Day 3 - Sydney

Well today was our last full day in Sydney and we have definitely been impressed. Living near San FranciscoSydney Harbour (the most beautiful city in America) it takes a lot to impress us, but Sydney is definitely its equal. We decided to spend our last day at Taronga Park Zoo and our last night at a performance of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.To get to Taronga Park Zoo we took a ferry from the Circular Quay ferry terminal. Circular Quay is the hub of Sydney's public transportation system with ferries, trains, and buses departing here for points in the city and beyond. When Australians pronounce Circular Quay it sounds a lot like they're saying Circle K, which is funny only if you live in California. The Circular Quay is adjacent to Bennelong Point where the Sydney Opera House is located and the ferry ride gives you a spectacular view of it and the rest of Sydney Harbour.

KoalaOccupying a natural bush setting on the northern shore of the harbor, the Taronga Park Zoo has an extensive collection of Australian wildlife, including the Koala. You may think a Koala is a bear, but it isn't. In fact the Koala is actually a member of the marsupial family and is a distant cousin of the Wombat. Sadly, they don't allow you to cuddle or even touch the koalas at the zoo. It turns out that if a human even touches their food (eucalyptus leaves) the koalas will refuse to eat it because of the smell. Instead we had to settle for a non-cuddling picture with the koalas.

OtterOne of the highlights of the zoo for me was the Chinese Small Clawed Otters. We happened to see the otters just as they were being fed by their keeper. The Small Clawed Otters are aptly named as they lack the sharp claws of the California Otter. Because of this they have to be creative when it comes to cracking open their food. The first course for the otters was mussels which they bashed against rocks in their pool to open. While the keeper was out getting more food this little guy mistook me for his waiter. He followed me back and forth around his enclosure, loudly yelping at me for more food. Luckily the keeper came back with more food before things got ugly. The keeper managed to make him sit still long enough to take this picture by bribing him with some shrimp.

White TigerAnother impressive exhibit at the zoo was the Sumatran White Tigers. The Sumatran tiger is found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. About 400–500 wild Sumatran tigers are believed to exist, primarily in the island's five national parks. Another 235 Sumatran tigers live in zoos around the world. White Tigers are not albinos but the result of mating between tigers carrying a recessive white gene. Taronga's White Tiger 'Chester' is the first to be exhibited in an Australian Zoo. I'm sure it looks like there is nothing between me and the tiger in this photo. I assure you that there was a large and very thick Plexiglas barrier between the two of us. Otherwise I would have been running back to the ferry at full speed.

Sun BearHere's a picture of two Sun Bears moments before I accidentally took another picture of them that I won't be posting on a family web site (if you know what I mean). Sun Bears are the smallest of the bear family, at about 4.5 feet long and 2 feet high. Their name derives from the yellow crescent-shaped mark on their breast. There is very little known about the biology and habits of the Sun Bear. We do know that it is a high priority for immediate conservation efforts as it is on the red-list of endangered species. The exact number of sun bears still in existence is not known. Originally, sun bears inhabited the lowland forests of southeast Asia from Malaysia and Indonesia as far west as India. They are now believed to be extinct in India and possibly Bangladesh. The state of the sun bear population in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea and Vietnam is also in dire difficulty.

For those of you living in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Oakland Zoo recently opened the largest Sun Bear exhibit in the United States. The new, 1-plus acre exhibit is truly state-of-the-art. To best simulate the wild environment of the bears, the exhibit includes: mulch pits for exploration, two climbing structures, nesting structures, a large pond, and rooting machines (where the bears must actively manipulate a food grinder for food). In addition, computer operated systems will: randomly activate a live fish dispenser - depositing fish into the waterfall; activate honey and food dispensers in two large "tree" stumps; provide natural cues via eight small speakers to other various activities. The Oakland Zoo is located off Highway 580 at the Golf Links Road exit and is open from 10 am to 4 pm daily. For more information, call (510) 632-9523.

Red KangarooAnd finally what visit to an Australian zoo would be complete without taking a picture of a kangaroo. When Australia's first European Explorers saw a strange animal as tall as a human, leaping around like giant grasshoppers they couldn't believe their eyes! They asked Australia's original inhabitants -the Aborigines - "What are these animals?" They replied "kangaroo". Now to the Aborigines, this meant "I don't understand you". The Europeans thought they were referring to the big-footed hoppers, so they named them Kangaroos. This sleepy-eyed fella is a Red Kangaroo which is the most common variety. The Red Kangaroo is Australia's largest marsupial and males can grow up to 2 meters tall. This one didn't seem to mind too much that the watchband I was wearing was made from kangaroo leather. I didn't realize when I bought the watch that it had a kangaroo band and I am feeling a little guilty about it. Of course I wear leather from cows all the time so this really shouldn't be any different. I guess it's true that the attractiveness of an animal determines how badly we feel about it being killed. We'll kill a rat without a second thought, but we'll agonize over the death of a cute animal like a baby seal. Just my personal observation on human behavior. You're more than welcome to disagree with me.

Sydney Opera HouseAfter returning from the zoo we hustled back to the hotel and got ready for the Symphony. We stopped off at Doyle's at the Quay for a quick seafood dinner and yet another fantastic view of the harbour. The Symphony started at 8:00 pm and lasted for a very long three hours. We really enjoyed the first two pieces that were performed: Beethoven's "Fidelio Overture" and Mozart's "Piano Concerto in B flat" and they were followed by a short intermission. After the intermission the Orchestra played Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 4" which while technically impressive wasn't our "cup of tea". Plus by this time it was past our new bedtime of 9:00 pm, so there were a few moments when I have to admit I wasn't just resting my eyes. Still it was a great experience and our seats were fantastic (dead center -- 10 rows from the stage). We'll be flying to Melbourne on Qantas early tomorrow morning, so I better wrap this up. See ya' tomorrow.


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