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Set up a close encounter with a kangaroo

Kangaroos have bounded through travelers' imaginations for centuries. They're odd creatures, fascinating to anyone unaccustomed to living among marsupials. If you're making the journey to Australia, you can take home a photo of yourself or your family with one of these animals.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Kangaroos have bounded through travelers' imaginations for centuries. They're odd creatures, fascinating to anyone unaccustomed to living among marsupials. If you're making the journey to Australia, you can take home a photo of yourself or your family with one of these animals.

In the wild, kangaroos are shy creatures that bound away if human beings get too close. Koala bears don't move fast, but they can make themselves practically invisible by clinging motionlessly to the eucalyptus, or gum, trees where they like to spend their time. And emus - the large, flightless birds that roam the Australian wilderness too - are fleet of foot and elusive.

You can see plenty of animals if you know where and how to venture into the bush, as the Australian back country is known. But if your time is short and you're spending most of it in major cities, meet some exotic creatures face-to-face at the country's parks and zoos.

In Sydney, Australia's largest city, head to - where visitors can hand-feed a kangaroo, a wallaby (a close relative of the kangaroo) and an emu. The zoo also has a slow-moving native wombat, a dingo - an Australian wild dog - and a Tasmanian devil, a dog-like carnivore with a screeching voice.

Like many other parks, Featherdale features the ever-popular koala encounter, where visitors can have their photos taken with one of the shy marsupials.

Also in Sydney is . It's stocked, like zoos the world over, with African and Asian animals. But Taronga also has Australian favorites like kookaburras (common birds with a distinctive, laughing cry) and the unusual platypus, an egg-laying mammal with webbed feet and a duck-like bill. The zoo has a platypus breeding program.

Head west to the city of Adelaide, and meet some colossal pelicans at the venerable in the hills about half an hour's drive from the center of town. Cleland is a large, spread-out bush environment where kangaroos and wallabies hop around in grassy paddocks, browsing for food and edging away when visitors walk too closely among them. Some kangaroos will eat out of visitors' hands; the giant pelicans that roam Cleland's ponds stand their ground as tourists approach, opening and closing their massive beaks.

Northern Australia, hot and humid, offers a protected area of monsoon forest where birds, mammals and reptiles breed in dense vegetation. The park has wild birds like spangled drongoes and the small red-backed fairy-wren.

More information about koalas can be found at the an educational Web site dedicated to saving koalas and their habitat. The site debunks myths about koalas - such as the term "bear" (they're not) and offers plenty of background on their history, their diet, and their day-to-day life in the trees.

There are at an educational television program. There you can learn that an animal tall enough to look you in the eye comes into the world the size of a jellybean and then stays in its mother's pouch nine months to mature. The also has complete information on Australian animals at its site.