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Taronga Western Plains Zoo Review (June 2020)

Discussion in 'Australia' started by akasha, 9 Feb 2021.

  1. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member

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    28.06.2020. I was inspired by @WhistlingKite24's great reviews to have a go at writing my own for TWPZ. It isn't nearly as good as the ones WhistlingKite does, and may be a little tainted by my childhood nostalgia for TWPZ. I thought it might also be interesting to document a zoo visit during Covid times.
    Taronga Western Plains Zoo is a large, open range zoo with a 5.5 kilometre loop road that allows visitors to use their own vehicle to drive around the zoo. Carts and bikes are also available for hire, or visitors can choose to walk. I decided to drive for convenience and comfort on a cold day. The road is a one-way loop, with plenty of parking areas.
    The zoo site is naturally a semi-arid environment, with red, sandy soil and many native trees such as ironbark, cypress and eucalypts remaining in and around the exhibits.
    TWPZ reopened on 1st June 2020, after a Covid shutdown. I visited on the first sunny weekend I was able to, anticipating that a second wave could likely force closures again. My ticket was purchased online for a specific date so that visitor numbers could be monitored. For the month of June, TWPZ was offering a 25% discount on entry to encourage visitors to come back to the zoo. My ticket for this visit cost $36.
    On arrival at the ticket check point, I was given a map that had a few alterations to the one available on the website because of Covid. Most notably the species in the walk-throughs had been removed, as well as the African Wild Dogs because their exhibit was under renovation.
    Arriving shortly after the gates opened, I opted to skip the first few exhibits and begin at the Common Hippopotamus. The birth of Kani in April was one of my main reasons for visiting. There were three enclosures for hippos. One was an inland surrounded by a large waterhole, one was a small beach, and the other was a large paddock. There was one hippo on the island and one on the beach. I watched these for a while until Kani and his mother, Cuddles, emerged from the night quarters into the large paddock. Cuddles led Kani over to the fence where a keeper threw them a few biscuits of hay. Cuddles ate her breakfast while Kani snuggled down for a snooze in the sun. This was the perfect time to get great views of the hippos, and to skip the crowd.
    I drove to the next parking area near the White Rhinoceros paddock. This large, open paddock held 4 rhino. Juvenile rhino, Meeka, was learning how to use her horn, by play fighting with one of the adults, while a curious Willie Wagtail watched on.
    Across a small bridge, the path lead to the Cheetah exhibit. This exhibit held 3 cheetah which were resting near the bamboo stand on the far side of the exhibit. The other main reason for my visit was to see the King Cheetah. All three of the cheetah in this exhibit were spotted.
    Continuing on foot, there was the viewing area for the savannah, which was a large, mixed exhibit containing White Rhinoceros, Eland, Ostrich, Giraffe, Plains Zebra and Blackbuck. Adjacent to the savannah was the Zoofari lodge which was visible from the viewing hide. The area immediately in front of the viewing hide was quite unattractive. There was a small, muddy waterhole, service roads and trees partially blocking the view. Usually there is a vehicle that drives guests out onto the savannah for an extra $20, but it was not running due to Covid restrictions. All of the keeper talks were also cancelled.
    There was a viewing tower behind the hide that visitors could climb for a better view of the savannah.
    Near here were the elephant enclosures. They used to hold African Elephants, but are now home to Asian Elephant. There were several separate yards where the elephants could be viewed. Two young male elephants were playing with enrichment items, including a food container suspended from a tree, and a ball.
    I walked back past the cheetah and the rhino to my vehicle, and drove past a few more exhibits to the new Waterhole precinct. I planned to do a second lap of the zoo circuit, so I wasn't worried about skipping a few things and returning later. By doing this I hoped to beat the crowds.
    A large car park has been installed to service this area. Across the road from here was a paddock for Addax. It used to be the old Bantang and Sambar exhibit. The adjoining paddock closest to the Waterhole precinct was empty, but looks as though it will probably be developed further. Judging from the map, I assume it will hold zebra.
    A path led up to the Waterhole precinct, lined by mature palms trees that were imported as part of the landscaping. There is a water playground, that will be great in summer, but was not running on a cold, midwinter day.
    There was an exhibit for Meerkat, with a short tunnel and a clear viewing dome so visitors could pop up in the middle of the exhibit. This was quite popular with the children. There was also a small exhibit for Leopard Tortoise which I didn't see. The meerkat exhibit formed one wall of the eating area for the cafe, so visitors could sit right by the glass and eat their meal. There was a deck with tables that looked across a moat to an exhibit for Barbary Sheep. This is the old lion exhibit. I don't know if the sheep are the final species they intend to exhibit here, but they are doing quite a bit of damage to the trees. I'm surprised that there was no protection on the trees like in other exhibits, unless the intention is to eventually remove the trees and renovate the entire thing. Due to Covid, I chose not to eat at the cafe, but plenty of other visitors were.
    On the other side of the Waterhole precinct, was an exhibit for Blackbuck. This herd was entirely female animals. The exhibit was a long paddock with lots of native cypress trees. I believe this exhibit originally held nilgai, and later plains zebra.
    On the opposite side of the road, there was access to the Asian forest exhibits. I visited those later in the day.
    Continuing to drive along the main loop, there were large exhibits for Banteng, and male Blackbuck.
     
    Last edited: 10 Feb 2021
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  2. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member

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    The road began to climb up hill a little here, and reached a large, open, rocky paddock which held Arabian Camel and Barbary Sheep. This used to be the chital deer paddock.
    I parked here facing the paddock, to eat the packed lunch I had brought. It was a cold day, so sitting in the car worked well and I had great views of this exhibit to enjoy. There were 4 camels, and I counted at least 40 sheep. The camels were active, one individual literally stomped its way through the herd of resting sheep, announcing its approach with a swift stomp of its foot, warning the sheep to get out of the way which they wisely did. Apparently this camel had its course set, and nothing and no one was going to get in its way.
    Continuing to drive the loop, I passed the exhibit for Przewalski's Horse (now referred to as tahki). The animals were there, but technically off exhibit. A few visitors had approached the fence near the stables to look at them.
    This exhibit is now part of the Wild Asia precinct along with a Fallow Deer walk-through. The 'Wild Herds' walk-through included replica Mongolian gers, and a lookout to the tahki herd. This exhibit was closed and the deer had been removed due to Covid.
    Parking near Billabong Camp (tent accommodation for guests), I walked across the road to the Dingo exhibit. Like most of the exhibits at TWPZ, the dingos are viewed across a moat or trench, from slightly above. The garden between the path and exhibit was a little overgrown. I only saw one dingo, which was sleeping huddled behind a small embankment so that only its ears were visible.
    Next was the Australian walk-though, which I believe held koala, kangaroo, echidna and quokka. I have looked at this exhibit on previous visits but chose to avoid it this time because it was quite crowded. Visitors had to touch the gates to enter, and no one appeared to be following the 1.5m distancing guidelines, despite the numerous signs all around the zoo advising visitors to do so. I didn't think it was worth the risk, so I continued to drive, going past the Emu exhibit, and parking at the new Lion Pride Lands exhibit for African Lion.
    Because I had skipped a lot of things, knowing I would do a second lap, it meant that I arrived at the Pride Lands reasonably early and did manage to avoid the crowd.
    Entering Lion Pride Lands from the car park, visitors could view this huge exhibit from several viewing areas. The exhibit incorporated a lot of existing eucalyptus trees, and had lots of long grass to replicate the lion's natural habitat. The first viewing areas were elevated. One looked across from a viewing shelter to a rock den, there was one lioness resting here.
    Beyond the shelters the terrain sloped down, so that visitors were now on ground level. Along this path there was a tall, mesh fence, and visitors had the option to climb to the top of a replica Maasai watchtower.
    At the bottom of the slope there was a small shelter, with glass windows for viewing. A flat, smaller adjoining exhibit was surrounded by a mesh fence. Guests had the option to view this enclosure through glass, or walk along the fence for outdoor viewing. This enclosure held one male lion that was munching on some grass. I got very close to this lion, the gap between the fence and the rail was less than 2 metres and the lion approached the fence to snarl at his audience.
    There is a truck that takes visitors inside the exhibit for an extra $20, but this was not running due to Covid.
    There was a playground and Pygmy Goat kraal attached to this exhibit. The goats had been removed and the kraal was closed due to Covid.
    On one side, the boundary fence of the Pride Lands exhibit ran though the middle of a small lake that already existed on the site. The lake was home to a wild Australian White Ibis rookery, which has been divided in half by the fence. I wonder if the ibis inside the fence realise who they know share their home with...
    Overall I was very impressed with the scale of this exhibit, and I think it offers the closest thing to being on safari that visitors can experience without doing the real thing.
     
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  3. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member

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    Opposite Lion Pride Lands in the old wallaby exhibits, was a herd of Scimitar-horned Oryx. These exhibits had a lot of natural cypress trees in them. The oryx had the option of using both paddocks, I saw the herd move from one paddock to the other, via the pens at the back. I counted 18 oryx on exhibit. This was also where my car was dive-bombed by a crazy Noisy Miner. It was determined to attack its own reflection in the mirrors and the windscreen.
    Driving down to the parking area near the second Cheetah exhibit, the crazy Noisy Miner followed me, and dived on the vehicle again as soon as I stopped. I left him to his own devices, and walked up the boardwalk to the viewing area for the cheetah exhibit. This was the old maned wolf exhibit. The viewing deck was elevated a few metres from the ground, and allowed visitor's a bird's eye view down into the exhibit. As well as the 2 cheetah (both spotted), there was a keeper in the exhibit tidying up. I asked her if the king cheetah were on exhibit, and unfortunately she told me they were not.
    The 2 cheetah brothers in this exhibit were resting by the fence, watching a free-range Eastern Grey Kangaroo that was feeding on the other side.
    The last animals on display on the main loop were Galapagos Tortoise. The nursery held 2 juveniles that hatched in January 2014. They were viewed though a window into their climate controlled enclosure, and were quite actively roaming about. The heated, indoor viewing for the adult tortoises was closed due to Covid, and there was one adult outside feeding on hay.
    At the end of the loop was the old South American mixed exhibit, which was quite over grown, including the garden which made viewing difficult. The map listed kangaroo and emu in this exhibit, but I didn't see any.
    At this point there was a boom gate to pass though, making sure no visitors tried to drive the loop the wrong way. Exiting here, I drove past the playground and shop, back to the ticket checkpoint to begin my second loop.
    This time around I stopped at the first parking area. Because it was now mid-afternoon, most visitors were well on their way around the loop and I had this area pretty much to myself. The African Wild Dogs were off-exhibit while it is being renovated. There was a new viewing area under construction, which has a glass viewing window at ground level and an elevated platform above that. This whole area had undergone renovation recently to give it a more African feel, including the importation of mature bottle trees and the addition of a Meerkat exhibit. This exhibit was where the meerkat encounters usually happen, but all animal encounters were cancelled due to Covid.
    Past the meerkats was a large paddock also for black rhino. This is the old camel and barbary sheep paddock. I saw no rhinos here.
    Next on the loop were three adjoining paddocks, the first held Plains Zebra. It had a lot of eucalyptus trees and used to contain ostrich. The second paddock was the largest of these three, and held Giraffe. There was a feeding platform which extended out into the exhibit, for visitors to hand feed the giraffe. Usually this experience costs an extra $10, but was cancelled due to Covid. Without this enticement to the front of their paddock, the giraffe were all gathered right at the back of the exhibit near the barn and were difficult to see. The third paddock used to hold addax, but was empty and looked like it had been for a while.
    The former eland paddock was empty as well, but survey pegs might indicate a renovation. This paddock was never great for viewing.
    Driving past the hippo, rhino etc. that I had looked at on the previous loop, I parked near the entrance to the Asian precinct. On the opposite side of the road was another Plains Zebra exhibit, with 4 zebra. The embankment on this paddock was quite high, so that visitors look down on these animals from above. This paddock used to hold Persian Onager.
    The Asian precinct was in the centre of the zoo, and was not accessible by vehicle. Visitors could walk or ride their bikes, and I saw one foolish visitor somehow maneuvering one of the large hire carts around the path near the otters. I'm not sure they are intended to access this part of the zoo.
    The first exhibit in this forest area was for Bongo. It was a smallish paddock with a lot of trees to create ample shade for the bongo. There were 2.2 bongo in this exhibit. Continuing on foot, there was a clear view of the back of the hippo paddock.
    Crossing to the other side of a gully, I looked at one of the Sumatran Tiger exhibits. Again, this exhibit was viewed across a moat from slightly above, and at this particular place most visitors were sensibly following the social distancing guidelines. It would be nice to see these exhibits get a refresh as part of the Taronga master plan.
    Next was the White-handed Gibbon Island. I saw 2 gibbon. Admittedly primates aren't my thing, so I didn't spend too much time here, plus they are difficult to see because of the distance across the lake to the island.
    I didn't get close enough to view the Oriental Small-clawed Otter properly because it was quite crowed and no one was adhering to the social distancing advice, but I could see that the animals were there.
    The Greater One-horned Rhinoceros exhibit has several viewing areas. It was squeezed into this part of the zoo as an afterthought, so it is quite narrow and not on the scale of other large herbivore exhibits in the zoo, but it did allow for a closer look at Dora, the male rhino, than some of the other species in bigger exhibits.
     
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  4. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member

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    Continuing on foot towards the Siamang, visible on the opposite side of the lake was their new night quarters. It was a big, rusty-looking square building that allowed them access to one of two islands by rope. They could reach the second island by another set of ropes. There were 2 siamang resting on the second island. I think most of the primates were unimpressed with the chilly weather that day, Dubbo is usually a warm place.
    This centre part of the zoo was a bit dank, the paths were shaded by lots of natural She-oak trees and the lakes were covered in duck weed. It's better in the summer, but I have never really liked the feel of this part of the zoo.
    Returning towards the car, I detoured to the second tiger exhibit. It was similar to the first and gave the same view I have seen every time I have visited TWPZ; a tiger pacing the back fence. By this stage it was getting later in the afternoon and the animal was probably anticipating being let back into its night den.
    Back on the main loop, I stopped at the addax for a closer look, counting 11 individuals, and then drove the rest of the loop without stopping again. During the entire day, there was only one foolish visitor attempting to drive the incorrect way around the one-way loop.
    To finish the day, I parked in the main car park near the shop, and went to the viewing deck for the primate islands. I did not enter the shop as it was too crowded.
    The Ring-tailed Lemur were not enjoying the low temperature at all and were all huddled together sleeping. The Black-handed Spider Monkey troop weren't bothered by the cold weather, and I saw three juveniles playing together. The spider monkey island is a bit of a distance from the viewing platform, so they were a little difficult to see.
    This part of the zoo, including the shop, restaurant, playground and primate islands was free to visit. Paid entry began at the ticket checkpoint beyond this precinct.
    While it was sad that a lot of revenue was being lost with encounters unavailable, and education was suffering without keeper talks happening, I still found this day quite enjoyable. It was nice to have no schedule to keep to or decisions to make, meaning that all I could do was relax and look at the animals.
     
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  5. WhistlingKite24

    WhistlingKite24 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Thank you for taking the time to write this out, your review is clear and detailed which always helps someone like me who has never visited Dubbo. It's great to also read a local's perspective on Taronga Western Plains Zoo. They have some fantastic looking exhibits - the lion complex looks brilliant in particular. The Radiated Tortoises you mentioned above ended up being Leopard Tortoises by the way. I am glad the zoo decided to bring in another tortoise species, they need more of these smaller animals for a more balanced collection.
     
    Last edited: 10 Feb 2021
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  6. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member

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    Cheers! I fixed up the tortoise species. (Tbh I skipped over them because the entrance to the exhibit was swarming with kids that were all jostling to see the meerkats.)
    I agree that it would be nice to see some smaller animals in the collection. Back in 2001 I had some behind-the-scenes access, and there was a small collection of reptiles off-exhibit (specifically, I can only recall they had a diamond python and some bearded dragons) that were intended to be the initial stock for a reptile house that never eventuated. I'm not sure why it didn't go ahead, funding I suppose, but it definitely would have been cool.
     
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  7. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    Fantastic review and photos! I was just looking at your photos the other day, I'm working on documenting every cheetah exhibit and used yours for this zoo (right now it's just for personal use, but I have your name and links in the document should I ever post them here). You've given a great idea of what the place looks like.
     
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  8. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member

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    Thank you! Do you know anything about the King Cheetah at Dubbo? This is the second time I've visited hoping to see them, but they have been off-exhibit both times :( I'm wondering why they don't display them?
     
  9. WhistlingKite24

    WhistlingKite24 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    They should still have the two females - Halla (2009) and Kyan (2009). They were both still alive as of the December 2019 according to the international studbook.
     
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  10. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    Sisters Kyan and Halla both are kings, born there in 2009. I believe they're mostly kept behind the scenes, as they're the two main cats that the zoo breeds. The zoo keeps about 15 or so cheetahs, not including cubs.
     
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  11. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member

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    I thought that might be the case. I hope they do display them some time in the future, I would really love to see them just once.
     
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  12. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    Maybe when they're retired? They might not be comfortable being viewable, unfortunately, given they've spent so much time behind the scenes. I got to see some kings last year, they're very striking!
     
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  13. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member

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    Lucky you! Where was that? I tried once at the National Zoo in Canberra, only to learn that the King had recently passed away :(
     
  14. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    A very rural zoo here in the USA, 5 hours from me. There had been one known cat here, in a private facility, and it was rumored she went to this place when the private place closed but it took nearly 2 years for the zoo to finally confirm that not only did they have her, they had a litter of 4 grandkids, including 2 kings! I drove out there a few days later :) I'm going to visit them again at least one more time after they open this year.
    20200622_110522.jpg

    The one in Canberra was only three years old, too :(
     
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  15. Zorro

    Zorro Well-Known Member

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    @akasha An excellent review indeed! :cool:
     
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