Australasia is thick with wildlife, some of it the weirdest and most fantastical on the planet. Australia is rivalled only by Madagascar in its reputation for unique and curious life: a staggering 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals and 45% of birds are found nowhere else. The sixth-largest country on earth, it also covers a vast array of landscapes, from the arid, rocky terrain of the Outback to the infinite colours of the Great Barrier Reef (the world’s biggest coral reef, and visible from space).
Some of Australia’s animals seem fused from nature’s odds and ends – how else can you explain the platypus, the kangaroo, the wombat, the dugong and the emu? You’ll find some of these in Mike Unwin’s intriguing book, 100 Bizarre Animals.
Hilary Bradt first visited Australia in 1995, longing to try out the continent’s long-distance railways and to visit various friends who had settled over there. One of these was Stella Martin, who worked for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and was fanatical about wildlife. She took Hilary to meet her colleagues at work; Hilary recalls: ‘My abiding memory was of them greeting each other and then hanging up their fruit bat on an overhead rail – the rehabilitation of injured fruit bats was a key part of their job’.
Hilary returned to England not only with her obligatory ‘hugging a koala’ photo but a determination that we should do a guide to Australia’s fabulous birds and animals, and the knowledge that Stella was the person to write it. It took a while to come to fruition, but Stella’s superb Australian Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide was well worth the wait.
New Zealand broke away from the ancient supercontinent of the southern hemisphere while the evolution of mammals was still in its infancy, and only three land mammals made it there – all species of bat. As such, New Zealand became a land of birds. The arrival of humans caused significant damage – from the introduction of the rat, brought by Polynesian settlers 750 years ago, to the destruction of forests by Europeans in the 19th century – but there are now huge, ongoing efforts in New Zealand to preserve remaining habitats and to reclaim those that have been lost.