Australian Reptile Park
Entrance to the Australian Reptile Park
|Date opened||1948 (1996 at current location)|
|Location||Somersby, New South Wales, Australia|
|Land area||22 acres (8.9 ha)|
|No. of animals||2,000+|
|No. of species||400+|
|Memberships||Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA)
NSW Zoo Association (NSWZA)
NSW Fauna and Marine Park Association (NSW FMPA)Australasian Society of Zoo Keeping (ASZK)
The Australian Reptile Park is located at Somersby on the Central Coast, New South Wales in Australia. It is about 50 kilometres (31 mi) (a one-hour drive) North of Sydney, and is just off the M1 Pacific Motorway. The Park has one of the largest reptile collections in Australia, with close to 50 species on display. The wide variety of reptile species at the Park includes snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises, Komodo dragons, American alligators and crocodiles.
The park is heavily involved in snake and spider venom collection for use in the production of Antivenom and is credited for saving the lives of thousands. It is an institutional member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA).
1949 - Eric Worrell's Ocean Beach Aquarium opens at Umina Beach
1955 - Ocean Beach Aquarium contributes to production of first antivenom to Taipan envenomation
1958 - The zoo moves to Wyoming, NSW and changes its name to the Australian Reptile Park
1962 - The Australian Reptile Park contributes to availability of a full range of antivenoms
1963 - 'Ploddy' (originally named Dino), the dinosaur erected, the first of Australia's big icons
1968 - First nocturnal house in southern hemisphere opens
1970 - Eric Worrell receives MBE recognising his role in producing antivenom
1970 - The Park begins providing funnel-web spider venom to Seqiris (formally bioCSL) in the long process of developing an antivenom
1972 - Captive breeding of cassowaries begins
1980 - The long-awaited funnel-web spider antivenom is made available
1985 - A management team is formed to steer the future of the Australian Reptile Park, which included future owners John and Robyn Weigel
1987 - Eric Worrell passes away, aged 63
1989 - 4.7-metre-long ‘Eric’ the saltwater crocodile is imported from the Northern Territory on a special jet freighter – named in honour of Eric Worrell
1992 - John and Robyn Weigel become principal owners of the business, and make the decision to relocate the Park.
1996 - A parade is held in Gosford celebrating the relocation of Ploddy the dinosaur to its new home. Over 15,000 well-wishers lined the streets and cheered as Ploddy was ceremoniously transported from Wyoming to her new home in Somersby
1996 - The Australian Reptile Park relocates to Somersby and reopens on 7 September
2000 - Just past midnight on 17 July, most of the main park building was destroyed when a faulty electrical wiring caused a fire. Park staff helped fire crews, but ultimately, the building was lost along with most of the hundreds of reptiles and frogs that had been maintained in the building. With a lot of work from the staff, and support from the city and from other zoos around Australia, the zoo was able to re-open its doors on 9 September 2000, just over seven weeks after the fire.
2007 - A main attraction to the park, Eric the Crocodile passes away. He is replaced by Elvis, a 4.5 metre male saltwater crocodile
2008 - Park Director, John Weigel, is awarded Member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to Australian Tourism and the production of snake and spider antivenoms.
2011 - John Weigel founds Devil Ark, a conservation breeding facility for the endangered Tasmanian devil in the Barrington Tops
2013 - The Australian Reptile Park remains the sole supplier of terrestrial snake and funnel-web spider venom to Seqiris (formally bioCSL) for the nation's antivenom program. Over its 60-year history, it is estimated that the Park has assisted in saving close to 20,000 lives.
2016 - Tim Faulkner and Liz Gabriel named as co-directors alongside John & Robyn Weigel
2018 - New Komodo Dragon exhibit opened. Home to two Komodo dragons named Kraken and Daenerys
2019 - The Park wins Best Major Attraction at the NSW Tourism Awards
2019 - A new exhibit, housing a pair of endangered Goodfellow's tree-kangaroos, is opened
Reptiles at the Park include American alligators, crocodiles, turtles, tortoises, skinks, Komodo dragons, monitor lizards, geckos, iguanas, pythons, taipans, brown snakes, death adders, and a King cobra.
The Park also houses Australian mammals and birds including koalas, grey-headed flying foxes, eastern grey kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, wombats, wallabies, dingos, platypus, echidnas, ring tailed possums, quokkas and cassowaries. In late 2019, the Australian Reptile Park opened a new exhibit, displaying a pair of Goodfellow's tree-kangaroos.
The Park is home to a large replica diplodocus initially named Dino, sometimes said to be the very first of Australia's Big Things. In 1996, this structure had portions of its legs removed and was moved to Somersby when the Park changed location. In the light of additional media attention, the dinosaur was renamed "Ploddy".
Elvis the crocodile
Elvis the crocodile arrived at the park in September 2007, and has been dubbed "Australia's crankiest crocodile". Elvis was originally from Darwin in the Northern Territory. He was removed from the wild as he was attacking fishing boats in Darwin Harbour and was taken to a crocodile farm to be used as a breeder as he was too big for re-release into the wild. Every female that was introduced to Elvis during his time at the crocodile farm came to an untimely end due to Elvis' aggressive behaviour towards them. This caused Elvis to be removed to an isolation pen until he was moved onto the Australian Reptile Park after the death of its previous crocodile, "Eric".
In December 2011, Elvis lost two teeth during an attack on park staff and their lawnmowers. He continues to wow visitors to the Park at feeding time when he shows off his aggression towards the keepers and his food.
Lost World of Reptiles
Following the devastation of the fire of July 2000 which destroyed the Park's main building, the process of reconstruction presented a rare opportunity to create something truly original. Over a period of only 18 months following the fire, teams of highly skilled workers transformed an enormous, burned-out shell of a building into one of the most unusual zoological attractions in Australia. Entry to the exhibition can only be gained through the gaping jaws of a 30-metre-long model crocodile. Just inside the croc-mouth, an animated Egyptian mummy urges visitors through to the Lost World of Reptiles. Upon entering the spacious recreation of Kom Ombo, awe-struck visitors are confronted by the five-metre-tall crocodile god Sobek, guardian of the pharaohs and ambassador of the reptile kingdom. The Lost World of Reptiles is home to some of the park's reptile collection and is many visitors' highlight of their visit.
One of the most exciting Australian zoo developments in a very long time is Spider World. Visitors to the Australian Reptile Park have the opportunity to find out everything they ever wanted to know about spiders - while having an absolute hoot in the process. Spider World puts the 'fun' back into 'funny', while at the same time providing visitors with a greatly improved understanding and education of the eight-legged world. Even self-confessed arachnophobics that have experienced the exhibition typically leave in stitches of laughter.
Komodo Dragon Exhibit
With a design based on an ancient Indonesian temple, this exhibit is home to the Park's resident Komodo dragons, Kraken and Daenerys. Visitors have the chance to see the world’s largest lizard up close on their daily walks around the Park, escorted by trained zookeepers.
The Australian Reptile Park has the largest population of American alligators in Australia. They are kept in a large naturalistic lagoon, with over 40 adult alligators living harmoniously together in a manner that isn’t possible with their more aggressive relatives, Australian crocodiles. The Reptile Park is the only facility in Australia to breed alligators successfully, which is due to their lagoon that is very similar to their natural environment and the climate we experience here on the Central Coast which mirrors that of the everglades.
Eric’s Nature Walk
Eric’s Nature Walk is set in a bushland setting and features the Nocturnal House, an aviary filled with native Australian birds as well as an interactive display of a typical frog pond. The walk is named after the saltwater crocodile, Eric, who was the Park’s main attraction between 1989 and 2007 and a memorial for him is located on the walk. It also features some native Australian flora, including the spectacular local species of waratah.
The Nocturnal House showcases some of Australia’s most unique and endangered nocturnal species. The first Noctarium in the Southern Hemisphere was actually built at the Wyoming Australian Reptile Park in the early 1970s by Eric Worrell. This Nocturnal House is a fitting tribute to this great naturalist and founder of the Reptile Park. Animals on display can include ring-tailed possums, red-tailed phascogales, spinifex hopping mice and feathertail gliders.
Visitors can discover fascinating frogs, each adapted ingeniously for survival in a wide variety of locations. Displays include frog species native to Australia, as well as giving visitors the chance to see the infamous cane toad.
The Platypus House (or, 'Platypussary') is home to resident Platypus “Yaro”, as well as an array of native birds and fish. Visitors enjoy an intimate encounter with the mysterious platypus in its captivating nocturnal creek habitat, complete with waterfall. A complicated set of burrowing tunnels connect Yaro’s nocturnal creek to an outdoor pond set up with nest boxes.
Eric the crocodile
A crocodile named Eric, born in 1947 in Australia's Northern Territory, was featured for many years at the park. He was a star attraction and had a fan club of over 10,000 members across the world. Every year, Eric consumed his own body weight by consuming various animals such as chicken, goat and fish.
Eric had been implicated in the disappearance of two indigenous children in the 1980s, and was captured for the safety of the community. He was first taken to Darwin Crocodile Farm, where he bit off the heads of two female crocodiles with whom he was supposed to mate, and lost his right rear foot in a duel with a fellow crocodile. In 1989, he arrived by special freighter jet at the Australian Reptile Park and became a major attraction. He was named after the Park's founder Eric Worrell who had died in 1987.
Eric the crocodile died on 30 June 2007 from a systemic infection, exacerbated because staff couldn't treat him due to power outages caused by storms in the area. His vet, Peter Nosworthy, believes age made him susceptible to the infection, while his size made it impossible to administer intensive care. At 5.6m long and 700 kg, Eric was the largest crocodile in New South Wales at the time of his death. A memorial to Eric is now at the rear of the park.
The Australian Reptile Park also welcomes hundreds of school groups into the Park throughout each year for syllabus-based animal and conservation education.
Snake venom-milking program
Since the 1960s, the Australian Reptile Park has been the sole suppliers of terrestrial snake venom for the purpose of making antivenom. It is estimated that 300 lives are saved by antivenom in Australia each year and since the program’s inception, approximately 20,000 Australian lives have been saved by the program. The Australian Reptile Park is currently home to 250 venomous snakes that are a part of the venom program that are milked on a fortnightly basis.
Milking snakes for venom
Focused judgement and great dexterity are needed to obtain snake venom from the venomous species of snakes found in Australia. Keepers at the Australian Reptile Park use two different techniques depending on the species of snake.
For taipans, mulga (king brown snakes) and tiger snakes, keepers position the snake’s fangs to penetrate a latex membrane stretched over a glass beaker. The snake then bites onto the beaker and the venom is dropped into the beaker and collected.
For Eastern brown snakes and death adders, a technique called “pipetting” is used. The procedure requires keepers to push a polypropylene pipette onto the snake’s fang with the venom dropping into the pipette.
After drying, the venom crystals are carefully scraped from the beakers and pipettes for weighing and packaging. Trained staff, who work with the venom in its various stages of processing, work extremely carefully with the venom to ensure it is not contaminated.
Producing snake antivenom
Once the venomous snakes have been milked at the Australian Reptile Park, it is then freeze-dried and sent to Seqiris (formally bioCSL) in Melbourne to be made into antivenom.
The process at Seqiris starts with the snake venom being injected into Percheron horses. Over 250 horses take part in the antivenom program, all living the life of luxury. They undergo minimal stress during the inoculation and extraction processes. Inoculation is harmless for the horses and extraction is as simple as donating blood for humans.
The horses are given increasing doses of venom over a period of six-months (until they have built up sufficient antibodies to the venom). Blood is then drawn from the horse with the antibodies extracted from the blood, purified and reduced to a usable form – this becomes antivenom.
The antivenom taken from the horses is used to treat humans suffering from snake envenomation. Antivenom is injected into the human bloodstream, with the antibodies attacking the venom, neutralising its effects. The dose of antivenom given to a patient varies according to the species responsible for the bite and, when it can be ascertained, the amount of venom injected. The age and weight of the victim makes no difference to the dose of antivenom required in the treatment.
Funnel-web spider venom-milking program
Since the inception of the Australian Reptile Park’s funnel-web spider antivenom program in 1981, zero deaths have been recorded due to a bite from a funnel-web spider. The Australian Reptile Park has played a massive role in this with assistance in the inventing the funnel-web antivenom as well as playing an ongoing role in providing the raw venom to Seqiris for antivenom to be made. The Australian Reptile Park’s venom program houses over 2,000 spiders from baby spiderlings up to full grown adult male specimens; who are milked on a weekly schedule.
The Australian Reptile Park encourages the public to catch funnel-web spiders in their homes and backyards, if it is safe to do so, and bring the spiders to various drop-off locations in around the Central Coast, Sydney and Newcastle. These spiders will become part of the Park's funnel-web spider breeding and venom-milking programs.
Milking funnel-web spiders for venom
Spider keepers at the Australian Reptile Park must use steady hands and extreme focus to milk funnel-web spiders. Using a glass pipette on the end of a small vacuum, keepers encourage the funnel web spider to rear up in a defensive position and then gently suck the venom from the end of the spider’s fangs.
Once all spiders have been milked, the venom is then removed from the pipette and frozen until shipment to Seqiris, where the venom is made into antivenom.
Producing funnel-web spider antivenom
The process of turning venom into antivenom is long and tricky but not impossible. Once the funnel-web spiders have been milked at the Australian Reptile Park, the venom is frozen and sent to Seqiris in Melbourne, Victoria.
The Seqiris team inject very small amounts of the venom into rabbits, increasing slowly over a six-month period until the rabbit is able to withstand six-times the lethal dose. Blood is then drawn from the rabbit and the blood is spun in a centrifuge. The spinning separates the antibodies from the blood, and it is these antibodies that make antivenom.
The Australian Reptile Park was a frequent feature on Australian factual television series Bondi Vet, from 2010 until the show's completion in 2016. The episodes usually involved Director Tim Faulkner calling Dr. Chris Brown to the park, or taking an animal either to Chris' clinic or the closer clinic owned by Dr. Peter Nosworthy. As of 2014, Tim became a part of the regular cast with a segment airing in every episode.
The Wild Life of Tim Faulkner
The Australian Reptile Park is also shown in the spin-off show The Wild Life of Tim Faulkner, which focused primarily on Tim Faulkner's animal-related activities. "The Wild Life of Tim Faulkner" was shown on Channel 9 and the National Geographic Channel.
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