Taronga Western Plains Zoo is located in Dubbo and features a beautiful range of animals, including many native to Africa. You might wonder whether the climate in Dubbo is the same to that in Africa, and we certainly wondered that when we visited the zoo on a cold July day. It turns out that the climate at the zoo is similar to where the animals would usually live, except our winters are a little longer. To make the animals as comfortable as possible during the cooler months, the zoo has heaters installed in the enclosures to keep the animals warm. How lovely!
Opened in 1977, Taronga Western Plains Zoo was the first open plain zoo in Australia and started out with only 35 animals. Over the years, the zoo has expanded to house over 1000 animals and is renowned for its breeding programs and conservation efforts. In fact, Taronga is not only a fantastic tourist attraction but a non-profit organisation!
The Taronga Western Plains Zoo covers three square kilometres of land and the 6km loop that weaves throughout the zoo can be explored on foot or in your car, but you can also hire bikes or electric carts. It’s a unique setup – the fenceless enclosures and open plains make it seem more natural.
There are approximately 800 animals living at Taronga Western Plains Zoo. There’s a strong focus on African animals, especially in breeding and conserving them, especially endangered ones. There are various talks and feedings throughout the day, and they’re a great opportunity to learn about these beautiful animals.
One of our favourite animals at the zoo were the hippopotamuses, especially the mother-daughter team. The little calf was so cute following her mum around. We also enjoyed the playful meerkats, friendly camels, jousting Barbary sheep, majestic elephants and fearsome tigers. On an exclusive tour of the zoo, we also got to meet the fastest animal on the planet, the cheetah. They can go from 0-100km in three seconds and the fastest speed recorded is 117km. The cheetahs at Taronga were very playful and curious, but perhaps a little too big and wild to take home.
We learnt a lot about rhinos at Taronga. Rhinos are poached for their horns, because it’s believed that the horns have medicinal properties. If only the poachers knew that scientific tests show that there are no health benefits within the horns. The main component of the horn is the keratin, which is the same stuff that our hair and nails are made of. Unfortunately, a few species of rhino have already been made extinct, including the western black rhino in 2011.
Another interesting fact about rhinos is how they use their poo. Rhinos create dung piles, or middens, not to be clean and tidy but to send messages. The smell of their own poop can communicate age, sex, whether they’re ready to have babies or if they already have a bun in the oven, and it can also mark territory. Visiting rhinos will sniff and shuffle through the poo before adding their own message to the pile. Pee-yew!
The zoo has both black rhinos and white rhinos – black rhinos are solitary animals with a pointier mouth, while white rhinos are bigger, enjoy social interaction and have square lips. They even have a gorgeous black rhino calf on display. Dafari is his name and he was born in April 2015.
While Taronga has only three black rhinos on display, altogether there are nine onsite for breeding purposes. Taronga Zoo is set up to breed for several generations and any rhinos that arrive at the zoo are conditioned and trained so that animals don’t get spooked by the guests and various noises of the zoo.
The bongo is one of the largest species of antelope and has been categorised as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They’re auburn or chestnut brown in colour, and when they get wet, the oily pigment of their coat seems to run. When they were hunted for their meat, if the hunter found that they were covered in this oily residue, they believed they’d get leprosy. While this isn’t true, it’s not exactly advertised because bongos are near threatened and if this myth keeps them alive, then so be it.
Did you know that you can stay at Taronga Western Plains Zoo? There is a great selection of accommodation options, from camping, cabins and luxury safari lodges that overlook the savannah.
The Billabong Camp is great for large groups and school excursions. The bush camping experience includes a night in a canvas tent, meals and refreshments, admission to the Zoo for two days and a range of animal encounters and tours.
Zoofari Lodges started in 1995 and consist of 15 luxury tented lodges. The Animal View lodges look out over the African Savannah and have an African-inspired décor. Each lodge has an ensuite and mini bar facilities and exclusive tours of the zoo are included in the experience. Guests also have access to a main house that features an African style restaurant, full bar with local and African wine, as well as a lounge and TV room.
The Savannah Cabins are perfect for families. All fifteen self-contained cabins can sleep up to 6 people and have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, air conditioning, a full kitchen, BBQs on the deck, free WiFi and Foxtel.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo is open from 9am to 4pm daily and entry includes two consecutive days to explore the zoo. The Zoo Shop stocks some great souvenirs, from plush toys to stylish knick knacks for the home. While you can bring in your own picnic lunch or BBQ gear, you can buy food at Bakhita’s Café at the Savannah Visitor Plaza and the Midway Kiosk (only on weekends).
If you would like a closer encounter with the animals, why not book yourself in for a tour. Go for a guided morning walk behind the scenes or get a photo of yourself feeding the giraffes. Bookings are essential.
Visit the zoo at Obley Rd in Dubbo, a five hour drive from Sydney. Flights from Sydney to Dubbo are available through Qantas and Rex. For more information about the zoo, please call 02 6881 1400 or visit their website.
You can also support their conservation efforts by making a donation at this website.