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Jamala: Protecting the future of the animal kingdom

Jessica Schumann

It’s 4.30am and all that can be heard is the deep roar of a white lion that travels across the banks of the Molongolo River and no doubt to the nearby suburbs of Canberra’s inner city. But unless you hear it for yourself, it’s almost hard to believe.

From your arrival to the minute you leave, Jamala Wildlife Lodge doesn’t pretend to be anything like an African safari. If anything, it is so much more.

A five-star educational experience focused on the conservation of endangered and rescued wildlife both here in our own backyard and further afield across the globe, Jamala is an eye-opener.

Checking in is like any other hotel – you arrive, visit Reception, leave your bags with the clerk and enjoy a spot of afternoon tea in the Ushuka Lodge with a few reptilian friends. Oh wait, that’s not a typical hotel experience.

And so the Jamala journey begins…

Adorned with authentic African artefacts, both hand selected by owners Richard and Maureen Tindale and each with its own unique story, Ushuka is a beautiful seven-room lodge featuring a magnificent shark tank extending from one side to the other, and three of the coolest Colobus monkeys watching your every move from the other side.

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It was also once the former residence of these passionate conservationists that now features a stunning lounge and dining area, pool and spa in lush tropical garden surrounds, and varying room sizes and designs where you can not only relax in style and comfort but also encounter some very unique roommates. Think cheetahs, hyenas, sharks and lemurs.

Following afternoon tea with the other (human) guests, it’s feeding time for the local residents of the zoo and so the first of the two private tours begin as part of our Jamala stay.

As we’re divided into two groups, it’s surprising to see such a large number of people gathered in the Ushuka lounge, and on a Tuesday afternoon as well. There are at least 30 people varying in age from children through to retirees but no-one seems at all phased by the mix.

Our zookeeper and guide, Tania, (who hails from South Africa herself), leads us through the aquarium — which still has a few vacancies as it awaits the arrival of new tenants including freshwater stingrays — and out to meet some very cheeky monkeys indeed.

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But don’t even think of giving a cheesy, toothy grin. The Black Capped Capuchin monkeys prefer you smile with your eyebrows, (weird but true)… As for the reason why, you’ll just have to discover this for yourself upon your visit to Jamala.

The afternoon feeding tour is about two hours and moves through the front enclosures of the zoo before arriving at the second accommodation area — the Giraffe Treehouses and Jungle Bungalows — where you are left to relax and unwind at your own leisure before dinner is served in the communal dining grotto of Ushuka Lodge. But don’t worry, if you’re staying in Ushuka, you’ll be transferred back to the lodge. 

If you’re lucky to stay in the Giraffe Treehouse, like we were, then you’re in for a very special treat. Hummer, is the latest addition to the zoo but while this majestic creature is still acclimatising to his new surrounds, he can be a little timid and shy. So it’s important to listen to the keepers to ensure both you and Hummer share that magical moment when you hand over his favourite treat — carrots — in a close encounter from the balcony of your room.

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Until you see these creatures up close, you really don’t realise just how tall they are.

Tucked away on the north side of the park and in an enclosure of its own, the Giraffe Treehouses are set amongst lush surroundings overlooking the Molongo River and where you can wander freely in the company of spritely deer and friendly llamas.

No matter where I stay, I always find that it’s the the small things that count, and here at Jamala it’s in abundance. From complimentary Wi-Fi in your room to fluffy white bathrobes and slippers to keep your toes warm in winter, it’s the extra attention to detail that truly adds to the Jamala stay. Oh and the complimentary in-suite bar helps too of course filled with local gourmet treats and wines. But take note room service is not available.

JamalaTreehouse

Even in these luxurious treehouses, we discover hidden touches from Richard and Maureen, including artwork from their own personal collections hanging on the walls to the innate and regal statues dotted throughout the room.

The room oozes African luxury. There’s a four-post dark wood queen bed complete with a canopy contrasted by stark white but oh-so-comfy sheets, and takes centre stage in the rather spacious room while the matching dresser and armoire add a depth of character. Scatter cushions decorate the leather armchairs tucked into a corner overlooking Hummer’s surrounds and the sounds of a waterfall run just under the window outside.

But it’s the close proximity of Hummer that is really the focal point of the room. As I pull out my laptop to check in on work and of course, update my Facebook status, it’s a little startling (and somewhat surreal) to see his face staring back at me when I lift my head to look through the balcony windows.

It’s definitely no African jungle, but it’s an experience that has you forgetting you’re staying in the political capital of Australia and allows you to escape from the humdrum of life even if only for 24 hours.

After pottering about our room and the zoo, (which all guests are free to do), we meander to the pick up point nearby to be shuttled across to Ushuka for dinner at 6pm.

In what used to be Richard’s former study (and where he began to build the zoo from the ground up including his idea for Jamala), the Rainforest Cave is now an intimate dining space set by the soft light of candles, faint sounds of African music, three long tables and laced with the anticipation of surprise guests – hyenas, white lions and sometimes even cheetahs.

The evening begins with pre-dinner drinks on the terrace overlooking the lions’ den before enjoying a three-course meal with the chef’s selection of local and African inspired dishes, but all of which have had input from Richard and Maureen’s travels abroad.

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From North African curried lentil soup with pepper and sumac foam to an alternate drop of African seasoned grain-fed eye fillet beef with parsnip puree and red wine jus and Dukkha crusted Blue-eye cod with lime and raisin infused couscous and asparagus, it’s the Cape Dutch inspired apricot and caramel baked pudding served with butterscotch sauce that tops it all off.

We’ve definitely been served our fill.

Throughout the course of the night, we’re graced with the appearance of Mischka and Jake, the white lion siblings, and a few hyenas that fancy a spot upon the rocks to sleep. But while their presence is well known during dinner, the wellbeing of the animals are paramount and takes priority over the entertainment of guests. And so not long into the second course, the lights are turned out in their dens.

For those who like a drop to drink with their meal then you’re safe to leave your wallet in your room – all drinks are complimentary be it a soft drink, juice, beer or one of the local wines on offer. And if you’re like me, dietary requirements are happily catered to as well.

As the evening winds down, guests are transferred back to their sleeping quarters via the shuttle. And although, you might be feeling game to navigate your way through the zoo in the dark, it does literally become a jungle and is not recommended by any of the keepers.

The following morning is an early start with breakfast served at 7am, again in the Rainforest Cave. But I’ve allowed myself enough time to indulge in a bubble bath while watching the deer and llamas graze outside the bathroom window as the sun begins to rise.

JamalaBathroom

Mr. B jumps into the shower that features an intricate mosaic giraffe on the wall and not only a standard shower head but a rain shower too. However, it’s not long before I have to convince him to get out or else we’ll miss breakfast (his favourite meal of the day).

A brisk morning outside, we opt to walk through the zoo to Ushuka and stop at the Capuchin monkeys along the way to see if we can make them smile… Success! But we feel like right royal idiots as we do, (once you visit, you’ll understand why…).

Breakfast is a low-key continental spread with a variety of pastries, croissants, toast, cereals and fresh season fruit with yoghurt. And for coffee lovers, freshly brewed coffee too! But it’s definitely plenty to fill our bellies and warm us up before the morning feeding tour begins.

And no it’s definitely not the same as the afternoon before.

Instead we head out past the regulars towards the newly opened part of the zoo, where not many have ventured and feeding emus, lemurs and elands takes place along the way. If you’ve not visited recently, then you might be surprised to learn that there are now three white rhinoceros, two snow leopards and a family of zebras including a five-month old foal taking up residence.

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All up the tour is around two hours, and will have you back at Ushuka ready for check out at 10.30am or back to your lodge for you to relax or wander about the park at your leisure.

What most struck me about Jamala is that I never once saw animals distressed or unkept despite what many may believe.

While many may think that keeping animals in captivity is inhumane, it’s important to understand that Jamala is not at all like this. Richard and Maureen pride themselves on their conversation programs and their involvement with a number of both national and international breeding programs.

These programs aim to provide a better quality of life for animals that might not otherwise survive if released back into the wild as a result of human cruelty. For example, sun bears rescued from people who keep them caged as dance entertainment. And all of which is explained throughout both the tours and your stay at Jamala.

The addition of Jamala Wildlife Lodge has been a major step to bolster the programs that are run by the zoo, and was never set up to be a profit making enterprise. Jamala only receives outside funding from the family with the aim that Jamala contribute funds that will allow the zoo to continue to grow its contributions to helping protect the future of the animal kingdom.

In what is a combination of opulent surroundings, incredible and unique animal encounters, and gourmet cuisine, a night at Jamala truly is a once in a lifetime experience that will open your eyes to how we can each play a part in protecting the future of our wildlife and help their survival.

The author and her guest stayed courtesy of Jamala Wildlife Lodge, but all opinions are the author’s own. 

The essentials

What: Jamala Wildlife Lodge
Where: Lady Denman Drive, Weston Creek
When: Sunday to Thursday
How much: Rates subject to availability and peak times
Web: www.jamalawildlifelodge.com.au

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Jessica Schumann

A 'rambling ranga' at heart, Jessica Schumann is a bubbly, creative social thinker who thrives on words, social media and an innate knack for sharing stories. When she finds the time to write, Jessica seeks out the beauty in change and the essence of human condition. Varied and diverse in nature, her writing delves into the enviable world of people, travel, food and culture. When you can't find her in a nook writing, just follow your nose and you’ll soon find Jessica indulging in her other passion – cooking – or curled up on the couch with a good book in hand. You can find her over at ramblingranga.com.au. More about the Author

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