Our Australian wildlife really gets a bad rap overseas. We have the reputation of having some of the most dangerous wildlife in the world. Stories of tourists getting eaten by sharks and crocodiles, bitten by snakes and spiders and attacked by “drop bears” often puts people off visiting Australia.
Tourists often ask “Is Australia’s wildlife dangerous?” Well we’ve lived here for over 50 years and so far we are doing OK.
The truth is that while a small minority of mishaps with our wildlife are unavoidable, the majority come down to sheer and utter stupidity. Most attacks by wildlife occur through simply either ignoring warning signs or harassing the wildlife. Usually in the quest for the perfect “selfie”
Imagine if a mob of tourists invaded your home waving selfie sticks to get the “perfect instagram photo”? You’d get a little defensive, wouldn’t you. Just like our wildlife will defend themselves and their young if you venture too close.
In the city areas, the only wildlife you are likely to encounter outside a sanctuary are our spiders. Living in regional Australia, we see a lot of local wildlife on a daily basis. We have never had a problem with them as we keep a respectful distance. They may look cute or cuddly, but they are not. The name “wildlife” should give a clue that they are wild animals.
Below I’ve listed some of the wildlife we commonly see and how to enjoy them from a respectful distance.
Seals at Narooma
One of the stupidest tourist risks I regularly witness is the interaction with a colony of seals on our breakwall at Narooma. The Australian and New Zealand fur seals can weigh up to 130kg. They look cute and cumbersome, but can move amazingly quickly if they feel they are being threatened. Particularly if they are protecting their young.
Our wildlife authorities have signs everywhere warning not to approach the seals. Yet every time we visit, we witness tourists climbing down the rocks to get a close shot.
One particularly aggressive seal recently took up residence adjacent to the fishing boat ramp, where he was assured of an easy feed. When a big burly fisherman friend of ours received a serious bite to the leg because he wouldn’t give him a fish, council set up protective fencing around the area to prevent him coming up onto the footpath again.
So when I witnessed a family of tourists encouraging their small children to climb around the fence to get closer for a photo, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when he bit their arm off?
They are magnificent creatures to watch and it is a privilege to see them in the wild. Just keep a safe distance.
Crocodile attacks have received a fair bit of publicity in recent years. There have been 10 fatal attacks in recent years. The saltwater crocodiles inhabit the rivers and waterways in Northern Australia, in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Growing up to five metres in length, they are stealthy and fast moving creatures.
Sadly, most of these fatalities could have been prevented. Simply heed the warning signs, don’t swim in croc-infested waters and stay away from the riverbanks in these areas. If you are unsure, ask a ranger or a local, who will be able to guide you
Australian Marine creatures
Our waters are home to many interesting and fascinating creatures, some of which can leave you with a painful and sometimes toxic sting. But once again, this can be avoided by heeding warning signs. The most common are:
- Bluebottles can be found on most non-tropical beaches. Their brilliant blue balloon like sails may look pretty. However their trailing tentacles are covered in stinging cells which can cause a painful rash. If you are unfortunate enough to be stung by a bluebottle, stay calm. They are non-venomous. If you are on a patrolled beach, seek help from the surf lifesaver who will have a sting relieving spray. Otherwise, carefully pick off the tentacles and immerse the affected area in the hottest water that can be tolerated by the patient. Do seek medical assistance if you are concerned.
- Our tropical waters are home to some dangerous marine stingers, including box jellyfish. You can avoid being stung by taking note of warning signs and only swimming in designated netted areas. If stung, you should immediately douse the affected area in vinegar and seek urgent medical attention.
- The rock pools surrounding our beaches are fascinating places to explore. However look closely, but do not touch. They can be home to a number of potentially deadly creatures, including the Blue Ringed Octopus. If bitten, you should seek urgent medical treatment.
I think many people conjure up scenes from the movie “Jaws” when thinking of the Australian beach, but it really isn’t like that.
Our surf patrols are very vigilant for shark sightings. So by obeying any signs and swimming between the flags at patrolled beaches you should be perfectly safe. Also avoid swimming at either dusk or dawn, when sharks tend to come closer to the shoreline
It’s true that Australia has more deadly snakes than any country in the world. Yet with over 140 species, I have rarely seen a snake in the wild. Most species are more frightened of you and will slither away as soon as they hear you. The brown snakes are the only ones likely to launch an unprovoked attack. Simply stay still and quiet and let them pass by.
Some simple precautions to take are:
- wear suitable clothing – closed shoes and long pants when bushwalking.
- Make noise when walking along bush tracks, which should scare snakes away.
- Avoid disturbing tree branches or rocks where snakes or spiders may be sheltering.
If you want a close up photo, or to handle one (ughhh), go to a reptile park.
In the unfortunate event that you are bitten by a snake here’s what to do:
Call an ambulance immediately, don’t panic and don’t move. Apply a pressure immobilization bandage to the wound immediately. Don’t attempt to wash or tourniquet the bite. There’s antivenom available for all Australian snakes.
On the subject of reptiles, you will also come across a number of lizards, iguanas and goannas in the bush. They are magnificent creatures to watch, resembling some sort of pre-historic relic. We often see blue tongued lizards coming in for a drink in the garden. We recently watched a six foot long monitor amble its way across the highway.
However, like most other wildlife, enjoy them from a distance. They have very sharp teeth and claws that can inflict a serious injury if they are threatened.
Whether you are in the city or country, spiders are an inevitability in Australia. I absolutely hate them, though I have overcome my fear somewhat over the years.
Funnel webs, redbacks and white tails are among our most common venomous spiders, however with current antivenoms, there have been no recorded spider bite deaths in Australia since 1979.
We also get frequent visits from less harmful huntsmen and daddy long legs. Ian has no problem in scooping these up with his bare hands to place them in the garden for me.(shudder).
Once again, they are more frightened of you, so admire them from a safe distance.
A few simple precautions you can take is:
- Don’t leave shoes outside and check them before putting on
- Wear shoes outside at all times.
- Don’t leave clothes or towels on the ground.
- Always wear gloves if gardening
- Avoid disturbing rocks or tree branches where spiders
If you do get bitten by a spider, it is important to seek medical treatment to ensure you have not been poisoned.
Australia is home to hundreds of species of birds. In fact I have a friend who spends her holidays bird watching and photographing with friends. The vast majority are friendly and will simply fly away. These include these galahs and parrots who are regular visitors to our garden.
See more of Lindy Quin’s wildlife photos.
Galah photo courtesy Lindy Quin
Then we come to our more unique bird life. Such as these kookaburras who not only wake me each dawn with their song, they also help to keep the snake population down.
Kookaburras courtesy Lindy Quin
Our two most unusual looking birds would have to be the Emu and Cassowary
They are both shy, flightless birds who will run away if you leave them alone. Try getting to close with a selfie stick and you run the risk of being pecked, head butted, kicked or clawed
You’ll be very luck to see a Cassowary in the wild, I’ve certainly never seen one. However a family of emus roam our local beach, and did quite a bit of exploring this summer.
Whenever the fishing boats come in, you will see an array of local bird life coming in for a feed of fish as the fishermen scale their catch. Pelicans, cormorants, ducks and seagulls.
Surprisingly, we find the little white seagulls the biggest menace. They will do anything for food and they are not timid. Don’t be tempted to give one of the cute little birds a chip while you are having a seaside lunch. You will soon have a swarm of hundreds descend upon you. Ian was once walking along the wharf eating a meat pie, when a seagull swooped and took it from him.
The sound of magpies warbling is a distinctively Australian as the song of the Kookaburra. But look out for warning signs in our parks and gardens. These birds will swoop aggressively to protect their young during nesting season. This is why you will often see people walking around wearing helmets with spikes attached. Just stay away from the areas warning of magpies nesting and you won’t have a problem.
These little fellows are more amusing than dangerous in their attempts to protect their young. Plovers build their nests in the most ridiculous places. Like on the kerbside beside the footpath. We have literally hundreds of them along our pathways in spring. The male will charge at anything that comes near their nest. Including my car!! I’ve never heard of anyone being injured by a plover however.
We then of course come to our most unique wildlife, our marsupials.The ones that everyone wants to get up close to. However they are not as cute and cuddly as you may be led to believe.
While the “drop bear” myth is just a story we made up to scare tourists, you certainly don’t want to get too close to these fellows outside a wildlife sanctuary. They sleep all day and munch on eucalyptus leaves, which can actually make them quite drunk and aggressive. They have very sharp teeth and claws, which they are not afraid to use if they are threatened. They will not attack unprovoked, just leave them alone and all will be well.
Once again, possums look like cute and cuddly creatures. They are a very nocturnal animal, so don’t be alarmed if you see their beady eyes shining at you from a tree at night. They are more likely to run away than attack. But if you get too close, they also have very sharp claws and teeth that they are not afraid to use to protect themselves. When camping, don’t leave food out overnight, as the possums will have a noisy feast.
Echidnas are possibly one of the weirdest creatures you will find in Australia. Also known as a “spiny anteater”, I’ve only seen these in the wild a handful of times. They are covered in sharp spines and will curl themselves up into a spiky ball if threatened.
Lastly but not leastly, we have our Kangaroos. Everyone wants a photo from their Australian trip with a Roo. We see Roger and his family out grazing in our neighbourhood every morning and evening. He’s often there to say “Hi!” when I open the bathroom blinds of a morning.
They may seem harmless and will usually hop away before you get near them. However if threatened, they will kick and punch. Which is where the term “boxing Kangaroo comes from.
Yes, Australia does have some wildlife you need to be aware of. But not everything in Australia is out to kill you. Just respect the fact that you are in their territory and don’t get too close. If you want to get up close to our Australian Wildlife, save it for a zoo or sanctuary where the animals are relatively tame.