In the outback of Australia, you’ll likely come across a fair few reptiles and animals in the wild. Despite what the locals tell you (that everything in Australia is trying to kill you) not all of them are as scary as you think.
If you’d like to learn about these creatures, the best place to go is the Alice Springs Reptile Centre, the largest centre of its kind in Central Australia. Entry costs $18 per person (or $15 if you’re staying at a local hostel), and is valid for the whole day. While there, you can explore the different exhibits, but we recommend timing your trip with the animal presentation, hosted by their staff three times a day.
Reyne led our talk just after midday, in the Reptile Centre’s ‘Gecko Cave’. The walls around the room had small glass windows, each with a different gecko living behind it. In the centre of the rooms were two rows of seats, so we all grabbed one and sat patiently while Reyne brought in a variety of different sized boxes.
Everyone’s eyes widened as Reyne brought in a heavy, medieval style wooden box, with a huge padlock on it, and a large sticker: ‘BARRY’. Whatever they kept inside, they certainly didn’t want to escape.
The first of the creatures Reyne showed us, was a bearded dragon. She explained that he preferred to be as high as possible, and would climb up your arm, shoulder, or even onto your head, to get more sunlight.
Then we met the blue-tongued skink. As its name suggests, this lizard’s tongue is bright blue, to fool predators into thinking it is poisonous (which it’s not). Skinks are closer to snakes, with small legs and smooth scaly skin, and will lick almost anything you put in front of its face. A few people tested this as the skink was passed around, getting him to lick their hand or nose. Matt ticked a ‘skink french kiss’ off his bucket list — sorry, not photos of that one!
The first two reptiles were put back in their boxes, and everyone held their breath as Reyne unlocked Barry’s box and pulled out a 3m olive python. His skin was a beige-brown but reflected iridescent under a light-bulb, and he was a lot heavier than he looked. Olive pythons are non-venomous and harmless to humans, and their actually pretty smart. Reyne explained that they have thermal sensors, and will wrap themselves around the warmest part of you, usually neck, armpit or thigh. They do this to absorb some of your body heat, as they are ectothermic and cannot control their own body temperature internally.
As scary as it sounds, Barry was actually very lovely.
Reyne then went on to lead a snake talk, which was my favourite part of the afternoon. When travelling in the outback, snakes were always on the back of my mind, and this was put to ease as we learned more and more about them.
It turns out, snakes are just as scared of us as we are of them, and will only bite as a last resort if feeling threatened. If you do come within close proximity of a snake, remain perfectly still, it’s most likely they will turn around and move away. Believe it or not, more people die from horses than snake bites in Australia. Certainly not what I was expecting!
Reyne informed us that when in the outback, wear closed-toe shoes and long loose pants (jeans, not leggings) to protect from potential snake bites. If a bite comes in contact with your skin, again, remain perfectly still, apply pressure or use a tensor bandage and find the nearest medical centre. Do not bring the snake with you to the hospital!!
We were then left to explore the rest of the exhibits, including Terry, a 3m saltwater crocodile, who had his own swimming pool area out the back. Unfortunately, we missed his feeding time, but we got to see some of the smaller lizards and goannas getting fed and watered before we left.
We highly recommend visiting the Alice Springs Reptile Centre, to anyone travelling through Alice Springs. If nothing else, you’ll learn that snakes aren’t as scary or dangerous as they’re made out to be, and the staff can share their knowledge of life-saving first aid, in the unlikely event of a bite. Reyne, thank you for an amazing day!
PS: Half these photos were taken by our friend Alex — check out more of her amazing outback photos here.