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 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