29th June 2013
One of the main reasons I chose to go to the rainforest was for the wildlife. I’d been in Sydney for six months without even managing to see a kangaroo! Every time I went out to the bush, the people I was with would say, ‘there are always kangaroos here’, ‘you’re bound to see them where we’re going’, or some such NONSENSE. This has been frequently supported by, ‘I can’t believe you haven’t seen one yet!’ WELL, WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE THEY?
By the end of my stint in Sydney, I had managed to see a couple of dead kangaroos on the side of the road and a family of possums. I was really excited about the possums, even though they’re a pest and pretty hated. Same with the ibis. These huge, white birds are everywhere, and have a worse reputation than pigeons. But at least I had seen something!
Apart from the birds, of which there are aplenty, I was beginning to narrow my eyes suspiciously at anyone that started talking about Australian ‘wildlife’.
So, to the rainforest, thought I. Bound to see some animals there, right? I mean, it’s a bloody rainforest. You couldn’t ask for more abundance of life. Right? Er..
Australian wildlife is, to be optimistic about the whole thing, elusive. I realise this is a survival technique, the whole hiding quality, but COME ON.
Take the cassowary, a flightless bird of up to two metres tall, that weighs more than me, with a killer kick and a crown on their head that can surely only be a head-butting aid. Abounding in Far North Queensland. Apparently.
The journey to Cape Tribulation from Cairns was littered with huge yellow warning signs for them. There were speed bumps over the most prolific areas. Our tour guide told us to keep looking out because ‘five out the last eight times he had been up here, a cassowary had just wandered across the road.’ But not a leaf stirred. No over-sized bird. There appeared nothing.
Every tour guide I met had a story to tell. Unlikely places they had seen one, how big they were, how many… I met a lady who claimed to have spotted three cassowaries that week. Three! Everywhere I went were ‘recent cassowary sighting’ signs. ‘A cassowary inhabiting this area has been reported aggressive,’ one warned, and there were a plethora of posters with advice on what to do if you saw one.
Well, I walked and walked around the rainforest. I frequented plenty of places where ‘recent cassowary sightings’ were posted. I stared out the window of every car I was in. I researched and searched. I tried to stake one out and drove to Etty Bay, where a cassowary is said to live, and combed the beach at sunrise, which is the best time to spot them. Watching the sun cast its pink light over this stunning beach, listening to Mrs Jynx with, it seemed, no one else in the world, was magical. But cassowaries?
Nada. Nothing. Zilch.
Eventually, I decided hunting for cassowaries was much like hunting for Big Foot. If you’ve ever seen the programme, ‘Hunting For Bigfoot’, you’ll understand. It’s a bunch of stories, near sightings and other people who have seen them. There are signs and spoor and debris that the animal has made. But do you ever get a glimpse? Do you fuck.
(Actually, though, some time later I found myself caught in near dark at a waterfall and, while hurrying back along a track, suddenly realised that if a cassowary was to cross my way, I would probably poo my pants. So I’ve decided, for the sake of clean underwear, I’m not too upset about having missed them.)
I also tried to stake out tree kangaroos. I was in one of the best places in the world to see them… but I don’t think they exist anyway. Kangaroos that live in a TREE?! What’s next, eh? A spider that lives in an underground lair? A crocodile that lives in the sea? Sharks that live in a river?
I did see crocodiles. Including the mammoth pimp daddy of a whole section of The Daintree River. And dolphins, swimming right up close to the shore. And birds, birds, birds. And a turtle. And a platypus. Two actually. But I’m not sure of the plural, (is anyone?) and the second was a momentary sighting. I named the first one Brian, and he swam in front of me, snuffling and feeding, until it got too dark to see him any more.
And I now believe in kangaroos.
So it’s not like the wildlife doesn’t exist. But it is hugely exaggerated and oversold. I’ve come to the conclusion that 73% of it is a farce. It’s a ploy to pull tourists in, or a fairy tale to tell your kids. Of the other 17%, let’s call it 10% birds and insects, 10% fish, 2% brushturkeys, 5% ‘other’. Brushturkeys, by the way, are everywhere, they don’t seem fussed by humans and are annoyingly loud. Every time I heard a noise, stopped dead, and turned ever so quietly to spot whatever it was, I was confronted with this ugly black bird, crashing around so much it scared anything within half a mile.
A lot of the time, I just didn’t really understand what I was looking for. After Africa, where there was a never-ending list of animals to search for, I was slightly perturbed by this. I mean, really, what was I looking for? Spiders and snakes? Lizards? Were the only big animals crocodiles, cassowaries and kangaroos? Isn’t that bizarre, that in the great vastness of Australia there are no large animals? The lack of large mammals astounds me. There are dingoes (dogs with a stupid name), and various escaped domestic animals, like deer, pig and camel. Instead, there are marsupials. Kangaroos are all very well, but they’re kind of like big rabbits – pretty cool, but they aren’t going to make your mouth drop open with their amazingness. And yet, they have more venomous snakes than non-venomous snakes. More deadly snakes than anywhere in the world actually. Nine of the ten most poisonous snakes in existence live here.
And the spiders. The funnel web, one of the world’s most dangerous spiders; the redback; the mouse; the wolf; the black house… the list goes on.
The bees are killers. There are venomous ants, paralysing ticks, deadly centipedes.
Now, what I want to know, is WHY?
The inland taipan uses its poison to feed on rodents. Rodents?! The most poisonous snake in the world, where one bite could kill a hundred humans, uses its potency to kill rodents. Yeah, alright, they are Australian rodents, which means they are super sized versions of what we know and love. But still, does that not seem a little over the top? Why have animals with enough poison to sink an elephant, IF THERE AREN’T ANY ELEPHANTS?