Select a Zoo


His­tor­i­cal narrative

The first zoo in Auck­land opened its gates to the pub­lic on 2 Novem­ber 1911 in the Auck­land sub­urb of One­hunga. The Royal Oak Zoo as it was called was estab­lished on about 2.5 hectare of land that entre­pre­neur John James Boyd pur­chased in Feb­ru­ary that year – land that was still totally bare at the time. It was the pur­pose of Boyd to estab­lish Auckland’s first zoo­log­i­cal facil­ity. Such an effort he had accom­plished ear­lier, in 1910, at Upper Aramoho near Wan­ganui, also on New Zealand’s North Island.

Boyd set up a pri­vate menagerie on the acquired grounds, which at its hey­days added up to more than 2000 birds and other ani­mals. The Royal Oak Zoo was a con­stant source of aggra­va­tion, because the local res­i­dents were upset and com­plained about the noise, the smell, the crowds, and the ever-​present threat of hav­ing wild and dan­ger­ous ani­mals on the loose in their neigh­bour­hood. So Boyd’s Zoo became con­tro­ver­sial, with the local One­hunga Bor­ough Coun­cil try­ing to close it, but coun­ter­acted with a suc­cess­ful run for mayor of One­hunga by Boyd him­self. Nev­er­the­less, in the end the local Coun­cil forced Boyd to close the zoo in 1922. In June of 1922 the Auck­land City Coun­cil pur­chased the remain­der of the ani­mals, the six lions, a tiger, a pan­ther, one hyena, two dogs, vul­tures, an emu and sev­eral mon­keys, that Boyd had not already sold to other indi­vid­u­als. And with that group of ani­mals the early seeds of Auck­land Zoo were sown. There is still a Boyd Street in One­hunga today.

Inauguration monument at Auckland ZooSix months after the City Coun­cil bought the ani­mals, on Sat­ur­day 16 Decem­ber 1922, Auck­land Zoo was opened to the pub­lic, at the cur­rent West­ern Springs loca­tion, then a semi rural area about 6km from town hall. The Zoo staff, at its open­ing, com­prised one zookeeper, an assis­tant keeper, a turn­stile atten­dant and a night watch­man, all of them enjoy­ing a seven-​day work­ing week. After only 6 months of con­struc­tion work being done the new Zoo of just over 11 hectares was still an unin­spir­ing place, but this didn’t last long. Soon, many trees were planted and in July 1923 the City Coun­cil decided on devel­op­ing a band­stand, next to bet­ter enclo­sures for polar bear, hip­popota­mus, bison, ele­phant, tiger and other species. Many of these orig­i­nal zoo struc­tures became and still are Zoo land­marks. Also in 1923 the Zoo’s first direc­tor, L.T. Grif­fin, went to Africa to source species from the wild. These trips to other con­ti­nents were part of the aggres­sive Zoo pol­icy of expan­sion over the next few years. But besides these trips, ani­mals could be pur­chased due to dona­tions, such as Jamuna the female Asian ele­phant, Auck­land Zoo’s first star who arrived on June 1923 (see Auck­land Zoo’s first ele­phants).

In these early years the Zoo expanded rapidly, new enclo­sures were built and new species arrived, also because busi­ness­men donated ani­mals which they had acquired on trips abroad. The Zoo’s devel­op­ments were topped by the birth of 25 mam­mals and 62 birds at the zoo in 1928. Fur­ther to this, the Zoo’s mis­sion was extended by the inau­gu­ra­tion of the Auck­land Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety on 17 July 1929. Although its main pur­pose was to encour­age sci­en­tific study, it became merely an inter­est and sup­port group for the Zoo.

When in 1935 Lt. Col. E.R. Sawer was approached to report on where the zoo should be headed, the result impressed the City Coun­cil. They appointed Sawer as director/​curator on 1 April 1936, after which he intro­duced the novel notion that zoo­log­i­cal parks should focus on edu­ca­tion, sci­ence and conservation.

In his report Sawer had called for ani­mals to be paired or grouped, which is exactly what he did as well as intro­duc­ing order and coor­di­na­tion. The changes that Sawer made reduced the enor­mously high mor­tal­ity rates, that were nor­mal in zoos at the time, from a whop­ping 35 per­cent in 1930 to about 10 per­cent in 1937. This even went as far as that in 1939 for the first time the num­ber of births sur­passed mor­tal­ity in Zoo mam­mals. Espe­cially, bet­ter ani­mal diets includ­ing the pro­vi­sion of addi­tional vit­a­mins and other sup­ple­ments led to notice­able improve­ments such as bet­ter fer­til­ity and reduced dis­ease rates. Sawer’s good sense of mar­ket­ing and the end of the eco­nomic depres­sion helped the Zoo trans­form from a ter­rain with a group of emp­ty­ing cages to a zoo­log­i­cal park with a ‘full house of exhibits,’ includ­ing the accom­pa­ny­ing exotic species – native fauna was not yet allowed.

Despite lower turn­stile num­bers and low pri­or­ity for ani­mal impor­ta­tion and food sup­ply for the zoo ani­mals dur­ing WWII, the war period was not quite as event­ful as for zoos in coun­tries in west­ern Europe. Nonethe­less, at the end of the war the Zoo was in a state of slight dis­re­pair and deple­tion of stocks. The prob­lem of build­ing up a new ani­mal col­lec­tion was not eas­ily solved after the war. Many zoos all over the world were look­ing to improve their col­lec­tions, and New Zealand’s geo­graph­i­cal iso­la­tion was more or less out of scope for the ani­mal col­lec­tors and exporters. More­over, Auck­land Zoo was sur­passed by Welling­ton Zoo on the list of politician’s favourites, and the Zoo was still not allowed to exhibit native fauna.

In 1948 the dark shadow of war dis­ap­peared with the approval of the con­struc­tion of new facil­i­ties such as an aquar­ium, while in 1949 the Zoo was offi­cially allowed to exhibit kiwi. But the post­war baby boom among New Zealand’s pop­u­la­tion led to a Coun­cil deci­sion to cre­ate more enter­tain­ment activ­i­ties in the Zoo, to sat­isfy the peo­ple with chil­dren. Sawer had always strongly resisted the intro­duc­tion of ani­mal enter­tain­ment as it had noth­ing to do with the Zoo being an edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tion, which it should be in his view. With Sawer retir­ing in 1949 he lost that bat­tle, but he had another clear mes­sage for the Coun­cil – the Zoo needed a full-​time on-​site cura­tor and veterinarian.

The next five years the Council’s com­mit­ment to fur­ther improve the Zoo showed when exist­ing enclo­sures were ren­o­vated and new enclo­sures were built for sun bears, wom­bats, echid­nas, mon­keys, tigers and birds. At the same time progress was made by devel­op­ing basic hos­pi­tal facil­i­ties, a quar­an­tine area, bet­ter equip­ment, and ser­vice areas. Vis­i­tor num­bers increased, because Auck­land cit­i­zens had more money and time to spend and other attrac­tions were closed on Sun­days and pub­lic hol­i­days. This also led to the deci­sion to intro­duce even more enter­tain­ment, espe­cially ani­mal enter­tain­ment. Fol­low­ing the pop­u­lar chim­panzee tea par­ties at Lon­don Zoo, four chimps, who learned the ropes of per­form­ing a good tea party in Lon­don, arrived in Octo­ber 1956 to per­form for the Auck­land com­mu­nity. After eight years of enter­tain­ing the crowds the chimps were relieved from their task when atti­tudes towards treat­ment of ani­mals in cap­tiv­ity were begin­ning to change. Dur­ing these rather pros­per­ous 1950s other enter­tain­ment attrac­tions were intro­duced such as a minia­ture train and the children’s zoo in 1958. A high­light in the ani­mal col­lec­tion could have been the birth of twin polar bears in June 1957. Unfor­tu­nately, one of the cubs died shortly after birth, while the other one drowned when 11 weeks old dur­ing the swim­ming lessons given by its mother. In the years between 1923 and 1995 Auck­land Zoo exhib­ited sev­eral polar bears, and although some lived to an old age, they all devel­oped skin lesions. Addi­tion­ally, they had a bad track record regard­ing breed­ing polar bears, because only one cub was ever raised to adult­hood at the Zoo.

The 1960s started with a new Zoo direc­tor (super­vi­sor), Derek Wood, who was trained in the United King­dom at Chester Zoo and he brought with him the first giraffe ever to set foot on New Zealand, John from Lon­don Zoo. As said the chim­panzee tea par­ties were ter­mi­nated in 1964, in May to be exact, but the tea-​party chimps remained at the zoo until their deaths. The tea-​party chimps dis­played abnor­mal, anti-​social behav­iour for the rest of their lives. Hence, none of them – except two chimps born in the Zoo that never par­tic­i­pated in the tea-​parties – could be intro­duced into the nat­ural social group of chim­panzees that was estab­lished later in the 1980s. When in 2004 was decided to focus on just one great ape species — the orang­utan, and the troop of six chim­panzees were relo­cated to Hamil­ton Zoo, Bob­bie and Janie were the two sur­viv­ing ‘tea party’ chimps that remained in Auck­land. Bob­bie died in Novem­ber 2004 and Janie passed away in Octo­ber 2013 at the age of 60, hav­ing lived at Auck­land Zoo for 57 years.

Build­ing activ­i­ties con­tin­ued in the 1960s and besides other con­sid­er­able improve­ments a noc­tur­nal house for New Zealand’s national icon, the kiwi, was erected. This period also saw the arrival of many new ani­mals, includ­ing a female ele­phant from Sin­ga­pore as the long-​awaited com­pan­ion for Jamuna the Asian ele­phant, to suc­ceed the bull that was killed in 1936. But star ele­phant Jamuna died in Sep­tem­ber 1965, and replaced by Ma Schwe, a female Asian ele­phant, in 1968. Other new ani­mals arrived, such as a female giraffe, a pair of Ben­gal tigers, two young polar bears, a giant anteater, two capuchin mon­keys, white-​tailed deer, 23 keas and four spi­der mon­keys. The giraffe herd and spi­der mon­key troop at the zoo today are descen­dants of these first imports.

Despite old enclo­sures being demol­ished and replaced by new ones the Zoo still suf­fered from the ever­last­ing prob­lems with flood­ing. As a mat­ter of fact, even in June 1977 it was still pos­si­ble that a hippo floated out of its enclo­sure into West­ern Springs dur­ing a flood. So, it should be no sur­prise that already in the 1960s the first seri­ous calls for expan­sion arose and a major over­haul began. This led even­tu­ally to a long-​term plan of the Coun­cil to mod­ernise the Zoo with nat­ural, moated, bar-​less enclo­sures and an exten­sion of the grounds into West­ern Springs park with approx­i­mately 5 hectares in 1973. For starters they closed the orig­i­nal entrance on Old Mill Road and opened a new entrance on Motions Road.

The 1970s saw enor­mous improve­ments, includ­ing those of the vet­eri­nary sup­port, the stop­ping of pub­lic feed­ing, devel­op­ment of more nat­u­ral­is­tic enclo­sures and intro­duc­tion of behav­ioural enrich­ments. Sub­se­quently the breed­ing suc­cesses increased. Ani­mals deemed unsuit­able for Auck­land Zoo were trans­ferred or phased out of the zoo’s col­lec­tion, although it took another 20 years before the last polar bear died. Dur­ing the late 1970s the Zoo was one enor­mous con­struc­tion site with a new sou­venir shop, cafe­te­ria and enclo­sures for the giraffe, zebra and ante­lope to be com­pleted. The over­all pro­fes­sion­al­ism increased with the employ­ment of a full-​time edu­ca­tion offi­cer as of 1975, and in 1976 the first com­pre­hen­sive course for zookeep­ers started at the Auck­land Tech­ni­cal Insti­tute. Besides those devel­op­ments new species arrived as well. Peo­ple could come and watch white rhi­noc­er­oses and tamarins in the 1970s.

New enclo­sure devel­op­ment con­tin­ued in the 1980s with a new hip­popota­mus exhibit and a new moated and bar-​less orang­utan exhibit opened, the lat­ter is cur­rently part of the Orang­utan Trail. But prob­a­bly the high­light of those days was the three-​month stay of a pair of giant pan­das. These pan­das were part of an offer that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment made to the Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter for Australia’s bi-​centennial cel­e­bra­tions. A three-​month stay in Mel­bourne Zoo and a three-​month stay in Taronga Zoo, Syd­ney, was organ­ised, and Auck­land Zoo quickly inves­ti­gated the fea­si­bil­ity of a third stop in Auck­land. Well, these became a pop­u­lar three months in 1988, and all rev­enues were donated to giant panda research and con­ser­va­tion in China as well as to con­ser­va­tion projects in New Zealand. Not sure if this was the trig­ger that vis­i­tor num­bers rose again after a decline in the early 80s when com­pe­ti­tion appeared due to the open­ing of the Rainbow’s End theme park and Kelly Tarlton’s Under­wa­ter World in the Auck­land area, but the giant pan­das alone were seen by about 300,000 visitors.

In 1989, Auck­land as a city expanded when 11 ter­ri­to­r­ial author­i­ties merged into the large city of Auck­land. A new Zoo Enter­prise Board was estab­lished which became the legal entity respon­si­ble for the Zoo.

After WWII there had been a con­tin­u­ous flow of con­struc­tion work ongo­ing at Auck­land Zoo, either new con­struc­tion or refur­bish­ment. But this last decade of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury was a time of extreme change at Auck­land Zoo, with almost half the zoo’s enclo­sures being ren­o­vated or replaced. As of 1990 the design focussed more and more on cre­at­ing nat­u­ral­is­tic habi­tats, which shows for instance in the Ele­phant Clear­ing. The con­struc­tion of this exhibit began in 1990 and deliv­ered a large moated out­door enclo­sure with a mod­ern ele­phant house and pool, in which the pachy­derms could com­pletely sub­merge. Another exam­ple of this type of exhibit design that is part of the 1991 Zoo devel­op­ment plan, is Pride­lands. This large area, includ­ing the new savan­nah exhibit for giraffe, spring­bok, zebra and ostrich, flamingo, the rhino exhibit and Lion Hill, opened in 1997. For the lions it meant that they could leave the his­toric lion pit. Soon the area was extended with the Hippo River, a river­ine for­est area that encom­passed a new hip­popota­mus exhibit and an enclo­sure for chacma baboons (Papio ursi­nus). A huge improve­ment for the baboons that had pre­vi­ously lived in a cage dat­ing from 1926.

Despite the new exhibit and the Zoo’s good track record for breed­ing hip­pos a deci­sion was made to phase out hip­popota­muses (stop breed­ing). Due to the aver­age life expectancy of the hip­popota­mus of 4550 years, how­ever, it would take a long time before all the hip­pos would die of old age they reck­oned. The last two remain­ing hip­pos died in 2016, in March and August to be exact. Other species had to be phased out as well, it was decided. This included the wom­bat, puma, jaguar and leop­ard. While the genetic base for other species was strength­ened, for instance by import­ing three south­ern white rhi­noc­er­oses from South Africa. One of the two female rhi­nos appeared 10 months preg­nant on arrival from South Africa, so, in effect they had imported four specimens.

The chacma baboons were phased out start­ing around 2009 when the Zoo’s man­age­ment decided to focus on the hamadryas baboon species, which is housed in zoos through­out the region.

Besides many smaller devel­op­ments such as the new ring-​tailed lemur enclo­sure and the new Wal­laby walk-​through, two other land­mark exhibits were built in the 1990s, the New Zealand Aviary (1992) and The Rain­for­est (1996), a forested area that pro­vides a nat­ural envi­ron­ment for dif­fer­ent pri­mate species, includ­ing cotton-​top tamarins. The New Zealand Aviary is a free-​flight aviary and bush walk fea­tur­ing NZ native species.

Another major devel­op­ment at the turn of the cen­tury was the Sea Lion and Pen­guin Shores, opened in 2001, which replaced the old Wal­laby walk-​through and small mam­mal enclo­sures. This exhibit was designed to recre­ate a New Zealand Coastal ecosys­tem fea­tur­ing a beach and a large pool.

Then a period of rel­a­tive calm started with regard to con­struc­tion work, except for the build­ing of the New Zealand Cen­tre for Con­ser­va­tion Med­i­cine (NZCCM) in 2007. But in 2010 with the open­ing of the Trop­ics exhibit, focussing on the hot and trop­i­cal Amer­i­cas, things were fired up again. The New Zealand Aviary, orig­i­nat­ing from 1992, was rede­vel­oped into ‘The For­est’ in 2011 and to be included in Te Wao Nui – the Zoo’s largest ever project devel­op­ment which is ded­i­cated to New Zealand’s unique fauna and flora. Te Wao Nui (The Liv­ing Realm) opened on 11 Sep­tem­ber 2011 and cov­ers about 4 hectare of the zoo grounds and com­prises 6 habi­tats: The Coast, The Islands, The Wet­lands, The Night, The For­est and The High Coun­try. Another exist­ing exhibit that was incor­po­rated in Te Wao Nui is the Sea Lion and Pen­guin Shores renamed in the process as The Coast.

Then in May 2014, a new giraffe house was com­pleted and in 2016 Auck­land Zoo started their trans­for­ma­tion into a 21st-​century-​zoo. In Decem­ber 2016 ‘Strangely Beau­ti­ful Aus­tralia’ opened, which draws on the Murray-​Darling region of South­east Aus­tralia. The area is home to giant stick insects, East­ern snake-​necked tur­tles, red­back spi­ders, lace mon­i­tors and vibrant Aus­tralian birds who join the Tas­man­ian dev­ils, red-​necked wal­la­bies and emu to cre­ate a bio-​diverse Aus­tralian sec­tion. The devel­op­ment is the sec­ond part of the Zoo’s $120 mil­lion 10-​year-​development plan ‘Nearer to Nature’ 20162026.


Auck­land Zoo became involved in many con­ser­va­tion projects over the years, but they made the head­lines when they achieved a ‘world’s first’ in 1992 when ‘Hoki’, a kakapo – a native rare flight­less par­rot, was suc­cess­fully arti­fi­cially hatched and reared. It was returned in the wild to Maud Island, one of New Zealand’s off­shore islands (see Kakapo recov­ery).

In addi­tion to the Zoo’s exist­ing con­ser­va­tion efforts the Auck­land Zoo Con­ser­va­tion Fund was estab­lished in 2000 to sup­port the con­ser­va­tion of endan­gered ani­mals in the wild in both New Zealand and overseas.

Auck­land Zoo vet­eri­nar­i­ans became renown for their knowl­edge, hands-​on expe­ri­ence, and con­tri­bu­tion to con­ser­va­tion projects includ­ing kakapo recov­ery. Hence, they were appointed sup­plier of vet­eri­nary ser­vices for the Depart­ment of Conservation’s Kakapo Recov­ery Pro­gramme in 2006.

In 2007 the New Zealand Cen­tre for Con­ser­va­tion Med­i­cine (NZCCM) opened — the first national cen­tre for con­ser­va­tion med­i­cine in the world — replac­ing the Zoo’s old vet­eri­nary centre.

The Zoo not only con­tributed to con­ser­va­tion of New Zealand’s indige­nous species, because in 2008 three Suma­tran tiger cubs were bred as part of the inter­na­tional cap­tive breed­ing pro­gramme for this Crit­i­cally Endan­gered tiger subspecies.

As part of the grand tour of kakapo Sirocco (see Kakapo recov­ery) Auck­land Zoo hosted this ambas­sador for New Zealand con­ser­va­tion dur­ing Con­ser­va­tion Week 2009, in part­ner­ship with the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion. Due to this event the Zoo became the first zoo ever to host a kakapo. Also in 2009 the Zoo released 12 North­ern tuatara (descen­dants of the rare Cuvier Island pop­u­la­tion) onto Cuvier Island, boost­ing this island’s known tuatara pop­u­la­tion by over a third.

A mile­stone is achieved when 200 North Island brown kiwi chicks are suc­cess­fully incu­bated, hatched, reared and released as part of the Oper­a­tion Nest Egg (O.N.E.) pro­gramme (2010). O.N.E. is a Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion kiwi recov­ery pro­gramme where kiwi eggs are taken from the wild, hatched at the Zoo, and the chicks are kept on predator-​free islands until they are grown, before releas­ing them into the wild.

Hav­ing suc­cess­fully bred and raised sev­eral endan­gered species in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, the start of the next cen­tury showed a con­tin­u­a­tion of such high­lights that extended the Zoo’s breed­ing track record. In June 2000 the Zoo’s first white rhino calf was born, which was the first female white rhino born in New Zealand. The first ever suc­cess­fully hatched greater flamingo chicks in Aus­trala­sia, marked a world’s first for Auck­land Zoo in Jan­u­ary 2014. It was the first time a zoo had suc­cess­fully bred from an entirely hand-​reared flock in the world. Another world’s first was the suc­cess­ful breed­ing and (partly hand-)rearing in cap­tiv­ity of twin lesser short-​tailed bats in 2014, a species endemic to New Zealand. Archeys frog Leiopelma archeyiAlso in 2014 one female and three male Tas­man­ian dev­ils move to Auck­land Zoo from Australia’s Healesville Zoo to be part of an insur­ance pop­u­la­tion for this species and to raise aware­ness about the plight of this Endan­gered mar­su­pial. Even more impres­sive was the first ever breed­ing and rear­ing suc­cess of the world’s most evo­lu­tion­ar­ily dis­tinct and glob­ally endan­gered (EDGE) amphib­ian, New Zealand’s rare and unique Archey’s frog, a ‘liv­ing fos­sil’. This boosted the Zoo’s Archey’s frog pop­u­la­tion to 25 in Feb­ru­ary 2016.

Unfor­tu­nately, not every­thing the Zoo accom­plished received pos­i­tive appraisal. When in 2015 and 2016 Auck­land Zoo acquired two Asian ele­phants from Sri Lanka to enlarge the Zoo’s ele­phant num­ber, it was reported by Born Free that both ele­phants were res­i­dents of a con­tro­ver­sial Government-​owned facil­ity in Sri Lanka. Con­di­tions at Pin­newala Ele­phant ‘Orphan­age’ raised con­cern with the Born Free Foun­da­tion, as did the prac­tice of export­ing ele­phants from Sri Lanka to cap­tive facil­i­ties such as zoos over­seas. They firmly believe that such export to New Zealand will result in lit­tle or no con­ser­va­tion ben­e­fit to wild elephants.

(Source: Zoochat, Auck­land Zoo web­site (accessed in Jan­u­ary 2016), Wikipedia, Ency­clo­pe­dia of the World’s Zoos)

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.


about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
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