Virginia Winder: Brooklands Zoo animals skipping the Womad party

Brooklands Zoo, ever popular with families, turns into Kidzone for Womad.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

Brooklands Zoo, ever popular with families, turns into Kidzone for Womad.

In a park within a park, Virginia Winder discovers a tropical place busy with creatures and preparations for Womad.

During the high-energy world of Womad, Brooklands Zoo turns from an animal haven into Kidzone. 

But even though it will be alive with children for the Saturday and Sunday of the festival, it's also a leafy place designed for insects, birds and mammals, including visiting humans.

Eve Cozzi encourages people to grow swan plants for monarch butterflies.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

Eve Cozzi encourages people to grow swan plants for monarch butterflies.

Before we tour this place, it's important to know how well planned the New Plymouth District Council zoo staff are for the World of Music, Arts and Dance, on from March 17 to 19.

Not all the animals stay for Womad. 

Zoo assistant curator Eve Cozzi says that every year, the three alpacas, Liquorice, Cinnamon and Ricotta and the kunekune pigs go on a farm holiday. "It's a beautiful setting, so they are well looked after."

Gardens are an important part of the Brooklands Zoo, which promotes growing plants for backyard wildlife.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

Gardens are an important part of the Brooklands Zoo, which promotes growing plants for backyard wildlife.

Charlie the cockatoo also goes off site and the brolga will go behind the scenes. 

"They are not keen on partying," adds Pukekura Park lead Chris Connolly. 

For the remaining animals, hay bales are provided to create walls and sound barriers to lessen the noise.

These willow cane elephants add to the tropical feel of the zoo.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

These willow cane elephants add to the tropical feel of the zoo.

The free-flight bird area is closed, but people will still be able to view these exotic specimens from outside the cage. The ramp up to the top of the capuchin enclosure will be sealed off, although visitors can still view the monkeys from the bottom window.

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Cozzi says staff will be working additional shifts. "Having the staff on site during the festival hours does aid in keeping the animals calmer by having a familiar face they know and trust around them."

Leading up to the annual event that turns Brooklands Park into a joyous festival, zoo staff and Kidzone organisers liaise closely. 

The Bug Hotel is an inviting place for creepy crawlies.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

The Bug Hotel is an inviting place for creepy crawlies.

Kidzone co-ordinator Wayne Morris says that in keeping with the zoo, the theme this year is nature and ecology. 

The artist, Sunset, is dressing the site with creatures that he has designed and these will also adorn the tunnel that is the new entrance to this year's Kidzone. 

Each of the workshop facilitators has been asked to focus their activities around the nature theme.

A butterfly on a swan plant in the monarch garden.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

A butterfly on a swan plant in the monarch garden.

Julian Raphael from Community Music Junction is writing a Womad song and getting youngsters to play ukulele, do percussion and singing. "The groups will be performing that in the finale in Kidzone," Morris says. There will be no parade this year.

Also on hand will be the Magical Masquerade face painters, jeweller Jennifer Laracy, who will be teaching kids to make badges out of all sorts of stuff and the crew from The Learning Connection will be running a cardboard challenge. 

Entertaining youngsters will be storytellers Mary Kippenberger and Peter Charlton-Jones known as Rhubarb, Tanya Batt, who is part of the World of Words, and the Travelling Tuataras.

There will be two bouncy castles to cater for different ages and 22 volunteers helping run this established part of Womad. 

For those parents and children who may want to snatch a moment of peace on the fringes of Kidzone, there is a chance to quietly observe their surroundings.

There are bright begonias in the beds in Brooklands Park and also some of the bold blooms by the normal entrance to the zoo, which is guarded by two red camellias. 

These flow into a mass planting of glossy leafed ligularia, a mountain pawpaw and abutilons. "We are trying to develop a tropical theme," Connolly says.

In keeping with this, there are also palms planted throughout the garden and amid a sea of ligularia are three willow cane elephants, which were originally made by UK artist Steve Manning for the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular in 2013. "A lot of visitors have asked where they can get their own," he says.

Providing leafy cover is important for the zoo. "We have tried to plant so we have a succession of trees coming through for shade."

But these are carefully placed so the cages aren't shaded and there are still open spaces for children to run around on prickle-free grass.

Brooklands Zoo was opened in 1960 as Jaycees project and has long been a hugely popular part of the greater Pukekura Park.

"It's a beautiful setting, we get a lot of positive feedback and quite high visitation," Cozzi says.

More than 113,000 people visit the zoo each year.

During Womad, the monarchs are highly likely to be flitting around. On the edge of the park, by a large painted butterfly perfect for child photos, are swan plants. These are hung with chrysalises or strung with hungry striped caterpillars, while orange and black butterflies alight on nearby flowers. 

"We have information here so visitors can go home and create their own habitats," Cozzi says.

The elegant insects feed off flowers, so park staff have planted heliotrope, sweet alyssum, wallflower, cosmos, salvia, marigolds and pansies. 

"Monarch butterflies cannot see so well, so when they are flying up in the sky, they want to see a mass of colour. Also you want to plant flat flowers that they can land on so they can feed."

Further along, Cozzi pushes back the branches of a griselinia bush to reveal a weta hotel, created with the Friends of Pukekura Park. 

Today, the specimens of the native insect have taken up seven out of 12 rooms. "I have seen it fully booked out," she says.

Nearby is a bug hotel, which is an attractive design to lure a variety of bugs. 

From 11am on April 22, there will be a free keeper talk at the zoo as part of Puke Ariki's Bugs! Our Backyard Heroes exhibition. 

Beneath Charlie the cockatoo there are more natives. "Like some animals are endangered, some plants need some help as well," Cozzi says. "Sometimes the introduced species can be a pest and then the native wildlife suffer because they lose their environment."

This garden will hopefully inspire visitors to plant their own native gardens. Kaka beak in red and white, the Poor Knights lily, Chatham Island forget-me-nots and coastal euphorbia are thriving here.

When planting at the zoo, it is always important to think about toxicity, especially because the farm animals are taken out to graze in quiet times. 

Most of the animals and birds are tough on the plants, so there is an ongoing plan for replanting. 

In the free-flight enclosure, staff have tried to plant foliage that won't be chewed by the birds – they already have a balanced diet. Instead, the plants are used as screens and for perches in this single sex zone. Having males and females led to territorial conflicts. "So we have switched to males only and it's working very well."

Flax, more griselinia, cabbage trees, Fatsia japonica and feijoas continue the tropical feel of the outside zoo. Amongst these plants are birds whose plumage is as brilliant as Womad diehards. 

There are no natives in here though. However, through the Department of Conservation and vets, the zoo staff will temporarily rehabilitate New Zealand's birds. "We have had a lot of ruru, kereru, silvereyes and tui. It's very rewarding for the staff and it's good to be able to give back when we can," Cozzi says.

Next door a meerkat is on sentry duty in a desert-like enclosure. "There's always one on the lookout for danger and they will bark if a plane or kereru flies over," she says. "They keep quite busy digging intricate tunnel systems."

In the cotton-top tamarin enclosure there's a lot more growing, including a cherry tree, puka, ponga, astelia, hebes and grasses. During spring the family of three pig out on nectar from the cherry tree and end up with bright yellow faces.

The otters also have a lush enclosure. The carnivorous mammals are not playing in the water when we visit because they have a routine of being active, feeding and then having power naps. 

On April 22 there will be an otter's day at the zoo to celebrate their birthdays, during which a Puke Ariki librarian will be on hand for storytelling and there will also be a keeper's talk.

The six brown or black-capped capuchin are tool users, who need a lot of environmental enrichment. They are particularly hard on plants and are given boughs to eat, interact with and even to shred to bits.

In with them are totara, a fan palm, more griselinia, a fan palm and acanthus. 

Cozzi loves this park within a park. "It's a lovely combination of the zoo itself, the playground and the beautiful environment it's set in amongst.

"My mother taught me from an early age that nature is beautiful. I have always had a love of animals and nature for as long as I can remember."

While on her OE in Canada she volunteered for a wildlife rehabilitation centre and worked at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. "I got my taste for it and haven't looked back since."

She got the qualifications needed and is now working in a job she's so passionate about, the animals feel like family.

When asked to identify her favourite animal, she can't. "It would be like choosing between your own children."

Her daughter, Summer, aged three and a half, is already an animal fan like her mum. But it was another girl's reaction to a zoo visit that touched Cozzi's heart. A group of children had been on a school trip and a little girl came up to her at the end. "She hugged me and said 'I love animals and I want to do this one day too'."

On March 18 and 19, the zoo transforms into Kidzone.

 - Stuff

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