By Jonathan Wilcken
Auckland Zoo opened its new $3.2m ‘Strangely Beautiful Australia’ development in late December and we proudly describe it as home to more than 20 of our Trans-Tasman neighbours’ weirdest and most wonderful wildlife
Weird is good, and we do think wonderful – and I think my Australian roots and first-hand experience of Aussie wildlife, entitle me to describe it so.
We’re talking giant fork-tongued monitor lizards, Australia’s heaviest stick insect (Goliath), Eastern snake-necked turtles, huntsman and red-backed spiders, water dragons, frogs, more than a thousand fish, and a diversity of vibrant (and some very noisy) birds.
The concentrated mix of species makes Strangely Beautiful Australia, the most species-rich area of Auckland Zoo and it’s been extremely popular with the 90,000 visitors the Zoo has attracted during January alone.
As I kid, I vividly remember leaning on a bush veranda watching a 2m lace monitor patrol our garden. This exhibit is dedicated to those sorts of odd and casual wildlife encounters that help make Australia’s natural environment the strange and beautiful place it is.
This is a really immersive experience, and it gives people the opportunity to see the odd, eclectic, gorgeous, brash and gaudy in ways that you might not expect – from life in the inland rivers to what Australians might come across in their gardens.
Our Ectotherms team leader, Don McFarlane, who with his team looks after all the reptiles, insects, spiders, amphibians and fish, is still buzzing about the animals that visitors are getting to experience and the quality of the environments created for them.
The home for our male lace monitors, Bruce, Alf and Ned, is absolutely world-class and offers fantastic viewing. It’s a perfect sun-trap area, and has a special retractable roof to allow UV light in, which is important for these monitors’ bone development. It’s also got a sprinkler system that provides a mimic of the rain (down to the droplet size!) they’d get in the wild on Australia’s East Coast.
This new exhibit (a less than 10-minute drive from downtown Auckland) now also connects up Auckland Zoo’s Aussie Walkabout (home to wallabies, emu and a walkthrough aviary), a Tasmanian devil exhibit, and soon-to-be-completed brolga enclosure to complete its Australian precinct.
As well as enjoying the Zoo during the day, this Thursday 16 March 2017 the Zoo has an Open Late night (5.30pm – 8.30pm), with tickets just $12 per person. With many of the Zoo’s animals still up, its cafes open and a schedule of special animal encounters, it’s a great way to spend a summer evening. Visit www.aucklandzoo.co.nz
Jonathan Wilcken, originally from Sydney, is the Director of Auckland Zoo and Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Species360 organisation.