The Lion’s Roar: A Night at Dubbo Zoo

Its been far too long since we managed to shoehorn a song title into a blog post. However, we have an excuse at last. Help yourself to one of the bestselling tunes from Swedish sisters, ‘First Aid Kit’. We saw them at Byron BluesFest and it was most enjoyable as you can find out in ‘Blues, Reggae and Donuts’. Hopefully you know the deal, if you can’t be bothered reading this drivel about our zoo trip, entertain yourself with some musical goodness instead.

You say Daktari, I say Zoofari

‘Lion’s Roar’ does however have some relevance to the content of this post. We’ve visited Taronga zoo in Sydney a number of times. It has a magnificent location on Sydney harbour. There is nothing quite like looking at giraffes with Sydney Opera House in the background. Taronga’s sister zoo is in Dubbo in central New South Wales and we’ve thought we’d like to visit for some time. Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, to give it its full title, also gives you the opportunity to stay overnight. Consequently, this was going to be another of our luxury splurges. Funnily enough, they often seem to involve glamping. You can read about our other nights in tents that aren’t really tents in ‘Living it up at Longitude 131’ and ‘The Day we Thought We’d Died and Gone to Heaven’.

The ‘Zoofari’ package included a two day entry to the zoo. We’d stayed in Dubbo the night before to take advantage of this. As it turns out ‘The Shearing Shed’ was one of the best motels we’ve stayed at. You can have a read of our Tripadvisor review here. We got to the zoo just after it opened and picked up our hire bikes which were also part of the package. The zoo covers a large area and the road around the perimeter is 5 km long. We could also have hired a golf cart but thought we’d be virtuous and travel under own steam.

Jane with our zoo bikes

We had a really interesting few hours cycling around the zoo. From the perimeter road you can access most of the main exhibits. Although we like Taronga Zoo in Sydney it was apparent that here, the animals had much more space and a more natural habitat. We know that not everyone is a fan of zoos but Taronga do take their responsibilities to the animals very seriously. This extends to research, and conservation of at-risk species. We learnt about the cross zoo breeding programs that move animals around the world to maintain healthy gene pools.

One of the highlights was the feeding of the Cheetahs. A litter of six had been born earlier in the year and they had only come out for public feeding in the last month. It was fascinating to see how well they were all doing. Mum had a rare fur mutation meaning that she is categorised as a King Cheetah .(Although we think in recognition of Stan Lee, who sadly passed away this week, they should be renamed X-Cheetahs). The mutation is carried on a recessive gene and results in some of her spots running into each other to look like stripes. It doesn’t seem like any of her babies are manifesting this fur pattern. However, they will also carry the gene, so some of their offspring may be X-Cheetahs in the future.

We drove round to zoofari lodge at around 3 p.m. The lodge borders the ‘African Savannah’ exhibit, but you need to exit the zoo and drive around the outside to access the lodge. We were shown to our ‘tent’, with superb views from the deck of animals including giraffe, rhinos, zebra and ostrich. We spent a couple of hours soaking it up before it was time for dinner. An African themed dinner was served family style in the main lodge building so we got to know some fellow guests a bit as we ate. The food was very good and there was plenty to go around.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

After dinner we boarded a bus for the first of our exclusive tours that came with the Zoofari package. We were privileged to be taken behind the scenes to some areas that aren’t open to the general public. We learnt that the open section of the zoo only amounts to about a third of its total area. First stop were the lions who, despite, the subtitle above weren’t doing much sleeping. We’d been to see them on our cycle ride earlier but they were just lazing under a tree. At night, they were much more active and were as impressive as you’d expect.

From the lions it was on to the hippos. Again, we got a really good view of the animals without crowds of other visitors around. Our night safari also took in the white rhino, and the elephants. It was fantastic to get up close and have a personalised commentary about the animals and the zoo from our guides. Furthermore, we found out that the white rhino is the biggest of the rhinos and is a grazer who lives in groups. The name ‘white’ was actually a mistake, as it should have been ‘wide’, a reference to its mouth. The black rhino is smaller, has a pointy mouth, feeds on tree leaves and is anti-social. However, once the white rhino had been named, the name ‘black’, simply reflecting the opposite of white, was adopted for the other species. As you may be aware, they’re both pretty much the same greyish colour.

I like to move it move it

 We were up early for our second exclusive tour. First stop was just outside the lodge where we were able to feed Kindu the giraffe carrots for breakfast. Great fun, and he seemed to appreciate it.

We were then driven back to the elephant house where we watched them being washed by their keepers. Washing helps create the bond between the keeper and the elephant and also provides an opportunity to thoroughly check them for any illness or injury. After a short stop to see a very grumpy black rhino we got up close with the lemurs. There were some very new babies who were too cute for words. Andy thought he was amusing by asking the keeper if it was true that lemurs really do like to move it, move it. We think she got the joke and we’re positive she had never been asked that before. (If you don’t get it, have a watch of the film Madagascar).

After the tour we had an impressive buffet breakfast back at the lodge before packing up our things and leaving our tent. Our stay included access to the zoo for a second day so we explored some of the exhibits in the centre of the zoo we hadn’t got to on the first day. We particularly enjoyed gibbon island. This was a large exhibit which really gave the gibbons the opportunity to behave as they would in the wild.

The Lion’s Roar: A Postscript

 We enjoyed our two days at Taronga Western Plains zoo. The zoofari package wasn’t cheap but it did strike us as good value and you certainly had great access to exhibits that you wouldn’t get with a standard visit. Furthermore, the positioning of the glamping tents was superb, as was the food, drink and hospitality in the lodge.

We’ve always liked zoos and for a long time were members of Chester zoo in the UK. As a result, we recognise the important research and conservation role they have. They also provide a great service in providing information about animals to the public. However, we came away wondering if we’d be actively seeking out zoos to visit in the future. This is in no way a reflection on Taronga but our own changing attitude. We felt that we would probably rather see animals in a truly natural environment not one created for them. We think that a safari could probably be on the agenda for our future travels.

A final note on the title of this post. Although lions do roar, a lot of their vocalisations are more like chesty coughs. Some of the famous lion roars on film such as the MGM lion, and those in the Lion King were actually the sound of tigers roaring.

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