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A Q&A with Expert Ed Kanze

By | April 5, 2014

Q: As a lifetime observer of wildlife in both the northern and southern hemispheres, what is the lesson you would most like Smithsonian travelers to take away from their great adventure in Australia? 

A: To be open to all experiences. When the birds or kangaroos aren't cooperating, enjoy the trees and the wildflowers. Biologically, the Australian region is like no other. 

Q: In your 25,000 mile odyssey, what landscape or ecosystem made the deepest impression on you? Did you encounter anything resembling the northern Adirondacks, perhaps in the fabled Fiordlands National Park in New Zealand? 

A: I loved it all. Tasmania (an island state of Australia) and parts of New Zealand's South Island remind me of the Adirondacks, although the winter weather is much less severe. The mountains and cool, dense forests and friendly small towns make me feel at home. But one would never mistake one for the other. In the wilds of "Tassie" and the South Island, tree ferns are rarely out of view. To our Northern Hemisphere eyes they're marvelously exotic. So are wild parrots. 

Q: Did you encounter the legendary cane toad during your travels in the region? Please share with us what makes them an exceptional and significant toad in Australia. 

A: The cane toad, introduced to Australia, is a menace to native wildlife. All the same, it's a beautiful animal, in an ugly sort of way, and many locals love it. See the film "Cane Toads: An Unnatural History." For laughs and information, it's a must! 

Q: The 1899 children's book, Dot and the Kangaroo, made into an animated movie in the late 1970s, the Crocodile Dundee films, and, of course, The Crocodile Hunter TV series, seem to capture in popular imagination the intersection of life and wildlife, and introduced species, in the outback. Can you comment? 

A: Australia is a country the size of the United States, minus Alaska, with a population similar to that of the New York City metropolitan area. The great majority of Australians live in or near a few major cities. That leaves the rest of the country with a marvelous mix of the civilized and the untamed. People are nearly everywhere, but thin on the ground. It's a heady mix. 

Q: In your native Adirondacks, there are numerous plants, berries, and animals, that might be considered an Adirondack version of Australian "bush tucker." Is this a fair comparison? 

A: Yes. When Australians talk about "the bush," they mean any wild place. We have plenty of wildness here. Tucker means food, and we've got that, too—blueberries, huckleberries, all sorts of wild game and freshwater fish. In fact, "Adirondack" is said to mean "bark eater." According to local lore, Indians that dared venture into these icebound mountains in winter were forced to live off the edible but not very appealing inner bark of trees. 


Ed Kanze

Ed Kanze’s love for Australia and New Zealand became a major part of his life after his first trip there in 1984. In 1996, he made a 25,000-mile journey around Australia’s mainland and Tasmania. Further adventures in both Australia and New Zealand have expanded Ed's wealth of knowledge and stories to share. Ed has published several books, served as a national park ranger, won a prestigious John Burroughs Award for one of his nature essays, and shared his love of nature, literature, and history at venues great and small.

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