Orana Wildlife Park
Orana Wildlife Park Logo
|Location||Christchurch, New Zealand|
|Land area||50 ha|
|No. of animals||400+|
|No. of species||70+|
Orana Wildlife Park is New Zealand's only open-range zoo, sitting on 80 hectares of land, located on the outskirts of Christchurch. It opened in 1976, and is owned and operated by the Orana Wildlife Trust, a registered charity. The aims of the Trust are to provide quality recreational opportunities for local people and visitors to Christchurch; conserve endangered native and exotic wildlife; educate visitors (especially children) about environmental and conservation issues; and support research relating to endangered animals.
Orana generates over 95% of its income through gate takings and other trading activities. Fundraising is an essential focus; Orana must separately raise 100% of funds for all capital projects, improvements and animal transfers. Funds have been donated from a variety of sources, including philanthropic trusts, private donors and bequests. As at 2017, over $15M has been raised to develop the Park. All buildings and enclosures have been built in-house (except the Great Ape Centre). Many local businesses have assisted in the Park's construction by donating materials, consultancy and equipment.
It has more than 400 animals across 70 species.
The park offers close encounters with some of its animals, including hand-feeding the giraffes, and a lion encounter where you can ride through the lion reserve in a truck-mounted cage during feeding time. The keeper feeds the cats from within the vehicle, and they often jump on top of the cage, giving you a unique view of these magnificent animals. A minimum visitor height of 1.4 meters is required.
In 2015 Orana became home to New Zealand’s only gorillas, with three males, including a silverback arriving at the park.
History & Key Events
In 1970, the South Island Zoological Society was formed with a vision to create a major wildlife park in Christchurch.
Naturally such an ambitious project captured the imagination of Canterbury people. However, it took a further six years of planning, fundraising and hard work before the zoo opened. The Society set out to develop an open range, drive-through, zoo. Starting with almost unusable land - a dry, stony riverbed - volunteers cleared the site, initially with just hand tools. As fundraising results increased, second hand equipment was purchased resulting in significant development progress.
On 10 September 1976, Orana’s first animals arrived from Australia. The ’Noah’s Ark’ consisted of 18 lions (including 6 cubs), 2 tiger cubs, 2 donkeys, 2 camels, 2 water buffalo and 2 Shetland ponies. The dream of the South Island Zoological Society became a reality at 10am on 25 September 1976, when Orana Park (now Orana Wildlife Park) officially opened. By 2pm that day, a queue of cars stretched 7 km along McLeans Island. The last vehicles came through the Park in the dark!
Orana Wildlife Trust was formed later to run and manage the zoo. The Society have contributed to capital projects over the years. Today, Christchurch has an international quality zoo that is testament to the amazing foresight of the founders.
The Park opened with 28 animals from six species. During the first ten years of operation, new animals were regularly added and Stage One of the African Plains, a major expansion, was completed.
Upon opening, Orana’s main drawcard was the fabulous drive-through Lion Reserve, the first and only one of its type in New Zealand. This amazing experience set the tone for the zoo. Orana has continued to establish clear points of difference, providing memorable animal encounters to enthuse people about wildlife.The drive-through Lion Reserve operated from 1976 until 1995. Today, Orana operates a special Lion Encounter and the experience is an ‘historical nod’ to the drive-through days.
In 1977, Timber Wolves arrived and the Farmyard was also created. Wolves were a visitor favourite for many years and the interactive Farmyard continues to be an integral part of the visitor experience. In 1978, an island home was created for spider monkeys, the zoo’s first species of primate.
Two pairs of rare Scimitar-horned oryx were transferred in 1979. Oryx symbolise what the Park’s founders hoped for when Orana was formed. Oryx were declared extinct in the wild in 1984 but captive breeding programmes resulted in the species being re-established in protected areas. Orana was the first institution in the world to breed oryx by artificial insemination and over 80 oryx have been bred at the zoo.
In 1981 Stage One of the African Plains opened. This provided a new dimension in animal display for Orana - visitors could view African savannah species, such as zebra and oryx, across water moats.
Giraffes were added in 1982 and a special encounter was introduced enabling visitors to hand feed the gentle giants. This experience remains one of the highlights of a Park visit today. Orana has contributed to the managed zoo-based programme and over 15 giraffes have been bred, most of which were transferred to other zoos.
The South Island’s first kiwi house was created in 1984. Today, Orana plays an important role in the captive component of the recovery programme. Over 20 kiwi from Orana have been released to the wild and chicks have also been transferred to other captive centres.
Orana’s second decade of operation resulted in the steady arrival of new species and ongoing development. The direction of the zoo significantly altered with the closing of the drive-through Lion Reserve in 1995.
White rhinoceros were transferred to Orana in 1986. They continue to be a popular species. The addition of tuatara in 1987 commenced a focus on native reptiles that continued the following year with the creation of a new Reptile House. Orana presently maintains a comprehensive public collections of native geckos.
The Park continued to expand with the opening of Stage Two of the African Plains in 1988. This expansion included a new Giraffe House. In 1990, a restaurant was added that has since turned to a Function Centre.
The world’s fastest land mammal, the cheetah, arrived in 1988 and since that time Orana has been involved in the zoo-based breeding programme for these swift cats. Cheetah have become one of Orana’s flagship conservation species and over 24 cats have been raised to adulthood. Cheetah are a notoriously difficult species to breed in captivity. In 1991, a ‘Cheetah Chase’ was introduced. This public presentation gave visitors the opportunity to witness the blistering speed of cheetah.
One of the most popular additions to the zoo occurred in 1991 with the arrival of meerkats. Due to a Telecom advertising campaign featuring these energetic animals, visitation for the exhibit opening was one of the biggest days on record. These animals moved into a new exhibit named Kopje Rock which now also features porcupines. Orana has regularly bred meerkats.
A fantastic walk-through native bird aviary, complete with waterfall, was opened in 1994. This was built by the South Island Zoological Society. The aviary is home to a wide range of forest birds such as tui, kereru, kakariki and bellbird. Recently, tuatara and freshwater crayfish have been added to the aviary.
A significant shift in direction occurred in 1995. The present administration building, and large carpark, was opened. This resulted in the entrance of the zoo moving to middle of the Park. Visitors could no longer drive their cars through Orana. Rather, they walked or utilised a safari shuttle (first introduced in 1986). Scheduled animal feeds occur throughout the day, helping to break up the walking distance for visitors.
Closing the Park to cars also meant the drive-through Lion Reserve ended. To this day, visitors recall stories of their experience in the iconic encounter. The lion pride was relocated to a new habitat close to the new office building. Later, they were moved back to their current location.
Some significant changes took place including exciting new experiences, the creation of a formal education programme and the acquisition of another attraction.
In 1996 New Zealand whio (blue duck) were added. Whio have become one of the Park’s most important conservation species. Orana has regularly bred these highly threatened native birds for release to the wild, in various locations in the North Island.
African wild dogs arrived in 1998. These colourful animals are one of the most threatened African carnivores. Initially Orana held a group of three males and then a pack of seven females.
In 1999, two new animal encounters were added. The amazing Lion Encounter is one of Orana’s most unique points of difference and it is used to promote the Park to local people and tourists. The experience travels through the Lion Reserve for immensely close views of the mighty lions. Worldwide media coverage of the encounter was achieved in 2013, creating renewed interest in the experience. The Rhino Encounter gives visitors the opportunity to meet these immense animals ‘face-to-face’ and also provides a fantastic advocacy opportunity for staff.
Ibutho, New Zealand’s first ever rhino calf, was born at Orana in 1999. This was a significant achievement as the reproductive rate of captive born rhinos in zoos is very low. To date, three rhino calves have been bred at Orana (the others in 2010 and 2014).
In 2000, Orana took over the operation of Southern Encounter Aquarium in Cathedral Square, central Christchurch. A kiwi house was added in 2002, the only one of its kind located in the heart of a major city, resulting in increased visitation. Southern Encounter helped attract people to the city centre. The facility gave visitors a glimpse at the creatures found in our waterways and enabled people to see some of New Zealand’s unique land animals such as tuatara. The attraction was a valuable educational facility hosting thousands of school children on education programmes. Sadly the facility was lost in a devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch in February 2011.
Asian small clawed otters arrived in 2000. A fantastic new habitat, near the meerkats, was created for these playful animals. Brown teal, a threatened native species, were added in 2004 and have become a key conservation focus. Pateke ducklings reared at Orana have regularly been released to the wild. The singing Siamang gibbons, Orana’s first species of ape, were added in 2004 and three youngsters have been raised. The siamang habitat won a zoo industry (ZAA) excellence in exhibit design award in 2006.
The return of tigers, a new kea aviary and another zoo to operate were positive changes. However, earthquakes and storms caused significant damage.
A 6,000 square metre habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger was completed in 2006 and Orana joined 21st Century Tiger. This was a significant addition and the biggest development in many years. Orana’s previous tigers died in 1999 and since that time, these majestic cats were one of the most requested animals visitors wanted to see added to the zoo.
In October 2008, Orana took over the operation of Nelson’s Natureland Zoo. The facility was due to close earlier that year. Orana set out to rejuvenate the facility and provide a quality experience for Nelson families. In December 2008, a new meerkat exhibit was created and a porcupine habitat opened in December 2010. Orana ran Natureland until 2013 when new operators took over meaning Park staff could focus all resources on running Orana Wildlife Park following the Christchurch earthquakes.
A walk-through kea habitat opened in 2009 which gives visitors the chance to have a close encounter with these inquisitive, highly intelligent, parrots. The habitat simulates a regenerating beech forest. Visitors walk along a board-walk and exit through a musterer’s hut, the main interpretation hub for the habitat. Four kea chicks have been bred in the aviary. This habitat was also recognised as an example of excellence in exhibit design by the regional zoo association (ZAA) in 2009.
From 2010 until 2013, Orana was barraged by Mother Nature. In the space of three years, the zoo was closed for over 40 days (and on nine separate occasions!). Orana was fortunate to re-open after the devastating Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 with little physical damage. The main impact of the earthquakes was significantly reduced visitation/income as typically 45% of the Park’s visitors are from outside of Christchurch.
Orana suffered from a range of further damaging events. These included two floods, three major snow storms (one in the middle of a school holiday period) causing extensive exhibit damage including a power spike that blew many of the Park’s switch boards! Additionally, four gale force wind events occurred, the most significant of which happened in September 2013 when a severe gale wreaked havoc across Christchurch. This event left the zoo without power, water and communications for 8 days and closed to the public for 10 days. Despite the setbacks, the Park’s team carried on. Visitor numbers progressively started to recover to pre-quake levels and staff set about creating significant new additions.
The most significant development was the creation of a Great Ape Centre for New Zealand’s only gorillas, Orana’s biggest ever project.
Gypsy horses arrived in 2014. An outreach partnership was formed with Gypsy Royal Stud where Orana’s horses are managed as part of the Stud’s programme. The horses’ arrival started a shift to rare/interesting breeds of domestic stock in the Farmyard.
Orana opened New Zealand’s biggest Tasmanian devil habitat in December 2014. The Park joined the Save the Tasmanian Devil Programme raising awareness on these carnivorous marsupials that are threatened due to a contagious cancer.
Great Ape Centre
On 31 July 2015, Orana opened the most ambitious project in its history - a $6M habitat for New Zealand's only gorillas. The Centre provides fantastic educational and recreational opportunities, enabling people to observe, enjoy and study one of the world's most impressive primates! Orana has joined the international programme for the critically endangered Western Lowland Gorilla, initially by holding bachelors and educating the public on threats to these animals. This project was a champion effort - raising 100% of funds was a massive task and significant consultation and research was carried out to ensure an innovative and sustainably focussed habitat was built to meet the complex care requirements of these magnificent animals. In 2016, the exhibit was awarded a regional zoo association (ZAA) Large Institution, Large Scale Exhibit Award being judged on: improved animal welfare, conservation, research and education outcomes, innovative features, sustainability and cost effectiveness.
A Maud Island Frog Habitat is due to be completed and feature one of New Zealand’s nationally endangered species.
The next major capital project is a New Zealand Native Centre to further extend Orana's conservation efforts with native species.
Orana is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the Zoo Aquarium Association of Australasia (ZAA) and ZAA NZ. Through these memberships, Orana participates in managed breeding programmes for the species we hold.
Native fauna breeding success
Orana contributes to breed for release recovery programmes for kiwi, blue duck (whio) and brown teal (pateke). To date, over 80 pateke, 50 whio and 23 kiwi from Orana have been released to the wild. Additionally, the Park attracts a range of native species to live in the Park grounds (such as bellbird) through habitat restoration initiatives.
Exotic species success
Orana participates in 23 zoo-based breeding programmes for endangered species. Notable success has been achieved over the years with cheetah, scimitar-horned oryx, white rhinoceros and giraffe.
Education – Conservation advocacy
Educating and inspiring visitors is a key focus. A contract with the Ministry of Education was secured in 2000 through the ‘Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom’ programme. Our teachers deliver custom written, curriculum linked, education programmes to over 7,000 Canterbury school children annually.
The creation of the ‘Zoo School’ resulted in a more strategic focus on conservation advocacy to all Park visitors. Conservation messages are delivered through an internationally recognised framework: “Connect, Understand, Act”. This model was developed to provide zoo visitors with the motivation, understanding and skills necessary to take part in actions that lead to a sustainable lifestyle.
"Take home messages" are conveyed, through daily presentations, exhibit interpretation, QR codes etc to encourage visitors to adopt environmentally friendly attitudes in their daily lives. Such messages range from keeping a dog on a leash to help kiwi, to raising awareness on issues surrounding palm oil to responsible purchasing/pet ownership etc).
Orana partners with other regional zoos in conservation campaigns. For example, in 2016 New Zealand’s four major zoos (Orana, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland) threw their support behind Unmask Palm Oil in a campaign that called on Kiwis to join them in demanding clear labelling of palm oil on all food products. Ahead of a key vote on labelling, the ‘Ask for Choice’ campaign sought to show the ministers who are representing Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) that consumers want choice.
With the creation of the Great Ape Centre, Orana joined an advocacy campaign called ‘They’re Calling On You’ the basis of which is that gorillas suffer from habitat loss through mining for coltan, a non-recyclable mineral that is used to operate mobile devices. Orana has partnered with Re:Mobile, a New Zealand firm that recycles, refurbishes and remarkets second hand phones. Park visitors can simply drop their old phone in a collection box to support gorilla conservation.
- "Member Location Map". zooaquarium.org.au. ZAA. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
- Orana Wildlife Park, TripAdvisor.
- "The zoo where the HUMANS are kept behind bars: Tourists locked in cage for close encounter with hungry lions". Mail Online. Retrieved 2016-01-25.
- Chch zoo on lockdown after storm. 3 News NZ. 12 September 2013.
- "Face to face with 190kg of hairy muscle: My encounter with Christchurch gorillas". NZ Herald. Retrieved 2015-07-30.