What’s in The Bush? An overview of Aussie & New Zealand wildlife. Part 1: Mammals

So what’s wrong with this view?  Or rather, what’s right with it?


Now you’re Downunder, everything is upside down.

Our mammals lay eggs, our reptiles care for their babies, birds are flightless but mammals fly, and Orion does a headstand in the starry sky.

You’ll meet our mammals, birds and reptiles.  You’ll see how many of them live in female-dominated and matriarchal societies.  Many of them breed communally too.  Its all part of living Downunder!

So to begin – The continents in red & orange on the map above are our sisters.  We are the “Gondwana continents” and we are special.

The ‘Gondwana sisters’ have nearly all the special mammal families of the world.  These animals are found nowhere else.

Aussie has some of the biggest and most charismatic of them – kangaroos, koala, wombat, Tassie Devil, gliding possums, platypus, echidna, bilby, numbat and others.  Seriously, these animals, in fact their whole families, are found nowhere else on earth.  You have to go upside down to see them in the wild….



This is a male Eastern Grey Kangaroo – the world’s largest marsupial.  They can grow to 7ft tall and weigh 90kg (200 pounds).  But don’t be fooled by his size and power.  It’s the girls who rule here.

These animals discovered the extended female-dominated family.  They were doing it long before humans came up with the idea.   To watch a mob of roos interact – the female majority all interested in each other’s welfare, getting along nicely most of the time with the occasional disagreement quickly solved by a slap.  In the background some males fight over breeding rights, but the females ignore them.


Here’s a kangaroo family.  Two males (left and back) but don’t worry about them, as I said they don’t count.  It’s the two females in the centre that matter.

The girl in the middle, carrying a big pouch-baby – she is a Kangaroo Queen. She is the daughter, and grandaughter of Queens too.

One way a mob starts is this: a female is born who is super-intelligent, strong, adventurous and has a talent for mothering.  Her name is “Sunshine”

Sunshine, for whatever reason, strikes out to find a land of her own.  A male finds her and 35 days later she has her first child.  A daughter.  Its always a daughter.  She made sure of that.  (Yes, kangaroos can determine the sex of their offspring)

Sunshine teaches her daughter everything she knows, and that’s a lot – remember she’s the daughter of a Queen.  Her daughter stays close to her mum, because that’s what most kangaroo females do, for their whole lives. Sunshine has other daughters (there’s one in her pouch now), and her daughters have daughters.  They all stay together, loving and close – most of the time.

When Sunshine has a big enough family to keep watch for danger, and provide her with company when she’s old, she finally has a son.  Why does she wait so long?  Because her son will leave, and kangaroo mothers hate losing their children.  He has to leave.  He leaves when he gets to breeding age because there’s no sex here – all the females in his mob are his aunties, sisters & close cousins!!   And kangaroos just don’t do that!


Also in the You Yangs mountains near Melbourne live these guys. This is Clancy, and you can read about him on his Facebook page.

Koalas are more cute than words can describe.  But like a lot of really cute people, appearances are deceiving.

You are looking at one of the toughest creatures on the planet.

I’d like to see any human tough guy climb a slippery gum tree, all the way to the top – 30m/100 ft in the air.  Then balancing with his feet only, reach out to grab leaves on branchlets far too fine to carry his weight.  Then eat them – yuk.  Fair dinkum, those leaves taste awful!  They’re the equivalent of the Atkins Diet without the protein… or fat.. or vegies….  There’s no such thing as a fat koala!!

So after Mr Tough Guy has eaten his Atkins leaves he has to sit there and digest.  It takes hours.  He’d like a sip of water, but he can’t have it. Meanwhile the sun has risen, and from a pleasant night-time temperature of 8 degrees C, the temperature rises to a sweltering 42 Celsius.    In one day.      He can’t come down from his tree – it’s unsafe on the ground, and he hasn’t got the energy.  So he has to sit it out.

Koalas and Polar Bears have the world’s most insulating fur.  The conditions they suffer are similar – koalas on the hot side, polar bears on the cold side.

I don’t think many humans would last long in Clancy’s shoes.


Somehow, with all these challenges koalas have survived for 37 million years.

Once again, the ladies dominate.  She lives 1.5 times longer than him.  She chooses her mate.  She keeps her daughters close their whole lives, but her sons leave for other female-dominated communities.

But they face their biggest threat now – climate change is adding insult to the injury of habitat loss.  They are already the toughest, but there’s only so much a mammal can take.


“Platypus” by Stefan Kraft – Selbst fotografiert am 20.9.2004 im Sydney Aquarium.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Platypus.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Platypus.jpg

Speaking of ancient mammals – this is one of the oldest in the whole world!!  Platypuses, and echidnas, come from a line that is 120 million years old!  That is older than some rocks I know!

Mating is initiated by the female, who swims alongside the male seductively until he gets the message.


These spiny darlings – Echidnas – lay eggs, but they are still mammals.

Mammals have hair – even whales have some hair.  Mammals also feed their young on milk produced from glands.  So Echidna are still mammals, even though they lay eggs.

Their egg is leathery and hatches 10 days after laying. Mother echidna curls up in a ball and lays the egg straight into her pouch – amazing!

The baby, named a puggle, stays in the pouch after hatching, drinking milk from glands on the mothers belly.   But when he gets spines, he gets kicked out!  And fair enough too!


In Aussie we also have a dazzling array of wallabies, rock-wallabies, bettongs, potoroos, wombats, and the cutest possums in the whole world!

But its not all about marsupials and monotremes down here – we also have fabulous placental mammals!  I’ll explain more about what that means in the second presentation: Sex in the Bush!

NZ and Aussie have lots of beautiful Seals, Sea Lions, Dolphins and Whales.  I recommend that you include a visit to the coast when you’re in our countries.

Next week I’ll post part 2 of this presentation: Birds!

What’s in The Bush was first delivered to around 400 guests on Olivia Cruising Australia & New Zealand 2015, on Holland America’s Oosterdam Cruise Ship.  The presentation was one hour, including questions.  I am available to give this presentation for groups – please contact janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

Endemic mammal families of the world: Part 1 Australasian Ecozone

In Australia, we grow up knowing that most of our mammals are found nowhere else on earth.  We almost take that for granted, but it really is an incredible legacy!


But which mammal families are endemic to Australia?  Which are endemic to Australia+New Guinea and their islands?  Which are endemic to the region east of the Wallace Line (incl Sulawesi, New Guinea, Australia)?

How does our level of endemism compare to other great continents?  Please forgive the upside down map – this is the way I see the natural world!


In researching for some cruise ship presentations I found this information hard to come by. So here’s a few lists I’ve put together from my own research.  There may be some gaps or errors – if you know of any, please let me know!

Australasian Endemic Mammal Families: 

Tachyglossidae – Echidnas (endemic to Australia+New Guinea)

Ornithorhynchidae – platypus (Australia only)

Dasyuridae – Antechinuses, Quolls, Tasmanian  Devil (Australia+New Guinea)

Myrmecobiidae – Numbat  (Australia only)

Thylacomyidae – Bilbies  (Australia only)

Peramelidae – Bandicoots  (Australia+New Guinea)

Notoryctidae – Marsupial mole  (Australia only)

Phascolarctidae – koala  (Australia only)

Vombatidae – wombats  (Australia only)

Burramyidae – pygmy possums (Australia+New Guinea & one species in indonesia close to West Papua)

Tasipedidae – honey possum  (Australia only)

Petauridae – sugar glider, leadbeaters possum (Australia+New Guinea)

Pseudocheiridae -ringtails (Australia+New Guinea and several species in Indonesia close to West Papua)

Potoridae – potoroos  (Australia only)

Hypsiprymnodontidae – Musky rat kangaroo  (Australia+New Guinea)

Macropodidae – kangaroos  (Australia+New Guinea)

Acrobatidae – feather-tailed glider & the feather-tailed possum (Australia+New Guinea)

Phalangeridae – brushtails & cuscus (Australia+New Guinea, and Sulawesi, Indonesia)

More to come: Endemic Mammal Families of Africa (African / Afrotropic Ecozone)!

References: Wikipedia species accounts

Burgman & Lindenmayer “Conservation Biology for the Australian Environment”

Australia is one of the world’s most diverse natural places!

The earth is a remarkable, exciting place, packed full of animals and plants.  It is estimated that the world has 5,400+ mammals, 10.000+ species of birds, 10,000+ reptiles (and growing), 7,300+ amphibians, 950,000+ insects and around 310,000 species of higher plants.

But did you know that most of these can be found in 12 countries?  These 12 are the Mega-diverse Nations (1).

mega-diverse nations of the world

60-70% of the earth’s species reside in these 12 nations.

Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo (DR Congo), Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru together hold 60-70% of the world’s species.

Many of these nations are home to a host of endemic species – that is, species that occur nowhere else.  Australia is home to 210 endemic mammals (5% of the world’s total), 355 endemic birds, 616+ endemic reptiles (nearly 10% of the world’s total reptiles) and 14,458 endemic plants.

Unfortunately, many of these countries are also on the UN list of the worst forest-clearing nations (2).

Mega-diverse nations and worst land-clearing nations compared

Orange nations are mega-diverse but also in 20 worst nations for deforestation. Yellow nations are in 20 worst for deforestation. Red nations are mega-diverse but not in worst 20 for deforestation.

The worst land-clearing nations on earth are, in order (in bold are the countries that are also the mega-diverse nations):

Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Mexico, Australia, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Peru, Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia, Cameroon, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Angola.

Aussies, unlike most of these countries, we are a developed wealthy economy.  Why are we still cutting down forest that is home to a world-class fauna and flora diversity??


(1) Burgman & Lindenmayer “Conservation for the Australian Environment”

(2) United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 2001, Forest Resources Assessment 2000,
UNFAO.  Unfortunately I can’t find any information more recent than this.  I have read that Australian rates of deforestation had reduced since this time, but have very recently increased again.  Even so, as Australia is 6th on the list of 20, we would have to reduce deforestation greatly to get off this list.

Tourism Businesses: Nine top tips to make your business more eco-friendly (and make your clients happier!)

  1. Plastic is nasty.  Almost every bit of plastic ever created is still in existence, much of it floating in the ocean.  It never breaks down.  Big bits of plastic end up in the bellies of baby Albatrosses and Dolphins, killing them through starvation.  Small bits (micro-plastic) remain floating in the ocean, or sink to the seafloor.  It is not known what effect these have, but marine scientists are concerned.  Recycling plastic doesn’t help much – after one or two recycles the plastic becomes unusable gunk that goes to landfill.  WHAT TO DO?  Replace plastic with glass, bamboo, cornstarch-alternatives, metal, paper, cardboard.  If you can’t find a plastic alternative that works for you, then reduce your plastic by using hard plastic reusable items.

    toughened glass containers and reusable coffee mugs

    bamboo dish brush

    bamboo and natural bristle dish brushes

  2. Local is good. Local fruit & vegetables, anything bought from local-owned businesses, is much better for the planet than supporting a multi-national. You are making local jobs, usually reducing fuel from transport (both yours and theirs), and supporting your local community.  Smaller businesses are often more able and willing to make eco-friendly changes to their practices, especially if they value your business.
  3. Support markets and independent grocers. I know, the supermarket giants seem convenient, but sometimes a local grocer is actually easier.  South Melbourne Market is open every day except Monday, Tuesday & Thursday. They even have a sustainability and waste reduction policy.  Our local greengrocer delivers our fruit to our door. The quality and freshness of food from the market far exceeds that bought from the big supermarkets.  The fruit we buy from the market/greengrocer outlives the supermarket fruit by days – reducing waste and cost to the business. 
  4. Fruit is the best snack ever!  It comes in bio-degradable packaging all of its own.  It is classy, healthy, suits everyone, varies with the seasons and if local, is exotic and special to your guests.  People with food allergies can often eat fruit.  Fruit is kosher. Kids love fruit, especially strawberries, bananas, watermelon and grapes.  Of course, try not to buy it in a plastic bag or box – take your own ‘green bags’ to the market (see point 6) and your produce is packaged ready for storage and a long life.
  5. Disposable anything is wasteful and lacks class. I have felt offended when a ‘quality’ tour gives me lunch in a disposable plastic container with plastic cutlery.  That’s not quality.  That shows that a business is not prepared to wash dishes for the likes of you. On the flip side, we have so often been complimented by our guests for the proper crockery we serve our food on.  Washing dishes is not hard – most businesses have dishwashers!

    reusable crockery and cutlery

    tour lunch setup – not a disposable item in sight.

  6. ‘Green bags’ (Fresh Fruit Bags) extend the life of fruit & vegetables. They really, really do – we have a food technologist in the family and he’s confirmed it.  We put everything in them – they keep cut avocadoes green, cut watermelon & canteloupe stays fresh for days, broccoli and lettuce last weeks.  Yes, they are plastic, but we make an exception for these because they reduce food waste and are reusable many times. The pack says to use them three times only, but we wash and re-use them until they fall apart and we’ve seen no loss of quality.  You can buy them online here: http://www.gelpack.com.au/freshcrisp.html

    Fresh & Crisp Fruit Bags

    Keep your fruit and vegetables fresh for longer

  7. Compost!  If you’re using fruit and paper bags, it can all go into a compost bin.  95% of our tour waste goes into one 2litre compost bucket each day.  The compost is stored at our city office for a week, then is collected and transferred to our country property where it fertilises native plants.  If you don’t have a country place, look around for a community garden or group that could use your compost – they will probably collect it as well.  This organisation supplies compost units to restaurants in Melbourne – you can be part of it here: http://www.closedloop.com.au/closed-loop-organics
  8. Vehicle washing does not need to use massive amounts of water.  Buy one of the high-tech cleaning mitts (every supermarket and auto store has them, see pic) – you will be amazed at how well they work.  Half a mop-bucket of water and a high-tech cloth cleans a Hiace 12 seater van inside and out.  No need to rinse – once over with the mitt is all that’s needed.  It’s quicker and much cheaper than taking the vehicle to a carwash, and you can do it at your base without flooding the joint.  Think of the staff time (and money) you’ll save.


    these car-cleaning cloths are excellent

  9. Publicise your eco-friendly initiatives – you will make others think, and give your competitors a reason to do it too. Write it all up on your website so your potential clients can see it.  Tweet, Facebook and Instagram it!  Get your Guides to show off your compost bucket on tours.  Put a sticker on your vehicles “I am washed with only half a bucket of water”.  Your clients will talk about it, and anything that gets travellers talking about us after the tour is good for business!

    twitter pic

    publicise your eco initiatives!  You deserve it!

This is not a post about how we are perfect – we are not.  There are still aspects of our business that are not as eco-friendly as they could be.  We are still learning.  Do you have any tips?  Please add them in the comments!

Tourism companies work together to save wild koalas

Insight Australia have become the first Inbound Tour Operator to join with award-winning wildlife tour operator Echidna Walkabout to make a home for a wild koala.

Insight Australia’s generous donation funds local people to remove thousands of weeds that are degrading wild koala habitat. Through research, Echidna Walkabout discovered that Boneseed weed makes gum-trees unavailable to koalas. Removing it ‘turns the trees back on’ for koalas, effectively increasing koala habitat immediately.

wild koala Pat welcomes Insight Australia's donation to koala habitat restoration

wild koala Pat


Insight Australia Travel is a great believer in and supporter of sustainable tourism. Our travellers love the Australian experience much of which is about our beautiful wildlife. We jumped at the opportunity to support Echidna Walkabout firstly because we want to see Koalas’ truly thrive in the wild and secondly because our travellers strongly desire and fully appreciate the unique experience they offer. For tourists to be able to engage in such a manner and to be able to actually make a difference results in an inspiring win/win.“ Birgit Bourne, Insight Australia

With this donation, we will run a Koala Conservation Day for Locals that will remove at least 5,000 weeds. That is the equivalent of planting 200 koala food trees. The effect on koalas is instant – they can move in and start feeding in the habitat the next day.” Janine Duffy, Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours.

Participants on the Koala Conservation Day come ready for a solid day of weeding, koala research and education. The Days are very popular with locals, and are often over-subscribed. Echidna Walkabout are keen to run more, so are seeking funding from Australian and international companies. Just $600 makes a home for a wild koala for a whole year.

We encourage other Aussie companies to follow Insight’s lead and contribute to this productive project, either through donation or by organising their own Staff Conservation Day” says Duffy. “It really does work – since starting this project we have seen an increase in koalas of 370%. Your donation really could save koalas from extinction”

For images: images library on Google+

Contact: Janine Duffy, Echidna Walkabout 

T: +61 (0)3 9626 8249 M: +61 (0)427 808 747

E: janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au 


Birgit Bourne, Insight Australia

T: +61 (0)2 9949 9669 M: +61 (0)422 417 978

E: birgit@insightaustralia.com.au


Why do kangaroos hop?

You’d have to ask a kangaroo why they hop.  Their answer (if you could understand roo) would possibly be “because my mum always did”.


So, in the absence of roo input, here are some of the advantages of hopping:

1. Hopping is energy efficient.

This is probably the most important single factor.  Hopping uses less energy than four-legged running at the same speed.

It is critical in a dry, unpredictable environment to be efficient with resources.  Kangaroos sometimes have to travel long distances, in oppressive heat, with very little water to drink and very poor food in their bellies. Most mammals would not survive.


Kangaroos eat grass.  Australian grasses can be fairly low in digestibility, and sparsely cover the ground. The grass dries off quickly, and during summer only the first few millimetres of the grass is green – the rest is dry and golden.  So for the whole of summer (and sometimes longer in drought) adult kangaroos have to move around, socialise, breed, and feed their babies on a diet that wouldn’t feed a lamb.  Food = energy.  Hopping doesn’t use much food energy, compared to other forms of locomotion.  So kangaroos can survive on their poor diet.

Like most grazers, kangaroos need to drink water daily.  But in their country, surface water can be hard to find and unreliable. When the surface water dries up completely, they have to hop to better watering sites.  Exertion depletes the body of water.  So an efficient means of movement, like hopping, uses less precious water than other forms of movement.


2. Hopping is quiet.

We can’t find any scientific research to support this, but it is our experience that kangaroos move extremely quietly compared to other animals. Maybe because they are in contact with the ground so little, or because their feet are soft (like a dog or cat’s), or maybe because they have only two feet to worry about they can place their feet carefully. Whatever the reason, a large mob of kangaroos can move very quickly without much sound at all, even through Bush full of sticks and dry leaves.

The stride length of a kangaroo hopping at speed is long – 6 metres at 50km/hr.  That means they are only touching the ground 2 times a second.  In contrast, a galloping horse touches the ground four times in each stride, and has a foot in contact with the ground at all times creating a constant drumming sound.  At the same speed a horse touches the ground 8 times a second.

Why is this useful?  Kangaroos’ natural predator is humans.  Being able to escape quietly could mean the difference between life and death.


3. Hopping is flexible and allows for sudden changes of direction.

Kangaroos have an amazing ability to turn quickly!  They can achieve a 180 degree turn in a single hop.

Hopping as a means of locomotion probably gives kangaroos an ability to turn “on a pinhead” which would be very useful for escaping predators.   We don’t know of any terrestrial mammal that can turn as sharply as a macropod.  With the centre of gravity at the pelvis, the kangaroo is a pivot that can almost turn on a point.  Most land-based mammals have a long body, with their weight centred between the front and back legs.  The length of the body limits the turning circle.  In a way, they have to wait for their back legs to catch up.   Also, the speed limits the turn – the faster they go, the harder it is for them to turn, and the more stress it puts on their legs, ankles and feet.   We suggest that even at speed a kangaroo could turn very sharply without damaging their legs because most of the turn is executed while airborne.

Kangaroos live all over Australia,  in grasslands, in mountains – hopping allows them to move quickly over any surface, no matter how rough, steep or uneven.


4. Kangaroos have evolved from possum-like ancestors who bounded along tree branches and the ground.  Hopping could be just an adjustment on four-footed bounding. 

Small macropods, like the Musky Rat-kangaroo, bound along the ground using their front feet a bit.  Brushtail Possums can bound or run, and sometimes sit up on their back legs just like a small kangaroo.  So it’s not hard to imagine the possum-like ancestors of kangaroos – bounding on the ground, running along branches.  Over time they got bigger, moved into the grasslands where there were no branches to clamber along, and their ability to bound got them out of danger quickly.  Over time their ability to run ceased altogether.


It is interesting to note though that kangaroos can use their legs independently in an alternating fashion.  But only when they swim!

a few days in Marlo, East Gippsland

We came to Marlo for a quick break.  No plans, just relaxing.  This place is so amazing that in four days, four easy walks, while having a rest and not even trying, we’ve already seen:

Emus (including one baby)

Black Swan


Freckled Ducks – the two dark grey ducks with a dished bill and slight crest in the middle facing left – and Pink-eared Ducks – the zebra-striped ducks with a dark eye patch. There are also some teal in the shot and a coot I think.

Freckled Duck

Blue-billed Duck

Australian Shoveler

White-eyed Duck (Hardhead)

Pink-eared Duck

Australian Wood Duck

Pacific Black Duck

Chestnut Teal

Grey Teal

Australian Shelduck

Musk Duck

Australian Pelican


Australian Pelican in flight at Marlo jetty

Little Egret

Great Egret

Cattle Egret

White-faced Heron

Collared Sparrowhawk

Black-shouldered Kite

Swamp Harrier

White-bellied Sea-eagle

Australian White Ibis

Straw-necked Ibis

Royal Spoonbill

Great Cormorant

Little Pied Cormorant

Pied Cormorant

Little Black Cormorant


Pelicans, Great Cormorants, Crested Terns, Silver Gulls and a single Royal Spoonbill on a sandbar at the Snowy River mouth

Hoary-headed Grebe

Australasian Darter

Australian Gannet

Eurasian Coot

Purple Swamphen

Masked Lapwing

Black-fronted Dotterel

Red-capped Plover

Eurasian Curlew

Australian Pied Oystercatcher

Silver Gull

Pacific Gull

Caspian Tern

Crested Tern

Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo


a Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo chewing into a tree for grubs.


Australian King-Parrot

Eastern Rosella

Crimson Rosella

Rainbow Lorikeet

Musk Lorikeet

Wonga Pigeon

Crested Pigeon

Laughing Kookaburra

Australian Hobby

White-throated Treecreeper

Superb Lyrebird

Satin Bowerbird

Southern Emu-wren

Superb Fairy-wren

Striated Thornbill

Brown Thornbill

White-browed Scrubwren

Brown Gerygone

Spotted Pardalote

New Holland Honeyeater

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

White-eared Honeyeater


a loving pair of Rainbow Lorikeets

Red Wattlebird

Little Wattlebird

Lewin’s Honeyeater

Eastern Spinebill

Eastern Whipbird

Golden Whistler

Crested Shrike-tit

Grey Shrike-thrush

Grey Butcherbird

Australian Magpie

Pied Currawong

Willie Wagtail

Grey Fantail

Australian Raven

Magpie-lark (Mudlark)

Eastern Yellow Robin


Welcome Swallow

Bassian Thrush

Red-browed Finch


Not only that, the weather has been so lovely here – better than Melbourne!  Sunny days every day!


Thanks to Glenn Herbert from Snowy River Homestead B&B, and Len Axen from BirdLife East Gippsland for advice, suggestions and your time showing us around!  Thanks too, to Tanya and Chris at Tabbara Lodge for a lovely relaxing stay.

Contact Info

T: +61 3 9646 8249
web: www.echidnawalkabout.com.au

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