Friday, July 14, 2006

Outback wildlife

I’ve driven thousands of miles in the Outback, but I’ve seen only a few wild animals. Live ones, anyway. There’s been plenty of roadkill: an easy dozen kangaroos, a feral camel, even a cow that clearly lost its bearings. The only live creatures have been the glorious birds: brilliant green parrots with yellow-banded necks, a pair of white cockatoos with salmon bellies, and flocks of pale gray galahs with brilliant fuchsia undersides.

Today all that changes.

I’m hiking through Wilpena Pound … a remarkable 100-square-mile natural bowl surrounded by mountains in a geological upthrust … when I catch sight of
an emu with a gaggle of eight chicks. Edwina, I call her, sharing the sighting with the desk person at the Wilpena Pound information desk. Edwin, she tells me. “Once she’s laid the eggs, she’s out of there. The male looks after them.’’ Strike one for nature’s form of labor division.

Now I’m on a dirt track, driving through Brachina Gorge. A “corridor in time’’ it’s called, because the rock formation along this 19 kilometer stretch were carved over a period of 100-plus million years.

Stop. ‘Roo out the right window. I stop, gape, try to catch a photo. Move on.

A few kilometers later, ‘roo out the left side. He watches, then hops off into the field, an improbable combination of a rabbit on two pogo sticks with a thick tail dragging behind. It looks so cartoonish, you can almost hear “Boing! Boing!” as it hops away.

It’s a blustery, gray winter day here, and spotting the ‘roos amid the brush takes sharp eyes. But every now and then I see one or two, sometimes three: Frozen, waiting for the car to pass.

The big catch comes deep in the Gorge, when I see what I think just might be a rare yellow-footed rock wallaby.

It’s windy beyond words, but I get out of the car anyway. The wallaby watches but doesn’t move. I walk closer. He (she?) stands still. I get closer yet…close enough to see that it probably really is a yellow-footed wallaby, if the drawing on info brochure from Wilpena Pound is any guide at all.

He watches, poses, then hops off into the bush. I hop info my car, heading for the famous Prairie Hotel’s “feral feast.’’ It features camel, emu and kangaroo on the menu….even wallaby, but not the yellow-footed kind.

No comments: