New Years 2014/2015 – Sleeping with the Sun Bears

2014  ended and New Years day 2015 dawned with us sleeping with a Sun Bear at the foot of the bed.


It is a little while since I blogged, and since New Years, but the urge to rave about our stay at the National Zoo & Aquarium in Canberra is still with me. I also keep looking longingly at our photos from Canada and Alaska, but with the Australian dollar in free-fall (good for exporters, not for overseas travel), Australia will need to be our playground for a while.

2014 was an amazing year of travel, wildlife watching and photography for Charlie and me. It seemed fitting to end the year and to start 2015 as we would like to continue to spend it surrounded by exotic wildlife.


Unlike Seal River on Hudson bay, where we spent a week in a “reverse” zoo (the humans behind wire, the Polar Bears on the outside looking in), to stay among exotic animals in Australia means staying at a zoo.

Aerial view from my husband's copter
Aerial view from my husband’s copter

The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra has very recently opened the Jamala Wildlife Lodge, offering luxury accommodation (food and alcohol included) and a guided zoo experience. Our other options would have meant hundreds of Kms by car, rather than a ten minute drive, to somewhere like Dubbo.

The National Zoo is privately owned, and currently undergoing a major expansion. It has a focus on threatened and endangered species and has had some success in captive breeding of a number of mammals. Zoos are not profit making ventures, so finding novel ways to break even is a challenge for zoos around the world, whether private or public.

A zoo is not everyone’s cup of tea. Yes, I’d prefer to see animals in the wild too – but for some animals it is the only chance to survive, with a good quality of life. For rescues from the pet, ivory, meat or traditional medicine trade, who cannot be returned to the wild, it gives a chance of a long life, where zoos actively seek to enrich daily life.  For many of animals in Australian zoos, being captive and contributing to captive breeding programmes may provide a slim chance of the survival of species.

Otay, the female of the pair of Sun Bears we spent our New Years night with, is a rescue. She has a heart breaking tendency to constantly sway back and forth when excited or agitated – a habit formed in the close confines of too small a cage. Nevertheless, she has become comfortable enough in her home to bond with Artarki (pictured above) and produce offspring. rat


While not a cheap experience, our stay at the Zoo was value packed and worth every cent.   Afternoon tea on arrival, dinner (dinner party style – African themed, lots of good food) and a continental breakfast plus beverages, snacks and alcohol are all included.

If you do decide to visit, come prepared to go straight out on a guided tour which includes feeding a number of animals, wear walking shoes or boots, hat, sunscreen – we opted just for cameras and what we could carry in pockets.  Arriving just before the start of the first tour, we were greeted at the door and our bags whisked away. Next time, I’d arrive at 2pm and probably eat an early light lunch, as the afternoon tea and beverage offering looked very nice.

Reception area

First up, afternoon refreshments in the lounge with a Burmese Python followed by our first guided walk through the zoo.






After our treats, the first tour of the zoo included giving treats along the way to a number of different animals and great interest from those whose turn it was not.


First we went to look at the lions – the thing about lions is in the heat of an afternoon they are pretty much all asleep. It is only later they got active and first thing in the morning.  This lovely girl was still awake, but only just.


There is a Lion Bungalow, but if you plan to sleep well don’t choose to sleep with the lions – lions are nocturnal.

Door to the Lion Bungalow

The on to feed the otters, who were really interested in what might be on offer, but very well fed and quite picky about which types of food they wanted to eat.


Next the little penguins.

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The zoo has two very friendly dingos, quite happy to have a pat.


Nara decided to lie down at everyone’s feet for a pat.

After wandering though the native animal exhibit, where the emus and wallabies roam free, we went past the Bengal tiger – beautiful old fella.

Bakkar, the Bengal Tiger.



At that stage the Zoo only has one giraffe – Hummar (since then one more has arrived they are expecting another and we got to see their new houses the next day in the behind the scenes tour).  One giraffe  probably means the Giraffe huts are not as exciting as the the Bungalows, but people who stayed in them still report enjoying their stay.



Next up – feeding the slender tail meerkats!

Another really cool photo from my husband.

Enriching their lives means making snacks a challenge – these bottles were full of live wrigglers of various kinds, stopped with snakeskin.

Meerkat with paw in bottle

After the Meerkats, time to drop us off at our rooms to settle in and get ready for dinner.

Beautifully carved door of the Sun Bear bungalow.

The bungalow was luxurious and I’d love to have had time to try out the bath – but there was just too much to do, including watching our neighbours!







Before dinner we got to have drinks overlooking hyenas, snow leopards and with white lions.

Hyena get a really bad rap and I must admit to have thought “hope we don’t get a room with the hyena”. After seeing these two youngsters, I couldn’t help but be charmed.  IMG_6448




Two of the white lions were invited to drinks – although it is totally their choice to do so. We humans are obvious entertaining enough to warrant a visit.


The lions were also very interested in what the hyena were doing.


Dinner was dinner party style with the rest of the quests (let them know if you have dietary requirements when you book) and African themed. Food was plentiful and good. The lions and hyena could come to the glass if they chose – although the hyena were pretty shy, the lions were not.

After dinner, one of the keepers guided us back to our bungalow – which is when we discovered Ataki fast asleep in his nest at the foot of our bed (see first picture above).  We also got to share the morning with Arataki, a wonderful way to wake up.


Sun Bears have big tongues (taken by my husband)!


After an early breakfast, at 7.30am, we got a behind the scenes tour. This included the expansion to the zoo that is not yet open to the general public. All before the zoo opened, in the cool of the morning when most animals a far more active.


First up, treats for the Black-Capped Capuchin, (Cebus apella). Extremely intelligent, they are great problem solvers and their treats are packaged up so that they use those skills .

Flying treats




The island family members include Gonzo & Monyet and their children Macaco (Mac), Gomez and Peanut.

Next up, the Sumatran Tigers. These stunning smaller members of the tiger family are highly endangered with between 400-500 believed to be left in the wild. Sadly, survival of the species probably relies on captive breeding and hopefully we will see offspring from  Rahni (female) and Berani.


Barani – ou can’t see me, I’m camouflaged



In the new, yet to be opened, area of the zoo, the first enclosure were three female Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur (Varecea variegate), only found in the rainforests on Madagasgar, Falon, Masina & Setra.




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Next to the Black and White ruffled Lemur was the family of Ring Tail Lemur, including one tiny and very cute bundle of fun.




The tour also took us past the Eland, the new giraffe houses, painted dogs, cheetah, culminating in patting the rhinos!





Rhino hide is rough!

Finally, our tour over, we got a ride back to our Bungalow, to spend a little more time with the Sun Bears, and then check-out. Looking forward to the next time, maybe bears, or tiger or lion bungalow next time?

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