Australia’s southern coast is home to an array of intriguing wildlife. The fascinating animals found here are specially adapted for their environment, their unique traits and behaviors a result of 30 million years of geographical isolation. More than 80 percent of this vast continent’s flora and fauna are endemic, found nowhere else in the world. Here are ten species Nat Hab travelers will seek out on a diverse safari down under.
This iconic animal is recognized worldwide as a symbol of Australia. This marsupial keeps her baby in her pouch for six months after birth (a joey is the size of a jellybean when it is born!). The young joey prefers to stay close to its mother after it emerges, often riding on her back. These arboreal animals are at home among the trees and have thick, woolly fur that acts as a protective raincoat. Koalas feed on eucalyptus leaves, which are toxic to most animals—their specially adapted diet leaves little in the way of competition for food. Koalas’ greatest threat is habitat loss from land clearing and bushfires.
2. Fairy Penguin
The smallest of the penguin species, these slate-blue birds are less than a foot tall and weigh about 2.5 pounds. These aquatic animals feed on krill, anchovies, sardines and small squid, spending up to 18 hours a day in coastal waters. Males and females form monogamous pair bonds and share chick-rearing duties. On the white sand beaches of Freycinet National Park, Tasmania, Nat Hab travelers will have a special after-dark encounter with these little blue penguins as they settle into their nests for the night.
Quolls are carnivorous marsupials about the size of small domestic cats. You might catch a glimpse of a spotted-tail quoll in Cape Otway and may even witness wildlife rehabilitators feeding endangered eastern quolls, tiger quolls and Tasmanian devils at a conservation sanctuary near Cradle Mountain.
Close encounters with kangaroos, the world’s largest marsupial, are a given on a Southern Australia nature tour. Travelers will find plenty on Kangaroo Island and will seek out forester kangaroos, a subspecies of the Eastern gray kangaroo, in Maria Island National Park, Tasmania. The kangaroo is Australia’s national animal emblem, displayed alongside the emu and the golden wattle flower on the coat of arms.
Like kangaroos, wallabies belong to the family Macropodidae, which stems from the Greek word “large foot.” These pouched mammals are most active at twilight, foraging for grasses and herbs. Tammar wallabies have a unique adaption that allows them to drink seawater to survive if no fresh water is available, while Bennetts wallabies rely on juicy tree roots during dry spells. On a Southern Australia tour, you’ll encounter Tammar wallabies on Kangaroo Island and Bennetts wallabies on Maria Island.
6. Tasmanian Devil
The Tasmanian devil became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world following the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger in 1936. It is known for its fiercely territorial nature, guttural growl and powerful bite. Nat Hab travelers will have a rare opportunity to see this elusive nocturnal species on an evening outing to a wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary cares for orphaned young and works to reintroduce this endangered species into the wild through its breeding program.
Echidnas are the only mammal besides platypuses to lay eggs, and their babies are called puggles (what could be more adorable?) Echidnas use their long sticky tongue to catch termites, and when frightened, they burrow into the ground and curl up into a ball, leaving only sharp spines exposed. Nat Hab travelers will get the chance to seek out short-beaked echidnas on Kangaroo Island and in the Tasmanian wilderness.
Platypuses have been around for 100 million years! The platypus and four species of echidna are the only egg-laying mammals in existence. With a duck-shaped bill, otter-like feet and a tail similar to a beaver, the platypus baffled naturalists who first came upon it. Although at first believed to be a hoax, the platypus later became an important subject of study in evolutionary biology. In Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island, we may see these semi-aquatic creatures on walks to waterholes. They were introduced to the refuge in the 1920s when conservationists grew concerned about their declining population on the mainland, where they were extensively hunted for their fur.
The koala’s closest relative, the wombat, is found in large numbers in Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, part of the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area. Passing groves of snow gum trees and clusters of wild orchids, Nat Hab travelers will hike at dawn and dusk in search of these stocky creatures. Wombats dig multi-chambered burrows called warrens with their sturdy feet and claws. These extensive tunnels have served as temporary shelter for animals fleeing bushfires, from wallabies to fairy penguins.
Pademelons are smaller than wallabies and kangaroos but share many similarities and also move by hopping. These solitary herbivores feed on grasses, herbs and nectar-bearing flowers. Nat Hab travelers will look for red-bellied pademelons in Tasmania’s national parks.
On your Southern Australia tour, be on the lookout for other wildlife such as southern brown bandicoots, gliders, possums and emus. In eucalyptus forests and lagoons, search for black swans, pink robins, white-bellied sea-eagles and the endangered forty-spotted pardalote. At sea, keep an eye out for Australian sea lions, New Zealand fur seals, dolphins, whales and reef fish swimming amidst coral and sponge gardens. Want to see these native species for yourself? Join an epic journey to Australia South: Tasmania, Kangaroo Island & the Great Ocean Road.