Zoo News - Winter 2023

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ZOOS VICTORIA MEMBER MAGAZINE NEWS ZOO VOLUME 48 / WINTER 2023 antelopes Amazing WERRIBEE OPEN RANGE ZOO’S SAVANNAH WOULDN’T BE THE SAME WITHOUT THESE GRACEFUL HERBIVORES SUSTAINABILITY Water wise How innovative irrigation methods save water and support survival of species ANIMAL Home for wildlife Discover the wild animals that choose to call Zoos Victoria home CONSERVATION Detection dogs Meet the team of canines helping to protect threatened native species COMMUNITY Fascinating Phasmids Behind the fight to save the Lord Howe Stick Insect from extinction

Together, let’s make litter extinct!

Together, let’s make litter extinct!

As rain falls it picks up litter from our streets, flows through our stormwater drains, and ends up in our rivers and creeks.

At Melbourne Water, we manage a complex drainage system to keep our rivers and creeks healthy, but we need your help.

Put litter in the right bin, buy items with less packaging, and reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Together, let’s protect our wildlife’s waterway homes, including the platypus, by keeping our communities clean and safe for today, tomorrow, and beyond.

For more info CLICK HERE

Dear members,

The wonders of winter provide plenty of reasons to visit our four great zoos, rain, hail or shine. In this edition we take a deep dive into the work of our Marine Response Unit, who are fighting for Victoria’s marine animals on the frontline. We also take a peek behind the scenes to see a day in the life of Lord Howe Island Stick Insect Specialist Keeper, Rohan. We invite you to hop aboard Werribee Open Range Zoo’s safari bus to spy amazing antelopes on the savannah, as well as meet some VIPs — Very Important Pooches — from our Detection Dog Squad.

We hope you are inspired by this edition and continue to join us in the fight against wildlife extinction.

12 Meet our detection dogs ZOO NEWS MEMBER MAGAZINE WINTER 2023 3 18 A day in the life of a Lord Howe Island Insect Specialist Amazing antelopes 04 News at the zoos 06 Amazing antelopes Get to know the five different antelope species you’ll see on the savannah 09 Marine Response Unit Learn about aquatic animal rescue and rehabilitation 12 Detection dogs Meet the canines supporting threatened species conservation 14 Resident animals Read about the unexpected wildlife that calls our zoos home 17 Wine and wildlife Raise a glass to native species at Healesville Sanctuary this winter 18 A day in the life Melbourne Zoo’s Lord Howe Island Stick Insect Specialist Rohan 20 Healthcare training Find out how meerkats and rhinos are benefiting from innovative training methods 22 Saving water Melbourne Zoo’s Irrigation Specialist Guiseppe shares his water wisdom MANAGING DIRECTOR Nick Hardie-Grant ACCOUNT DIRECTOR Scott Elmslie EDITOR Jo Stewart DESIGN Dallas Budde, Kieran Medici ADVERTISING Kerri Spillane PRINTER Immij ZOOS VICTORIA Tracey Borch, Ethan Jenkins Zoos Victoria, PO Box 74, Parkville Vic 3052 P 03 9340 2780 / F 03 9285 9390 E members@zoo.org.au W zoo.org.au Zoo News is published for Zoos Victoria by Hardie Grant Media ACKNOWLEDGMENT – We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we live and work, and pay our respects to Elders both past and present. Printed on FSC® certified paper with vegetable-based inks. Zoos Victoria is a carbon-neutral organisation and powered by 100% renewable energy.
WINTER 2023 CONTENTS Cover: Waterbuck (Photograph: Jo Howell) Connect with us: Have you visited lately? Share your visit with us and be sure to use the hashtag #zoomember 06

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Healesville Sanctuary’s Wine & Wildlife event is back for another year of great food and Yarra Valley drops, all for a good cause. Take the opportunity to get together with your friends and cosy up in front of a warm open fire at the Sanctuary this winter. The member exclusive pre-sale runs for three days, starting on Friday 16 June at 9am. Non-member tickets will be on sale from Monday 19 June from 9am.

Click here

for more.


Wine & Wildlife at Healesville Sanctuary is a fully ticketed event. Entry over these two days is with a paid event ticket only. General admission and member scans will not be available on these two days.

See PAGE 17 for more details


Plan a


DID YOU KNOW that Melbourne Zoo offers a range of Zoo Dos throughout the year? A fun venue for your mid-year or end-of-year corporate celebrations, a Zoo Do includes exclusive, after-hours access to Melbourne Zoo’s Carousel Park, guided tours of animal precincts, DJ entertainment, unlimited carousel rides and much more, for 200 to 4,500 guests. To find out more visit:




The latest Long-nosed potoroo joey to be born at the Sanctuary is beginning to explore life outside mum’s pouch.


Stilts breed when they feel safe and happy in their environment. This chick was conceived shortly after a habitat upgrade, with new Australian native aquatic plants, substrate and a larger pond being added.



‘Alkira’ (which means ‘bright and sunny’) has emerged from the pouch and is winning the hearts of staff, members and visitors to the Australian Bush precinct.


The Zoo recently welcomed a new Critically Endangered Plains-wanderer chick weighing just five grams at hatching. This precious chick is one of the rarest birds in the world, with only an estimated 1,000 remaining in the wild.

MELBOURNE ZOO A waddling of three Plumed Whistling-ducklings is being raised by a trio of parents. HEALESVILLE SANCTUARY WERRIBEE OPEN RANGE ZOO MELBOURNE ZOO
Click here

The Zoo f iles


Expect to see some wild behaviour when you encounter the five different antelope species residing at Werribee Open Range Zoo.

WORDS Steve Colquhoun PHOTOS Jo Howell

Have you ever seen an antelope pronking? It’s one of the spontaneous, instinctual behaviours that keeps members and visitors returning to Werribee Open Range Zoo’s savannah, home to five distinct species of antelope.

From buses that tour the lower and upper plains of the sprawling savannah, members and visitors have a rare opportunity to observe from a safe distance as antelope interact within their herd, and with a diverse range of other species, as they would in the wild.

“The freedom to roam among other native African and Asian species, with minimal human intervention, can prompt fascinating natural behaviour,” explains Savannah Keeper Denny.

Antelope in action

Watch out for Blackbuck antelope bursting into comical fits of pronking – sudden leaps high into the air with their head held high and all four legs pointing straight towards the ground.

“They get this sudden ‘I’m having fun. I’m just going to take off and run!’ urge,” says Denny, who is the coordinator for two of the antelope species, the Blackbuck and Scimitar-horned Oryx. “Occasionally, one of them will just take off and pronk all the way around the exhibit, and then come back. They just get this desire to go!”

The Oryx, with their magnificent curved horns shaped like a scimitar-style sword, enjoy a spontaneous run, too, and can also break into an impressive high-stepping strut. Denny explains “they lift their legs really high, and hold their heads high in the

Antelope fast facts

air as well. It’s very impressive to see”. Nyala antelopes are known for their easy-going nature, mixing well with other species. But the males can also put on a show, engaging in a slow dance-like performance as a means of asserting their dominance.

A major presence on the savannah Werribee Open Range Zoo is home to 91 antelope, split between the five species – Eland (20), Nyala (13), Scimitar-horned Oryx (24), Waterbuck (5) and Blackbuck (29). However, numbers can vary due to new arrivals from the Zoo’s breeding program or inter-zoo transfers.

All five species are herbivorous, and are fed rye hay and lucerne hay. Savannah keepers often place hay in different areas of the savannah, encouraging antelope to move around to find their feed. They also munch on pellets that have been specially formulated for the giraffes, but are suited to the nutritional needs of the antelope. Salt-licks (which contain essential trace minerals important for the healthy development of animals) are available in the paddock, as well as leafy branches (called ‘browse’). Browse provides more than a snack for the antelope. “They like getting their horns in it and playing with it. It’s an enriching experience for them as well,” explains Denny.

While species such as Eland and Nyala are docile, Denny and her fellow keepers are aware of the risks of dealing with wild animals. “With any horned animal, especially if it’s breeding season, we need to be mindful that there’s the potential for danger,” she says.

Unlike deer, antelopes keep the same horns for their whole lives instead of shedding them every year
A keen sense of hearing enables antelope to detect predators in the wild
Antelope can stand up on their hind legs to get to leaves in trees

I spy on the savannah

Here’s a quick guide to Werribee Open Range Zoo’s antelope population you can see next time on the Safari Bus.

1 Eland

The world’s largest antelope has tightly spiralled horns that they use to pull or break off branches to access food that would otherwise be out of reach, or to forage in the dirt for bulbs and roots. Eland (Lower Savannah) prefer a tight social grouping; however, zebra foals are sometimes known to lay within the Eland herd.

2 Blackbuck

Small and quick, with a brown and white coat, they’re highly active during the day and maintain a tight group. Also known as the Indian Antelope, Blackbuck (Upper Savannah) are native to India and Nepal and can be excitable, at times breaking into running or pronking. The males have spiralled horns and an almost-black coat.

3 Nyala

Distinguished by white stripes and spots on the flanks of their brown fur, and a chevron between their eyes. Only males grow horns, and usually sport a shaggy coat that’s darker than the females’. A long, bushy tail stands straight up in the air when they run. Often found within the tree lines or grouped in shady spots when it’s hot.

4 Scimitar-horned Oryx

With striking curved horns worn by both males and females, the Oryx (Lower Savannah) is a highly distinctive species. Their horns are partly a fighting implement, but also can be used to help them dig the ground for a cool patch to lie in. This excitable and spontaneous species is especially active in the afternoon.

5 Waterbuck

A larger antelope, with a thick, shaggy coat. Waterbuck (Lower Savannah) are easily distinguished by the white ring around their backside, with males sporting spiral horns that can grow up to a metre long. Waterbuck also have glands that waterproof their skin and coat, which release a distinctive musky odour. Often hiding, they’re easier to spot in the late afternoon.

Star power

The magnificent Scimitar-horned Oryx is a star of the Savannah, with its distinctive horns. Sadly, this species was once highly sought-after by trophy hunters – a key reason why the Oryx has been declared Extinct in the Wild since 2000. However, the Sahara Conservation Fund is working to reinstate a viable population of Oryx in its sub-desert home range of Chad, in north-central Africa. The Werribee Zoo herd, along

with herds held in other Australasian zoos, are considered an ‘insurance population’, contributing to the global effort to re-establish the species.

“I’ve been the Species Coordinator for Scimitar-horned Oryx for over 10 years, and they are my favourite,” says Denny. “They are incredibly impressive animals. The conservation work happening with the reintroduction of the species into the wild is an amazing success story.”

Visit saharaconservation.org to learn more. ZN


Hop aboard Werribee Open Range Zoo’s Safari Bus to see all the amazing antelope species for yourself.

Click here



Monitoring rambunctious seals, rescuing injured seabirds and providing advice about displaced sea turtles is all in a day’s work for Victoria’s first dedicated marine unit.

An enormous southern elephant seal made quite a splash in January 2023 when he visited some of Victoria’s coastal hotspots – even flip-flopping down a busy street (and attempting to enter a petrol station) at Point Lonsdale. The adventurous mammal sparked plenty of public interest, but also highlighted an incredibly important message: marine life needs to be respected and protected. One of the groups responsible for ensuring the seal’s – and the public’s –safety at this time was Zoos Victoria’s Marine Response Unit (MRU). Launched in 2013 to watch over Victoria’s marine animals, the number of call outs increase year-on-year for the MRU, with 1,102 cases of marine life needing help across the state during the past year.

First responders

While no two days are the same for this dedicated team, it’s main role is to respond to calls from the public, government agencies or rangers, explains Ebony, MRU Officer. “Some days we have cases all over Victoria’s coastline, where we’re helping to facilitate veterinary care, or making sure animals have protections around them,” she says. “At the same time, we might be juggling remote rescues, or we could be out on a kayak trying to rescue an entangled swan or driving down to Gippsland to help an injured seal.”

The MRU team encounters an assortment of marine life –predominantly seals, but also sea turtles and seabirds. “Any animal on


Marine Rescue Unit Officer, Zoos Victoria

WORDS Beth Wallace
Pictured (above): MRU staff rescued this Australasian Darter at a lake near Roxburgh Park in Melbourne’s north. They were able to take the bird to Melbourne Zoo where vets removed the fabric entanglement and gave the bird fluids.
“… we might be juggling remote rescues, or we could be out on a kayak trying to rescue an entangled swan or driving down to Gippsland to help an injured seal.”






the beach that people happen to see, we might get called about,” explains Ebony. “That can be because they’re unwell or have been injured, particularly due to fishing-line entanglements.”

Sadly, it’s not just discarded fishing gear that impacts the wellbeing of marine animals; any waste that ends up on a beach is a potential hazard. The MRU team often sees face masks wrapped around seabirds’ feet or finds animals that have been hit by cars or attacked by dogs in suburban settings, or displaced from their habitat due to urban sprawl.

Rest, rehab and rewild

When it comes to rescues, every species presents unique challenges.

“If we have an entangled swan in suburban Melbourne, they’re used to people so are more likely to be responsive,” explains Ebony. “But Australian wood ducks are not

very receptive to humans, and we need a different strategy to rescue them.”

When an animal requires veterinary care, it is usually taken to Melbourne Zoo, where the veterinary team has extensive experience with seabirds and seals. Or it might be redirected to another Zoos Victoria property, or a local vet clinic for observations and tests.

Sometimes, the animal is released soon after being assessed, as was the case recently when 15 birds were rescued from a drain. After being checked by Melbourne Zoo’s vets, they were given some fluids and a good night’s rest, before returning home the

you can help Ebony
ways to
on marine life.
shares some simple
to pick up rubbish on the beach
in a Seal the Loop bin
of unwanted
waste and always dispose of
wild animals’ personal space
Call the Marine Response Unit on 1300 245 678 if you see injured marine life.
your dog on a leash around wildlife

Your Zoos Victoria membership helps fund the Marine Response Unit

following morning. However, if an animal requires further care, it will remain at the vet clinic or with a wildlife carer, until it’s ready to be returned to the wild.

Returns are always a special moment for the team. “Having worked through all the calls, the thoughts on how to rescue the animal, to then taking it through medical treatment, seeing it fly or waddle off back to its habitat is definitely the best part of the job,” reveals Ebony.

Keep your distance

Thankfully, no intervention was required for the wandering southern elephant seal, whose summer exploits were brought on by a need to find somewhere to moult. But if he – or any other marine animal – appears on the beach, Ebony encourages people to respect the animal’s space. Seals are protected under Victorian law, which means that on land, people must maintain a minimum distance of 30 metres, or 50 metres if they’re walking a dog.

“Those regulations are made to protect seals as well as humans,” explains Ebony. “A seal that is resting on a beach might not be well and approaching that animal might disturb it. It might feel threatened and go out into a rough ocean and not have the energy to swim.”

If you see an injured or distressed animal, Ebony recommends calling the MRU. “We can chat through what you have observed,” she says. “It’s about making sure the right people know, so the right people can help and ultimately give marine life the best welfare outcomes.” ZN

TREATING A DARTER WATER BIRD See seals, penguins and other marine life up close at Melbourne Zoo’s Wild Sea habitat: Click here

DOG SQUAD Meet the

Zoos Victoria’s team of clever canines (and their human friends) is helping to conserve threatened species in the wild.

WORDS Jo Stewart

From sniffing out contraband at airports to finding lost bushwalkers, dogs contribute their considerable talents across a range of sectors. At Zoos Victoria, canine conservation is under way, with a team of highly trained dogs helping to save some of the state’s most threatened species.

“There’s evidence that dogs have surpassed the technology and some other survey methods that are currently available. Dogs are really efficient and cover a lot more ground,” says Chris, Zoos Victoria’s Threatened Species Program Coordinator.

Working in fragile habitats with vulnerable native species is a delicate task, so the selection process for the dogs is, understandably, quite rigorous. So, what makes a good detection dog?

“We’re looking for dogs that naturally show a disinterest in wildlife. We might observe how they behave around domestic species. If they’re a farm dog, how do they behave around cattle and sheep? Interest shows intelligence and curiosity, but you don’t want them to be too interested,” explains Chris.

Having a good work ethic and being able to focus on a task are key attributes of detection dogs. Working-dog breeds often make good detection dogs, but there are other factors at play.

“Generally, the individual character of the dog is more important than the breed,” Chris says.

Search party

Based at Healesville Sanctuary, the detection dog team currently consists of five dogs and three humans, including Wildlife Detection Dog Officer Naomi. She explains that training methods are shaped to suit each dog’s personality and reward preference, which can include ball play or food treats.

“Kip’s favourite thing is playing a game of tug or fetch with a ball. Funnily enough, that’s Finn’s favourite as well. They’re two of our ball-crazy dogs,” explains Naomi.

Rescue dogs Kip (a kelpie-cross) and Finn (a border collie) both support the monitoring of threatened species in the wild, including the Critically Endangered Baw Baw Frog. Both the wellbeing of the dogs and the wildlife they’re looking for is paramount, so

while out in the field, the dogs are constantly monitored for signs of fatigue or overheating.

“We know that they aren’t able to work effectively when they start panting, because they are unable to pant and smell properly at the same time. We also look at their level of engagement. I want my dog to be actively looking like they’re enjoying their searching,” Naomi says.

“The goal for this work is that they enjoy the searching as well as getting a reward for finding their target. And if they find it, then that’s a bonus. So, if motivation starts to drop off, then it’s time for a break. But we also make sure that we schedule breaks frequently.”

Promising paw-tential

While there are many methods for monitoring native species, survey gaps still exist, especially with elusive species. Apart from Baw Baw Frogs, detection dogs help to monitor other species, including Broad-toothed Rats, and Platypus that live in the creek which runs through Healesville Sanctuary. The Platypus is a difficult species to survey; however the dog squad can locate platypus burrows efficiently, which helps Zoos Victoria’s monitoring project.


Not trained to detect, but protect, Maremma guardian dogs previously protected Eastern Barred Bandicoots from predators as part of Zoos Victoria’s conservation breeding program. Following several wild releases, the conservation status of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot was officially downgraded from Extinct in the Wild on mainland Australia, to Endangered. The changed status is a first for an Australian threatened species and enabled Zoos Victoria to end its 30-year conservation breeding program.

“Dogs do non-invasive surveys really well. Platypus aren’t disturbed during the process of the dogs searching and alerting us to them,” Naomi says. There is also plenty of potential for detection dogs to contribute to other threateed species recovery programs, with the Critically Endangered Plainswanderer earmarked to receive support from the dog squad. While Naomi’s role requires patience and discipline, she feels a real sense of accomplishment when a dog finds what it’s looking for.

“Unlocking what makes an individual dog tick is satisfying. Seeing their eyes light up when they understand what you’re looking for is really lovely. When they get that moment of clarity, it’s just incredible,” Naomi says. ZN


You can further support Zoos Victoria’s Fighting Extinction program by adopting a detection dog.

Click here



Zoos Victoria’s horticultural staff have created amazing habitats that plenty of local wildlife also choose to call home. Here are some surprising residents from each of our four Zoos.


As you wander through Melbourne Zoo’s Gorilla Rainforest you may experience wild water dragons exploring the habitat and pathways. The freeranging population of Gippsland water dragons at Melbourne Zoo was originally introduced into the grounds in the 1980s after being confiscated from an illegal pet trade market.

Herpetology and Native Mammals Manager Alex explains: “The water dragons at Melbourne Zoo are selfsufficient; however, keepers and veterinary staff always make sure that they are in excellent health.” Typically found near freshwater

sources such as rivers, lakes, ponds and marshes in south-eastern Australia, the dragons often sit on branches overhanging water bodies and take refuge in the water when they feel threatened. Feeding on both plant and animal matter (particularly small invertebrates), water dragons are omnivores. Males can be identified as they are larger than females and will often develop a deep red chest colouration.

Next time you visit Melbourne Zoo, admire them from afar. Hint: they like a comfy place to sunbake, usually on a big rock inside Lemur Island and the garden beds and pathways nearby.

WORDS Ethan Jenkins


Werribee Open Range Zoo’s Safari Bus transports members and visitors through the arid landscapes and savannah grasslands of Werribee’s open plains. Throughout the safari you will encounter majestic giraffes, bison, rhinos, zebras, five different species of antelope, and more.

The lesser known locals are the bird species that have made their home in the hollows of a significant tree located on the lower Savannah.

“They have been down in that lower Savannah for many years,” says Keeper Paul. “We think the main reason is that we put down hay and pellets for the animals in our care every day, which naturally would attract a rodent population. We not only have Eastern barn owls, but also Nankeen kestrels that have come because of the rodent food source.”

Keeper Laura first discovered the Eastern barn owls on Werribee Open Range Zoo’s Savannah in 2014. Predominantly nocturnal creatures, the owls had gone unnoticed by Safari Bus spotters but were discovered by Laura after dark.

“There are no hard and fast rules in nature,” says Paul. “I was telling our members and visitors the other day the owls never come out during the day, as we were going past on an early morning safari. Then two little owl faces popped out to greet us.”

Keep your eyes peeled while on the Safari Bus – you never know ‘whoohoo’ you might see on the Savannah.

Birds on the savannah

Keeper Paul explains how owls avoid the pressure of having to feed all their babies at once by staggering their egg laying.

“The barn owls start sitting on their egg and will wait a few days before laying another one and keep sitting on them,” he says. “When the first one hatches, all the heavy pressure of feeding is directed to the one mouth before the next one hatches. There will be anywhere between three to 13 owls in a clutch.” The tree contains many hollows, which provide numerous nesting

opportunities for local wildlife. Possums, cockatoos, kestrels, ducks and owls all nest in the one tree on the lower Savannah and don’t compete with each other.

With local wildlife all around us, we need only to take the time to pause and look – as Paul demonstrates by pointing out a branch of three tawny frogmouths that could be easily overlooked.

“That’s the young one, and there’s mum and dad. They quite reliably live in these three wattle trees here throughout the year,” Paul points out, before adding, “As much as we are a zoological garden, we are also a botanical garden. Our horticultural staff create amazing habitats and because we have this thriving habitat, we also have lots of native wildlife.”

“I was telling our members and visitors … the owls never come out during the day… Then two little owl faces popped out to greet us”
PAUL Keeper, Werribee Open Range Zoo


Australia provides critical habitat for millions of migratory birds each year. Many migratory birds visit Kyabram Fauna Park’s wetlands to either rest or feed before completing their journey to the coast. If the conditions are right, some birds will stay for much longer. The wetlands have formed thanks to thousands of tree plantings and restoration work over the years by the community and park staff. This has seen the return of more than 35 bird species to the area including cormorants, egrets, herons, spoonbills and brolgas. Wetlands are a living, thriving ecosystem and waterbirds are their most noticeable residents, but what you can’t see happening underwater is critical. “We have huge biodiversity that exists in our wetlands, including the Endangered broad-shelled turtle,” explains Kyabram Fauna Park Director, Lachlan Gordon. “It is quite unique to have threatened species living at the same site as wild animals.”


The flow of Coranderrk Creek can be heard as it babbles its way around bends and under bridges through the heart of Healesville Sanctuary. A mysterious monotreme calls this creek home and its wild population has been studied in this habitat for more than 10 years.

Specialist Platypus Keeper Jess has been surveying Coranderrk Creek as part of her PhD thesis. Many aspects of platypus reproduction are poorly understood, due to their cryptic, nocturnal, burrowing and semi-aquatic behaviour, which makes studies in the wild difficult. Jess has pieced together part of the platypus puzzle, examining

Marvellous monotremes

Healesville Sanctuary’s Specialist Platypus Keeper

different behavioural stages of their reproductive cycle, nesting behaviours and seasonal energy intake, as well as how juveniles use the habitat during the period after they first emerge.

Since 2012, Jess has tracked 28 platypus within the creek – 10 males and 18 females.

“I am trying to figure out platypus family dynamics: who is mum, dad, brothers and sisters, and where platypus use a creek in relation to where their family is,” she says. “The study will inform how to better pair the animals that call Healesville Sanctuary home and how long juveniles should stay with their mums.” ZN

her studies.

THE FURRY PLATYPUS is a unique, somewhat solitary mammal found in water with vegetation that is good for burrowing. When swimming, its eyes and ears are closed, while its leather bill detects electrical impulses from their prey. Male platypuses have a venomous spur on the inside of their hind leg.

Jess recalls the erratic behaviour of one platypus she was tracking.


“I first spotted this juvenile male outside the Spirits of the Sky arena. I remember tracking him and he was all over the place. He was downstream, then went all the way upstream one night, then he went into the Wetlands aviary, slept on the back of the Koala Picnic Area in a drain one night, and came out during the day a lot as well.”

He has now grown big and healthy, and become the resident adult male of the area.

Keep an eye out for some of the wild animals that choose to reside with us on your next visit to Melbourne Zoo, Kyabram Fauna Park, Healesville Sanctuary or Werribee Open Range Zoo.

Click here

Jess shares some insight into the fascinating behaviour of one particular platypus she has tracked during

Each year, the Australian Wildlife Health Centre at Healesville Sanctuary treats thousands of wild animals, as well as managing the health of every animal that calls the Sanctuary home. The hospital’s specialist veterinary team conducts cutting-edge research and plays an important role in wildlife disease surveillance.

While the centre continues to work with wildlife, a new visitor experience is being created behind the scenes. A new visitor centre will enable stories of wildlife patient care to be shared with our members and visitors through exciting new interactive technology and face-to face experiences.

This July, we’re inviting you to treat your senses at Wine & Wildlife, and in doing so, help support the crucial work of the Australian Wildlife Health Centre. Featuring world-class Yarra

Valley wines in a stunning natural setting, Healesville Sanctuary will be dotted with stalls from wineries, craft breweries and a non-alcoholic distillery. Cosy up by the fire with some warming food while enjoying live music and the natural soundscape of the Sanctuary. Sip and explore your surroundings, as you discover the unique wildlife that calls the Sanctuary home.

The ticket cost for attending Wine & Wildlife contributes towards funding the Australian Wildlife Health Centre, so we can continue to lend our expertise to rescue, treat and rehabilitate injured wildlife. Celebrating the conservation work of the zoos and the health of our precious Australian native wildlife is all part of the joy when you attend this special annual event. ZN


Mark the weekend of July 22 and 23 in your diary. We invite you to enjoy the best the Yarra Valley has to offer, while helping our wildlife thrive. Members have exclusive early access to tickets before they go on sale to the public. Get in early to avoid disappointment. To learn more: Click here


A day in the life


OF A ~


Before starting his zookeeping career, Rohan worked on his family’s farm in Northern Victoria and in animal management on a Hollywood movie set. However, he has spent the past two decades dedicated to working inside Melbourne Zoo’s temperature-controlled greenhouses, supporting the conservation of an intriguing insect species.

The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (Dryococelus australis) was considered extinct until a tiny population was found in 2001 on Ball’s Pyramid, a volcanic outcrop 23 kilometres off the coast of Lord Howe Island. At the time of their rediscovery, they were considered the rarest invertebrate in the world. While there weren’t many stick insects left, Zoos Victoria’s conservation breeding program gave the flightless, nocturnal arthropod a second chance.

“We’re trying to do something that’s rarely done, and that is returning something home. This is a great story of survival,” says Rohan.

Joining Zoos Victoria in 1996, Rohan worked with mammals before switching to insects in 2003, just as the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect breeding program was established. Since then, the insect has become a symbol of hope for conservationists around the world.

Many have visited Melbourne Zoo to catch a glimpse of the rare insect, including Dr Jane Goodall, one of the world’s greatest conservationists.

“Sir David Attenborough also visited the conservation breeding program in 2012. He was just as wonderful in person as he presents on TV,” Rohan remembers.

From incubating eggs to completing insect censuses, Lord Howe Island Stick Insect Specialist Rohan is supporting the survival of the Critically Endangered species.
WORDS Jo Stewart

All in a day’s work

Aside from a few paragraphs written in 1916, little was known about the species before the conservation breeding program was established. Since then, the team’s knowledge has expanded and been dutifully recorded.

“All my records go into ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System). Every month, I enter up to 5,000 entries for this program. For the first few years, every egg was measured for length, width and weight. Because if we lost the population, at least we had information. Everything was written down that we could write down, and to some degree, it still is,” Rohan explains, before adding, “We’re always learning. I haven’t stopped learning since the start of the program.”

Watering and changing plants, sterilising nest boxes, cleaning habitats, and collecting, incubating, freezing and hatching eggs are all in a day’s work for Rohan, who also completes a monthly census where every Lord Howe Island Stick Insect is counted. Rohan and the team also work closely with Melbourne Zoo’s Horticulture team to ensure an abundance of key plant varieties (including Melaleuca howeana, a compact shrub endemic to Lord Howe Island) are grown to feed the insects.

Sharing the story

Education is another part of Rohan’s mission. By giving presentations to school children, Rohan raises awareness and support for this special species that has survived against the odds. He also wrote a children’s book called Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, published by CSIRO Publishing.

“The book gets the story out. If people don’t know, they don’t care. But if they

Did you know?

Lord Howe Island Stick Insects can live up to 18 months

Females can produce up to 300 eggs in their lifetime

can build a connection with a species, then they care. If we don’t take care of the little things, then we’re in real trouble. And we need more people to take care of the little things,” explains Rohan.

Dedicated to the cause

Rohan is optimistic that the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect has a future in the wild, thanks to collective efforts towards eradicating rodents from the sparsely populated island.

“It’s looking positive. We were there last year doing research and everything’s coming back… bird populations, plants are growing, insects are calling at night. The ecological bounce back is amazing,” says Rohan.

Support from the Lord Howe Island community and New South Wales Government has been vital to the success of the program, with San Diego Zoo, Bristol Zoo and Melbourne Museum also involved. From the expert mountain climbers who first scaled Ball’s Pyramid to collect insects for the program, to the tireless work Rohan and his team continue today, it has been a sustained effort. “This breeding program is known all around the world. It’s amazing what small teams of people who are highly committed to their craft can achieve,” says Rohan.

Returning the species home is the focus of the program, which has produced 17 generations of stick insects at Melbourne Zoo. While that day hasn’t yet come, the possibility of captive-bred Lord Howe Island Stick Insects being released into the wild gets closer every day as research continues at Melbourne Zoo.

“This is the most important work I’ll ever do. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the survival of this species,” Rohan says. ZN

Tiny eggs are collected and incubated by Rohan
a copy of Rohan’s picture book Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect at the Zoo Shop or online: Click here MEMBERS RECEIVE 15% OFF

Picture of health

At Zoos Victoria, an innovative healthcare training program is a proactive prescription, which many different species benefit from.

From conducting meerkat medicals to soothing seasonal allergies on the Savannah, the Zoos

Victoria team is dedicated to the health and positive welfare of the animals in their care. Healthcare training plays a significant role in ensuring animals stay well. All training across Zoos Victoria’s properties is supported by positive reinforcement to help build an enduring and trusting bond between the keepers and individual animals. Likewise, enabling the animals to have choice and control of how and when they participate in their training and healthcare is fundamental to their care.

X-rays help vets to diagnose and monitor health issues


Did you know?

X-traordinary meerkats

Keepers, vets and other zoo staff recently collaborated to customdesign an X-ray device for the mob of meerkats at Werribee Open Range Zoo. The device creates clear radiographs of the inquisitive African native animals, without the need for an anaesthetic procedure or sedation. This is an animal welfare win, as training behaviours, such as voluntary X-rays, help to reduce stress and keeper intervention during veterinary procedures and routine health checks. The animals aren’t handled or forced; rather, they choose to station themselves with no negative impacts, only positive reinforcement.

Meerkats live in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, in groups of around 10 to 30 animals. They spend their days foraging for food and taking turns to act as the lookout for threats like vultures, snakes and jackals. You will often see them at the zoo, digging in their habitat while taking turns to station themselves at the highest point in their area to look out for aerial threats.

Following months of training, the Slender-tailed meerkats now voluntarily position themselves on an X-ray plate, which is placed by keepers beneath an adjustable tripod. A portable X-ray machine is attached to the top of the tripod that can be manoeuvred into a range of positions.

Werribee Open Range Zoo African River Trail Keeper Eliza says it’s exciting to see meerkats enthusiastically participating in the X-ray sessions. “All of the scans are being taken within the meerkats’ habitat, which means the meerkats don’t need to leave the comfort of their own environment, and we’re minimising any potential stress.”

The meerkats are always provided with the choice to participate in the sessions; however, the curious mammals are generally very eager because their involvement is positively rewarded with high-value nutritious treats. “The meerkats absolutely love peanut butter, so we find they will approach us voluntarily and remain still enough to ensure the X-rays are sharp, allowing our vets to make accurate medical assessments,” Eliza says.

The healthcare training of the meerkats is part of an innovative Zoo-wide animal training program that provides the highest quality,

least intrusive healthcare for the animals. Based on the scientific approach of Applied Behaviour Analysis, the training uses positive reinforcement, provides choice and control, and allows the animals to voluntarily participate in their own medical check-ups, which significantly reduces any stress and handling.

A welcome sight

Southern white rhino Letaba suffers from seasonal allergies on the Savannah. “Through the warmer months of the year, we keep a very close eye on Letaba and treat her seasonal allergies when she needs it,” explains Linda, Savannah Keeper at Werribee Open Range Zoo.

“To look after these animals, it is important that we have them coming up to us voluntarily. This is a process that is ongoing; the whole time we care for these animals, from when they arrive or are born at the Zoo, the training begins then.

We make sure we provide something that is enjoyable for them during the process.”

Linda explains this allows the team to check the animals’ weight, draw blood, do close physical checks and in the case of Letaba, pop in some eye drops for her allergies.

While treating Letaba’s allergies, Linda provides her favourite snacks to enjoy. As a result, Letaba is healthier, happier and comfortable throughout the whole process. ZN


Check out the Meerkat Keeper Talk at Werribee Open Range Zoo at 10am every day to learn more.

Pictured (below): Keepers at Werribee Open Range Zoo conduct a training session with a Southern white rhino; training supports treatment of heath issues like Letaba’s eye allergies.

Sweet relief

A hippo wallows in the cool water provided by irrigation specialist, Giuseppe (below)



Ground-breaking water systems are being used to conserve water at Melbourne Zoo, as well as provide a sanctuary for heat-stressed species in the wild.

As many endangered animals are vulnerable to climate change and habitat loss, Zoos Victoria is determined to become a world leader on environmental sustainability.

Melbourne Zoo’s Irrigation Specialist, Giuseppe, uses data to drive water management and conservation.

A key member of the Sustainability Team, Giuseppe oversees the irrigation system at Melbourne Zoo and its adjacent gardens, helping to manage the Zoo’s on-site water recycling plant, which is mostly used for irrigation, and to fill various pools, ponds and moats for the Zoo’s animals, including Asian Elephants and Pygmy Hippopotamus, to wallow and cool off.

“We have a centralised control system managed by computer software,

and we have a reticulation system of approximately 15,000-plus sprinklers throughout the Zoo, which I utilise to maintain our gardens and tree collections,” explains Giuseppe. “Some of these trees are listed on the Exceptional Tree Register, and I make sure we deliver water efficiently to them.”

This system uses aerial sprayers, underground drippers, risers and giant sprinklers. “We’re a zoological park and garden with different climate areas –from tropical to Mediterranean – so it makes this site complex to manage, because there are so many different water requirements. My role is to ensure we have a system that supports both our habitats and animals,” says Giuseppe, who has represented Zoos Victoria at the Climate Change Botanic Gardens Alliance.


Trees talking back

So, how does Giuseppe know how much, and when, trees and other plants need to be watered? Well, they tell him! His background in biomass technology, science and sustainability has led him to develop a system that collects environmental data, which he uses to monitor the Zoo’s most precious trees. The monitoring system includes probes, dendrometers and bioactivity devices that are installed at ground level or underground, with others secured high in the tree canopy.

“This allows me to understand how a species is surviving,” he says. “I can see on a daily or hourly basis, even minutes, what’s happening – how much water is being withdrawn, even how much carbon is being stored underground.”

In that way, Giuseppe ensures those trees receive the right amount of water when they need it, to help counter the effects of a changing climate and ensure no water is wasted. This model allows him to protect heritage-listed trees, preventing potential decline due to age and exposure to climate extremes. This approach has resulted in a significant reduction in water usage and running costs.

Cool change

Meanwhile, at Yarra Bend Park, Giuseppe has contributed his waterwizardry to a joint project with Parks Victoria that aims to bring heat relief to a colony of Vulnerable Grey-headed flying foxes. In recent years, this native

species has been severely affected by heatwaves, some of the colony even dying from heat stress.

The Parks Victoria collaboration, with support from Wildlife Victoria, Animals Australia and Friends of Bats and Bushcare (FOBB), saw Giuseppe research the species’ needs for three years, and drew on scientific knowledge to design a giant misting system using irrigation materials. “It took me six months to come up with the final design,” he explains. “The irrigation system runs 1.6km along the Yarra River, Birrarung, where the colony is situated. I used an existing irrigation concept and adapted it. The system is ground-based, drawing water from the river, but is made up of a series of sprinklers set above the tree canopy. The water spray creates a giant nebula, or cloud, which drives down temperatures by five or more degrees, creating a microclimate. It’s a pioneering system and unique as far as we know – and the first attempt to protect a colony like this.”

Giuseppe also considered environmental impacts during the design process. “It’s already been trialled successfully,” he says, “and has exceeded our expectations. It’s an amazing achievement for conservation in the wild.” Z

Get water wise at home

Follow Giuseppe’s tips for conserving water in your garden:

Focus on plants that thrive in your area. See what grows well in your neighbours’ gardens

Choose native plants. They’re more adaptable and resilient – that’s why they survive

Follow a regular watering routine, watering in the early morning or evening

Install an underground drip irrigation system to direct water where it’s needed

Use mulch to keep the soil at an even temperature and reduce evaporation

Improve soil health by regularly adding compost


Forces of Forces of ALL TICKETS $25

Join the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ingrid Martin for an exploration of Nature’s Seasons in this interactive family concert. Perfect for kids aged ve to twelve and their grown-ups.

SATURDAY 10 JUNE / 10am & 12pm*

Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall

*relaxed performance

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