Scott Yeoman is a NZ Herald reporter

Zoo abuzz over baby boom and savannah

Little arrivals to include capybaras, squirrel monkeys and a red panda.

The first stage of Auckland Zoo's multi-million-dollar 10-year redevelopment plan will be completed this year with the opening of two new exhibits and the introduction of more zoo babies.

Last year, a playful Asian elephant from Sri Lanka made herself at home alongside Auckland Zoo's veteran elephant Burma, and the birth of a couple of clumsy-legged giraffe calves extended the zoo's steadily growing giraffe family.

In 2016, visitors will get the chance to welcome even more exotic newcomers, with zoo staff expecting capybara pups, squirrel monkey babies, a red panda cub, otter pups and kiwi chicks.

But the biggest milestone for Auckland Zoo will come around March/April with the opening of the new African Pridelands escarpment.

Rosita and Consuela are new to the Auckland Zoo. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Rosita and Consuela are new to the Auckland Zoo. Photo / Brett Phibbs


The $7 million development project began in May last year and is on track to open in time for Easter.

Auckland Zoo director Jonathan Wilcken said it was the first stage in the zoo's 10- year plan and was a "very exciting" development.

It will feature "fabulous new vistas" looking into the African savannah exhibit, he said, and provide a great new environment for some of the Auckland Zoo's African birds, meerkats and tortoises.

"Much of the focus of the next 10 years of development in the zoo is really about improving the environment within the zoo for our animals and for our visitors," Mr Wilcken said.

"The zoo has been around for over 90 years now and its development over that period has been a little bit ad-hoc.

"We've got now perhaps the most comprehensive development plans we've ever had and that's really aimed at bringing areas of the zoo up to our standards and our expectations."

Another new exhibit, opening later this year, will house fresh-water Australian species and will see the introduction of lace monitors - members of the monitor lizard family from over the Tasman.

These new exhibits, and the exciting range of species that arrive at Auckland Zoo to fill them, will join other recent newcomers such as Anjalee, who arrived in June last year to keep lonely Burma company in the Elephant Clearing precinct.

Mr Wilcken said the introduction of Anjalee went better than could have possibly been expected and she had settled in "so, so fabulously".

"It did take us a number of years longer than we first thought it would, but more than five years down the track we did finally bring Anjalee to the zoo.

"It was an amazing experience, it was quite emotional for everyone who was involved and we got such lovely feedback from everyone."

Mr Wilcken said the two elephants were now close friends. "You can just see Burma's a new elephant - it's great."

Auckland Zoo, which is home to 138 different species and over 875 animals, has the largest collection of native and exotic animals in New Zealand.

Mr Wilcken said that while there would continue to be new additions over the next 10 years, this was not the prime focus for the zoo's development.

He said the zoo was devoted to getting people engaged with and caring about wildlife at a time when animals were under extreme stress in the wild.

It was a conservation organisation in a number of different ways, Mr Wilcken said, and one of those ways was its ability to bring people and wildlife closer together and build empathy within the community.

"So over the next 10 years we'll be developing some extraordinary new habitats for orang-utans and for tigers and extending our area for some of our key African species - hippos and flamingos - and some of our primate species and so forth, he said.

Anjalee the elephant with head elephant keeper Andrew Coers. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Anjalee the elephant with head elephant keeper Andrew Coers. Photo / Brett Phibbs


"So there's a whole lot that we'll be developing both for our visitors and for our animals and it's all about creating that magic experience that gives people a sense of what amazing creatures [exist] and getting them to care."

The zoo would also continue to invest time and resources in its conservation projects around the country, Mr Wilcken said.

In 2015, Auckland Zoo staff clocked up more than 11,500 hours in the field, working on projects in 20 different locations in New Zealand.

This included releasing two of New Zealand's critically endangered takahe on to Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf and releasing 945 giant weta into mature native forest on the pest-free Motuhorapapa Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

Auckland Zoo staff also released six pateke, or brown teal, on to Rotoroa Island and successfully incubated, hatched, reared and released its 300th wild kiwi chick, which was named Thoihoi.

"A modern zoo is an incubator of really key wildlife management skills and it's our responsibility also to make them available to help wildlife in the wild," Mr Wilcken said.

He said Aucklanders and New Zealanders should not feel removed from the global wildlife crisis and the threat of poaching and species extinction.

"We're all part of a global community and even more importantly, and more immediately, we're all part of a New Zealand community and New Zealand wildlife itself is in great need."

Mr Wilcken said it was really important that as a society we develop a sense of stewardship and responsibility over wildlife - "which sees us all as active participants in helping wildlife to survive, and the zoo is trying to lead by example."

Otter pups were born at the Auckland Zoo. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Otter pups were born at the Auckland Zoo. Photo / Brett Phibbs


Coming up in 2016

The Zoo's full schedule of summer activities can be found at www.aucklandzoo.co.nz

January

• Auckland Zoo's Travel the World activity programme gives people a chance to explore the zoo's distinct geographical regions, and if you visit and participate in Travel the World between December 16 to February 29, you can visit the zoo again for free before Easter.

February

• Every Thursday from February 4 to March 3 Auckland Zoo will be open in the evenings until 8pm.

• New Zealand drummer and photographer Shelton Woolright is having a photography exhibition - Lonesome Beast - in the Old Elephant House at Auckland Zoo. It will run from February 3-26.

• An art and photography exhibition will launch in late February for three weeks, featuring work from Woolright, Dean Sacred, Flox, Otis Frizzell and Askew. A portion of the sale of all artworks will go towards the Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund.

• There will be four Auckland Zoo concerts in February. They are:

Feb 5: Stan Walker

Feb 13: Fly My Pretties

Feb 20: Bic Runga and Tiny Ruins

Feb 27: Yet to be announced

March

• Every Tuesday from March 1 to April 12 there will be a half-hour Wriggle & Rhyme session. These will see the zoo once again teaming up with Auckland Libraries to give parents and their little ones the chance to take part in music, dance and rhyme workout sessions.

• Whio Weekend with the famous blue duck race will take place on March 5/6.

Mid 2016

• The Pridelands development opens.

• A new exhibit for Australian fresh water species will open, seeing the introduction of lace monitors to Auckland Zoo - a member of the monitor lizard family.

New faces at Auckland Zoo

Asian elephant Anjalee

This two metre Asian Elephant arrived at Auckland Zoo on June 21, 2015. She weighs roughly 2003 kg and her birthday is on August 23. She is now 9 years old. Anjalee - whose name means "gracious gift" - was a gift from the government and people of Sri Lanka and was born at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage near the town of Kegalle.

Otter pups Chet and Kalaya

A male otter pup named Chet and a female named Kalaya were born at Auckland Zoo in March.

Capybaras Rosita and Consuela

Rosita and Consuela are two female capybaras that arrived from Adelaide Zoo in April. They were both born in April, 2014.

Zuri the giraffe calf

This female giraffe calf, which was born at the zoo in April, was Auckland Zoo's 32nd giraffe calf.

Mtundu the giraffe calf

Born on August 21 to Auckland Zoo's 13-year-old giraffe Kiraka. Mtundu - which means mischievous in Swahili - is Kiraka's second calf and the first male giraffe to be born at Auckland Zoo since 2010.

- NZ Herald

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