OPINION: What does Natureland mean to Nelsonians and visitors to our city, and how much do we stand to lose if we are unable to respond effectively to the challenges the zoo is facing?
I haven't found anywhere else in Nelson where my 89-year-old Dad appears to leave his age and ailments at the gate, before venturing in for a most enjoyable, relaxing and responsive couple of hours.
Nowhere else in Nelson provides such an important educational centre catering for such a wide age span to learn about and see some of New Zealand's most precious species. And how many people get the chance to visit a farm these days and have hands-on experience with such a variety of animals?
This may be the only place some Nelson youngsters can appreciate such an experience. Sad, but it's reality – and with a stake in their development as our future citizens, the Nelson City Council should be happy to ensure this continues to happen.
How popular is Natureland? One only has to look at the numbers flocking through the gates on the special days when the entrance fee is less. Our family has four generations of paid-up members.
Natureland is a huge hit with international visitors and their children. I know this because I spend a lot of time there watching the very entertaining meerkats, and almost every time there have been overseas visitors making some comment, and I often start a conversation with them.
The last couple I spoke with were from Israel. They were delighted to see the kea, because this was the "mountain parrot" they had heard so much about at Arthur's Pass but failed to see.
How proud I felt of Natureland and what the Orana staff had done to bring the kea enclosure to such an upmarket standard. It was lovely to hear them talking so enthusiastically about the kea and its antics. Their little boy had a splendid time. Shouldn't all our Nelson children have that experience as well with the facility we already own?
It's fully fenced and totally safe, with the bonus of a playground where a parent, grandparent or caregiver can take a child (and a picnic) and blob out, and everywhere around them is a learning environment that will enrich a young mind.
For the lonely or depressed person, it's an environment that is friendly but non-threatening. One can sit and watch the animals, talk to them, get some companionship from them. People can stay all day if they choose, and then leave feeling uplifted. Where else can one do that?
For the physically disabled, the facility is easily negotiated, and staff are happy to interact and help where required.
I love the suggestion in a letter to the editor that a complex similar to Touch the Sea in Mapua could be established, and perhaps partially funded by the fishing companies.
There are some sensible and achievable ideas that need to be worked on for the complex as it is now. I've got some myself that are worthy of consideration.
We need to create a knowledgeable, motivated, committed small group of "do-ers" dedicated to the cause, with time and determination, who are prepared to move mountains to enable this wonderful Nelson sanctuary to stay open and, if possible, realise the dream that the Orana Park management once had for it.
The Orana Park management and staff deserve accolades ... huge accolades, actually, considering what they achieved for us before life fell apart for them in Christchurch.
I feel such empathy for the Orana Park management, having to make such an unwanted decision because of the toll the earthquakes have taken on them.
Isn't it time, before we lose another important facility, to see what we can do to help?
We, our children and young people need to take some ownership. Some have already indicated they want to, as demonstrated by Lotee van Ginkel and the 3D cake she made over five days, then raffled. Awesome! Some school classes have also "adopted" an animal. Can we do an extensive annual fundraiser to help supplement Natureland's income – along the line of the Founders book fair, Girl Guides and their biscuits, or the Mapua fair? What do you think?
Every idea is valuable. Are you – as an individual, your community group, your school class, your work team – prepared to be involved? Let's start being proactive by getting a database under way of names, contact details and ideas. Mine are email@example.com and 5477153; my neighbour, who is also prepared to collate, is Corina on 5479967. Will you email or phone us and get the ball rolling?
The ultimate would be raising enough to also ensure free entry to everybody who lives in the Top of the South. Wouldn't that be great?
Estelle Courtney is a Nelson native, fulltime daughter, mother, grandmother, animal lover and patron of Nelson Tasman Kindergartens.