Can you tell us about the history of Willowbank Wildlife Reserve and a bit about the Reserve today?
Our reserve was founded by the Willis family in Christchurch, NZ more than four decades ago and is still owned and operated by members of the founding family.
We hold true to three main goals: a) to be part of the conservation of species, b) to educate guests and advocate for wildlife and c) to provide entertainment to families and visitors.
The Willowbank experience tells the story of our country’s natural heritage using innovative display techniques, with an emphasis on creating a natural environment.
You work with many native New Zealand species, tell us about Willowbank’s conservation work for local species.
Willowbank has a long history of involvement in conservation projects. We actively participate in breeding programs for rare and endangered species, including ZAA Australasian Breeding Programs.
We have released over 600 kiwis back to their natural habitat on the West Coast of NZ and have been a part of population expansion for tuatara, brown teal, kea, takahe, kereru, kaka and weka.
We also participate in breeding programs of rare heritage farm stock such as awassi sheep, valais sheep and miniature zebu cattle.
Do you have examples of a great welfare idea you/your team came up with for your animals?
We have been doing some innovative work on the welfare and conservation of native bird species to address the lack of data about many of them. We work with several Universities around New Zealand to study species like the kea in ways that have low impact on the animal and complement our existing enrichment program.
One study into gut passage times for seed dispersal involved offering them more variety in their diet, including many native plants that they eat in the wild.
Another study, involving providing them with complex puzzles to solve, giving them hours of enrichment and advancing our knowledge of their behaviour.