Jessanne Collins
Jessanne Collins

11 Fascinating Animals to Visit on Kangaroo Island

Jessanne Collins
Jessanne Collins

When British explorers happened upon Kangaroo Island—a Puerto Rico-sized drop of land south of what today is the city of Adelaide—the animals took them by surprise. Unlike the wild ‘roos of the mainland, who knew to keep their distance, these creatures were utterly tame and approachable (so much so that the arriving crew reportedly slaughtered 31 for a giant kangaroo stew—gotta love those colonial instincts). The reason the animals were unaccustomed to humans (and tragically unfamiliar with their bad habits) was because no humans lived there. Aboriginals had once inhabited the island, but they’d abandoned it at least 2000 years prior, for reasons unknown.

After a couple of centuries of life alongside human settlers, the animals here are understandably a little more wary—but the humans, for their part, have gotten a lot more respectful. Which means that today, this one of the most incredible places to get up close and personal with some very interesting creatures out in the wild. The best way to meet them is to tour with a local company like Exceptional Kangaroo Island. Experienced guides are familiar with the animals and their habitats—so they can probably find you a tricky-to-spot echidna and point out where a koala is likely to be hiding in the crook of a tree—but they also ensure that you won’t bother the animals in the process. (And in lieu of kangaroo stew, they serve fantastic lunches that highlight the local produce.)

1. Kangaroos Kangaroos Kangaroos!

KI has it’s own subspecies of kangaroo (aptly called the Kangaroo Island, or Sooty, kangaroo). They’re shorter and stockier than their close relatives, the Western Gray, and chocolate brown in color. Like all ‘roos, they can hop very swiftly using both sets of paws and their tail—hopping is a highly efficient method of locomotion, because it “recycles” energy, like bouncing on a pogo stick. Tour companies have special access to areas of the national parks that are closed to the public, where you can see wild kangaroo populations which have been carefully acclimated to respectful visits from humans up close.

2. Cape Barren Geese

Fifty years ago, the Cape Barren goose was about to go extinct—but thanks to rehabilitation projects their population is healthy again. And yet, this light gray goose—which has a striking bright yellow bill—is one of the rarest in the world, making its home primarily along Australia’s southern coast.

3. Echidnas

They look something like a porcupine mixed with an anteater but aren’t related to either—the echidna is a monotreme, or egg-laying mammal, the only surviving relative of the platypus. There are lots of weird things about this creature, but one of the weirdest is that they don’t have a permanent pouch to stash their eggs in—they create a temporary pouch by contracting their abdominal muscles. (Both males and females can do it, so determining gender is difficult!) KI has its own subspecies—T. a. multiaculeatus—which basically means “fast tongue, very spiny!” They have a 9-inch tongue that can flick in and out 100 times in a minute, scooping up insects and larvae.

4. Black Swans

Black Swans live across the southern regions of Australia, moving nomadically between salt and freshwater wetlands. Preferring areas where eating and nesting materials are plentiful, they can also be seen in the spring in flooded pastures, like this one.

5. Sheep

Wool export has long been an integral part of the local economy; there are 400,000 sheep on the island today. This flock lives at the Stranraer Homestead, a functioning sheep station and utterly serene bed and breakfast, where lots of delicious sheep-derived haloumi cheese finds its way into the homecooked meals.

6. New Zealand Fur Seals

Despite its name, the New Zealand fur seal is a native of southern Australia. At a stunning rock formation called Admirals Arch in Flinders Chase National Park, you can find hundreds of them resting between fishing trips.

7. Australian Sea Lions

Found only on the south and west coasts of Australia, the Australian sea lion is recovering from threatened status. Females will spend up to three days swimming out to sea and feeding before returning to the beach where their pups await feeding time. Then they catch up on their rest!

8. Australian Pelican

The Australian Pelican is a medium-sized pelican, but it boasts the largest bill of any bird—the longest on record was 20 inches.

9. Tammar wallabies

The smallest of the wallabies, the rabbit-sized gray tammar can drink sea water!

10. Ligurian Bees

In the 1880s, Kangaroo Island settlers imported a dozen hives of of honey bees from Liguria, in northern Italy, to help with crop pollination and honey production. The forward-thinking beekeepers at the time had the foresight to have KI declared a bee sanctuary—limiting the import of other bee varieties—which today makes it the home of one of the only pure strains of bees anywhere in the world.

11. Koalas, of course!

The problem for koalas has never been underpopulation—in fact, the opposite has threatened this introduced species' survival on the island. Overpopulation once meant that a sadly common sight was a starving koala in a stripped-bare tree. In recent years, sterilization programs have helped get populations back to sustainable levels, so this is now a good place to spot a (well-fed) one in the wild.

All images courtesy of Jessanne Collins.

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Roadside Bear Statue in Wales is So Lifelike That Safety Officials Want It Removed
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Wooden bear statue.

There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

Dog snuggling on a bed with its person.
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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

Child and mother playing with a dog on a bed.
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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

Woman doing yoga with her dog.
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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

Person running in field with a dog.
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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

Woman cuddling her dog.
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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

Large bulldog licking a laughing man.
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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

Woman working on a computer while petting a dog.
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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

A young boy having fun with his dog.
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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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