New residents for Wellington Zoo?

High hopes for snow leopards by 2017

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 12:51 12/02/2014
Snow leopards
REUTERS
HIGH HOPES: A snow leopard and cub at a zoo in the United States.

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Snow leopards could be coming to Wellington as the zoo eyes up its next development phase.

Upgrading the entrance way, improving the lion enclosure and creating a ''walk-through'' South American experience are also on the drawing board for a new 10-year development plan being looked at by the zoo.

The cost of the next phase would be about $12 million, zoo chief executive Karen Fifield said today, following a presentation given to the city council's environment committee.

She hoped to get snow leopards into the zoo by 2017 to help complete the zoo's Asian precinct and make use of the former sun bear enclosure, which is currently empty.

''Geographically [the precinct] goes from the Himalayas to southern Asia.''

Snow leopards, which come from Central Asia, also fit with the zoo's conservation focus as they are an endangered species, with between 4080 and 6590 left in the world.

''And aside from that, they're beautiful,'' Ms Fifield said.

Any acquisition of the cats would require about $2m to be spent on preparing the enclosure, and would be part of the next 10-year development plan, which the zoo would be asking the council to include funding for in its next long-term plan, to be developed next year.

The Wellington Zoo is coming to the end of a $21-million 10-year development that included building The Nest animal hospital, creating the Asian Precinct, and will see the development of the Meet the Locals precinct in the last couple of years of the programme.

Ms Fifield said they would then be looking for about $12m for the next 10-year phase.

Like the first phase, the zoo would aim to raise about a quarter of the money, which meant it would be requesting about $9m from ratepayers, she said.

As well as the new snow leopard enclosure, that would include improving the lion enclosure. The cheetahs were moving to a different section of the zoo, so that enclosure would be upgraded with the lions' to allow both the male and female lions to be displayed at the same time, she said.

There were also plans to create a South American walk-through experience featuring different monkey species, and a redevelopment of the entrance way, costing about $4m to $5m.

The current entrance design was not functional, she said.

''It breaks every visitor facility rule.''

Once those projects were complete, the zoo should be in a position to maintain the facilities for up to 30 years before requiring further development again, she said.

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''That will definitely finish it and then we can just maintain it.''

- The Dominion Post

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