loved the fun facts and reading about the animal conservation programmes, animals being successfully nursed back to health and species previously thought to be extinct.

An enlightening timeline highlighted the tiny number of tigers left in the world and the forecast date for extinction without intervention. It was a truly illuminating visit.

I'm still ambivalent re zoos per se, but I loved this experience: the opportunity to see these species, the chance to spend time photographing them and all the new knowledge acquired. The sheer diversity of the natural world is unbelievable even when seen: I looked at some extraordinary sea life, inches from my face, and still couldn't grasp that it was real! The Humphead Maori Wrasse was the greatest example of this - I couldn't photograph him, couldn't comprehend his size, colour or scale patterns, couldn't even believe his expressions. His head and facial features were astonishing - I just stood and gawped at him for ages, trying to figure him out. What a creation.

See, I'm so lost in thoughts of that fish that I have only just realised how much I have written again, when I expected this to be a picture post. See how Canberra works? Such a surprise.

Here are my zoo and aquarium photos (click on any pic to enlarge/get slideshow thing):