15 Years in the Making

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Billabong Zoo’s owners, the Stone family, will celebrate 15 years as the zoo’s custodians on the 2nd December; what a great 15 years they have had! Chrissy Jones chatted with Mark Stone and some of the keepers.

How has the zoo grown over the years, Mark?

We started with two staff members and now have 22, evolving from a wildlife park to a nationally respected oo. From the start, my wife Danena, our children, Blake and Brooke, the staff and I have been determined to push Billabong on to the big stage and into the limelight.

From the acquisition of our first real exotic animal, the Black Hand Spider Monkeys, to the arrival of our Snow Leopards, to the transportation of an almost 5 metre monster croc (Shrek) from Darwin to the importation of critical new bloodlines, Cheetahs and Lions from Africa … it has been all go, go, go for the Billabong team.

The zoo is undergoing some major renovations; what difference will they make?

It’s now time for the Billabong main building to undergo a facelift and bring it into the 20th Century. Many of the construction companies that I spoke to suggested it would be cheaper and easier to knock it down and start again. But it was important for us to keep the integrity of the iconic landmark and renovate it.

The renovations will include a new ambulant toilet and parenting room, total upgrade of the ladies’ and gents’ toilet facilities, and some long overdue staff amenities (offices and meeting room).

There’ll be a very bright and fun designated children’s party room, a new modern entry and administration entry counter, kitchen refurbishment and funky café remodelling, which will eventually include an extension to better facilitate for locals who would like to just come to the zoo café, for brekky or lunch, without visiting the zoo. We are planning a full feature in the January edition of FOCUS, so stay tuned.

Are the day to day activities at the zoo affected at all? 

Yes, of course this scale of project will disrupt things a little as we progress through, but we are meeting the challenges head on and pushing forward for the mid December completion deadline, just in time for the Xmas holidays.

Everyone can still come and enjoy a normal day at the zoo and see firsthand what we are up to.

So it’s all systems go … What can visitors experience daily? Animal encounters?

Yes! We have more than 15 presentations every day, where our guests get the opportunity to see our wonderful wildlife up close and personal, as our passionate keepers explain all about our residents of Billabong.

We have expanded our wildlife encounters, where small groups get very close to our Meerkats, Snow Leopards, Cheetahs, Red Pandas and more.

What has been your main aim with the zoo?

Danena and I have always aspired to encourage “Conservation through Education“; it’s been the zoo’s primary mission statement right from the get go. There needs to be a good reason for animals to be in captivity. All of our furry and feathered friends are ambassadors for their species and part of our family, and we aim to be ambassadors for our wonderful wildlife.

Sure, we could show pictures and documentaries and all that helps the cause, but nothing touches you like seeing the real thing and appreciating them for the wonderful creatures they are.

We spend a lot of time each week educating our visitors at our daily presentations, and our keepers are 110% dedicated to what they do. Billabong staff and the keepers constantly raise awareness and funds for conservation organisations both here in Australia and overseas and work tirelessly towards caring for and ensuring our animal family have the best care and conditions possible.

FROM THE KEEPERS

What’s a typical day at the zoo?

Blake – Keeper: Whilst most of us would say there there isn’t really an average day, our day is a combination of public interactions, grounds maintenance, enclosure cleaning and refreshments, and of course, what most people think of, feeding and working with the animals.

Favourite part of your job … The diversity that keeps things interesting and the animals that ensure no two days are ever the same.

What’s a typical day at the zoo?

Brooke – Keeper: Every day is very different, which makes it interesting. My day starts at about 6:30am, when I wake to feed a Swamp Wallaby joey, Cindy. I feed her many times throughout the day in between jobs. My day ends at about 11pm, when Cindy has her last bottle of the day.

Favourite part of your job … There are many amazing parts of the job. I feel that the most rewarding part is seeing the excitement on a child’s or adult’s face when they see the animals. On top of this, I know  I am contributing to the conservation of a species through our educational talks and being involved in awareness days and fundraisers.

What’s a typical day at the zoo?

Stu – Keeper:  Feeding, cleaning and caring for the creatures in our care, along with sharing our passion for wildlife with visitors and promoting conservation and education.

Favourite part of your job … Spending quality time with Shrek and the other reptiles. I also enjoy the love and attention from some of our birds, particularly two young Major Mitchell cockatoos, who think I am their mum. A zookeeper’s job is like an iceberg. What the visitors see is merely the tip or small part of our work. It is a job that’s tough, rough (plenty of blood, sweat and tears) but through it all the bond and passion for the wildlife makes it all worthwhile.

What’s a typical day at the zoo?

Brad – Keeper: Every day is different, so there’s never really a typical day.

Favourite part of your job…
Being around the animals.

What’s a typical day at the zoo?

Pam – Keeper: Providing five star care for all of the animals at the zoo every day. This includes cleaning, feeding, providing enrichment and spending quality time with the animals.

Favourite part of your job … I have so many favourites! Walking the Dingoes around the park, hand feeding the Red Pandas and playing with the Meerkats, just to name a few. Zookeepers wear many hats. We are educators, conservationists, animal nutritionists, nurses, maintenance workers, gardeners … The list goes on and on! Each day is different, and that is what I love about my job. We are passionate about animals and love doing what we can to support the plight of those in the wild as well.

What is the typical day in the life of a zookeeper?

Ashley – Keeper: There really is no “typical” day; every day is different. I think that’s part of the attraction the job; you never know how the day will play out.  The diversity makes it really important that you are prepared for anything.

Christy – Keeper: Well I’m not sure that any day is “typical” especially working with animals and people! So its essential to be flexible and prioritize as different situations arise.  Generally though, the day starts with a short meeting amongst staff, then we head off to our various sections to check our animals, feed, clean and set up for the day.

Favourite part of your job … When you are rewarded by the animals for all the hard work you put in. It can be really emotional if you have been working with an animal to learn a new command or a new animal where you need to gain their trust; sometimes it can take weeks and weeks, but when you achieve it, it is really a fantastic feeling.

I love getting to know the animals as individuals and developing a friendship with them, based on mutual trust and respect. Working closely and being able to interact with the cheetahs and lions has been a dream of mine for many years – so it’s a huge blessing that it’s become a reality for me.  Some of my other zoo friends that I share a special relationship with include Shrek the crocodile, Lisa the quoll, Private the penguin, Spot the carpet python and Peta the koala. I also really love training the animals – it’s a great feeling when the animal “gets” what you’re asking it to do.

Thanks everyone.

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