Two questions about Australia's animals
June 1, 2015 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Going to Australia for its animals. Seeking advice re making conversation:

1) If you live in VIC/NSW/or QL, at some point in your life will you have come across a box jellyish or funnel web spider or GW shark or brown snake? Documentaries make it seem like encounters with deadly animals are fairly universal in Australia. Is this true?

2) How charged/taboo of an issue is the protected status of koalas and kangaroos?

Do people that live among Australia's most photogenic animals come to dislike them, or view them as pests? Do pet dogs tend to accidentally escape when a koala is on the ground between trees?

Would these be asshole questions to ask your average Aussie?
posted by BadgerDoctor to Travel & Transportation (50 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I lived for 54 years in NSW and Qld. I have never seen a box jellyfish or a funnel web. I have seen maybe 1 or 2 brown snakes. Granted I didn't go out in the bush a lot. OTOH I once saw a kangaroo in the street outside my suburban house. My in laws used to have a house in Brisbane that backed onto a small bush block and you could sometimes hear koalas in it at night. Surprisingly noisy when mating apparently. But I don't think they ever saw many of them.
The issue of protection for koalas and kangaroos isn't taboo particularly. Different people have different views naturally. (I take it you're talking about asking, as distinct from suggesting that there is anything wrong with the current approaches.) Koalas generally seem to be regarded as cute and cuddly (note that if you go to a koala park or sanctuary you will generally not be allowed to handle them) whereas kangaroos are often regarded as a pest. Generally people are quite fond of both though.
The Australian animal that is dangerous and is fairly common in suburbia is the red back spider. They get into rubbish and dark places. I've seen quite a few of these but have never been bitten. My wife has and she does not recommend it. The bite wouldn't usually kill an adult but might kill a small child.
posted by Logophiliac at 9:32 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh and if you're in any of the southern states in spring watch out for magpies (crow-size black and white bird). The males get aggressive during the nesting season.
posted by Logophiliac at 9:34 PM on June 1, 2015

Seeing a brown snake is not uncommon. The others are something noteworthy - the country loses its flipping mind if a great white is seen off a beach. Horses and dogs cause more injury than our native fauna.

No one would be offended by this sort of discussion, you'd probably just get a few eye rolls at worst.
posted by chiquitita at 9:38 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hmmm. Not asshole questions (at least, not in my opinion) but they come accross as kind of uniformed. But as someone who is completely and utterly terrified by the concept of possibly meeting a bear, I get where you are coming from.

1). (a) I've lived nearly my entire life in coastal NSW (Sydney and nearby) and I've never seen a box jellyfish. Blue bottles sure but they just sting, they won't kill you. I think the deadly jelly fish are way up in northern queensland where you'll be warned. Australia is a big fan of warning sides for EVERYTHING.

(b) Great white shark - only if you're surfing and therefore waaaaaay far out. And even surfers aren't at huge risk, if they were, no one's parents would let them surf. Risk varies but there are various patrols (I think they observe from helicopters too) and the life guards clear the beaches if there are sightings. It's not like we're dodging them in the water, your average beachgoer jumping around in the waves is at way bigger risk of being caught in a rip and drowning.

(c) funnel web spider - sure, they are around but we know how to be careful. Like you don't go picking up random rocks in the bush or even the garden with bare hands cause that's asking for trouble. No one dies if they get bitten (and I don't know anyone who has gotten bitten. Very occasionally there's something in the news but the person is always fine)

(d) snakes - yeah, you might see one if you go bush walking or live somewhere rural but even then you don't have significant encounters with them unless you go out of your way to be stupid. I saw some statistic once which basically came down to every single snake bite victim pretty much asked for it by antagonising or outright trying to kill the snake. Which is against the law too so I hope they were fined for their stupidity. I've seen a snake sleeping, we just walked passed it. Another time I saw one slithering accross the road and that was funny because when I said "oooh, snake!" everyone nearby leapt a foot in the air :-)

2) I think you'd have to be a pretty evil bugger to feel anything negative towards koalas. They are cute! But they are hard to find, you don't see them in any built up areas in my experience. There's heaps and heaps of bushland around Sydney but no koalas as far as I'm aware. I can't imagine the pet dog scenario. We went walking in bushland in Noosa (southern QLD) and it was damn hard to find a koala even though the rangers knew they were there. And we pretty much stared up at every single tree.

Kangaroos are a lot more prevalent. I don't consider them a pest but then I'm not a farmer, I don't know if they see things differently. They do make driving in rural areas at dusk and dawn a bit more dangerous, you need to watch out as they are more active then and if you hit a big one hopping in front of your car, none of you are going to be in good shape.

Generally if I see kangaroos I make stupid tch tch tch noises at them and say "what's that Skippy? Did Bobby fall down the well?" and then hope that they don't understand English because I'm sure all kangaroos have heard similiar Skippy jokes a million times.

One thing you need to understand is that the vast majority of Australians live in urban areas and only see kangaroos/koalas/sharks when they go to the zoo/aquariam or wild life park.
posted by kitten magic at 9:40 PM on June 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

I pitched these questions to an IRC acquaintance who lives in Victoria; his salty Australian words follow:

1) Never seen a jelly, funnelweb or a great white and only ever seen 2 wild koalas. We eat kangaroos. I've always lived in the more temperate areas, snakes don't seem to feature much down this way.

2) Charged/taboo issue of protection, not so much; koalas are fuckin' noisy buggers, and roos are a legitimate pest in some places.

Not really asshole questions, no. Although, we don't call what you call shrimps shrimps, they're prawns, and not many people I know would throw em on the bbq. We don't eat much seafood in my family. Mum hates it, and the only prawn I like are the tiny ones they put on pizza.

[Then I hit him with question you're really dying to ask: What's your opinion of the bloomin onion?]

Uh. huh? Blooming, as in flowering? [I have him google it.]

A, I've never come across it before. B, I don't like deep fried onion rings, lol. It sounds fun, but... yeah, deep fried onions not my cuppa.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:40 PM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hee hee. I'm 40, lived in Sydney my whole life. You'll never see a koala in the wild in Sydney or any of our cities. I've seen one once, 3-4hours drive outside of Sydney. In a tree, they're not waddling around on the ground. I've never seen a box jelly fish or a brown snake. I've seen a wombat and an echidna IRL, once each, while bush walking. Kangaroos are common is some rural/bush areas but despite what a recent viral youtube implies, they're not actually roaming our streets, ready to pick fights with dogs and people.

These aren't asshole questions but we'd have a giggle. I have to tell a story. A friend of a friend was in a bar in the US, struck up conversation with a local. Local asked Aussie what he did for a living. Aussie says he's a "shoo-er", he gets up early and shoos the Kangaroos off the harbour bridge every morning before peak hour traffic. Ha!
posted by stellathon at 9:44 PM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

We do get kookaburras even in inner city Sydney and that can be startling, they really do make that distinct sound.
posted by kitten magic at 9:47 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

We eat kangaroos.

Haha yeah, you'll see kangaroo steak, sausage & mince in every major supermarket.
posted by stellathon at 9:50 PM on June 1, 2015

I was in Mareeba, Queensland for half a year recently. In addition to countless amazing birds, I did see kangaroos, wallabys, a giant fuzzy spider, and snakes. Also frogs and cane toads and geckos and flying foxes.

And when kayaking, also sea turtles and sting rays and corals and a squid ink cloud.

If it's an animal that can eat crops, then I heard a farmer complaining about it. Or farmers/workers describing actions that farmers had taken. Including, in one case, befriending a kangaroo (don't try this, they're dangerous).
posted by aniola at 9:50 PM on June 1, 2015

Great answers. I'm in Adelaide in the south and I just wanted to say that when I look out my window where I work, I very, very often see a Koala in the tree. I work about 20 minutes from the city centre, so I'm surprised to see people commenting that you won't see Koala's in urban areas. If it's hot they come down and sit in the shade and will drink water from a dish that we put out.
posted by Youremyworld at 9:54 PM on June 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

For reasons I don't claim to understand, it's QLD, not QL.

It's a big, diverse continent and some things are worrisome in some places and not in others. When I lived in Adelaide, brown snakes were something people were at least slightly concerned about in the summer even in some fairly urban parks, but if someone came across one in urban Melbourne it would probably make the paper. Country Victoria is another question. Likewise, in Adelaide a friend of mine was overjoyed to encounter a koala in her suburban yard, and we came across one in the parklands at the Flinders Uni campus but I wouldn't expect to see one in Melbourne ever. But country Victoria has plenty of koalas, kangaroos and snakes.

There's squawky beautiful parrots all over the place. In some citieshite ibis are so common they're fondly known as bin chickens. Kookaburras are indeed startling.

There are funnel webs in my garage, and every winter we get huntsman spiders (which are completely harmless but are the size of your hand and fast-moving, plus they jump when they're alarmed) in the house.

No one I've met is touchy about protecting kangaroos or koalas or Tasmanian devils. Wild raptors are another issue, at least in some farming country.

Snorkeling in Melbourne, I've seen pufferfish and all sorts of rays and little sharks. Blue-ringed octopus and box jellies are a possibility but an unlikely one, as I understand it. A Great White sighting makes the news.
posted by gingerest at 9:57 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm in Adelaide in the south and I just wanted to say that when I look out my window where I work, I very, very often see a Koala in the tree. I work about 20 minutes from the city centre

That's awesome youremyworld. I'm glad to hear it. None in Sydney :-(

OP, we do have lots of flying foxes (fruit bats) and also possums even fairly close to the CBD.
posted by kitten magic at 9:58 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

For reasons I don't claim to understand, it's QLD, not QL.

Without meaning to derail: we also have TAS, NSW, VIC and ACT... it's the two letter states/territory that are in the minority (WA, SA and NT). I know the USA does two letter abbrieviations, but then the UK uses even longer abbrieviations for their counties. That said, NSW probably started the trend since we have to have 3 letters.
posted by kitten magic at 10:04 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I live in very inner suburban Sydney in a terrace house and we get plenty of redbacks. They won't kill an adult but they'll make you very sick, and you'll need medical attention. Wear gloves if you're going to be putting your fingers under ledges or in gutters, or moving outside furniture.

I've never seen a snake in inner suburban Sydney but have spoken to people who have, especially near nature reserves, creeks, and vacant land and construction sites. Sydney is full of rats, so they're going to be around.

Possums are endemic and a protected pest; there are companies that specialise in humane possum trapping as you're not lawfully allowed to kill them. They tend to get into people's roof cavities and fight, have sex, and piss there, which is terrifying, loud, and makes your ceiling smell like, well, eucalyptus piss. Worst of all, tourists and people who don't know better try to feed them bread, which they don't always eat, and they leave scraps to attract rats. I hate possums. Don't feed them.

People who drive in the country do not tend to like kangaroos (and will often have stories about roos they've run over). If you hit one at speed (i.e. over 60km/h) a kangaroo is a dangerous hazard that will at worst kill you and at best put a big dent in the front of the car. When I'm riding a motorbike and see kangaroos by the roadside I always slow right down, a collision would be deadly. Watch out for them particularly at twilight and dawn.

Kangaroo is a strong-tasting very lean meat that goes hard if you cook it too long. I've had it in excellent Thai curries. Nobody except vegans blinks at kangaroo on the menu; indeed there's an argument it's a more sustainable and ethical meat option. Other marsupials would be a different story; you'd never eat a koala, wallaby, wombat, or quokka, you just wouldn't.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:31 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

(as an aside, kitten magic's "Skippy" comment is a reference to Skippy The Bush Kangaroo, a Lassie-esque TV series from the 60s about a boy and his kangaroo)
posted by russm at 10:35 PM on June 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

Hmm, I've lived in Melbourne (VIC) for over 20 years now and I am pretty sure I've seen a brown snake in a park, though I wasn't exactly getting close enough to take pictures. They are attracted to water in dry times, so be careful. They tend to be less active in winter (which it is now) so you're not at great risk. I have also seen echidnas twice in Melbourne parklands. Vastly more common are possums - brushtail and ringtail; it's the brushies that are more common and more pestilential - fruit bats, black swans (weird looking), rainbow lorikeets (cheerful noisy parrots), galahs (fat grey/white/pink parrots), cockatoos (usually the white, sulfur-crested ones but also sometimes black ones) and kookaburras. Which sound like demented monkeys. Oh, and on the spider front, huntsmen are vile-looking but not actually dangerous (doesn't stop me shuddering) but in Victoria you have to worry more about redbacks (haven't seen) and white-tails (have maybe seen, I bloody hate spiders so I don't stick around to get ID papers).

Taking trips out to country VIC all of the above (well, bar echidnas) plus also wallabys, kangaroos and koalas. And a cute little marsupial mouse which curled up in my shoe overnight. Koalas really tend to stick to trees; you are more likely to have the problem with escaped dogs going after a possum. But usually it's cats that you have to worry about with killing native animals.

Visits to TAS have included all of the above plus also a platypus (in the wild! awesome!), pademelons (like even littler wallabys) and maybe a Tasmanian devil. Haven't spent much time in NSW or further north. I also don't spend much time in the ocean, but I know blue-ringed octopus are the ones you mostly need to worry about in Melbourne. I personally have not seen a wombat in the wild, so I refuse to believe they are anything other than stuffed toys.

As others have commented, we eat kangaroos. They're really common as mud. Koalas, interestingly, were endangered and in some places had reserves set up for them. I visited one, a place called Raymond Island out in West Gippsland, where they have now become so prolific they're becoming a problem. Still protected though and definitely not food. Possums, as others have said, are protected but a pain (especially the brushies) but if you make it to NZ they are an introduced species and considered a pest. Many Kiwis living in Australia are a bit bemused by the Australian attitude towards possums. Australians in general are unlikely to be offended by discussions of native animals; amused, maybe, but not offended.

Good reference site for animals. Note that the fabled and elusive Drop-Bear doesn't make an appearance.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:55 PM on June 1, 2015

Oh, forgot rosellas, also parrots but pretty blue and red ones. Lots of parrots. Lots and lots.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:56 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

This stuff is very location specific. I moved from Perth to Sydney, and the animals etc are completely different, so the expectations and hazards are also very different. Even different parts of cities have different pests.

I've never heard of anyone killing or intentionally harming a koala, they're cute, and as far as I know, aren't annoying to anyone. Possums get a worse rap, as they hangout in people's attics and are a pain to get rid of. Kangaroos are considered pests in some situations, as if you hit them with your car, the car often loses (they're also not endangered). Wombats are also pests in some areas (read Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French).

Wikipedia seems to have a "relationships with humans" section for most common australian animals. I'd have a read through that.
posted by kjs4 at 11:06 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

And no, not arsehole questions. But you may end up with useless arsehole answers.
posted by kjs4 at 11:07 PM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

re: useless arsehole answers - you should probably read the wikipedia entry on drop bears ( I'm a bit sad though, the article has been edited and is no where near as good as it used to be; I swear it could've been written by my dad.)

Australians already have a dry sense of humour and will be very matter of fact about the existence of drop bears and who really wants to doubt serious advice from a local? So we're being kind pointing out that they are not real.

Fear of drop bears is very useful eg for getting kids to leave the park at dusk (conveniently, drop bears are more likely to get you when the sun goes down).
posted by kitten magic at 11:32 PM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Aussie country dweller (central NSW) perspective follows:

I've never seen a box jellyfish, but fair-skinned redheads who aren't fans of beaches probably won't, I guess. I've never seen a Great White, but - despite being a fair-skinned redhead who isn't a fan of beaches - I have seen dolphins and whales on my infrequent trips to water deeper than my bathtub.

I don't think I've ever seen a funnel-web, but I've seen more redbacks than I can count, and they are one of the few animals which freak me out. I don't even like getting close enough to kill them. They like to occupy our electricity meter box which adds a thrill to the need to change a blown fuse. They exude evilness, despite being rather beautiful.

I've also seen a shitload of brown snakes. I live in a town of around 15,000 people, and it's not at all uncommon for people in town to find them in their back or front yards. The closest I've ever been to one was when I opened my back door to find one between me and my snake-killing shovel. We have our share of venomous snakes, but I've never seen one attack a human without being provoked (like being trodden on or ridden over).

Kangaroos are annoying, stupid and delicious. Very dangerous on roads around dusk and dawn, as mentioned above. They'll be on the side of the road, they'll look at an approaching vehicle, and then jump right in front of it. I took my driving test in a car which had the bonnet (hood) tied down with wire, thanks to an incident with Skippy. But I love kangaroos - when they're marinated in chilli and garlic and then cooked until just medium-rare on the barbeque.

I've only seen a handful of koalas in the wild, and only ever in trees. Our indigenous people don't eat them (to my knowledge), so I guess they aren't too tasty.

I've never seen a dropbear, but they have their own page on the Australian Museum site, so they must be real.

As you can tell, every Aussie has their own perspective - roos annoy the hell out of me, while other people like them. People think koalas are cute and cuddly, but they can be vicious, and bite and scratch like a feral cat. Every Aussie you talk to will have their own opinion. Coz that's how we roll.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 11:47 PM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I live in a not-particularly-far-flung suburb about 15 minutes from the Sydney CBD. The most venomous animal living locally is our Prime Minister.

Okay all jokes aside what makes this suburb particularly amusing from a wildlife point of view is that my street is only a short distance (~200m) from a national park, and there's bushland in fairly close proximity on 3 sides, without the area being in the least bit rural.

We had bilbies living in our front yard until fairly recently; there was a wallaby that passed through a few times this past summer; I've found two funnelwebs in the recycling bin in the past month; a couple of copperheads have been spotted in the past year; we had a goanna displace the lorikeets that nested in a dead gumtree out front a few years back; we occasionally have an echidna trundle through from [somewhere] to [somewhere else]. Echidnas are mysterious little buggers. It seems that everyone loves kookaburras but hates cockatoos and bush turkeys. I love bush turkeys - they're like miniature dinosaurs.

All of these animals are awesome because even the dangerous ones are pretty cool, and you treat them with basic common sense i.e. don't poke them you should be fine. Practically speaking, the bilbies are probably the most dangerous because they tend to be magnets for the local paralysis tick population.

No koalas locally but they hiss and scratch look tired-grumpy all the time and are only really cute when you don't get too close. Kangaroos are delicious.

It's worth noting that if I still lived 20km (roughly 12 miles) away in the inner west, my local wildlife would consist entirely of staffies, cats and hipsters. Half that distance from here to my last place in Lavender Bay was nothing but fruit bats and birds. Adjust assholishness meter appropriately - it's extremely (extremely!) environment-dependent.
posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 1:18 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

1) location specific (more specific than which state you live in). But as an urbanite and former country Vic dweller, no.
2) Huh? No. Maybe in some country areas ppl might have opinions about kangaroos. I have never met those people (and I lived in country Vic for 18 years. But again, country Vic is, as far as I can tell, not very much at all like country WA or country NT).
3) I think your last question is a bit arseholey. That's a violent image you are conjuring up there, and I have never met anyone who didn't think koalas were cute. (They can make a loud grunty sound when you are camping but they are still very very loveable according to everyone I have ever met).
posted by jojobobo at 1:48 AM on June 2, 2015

I've lived in VIC for about 5 years, and have travelled all over the East coast. Agree with everyone above that we don't really interact with life-threatening beasts in the course of normal urban/suburban life.

A few things that surprised me when I first moved here:

- Kangaroo meat at the supermarket, it's a bit jarring if you've always thought of them as potential pets!

- There's also a lot of kangaroo roadkill up north (Queensland). Like, more than I was used to seeing in country Canada or US.

- There are signs warning you about snakes, jellyfish and spiders all over the place. Don't mind that too much, we just really like to scare people.
posted by third word on a random page at 1:49 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

American transplant to Far North Queensland. We live just outside a small city. Lots of flying foxes, cockatoos, bush turkeys, and kookaburras. Far more huntsman spiders than I like seeing; I don't see red backs at home but I've seen them in Sydney, Wollongong, and other places hanging out on various bits of infrastructure; my SIL was bitten by one a couple years ago taking the tarp off her grill. My uncle in law (is that a thing?) cleared thousands of funnel web spiders off some land he bought on Sydney's northern beaches several decades ago; he made lots of friends of the arachnid geeks at universities and museums. My mother in law in southeast Queensland finds dead brown snakes on the road and hangs them over her garden fence to scare off the bush turkeys.

Driving an hour out of Sydney, I frequently see dead kangaroos by the roadside. Where I live now there are a few open fields where you see them hanging out sometimes. They are delicious. Think of them as the deer/venison of Australia in terms of most people's feelings on their pest-ness.

The only dumb American convo you'll tick anyone off with is making baby-eating dingo jokes. That was actually a hugely controversial and emotional case and it's not treated anywhere near as lightly as we like to treat it in the U.S.

Get some Vegemite when you arrive to put behind your ears and fend off the drop bears.
posted by olinerd at 1:51 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I lived on the East coast for a bit up on a farm near Mullumbimby and Byron Bay [NSW/QLD border area - go there it is beautiful] I kept bumping into pythons in the chook gunya [chicken coop] where they liked to nestle in for some scraps. Tree snakes hung out on the patio with us, or pythons rolled themselves up around the rafters under the warm tin roof, and frequently slithered across our paths when we were walking in the forest. My housemate got bitten on the fingers by a python whilst she was having a leisurely outdoor bath on the verandah, with her hands draped over the edges. Didn't poison her but hurt her and left deep punctures. There were lots of koalas but they kept up in the trees and yep, as said above, they make some crazy-ass zombie apocalypse type noises when excited. That can be a bit freaky the first few times.

We will all try to sell you on the fearsome idea of drop bears. Act afraid, or laugh.

And yeah, I can't stand it when Americans try do our accent and they all do Meryl Streep [American] doing Lindy Chamberlain's [NZ] accent with a "ah deengo stole ma babeee" which actually, as mentioned above, was a really sad and terrible affair for that family, and a calamity of injustice in our nation I reckon. Also, it never ever sounds Australian. If you want to practice, imagine that you are trying to keep flies out of your mouth and forget that you ever knew how to say 'a' or 'e' - everything is 'i' as eeee. eg 'Chinnil Tin Niews.'
posted by honey-barbara at 2:17 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I spend a lot of time around the Yarra river at the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges. About 40 minutes from my home in Carlton. Seen almost everything listed by others in Vic, including Wombats, Echidnas, such amazingly varied birdlife, my share of Browns and Tigers. Never met a Koala in in the wild. Eastern Greys are the most prevalent Kangaroos in my stomping grounds and there are mobs and mobs and mobs of them, many hundreds. They are pests, they are delicious, mom's with their joeys are exceedingly cute, the bucks are big and it's easily understandable how they could eviscerate you.

You'd be surprised at the "wildlife" easily found in the centre of town. As mentioned earlier, possums are in almost every garden, Curtain Square in particular and are most definitely pests in almost every suburban area. And where there are possums, there are Powerful Owls, including in Flagstaff Gardens.

I feel like I could go on and on. The wildlife is amazing and accessible. A ton of them are pests, a lot are protected.

Oh, and the Australian Drop Bears? Very dangerous, but not nearly as tasty as American Snipe.
posted by michswiss at 2:38 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I grew up in Townsville, Queensland. I saw box jellyfish all the time. You can't swim there half the year unless you're in a protective net enclosure. We saw snakes all the time too - they ate our budgies, tried to eat our chickens and geese, or just had a habit of popping out from under something, which was when my dad went to work with a shovel, mattock, or axe. They were mostly harmless pythons, which we left alone, but there were plenty of the deadly types as well. The kids regularly find snake skins in trees and on rocks around my parents' house outside Brisbane.

I don't think I've ever seen a funnel web (wrong area, I suspect) but my garage and the underside of my barbecue are crawling with gigantic redbacks.

In Canberra, I still see snakes all the time when I'm out geocaching, often sunning themselves on rocks. You just stop, back up a bit and go around. Snake bite deaths are incredibly rare in Australia, and I recall reading that in most cases the victim was trying to move or kill the snake.

I see sting rays swimming in the shallows all the time at the south coast of NSW. I've seen some big arsed sharks in Queensland. I haven't seen any at the south coast, though one killed a lady at Tathra last year, and they've been seen swarming on a whale carcass at Broulee (which is our fave beach).

I don't view any native animals as pests, but then I've never had a possum in the roof.

Kangaroos are everywhere. Here in Canberra they even come into suburban street to eat your front lawn. They might be protected but it doesn't stop people in rural areas from shooting them, license or not, whether for dog meat or sport. There's a bit of controversy about culling mobs of kangaroos in Canberra.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:08 AM on June 2, 2015

Oh, scorpions too. My grandparents lived in malibustacey's country, and there were bloody scorpions everywhere. Dunno what it's like now.

And wasps. Nothing like climbing through a wire fence face first into a nest of paper wasps.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:12 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, honey barbara's comment reminded me: DO NOT attempt an Australian accent. Except possibly as a joke after everyone's had a few. Americans doing Australian accents sound awful. This is why I don't try, even though by rights I'm more than half Aussie now.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:34 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Documentaries make it seem like encounters with deadly animals are fairly universal in Australia.

In my experience this is mostly a joke we are happy to go along with. If you go out into the middle of the continent you'll find a lot of desert snakes and whatnot, but I doubt that's unusual anywhere.

How charged/taboo of an issue is the protected status of koalas and kangaroos?

Uncharged. As said above, we eat kangaroos. They are considered pests in some areas. Koalas are slightly more touchy but it's hardly a taboo issue; it's mostly because they're cute little things.

Do people that live among Australia's most photogenic animals come to dislike them, or view them as pests?

Yep. What animals do to your things living out in the country does shape your worldview.
This isn't a constant, though.

Would these be asshole questions to ask your average Aussie?

Again as said above I wouldn't ask these but not because they're offensive. It's more they'd mark you as a tourist and you would get told a lot of reasonable-sounding bullshit. I'd do it. Consider it a cultural sense of humour.
posted by solarion at 5:41 AM on June 2, 2015

Since I don't see it mentioned above: Hoop snakes are every bit as real as drop bears, although less distinctively Australian. If you ask about dangerous animals the locals will try to convince you to believe in both.

Also, it's possible that folks you meet may be interested in the wildlife you take for granted, like deer and moose and racoons and so on. When I was there one of my classmates told me all about the stuffed squirrel her boyfriend had brought her from the States, and how dearly she'd like to see a real one.
posted by pie ninja at 5:41 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I grew up in Canberra, which has long stretches of grassland between suburbs. Kangaroos were common. Brushtail possums made hideous noises in the trees and rooftops. We saw the odd kookaburra, and plenty of galahs, rosellas and cockatoos. I saw a wombat's butt disappearing into its burrow once, so there's that. I also saw *many* snakes walking the family dog in nearby parkland, but I couldn't tell you if they were brown snakes or not because my usual response was to hightail it out of there. Spiders? We had a ton of huge huntsman spiders in our house, but I don't remember seeing funnelwebs or red backs.

So.. wildlife sightings will depend on where you go. I miss the birds, don't miss the noisy possums, and I'm neutral about kangaroos - I was always paranoid about kangaroos attacking my dog. Edited to add I gather your 'pet dog' question is about pets attacking local wildlife - I can't speak to dogs, but when I lived in Melbourne my cat DECIMATED the local bird population until I got him a cat bib.

Should you ask locals about wildlife? Depends on the local. If you're in a rural area it might make for interesting conversation. If you're chatting to a dude with a beard, man bun and neck tattoo in Bondi the answers will be less than helpful.

I live in the Netherlands now and lose my damned mind when I see deer out in the wild. Oh man, I saw a fox in Amsterdamse Bos and squealed like an idiot. It really is in the eye of the beholder.
posted by nerdfish at 6:23 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've lived in Queensland for 47 years between Port Douglas (it's where Bill Clinton was when 911 went down) and the Gold Coast (where Jihnny Depp and Orlando Bloom are, right now) and as far west as Aramac (you've never heard of it, it's tiny).

Brown snakes, sure, when I lived in the country and hiking. Box jellyfish - definitely. You NEVER swim in the ocean during summer north of the Tropic of Capricorn because you might die. People do every year, even on beaches where first aid vinegar is stocked. Luckily there are HEAPS of crystal clear, chilled mountain streams to swim in (no, dude, not in the mangroves, there's crocodiles, and yes, I've seen them, and I've known pets to be taken by them). Also, if you check out the mangroves, reefs, rock pools up there, wear good shoes. We are warned as kids against stone fish - the spines of which can do some nasty painful damage. Also, if you get to the reef (and it's worth it) and your skin gets scraped by it, go to the chemist straight away for ointment before it gets infected. After my year7 class, my mother finally took me and ever other 12 year old in town had bought up the stock (probably not worth worrying about availability - it's not the 80s but do get it treated. It can get nasty and pus-y.

So kangaroos, wallabies, pademelons, bilbies - there's a bunch of different jumping pouched creatures out there. I don't think of them as protected. You can buy kangaroo meat in the supermarket. I've heard they're annoying on a golf course (where they would typically hang out in a semi-urban area) but mostly are a bit shy, unless in an animal park, where they will come up for food. If your kangaroo is large (and even if it isn't, because it's not nice) don't harass them. They have really powerful legs and it would hurt if they kicked you. That said, it's a rarity.

Emus (mostly) run away but if you come across a cassowary in the wild (far North Queensland) don't mess with it. Those big birds can do some serious damage. Less likely than crocs or jellyfish. I'd estimate a couple of deaths a year in the entirety of Australia from those guys, and usually in really remote areas.

You want to chat about them? Sure, but inevitably some larrikin is going to warn you about dropbears and how searing Vegemite all over yourself is a preventative measure. I'm not entirely certain whether that's meant to be believed.

Koalas are having a shit time between their habitats being destroyed, they have a very narrow diet, and chlamydia. If you see one in a tree, or crossing a road,don't help it, give it space, and after gawking at it fora bit and saying Awww a whole move on, because the little buggers do get stressed. There are a lot of animal parks where you can get up close and personal with a koala, and their handlers make sure they don't work too hard, but by god they're stinky in captivity, and we've trained them to pee on politicians looking for a photo op (not so many recently). I wouldn't eat a koala even if it wasn't endangered. They eat eucalyptus leaves - have you smelled that shit?

Other animals to watch out for (if in the bush, they don't hang out much in the city): goannas. Give them space, you don't want them to think you're a tree if they're escaping because of their claws. The indigenous people say they taste great. I've never tried one. Cane toads. Not original to Australia. They squirt poisonous shit out - not a danger unless you try to pick them up or lick them, and if you were going to do that, you probably won't survive crossing the road because we drive intheoppositedirection.

Animals that have drawn blood on me that aren't pets/domesticated: an eel in a waterway when I was camping. I may or may not have been peeing in the water. Unless you count the coral, and the escape from the shark.

Any bugger who sets is his dog on a koala is a mongrel and his entire community will be mad as a cut snake at him.
posted by b33j at 6:34 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

1) I grew up in Melbourne, Victoria and have never seen a box jellyfish, a funnel web spider, any kind of shark or any kind of snake in the wild. My boyfriend grew up in country Victoria and my ex grew up in rural northern NSW and I think both had snakes come into their houses at some point.

I've seen several red back spiders, but they aren't really as deadly as they are made out to be.

2) I would say that the protected status of koalas is not at all charged or questioned. Kangaroos are slightly more contentious because they are seen as a pest by some farmers and are even culled to control numbers in some areas (near Canberra, I think). I've eaten kangaroo a few times and it was delicious. I recommend trying it.

3) Yeah, I guess that certain animal behaviours can make animals seem like pests. Somebody above already mentioned swooping magpies. I'll add to that: brush tail possums peeing and pooping everywhere and making aggressive noises at night.

4) I am more amused by these kinds of questions than angered by them.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:50 AM on June 2, 2015

Now, see smearing Vegemite on yourself won't help you against the drop bears. That's why you wear the hats with the corks on them, so if they drop on your shoulder, the bobbing corks deter them. Then you can smear your Vegemite on the drop bear and it'll fall off in an ecstasy of licking the stuff off itself. Not sure how the Vegemite Dairy Milk (chocolate) would go, but if you try it on a drop bear, report back!
posted by Athanassiel at 7:01 AM on June 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, curlews - crazy slothy birds that mosey around car parks and beaches (occasionally) in the day time looking stoned, and at 2am make a cry like someone being stabbed to death.

Flying foxes - Queensland - cute little bats that a noise and smell nuisance close up, and if they poo mango juice in your washing if you were stupid enough to leave it out all night, well, toss those clothes away.

I had to say I believe the crocodile warnings and box jelly fish warnings in Far North Queensland should be respected, but every one south of Rocky is a bit of wuss because they have half a dozen surf life savers on every beach ready to give you mouth to mouth. (But, in all fairness, there's no waves because of the reef and you can swim, because of those tiny irjukandi box jellyfish. I remember fishing, and seeing them gloat (yeah, okay autocorrect, I'll go that one) through the water.

Dingos (and yeah, don't bring up the Chamberlains - kudos to whoever brought that up, up there) but the wild dingos on Fraser Island have killed a couple of kids around the age of 10 in the last decade. But one island, remote, warnings.

Trees in FNQ, if you are in the rainforest and not on a path can hurt, and one is apparently painful enough to want to kill yourself, but nobody's run into one of them in years.

It's bloody typical of metafilter that we didn't pull your leg. I hope we don't lose out citizenship for it (that's funnier than you'd think, given the venomous pm).

If you want to die as a tourist (and weirdly, I worked with a guy who writes about this stuff sometimes), you can drown, usually in the ocean, or drive on the wrong side of the road. It tends to be very adventurous locals that convince our fauna to take us out. I think we've locked up all our serial killers that concentrated on tourists. For some reason, people keep falling off balconies of high rises on theGold Coast. Any animals involved in that appear to be two legged, but most of the falls seem to be due to alcohol.
posted by b33j at 7:02 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

This thread is highly entertaining to me, as I, too, want to visit Australia sometime for the wildlife. In the same spirit, has anyone ever come face-to-face with a cassowary?

I've spent a lot of time in the U.S. backcountry, and my sightings of and encounters with venomous snakes and spiders and large predators (and large non-predators who can become aggressive and dangerous when spooked, like bison and bull elk) have been memorable, but rare and never dangerous, as I've always minded my manners in their territory and kept a respectful distance. (Canoeing in the Everglades, I once approached the shore of a lake and was startled when a 12- or 13-foot American crocodile emerged from the undergrowth and slid into the water only a few feet away, completely unconcerned and apparently uninterested in my presence.)

My point is that the fauna who fill the terrifying legendary critter niche in Australia are probably rather similar in that respect: they're around, even when you can't see them, but they are REALLY not interested in you and unless garbage-habituated (as North American black bears sometimes can be) will probably not pose a dangerous nuisance.

(We have our cute critter niche too, although you may have to climb above 10,000 feet to see them. Future Aussie backpackers and all others: no matter how adorably furry they are or how much they ham it up, do not feed the marmots.)
posted by tully_monster at 7:22 AM on June 2, 2015

Is the Australian species of Bigfoot a marsupial?
posted by mule98J at 8:31 AM on June 2, 2015

One on vacation to the Sydney area, I was car-camping in a state park about an hour north of downtown, and I ran into a kangaroo in the middle of the night while walking to the restroom. It was going through the trash and got spooked. Since I wasn't expecting it, I got spooked too, but didn't hop away like he did. Coward.

On another vacation in QLD, I saw a few duck-billed platypuses in the wild. I'm given to understand that this is pretty rare, and the vast majority of native Aussies don't get this experience. They were cute, and I wished I had a better camera, though my wife got some good photos.

If you're inclined, you can go GW shark diving in cages out of Adelaide. A friend of mine from high school has done this, it looks like great fun.

Keep in mind that Australia is as large as the US, and 90% of it is uninhabited. You can expect a similar variation in wildlife across the continent.

Oh, and if you're in the QLD area, particularly Cairns, you really should take the Uncle Brian's tour of the tablelands, it's absolutely awesome.
posted by hootenatty at 8:56 AM on June 2, 2015

you should probably read the wikipedia entry on drop bears

The Australian Museum's page is better.

I grew up in Victoria, where I have personally encountered in the wild

* Stingrays (saw one giving birth once, that was cool)
* Blue-ringed octopus (swimming in the same rock pool as me)
* Puffer fish (rock pool again)
* Portuguese men of war (painful sting)
* Redback spiders (painful bite)
* Countless huntsman spiders (quite harmless but can be spectacularly large and quick)
* Tiger snake (seen two in fifty years)
* Red-bellied black snakes (about ten in fifty years)
* Platypus (you do not want to pick these up; I certainly never have)

Travelling in NSW:

* Brown snake (<1ft from my face - slithered past the end of my tent)

In Queensland and NT:

* Salt water crocodile (DO NOT SWIM WITH THESE)
* Fresh water crocodiles (placid, no big deal to swim near these)
* Box jellyfish (you seriously don't want a sting from one)
* Cassowary (dead set dinosaurs, I swear)
* Leech

On a West Australian beach:

* Giant centipede

Spent lots of time in the surf. Never met a great white.
posted by flabdablet at 10:41 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Going to Australia for its animals. Seeking advice re making conversation:

1) If you live in VIC/NSW/or QL, at some point in your life will you have come across a box jellyish or funnel web spider or GW shark or brown snake? Documentaries make it seem like encounters with deadly animals are fairly universal in Australia. Is this true?

Lived in Australia from birth until 45, saw a grand total of live 3 snakes (two browns & a red belly black snake) & I lived in "the bush" for 25 of those years. They are super timid & if you make enough noise they will leave you alone. It is illegal to kill them. I did however have a cat that seemed to like to try to catch them and had 3 trips to the vets for snake bites, she became allergic to the antivenom but luckily never got bit again after that, she died of old age at 20. You will rarely see a funnel webs spider out & about, you can see their nests around, they are pretty obvious & easy to avoid. My mother got bitten by a non venomous spider & needed a rush trip to the docs for bacterial infection from the bite, her arm went red within minutes.

I'd consider talking about snakes & spiders a perfectly safe topic for conversation, though if you are scared of them be prepared for some friendly teasing about it. And always check your shoes, if you leave them outside, before putting them on

2) How charged/taboo of an issue is the protected status of koalas and kangaroos?

Not very taboo at all, most people think the protection of Koalas is a good idea, the idea of protecting Kangaroos (I am assuming you mean from the licensed hunting that currently occurs) will seem silly to you if you spend any time in rural areas, they are as common as Deer are in the US, unless you are also protesting to protect deer, then you don't understand the kangaroo situation and it might be tactful to avoid that.

Australia has some of the most strict laws in the world in regard to the importation of animals that might cause harm to our native animals, and even tougher export laws. If you want to keep native animals as pets you can't without following strict licensing procedures, and in most cases being a zoo, Australians understand about protection of animals & take huge amounts of pride in their native animals. The issue is not charged at all in anyway, I don't think I ever met an Australian that thought, man we should be killing off these endangered one of a kind animals faster lets not protect them.

You will find Australians way more protective, of their native animals than I've found most of the people in the US seem to be about their own native animals. I've seen more people blasting away at deer, squirrels & turkeys & lord knows in the 5 years since moving to the US than I ever saw in Australia in the previous 45. Add to that I pick up injured animals in Australia, our small town had 3 Wildlife rescue volunteers. found an injured squirrel in the US, live in a town of 25K took me 3 days to even find someone that might know someone that heard about someone that might be able to tell me what to do, so why didn't I just wring it's neck or take it to the vet to be put down. When I found an abandoned baby Ring Tail possum in Australia, I had 2 vets and the 3 wildlife volunteers help me get a license to raise it until it could be released.

Do people that live among Australia's most photogenic animals come to dislike them, or view them as pests? Do pet dogs tend to accidentally escape when a koala is on the ground between trees?

No most Australians I know are fiercely proud of their native animals, even the ugly, scary ones and would be horrified that you would even suggest the above. Now Feral animals like rabbits, pigs, water buffalo, foxes or cats are a whole different story, and that is because of the damage these animals do to the wildlife & vegetation.

I do not speak for ALL Australians, just the ones I knew that live in a little country town on the coast .
posted by wwax at 12:06 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Great, great answers. Thanks everybody!

I love Aussies
posted by BadgerDoctor at 12:34 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is the Australian species of Bigfoot a marsupial?

Ah, I see you've read about the now-extinct megafauna. For real.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:02 PM on June 2, 2015

Is the Australian species of Bigfoot a marsupial?

Which one? Yowie or bunyip?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:22 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ooh ooh ooh, I forgot that dolphins are freakishly common in some places, including Port Adelaide. You can, seriously, go stand on a dock in a basically urban place with bars and post offices and apartments, and see dolphins just kind of rock up and say hey. Which is profoundly weird from the US perspective.
posted by gingerest at 3:16 AM on June 3, 2015

Also, the Far North (of QLD and the NT) is Australia's version of Australia - if you talk to Australians anywhere else, they will tell you that's where you see all the really terrifying animals. Which was my limited experience in my one NT trip - Kakadu was full of scary saltwater crocs, and we encountered a giant monitor lizard behind a bush in a billabong. (It minded its business and we ours but when you're halfway naked changing into your swimsuit, and you realize a three-foot-long venomous lizard is watching you, it gives you pause.)
posted by gingerest at 3:24 AM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's koalas in the outer eastern, coastal suburbs of Brisbane but their numbers are sadly reducing as their habitat is being depleted for big ugly houses on small blocks. There's a stand of gum trees right by Cleveland train station that is probably the easiest to see them in the 'wild', although you can also visit Lone Pine Sanctuary in Fig Tree Pocket and cuddle them if Brisbane is in your itinerary.
posted by goo at 9:38 AM on June 3, 2015

Here's a koala on my sisters fence (about 2 kilometres from Adelaide city centre). So, common. It's not just the animals you have to worry about it's the flora too. I present to you - Gympie-Gympie stinging tree.
posted by unliteral at 6:48 PM on June 3, 2015

See? In the Far North, even the plants are formidable enemies.
posted by gingerest at 12:23 AM on June 4, 2015

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