Some of the world’s most weird, whacky and wonderful animals can only be seen Down Under
Australia is well known for having some of the most spectacular wildlife the world has ever seen. Some animals are scary and some are dangerous, but all of them are fascinating and many can only be found on Earth’s largest island.
How many of the following Aussie natives are you familiar with?
The kangaroo is the largest of the marsupial family and the most iconic of all Australian native animals. Each year curious visitors flock from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the majestic macropod, which can be found in every region of Australia.
These territorial brawlers are known for their rock-solid tails, which are strong enough to support their entire body weight while they lean back and kick their opponents with almighty strength.
After thousands of years of being hunted, wild kangaroos are usually timid and will flee from humans on sight, however, seeing them in their natural habitat is always an incredible experience. Unless you are the woman filming in the house below.
The red kangaroo, the largest of all roo species, can grow up to 2 meters tall and reach a weight of up to 90 kilograms. With an estimated population of around 50 million, more than double the national human population, kangaroos have recently become a problem in rural areas, competing for resources with livestock and other natives, as well as causing more than 80% of the 20,000-plus Australian vehicle-animal collisions reported each year.
If you want to see bounding kangaroos in the wild, head to the outskirts of any Australian town or city and, at either dusk or dawn, look to the nearest bushland reserve. In Mackay, Queensland, friendly kangaroos and wallabies venture onto Cape Hillsborough Beach for breakfast at sunrise, allowing you to get closer to the wild Aussie icons than anywhere else in the world.
Australian animal sanctuaries are home to rehabilitated kangaroos and other native wildlife, that are more than happy for you to get up close and personal, if you have some food to share.
Arguably one of the cutest Australian natives, koalas are known worldwide for their teddy bear like appearances. Living among the gum tree tops, this endangered marsupial spends up to 22 hours sleeping each day, largely due to a slow metabolism and a low intake of vitamins and minerals.
With enough toxins to kill most mammals, eucalyptus leaves are the koalas sole source of calories and, although lacking in nutrients, koalas will eat up to a kilogram of the strong scented leaf each day.
Female koalas will give birth once a year and koala joeys start off the size of a jelly bean while growing inside the mothers pouch.
In captivity, sexual encounters among koalas have been known to involve up to five females, while also lasting twice as long as female-male encounters.
Don’t be fooled though, seemingly cute and cuddly koalas can be territorial and all males are equipped with an unsettling roar. Could the koala also be the infamous, drop bear?
As koala populations have been threatened by disease, predators, clearing of land and bushfires, spotting this fuzzy marsupial in the wild can be difficult, so head to an Australian koala sanctuary to see one up close.
Inhabiting the southeasterly regions of Australia, the wombat is the koala’s closest living relative and known for its extreme strength, loveable appearance and a strange habit of pooping cubed droppings to mark its territory.
These stocky units are able to run at speeds of up to 40 km/h for well over a minute, while also being able to summon bursts of strength which are sufficient to crush most predators who dare to enter the large wombat burrow. Their slow metabolisms assist while living in dry habitat, taking up to 14 days to digest a meal.
While today’s three wombat species typically weigh between 20 and 35 kilograms, they are all said to be the direct descendants of giant, rhinoceros-sized wombats, who weighed up to 150 kilograms. These giant wombats are thought to have been hunted by indigenous Australians during the ice age, as depicted in ancient aboriginal art.
Wombats are usually relaxed around people, but can attack when feeling threatened. Be respectful if you see one in the wild.
Known as Gunduy to the aboriginal people, the southern cassowary is a north Queensland native ratite, who feasts on a variety of fruits while roaming through local backyards and rainforests.
Smaller, yet heavier than the emu and said to be one of the closest living species to dinosaurs, the southern cassowary ranks in as the world’s second heaviest and third largest bird.
Some of the key features of the southern cassowary include its distinct colours, a strange casque on its head and gnarly feet at the end of powerful legs, which allow this lethal weapon to swim with ease, as well as run at speeds of around 50km/h.
While critical to northern Australian ecosystems, cassowaries are under threat from numerous factors, such as introduced species, growing townships and rapidly disappearing habitat.
Not only is Gunduy culturally significant to the aboriginal people, the southern cassowary is critical to the survival of ancient Queensland rainforests, such as the Daintree. The Daintree Rainforest provides the best chances of seeing this modern, yet prehistoric wonder in its natural habitat, but keep your distance as cassowaries are known to be territorial and attacks have been reported.
Appearing somewhat like a kangaroo crossed lemur, or bear, and inhabiting the rainforests of far north Queensland, the tree kangaroo is the largest tree-dwelling marsupial in Australia.
Unlike their hopping, ground based relatives, tree kangaroos are specialist climbers and spend most of their time among the foliage where they are less vulnerable to predators. Both flexible and agile in the trees, tree kangaroos can leap a distance of 30 feet between trees and land safely on sold ground from heights of up to 60 feet.
Tree kangaroos are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, and spend most of their time looking for meals in the form of leaves, flowers, shoots, bark, eggs and small birds.
Thanks to both habitat destruction and uncontrolled hunting, tree kangaroo populations have decreased by as much as 80% over the past 30 years.
Many species of the aerial kangaroo are endangered or at risk of extinction, but you can still see them in the wild if you visit national parks and rainforests in the far north Queensland region.
The easily mistaken little cousin of the kangaroo, and and the pinnacle of Australian Rugby, the wallaby is another unique member of the famously bizarre group of animals known as marsupials.
There are more than 25 different species of wallaby which can be found across mainland Australia and surrounding islands, however, four species have been declared extinct and more than five others are at risk of disappearing forever.
The clearing of natural habitat, in combination with large numbers of introduced predators, has led to the sharp decline in wallaby numbers, however, conservation and repopulation efforts are in place.
Early European settlers who first occupied Hobart, Tasmania, were terrified when they first heard the frightening growls and high pitched screeches of the carnivorous marsupial, known as the Tasmanian devil. It seemed only appropriate to call them devils, once they saw the red ears and wide, bone crushing jaws full of sharp teeth.
Weighing up to eight kilograms, the Tasmanian devil is the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and if its screams are not horrifying enough, the fiendish fighter has a love of sleeping inside the body of its prey, so it can later wake up and continue eating.
Once present on mainland Australia, the little devil is now endangered and can only be found in captivity, or the Tasmanian wilderness.
Loss of habitat and a Devil Facial Tumour Disease are among the lead causes of rapidly declining Tasmanian Devil populations.
The canis dingo is Australia’s apex predator, with a mysterious history dating back thousands of years. Well equipped for the Australian outback, with impressive vision and an increased range of movement in the next and wrists, dingoes may live alone or in hunting packs of up to 10 members.
No one really knows whether or not the dingoes made their way across natural land bridges alone or whether they arrived in the company of foreign travellers, before returning to the wild and establishing their place on the Australian food chain.
Equipped with a smile so adorable it created a social media trend, the quokka is the marsupial known as the world’s happiest animal.
#QuokkaSelfies raised global awareness for the macropod, who, like kangaroos and wallabies, hops around on its hind legs and carries its joey in a front pouch.
These iconic animals were first discovered by Willem de Vlamingh in 1696 who mistakenly thought he spotted a giant rat. He went on to name the island “Rattennest” which means “Rat’s Nest” in Dutch after his sightings, which was later adapted to the common day, Rottnest Island.
Like many other Australian natives, there has been a decline in quokka population due to habitat loss from human developments. Other threats such as foxes, dogs, cats on the mainland, and even human visitors, have posed as a serious threat classifying these creatures as vulnerable.
Quokkas are also currently protected by the World Wildlife Foundation.
Most of the remaining quokkas can be found on Rottnest Island and Bald Island, both just a short distance from mainland Western Australia.
Like their kangaroo and wallaby relatives, quokkas are most active and visible during the early mornings and evenings, when they will often be out looking for food.
Found in the rainforests of eastern Australia, the lyrebird is a unique Australian bird who is able to pick up sounds from the surrounding environment.
This impressive ground-dweller mimics all noises, natural or unnatural, with quirky vocals that easily fools other birds who often respond to the lyrebird’s call.
Lyrebirds forage around on the forest floor looking for insects and other invertebrates. Like peacocks, Only the male lyrebirds have exquisite tails, which are used in courtship displays and take about 7 years to grow fully.
Once becoming rare and thought to be at risk, but now common in forests throughout south eastern Australia. Lyrebirds have also been introduced to Tasmania and are now a common sight there in this region as well.
Spiked like a porcupine, beaked like a bird, pouched like a kangaroo and egg-laying like a reptile, the echidna is an ant-eating mammal belonging to the monotreme family.
A strange process that marks the start of echidna breeding season is an echidna mating train, where males line up behind a female forming a train of up to a dozen individuals.
Up to six weeks later, when the female is finally ready to mate, the males dig a trench around her and competing for mating honors by pushing each other out of the trench. The last one remaining gets to mate with the female.
Male echidnas may also mate with hibernating females after waking up early from hibernation and sneaking into the burrows of still-hibernating females. This can result in female echidnas waking up from hibernation and finding themselves pregnant. Then her mission begins.
As the monotreme was perceived by early scientists to have both reptilian and mammalian features, these unique creatures were named after Echidna, a creature from Greek mythology who was renowned as the Mother of Monsters, believed to be a half woman, half snake. The armoured anteater can be found across mainland Australia and its surrounding islands.
The other member of the monotreme family is the platypus, upon first discovery, was said to have the beak of a duck and body of an otter. Scientists were even more confused when they discovered that the strange looking creature also layed eggs.
One of the few species of venomous mammals in the world, male platypus have a spur on their hind legs, capable of delivering a dose of venom which agonisingly painful to humans, while life threatening to smaller predators.
The platypus is generally found in the riverbanks of Australia’s eastern coast as well as Tasmania, although numbers are decreasing and the platypus has been declared a near threatened species.
A special tank called a platypusary is required for housing a platypus. For this reason there are no platypus in captivity outside of Australia. One of the few wildlife sanctuaries in Australia that house platypus, is Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane.
The bilby is a rabbit-sized bandicoot that lives in the arid, desert regions of Australia. It has a grey and white silky coat, long, sensitive ears and a pink pointed nose, as well as thick claws and strong forelimbs which enable it to quickly dig for food or shelter in the desert soil.
At the time of European colonisation of Australia, there were two species of bilby. The lesser bilby, who became extinct in the 1950s, and the greater bilby, who is classified as endangered with a remaining population of less than 700.
The marsupial’s endangered status is largely due to their nocturnal nature, coupled with poor eyesight and a long list of predators. Bilbies must also fight against, not only their predators, but many other animals and livestock for food, water and land.
Having disappeared from the areas intensively grazed by livestock as well as those areas densely populated by Rabbits, Cats and Foxes, Bilbies now only survive in small isolated populations in the driest and least fertile regions of desert Australia.
Laughing kookaburras are the largest member of the kingfisher family and native to eastern Australia.
The common name comes from the loud territorial cry it makes, which sounds a lot like a great big belly laugh. It’s worth noting that they don’t laugh because they’re amused, they laugh to mark their territory.
This cheeky bird loves snacking on worms, insects, mice and even small reptiles, like snakes and lizards. They will also rarely hesitate to swoop down and help themselves to your Sunday barbecue.
The emu is a cheeky, yet majestic nomad, and the second largest bird on Earth, reaching heights of up to 2m.
Belonging to the ratite family of flightless birds, the emu has long, powerful legs, which allow it to run at speeds of around 50 km/h and swim with ease. Its little wings are only used for stability, while running at top speeds, and cooling themselves on hot days.
In the emu world, while males build their nests, females compete for access and mating rights. A mating pair will end up with a clutch of between five and fifteen eggs before the female will continue along her nomadic journey, or to find another nest.
The male then sits on the eggs until they hatch, around eight weeks later. He does not leave the nest, not even to eat or drink, and only stands to rotate the eggs throughout the day. It is said that the male emu goes into a state of ketosis during the incubation period, often losing up to a third of his body weight by the time the chicks hatch.
Young chicks grow quickly, reaching their full height at around a year old and breeding maturity about eight months later.
Emus are inquisitive, friendly and playful, so its not uncommon for them to be raised on residential properties with other animals. Wild emus can be found wandering throughout parts of mainland and coastal Australia.
The Kangaroo and Emu are proudly displayed on Australia’s Coat of Arms.
These loveable Aussie natives were chosen as they were thought to be the only two Australian animals that can’t move backwards.
The Coat of Arms therefore symbolises a nation moving forward.
The Emu War
Believe it or not, in 1932, during the great depression, the Australian government declared war on 20,000 emus who were depleting scarce water supplies and damaging farmer’s crops.
The Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery was deployed, armed with machine guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition, although the troops were recalled within a week, having spent 2,500 rounds to kill less than 200 emus. The unit’s commander said, as later reported by The Sydney Sun-Herald, “They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.”
After another month of mostly failed raids through emu territory, the unit was left with only a handful ammunition and the emu war was abandoned.
On top of the unique Australian animals listed above, the island is also home to many other unique species of land, air and sea dwellers that are hard to find elsewhere.
Ready to start planning your trip to Australia? Don’t go unprepared.
About the Author: Harrison was born in Queensland, Australia, and got the taste for adventure from an early age. Growing up in the Sunshine State facilitated endless hours of exploration and a continuous development of a passion for the outdoors and nature.
Get in touch if you would like to find out more.