With a total of seven children between them and with only one still at home that was about to fly the nest, Greg and Yvonne started looking for the opportunity to do something different with our lives. Greg had been cutting up bits of wood and sticking them back together (Cabinetmaker) since leaving school and Yvonne had been farming (sheep, cattle & crop) for 20+ years and had spent the last five years as a Receptionist then Practice Manager at a Medical Centre.
Having an interest in birds with their own extensive collection, they originally looked in the direction of a Bird Park that was for sale in Queensland. While in that process they were talking with a friend from Adelaide Zoo who mentioned to them that there was a Wildlife Park at Halls Gap for sale.
In mid July 2007 they came to find this quaint little park located in a beautiful natural setting with The Grampians as the backdrop. Some have described this location and the view here as “just magic”. As a result of this visit they decided to go for it.
So began the journey of sourcing finance, selling their home and farm, giving notice to their current employers and training their replacements, sorting how best to manage the shift for the birds, leaving friends and family.
On the 1st December 2007 they became the proud new owners of Halls Gap Wildlife Park & Zoo. With a base to start from, the aim was (and still is) to develop it further from being just another “Wildlife Park” to a “Regional Zoo” so the decision was made to change the name to Halls Gap Zoo.
There are now over 160 species on display with the aim to add a few more iconic species such as cheetah and rhinoceros.
One of the major needs identified early on was infrastructure. Construction in the first twelve months included:
- a 25m x 8m workshop
- a dry feed preparation and storage shed of the same dimensions
- an upgrade of the food preparation kitchen (including replacing three fridges with one coolroom and refitting the kitchen with stainless steel work surfaces)
- renovating the zoo entrance and car park area
- an off-display reptile room
- 27 off-display aviaries/quarantine area
- erecting a large shade-sail to provide permanent shade for the public in the playground area
- replacing all the water troughs
- putting in 2kms of underground poly pipe, new taps etc
- building or replacing eight bridges
- re-gravelling 1.6kms of public pathways
- an all-weather boundary track
- replacing all the fencing wire and hay band hinges on gates as well as welding and hanging 42 new ones
All this was accomplished amongst a myriad of other large and small tasks like tours, educational talks and promotional events. Next stage of development included
- converting the reptile/undercover BBQ area into a nocturnal house
- moving 1200m3 of dirt, 10 truckloads of fallen timber and 190 tonnes of rock to build mountains for Tahr, Yellow-footed and Brush-tailed Rock-wallabies, Barbary Sheep, Tassie Devils and Dingoes
- replacing 4kms out of a total of 8kms of deer fencing and chain-link
- creating a Wetlands area where we have deepened/extended four waterholes and moved in Brolga, Magpie and Cape Barren Geese, Swans and Ducks.
That’s the first 12 months taken care of! Needless to say with only the two owner operators and one part-time worker (who was an ex-postie and came with the property) his hours were increased to full-time and another full-time (who was a law clerk looking for her “tree change” and had a huge passion for animals) were employed.
A new entry building (shaped as a pyramid) was constructed so visitors have a focal point of entry and exit.
The old entry building was converted to house an interesting display of replica fossils from trilobites to a tyrannosaur skull.
New enclosures have been built for the small primates, bison, Przewalski’s horses, cassowaries, camels, meerkats, wallabies, water buffalo, eastern quoll and Tassie devils amongst others.
With the increasing number of animals in the collection staff numbers have increased to thirteen with several volunteers.
An animal hospital and staff facilities have been built along with an enclosure for the Pygmy Marmosets (the only ones you will find in Victoria), Echidna and Reptiles including an enclosure for the crocodile with a heated pool. The next major constructions were the Capuchin enclosures followed by Giraffe and Serval enclosures as well as two new big Aviaries and the Primate Complex.
The floods in January 2011 threw us a few challenges. A lot of the pathways suffered scouring and a few crossings washed away but fortunately we had no animal losses.
Due to the landslips in the National Park, visitors to the region were limited to what areas they could visit, so the decision was made to remain open for every day of the year except Christmas Day.
Trade was quiet for a few months with some roads to the area closed but slowly the people have returned to visit this spectacular region of Victoria and there are now record breaking numbers visiting the zoo.
Recognition of the Zoo’s importance to the region was acknowledged in 2011 being the recipients of “Outstanding Contribution to Tourism” and “Outstanding Product or Service” in the Powercor Business Achievements Awards. This was followed up with success in the state wide competition “Victorian 2014 RACV Awards” with being runner up Tourist Attraction.
We haven’t rested on our laurels with winning these awards and we continue our journey of developing the zoo. We have planted hundreds of shrubs and trees creating gardens and adding to the ambience. We now have three walk-through wallaby enclosures; one for the Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies, one for the Red-necked Wallabies and one for the Swamp Wallabies. We have built a new outdoor area for our 3-meter crocodile “Jugular”, along with outdoor reptile pits for several of our lizard species. “Doug”, our 3½ metre Burmese Python has also been added to the range of reptiles on display in a new enclosure next to the Fossil Cave. The Red Panda enclosures have both been renovated and the two new youngsters proving to be very popular. We completed the construction of the second meerkat enclosure and have added to the number of meerkats as these are a favourite to visitors of all ages. A new finch aviary and new macaw aviaries have also been built.
The first two cheetah arrived in May 2014 and enjoyed their formative years with us before heading off to the Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo to join the breeding program and two juvenile males came to us from Dubbo and they will stay with us until they are needed somewhere in the world for breeding. The next major addition has been the Rhinoceros. This project has been several years in the making and it has been very exciting to complete Stage 1 when “Kifaru” arrived October 25, 2018. The overarching body of zoos in the Pacific region, ZAA (Zoo & Aquarium Association) identified Halls Gap Zoo as having the necessary space to encourage successful breeding of Southern White Rhinos. There is still a lot of steps to reach this goal with a second young bull scheduled to arrive during 2019 and then cows to arrive after that. So there’s still plenty of opportunity to contribute to this cause so if you would like to help please speak to the staff at the front counter.
To allow all this construction and for the on-going care of animals, staff numbers have now increased to 20 working not only in construction and keeping but also in maintenance, gardening and administration. We have just substantially extended one of the popular activities here at the zoo for the children – the playground and sandpit. It will keep them entertained while the adults relax with a hot or cold drink.
With the ten-year plan in place we still have lots to achieve but over the next 12 months we plan to renovate some more of the original exhibits that were built over 30 years ago and to add a couple of new species that you will have to come back and see. The following year we will be embarking on another big project with the development of a new entrance building that will incorporate a cafeteria and education/conference facilities.