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His­tory

New Zealand’s old­est sur­viv­ing zoo was estab­lished in 1906 after a group of res­i­dents peti­tioned the Welling­ton City Coun­cil to estab­lish a Zoo for the peo­ple of Welling­ton. This peti­tion coin­cided with the offer to the city of a young lion by the name of “King Dick” (named after Prime Min­is­ter Richard Sed­don) by the Bostock and Womb­well Cir­cus. King Dick was offi­cially the Zoo’s first ani­mal. King Dick was soon joined by llama, emus and kan­ga­roos to form the foun­da­tion of the Zoo, ini­tially housed in the Welling­ton Botan­i­cal Gar­dens. The col­lec­tion was moved to New­town Park, the Zoo’s present loca­tion, in 1907. The col­lec­tion of ani­mals grew con­tin­u­ously, with for instance two axis deer and six Himalayan thar donated by the duke of Bed­ford, pres­i­dent of the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don, in 1908. Other dona­tions, from other zoos and pri­vate col­lec­tions, fol­lowed and by 1912, Welling­ton Zoo housed over 500 ani­mals. King Dick was pre­sented with a female com­pan­ion, which led to lion cubs born in 2013. Other species on dis­play in that year included camel (which vis­i­tors could ride), sea lion, capuchin mon­key and dingo. Over the next 30 years, with sup­port of the Welling­ton Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety the Zoo new ani­mals were acquired and new enclo­sures built or improved. The first tigers arrived in 1923 and the first ele­phants in 1927, while two moated bear enclo­sures with con­crete walls were con­structed in 1929 and 1931. The Zoo records show that in the 1920s, besides the Tas­man­ian devil, the now extinct Tas­man­ian tiger or Thy­lacine was part of the ani­mal col­lec­tion as well.

Dur­ing WWII zoo devel­op­ment stopped tem­porar­ily, because sev­eral zookeep­ers joined the armed forces. Nev­er­the­less things were picked up after the war where they were left ear­lier. The pri­mate sec­tion grew with the arrival of a young Muller’s grey gib­bon (Hylo­bates muel­leri) in Decem­ber 1949, who became the first zoo’s longest serv­ing res­i­dent – to be trumped by a tuatara at a cer­tain point in the future of course – as well as the world’s old­est gib­bon when he died in 2008. In 1956, as a part of the Zoo’s 50th anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tions, three female chim­panzees arrived from Lon­don Zoo. This must have been the rea­son that they intro­duced tea par­ties with the chimps after­wards. Like in Lon­don zoo the tea par­ties were very pop­u­lar with the public.


(Source: Archives New Zealand — Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga ;Ref­er­ence: Pic­to­r­ial Parade 55. National Film Unit, 1956
Licensed by Man­atū Taonga Min­istry for Cul­ture and Her­itage for re-​use under the Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution-​NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence)

The last tea party was in Feb­ru­ary 1970, four years after Koen­raad Kuiper became Zoo direc­tor. After World War II Kuiper emi­grated to New Zealand because he couldn’t find a suit­able job in the Nether­lands. More remark­ably, his father had been direc­tor of Rot­ter­dam Zoo (Dier­gaarde Bli­j­dorp) before and dur­ing the war. Kuiper senior had been a strong oppo­nent of using zoo ani­mals for enter­tain­ment of the pub­lic. This might have influ­enced the ideas of the son, and together with the new era of zoo devel­op­ment and hus­bandry this led to an end of the chimp tea par­ties. Today, Welling­ton Zoo’s chim­panzees live in a large out­door park and new indoor home, which was com­pleted in 2007.

In the 1970s a revival of inter­est in New Zealand’s indige­nous species, such as the kiwi and tuatara led to the open­ing of the Zoo’s first noc­tur­nal house in 1975.

The four ele­phants the zoo housed dur­ing its exis­tence, pro­vided enter­tain­ment to the pub­lic by offer­ing rides on their back. New insights in ani­mal behav­iour, ele­phants should be ide­ally kept in herds of 45 as they are very social ani­mals, and zoo objec­tives led to the deci­sion in 1983 to that the zoo had nei­ther the space nor the resources to keep elephants.

In the 1980s many old-​fashioned con­crete and barred cages were demol­ished and replaced by enclo­sures of mod­ern design, while for the ani­mal col­lec­tion more atten­tion was paid to endan­gered species instead of the many com­mon species they had on dis­play. Hence, species such as snow leop­ard, giraffe, sun bear, lemur, white-​cheeked gib­bon and Suma­tran tigers joined the col­lec­tion. In addi­tion, breed­ing pro­grammes were ini­ti­ated for kiwi and tuatara. The next decade saw the launch of a total over­haul of the Zoo, but due to an eco­nomic reces­sion this couldn’t be pur­sued and finalised. Nev­er­the­less, it did deliver a brand new entrance build­ing, which also housed a new zoo school, a gift shop and admin­is­tra­tive quar­ters. Decem­ber 1998 the exhibit called Trop­i­cal River Trail was opened which fol­lowed the newest design stan­dards for enclo­sures to pro­vide vis­i­tors a spe­cial expe­ri­ence by habi­tat immer­sion. This part start­ing directly after the entrance, includ­ing the pri­mate islands, still exists, but lost the name Trop­i­cal River Trail.

A new major rede­vel­op­ment started in 2002 fol­lowed by a grand open­ing of the new Asia sec­tion, a spon­sored project, in Sep­tem­ber 2012. The Asia sec­tion includes the new Malayan Sun Bear exhibit, as well as the rede­vel­oped Suma­tran Tiger exhibit. On 22 Octo­ber 2015 the final project of that rede­vel­op­ment pro­gramme, Meet the Locals – cel­e­brat­ing New Zealand’s native species, was opened to the pub­lic. The brand new kea aviary walk-​through expe­ri­ence, how­ever, was com­pleted and pop­u­lated in 2017.

The Zoo is a not for profit char­i­ta­ble trust, and has been that way since 2003. The Trust runs the Zoo on behalf of Welling­ton City Coun­cil – the Zoo’s prin­ci­pal funder.


(Source: Welling­ton Zoo web­site (accessed 2002); Welling­ton Zoo annual reports; Ency­clo­pe­dia of the World’s Zoos (ed. C.E. Bell, 2001); web­site The Ani­mal Facts (accessed 25.12.2017); Wikipedia; ‘Het huis met de leeuwen’ by Tania Heimans, 2015)

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

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

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