I have one rule when it comes to my animal bucket list (yes, I have one of those) – wild sightings only. Many of the animals on my list I have, in fact, already seen, albeit in zoos or wildlife parks where they were behind fences in areas they are not native to. It’s an extensive list that will take years and continents and a lot of luck to complete, if it’s ever completed at all. Australia has developed a unique set of fauna due to its isolation from the rest of the world. The majority of animal species on this ginormous island are endemic, meaning they cannot be found naturally in the wild anywhere else (introduced populations aside). As such, once you leave the Land Down Under, you aren’t likely to ever see these creatures in the wild again. Because of this, I made it my mission to find these amazing animals while I had the chance.
Top of the list is one of the weirdest animals you’ll ever see. It’s part-duck, part-beaver, part-otter, lays eggs and is venomous. Usually nocturnal, they can be hard to find, but have been spotted during the day when it’s overcast. I think my fascination with these creatures began when I was 5 years old and my sister nicknamed our newborn baby brother ‘the milk-filled splatty-pus’. Siblings, right?
Spotted in: Eungella National Park, Queensland.
2. Tasmanian Devil
I grew up watching Taz from the Looney Tunes cartoons eat, stomp and destroy everything around him. Although I was disappointed when I later discovered that real Tasmanian Devils don’t have tornadoes for legs, they still intrigued me. These animals, now found only in Tasmania, may look like giant mice-dogs, but they have an exceptionally strong jaw, allowing them to bite through flesh, bones and even thick metal wires.
Spotted in: Due to a job offer in Malawi, I left Australia before I had the chance to visit Tasmania, so Taz has still eluded me. Just one more reason to return someday.
The iconic Australian animal, matched in fame only by the cuddly koala. Four main species live today. Described by early explorers as having the head of a deer, with no antlers, standing upright like humans, and hopping like frogs, they are a little more familiar to us today than to Europeans 250 years ago.
Spotted in: I saw my first kangaroos grazing in a field near Port Macquarie, on the New South Wales coast.
The kangaroo’s smaller cousin, it is often quite difficult to tell them apart.
Spotted in: I managed to find two different types of wallaby on my travels – a lone swamp wallaby near the Cape Byron Lighthouse, NSW, and then during an amazing week in the Blue Mountains near Sydney when I got the chance to monitor Brush-Tailed Rock Wallabies with the NSW Parks and Wildlife Services.
Often called ‘the happiest animal on earth’, the Quokka is a friendly creature with little fear of humans. Looking a lot like a mini kangaroo, it’s been involved in many a selfie with tourists. Found only on islands and a small part of the Western Australian coast, the quokka should be easy enough to find.
Spotted in: Rottnest Island, where I found about 35 of them. They attempted to drink my coke, rummage through my bag and steal Themba, my stuffed travel companion.
Koalas are easy to find if you want to pay into a wildlife park, then pay even more for the chance to cuddle one. Not really my cup of tea, I’d much rather see a wild one sitting in a tree than a tame one in a tourist’s arms. There is, however, a fantastic Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, that does amazing work rescuing, caring for and releasing injured koalas.
Spotted in: Meandarra, Queensland. I was working in this tiny rural town and one of the locals knew I was hoping to see one, so when he found one chilling on his property, he came right over and got me. Even better was a few months later when I spotted some with babies on Magnetic Island, Queensland.
I’ve seen a dead one if that counts? Nope, not for me either. Aside from one unfortunate encounter with the wheels of a car on my way to Charleville, I have yet to find these strange porcupine-like animals. They really are the most fascinating creatures with their thin, pointed noses.
Spotted in: another species I unfortunately couldn’t find, though not for lack of trying. That’s wildlife for you.
The second-tallest bird in the world after the ostrich, the emu can be pretty terrifying. Curious creatures, they sometimes approach humans in the wild and have been known to poke other animals and run away to see what reaction they get. I give you the dickhead of the animal world, everybody.
Shy birds that live in deep forests, these creatures look like they’re straight out of Jurassic Park. I didn’t even know what a cassowary was until I saw one at a wildlife park in Queensland. Another animal on this list that’s not technically endemic to Australia, as they’re also found on New Guinea.
Spotted in: saw two of these amazing creatures on separate occasions. The first was a quick drive-by approaching Mission Beach I could hardly believe, the second was a juvenile a few days later at Mount Hypipamee National Park, Queensland.
Another quintessential Aussie animal, dingoes really do look like dogs crossed with wolves, while their reddish coat gives them a foxy look. Many tourists see them and think the poor creatures are starving, but this is just how they look, so please don’t feed them! This only leads to wildlife-human conflict and higher levels of interaction and aggression.
Spotted in: Fraser Island, Queensland.
Of course, this list doesn’t take into account all the reptiles, spiders, snakes, etc. that are so famous in Australia. These are all the cute and furry iconic species. Thankfully, I didn’t have too much interaction with the others!
Some of the other cool animals you can see in Australia that are found around the world are the Dugong (spotted in: Shark Bay, Western Australia), Whale Shark, Sea Turtle (spotted in: the Great Barrier Reef) and Little Penguin.
Are there any weird and wonderful animals on your bucket list?
Pin this post for later so you can find these animals for yourself!
Welcome to This Wild Life of Mine (previously known as Life of Dearbh)
When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.