Pupils from Oturu School added their names to the lengthening list of those who have enjoyed an adventurous overnight stay at Auckland Zoo last week.
Now in its fourth year, the Zoofari, a partnership between the zoo and The Warehouse, with support from Ritchies Transport, gives children from low-decile schools in Auckland and Northland (since 2015) the chance to experience conservation-based learning programmes at the zoo.
Forty Year 5-6 Oturu children, who had been exploring the topic of animal well-being (hauora kararehe) and the role of zoos in preparation for their big trip, travelled further than any other school so far to explore the zoo, enjoy a specially guided night walk, sleep over in the Old Elephant House, and participate in structured interactive education sessions with zoo educators in the Te Wao Nui (New Zealand) precinct.
Auckland Zoo team leader for schools programmes, Laura Rayner, said the Oturu children had written incredibly compelling letters as to why they should be chosen for the excursion, what they wanted to learn and why.
"These amazing young children are clearly passionate about animals and the environment, and many of them had never been to the zoo before, so it was fantastic that we could offer them this unique, enriching experience to connect with and grow their love for wildlife," she said.
The Warehouse Kaitaia store manager Jamie Hobby said it was the generosity of his customers that had made the trip possible.
"It shows the real benefit and reward of the fundraising we often do at the checkout, and in this case the 'Add a $' campaign for the Zoofari programme," he said.
Oturu teacher Stacey Cowell said the children had been excited about the trip for months, and had focused on some very creative animal-related projects.
"They are very curious kids, and through our term topic hauora kararehe they have really driven much of their own learning," she said.
"One of the activities was designing and creating their own 3-D animal enclosures [trioramas] with enrichments that give the animals the best quality of life."
Senior media and communications co-ordinator for the zoo, Jane Healy, was "super impressed" with what the children had done before they arrived and how engaged they were during their visit.
Students from seven Northland schools, including Kaitaia, Waipapa and Kaikohe, are participating in The Warehouse Zoofari programme this month, each session being unique to the school, designed in partnership with the teachers.
Meanwhile the Oturu children made the most of their time in Auckland, staying a second night so they could visit the museum.