Taronga is an Aboriginal word that means "water view," and the zoo itself covers 43 acres on the Sydney harbour. The zoo's conception was the result of a visit in 1908 to Hamburg Zoo, where Albert Sherbourne Le Souef - secretary of Sydney's zoo at Billy Goat Swamp - was inspired by a zoo without bars, and determined to build one. He began looking for a site in Sydney, found one at Aston Park, and started construction in 1912. At the time of its opening in 1916, had 228 mammals, 552 birds, and 64 reptiles, most from the Billy Goat Swamp.

It wasn't until the late 1960s, however, that the zoo shifted its focus to conservation and education. The new designs emphasized a more stimulating enviroment and privacy for the animals.

Le Souef's barless zoo concept has been replicated at Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, a breeding center for large ranging animals. Now, Taronga's Conservation Research Centre is a leader in conservation and breeding.

You can get close to the kangaroos and koalas; though they no longer allow koala-cuddling, you can get your picture taken next to one. I'm not one for koala-cuddling, myself.

We took a ferry ride and a cable car (their "Aerial safari") up a steep hill to get to Taronga. Riding the cable car made me think of my brother, who broke part of his leg when his (now ex) girlfriend pushed him out of one of those ski resort cable cars as they were going up the hill. I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere.

If you are bionic, have several hours, or are Lee Majors, you can walk through the whole of the zoo and see approximately 4000 animals. We are merely human, and saw only a fraction of it. They have an Walkabout area, a parrot aviary, Seal Theatre, African Tropical Forest, and night creatures, to name a few, including fox bats and the platypus, who was doing laps like Ian Thorpe. We also the Free Flight Bird Show, which was outside in bleacher seating. The trainer shows how intelligent certain birds are, and how well they can be trained. E.g., one flew to an audience member's hand, took a coin, and flew back to the trainer. Later, it flew to the person again, returned the coin, and flew back. Anyway, I highly recommend seeing it, if you go. They have parrots, owls, etc., zooming about overhead, nearly scalping people. It's nifty.

Moments of dubious quality: a rainforest bird pissing on the back of my shirt, the gutteral noise from a koala, and the sight of several Japanese children and adults harrassing a male peacock for a good fifteen minutes. If the peacock had had any lunch money, they would have taken it.

The Taronga Zoo is accessible from Circular Quay via the Ferry Taronga Zoo. You get admission tickets with your ferry tickets. It's open from 9-5 daily.

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