Thursday, July 02, 2009

Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport

We kind of got off on the wrong foot with Perth, but there are a lot of good things about the city, starting with the place we stayed, Miss Maude’s Swedish Hotel. I picked it solely because my Frommer’s Guide mentioned a smorgasbord breakfast, but I didn’t regret it. Pancakes, crepes, cold cuts, cheese, bread, honey, jam, sausages, yogurt, baked beans, muesli, and as much coffee as I could drink were just the highlights. It was by far the best breakfast we had in a country that takes breakfast pretty seriously.

Another great thing about Perth is the Caversham Wildlife Park. This park is like no zoo I’ve ever been to in the United States. You’re allowed to interact with the animals in a way that would never be allowed here—maybe for good reason.

My favorite part of the park was a giant enclosure where you were allowed to mingle freely with kangaroos. There were dozens of them, which you were free to pet and feed. Signs urged you not to over-feed them, not to bother the ones in a roped-off rest area, not to give them anything but the provided pellets, and not to touch the joeys. But I never saw any park staff around enforcing the rules. People did seem to be treating the animals respectfully, but I was surprised at the lack of supervision, and at the fact that we were allowed to stroke and hand-feed wild animals in the first place. (And I did catch one unclear-on-the-concept family trying to feed some kangaroos a sandwich. That can’t be good for them.)

Kangaroos are surprisingly soft. For some reason I thought they would have coarse horse-like hair, but their fur is very plush. I doubt feral kangaroos would be so friendly, but this mob has learned that we are there to feed them, and are not shy about asking for food. If you don’t produce pellets quickly enough (because you’re trying to take their picture, maybe), they will put their little hands on your arm and gently suggest that feeding time is now. Gentle is the word, though. They have teeth but are very dainty about not using them as they snuffle kangaroo food out of your hand.

Feeding the kangaroos was one of my favorite Australia experiences. And I discovered that my Caversham Wildlife Park visit had a lasting effect: Kangaroo meat is at least as common on Australian menus as horsemeat is in Europe. I can eat horse (I know, because I did once, in Italy), but every time I was offered a nice kangaroo steak, I’d think of this one with its paws on my belly, sticking its deer face up into mine, begging for a pellet, and I just couldn’t do it.

(Yes, I’m a big softie. The next time I take a child to a petting zoo, I’ll probably come back a complete vegetarian.)

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