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Wellington Zoo Horticulture Mimics Reality

Media Release 22 April 2005

Wellington Zoo Horticulture Mimics Reality

Naturalistic enclosures are fast becoming Wellington Zoo’s specialty, but the Zoo’s horticultural work is often overshadowed by the unique animals.

Horticulture is an essential but costly element of any Zoo but Wellington Zoo is fortunate to have two resident Horticulturalists on staff and a contractor base to call on. Horticulture Team Leader Tony Kelly has been researching, designing and planting browse, natives and foreign greenery at the Zoo since 2003. It is a busy job that sometimes goes on behind the scenes and often involves scientific research into the compatibility of plants with animals.

With three major themes running through the Zoo; Forests will Flourish, Islands in Isolation and African Diversity, the work involved in mimicking these environments should not be underestimated.

Tony’s work on the African enclosures needs to reflect the African Savannah. “We want visitors to say ‘wow that looks like Africa” he says.

As with importing animals, there are restrictions that apply to the importation of plants.

“If we can’t grow the plant that corresponds to the animal’s natural environment, then we need to source it. The same restrictions apply to plants as for animals though, so if we’re sourcing plants internationally we need to meet MAF requirements” comments Tony.

While creating a naturalistic atmosphere to an enclosure through plants is one goal, another more involved and ongoing project is maintaining the browse selection that the Zoo relies upon to feed many of its animals.

Tony’s research has identified a list of browse that can be grown in the Zoo and fed to the animals.

“Giraffes in the Savannah will browse on Acacia tree, but this tree doesn’t grow fast enough in New Zealand, so we have to substitute it with similar species like Pohutukawa and Mimosa” describes Tony.

“There are approximately 150 species of African Acacia in Africa, however in New Zealand we tend to use Australasian species because they’re easier to get hold of”.

Working closely alongside Zoo Veterinarian, Katja Geschke, a database of New Zealand native plants is maintained outlining substitutes for plants and browse that are not available in this country.

“We need to be aware of plant species that can grow and won’t be poisonous to the animals, for example we had to remove a Ngaio tree during the construction of the new Red Panda Enclosure because they’re highly poisonous” comments Tony.

A growth area in the United States of America, Zoo horticulture is also on the increase in Australasia with a changing focus in many Zoos to reflect the natural habitats of animals.

Visitors to Wellington Zoo can view the increasing number of naturalistic enclosures and can look forward to further developments in this area.


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