Bringing in other animals is among Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary's plans as the only big cat park in New Zealand prepares to open its doors to the public.
A group of about 35 Northlanders who helped
the park with upgrading of facilities, food for the animals, and other help were invited for a tiki tour yesterday and similar groups will be welcomed over the weekend before the public begin roaring in from Tuesday next week.
Since 2013, the park has been unable to open to the public as it was required to upgrade facilities, build significant new containment facilities, provide all that is required for animal welfare and maintain staffing at a level that can sustain public access.
The Ministry for Primary Industries granted the park operators all licences to operate as a containment facility last month.
Big Cats Ltd operates the park and money for operational expenses and asset investment comes from Bolton Equities.
Operations director Janette Vallance said bringing other animals in and turning an enclosure into a children's playground were among exciting projects for the near future.
"There's possibility of another tiger but we're looking at other things so whether it's more cheetahs or jaguar. New Zealand has very tight biodiversity [rules] so it's not going to be quick.
"We've slight advantage with tigers because we've got tigers so they seem to let tigers in."
Vallance said the keepers floated the idea to turn an enclosure into a kids' playground which made sense.
"We'll have to make sure it's safe for kids but keep it along that theme of it being an animal enclosure. Just something different."
Violette Clare, 8, skipped school and came alongside dad David specifically to see cheetahs at the park "because they are fast".
"She couldn't contain her excitement when I told her about the visit the other day. Her school was very understanding because they know it's very educational," David Clare said.
He's the Firth site manager for Whangārei and Marsden areas and the company supplied concrete and donated labour during the upgrade of the facilities at the park.
Together with the Hundertwasser Art Central in town, Clare said the park could be an absolute drawcard for local and overseas tourists.
Sandeep Diwan handled the printing and design of the park calendars, maps, and similar materials and brought his son and daughter along for the tour.
"The park will add value to Whangārei and Northland in general and will complement other attractions around the district," he said.
In five years' time, Vallance said she wanted to see the park as a training and education centre where people learnt about the care of big cats.
"Our training programme is pretty good and it's developing. I want to give that to other people to learn how to do this. You can't do this anywhere else. It's about the cats being looked after and people learning how to do that or learning how to help the ones in the wild.
"Eventually we'll be able to contribute to conservation programmes. Our focus at the moment, as I keep telling people, is these guys. We don't have an income, we have to have an income which we'll get next week, which is very exciting. Big cats are quite special, not everyone can do them," Vallance said.
The number of visitors on any given day is capped at 100.
The sanctuary houses nine African lions, six Barbary lions (extinct in the wild), two tigers, a cheetah (oldest in the country) and New Zealand's only leopard.
Bolton Equities has spent close to $10 million on the park over the past four years.
There are three ticket options. Bronze entry which includes all day park access at $37 for adults and $21 a child 14 years and over but does not included a guided park tour.
Silver entry at $49 per adult and $32 for a child includes guided park tour while gold pass also includes handfeeding the big cats. Entry is $86 adult, $331 for a family pass, and $770 group pass that covers 10 people.
Guided tours are at 11am, 1pm, and 2pm. Children cannot enter the park without a paying adult. Those buying tickets and visiting the park will need to be double-vaccinated.