Locals are unlikely to get the lions’ share

Animal relocation volunteersAnimal relocation volunteers at the Walkabout Wildlife Park. Image: Jake Cassar. Archive 2020.

The Australian Reptile Park and Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park have both welcomed the announcement of a $94.6M Federal government support package for zoos and aquariums, as they look into just how it might help them in coping with coronavirus shutdowns.

Announced on April 28, the funding is designed to help exhibiting zoos and aquariums with fixed operational costs associated with the caring of their animals, so that they can remain viable.

Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park Operations Manager, Tassin Barnard, said the funding was “a huge relief.

“I am going to sleep better knowing that help is just over the horizon and should reach us soon,” Barnard said.

“I’m not ready to call it a life line yet, because I don’t know yet that it is going to save us.

“It will be a few weeks before we find out if we are eligible at all and, if we are, how much of our animal welfare costs will be covered.

“I expect the large zoos with big predators, and elephants with massive appetites and unusual medical needs and complicated housing requirements, will be shouting loudest for the lions’ share of the money.

“We don’t know if any organisation will be ‘means tested’, so we don’t know if the money will go to those who need it most, or to those who spend the most, which is not always the same thing.

“But $94.6M is a big number so, if properly allocated, it should reach where it is needed.”

Barnard said that the wildlife sanctuary lost more than $100,000 due to closures and evacuations over the Christmas holiday period caused by the bushfire threat.

“We were OK with this because we decided to choose our animals’ safety first,” she said.

“After we reopened, our community was working with us to get back to normal.

“We had no idea that our recovery would be interrupted so completely by a world-wide pandemic.”

Barnard said closures forced by the pandemic had been a “struggle”.

“But we came into it with the right mindset,” she said.

“A practise run during the bushfires put us in good stead so there was no sense of panic.”

Barnard said the Park was continuing to function without paying visitors due to its “amazing staff” and supportive community.

“The JobKeeper scheme was the real lifesaver,” she said.

“If that hadn’t come through for us, we would have had no money left within six weeks.”

Barnard said one of the largest expenditures for the park, outside the cost of animal and enclosure maintenance and wages, was the hefty power bill, which includes the cost of the electrified fox-proof fence around the perimeter of the park.

“Medications are also costly, although our wonderful vet offered to volunteer her time,” she said.

“But we refuse to let anything stop what we need to do.

“We keep each other smiling and we keep going.”

Australian Reptile Park General Manger, Tim Faulkner, said the park was doing “reasonably well given the circumstances”.

“We have a good business model and we are resilient,” Faulkner said.

“We have had a warm response to our online activities over this time and are enjoying the fact that we are continuing to allow people to be involved with and learn about animals and nature.

“The JobKeeper payment was radical for us as an organisation, and for our staff.

“We don’t really know what this latest package means for us yet, but it is wonderful in that it recognises the importance of zoos in education and economics and a range of things.

“I know we are eligible, but we’re not sure just what the breakdown will be.

“We are now going through the process of determining what it will mean for us.

“We’re as close as we can be to hibernation, but we will be ready to reopen when restrictions are lifted.”

In announcing the latest funding package, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, said zoos and aquariums would continue to be crucial to the visitor economies of many regional towns across Australia when their doors open again.

“Keeping our regional zoos and aquariums in the best shape possible as we deal with this pandemic will be vital to helping regional communities get back on their feet, sustaining local jobs,” he said.

Federal Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, said it was “absolutely crucial” that zoos and aquariums can still operate on the other side and “play a major role in helping our tourism industry to recover from this”.

“We know our world-class zoos and aquariums are major tourism drawcards for many of our major cities and regional centres across Australia, with over 20 million visitors walking through the gates each year,” he said.

“We also shouldn’t underestimate the huge positive flow on effects our zoos and aquariums provide to our economy.

“They bring thousands of visitors into communities who then spend millions of dollars visiting other attractions, sleeping in our hotels and dining in our restaurants.”

Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, said the funding would help ensure that zoos and aquariums could continue to provide quality treatment and care to their animals.

“While COVID-19 may be keeping visitors away, zookeepers, aquarium owners and veterinarians continue to play a lead role in wildlife recovery after the bushfires, from treatment and rehabilitation to the development of insurance populations,” she said.

“At the same time, they are caring for millions of animals who live permanently within their network, and this is critical funding to support the welfare of those animals along with the vital ongoing role that zoos play in conserving our environment and protecting native species.”


Media release, Apr 28

Deputy Prime Minister,

Michael McCormack

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham

Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley

Media statement

and interview, Apr 29

Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park Operations manager,

Tassin Barnard

Interview, Apr 30

Australian Reptile Park General manager, Tim Faulkner

Reporter: Terry Collins