This Australian wildlife sanctuary will leave you in awe

Want to see the wild side of Australia’s Great Ocean Road? Take an immersive walk through a wildlife sanctuary that gives endangered species a chance to survive.

From watching sea turtles lay their eggs on a beach in Borneo to seeing troops of chimpanzees in the forests of Uganda, wildlife tours is trending when travelers jump at the chance to get closer to nature.

Now travelers travel through Australia on Intrepid’s new Great Ocean Road and Grampians Adventure will see some of the world’s most unique animal species on a magical walk through a bush reserve supporting conservation projects that are making a real difference to biodiversity.

Go where the wild things are

Located on the Victoria coast, where the forest meets the sea, Wildlife Wonders is a social enterprise founded by Lizzie Corke, a conservationist who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her work in conservation and the environment.

You may already know about the Great Ocean Road’s monolithic sea stacks, but this nearby bushland reserve is home to its own wonders. Protected by over a kilometer of hidden fencing (designed to keep predators out), this safe haven provides a habitat for many of Australia’s most beloved species. It also supports the work of the non-profit Conservation Ecology Center, which provides much-needed funding for conservation research.

Delaney Martin, a nature guide from Wildlife Wonders, has always had an interest in “everything furry, scaly and feathered”. Her passion for the natural world led her to pursue a career in environmental research, earning a degree in zoology and animal science. But it was a bushwalk with a friend that set her on a new path. As she shared her knowledge of animal behavior and habitats, Delaney could see how engaged her friend was.

“At one point we were both on the ground huddled over some excavations in the dirt and I started matching its distinctive shape with some Oscar-worthy echidna digging,” she recalls.

Now she welcomes visitors to the sanctuary, which is home to many native animal species, including koalas, wallabies, emus and kangaroos. While guests are usually keen to catch a glimpse of a koala, there’s also a chance to see lesser-known species such as Tasmanian pademelons, eastern bettongs, southern brown bandicoots and long-nosed potoroos.

But it’s not just about furry animals with adorable faces. Delaney explains that these landscapes are home to some of the oldest trees in the Otways, as well as the world’s tallest flowering plant, the Mountain Ash. There’s even a snail with cannibalistic tendencies that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

“The Otway Black Snail is a carnivorous invertebrate species endemic to this environment and found nowhere else on earth,” says Delaney.

Managing threats, championing biodiversity

As if seeing some of the world’s most unique animals isn’t cool enough, your visit also funds an important cause. When you visit Wildlife Wonders, grab a bite to eat in the on-site café or purchase a souvenir from the gift shop, you are supporting conservation work that is vital to the survival of Australia’s threatened species and environments.

From plant-killing pathogens to destructive invasive species such as feral cats, foxes and pigs, this fragile ecosystem faces many threats. Like most other natural areas in Australia, bushfires are also a danger (in late 2015, fires raged throughout the region for six days, burning over 2000 hectares of forest).

Yes, that sounds like a lot of bad news for the local wildlife and the forests and moors they call home. But there is also some good news. Just look at the vital work conservation scientists are doing at the Conservation Ecology Centre. By learning more about the relationships that endangered species have with their environment, we can better support ecosystem resilience.

One such species is the Tiger quoll. The elusive spotted (not striped as the name suggests) thought to be extinct in the area was rediscovered by the Conservation Ecology Center team in 2012. Now visitors to Wildlife Wonders can relax knowing the species has a bunch of smart people on its side , struggling to support its future.

“All conservation projects support ecosystem health and connectivity. I love that all of this leads to the conservation of such an important flagship species,” says Delaney.

The continuing influence of ecotourism

“Ecotourism can play a key role in connecting people with nature – which is the first critical step in conservation. Spending time in nature and learning about it can help people understand how to make sustainable choices in life and work,” says she.

When you’re traveling, the familiar landmarks and grand attractions often don’t live up to the hype. Instead, it’s the remote locations and unexpected moments that end up blowing you away. Wildlife Wonders is one of those places. But their influence goes far beyond people going home with cool stories and pictures.

“Sustainable tourism also supports the local economy and creates jobs and opportunities for local producers, artists and artisans to showcase their work and produce to people from around the world,” says Delaney.

Delaney works for a non-profit carrying out meaningful conservation research projects in one of Australia’s most scenic, biodiverse corners, and has what many people would consider a dream job. So what is the most rewarding part of her role? Seeing the priceless look on visitors’ faces is up there.

“Watching their reactions as we slowly wind our way through the sanctuary; from the excited gasps and smiles when we spot a koala, long-nosed potoro or pademelon, to the head shakes of awe when we learn about different plants, animals and fungi unique feature, or even the jaw-dropping views from the sea beware.”

Does koala spotting with a side serving of ocean views sound good to you? add Great Ocean Road and Grampians Adventure to your travel wish list.

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