Spoiler Alert: While the Taronga Zoo Roar&Snore experience is different every time, if you plan to visit you might want to read this post after you go. It’s all better as a big surprise.
If someone said to you, “Oh you have to spend the night at the zoo!”
What would you say?
I would say, “No I don’t. Why would I ever do that?”
But then I did it. And so did G and Michael and our dear friends who came all the way from New York. We spent the night at the zoo.
If you are like me and you hesitated at the thought of a night in a zoo, let me assure you as a recently reformed zoo slumberer, I was wrong to hesitate.
You have to spend the night at the zoo.
Now, to be fair, the Taronga Zoo isn’t just a zoo. It’s kind of spectacular, but not just because it’s nestled into the Sydney Harbour, and not just because we slept in the tents you see above in queen size beds with mattress warmers, but because it is ALL about conservation and the protection of endangered species. Their Roar and Snore program is a full-on, jam packed fifteen hours and the money you pay to be their guest goes to their conservation efforts and sustainable practices.
Michael took fantastic photos and I tried to fill in the gaps with other shots from around the web so we can take you on a sort of virtual tour of our experience. I know it’s not the same as being there, but if you enjoy it or learn something crazy like we did, maybe consider a donation to the Taronga Zoo—>you can click here to learn how.
To get to the zoo by 615pm we had to take an evening ferry, which is a nice way to start out anything you might ever want to do. Once we crossed the harbour, a bus took us to the entrance of the zoo all the way on the top of a hill. It’s built into a hillside like a medieval French town, you start at the top and work your way down. The zoo is closed to the public, but there were a total of thirty people in our overnight group. While we waited for others to arrive we were given an infrared torch (that’s Australian for flashlight) so we could familiarize ourselves with the entrance and marshes which included many species of birds and a tree kangaroo with her new Joey.
Some of what we saw in the infrared, looks like this in the light of day:
While the photo below may just look like any old pelican, these guys can weigh up to 18 pounds and have the longest beak known to aviary-dom. To put it in scale, they are bigger than G and slightly terrifying.
Once the full group was assembled we all walked down the hill together to our campsite with pitstops for stories and safety precautions along the way. We learned there are only two alarms at the Taronga Zoo, one for fire and one for escaped animals. Just as your mind begins to formulate the thought you are about to sleep somewhere with an escaped animal alarm, they stumble you onto this view. Well played.
They moved us into the main tent where one of our guides said, “Now we’re just going to get some nibbles and a few drinks into you before we take you on a nighttime Safari.” No one will say this to you outside of Australia. We were Fantastic Mr. Fox-esque the way we attacked the cheese platter (see carnage in lower right corner of the photo below) while we drank Prosecco and honestly, if they had said right then—ok, night night, thanks for coming—I would have been perfectly content with just the sipping and nibbling over that view. Instead they brought in a stick insect, a tree frog, and a Children’s python. Now look closely under that leaf and you’ll see a brownish shrimp looking thing. That would be a stick insect. It eats leaves and has evolved to look like one so it can eat them in peace, safe from predators.
The Children’s Python is named for the scientist J.G. Children, not because it’s the perfect python for your kids. However, if you are in the market for a python for your kids, this is actually a good choice as it’s non venomous, eats only a few mice per week, has soft teeth and is apparently a lot of fun at parties. He is very smooth and hard like a finger nail and no matter how nice everyone said he was, when his tongue flickered out to taste the air around G, it took everything in me to keep my MaMa Bear reflex at bay and not tackle the handler.
This super cute tree frog is also not venomous. He just hangs out in people’s back yards down under and reminds me of my favorite Garth Brooks singing frog in Vegas.
On our way to the outdoor bathroom after dinner, G’s Godsister and I were almost eaten by a crazy brushtail possum. As we descended the stairs to the block of restrooms I heard a rustle in the tree right next to me. I froze and grabbed her shoulders and said, “Don’t move.” I learned that trick from watching Jurassic Park. If there’s a velociraptor in the bushes…you just don’t move. But it was just a possum, a big possum, but still, not a velociraptor. One of our guides had warned us though, ‘You have to zip up your tent, because even if you don’t have food, the possums will come in to eat your toothpaste and your lipstick. If you corner them they can get very aggressive and if that happens to you, well, you’re on your own.’
The safari began with a visit to the male Asian elephant named Gung. He makes a high pitched noise like the sonar on a submarine and has to be kept in his own bachelor pad as his only purpose in life is to impregnate any female elephant he can find who is in season. The mothers and calves stay together in a big group separated from him because he’s so
annoying aggressive. They live this way in the wild as well. This photograph on the left makes him seem so small, I assure you, he is not.
And zebras are always awesome. They are awesome at night and during the day. They are particularly awesome in Australia because instead of calling them ZEE-bras, they call them ZEB-ras. Our two favorite facts about the zebra—
1. under their stripes they are brown.
2. who ever has the biggest backside is the leader and winner of all the prizes in the zebra world.
And then there’s the salt water croc, by far the most terrifying creature on the planet. The one at the zoo is on the smaller side, but they can grow to be eight hundred million feet long or something horrible like that. They eat sharks for God’s sake, the animal I used to consider most terrifying. They are found in Northern Australia and to be fair, most reported cases of crocs dining on humans occur because said humans decided to go for a swim or to fish or to camp in areas where it is often well known and clearly marked: Crocs live HERE. But you know how people are, they take their chances. If you learn anything from reading this post I hope it is to know better than to ever ever get nonchalant in the environs of an animal who has been around since the dinosaurs. If it can survive whatever happened to cause the dinosaurs to become extinct, it will eat you if it wants to.
The Fennec Fox, however, is the opposite of the saltwater croc in that you want it as a pet. They have great big ears and kind of look like chihuahuas. The mother and father rested under their heat lamp as the desert is their thing while two little ones ran around and around and around in circles, much to G’s delight.
And then there was this beautiful antelope called a Bongo. There are only one hundred left in the wild. Yikes. They are concentrated in only a few small spots in Africa where logging and poaching push them to the brink of extinction.
The Himalayan Mountain Goats were G’s last stop on our evening walk as Michael snuck him off to the tent early to put him to bed. The rest of us stole off to watch all the big cats sleep, which was amazing, but not nearly as amazing as they were in the morning as you’ll see.
We were back at our tents by 10pm for tea and dessert. After we cleaned up and climbed into the warm bed to fall asleep I did that thing I did after I saw Psycho for the first time. I psyched myself out so much after I watched it, I had to shower with the curtain open because I knew the minute I closed it, Anthony Perkins would show up at the door in a wig. This time a silver backed gorilla took the place of Mr. Perkins in my psyche. But I did fall asleep eventually and somewhere chimpanzees screamed like Janet Leigh and lions roared and then it was morning. It was awesome.
PS-as I scrolled through images of all these animals, there was not one who was not pictured somewhere hanging out with David Attenborough.