From the mid-19th century, acclimatisation societies brought animals into New Zealand to establish populations for hunting. They also imported some exotic curiosities such as emus, parrots, bears, monkeys and lions for public display. Their animal collections at Hagley Park in Christchurch, Wellington Botanic Gardens and the Auckland Domain were popular attractions.
Between 1909 and 1916 John Boyd ran a private zoo at Aramoho, Whanganui, which held lions, tigers, leopards, pumas, monkeys and bears. Many of his animals were purchased from Hamburg Zoo in Germany. He opened other zoos at Wainoni Park, Christchurch, 1911–12, and at Ōnehunga, Auckland, which ran from 1911 as the Royal Oak Zoological Gardens. It was forced to close in 1922 by an unsympathetic borough council. The council objected to the smells emanating from the zoo, and to it opening on Sundays.
First public zoos
In 1906 Wellington City Council established New Zealand’s first public zoo, near Newtown Park on the Wellington town belt. At first the zoo housed a single lion, but he was soon joined by a kiwi, an emu and some monkeys. By the mid-1920s the zoo held more than 600 animals, including six sea lions from the Auckland Islands, an Indian tiger and an Asian elephant.
Auckland City Council opened Auckland Zoo at Western Springs in 1922. Its collection of animals came from John Boyd’s defunct private zoo.
The first lion at Wellington Zoo was named King Dick, which was the nickname of then premier Richard Seddon. When the lion died in 1921, its body was stuffed and displayed at the Dominion Museum.
By today’s standards, conditions at the two public zoos were appalling. Animals were confined in barred enclosures with concrete floors, and were often fed an inadequate diet. Auckland Zoo regularly flooded and rats were ever-present. Even if cleared from the zoo, the rats soon repopulated it by simply walking across the road from the city dump. Animal deaths were frequent – for example, in 1930 over a third of Auckland Zoo’s animals died.