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A Real 'Wild' Birthday

It's not everyday that someone says that they've had breakfast with a koala, and I am one of the fortunate ones.

Being a study abroad student from America, I wanted to make my 21st birthday really count. Especially since I could not celebrate with my family. After hours of scrolling the internet, looking through page after page of things to do or places to go, I finally found it. The ultimate Aussie experience: having breakfast with koalas. While the cost of it set me back about $50, the entire experience was worth every dollar and then some!

The breakfast was held at the Sydney Wildlife Zoo down on Darling Harbor. It was an early and misty morning for me and my three friends as we walked down the near empty pier. The doors opened a little after 7:30 A.M and we were all rounded up inside. A total of 15 people attended the breakfast that morning. Gathering us together, the guides explained that breakfast would be served at 9:00 A.M. on the rooftop terrace, and until then we would be given a private tour of the zoo (before it was open to the public).

Our tour guide's name was Keely and she took us through each of the enclosures. Since there were so few of us, it was easy to see everything. The coolest part was that they were getting ready for the day, which meant that all of the animals were eating their own breakfast. Trust me when I say that you haven't seen anything until you've seen a bearded lizard chomp down on flies that were being hand fed! One of the most memorable moments of the tour was when we were taken into the area where they had several grey kangaroos. There were three adult females and two younger ones who were on the cusp of adult hood. The younger ones were named Doris and Dot. They were rescued and grew up together, and they were the sweetest girls! The two of them bounded up to us when we entered the area and settled right up against Keely, who told us that she was one of the caretakers for them when they were first rescued. Then came the best part: WE GOT TO PET THEM!! If you haven't pet a kangaroo before then you need to know that they are very soft. Since these two grew up around people they were very friendly and gentle. It was an unexpected moment that made the morning even better than it already was.

The tour continued on through the rest of the zoo, going through the reptile enclosures, stopping in on the giant saltwater crocodile that was napping on a heated stone. With it finally ending on the terrace for breakfast, or as I prefer to call it: Koala Heaven. There were koalas everywhere on all sides! Some were still asleep, while others were eating a nice breakfast of eucalyptus leaves. My friends and I quickly got into the food line and piled our plated full of eggs, bacon and fresh-cut fruit. After finishing, we were able to get up close and personal with the koalas. The staff member who was taking our photos told us that there were two babies in the area and pointed them out to us. One was still sleeping, with its mother using it as a pillow. While the other was wide awake, clinging to its mother's back as she was climbing further up the tree. It is such an incredible thing to be able to see a mother and baby, up close and personal. In that moment, I felt so connected and comfortable with the animals. I just wanted to stay in that moment forever.

After taking our photos, we were told that we could stay in the park as long as we liked and that the park was ours for another 20 minutes before opening for the day. The four of us then went back through the zoo, stopping and taking our time to watch the animals get fed and go through their morning routines. It wasn't until we came to one enclosure that I stopped dead in my tracks and ran over to the glass. There, waddling around the rocks was the cutest animal that I had ever seen in my entire life. His name was Ringo, he was a wombat, and it was love at first sight. I am not exaggerating when I say that I literally sat down on the floor and watched him alternate between eating and sleeping for the remaining 15 minutes that we had to ourselves. I can't explain why but I felt a connection to Ringo, and the entire time I sat watching him I never stopped smiling. A keeper, who I guess noticed my enjoyment of Ringo, stopped by and told us: "You know, there's a meet and greet with him around 10:15. You get to take a picture with him and give him a pet."

I felt like fireworks were exploding in my chest! I would get to pet him?! I didn't even know what to say, but somehow I managed to squeak out a "thank you" to the keeper. After they left I proceeded to quietly freak out, jumping up and down in excitement. My friends were also excited at the prospect of meeting such an adorable animal. But more so were thoroughly amused at my reaction to the news. We stayed around Ringo's area until the time reached 10:15. It was then his keeper came out and stood at the front of the enclosure, introducing the animals that Ringo shared his space with and telling the crowd some interesting facts about wombats (FACT: Did you know wombats are the closest living relative of the koala??). After this was over, she then explained that if anyone wanted to meet Ringo to stay back and follow her; obviously I was at the front of the line. His keeper took us over to the front of the park, where the camouflaged door to his pen was.

Since we were a group of four, they had us wait until the smaller kids that were lined up had their turn. When we were finally up, my heart was

racing about a mile a second. I was so excited! Before I knew it, there he was in all of his chubby little glory. He was corralled in a small area, happily chewing on some carrots. When it was my turn, I stepped onto the stool in front of the wall and leaned over, reaching my hand onto his back. Ringo was not as soft as I imagined him to be, but that didn't stop me from loving him any less. He was sturdy, with a hard tail bone on his backside which I was told protected him from predators. All too soon the moment was over and I had to say goodbye to little Ringo.

As we exited Sydney Wildlife, I reflected on what a great day it was. How in the span of a few hours I had experienced several once in a lifetime experiences, and how grateful I was to be able to say that I have done what I was able to do that morning. I left the gift shop with a picture of my koala friend, my very own small Ringo, and a full heart. This is surely a birthday that I will never forget!

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