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'We're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo . . .'

June 2006

'We're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo . . .'

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Jake, a friendly cockatoo, was part of the Zoo team that handed over the tapes – Scoop Image


Memories and experiences of Wellington zookeepers, and others who have had strong connections with the Wellington Zoo, were handed over to the Turnbull Library's Oral History Centre.

The Wellington Zoo Centenary Oral History Project was commissioned by the Wellington Zoo Trust, and funded by the Lottery Grants Board, in recognition of the Zoo's centenary, that is being celebrated this year.

The project, consisting of 15 interviews and including stories that reach back as far as the 1930s, was carried out by oral historian Susan Fowke.

'The interviews cover a wide range of experience, from elephant-keeping to breeding kiwi, to watching chimpanzees' tea parties, but the common denominator is always a love of animals,' Ms Fowke said.

'At the time of the interviews, six were with current Zoo employees and two with past employees. Of these, there are three women and five men. The remaining seven are people who had strong childhood connections with the Zoo - either because their fathers were zookeepers or because they were regular visitors. Two are grandchildren of one of the original Zoo benefactors.

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'The Zoo's longest-serving employee was one of the people interviewed. Frank Coles started work at the Zoo in 1954 as a 14-year-old and now, 52 years on, is still working there,' Ms Fowke said.

'Mr Coles is highly regarded for his work as keeper of the chimpanzees. At first he worked alongside his father, Ken Coles, who was Head Keeper when the chimpanzees first arrived at the zoo, and together they trained the chimpanzees for their public tea parties. Later Frank and his wife hand-raised two baby chimps in their own home - bottle feeding with advice from the Karitane Hospital - because the mother could not feed them. After a year living with the Coles, the chimps were successfully reintegrated with their mother and the rest of the group.


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