Australia’s unique and diverse wildlife—pouched kangaroos, egg-laying mammals, flightless birds, cuddly koala bears, and more—began when it broke off from the supercontinent Gondwanaland 55 million years ago and drifted from Antarctica to warmer climes.
Isolated now between Pacific and Indian Oceans with about five percent of the world’s land surface—almost three million square miles (7,682,300 km2)—and an undulating coastline 22,831 miles (36,735 km) long, it has plants, animals, and ancient bacteria found nowhere else. They are in more than 500 national parks, including nine U.N. World Heritage Sites, plus some 1,500 other reserves and sanctuaries covering more than 92,200 square miles (240,000 km2). Habitat ranges from humid rain forest and coastal dunes to rugged mountain ranges, vast arid outback which can burst into spectacular bloom, offshore islands and the GREAT BARRIER REEF running parallel to Queensland for 1,250 miles (2,000 km), longest reef on earth.
Until introduction of foreign mammals by Europeans, almost all Australian mammals were marsupials, primitive orders which, lacking placentas, bear young in a pouch, or marsupium. National symbol is the kangaroo—largest being “big reds” up to 200 pounds (91 kg). Some 120 kinds of marsupials range from “big reds” to tiny mouse-like honey possums that can fit in a human hand. In between are pouched honeygliders, bandicoots, wombats, and spotted quolls along with koala bears and in neighboring Tasmania, doglike Tasmanian devils, known for ferocity, with powerful jaws that can devour entire carcasses, including their bones.
Even more primitive are egg-laying monotremes, the semiaquatic duck-billed platypus which lays eggs in grass-lined nests and suckles young—first reports were discounted in England as a hoax—and echidnas, small mound-like spiny anteaters which carry eggs in pouches where young hatch and stay until their spines get too sharp for their mothers.
Saltwater or estuarine crocodiles up to 23 feet (7 m) long readily attack humans, sometimes with fatal results, menacing swimmers up to 60 miles (100 km) inland. Freshwater crocs are generally harmless, and distinguished by smaller size and narrow, pointed noses. Both are protected species. Of 140 kinds of snakes, only about 10 percent are poisonous but some are the most venomous in the world. One dose extracted from the most venomous will kill 250,000 mice—but one must watch out as well for taipans, tigers, death adders, and a handful of others which are generally shy but touchy if surprised, as are several poisonous spiders and, in the sea, dangerous box jellyfish (aka sea wasps), blue-ringed octopi, and reef cone shells.
Australia has the world’s only wild population of camels, whose ancestors were imported to supply the arid outback and released when their function was usurped by motor vehicles. The other 13 million or so in Africa and the Middle East are all domesticated. Birds range from fierce wedge-tailed eagles capable of bringing down small kangaroos, with eyesight so keen they can see a rabbit a mile (1.6 km) away, to six-foot-tall (2-m) flightless emus, noisy kookaburras, bowerbirds decorating nuptial rendezvous, and a dazzling array of colorful parrots, cockatoos, finches, honeyeaters. Of more than 750 species, including albatrosses, penguins, and 130 other seabirds—more seabirds than any other country—almost half are found nowhere else.
Threats include habitat loss through logging and agricultural clearing, which destroyed 18,750 square miles (48,600 km2) of native bush late in the 20th century, and which continues. As a result, nearly half the country’s passerine birds are in decline and other wildlife has suffered comparably.
Popular as kangaroos are, millions are shot yearly, regarded as competing with sheep and cattle for grazing and waterholes. Ironically, their population increased after attempts to eliminate dingoes, now-native wild dogs originally domesticated by Aborigines, for alleged sheep depredations (actually they largely subsist on rabbits, rats, and mice). The world’s longest artificial barrier is a fence 1.5–2.5 yards (1.4–2.4 m) high and some 6,000 miles (9,600 km) long, designed to keep dingoes out of southeastern Australia.
Rental cars are widely available, including 4WD, with good roads, also an internal air network which sometimes offers air passes, and, except in remote areas, a wide range of accommodations is available, also campsites.
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More about the Reserves in australia
Each button selection will take you to a site outside the Nature's Strongholds site, in a separate window so that you may easily return to the reserve page.
Official site for the reef and gateway to information about it. Includes a “State of the Reef” report, and valuable links to other reef sites.
Booking center for the reef. Good descriptions of accommodations, transportation, tours, etc.
Kakadu National Park Official site for the park. Includes information on how to get there, weather, facilities. Contains maps, wildlife images.
Official site for the island. Includes visitor information, maps, flora and fauna notes, individual park information and sites.
Lord Howe Island Official site for the island group. Includes downloadable information and map pdfs, suggestions for further reading.
Shark Bay Official site for Shark Bay. Includes downloadable information and map pdfs, suggestions for further reading.
Tasmanian Wilderness Official site. Includes downloadable information and map pdfs, good links for further information.
Wet Tropics of Queensland Official site. Includes information on flora and fauna, maps, current news and information.