At 10am on 25 September 1976 the dream of the South Island Zoological Society became a reality with the opening of their creation, Orana Wildlife Park. Forty years on, Orana is an internationally respected zoo, owing much of its success to strong community support.
Initially, the pride of the Park was the iconic drive-through Lion Reserve, the first and only one of its type in New Zealand. This amazing experience set the tone for the zoo, particularly relating to experiences with lions. Chief Executive Lynn Anderson, has worked at Orana for twenty years: “I experienced the drive-through Lion Reserve in my parent’s car and was simply in awe of it. I recall thinking that I would love to be inside the feed cage with the keeper; ironically this idea was the basis for our current Lion Encounter that commenced in 1999. The Lion Encounter is a key experience used to promote the Park and it recently received worldwide media coverage.”
Orana has continued to establish clear points of difference, providing memorable encounters to enthuse people about wildlife, such as: hand feeding majestic giraffe, viewing New Zealand’s only gorillas, meeting massive rhino ‘face-to-face’, seeing kiwi and interacting with cheeky kea.
A huge part of Orana’s success is buy-in from local people and businesses. “As a registered charity, gatetakings are an essential component of our operation and locals make up our largest visitor demographic. Orana raises 100% of funds for all capital developments and to date, over $15M has been raised to create the zoo. This includes $6M for Orana’s biggest ever project - our Great Ape Centre, completed in 2015 - that is home to the magnificent gorillas. Funds have been raised from a range of sources including private donors, bequests and philanthropic trusts. Many local businesses have assisted by donating materials, consultancy and equipment. We are extremely grateful for such wonderful support.”
“Orana has been progressively constructed over the years on a dry, stony riverbed. Every undulation has been created and most buildings and enclosures have been constructed in-house by the Park team. Now, many native species, such as bellbird, live and breed in the grounds, attesting to the fantastic job that has been done starting with almost unusable land.”
Conservation is a cornerstone of the Park’s role. Orana breeds NZ kiwi, whio (blue duck) and pateke (brown teal) for release to the wild. Notable success has been achieved with cheetah, white rhinoceros, giraffe and scimitar-horned oryx. Conservation education is also a key role. “Take home messages”, such as keeping a dog on a leash to help kiwi, to raising awareness on issues surrounding palm oil are conveyed to visitors and formal education programmes are tailored to any curriculum area for school children.
“We are proud of what Orana has become and what it has achieved and thank the community most sincerely for their valuable input. Our team will continue to work hard fundraising for a range of exciting new developments, so that Orana continues to be a valuable city asset and a Canterbury icon. In 2017 orang-utans will be transferred and plans are underway for our next capital project – a New Zealand Native Centre, ensuring the zoo will evolve into the future” concludes Lynn.