Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Major Hamilton zoo revamp plan finally released

Hamilton Zoo. Picture / Belinda Feek
Hamilton Zoo. Picture / Belinda Feek

A draft plan outlining a major redevelopment of Hamilton Zoo has finally been revealed after a delay of two-and-a-half years - but the $80,00 document may be dumped in favour of a native wildlife park with no exotic animals if the new mayor gets his way.

The Hamilton Zoo draft master plan was put on hold after the death of zookeeper Samantha Kudeweh, who was mauled by a Sumatran tiger in September 2015.

However it was finally released this week after the Herald lodged a complaint to the Ombudsman, who ruled the Hamilton City Council had no good grounds to withhold it from the public.

The council first declined to release the document while it was being prosecuted for Kudeweh's death. But after sentencing was completed it withheld the information on the grounds that it would affect the public consultation process and it would soon be publicly available. By then it was at least eight months since the information was first requested.The plan - which cost council $80,000 and was developed in 2014 with input from councillors, external advisers and overseas consultants - proposes a major multimillion-dollar revamp of the zoo, including overnight glamping and a new area housing tigers and otters.

The plan proposes creating 10 visitor experience zones which would include an entrance point with a cafe/function centre and information centre, a family play area, a bush walk, an aviary which would be redeveloped, an expansion of the existing Savannah exhibits, where the larger herds of animals would be displayed, another area where primates would be on view and an area named Carnivore Corner housing tigers and Asian small-clawed otters.

There would also be a facility called Waterhole Camp which would offer a "safari-style ensuite tent" for people to stay overnight at the zoo. Guests would be able to view the tigers from their accommodation and New Zealand species would be free to wander around the campsite.

As part of the plan the neighbouring Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park would be linked with the zoo and share the zoo's facilities.

The redevelopment was broken into five stages totalling an additional $16.21 million for capital and construction costs on top of the long-term plan budget.

Hamilton City Council general manager of community Lance Vervoort said the costs would need to be reviewed as they were two years old. The first phase was expected to begin in 2014/15 and the final stage was due for completion by 2025.

But mayor Andrew King, who felt council should have released the plan earlier, has disagreed with it and wants the zoo to become a hospital for injured native animals and a native wildlife breeding centre.

That would see the exotic animals such as the Sumatran tigers, giraffes and the southern white rhinoceros currently housed in Hamilton being sent elsewhere.

"I want the budget kept and the staff to stay, but I want it to become a hospital for injured animals and I would like to see it as native New Zealand animals only."

King's idea included the zoo breeding the native animals and releasing them into the wild. The zoo would combine with Waiwhakareke and the whole area would be pest fenced which could be funded under the zoo's "large" budget.

However he acknowledged not everyone might share his vision.

"Remember I am only one elected member and I could well be not a majority on this. This is just a personal view."

Councillor Angela O'Leary, who chaired the project, strongly disagreed and felt it was important for a city the size of Hamilton to have a zoo.

"I definitely don't think we should be closing the zoo at all and I sympathise with him around his view about animals in captivity but that's unfortunately the world that we live in ... to give kids experience and education around conservation and how precious wild animals are to the world - it's the only mechanism we have to do that.

"So no, I definitely do not support closing the zoo."

She felt there would be overwhelming support from the public when the document went out for public consultation.

"It's definitely my feeling that it should be supported by council and I think anyone who wouldn't support it would be grossly underestimating the feeling of Hamilton having that zoo."

The plan would be discussed at the community and services committee in April and would be subject to public consultation.

- NZ Herald

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