Fear for Territory Wildlife Park attractions, speculation birds will be ‘eradicated’

Animals are feared to be ‘erased’ at one of the Northern Territory’s top wildlife attractions after the Territory Wildlife Park’s speculative finances reached a crisis point.

Park stakeholders told ABC Radio Darwin they were concerned about attraction closures and staff reductions.

The NT Government Parks Department said no decisions have been made on current attractions.

But 20-year-old former zookeeper Greg Mayo said the Monsoon Forest Walk, Dome Aviary, Buffalo Trail and Rocky Ridge were due to end this month.

“The information I have is the whole area is going to be closed and then all the birds will be culled and it’s a world class display.”

Former Territory Wildlife Park zookeeper Greg Mayo with an eclectus parrot.(Provided: Greg Mayo)

Mr Mayo said the first option for the animals would be to send them to other zoos.

“Some of them might be suitable for release,” he said.

“Bison can go out to bison farms.”

Mr Mayo said the park’s budget was unworkable.

“I don’t know where the Treasury really looked at how much it costs to run the territory’s wildlife park,” he said.

Man in ranger uniform holding a snake under a basement.
A ranger from the territory’s animal park gives a lecture at the main train station.(Flickr: Geoff Whalan)

Insufficient budget: former worker

Another former park employee, who would only be known as “Gavan”, said the park’s budget had not been increased adequately in more than a decade.

“Every year they keep going until about March and then they run out of money,” he said.

“They ask the department for a little money, usually just for salaries, and the department thinks for about a month and they will give them a small amount of money.

Treasurer Michael Gunner said no funding was cut.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner in the ABC Radio Darwin studio.
Treasurer Michael Gunner on ABC Radio Darwin.(ABC News: Terry McDonald)

“I understand they offered to do a few things on the screens there,” he said.

“I’m curious to know what’s going on.

A big rock saying
COVID restrictions have resulted in fewer interstate visitors in recent years.(Flickr: Geoff Whalan)

Continued calls for increased funding

Australian Association for Environmental Education NT president Graeme Sawyer said he had been lobbying the government for better funding for the park for years.

“We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis where the UN and others are warning that we could see ecosystem collapse very soon,” he said.

The park’s former artist-in-residence, Robyn McLean, said the park’s community value outweighs the monetary cost.

smiling woman in shop looking at lens holding cushions.
Robyn McLean says her inspiration and her business were directly affected by her experience at animal parks.(Provided: Nichole Taylor)

“There are so many community groups that get so much value out of the park that’s not counted in dollars,” she said.

“My business, personally, has grown from a few days a week to a full-time job with a full-time employee and a part-time contractor, based on the work I’ve built working with the park.”

Parking, infrastructure upgrade

NT Parks Minister Selena Uibo said the beloved park will remain open and has received separate funding for upgrades.

A woman smiles seriously at the camera.  Behind her, a man and a woman.
Selena Uibo, Minister of Tourism for the Northwest Territories.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

“We are upgrading the park and working with park staff on ideas to improve the park within budget – we are planning for the future,” she said.

“Over the next 12 months, we are improving the parking lot, walkways, bathrooms, cockpit infrastructure, night house and aquarium.”

The park is in the Daly electorate, which faces a by-election on Saturday.

Independent candidate Rebecca Jennings says the planned improvements come after the exhibits.

“If they close paddocks, the investment in infrastructure and the hard work that has been put in by previous staff over the past 20 years, that is going to be wasted.”

The country’s Liberal tourism spokeswoman, Marie-Clare Boothby, also said the upgrade money could be better spent.

Marie-Clare Boothby stands in front of a microphone during a press conference.
CLP Tourism spokesperson Marie-Clare Boothby.(ABC News: Chelsea Heaney)

“We’ve seen a government that’s happy to spend money in Darwin on grandstands for $12 million, but they don’t want to invest in an iconic attraction.”

A spokesman for the NT Parks Department said there were no plans to sell or close the park.

“Across all options being considered, operating hours will remain the same and the free shuttle train will continue to provide transportation through the park,” the spokesperson said.

The ministry was asked further questions, but did not respond in time.

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