Two years of hard work has paid off for Natureland, with the Tahunanui zoo this month earning its full welfare accreditation from the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia.

Natureland is owned by a local trust and employs eight people.

Since the trust took over management of the facility in 2014, trustees Meg Selby and Mike Rutledge say welfare has been at the forefront of their thinking.

“The welfare side of things has been the number one focus for us since the trust took over. When we arrived there were quite a few things that were not ok. The sorts of things that are not acceptable in a modern institution,” says Mike.

A change in welfare philosophy meant a big change in the way things were done at Natureland. The question wasn’t just ‘does this animal have food’, it was ‘does this animal have nutritionally balanced food and a choice of food’.

Meg says the new approach goes further than just making sure the animals aren’t suffering, it’s about giving them opportunity and choice.

“The old way they called the ‘five freedoms’ and it is basically freedom from negatives. The welfare approach – which has been developed largely by researchers from New Zealand and is being adopted by the Zoo and Aquarium Association and getting attention from other bodies in America and Europe – is, instead of eliminating these negatives, let’s give these animals the opportunity to express choice.”

The turnaround has meant a lot of changes to the enclosures and, in some cases, pulling down old areas that weren’t able to be adapted to fit the new culture. Mike says one of those areas was the old bird avery.
“We had to level it because there was nothing you could do to make it a positive environment, so the only answer was, it goes.”

Meg says the accreditation is pleasing and says the entire staff worked hard towards it, but the work doesn’t stop. “Positive welfare is an on-going thing. I have pretty high standards so we won’t sit back thinking we’ve done it. We will keep striving. We want Nelson to be proud that the animals in their zoo are in the best shape possible.”