Monday, August 16, 2010

The Perth Zoo and Awesome Laksa

Australia has weird animals. This may seem blindingly obvious, but their weirdness is really quite interesting on a biological level. Australia's long term isolation and the curious dominance of marsupials means that its critters move, behave, and look very different from most of their foreign counterparts. Australian animals entertainingly and creatively fit the niches that animals like deer, pumas, squirrels, and foxes fill in other regions, swapping out different traits and means of locomotion for others as they see fit. As an amateur evolutionary biologist, I totally plotz when I get to see Australian animals in the flesh.

Australian zoos are especially fabulous because they can (obviously) acquire creatures that just aren't exported to American collections. Tasmanian devils, numbats, bilbys, potoroos, frogmouths and other oddities are common enough in Aussie collections and extreme rarities elsewhere. Naturally, visiting the Perth Zoo was high on my priority list, and it luckily didn't disappoint. It's a small but extremely well cared for and laid-out collection, with impressive landscaping and plenty of room for the inmates to roam. The nocturnal exhibit is especially good - a great chance to view a lot of Australia's native mammals in their natural, darkness loving state. And haven't you always secretly wanted to see a bilby? Come on, don't lie to me. I can see it in your eyes.

The Jabiru, Australia's iconic wading bird. This one was having an exchange of opinions with the small kingfisher nearby, which got all fluffed up, stabbed at the bigger bird, and made pissed off AWK AWK sounds. The whole thing pleased me more then I can say.

Blue tongues are fairly ubiquitous in Australia, and are regarded with some affection by most locals. They're affable, fat little guys who often sneak into homes through dog doors and steal the family pet's food. They also lay waste to garden snails and other backyard pests, rendering them very popular as backyard pets. They don't do a hell of a lot. As in, nothing whatsoever. Their toungues really are electric blue, in case you ever got the urge to french kiss one.

Frilled lizards are fantastic creatures, and I didn't really know just how much so until I saw one in the flesh. The keeper was flipping the little blighter crickets, which the lizard ran about partially on two legs in a hilarious shambling motion to get at. He half-heartedly put up his frill when poked gently but obviously was not feeling threatened enough. They're incredibly endearing and surprisingly intelligent looking animals - sort of like scaly little bulldogs.

This is a fairy penguin, WA's native penguin. They're very common at Penguin Island, near Rockingham, and can be fed and ogled by tourists who take the ferry over. I'm fairly indifferent to penguins but these are scruffy and cute little buggers. They float on the surface of the water and only rarely dive, so don't expect astonishing underwater acrobatics from them. They mostly stand around on land and look discontent during the day, which is nothing if not cute.

This is a Bush Stone Curlew, and it is nesting, and it is profoundly apprehensive. I always wondered why birds in zoos don't become totally accustomed to having people staring at them all the time. This could be related to the fact that they're birds.

Here's more on the mighty Bush Stone Curlew. The picture of one freezing into a bizarre position because HOLY CRAP DANGER is very, very amusing.

Grey kangaroos sunbathe in a fashion remarkably similar to our own. Down to shifting around and grunting when the sun moves. I feel you, man. I feel you. At the zoo, the kangaroos are allowed to wander around and follow their hearts vis a vis interacting with tourists. Since you can't feed them here, they ignore you completely. Kangaroos are capitalists too.

I looked for the adorable and striped numbat in the impressively leafy numbat exhibit, but couldn't find it (shocker). The numbat is one of West Australia's native marsupial predators and is also among its most endangered, having been pushed out of its habitat by invading species, primarily foxes and cats. The Zoo participates in the enormous Western Shield program, an ambitious attempt to protect native species and eradicate interlopers throughout the west coast. They conduct fun events like annual toad drives, wherin you can stomp on (horrifyingly large) cane toads in the name of conservation. I want to do this very badly. In fact, it seems like about a third of the exhibits at the Perth Zoo have a sign discussing the evil and duplicitous ways of cane toads, in case you didn't get the point at the other 35. This is actually not excess, though - a little research on the cane toad reveals these South American aliens really ARE that bad.

This is obviously a crocodile. However, crocodiles are goddamn terrifying. It is hard to express how true this is, especially if you've never seen one of these primitive horrors in the flesh. It sort of makes you question religion. And maybe the nature of creation. Maybe the universe is actually a hostile and cruel place that is actively out to get us and devour us and make our lives deeply unpleasant, maybe end them quickly and horrifyingly in a splash of blood, gore, and violence.

After the zoo, I ambled over to the waterfront at South Perth, which boasts a large number of extremely expensive cafes full of people with the benefit of expense accounts. Not being among their numbers, I trekked around and found Munch Delight, a lovely Singapore-Malyasia cafe in a small shopping center. Superb. Even more pleasingly, it was very reasonably priced, akin to finding a magical Unicorn in Perth's panoply of ridiculously expensive restaurants.

A big bowl of seafood laksa, and very well executed indeed. I loved the rich, extremely pungent flavor of the seafood in tandem with the chili and the coconut milk. It's definitely strong stuff so should be avoided by those who don't free base fish sauce (like me). A winner.

I also horked down a plate of sauteed greens with garlic sauce, which is simple, sorta healthy, and among my favorite things to eat in the world. These were super rich, generously served, and had a lovely topping of crisp garlic. Aces.


  1. We definitely watched a half-hour video about the plague of cane toads on Australia during my geography class this fall. After nearly a year of contemplation I am still not entirely sure why we watched it, but my friend and I walked around for WEEKS saying "cane toad" in Australian accents and being amused with ourselves.

    I'm really enjoying your blog! Your writing is excellent (and very humorous, as can be expected) and it looks like you're having some wonderful adventures. What will you be doing once you get to Cambodia?


    P.S. I'm about to leave for 4 months based in Berlin, and traveling the rest of Europe. Read my blog about that--the one I kept in New York is pretty lame now.

  2. Working as a journalist at the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. Very pleased to have any kind of employment in this economy..!

    I'll add your blog to my watchlist. Looks great!