Bart's ready to quit the monkey business

TAKE NOTE: An ostrich makes sure the spelling is correct as Pouakai Zoo owner Bart Hartley talks to a reporter yesterday about selling up after eight years.
TAKE NOTE: An ostrich makes sure the spelling is correct as Pouakai Zoo owner Bart Hartley talks to a reporter yesterday about selling up after eight years.

In the market for an idyllic piece of land with views of Mt Taranaki and a few lions and tigers thrown in?

You are in luck - the Pouakai Zoo near New Plymouth is up for sale for $780,000.

The zoo's owner for the past eight years, Bart Hartley, said he was looking at doing something different, but his time as a zookeeper had been awesome.

"Bringing the big cats to Taranaki was pretty cool," said Mr Hartley, who saw the zoo advertised for sale in the paper eight years ago and decided he wanted a change from dairy farming in rural Toko.

He said the transition from tending to sheep and dairy cattle to lions and tigers wasn't as big a leap as one would imagine.

"I don't view them very differently to a farm animal.

"Some have claws or small teeth - or big teeth - but that's really the only difference."

The opportunity to own a zoo was one that did not present itself too often, he said.

"There's the council-owned zoos but not many owned by individuals - there's probably only about four in the country.

"It's a pretty rare chance to own a lion."

But Mr Hartley was loyal to the more modest inhabitants of the zoo when asked if he would take any creatures with him if he had the chance.

"I'd probably take a couple of sheep and the pet goat, that's it."

For Mr Hartley, coming from a remote rural area, learning how to deal with the zoo's human visitors was more of a challenge than learning how to deal with the big cats.

"You grow in confidence with a place like this. You grow as a person.

"When I first came here I wouldn't go to town because of the lights and one-way streets.

"Now I'll go down to Mitre 10 and it's fine.

"Small things like that you take for granted."

He hoped an interested buyer would come along in the next two or three years because he hated the idea of having to shut the zoo down.

"We would have to find ways to disperse the animals.

"But that wouldn't be fair for the people of Taranaki or the animals themselves. We'll be here as long as it takes. At the end of the day we've got to look after them all."

He said the reality was that if no one took over the zoo many of the animals would have to be put down.

The animals had complex relationships and could not be rehoused willy-nilly, he said.

"With the monkeys for example, you can't just chuck them in with the Brooklands ones.

"There'd be a war, there'd be deaths.

"There's hopefully people out there with the opportunity to get into a park like this."

Rural and lifestyle property specialist at Taranaki Harcourts, Karl Hitchcock, met Fiona Carson and Bart Hartley about four months ago and agreed to act as agent for the zoo's sale. He joked that he had been waiting 20 years to sell a zoo and the chance had finally arrived.

"I'm quite excited about it. I thought, I'll sell a tiger and lions, that'll be good."

He said he expected potential buyers to be a mixed bag.

"It could suit a lifestyler or someone retired, but it could also suit someone who could take it to the next level."

He said Bart and fellow zookeeper Fiona Carson had done a fantastic job of getting the big cats to the zoo and there was a good foundation for someone to develop the complex.

He said it was likely the zoo would appeal to international buyers.

Pouakai Zoo has existed as some form of animal park since 1976.

Taranaki Daily News