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into the Australian way of life: : DATELINE SYDNEY

Even Kangaroos Are Worn Out

September 17, 2000|MIKE PENNER

It takes 12 minutes to ride the ferry from the Sydney Opera House to Taronga Zoo, which is not to be confused with the Jeff Tarango Zoo, although that soon will be here too. Sydneysiders, warn your children now.

Unlike the Tarango Zoo, which features a particularly high-strung American mammal known for its erratic behavior on tennis playing surfaces, the Taronga Zoo houses mostly docile animals, including small kangaroos children can pet.

The day my wife and I visited the zoo, however, the kangaroos were pretty much petted out.

"The kangaroos are a bit traumatized today, from all the little kids chasing them around," a zoo official half-explained and half-apologized.

Not so at the koala exhibit, where petting is strictly prohibited. Koalas are nature's foremost examples of deceptive advertising; teddy-bear cute on the outside, but ill-tempered and nasty if you get too close. The perfect mascot for the International Olympic Committee, if you think about it.

"Please don't touch me," a sign posted near the koala exhibit instructs children. "I don't like to be cuddled. My tree is my security. Take me off and I panic."

The greatest hits of the Australian animal kingdom can be found here: the laughing kookaburra and the duck-billed platypus, the wombat and the wallaby, the echidna and the Tasmanian devil. There is also a "nocturnal" exhibit, a darkened man-made cave that is home to the Australian ghost bat, bilby and flying fox.

But the highlight of the tour is the aerial cable car ride that carries visitors up the side of a hill to the zoo's highest point. It offers a spectacular view of Sydney Harbor and the Opera House and is not to be missed. Unless you're worried about a cable snapping and a crash down inside the wild dingo pit.

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