The more time spent in the great outdoors, the higher the chances of coming into contact with some of our unusual Australian animals. Sighting a native animal can be a majestic experience and is often one of the highlights of a day in the bush. Some look cute and cuddly, others send shivers down your spine; all of them should be appreciated at a reasonable distance. Be especially careful if you're travelling with pets or small children.
It's not unusual for a roo to be grazing nearby while you're brewing up a morning coffee, and they can be content to go about their business as you go about yours. By all means, grab the camera and capture the moment, but be careful not to get too close. Chances are it'll spook and hop away, but the friendly-looking marsupial can be a dangerous proposition when threatened. In fact, the same goes for any number of local land dwellers.
What to do if a roo becomes aggressive:
- Keep it at a distance, try to stay behind a tree or fence
- By giving a short deep cough you will indicate to males that you're not a threatened
- –Avoid eye contact
- –Back away slowly but do not turn your back
There is such thing as a domesticated dingo, but remember those you see in the wild are just that, wild. Be particularly watchful of kids around dingos, who may not realise how dangerous they can be. Never feed wild dingos and don't run in their vicinity as it can illicit an aggressive reaction. Though they do tend to avoid interaction with humans, a starving and desperate dingo can be emboldened, don't mistake this confidence for domesticity.
Goannas come in plenty of shapes and sizes and can be a remarkable site if you've never spotted one before. But it won't be long until you've seen your fair share, as they can be pests around camp grounds. It's not often that a goanna attacks a human out of the blue, but if there's food involved they can be quite boisterous. Given that some species can grow up to two metres long and some produce venom that prevents wounds healing, it's best to keep a good distance and make sure you don't leave scraps lying around camp.
These curious critters are a mixed bag of eccentricities. Though they're unlikely to attack humans, many will creep into open caravans in search of snacks. Possums can carry a number of infectious bacteria and have sharp claws, as do koalas. An innocent-looking wombat can charge at as much as 40 kilometres and hour, and is armed with both claws and a hefty set of chompers. Echidna are fairly self explanatory and it's extremely unlikely that you'll spot a platypus in the wild.
The only animal in Australia likely to hunt you with a view to kill you is the saltwater or estuarine crocodile. They can grow to five metres and are skilled trackers and cunning hunters.
Estuarine crocodiles are found along Australia’s northern coast, and along streams and rivers as far as waterfalls and similar obstructions that stop their inland travels. Since becoming a protected species in 1974, numbers have greatly increased, and they're repopulating in areas which were once their domain. Sightings around major towns and cities have increased greatly, including large centres like Cairns.
If you're camping in crocodile country, avoid any potentially crocodile-infested waters. Camp further than 50 metres of any body of water connected to the sea and avoid returning to the same spot on or along a stream or beach at regular intervals.
Never approach or tease a crocodile and avoiding boarding small and unstable boats.
The smaller Johnstone or freshwater crocodile grows up to three metres and is not considered dangerous. They live in freshwater streams and billabongs in the tropics of WA, NT and Queensland and can co-exist with saltwater crocs in estuarine waters. If cornered or handled they may bite but will not freely attack you.
Most snakes are not dangerous to people, but there are some exceptions. Usually snakes prefer to avoid human contact but they will strike out in defence if they can see no escape. Most snakes are scared of humans, so the trick if you’re walking through undergrowth is to make a lot of noise, and move slowly to allow snakes to escape. It is also a good idea to do a remote area first aid course, where modern snakebite treatments are taught. Wear boots and long pants when you're in bushy areas and be sure to keep doors and tent flaps closed.
Spiders are common throughout Australia, but bites are not. The redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti) is commonly found under rocks and logs in drier bushland. The rarely seen trapdoor spider certainly can inflict a very painful bite that may be toxic. They are ground dwellers, so avoid bare feet when outdoors, especially at night. A large huntsman spider may bite when provoked, but an ice pack is usually all the treatment that is required. Other spiders are generally too small to be of any consequence to humans.