Chang­ing times at Auck­land Zoo

Central Leader - - 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 will prob­a­bly 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 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, where he planned to set up the city’s first zoo­log­i­cal park.

He al­ready had an­i­mal parks in Christchurch and Wan­ganui and de­spite some com­plaints from neigh­bours, and the con­cerns of of­fi­cials, there was noth­ing lo­cal coun­cils could do to stop him.

When news broke of his in­ten­tion 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 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 which 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 Truttman says.

Around 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 a [scene from the] Wild West and hauled it back to its cage,’’ she says.

Ms Truttman says the story of the lion wan­der­ing down One­hunga

Mall did not 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 tour of the North Is­land.

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 fi­nally his 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 the zoo needed more of an en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor and chim­panzee tea-par­ties 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 an­i­mal hospi­tal opened.

Di­rec­tor Jonathan Wil­cken says the zoo has un­der­gone enor­mous change and trans­for­ma­tion dur­ing nine colour­ful decades.

To­day, its at­ten­tion 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 do,’’ 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.’’

The Auck­land Zoo re­mains a cen­tre for ad­vanc­ing wildlife veter-

is cen­tred inary medicine and Mr Wil­cken says its vets are in­creas­ingly be­ing called on by the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion to help in the out­doors.

Dur­ing 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.

‘‘We’ve only really just started on this jour­ney, but the more we can do this stuff the more it will build the rel­e­vance of the zoo for peo­ple.’’

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

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