Story: Zoos and aquariums

Page 3. Modernising zoos

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Modern zoo practices

From the 1970s, New Zealand zoo managers began to adopt practices advocated by the world’s major public zoos.

  • More professional staff were employed, including veterinarians.
  • Staff shared their knowledge about animal welfare and zoo management in professional magazines and at conferences.
  • Captive-breeding programmes of rare and endangered animals began.
  • Zoos cooperated with exchanges of surplus animals, so fewer animals were captured directly from the wild.
  • Zoos began to educate the public about wildlife conservation and employed full-time teachers.

Spacious enclosures

The most visible change was that large animals were less likely to be confined all day in cages. At both Auckland and Wellington zoos, landscaped enclosures were designed to house and display groups of animals, giving them greater scope to move and behave freely. Instead of iron bars separating animals from people, landscaped enclosures used moats, ditches, hedges and glass walls as protective barriers. Social animals were held in groups, rather than on their own.

Zoo doo

What to do with all the poo? This is a constant problem for zoo managers. The faecal matter of large herbivores (giraffes, zebras, elephants, bisons, antelopes, llamas, rhinos, hippos and camels) is mixed with straw, composted and sold as a garden compost. The smelly, noxious waste of carnivores is dumped in landfills.

Auckland Zoo expanded onto neighbouring land in the 1970s, and at 20 hectares is able to display a greater variety of animals than Wellington Zoo, which is 13 hectares in size.

Enrichment activities

Zookeepers provide enrichment activities to keep the animals mentally and physically challenged, such as:

  • hiding food in different places in an enclosure, forcing the animals to search for it
  • putting food for monkeys and apes in plastic tubes, requiring them to probe and scoop with their fingers, using fine motor skills
  • providing live fish for otters so that they have to catch their own meal
  • providing monkeys and apes with frames and ropes for climbing and swinging.

New zoos

Two new zoos opened in 1976. Hamilton Zoo, developed by Hamilton City Council on the site of a former game-bird farm, is a spacious 25 hectares.

New Zealand’s only open-range zoo, Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch, started as a drive-through lion reserve. Visitors remained in their vehicles as they drove through a 4-hectare area with free-ranging adult lions. Over time it has expanded to occupy 80 hectares and in 2007 it held around 400 animals of 70 different species.

Captive-breeding programmes

The major zoos in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific cooperatively manage the breeding and exchange of animals to avoid inbreeding. New Zealand zoos have successfully bred endangered mammals such as chimpanzees, red pandas and Malaysian sun bears. However, these animals will never be returned to the wild and act only as breeding stock for other captive populations.

Increasingly, zoos have become involved with endangered native animal breeding programmes, which release native birds and reptiles back into the wild.

How to cite this page:

Maggy Wassilieff, 'Zoos and aquariums - Modernising zoos', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 July 2024)

Story by Maggy Wassilieff, published 24 Nov 2008