WE BUILT A ZOO

Mogo Zoo is a South Coast in­sti­tu­tion and its owner is al­most as big an at­trac­tion as the an­i­mals. But now she’s sell­ing up

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JACK MORPHET

The in­cred­i­ble story of how one woman turned a dream into a suc­cess­ful zoo — and now she is ready to move on

FOR­GET the movie We Bought A Zoo, Sally Padey built a zoo — and now she’s sold it.

And she said the story of how she cre­ated Mogo Zoo, near Bate­mans Bay on the South Coast, would be far bet­ter than the Matt Da­mon and Scar­lett Jo­hans­son movie.

It would cer­tainly have plenty of hu­mour amid the drama — and a tear-filled end­ing as, one month shy of its 30th an­niver­sary, she has sold it to Western Syd­ney’s Featherdal­e Wildlife Park.

Af­ter col­lect­ing one of Australia’s most ex­ten­sive pri­vate col­lec­tion of ex­otic an­i­mals in­clud­ing gi­raffes, rhi­nos, ze­bra, tigers and two prides of li­ons, Ms Padey, 60, wasn’t eas­ily con­vinced to sell. “It wasn’t for sale to some rich per­son who just wanted to brag they have a lion in their back­yard,” she said. Featherdal­e Wildlife Park zookeeper Chad Sta­ples has spent three nights a week for the past 15 months at Ms Padey’s home on the zoo grounds, hash­ing out sale terms over a glass of wine and an­i­mal calls.

Not only will he take con­trol of the 200 an­i­mals on the site, Mr Sta­ples will also live in Ms Padey’s house.

Even af­ter the ink has dried on the his­toric sale, the pair still roam the grounds so Ms Padey can point out ec­cen­tric­i­ties of cer­tain spi­der mon­keys or make her suc­ces­sor prom­ise not to chop down par­tic­u­lar trees she’s fond of.

“I never put the zoo on the open mar­ket, even though I would have got more money,” Ms Padey said. “I truly be­lieve I can walk away and Chad will look af­ter my zoo.”

In be­tween stints at Mogo, Mr Sta­ples has se­cretly taken ex­otic an­i­mal han­dling cour­ses at San Diego Zoo, to avoid ru­mours of the im­pend­ing sale cir­cu­lat­ing within the lo­cal zoo in­dus­try. “These an­i­mals are Sally’s fam­ily, it’s not just a busi­ness to her,” Mr Sta­ples said. “She’s poured her heart and soul into this place and I feel a huge bur­den of re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure her le­gacy lives on.”

Ms Padey is leg­endary in the area for her hu­mour — on dis­play in the many funny signs around the zoo — as well as her some­what unique ap­proach to rais­ing wild an­i­mals. And her tales of the zoo il­lus­trated both.

Lo­cals re­called how vis­i­tors to her home were of­ten sur­prised to see lion cubs wan­der­ing around.

But Ms Padey claimed she even snuck one into KFC at Bate­mans Bay for a feed of chicken.

Ms Padey also said her

daugh­ter Casey, 36, be­came espe­cially fond of a cougar named Tom, who would sleep in her bed.

Ms Padey claimed they used to take the cougar for walks along the beach at night, which she reck­ons started the ru­mours of a big cat on the loose in Bate­mans Bay when lo­cals saw the paw prints.

She also told The Sun­day Tele­graph straight-faced that she was in­spired to start the zoo af­ter run­ning a taxi­dermy busi­ness called You Snuff ’Em, We Stuff ’Em — a hi­lar­i­ous name that fans of The Simp­sons might re­mem­ber Bart also us­ing.

But cer­tainly Mogo Zoo has con­sumed Ms Padey’s life, and she ad­mit­ted of­ten the an­i­mals’ wel­fare came be­fore her fam­ily. “We worked bloody hard in the be­gin­ning, we never had any money or time,” she said. “I can re­mem­ber be­ing given 12 big bags of car­rots, and I chopped and peeled them to feed to the an­i­mals and we ate roast car­rots and car­rot soup for weeks.”

A tear­ful Ms Padey knows she will re­gret leav­ing but her body can’t cope with the stresses of the sev­en­day-a-week job and she wants to catch up with her daugh­ter at her horse stud at Cowra.

“I’ve loved this zoo with all my heart, with ev­ery fi­bre of my be­ing, but it’s time to go be­cause this place will end up killing me,” she said.

Featherdal­e will of­fer passes giv­ing ac­cess to both zoos.

It wasn’t for sale to some rich per­son who just wanted to brag the y have a lion in their back­yard

SALLY P ADEY

A tear­ful Sally Padey and new zookeeper Chad Sta­ples, who took us on a tour of the zoo’s eclec­tic col­lec­tion of an­i­mals, and (above) the cheeky signs that are a hall­mark of Ms Padey’s sense of hu­mour. Pic­tures: Tim Hunter

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