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Way outside the walls: Zoos Victoria supporting wildlife conservation overseas

16 March 2018

When an elderly female saltwater crocodile died at Melbourne Zoo in the early 1990s, leaving her male companion all alone, Zoos Victoria came to a crossroads.

Should we get another female saltwater crocodile? Should we move the male crocodile to a new home? Should we get a different species of crocodile?

The death of the crocodile came at a time when Zoos Victoria was starting to think more strategically about our role in wildlife conservation and expanding the support we gave to overseas organisations to something more than just financial, and something that had meaningful conservation outcomes for threatened species.

Around the same time, the Philippine Crocodile was given the unfortunate title of being one of the world’s most endangered species of crocodile. Endemic to the Philippines, this crocodile is a freshwater species that had been decimated by hunting, loss of isolated populations and ongoing habitat destruction.

Led by Chris Banks, Conservation Partnerships Manager at Zoos Victoria, Zoos Victoria approached the Philippine Government to see what we could do to support their conservation efforts for the Philippine crocodile.

This marked the beginning of a new approach to Zoos Victoria’s support for international conservation efforts, with a Philippines partnership initiated in 1992 and the Zoo’s first Philippine crocodiles arriving in August 1993 (the male saltwater crocodile was moved to a sanctuary in Queensland where there was already a friend for him.)

As well as this work in the Philippines, Zoos Victoria focussed on other species in the south-east Asia region and Papua New Guinea (PNG) that were on the brink, not only because these two areas are close to Australia but also because the need to support threatened species was stark.

Our PNG relationship commenced with support for a study of Long-beaked Echidnas and led to participation in an assessment of all New Guinea Tree-kangaroo species in 1998, followed by a decade-long partnership with the Tenkile Conservation Alliance in north-west PNG.

Of particular note on the south-east Asia front was Romer’s Tree Frog in Hong Kong, where we proudly played a major role in its recovery, as well as various support for three conservation centres in northern Vietnam: Endangered Primate Rescue Centre, Turtle Conservation Centre and Pangolin-Civet Conservation Program.

Over the following decade we learned much  about international conservation engagement. Foremost was a shift to focusing on measurable biological and social outcomes, which meant wildlife and people must benefit.

Currently our international conservation engagement has three major components:

  1. Partnerships with overseas organisations (Mabuwaya Foundation in the Philippines with a species focus on the Philippine Crocodile; Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program in PNG with Matschie’s Tree-kangaroo as the flagship and Rhino Fund Uganda focussing on the Southern White Rhino)
  2. Our sister zoo is the Port Moresby Nature Park, PNG
  3. An annual international grants program, which allocates funds to other overseas projects for 12 months.

Each of these projects are underpinned by the aim to achieve strong outcomes for both people and wildlife.

Zoos Victoria strongly believes that fighting wildlife extinction is a global effort and that we have a role to play in helping overseas organisations to conserve the animals that are native to their region, particularly those that may not have the funding or resources to do it on their own.

However, we know that working with the community to address what is happening to their local species and working together to benefit both people and animals is the only way to truly have an impact on stemming the tide of wildlife extinction.