Dra­matic change in fo­cus

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By EMMA WHIT­TAKER

Talk to any Auck­lan­der and you’re bound to elicit some me­mory of them hav­ing their photo taken in the mouth of Auck­land Zoo’s con­crete dragon.

Aim for any­one over about 30 and they should be able to tell you about tak­ing a ride on Kashin the elephant.

Go back an­other gen­er­a­tion and you’ll prob­a­bly even hear sto­ries about the chim­panzee tea-par­ties.

In the years since it opened on De­cem­ber 17, 1922, Auck­land Zoo has be­come a sta­ple at­trac­tion for the city.

But its story ac­tu­ally be­gins about a decade ear­lier in a sub­ur­ban street in Royal Oak.

In 1911 busi­ness­man and fu­ture Auck­land mayor John James Boyd bought a plot of land on Boyd Ave, off Sy­monds St, with the in­ten­tion of set­ting up the city’s first zoo.

He al­ready had an­i­mal parks in Christchurch and Whanganui and de­spite some com­plaints from neigh­bours, and the con­cerns of of­fi­cials, the laws of the day meant lo­cal coun­cils had no power to stop him.

When news broke of his in­ten­tions to es­tab­lish a zoo in Auck­land a pe­ti­tion against it was started on the ba­sis that it would be a breed­ing ground for rats.

The pe­ti­tion and other ob­jec­tions were un­suc­cess­ful and the zoo got the go-ahead, but it was to be the be­gin­ning of a tu­mul­tuous 10-year war be­tween Mr Boyd and the One­hunga Bor­ough Coun­cil.

When the park fi­nally opened in Fe­bru­ary 1912, it was a hit with vis­i­tors.

Not sur­pris­ingly though, it started gen­er­at­ing com­plaints from neigh­bours.

It was very much a zoo of its time, his­to­rian Lisa Truttman says.

‘‘He had be­tween 600 to 2000 spec­i­mens, a lot of them would have been small birds, but in a five to seven acre sec­tion of land it bog­gles the mind. He must have just had cages and cages upon cages,’’ she says.

‘‘He was breed­ing lions – he was breed­ing them un­til the cows came home and ex­port­ing them to Amer­ica and Aus­tralia. That must have been a hor­ri­ble, ab­so­lutely ghastly, sit­u­a­tion.’’

Mr Boyd also had an on site abat­toir where he would kill horses, stray cats and calves to feed the an­i­mals.

‘‘No won­der the neigh­bours com­plained,’’ Ms Truttman says.

‘‘One minute you’re in this quiet, leafy, res­i­den­tial sub­urb and sud­denly this an­i­mal park ap­pears, com­plete with the kids and a brass band on Sun­days.’’

Mr Boyd’s zoo is sur­rounded by leg­ends.

One of the most pop­u­lar is the tale of a lion that es­caped and wan­dered down One­hunga Mall be­fore pop­ping its head into a pub where its keeper was hav­ing a beer.

Sadly the real story is a lot less wor­thy of a movie script, Ms Trutt- man says. Around the Christ­mas of 1917, at the time Mr Boyd was the mayor, a young lion cub es­caped into a nearby pad­dock where there were some cows with their calves.

‘‘The cows forced it back into a hedge where it was cow­er­ing through fear of th­ese gi­ant horned beasts when it was spot­ted by some ser­vice­men on leave. They las­soed it like the wild west and hauled it back to its cage,’’ she says.

Ms Truttman says the story of the lion wan­der­ing down One­hunga Mall didn’t ex­ist un­til 1966 when it ap­peared in a South Auck­land com­mu­nity news­pa­per.

‘‘I am sur­prised no­body cre­ated a story about the un­load­ing of some lions at One­hunga wharf. They were loaded up into a cart and the horse bolted when the lions roared. They took off up the road, the cage tipped, and the lions ended up in the ditch,’’ she says.

By 1919 the war over the zoo’s place in Royal Oak was still rag­ing.

With a new mayor came a bylaw ban­ning the zoo and a sys­tem of fin­ing Mr Boyd for ev­ery day his at­trac­tion re­mained open.

To avoid the fines Mr Boyd loaded his an­i­mals on to trucks and took them on a North Is­land tour.

When he re­turned, the fines started again and by 1921 he re­alised the writ­ing was on the wall.

In June 1922 Mr Boyd asked the Auck­land City Coun­cil for the third time if it would like to take his an­i­mals and the of­fer was ac­cepted.

The coun­cil bought 11 lions, six bears, and two wolves for £800.

The rest of Mr Boyd’s an­i­mals were sold to other zoos and pri­vate buy­ers.

Six months later the Auck­land Zoo­log­i­cal Park opened its gates in West­ern Springs.

In the early days the park was faced with the chal­lenge of try­ing to build up a col­lec­tion of an­i­mals.

Busi­ness peo­ple go­ing on overseas trips were asked to find new species and many brought some back.

By 1956 it was de­cided that the zoo needed more of an en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor and chim­panzee tea­parties were in­tro­duced.

They were stopped in the early 1960s as at­ti­tudes to­wards cap­tive an­i­mals be­gan to change, but one of the chim­panzees, Janie, is still alive and is one of the zoo’s old­est res­i­dents.

The big hit in the 1970s was the ar­rival of Kashin the elephant and in 1981 the zoo’s first an­i­mal hospi­tal opened.

The zoo has un­der­gone enor­mous change and trans­for­ma­tion over nine colour­ful decades, di­rec­tor Jonathan Wil­cken says.

To­day its at­ten­tion is very much cen­tred around con­ser­va­tion.

‘‘Zoos haven’t just changed their fo­cus a bit, they have fun­da­men­tally changed from top to bot­tom in terms of why we ex­ist and what we Mr Wil­cken says.

‘‘The fo­cus for lead­ing zoos around the world is strongly and very clearly to do with wildlife con­ser­va­tion. All of the wildlife that we care for here in the zoo we are also pro­mot­ing care for out in the wild.’’ he says.

The Auck­land Zoo re­mains a cen­tre for ad­vanc­ing wildlife ve­teri­nary medicine.

Over the past decade there has also been a move to­wards show­cas­ing more of New Zealand’s na­tive species.

Last year the zoo un­veiled Te Wao Nui.

The $16 mil­lion precinct is the largest and most sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment in the zoo’s his­tory and houses hun­dreds of New Zealand na­tive species.

Con­ser­va­tion and our na­tive species look to re­main the fo­cus of the zoo for the coming decades, Mr Wil­cken says.



About face: Auck­land Zoo di­rec­tor Jonathan Wil­cken says its fo­cus has changed dra­mat­i­cally in its 90-year his­tory and is now cen­tred around the con­ser­va­tion of wildlife.


Pri­mate per­form­ers: A chim­panzee tea-party per­for­mance at Auck­land Zoo in the 1950s.

Stop in: A poster ad­ver­tis­ing J J Boyd’s Royal Oak zoo.


Founder: John James Boyd started Auck­land’s first zoo in Royal Oak in 1912.

Visit auck­land­c­ity har­bournews.co.nz and click on Lat­est Edi­tion to see some of the quirkier mo­ments in Auck­land Zoo’s his­tory.

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