Monarto Zoological Park with Keith Conlon
The wildlife comes right into the car park! Setting up for our Monarto Zoological Park shoot, the Postcards crew watched a brood of about a dozen emu chicks squat round a puddle to share a drink. As the Park is coming up for its sixth anniversary of being open to the public, I was looking forward to meeting its new stars.
Monarto wouldn't have happened if it weren't for a 1970's folly. The ill-fated satellite city of the same name was supposed to fill these shallow farm valleys between the mallee ridge-tops. Instead, there are herds of endangered beasts from Africa and Asia in giant enclosures over its 1000 hectares.
Everybody drives in to start at the Visitor Centre. It's a striking galvanised iron and timber structure that's picked up three architectural awards. Looking from a distance like a big woolshed with three cooling towers, it provides educational space, a gift shop and a café. From there, it's on to a zoo bus - unless you take the guided walk first.
Spring is a specially good time to walk the mallee scrub ridges. Some have regenerated back to healthy shrubby country dotted with she oaks and native pines. And mallee that had been knocked over to make way for sheep grazing is again providing a shady gum leaf canopy in parts.
Walking with long time volunteer guide Jan Topman, we collected very shots of miniature white daisies in carpets, and delicate yellow and blue native flowers. Jan encourages her groups to look, listen and smell.
The sound of bush birds was everywhere. We watched a family of white winged choughs feeding the young in a smooth clay nest - big, black and raven-like, they prefer this semi and country. It 's wedge tailed eagle territory too, and there is an eaglet high in a mallee tree stick nest. Again, emu with big broods of young forage through the leaf-litter. Monarto in Spring shows its 'other' side very well - it's both a breeding and educational zoological park and a natural Australian wilderness area as well.
On the bus tour through the green paddocks, visitors take a drive across two continents in about an hour. In the Asian grasslands, the living ancestors of buffalo and cattle the Nilgai graze unperturbed. Smaller Blackbuck Indian antelopes might even add a dash of athleticism and 'pronk' as the bus passes by..that's the name for those startling four-legged leaps into the air.
Another gate, and this time and drive through time to living fossil country. American Bison and Mongolian Wild Horses are back together again after twenty thousand years. They featured in palaeolithic artists' cave paintings. The bison prairies are gone, the horses are effectively extinct in the wild. Here, they breed happily in the mallee at Monarto.
On board the bus, the conversation and breeding program is entertaining - and compulsory. In this situation, we are in the cage....the bus...and the animals run free. The volunteer guides are well aware that it's the bus trip across the African plains that is the highlight of the tour for children.
Often, Chapman's Zebra halt progress as they pay scant regard for the oncoming bus. The largest of the antelopes, the Eland, are more circumspect, trotting away as a herd. On the other hand, the giraffee group will usually wander over for a closer look.
We were keen to get pictures of Rafiki, the baby. She obliged by with arkward but sure-footed strolling in the golden afternoon light. Her father, Kutabe, reckons he ahs star-billing written into his contract, however.
He came right up to our park 4WD open back and gave the lens a kiss! Our sound recordist, Trevor, who loves giraffes, found himself cheek-to-cheek...and Kutabe has a very big cheek. We had to feature his close encounter on the program this week.
The lofty giraffes are about to see some fierce rivalry for top billing at the zoological park. Eight cheetahs from a South African breeding reserve are currently acclimatising in big cages in a nearby clump of scrub. We filmed them as several sat quietly at the end of a long caged race, from which they could see clear across a wide valley - their home in the near future.
Acting Director of Monarto, Mark Craig, took us out onto a raised knoll in their enclosure to look ahead.
Sometime in October, probably, the cheetah will be given the freedom of their bit of Africa in the Australian bush. He told us cheetah like to sit on a high vantage point and keep an eye on the passing parade. They'll have some interesting company in the next paddock - white rhino and more giraffe. Over the next mallee rise, lions and cape hunting dogs are in the plan, too. And behind the old wheat farm buildings, an Australian Conservation Centre will continue breeding bilby, bettong, bandicoots and more, and they'll be released into a virgin patch of scrub beyond.
The chance to cruise by the cheetah will cause and rush later in the year, and so a Springtime trip to Monarto is advised. It is about 70 kilometres from Adelaide, an hour's drive from the Tollgate at Glen Osmond. Watch for the signs directing you off the hills freeway at Callington.
Previous Postcards Feature on Monarto Zoo...
Monarto Zoological Park
Monarto, South Australia, 5254
Open every day 9am to 5pm (last bus tour 3:30pm)
Phone: 08 8534 4100
Fax: 08 8534 4077