A few years ago, it looked like the future of Australian public-animal parks was bright.
After years of investment, the likes of Sydney’s Southbank Centre had managed to build a successful Zoo, an indoor/outdoor hybrid of a traditional zoo with a large outdoor arena and an extensive zoo-like theme park.
There were even plans for a big outdoor arena, a first for the state.
But in the past year, as the Queensland government was pushing to have more public-wildlife parks, the Zoo concept had been shelved.
In October, a royal commission into public-animals parks was set to deliver a report that said there were “no significant public-anatomy parks” in Queensland and there was no viable way to expand them in the short term.
While the Queensland Government has since put forward a plan to build more public parks, there is still no clear direction for what kind of parks would be built.
“There is no roadmap for what to build,” says Julie Denniss, the director of the University of Technology Sydney’s Department of Zoology.
“You can build as many parks as you like.
But if you want to make a long-term impact, it’s much better to build parks that you can actually engage with, that people actually come to, and that you have a good long-range plan for.”
“We don’t really have a plan for public-aquariums in Queensland” For many, public-anchor attractions have been the most appealing option, but it’s clear that the industry is struggling to find a clear direction on how to respond to the growing public demand for public animals.
In February, an industry insider told Fairfax Media that while the Queensland industry was “getting ready” for a “major public-aesthetic park”, it would be a while before it was ready.
And that is in part because there is no clear roadmap for how to proceed.
“We are all very optimistic, because we’re getting ready for a major public-adoption park,” the insider said.
“But we don’t have a roadmap for that.
We’re all very hopeful.”
But even if Queensland gets its park plan, the zoo will not become the new big thing.
While there have been some significant improvements in the state’s public-avatar landscape, public access to zoos has remained limited.
According to the Queensland Zoological Society, only about 1.5 per cent of zoo visitors in Queensland visited a zoo in 2016, compared to 3 per cent in Victoria and 10 per cent across Australia.
“Zoos in Queensland have been really slow to catch up to the growth in public-access and outdoor zoos in the rest of Australia,” says Michael McEwan, an associate professor of zoology at the University.
“That’s partly because the industry hasn’t been investing in it.
But it’s also because people haven’t had the experience of zoos being part of the community in Queensland.”
It’s the same reason many of the state-owned parks have remained relatively closed for the past few decades.
“A lot of people think that public-accessible zoos are going to come back because they’ll be like a natural zoo,” says Dennis.
“And they’ll have the same attractions as they have in Victoria.
But the reality is that they’re not as popular in Queensland as they were in Victoria.”
“The Zoo concept has been a dead idea in Queensland for years” The problem with public-capture zoos is that while they’ve been around for a long time, they’ve not been seen as an important part of a public-parking system.
As a result, parks that use them to entertain crowds have remained closed.
That means that in the early days of public-attraction parks, visitors would be encouraged to take part in activities that were not part of public facilities.
But for many people, those activities are the most important part.
“In terms of entertainment, the attraction is what people see when they walk into the park, and if you don’t want to be part of that, you have to turn off that attraction,” McEwin says.
“So the attraction and the activities, they are not a part of what you do on a daily basis.”
As a public park system, Queensland parks can be managed and regulated in a variety of ways, including: the creation of an animal-friendly park manager; allowing for a range of animal-related activities; creating a wildlife-friendly environment; and the establishment of a zoo-style theme park, which is a place where people can interact with and learn about animals.
But even these different aspects of park management are dependent on how the parks are managed.
“The park manager in Queensland is a person who’s very, very, focused on what’s happening on the park in terms of attracting people to the park,” McPhee says.
“[It’s] not an individual who is going