I'm a freelance travel writer living in Brisbane. Visit my blog at www.aussieglobetrotter.net.
Published August 2nd 2016
Get up close and personal with amazing animals
I'm perched on a log in a dry, sandy, barren environment that mimics the African desert. Meerkats are scavenging around my feet. I feel like I'm on the set of Meerkat Manor, yet I'm in Pilton in Queensland. Set amongst farmland, the Darling Downs Zoo boasts the only meerkat clans in Queensland.
The Darling Downs Zoo is just two hours drive from Brisbane, nestled between Warwick and Toowoomba. This small, privately owned zoo offers some amazing animal encounters including marmoset and meerkat experiences.
Five Slender-tailed meerkats call the Darling Downs Zoo home. Standing approximately 30cm tall these hyperactive creatures are constantly on the move – digging holes, crawling under the logs or standing sentry and gazing alertly in the typical meerkat pose.
As soon as I entered their habitat, these social, inquisitive creatures were clambering over me in search of food. They were quick to locate the treats in my hands and they trilled and chirruped while munching on the cucumber, apples and their favourite – mealworms.
Once they devoured their treats, the adorable creatures foraged in the sand in the hope of finding more food. These tiny critters love to dig! Meerkats are mainly insectivores and their zookeepers hide a variety of insects, fruit, vegetables and occasionally meat for them to excavate.
I headed from the African desert to the South American rainforest for the marmoset encounter. Tiny mealworms tickled my hand as marmosets jumped onto my arms and shoulders. These small overactive creatures scampered over branches and people, inquisitively reaching out for cameras and necklaces.
As soon as I was provided with the mealworms, these long tailed South American monkeys were jumping on me in seconds. At approximately 20cm long, the marmosets weigh less than a can of baked beans. These endearing monkeys with their silky marbled brown coat, striped tail and white fluffy ear tufts, trilled, whistled and feasted.
The meerkat encounter costs $100 and is limited to two people per encounter and the marmoset encounter costs $60. These encounters occur three times daily.
Two reptile encounters are included in the entrance price. Hold a baby salt water crocodile in the morning or have your photo taken with a python in the afternoon.
The Darling Downs Zoo houses a large selection of animals including ostrich, Brazilian Tapir, antelope, deer, baboons, possums, birds and koalas. Owners, Steve and Stephanie Robinson are working hard to maintain a representative collection of the mammal, bird and reptile life from Australia, Africa, South East Asia and South America.
Visitors are invited to bring a picnic lunch and relax at the tables under the shady trees or partake in the Aussie tradition of a sausage sizzle. At 12pm Steve fires up the barbecue. A sausage in bread costs $2.50 and all proceeds contribute to the welfare of the animals.
The zoo is opened six days a week and is closed on Tuesdays, except during the Queensland state school holidays when the zoo is open daily.