Thursday, August 14, 2014

World Cup 2015: A guide to Australian Fauna

"How do you deal with all of the [insert name of deadly animal]?!", "How often do you see [said horrible animal]?", "Have you ever been killed by [unthinkable monster of a creature]?!"

All questions that I was asked multiple times while in Europe this year. And all very relevant questions given the upcoming World Cup races in Tassie, and Australia's reputation as a country where every animal is out to kill you. In fact, there's rumours that some national teams are hesitant in attending due to how teeming with snakes and spiders this country apparently is.

So it's time to set things straight; you're going to be fine. Trust someone from a country where a wild animal is more likely stop, apologise, and drive you to hospital than it is to intentionally kill you. I had all the same fears when I moved here. Yet I've been in Aussie 3.5 years, have a hobby of injuring myself in peculiar ways, spend half my time out running in spider/snake territory, and (checks...yep), still appear to be alive!

So here's a brief guide to Australian Fauna. There's not too much to worry about really*. Let's start off with some easy ones:

1. Sharks:

Don't go too far West. Easy.

The Crocs have it covered anyway. Don't worry.

2. Crocs:

Don't go too far North. Easy.

And the snakes have that one covered.

Which brings us to the issue of...

3. Snakes:

Pretty much every foreigner's biggest fear. But actually, for the first 2.5 years of living here I had no 1st hand proof that snakes actually existed in Australia.

Then I saw 3 snakes in 3 days.

But I haven't seen any since, including a week training camp in Tassie, in January. If you're not looking for them, chances are you won't see them. In most cases, a snake will feel you coming and get out of the area quick smart. In most other cases, it will quickly realise your presence when you nearly stand on it (and you'll quickly realise it's presence too). Both of you will get out of the area quick smart.
On the odd occasion the snake doesn't move. Stop. Back up. Go another way.
If the snake gets stuck to your metal spikes. Abandon shoe.

courtesy XKCD

But seriously, everyone here trains through snake season. Aus Champs is even held at a time when snakes are at their crankiest. They're nothing much to worry about. Chances are some of you will see a snake. Odds are most of you won't.

And keep in mind that there is an Orienteering Australia Rule that states anyone caught placing a fake snake near controls will be given a life ban from orienteering. So if you do see a snake. It's real. :)

Spider to the rescue!

4. Spiders:

(Very) general rule: The bigger the spider, the less harmful. Worry about the ones that you can't see ;)

I had the unpleasant experience of moving to Canberra just at the end of their first wet summer in a while: just when thousands of very large spiders hatched and began to form webs between every available tree. Nice. I lasted 30s into my first training before I received a 'spider web facial'. I turned around to see with great relief that the resident was still in what remained of his web. Phew! Until Bun kindly noted post training that these big spiders often live 2 to a web...
But I'm yet to discover a spider on my person post-spider web facial. And it didn't take too long until I stopped stripping off my shirt and frantically shaking it out every time I trespassed through a web.

So yeah, don't worry about spiders. But talking of small nasty things...

5. Ants:

Australian ants are complete and absolute sadistic bastards. And there are gazillions of them. 60/60/24/7 attention is required to avoid them, especially on Orienteering trips. Make full sure that you don't pause to read your map while standing on an ants nest, and NEVER sit down to put your shoes on when within ~15m of a nest.

Even the harmless looking sugar ant has a bite that hurts like a bitch, and it only gets worse as the size of the ant increases! What's more, Australia is home to a flying ant. A fact which I was brutally made aware of one training. They're like little precision bombers too, this particular one somehow seeking out the inside of my eyelid. You may see it coming, but there's little you can do to prevent it.
However, ants do have one saving grace: If you think you've been bitten by a spider and are going to was probably just an ant. Relax.

So that's the worst of them, but there's still a few more to be aware of...

6. Kangaroos

Skippy is fine 99.9% of the time, he's a bit clumsy, but just remember his name, exchange greetings and you're good to run by. The biggest danger is hitting him with your car while driving in the early morning/evening. This is not a good idea for the well being of your car. (Ask Craney...).

An even worse idea is running into a kangaroo, or having one run into you. The former won't happen if you're looking. The latter will only happen if the kangaroo isn't looking. From personal experience, if both happen at once...flatten yourself and hope like hell the 'roo jumps! (cos they're not good at side stepping, only side skidding).

Actual incident caught on camera.

If you do happen to hit a Roo with your car, it may interest you to know that Kangaroo is very tasty, low in fat and high in iron. And is available at the ultimately cheaper option than hunting with your car.

7. Echidnas

Are spikey. Don't step on them. Or hug them.

8. Koalas

Are too doped up to notice that you flew across the world to see them. Don't take it personally.

9. Wombats

Are simply the most amazing creature to have ever walked this Earth. If you see one, rather than run away, you should stop, shake it's paw and congratulate it on being just so damn awesome. Why?

- A Wombat is pretty much built like a brick s*&# house.
- It rids itself of predators by crushing them against the roof of it's burrow with it's butt.
- Despite being so solid and indestructible, it can run up to 30 km/hr.
- It's poos are perfectly cubic!
- And it produces hundreds of them a day to mark out its territory.
- It's pouch faces backwards to avoid it flinging dirt into it's child's face.

Genuine Tasmanian Wombat poop.
 Perhaps if you're lucky you'll see some too!

And best of all:
- Wombats won't kill you! (unless you crawl into its burrow). If one chases you, just climb a tree until it gets bored :)


10. Cockatoos

Won't harm you. But may beat you at orienteering.

Bit of orienteering based cockatoo humour there.

So in conclusion:

Ants are bastards. Everything else is a fluffy kitten. What you should be worried about is the Sun. Stock up on SPF30+ before you even step out of the airport! But don't worry, it shouldn't be as hot as Hawkes Bay 2013!

*All based on the author's personal experience. The author claims no responsibility if you actually do fall victim to one of Australia's terrifying animals.


  1. This is absurd. Everyone knows that Australia has 11 of the 10 most dangerous snakes in the world and they all like to eat humans AND you forgot to talk about drop bears.