What it means to be a good zoo

Wellington Zoo will unveil its new development this week, Meet The Locals.
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Wellington Zoo will unveil its new development this week, Meet The Locals.

OPINION: This week, Wellington Zoo is opening our newest precinct, Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha.

Sharing our love story for Aotearoa New Zealand, this is Wellington Zoo's celebration of our animals, our people and our environment.

But Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha is symbolic of so much more.

The completion of this labour of love also celebrates Wellington Zoo's ten year Zoo Capital Programme (ZCP) redevelopment and is testament to the esteem in which our Wellington community holds us.

The past 10 years of investment has seen us transform - not just physically, but also experientially.

Over the years, the new physical space has allowed us to become a good zoo in so many other ways.

We've cared for our three customer groups - our animals, our staff and our visitors.

Animal welfare will always be our first priority, and alongside world class spaces to care for our animals, we have also created better working conditions for our staff, and fantastic innovative experiences for our visitors.

Good zoos help their visitors build connections with animals and help them understand the roles they can play to care for the environment we share.

We have brought our conservation work, our animal care, and our sustainability initiatives to the forefront – turning the zoo inside out to share all of the things that make Wellington Zoo a good zoo.

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This is most clearly evident in The Nest Te Kohanga, our animal hospital and centre for native wildlife, the biggest project of the ZCP.

This transformative approach to animal care leads the way for our zoo experience.

Our visitors can watch and ask questions as we care for injured native wildlife and our zoo animals.

The investment that Wellington City Council entrusted to us for the ZCP has reaped every reward.

Council pledged to provide 75 per cent of the $23m budget, and Wellington Zoo Trust raised a further $5.9m, which was vested back to the council.

Compared with developments at other zoos, we've shown exceedingly good value for money.

Auckland Zoo's New Zealand precinct, Te Wao Nui had a price tag of $16m and the Great Southern Oceans exhibit at Taronga Zoo cost AUD$43.6m.

With our comparatively thrifty budget, we've created a new, multi-award winning, good zoo.

The value of this investment has been repaid through the support of Wellingtonians who show their love and support for their zoo.

The Colmar Brunton's 2011 Regional Residents Survey on Regional Amenities 2011 showed that Wellington Zoo is viewed as one of the top three most beneficial amenities across the region, alongside Te Papa and Westpac Stadium.

We can show a clear return on the investment that Wellingtonians have given us, with now over 225,000 people visiting the Zoo every year – a 35 per cent increase in just 10 years – to enjoy the spaces and experiences we deliver.

As a non-profit charitable trust, we continue to invest in this support.

We now generate 59 per cent of our operating costs – proving that Wellington Zoo is an organisation that understands what it means to be financially sustainable.

We have increased our capacity to be a successful social enterprise doing good for the community and the environment.

We have also created new job opportunities to support the Wellington economy – growing our staff from 39fulltime equivalents (FTEs) to 63.

But everything comes back to the animals, and like all good zoos, we are a conservation agency working to save animals in the wild.

We are a member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia, and we participate in conservation breeding and recovery programmes for endangered species.

We join other good zoos in making the third largest contribution to directly support wild conservation efforts worldwide.

In the past year alone, 4.6 per cent of Wellington Zoo's operating costs went directly to wild conservation – from supporting conservation partners working directly in the field, zoo staff working on wild conservation projects both inside and outside the zoo globally and within New Zealand, and the major contribution that The Nest Te Kohanga makes to restoring native wildlife.

Compare this with the zoo industry baseline for direct conservation support (which does not include our additionally important advocacy role), which is 3 oer cent in the US.

Our aim is to invest 5 per cent within three years and grow this support to 10 per cent over time.

It's fitting that Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha, our New Zealand precinct, is the pinnacle of our redevelopment.

Wellington and New Zealand's natural environments are unparalleled, and in an increasingly urbanised society our role is to connect our community with their New Zealand environment and encourage them to celebrate it.

Lastly, and most importantly we want to thank Wellingtonians who have supported us as ratepayers, visitors, donors, supporters, partners, volunteers and customers over the last 109 years.

We couldn't have become the good zoo we are without you.  

Karen Fifield is chief executive of Wellington Zoo.

 - The Dominion Post

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