Can you tell us about the history of Hamilton Zoo and a bit about the park today?
Hamilton Zoo started its life as Hilldale Game Farm in 1966 under the ownership of Mr and Mrs Powell, breeding and raising pheasants for sale to the Acclimatisation Society. They also began a small collection of exotic mammals for viewing.
As the production of game birds became uneconomical and interest in their other animals increased, the Powell’s focus shifted towards the formation of a zoo. In 1969 they opened the Hilldale Zoo and Wildlife Park.
By 1976 the Hilldale Zoo was too big for the couple to managed and was bought by the Hamilton City Council. A Zoological trust working with the Powell’s was appointed to run the zoo. In 1983 the Powell’s retired and the Hamilton City Council took over Management from the Trust. Closure of the Zoo was proposed but the people of Hamilton rallied to its defence. Over six days an enormous public petition was gathered, promoting Council to continue its support, which it has to this day. In 1991 the Hilldale Zoo Park officially became Hamilton Zoo. This year Hamilton Zoo celebrates its 50th anniversary.
What are some of the conservation or sustainability initiatives at Hamilton Zoo?
Bird Banding – both wild and captive birds often have a band harmlessly applied to their leg for identification purposes. It’s an easy way to mark individuals and record specific information to that animal into ZIMS without having to catch them, reducing stress. In a wild setting bands can provide valuable information for conservation about the lifespan and migratory patterns of birds.
To band any New Zealand bird you have to be trained and signed off with the Department of Conservation (DOC), unfortunately over the years we have lost a lot of the experienced banders in the Waikato region and now those who are signed off to band birds are few and far between.
Hamilton Zoo is at the initial stages of setting up a banding club alongside the Department of Conservation and Birds New Zealand. We have already had an initial club meeting with the banding office who went over the background of banding and had a hands-on session with 3D bird legs.
Moving forward we will be focusing on those who need banding for their work and running monthly sessions where we will catch wild birds onsite and band them before re-releasing to the wild.
Do you have examples of a good welfare idea you/your team came up with for your animals?
Hamilton Zoo currently grows its own micro greens for its birds, and other animals as required. Keeper Grant Kother applied on behalf of the Zoo for funding for this idea from an innovation initiative at Hamilton City Council and was a successful recipient.
Micro greens are the shoots of tiny vegetables – radish, mung beans, peas, that are picked after the first leave develop. They contain a higher amount of vitamins, minerals and polyphenols than their mature counterparts. Diets can be a tricky thing to get right, ensuring an animal is receiving the correct nutrition to maintain their health and wellbeing.
Birds can be particular with what they eat. Parrots especially are a bit like children in that they prefer sweeter or fatty, less healthy foods. The microgreens are also a good way of conveying a message of sustainability and the importance of growing your own produce.