After leaving behind the beautiful Bongos, we noticed the sign to the Waterhole where we could have a rest and a cup of coffee. There was work to do before we reached our morning tea station…we found the Zebras that we thought we were going to see earlier in our tour. They were Plains Zebras (Equus burchelli). All Zebras are stripped but each one has a unique pattern like human fingerprints on their skin; to be clear, no crimes have been solved by Zebras leaving a photo of themselves behind at Savannah crime scenes. Zebras have been recorded as travelling 500 km between Namibia and Botswana, the longest land migration in Africa. There are three other species of Zebras that are endangered but the Plains Zebra is considered only ‘near-threatened’
The next enclosure that we stopped to inspect was our fourth species that we had not seen or heard of before. This was the Addax (Addax nasomaculatus), a white antelope that is native to the Sahara Desert to which they are adapted due to their ability to go long periods without water. They form herds from 5-20 led by the oldest female in the group. Although quite common in captivity, the Addax is critically endangered in its native habitat in North Africa.
Next stop was the café but it offered a great deal more than just food or drink, particularly for visiting families. The image below shows a shallow pool at the entrance to the waterhole and small children were having a ball in it as we arrived. Lounging around it were three very life like Hippopotami and one spraying elephant.
As we entered the Waterhole building, we passed another enclave of Meerkats that illustrated one of the key features of a Meerkat community. While the rest of the meerkats are having fun, the lowest ranking meerkat in this hierarchical society is given the job of ‘lookout’ for approaching enemies. The bird on the right, the Apostle Bird, which I had never seen before was not an exhibit but an annoying pest that insisted I share my banana bread with it.
While we were having our coffee, our table was right next to the barrier that protected the Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia) from our intervention in stopping the constant harassment they seemed to inflict on each. These characters are the only wild sheep from Africa and they rely on camouflage in the rocky hills and deserts to hide from predators. Few of these Barbary Sheep spent their time on camouflage in their enclosure. They spent their time pushing and shoving each other continuously as shown by the image on the left. Sometime three sheep involved themselves in a group rumble. They don’t appear to be in danger of extinction, particularly because they are very widespread in the zoos of the world
Riding back towards the Zoo entry after morning tea, our first enclosure belonged to the Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) which is an antelope native to India and Nepal. It was quite the contrast to the behaviour in the Barbary Sheep area; there just appeared to be a large group of female blackbucks grazing peacefully together with no pushing or shoving. Apparently this is normal for Blackbucks as the larger males form separate groups and can be distinguished from the female due to their two-tone colouration. The Blackbuck is extinct in Pakistan and Bangladesh and is found mainly in India but its numbers are declining sharply due to hunting, deforestation and general habitat degradation.
Next door to the Blackbuck is the Banteng enclosure which is a species of cattle, Bos javanicus, that is native to the countries of South East Asia. As wild cattle, they can form herds up to 40 cattle dominated by one male. Curiously, the Banteng exist both in the wild but have also been domesticated in Asian countries for many centuries. Domesticated Banteng were introduced into Australia in 1849 on the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory to supply a British military outpost. When it closed, the Banteng were released into the wild and developed into a feral population that is today up around 9000 individual animals. Contrary to the status of this NT population, the Banteng are listed as endangered in the wild in South East Asia.
The map of this section of Dubbo Zoo above shows that we were at the 3 Km point in our bike ride journey and were getting close to the Wild Asia Wetlands. Before we reached this island approach to enclosures, there were still two areas that contained species that were new to us called the ‘Wild Herds’ exhibit which is a relatively new section at the zoo opened in 2018.
The first exhibit was a species of wild horse called Takhi (Equus ferus przewalskii) or Przewalski’s Horse. It is a rare and endangered horse that was originally native to the steppes of Central Asia. It was at one time extinct in the wild before it was reintroduced into its native habitat in Mongolia. One of the discussions that takes place when scientists gather to discuss Takhi is whether it is a true ‘wild’ horse. Most wild horses in the USA and Australia (brumbies) have descended from domesticated horses. The Takhi has been shown by DNA sequencing that it diverged from domestic horses somewhere between 38000-160000 years ago. Whatever the number, it has a reasonable chance of being considered the world’s oldest species of wild horse. The Dubbo Zoo’s breeding program contributed 7 zoo-bred Takhi to the reintroduction of these horses into the Gobi Desert of Mongolia.
The second Wild Herd enclosure was the area of the Fallow deer (Dama dama). It is native to Europe but has been introduced to many countries around the world, including Australia. We had visited Rhodes many years ago and taken the photo to the right on the harbour where the famous Colossus of Rhodes once stood. The statue is of the local Fallow Deer stag that has been found to be a genetically distinct species from other populations in the world. The Fallow Deer has been introduced into all Australian states and has become a feral pest species in some states.
While we were visiting the Wild Herd enclosures, we couldn’t help but noticing loud, irregular noises coming from the direction of the Wild Asia Wetlands. They were unusually loud noises that sounded like abbreviated Tarzan calls floating over the forest. We headed for the wetlands, parked our bikes and strolled to the first lake island where we noticed quite a crowd of spectators had gathered to watch a couple of Siamang go through their daily hooting routine. As the sign at their enclosure told us, “They have a large throat sac which is a pouch that can be inflated to the size of the head. When vocalising. The Siamang can produce two different kinds of notes – a deep boom and a loud ‘wow’”. Apparently, all the noise is part of a daily singing ritual to defend their territory and it lasts for about an hour. Not long after we moved on from the Siamangs, we noticed that peace had once again descended on the zoo.
Generally the Siamang spend their lives in the tops of the trees well away from the dangerous forest floor but the couple we were watching not only hooted away but were relaxing on the ground, making use of the ropes and the steel hawsers that held up the posts on their island. Their acrobatic behaviour seemed designed to entertain each other and not the zoo spectators.
The Siamang have hooked shaped hands, long arms and a shoulder that allows for a long range of motion and an extended swinging action. They can reach speeds of up to 56 km in the trees and leaps of 9 metres in a single bound…very impressive characters
The good thing about the Siamang enclosure was that we got an excellent view of these gibbons without trespassing on their territory. This was not the case for the equally entertaining, white-handed gibbons or the ring-tailed Lemurs. Their acrobatics took place on their island but the distance from the fence-line was too long to really appreciate their dexterous life-style.
The enclosure beside the Gibbon’s lake was a large one including a yard and a small lake to cater for the third largest land mammal after the elephant and the rhinoceros, the Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius). They are semi-aquatic animals which was illustrated when we visited, with most of the hippos almost totally submerged in the lake. Curiously the closest living relatives of the hippo are not pigs, but the group of sea creatures titled ‘Cetaceans’, the whales, dolphins and porpoises. The most recent theory on the origin of Hippos is that they branched off from a common ancestor about 54 million years ago. One other attribute of the hippo that humans need to be aware of is that they are considered the most dangerous animal in the world for humans due to their aggressive and unpredictable nature
By the time we had reached the 4 km point on our bike tour of Dubbo Zoo, we were getting tired and ready for a rest. We took some decisions to be selective as to the animals we would check out in the rest of our time at the zoo. For example, we skipped the Australian species given we were already reasonably familiar with these animals. We decided to go directly to the Lion enclosure which after the Savannah area, appeared to be the largest enclosure at the zoo. Despite the steel wool sculpture of the lion at the front entrance to the area as well as the metal cut-outs of the lion’s traditional victims, the Wildebeest, we were disappointed we could not spot the lions.
Down the path from the Lion’s den was the enclosure containing the Oryx, an antelope that is generally considered extinct in most of the wild in its home country of Africa. It generally only survives in Zoo breeding programs around the world.
We were very surprised and delighted that the last species on our tour was the famous Galapagos Tortoise, the largest living tortoise in the world. It was part of our science curriculum back in my school days when we studied Charles Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos and has been the subject of many science and travel documentaries over the many years since. Not having been to the Galapagos Islands, this was our first viewing of the lumbering tortoises and it was no surprise to us that of the four we spotted, none of them were moving.
It was no surprise that getting Galapagos tortoises to mate is a complex process, one problem being that the males are fairly blind and they have been known to confuse a large boulder with a prospective partner. The Dubbo Zoo’s breeding program began in 2001 and the tortoises’ diets have been adjusted along with other aspects of their lifestyle and environment. Success came in March 2011 when the first hatchling emerged from its shell.
It was a bucket-list day for us cycling around the Dubbo Plains Zoo. It was not only both very interesting and entertaining, it was reassuring that such great work was being done by this institution in preserving important animal species from around the world from extinction and the occasional success stories of reintroducing animals to their native ranges where they have previously been driven out.