Wellington, North Island, New Zealand
Wellington Zoo was the first zoo in New Zealand and encompassing 32 acres, some of which is rather hilly terrain. The zoo is home to more than 500 animals from more than 100 different species, some of which are native to the area. The zoos ideology is that the welfare and preservation of endangered and native species is first priority and is involved in many conservation projects locally and globally. Some of the most endangered animals being bred at the zoo include the Sumatran tigers and the Sun, or “honey” Bear, the smallest of the bear species. The zoo is also involved with a group in parts of Asia called “Free the Bears”, and their male Sun Bear, Sean, was rescued by the group from a restaurant in Cambodia.
The zoo began in 1906 with a young lion cub name King Dick being given to the Prime Minister by a traveling circus. Since that time, the zoo has evolved in both the quality of its enclosure as well as its commitment to sustainable building and reduction of energy consumption, including the use of a solar water heating and rainwater recovery system. The zoo also focuses a great deal on activities that immerse the visitors in hands on experiences with many of the animals. These interactions are meant to inspire and educate the guest in hopes of furthering interest in the preservation of both local and global species.
The interactions offered get guests closer to the animals than those offered at most parks. For instance, the encounter with either of the two Cheetahs at the zoo, Charlie and Delta, not only feature talks about these beautiful and endangered African cats, but the opportunity to touch the animal and feel him purr. For the best interest of the public and the cats, this interaction is limited to guests 14 and up. Also for 14 and up is the Big Cat Experience, where guests will get close (although not be able to touch) lions and tigers, and learn about the training keepers do with these enormous felines in order to prepare them for any medical care they may need.
For smaller people, ages 6 and up, there is the Giraffe and the Red Panda encounters. Visitors have the chance to feed a giraffe, and while doing so touch its soft fur and watch while the keepers give the giraffes a quick physical. If visiting the Red Pandas, said to be the cutest of all the zoos inhabitants and one of the most highly endangered with only 2500 remaining in the wild. A guest can expect one of the little white-masked creatures to place their paws on their lap as they approach to get treats. During the experience, a keeper talks about why there are so few red pandas in the wild and what conservation is being done to help preserve these adorable creatures.
Although the hands on encounters are at an additional cost, there are numerous free daily talks in which guests learn about and watch the feeding of meerkats, chimpanzees, tiny cotton top tamarin monkeys, giraffe, sun bears, tigers, and reptiles. In addition, The Nest is the onsite veterinarian hospital where almost all procedures can be watched through glass windows. The veterinarians are on hand to answer any questions regarding what they do or the actual procedures or checkups they might be doing at the moment.
At the heart of the zoo is the Wild Theatre, where many wildlife presentations take place and where concerts and parties can be held. There is also the Living Room, a part of the zoo where educators entertain children, take them on guided tours, and introduce them to contact animals like the unofficial mascot of the zoo, a one legged Kiwi named “Tahi”, or bearded dragons. At the Mini Monkeys exhibit, guests will see the white-mustached Emperor Tamarins, the Pygmy Marmosets, and cotton top tamarins, and tiny endangered South American monkey.
There are many more wonderful animals to visit at the Wellington Zoo, including the long-legged African Serval, a small species of wild cat that has both spots and stripes in its beautiful coat. There are wallabies and kangaroos, gibbons on their own tropical island, baboons living in a natural setting in a family group, penguins and Asian small-clawed otters. The zoo offers overnight opportunities, and school group visits. In the very near future, the newest exbibit, Meet the Locals, will be feature animals native to New Zealand and will be dedicated to the conservation of their wild counterparts.