I have found the perfect place close to Adelaide where you can introduce travellers to endemic Australian wildlife in a controlled and easily accessible environment. An open range wildlife park, Cleland is actually found within a National Park (aptly named the same) and is located in the Adelaide Hills literally 30min drive from the centre of the city. My parents are coming to Australia for the first time this April, and Cleland will be one of our definite stops. I have been fortunate to visit the park many times, and as Wildlife Caretaker often get a behind the scenes look into the operation. Last week I spent every day working with the full time keepers, volunteers, and staff, learning of their tasks, taking photos, and overall enjoying the daily events that come with spending hours in close proximity to wild animals.
To be honest it felt as if I was acting as a short term work experience vet student. The amount of care and detail that the keepers spend attending to the needs of the animals is astounding. It really takes up a good chunk of everybody’s day, not to mention emails, cleaning, socializing, presenting to the public and overall providing education about the wildlife and its importance to the environment. Every section of the park is split and managed by a few of the keepers, I got to spend a day with each and probably half of those days were spent readying medications, or preparing food (that looked incredibly similar to my daily breakfast) and caring for sick or unwell animals. There is a whole side to the park that focuses on the health and wellbeing of all of the residents, it is truly amazing. The love that these keepers have for each individual animal is heartwarming.
The keepers and staff at Cleland work hard and every task has its scheduled time, meaning you can’t get caught up and need to be efficient and fast, always. The days flew by. Most often the morning would be dedicated to the health side of things highlighted above, once the well being of the animals has been attended to every aspect of the section is checked and reviewed for any necessary action. Daily tasks include re issuing and assessing food stocks for the day/week, cleaning of the area/enclosure, and meeting with other staff to discuss the current social situation amongst the wildlife populations. Often by then lunch has begun and we are racing to get any type of food energy into the system.
Early afternoon involves demonstrations and live feeding of the animals for the general public to attend. This was one of my favourite parts of the week, watching these keepers I had begun to know and understand explain their passion and knowledge of the animals to the public. Watching young children and adults alike become captivated by the words of the Cleland keepers, seeing their eyes alight with facts like the Dingo has more similarities to a wolf than it does dog, that the Tassie Devils jaw can snap the femur bone of a Kangaroo, that Koalas eat only leaves and are actually quite picky about which leaves they wish to eat. It was an amazing part of each day and one I believe is crucial for the passing of knowledge and understanding to the public of the importance of the animals.
The late afternoon is usually then spent re cleaning any of the days messes and then food and medical prep for the next morning. Add in any unexpected incidents, emails, office work, phone calls, vet visits, etc. etc. the list goes on, and you will begin to see how the day can absolutely fly by.
Cleland Wildlife Park has a simple but precise goal. Connect, Understand, Act. Getting people to the park is the connection, having easy access to relative, informative, and interesting info plays a major role in the understanding, as does the public feedings and talks provided by the keepers, and possibly the most important role the afternoon talks assume (sometimes unknowingly) is the inspiration they pass on to the listener to act. To go home from a day at the park and reassess their back garden, to start looking in the trees of the Adelaide Hills for the wild Koalas, to find Kangaroos on the Fleurieu and not just disregard them as a nuisance. It is the passing of knowledge and inspiring the public to act which will ultimately help protect the future generations of endemic Australian wildlife. I believe Cleland’s best asset is the sharing of knowledge and educating the public. The opportunity is there and the staff passionate, it is a treat listening to them speak and they are doing their upmost to try and actualize these values, especially with children and students.
I enjoyed my week touring Cleland Wildlife immensely and look forward to returning showing my mom and dad everything I was introduced to. If you live in Adelaide or are travelling South Australia, I highly suggest you take a half or full day to drive up and pay the park a visit, it is a pretty special place.
Cheers and regards from the Adelaide airport. I’m at gate ten awaiting my flight back to Kangaroo Island!!