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Werribee Open Range Zoo Werribee Zoo Review and Species List

Discussion in 'Australia' started by akasha, 19 Jan 2023.

  1. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I visited Werribee Open Range Zoo on 12.01.2023. It was my first visit and in terms of zoo layout and exhibit design I wasn’t sure what to expect. The main species I was interested to see were Vervet, Waterbuck and Nyala because I hadn’t seen them in Australia before. I have seen all three in the wild, and the nerd in me wanted to see how captive animals compared and how they would be housed/displayed.
    I arrived when the gates opened, and had time to visit a lot of exhibits more than once. I didn’t follow a linear path around the zoo, because lots of the animals were still in their night quarters which meant the exhibits were empty, plus I wanted to fit in a safari tour. I ended up at the lion enclosure first, where keepers were cleaning and placing meat. I decided to wait and watch the lions be released.
    Because I criss-crossed all over the zoo, I decided to break down this review by exhibit to make it less confusing.
    I found Werribee to be very much a mixed bag, some parts were excellent and other parts not so much. I know I have been spoiled by growing up with TWPZ as my main zoo, and maybe make unfair comparisons sometimes. Anyway, these are just my thoughts and opinions on Werribee. Here we go…

    Gorilla Exhibit:

    The gorilla exhibit was the first one I came to upon entering the zoo. My first impression was that it was very big and green. It looks great, but the moat is wide which means the exhibit is far away. Later in the day I came to another viewing area which was on the other side of the hill and gave closer views, but there is nowhere to get a great look at it. One thing I enjoyed about Werribee was that it creates vistas in a few places, so the first glimpse I got of the gorillas was actually in the distance through the Vervet viewing window. One of them ran over the hill when he was first released from his night quarters, which was a fun thing to see. I had opportunities to watch the gorillas feeding from both viewpoints, and later in the day as the temperature rose, they were all snoozing in their shelters. It definitely paid to get to the zoo early.

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    Vervet Exhibit:

    I skipped the Vervets initially as they weren’t on exhibit yet. The exhibits on this central path were spread out quite a bit. Because of that and my early arrival, I was in the zoo for twenty minutes before I saw any animals! For some reason as I walked from empty exhibit to empty exhibit Jeff Goldblum’s voice kept coming to mind :p
    I returned to the Vervets half an hour or so later, to find them foraging, and got great views of them through the window.
    They are the only species Werribee exhibits that can’t be seen anywhere else in Australia, so I took my time and watched them for a while. The group weren’t quite as animated as their wild counterparts, but I still enjoyed seeing them.

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    African Wild Dog Exhibit:

    Another species I skipped and came back to as they weren’t on exhibit yet. Their exhibit was spacious and had view points both on the ground and from an elevated boardwalk. They were the one species it was better to view later in the day. In the morning the four of them were right at the back snoozing. Later when it was hot, they were right at the front, patrolling and also taking a dip in their pool which was an interesting behaviour I hadn’t seen before.

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    Lion Exhibit:

    Arriving to find keepers preparing the exhibit for the day, I decided to stay and watch. Three 2kg chunks of roo meat were placed in the exhibit. The viewing area included a window with an old jeep in the middle, the bonnet extending into the enclosure so visitors can feel like they’re on safari. It was a hit with the kids, but meant less people could access the viewing area. The other half of the viewing is through mesh. There is also an open air viewpoint around the corner, if the lions choose to use the higher part of their exhibit.
    When the lions were released the girls went straight for their meat, while the male, Sheru, walked right by the viewing area first. He’s a very impressive lion and a close view of him was very cool. I also saw him at Sydney Zoo with his brothers, but the lions there are below the viewpoint and this was a much better view. I thought it must be strange for him to have people so close now, and the keeper did say that he took a while to get used to it and preferred the back of the exhibit away from guests initially.
    I watched the lions eat their breakfast, and returned later in the day for the talk.
    The talk was a little different to a lot of talks I’ve attended. It was run almost like a show. In the main viewing area, there is elevated seating and the floor of the viewing area was roped off. All visitors were asked to take a seat. The talk had five staff members present, and was done as a Q& A between two of them. Overall I enjoyed the keeper talk, but there was no engagement with the lions during it. They simply happened to stay by the window because they chose to. The keeper was very good, not dumbing her answers down and she had plenty to say about the individual lions as well as lions in general. She said that they believe Nilo is pregnant and will have a blood draw in early March to confirm. Once she breeds and Asali has experience with cubs, Asali will be taken off contraception and hopefully breed too.

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    Sheru

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    Nilo

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    Asali with feeding supplement on her face

    From here I backtracked to see the animals that hadn’t been released yet, but for the purpose of this review I will continue in order of the loop.

    Hippo Exhibit:

    I was very impressed with the hippo exhibit. It creates the vista effect, with the waterhole at the front, beach at the back, and the ostrich/antelope paddock behind that. I could see the hippos in the water with the ostrich beyond them. It allowed visitors to get very close to the animals with unobstructed views. It is much better than the one at TWPZ.
    I saw Primrose, Tulip and Lotus in the main area. Brindabella and Pansy were in the other section which is part of the safari tour. I saw them up close later from the bus.

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    Cheetah Exhibit:

    The cheetah exhibit was spacious and interesting. It also has a vista effect, with the arid paddock behind it. Kulinda was at the rear of her exhibit, gazing over the herd of oryx and camel, which must be enriching for her. It surprises me that Werribee only keep one cheetah. They’re perfect for an open range zoo, and with a bit of thought Werribee could probably do something really special with them.
    Near the cheetah exhibit is the meeting point for the ‘Crazy About Cats’ talk, but Werribee only has four cats total, so I don’t know how crazy about them they really are. I didn’t attend the talk, but I would be interested to know what they speak about.

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    Kulinda

    TBC…
     
  2. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Safari Tour:

    Werribee’s point of difference among Aussie zoos, is it’s comprehensive safari tour. Trucks pulling three carriages drive through four paddocks and by several others. I found the tour to be both really cool and incredibly frustrating. Here’s why…

    The tours were departing every hour and go for forty minutes. I arrived about fifteen minutes before departure, stood in line for less than five minutes and then climbed aboard the bus. The whole process was run quite efficiently by several staff members. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I sat on the left side, but I would recommend the right side which gives better views of the outer paddocks and the inside of the savannah loop.

    The tour started in the arid paddock, which held a decent herd of Scimitar-horned Oryx and five Arabian Camel.

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    On the left were paddocks for Bison and Takhi. Seeing the animals like this is reminiscent of safari which was very cool, but the bus never stops. At some points it slows to a crawl but always keeps moving. It makes photography difficult, and some views of the animals fleeting. I understand this tour is free once you’ve paid your entry to the zoo, and is designed to suit the masses, not the zoo nerds, so it’s okay. There were other smaller vehicles on ‘safari’ as well, which were stopping at each species, and I think it would be worth booking one of those tours if I ever visit Werribee again.
    Continuing through the arid paddock, the vista seen from the other side now, has a lone cheetah in the background scanning over her ‘prey’.
    The bus then went into the Hippo exhibit, and through a small water crossing. Brindabella and Pansy were feeding right by it.
    The next paddock held Blackbuck, Lowland Nyala and all the female Ostrich. The ostriches had laid some eggs in their sandy nests and these eggs were the most popular thing on safari, drawing the most excited reactions from everyone on the tour. The blackbuck and nyala were all gathered near the gate, and this was when I would have liked to stop for a moment and have a proper look at them, but the tour kept moving. I managed to count one male and eleven female nyala. This paddock also had a large waterhole and some wild Cape Barren Geese which added another point of interest.

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    The tour then crosses the Werribee River and the road runs beside a series of smaller paddocks. The guide said they used to hold Texas Longhorn and antelope but those animals have been moved off-exhibit so that work can begin on the new elephant holdings. (Co-incidentally I saw the longhorn and some oryx two days later when driving south along the Princes Freeway so I can confirm the cattle are still there.)
    At the top of the hill the tour enters the savannah paddock. The view is impressive with the savannah stretching out below, dotted with Giraffe, Zebra, Eland, Waterbuck, White Rhino and male Ostrich. It did remind me of views I’d seen in Kruger and successfully captures the essence of safari.

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    The road goes down the hill then takes you among the animals. The five males giraffes were together, and two pregnant zebras, Zaide and Abigail, were grazing in the shade away from the rest of the herd. They are due to give birth any day now. The waterbuck were hanging out in the shade and I had basically the same view I did in Kruger, white butt markings. I saw five individuals.
    The bus looped around the paddock. There was also a herd of Eland and three White Rhino in the paddock; Make, Kifaru and Kipenzi. The guide said Kifaru and Kipenzi are in there for breeding purposes.

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    Waterbuck

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    Eland

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    White Rhino (Make)

    The bus returned via the same route to the arid paddock, and then past the cheetah to the exit.
    During the tour the guide gave tidbits of interesting information among all the usual facts. In general it felt like the talk was aimed at children, understandable during school holidays, but I still think kids need to be given more credit.
    Overall I enjoyed my safari, and it did take me back to Africa so I think that means it works.

    Meerkat Exhibit:

    The meerkat exhibit is much the same as you see at any Aussie zoo, except it is adjacent to the restaurant with one whole wall looking into it. I didn’t spend much time here as the outdoor viewing was squished in behind tables where people were eating.

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    This completes the African section of the zoo. The other part of Werribee is the Australian Trail. I began the trail from near the lions as I attended the lion talk at 11:30am.

    TBC…
     
  3. Grant Rhino

    Grant Rhino Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    Great review and great to hear the views of someone visiting for the first time!

    RE Crazy About Cats: that is the serval show - the zoo has 2 female servals (sisters). They don’t display them in a normal enclosure but present them with a show that shows how they hunt and forage

    Looking forward to the next part of your review.

    PS, I also wish the bus would stop sometimes!
     
  4. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Dang, that explains it. I'm sorry I missed that then, it sounds fun. All I could see was a maze that was absolutely swarming with kids so I moved on as quick as I could.
     
  5. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Australian Trail:

    Overall, I was disappointed with this section of the zoo. The Australian Trail is a large walk-through with free-ranging Eastern Grey Kangaroo. I also saw some Cape Barren Goose, but I don’t know if they are captive or wild like others I saw in different parts of the zoo. They seemed pretty comfortable around people and were sleeping in the shade with the roos.
    Within the walk-through were a few smaller enclosures. There were some standard ones for Koala, I only saw one individual. The trees and shelters are low, so it was easy to see the animal.

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    Koala

    There was a large aviary for Orange-bellied Parrot. This was the only exhibit in this section of the zoo that impressed me. It included a small walk-through section, I saw four parrots in here. One was perched on a branch, and three were feeding inconspicuously on the ground. I spent a bit of time watching them, but most people walked through without stopping, some declaring ‘there’s nothing in here!’ on their way past. There were also some mesh viewing windows into the large part of the aviary. I didn’t see any parrots through here, though I assume they were there. I think this exhibit finds a good balance between visitor experience and animal welfare.

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    Orange-bellied Parrot

    Beyond here is access to the River Trail, which is a short path through some wetlands to a viewing platform of the Werribee River. I enjoyed the trail, and saw plenty of Werribee’s wild Superb Fairywrens, as well as Little Raven and a Great Cormorant on the river. The trail was a loop which took me back to the Australian Trail.

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    River Trail

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    Werribee River

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    Wild Superb Fairywren

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    Wild Little Raven

    Back inside the big walk-through was Chirnside Shearing Shed. It’s an historic bluestone building and an interesting addition for city folk and international visitors. I had a quick look inside, but left the exploring to those who didn’t grow up on a farm. There was also the Shearer’s Cottage that could only be viewed from the outside.

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    Shearer's Cottage

    By the cottage was access to a smaller walk-through for Tammar Wallaby. I saw one wallaby, seeking shade in a shelter.

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    Tammar Wallaby

    Exiting the walk-through the path overlooked a grassland, with signs encouraging visitors to imagine it ‘filled with Plains-wanderer’. Maybe we could if they’d put one or two on display in a nocturnal house to know what they look like. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. People save what they love and they love what they can see!!

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    Zoo accommodation and grassland

    Reptile House:

    The path then lead to the most dismal reptile house I have ever seen. The animals are spread thin at Werribee and nowhere is this more apparent than in what I believe was once a bandicoot exhibit and now holds a total of four individual reptiles. I understand that Werribee’s main focus is African animals, so the Aussie section is to satisfy international visitors, but they would be better off getting rid of this ‘reptile house’ rather than pretending they have something they don’t. Inside were two enclosures for Dumeril’s Boa, jammed into a lobby type area, and in the main room was a small enclosure for Shingleback and Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard. That’s it! The main enclosure which presumably once held bandicoot was void of animals and had pictures of endangered animals hanging from the ceiling, claiming they are all the species Werribee is saving. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. It was personal in part because I volunteered at Hamilton a few years back, trapping Eastern Barred Bandicoot. Three females were selected to be sent to Werribee to enter the breeding program, and I wanted to see how their descendants were getting on :(

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    Dumeril's Boa

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    Skink exhibit

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    Shingleback

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    Empty exhibit

    Leopard Tortoise:

    Hidden behind a children’s play area was the Leopard Tortoise exhibit. There was nothing remarkable about it, but I do think this was actually the first time I’d seen this species so that was fun.

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    Leopard Tortoise

    I was at the zoo for 4.5 hours and that was plenty of time to see everything. (Except the servals apparently :oops:)
    Werribee had lots of ‘filler’ like playgrounds, mazes, fake villages, fake ranger huts and really hokey signage that could probably do with an update into the twenty-first century. I’m probably being offensive to people who grew up visiting Werribee, sorry if I am, but the ‘dumbing down’ of everything at this zoo bugged the hell out of me. I wonder if it was partly because of school holidays and there were a lot of kids visiting, but if so that bugs me even more. How can you expect kids to learn more and broaden their horizons if you treat them like they’re idiots?! Enough whinging though, Werribee does some things really well too.
    The hippo exhibit is outstanding, TWPZ could certainly learn a thing or two from it. The ‘safari’ experience is about as close as you’ll get to the real thing outside of Africa, and Werribee are right to promote it as the jewel in their crown.
    The addition of the elephants will certainly add more interest and I’ll try to get over the fact that Asian Elephants are going to be displayed on what is essentially an African savannah.
    To me, Werribee felt like it was in an ‘inbetween’ state. Former exhibits were fluffed out with absolute rubbish, and the species list is small, but the renovation for the elephants proves that they are willing to make big changes. I think Werribee is one to watch, and it will be interesting to see what direction they decide to take the zoo over the next decade or so.
     
    Last edited: 19 Jan 2023
  6. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Werribee Zoo Species List 2023

    This is a list of all the species I saw at Werribee Zoo on 12.01.2023. I saw everything that was signed. The servals are part of a show and I didn’t see those so I haven't counted them.

    Mammals (20):

    Koala
    Tammar Wallaby
    Eastern Grey Kangaroo
    Zebra
    Takhi (Przewalski’s Horse)
    Southern White Rhinoceros
    Common Hippopotamus
    Arabian Camel
    Giraffe
    American Bison
    Blackbuck
    Eland
    Lowland Nyala
    Common Waterbuck
    Scimitar-horned Oryx
    Vervet
    Western Lowland Gorilla
    African Lion
    Cheetah
    African Wild Dog

    Birds (2):

    Ostrich
    Orange-bellied Parrot

    Reptiles (4):

    Shingleback
    Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard
    Dumeril’s Boa
    Leopard Tortoise

    Total Species: 26
     
    Last edited: 19 Jan 2023
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  7. Grant Rhino

    Grant Rhino Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    Once again, really thorough post - I can shed light on some things you’ve mentioned as I’m a volunteer at WORZ:

    The Australian section was created hastily for a very specific reason: international flights were going to start landing at Avalon Airport. The idea was that the zoo gave international visitors the opportunity to see koalas and kangaroos (which the zoo previously didn’t have). Had the zoo not created this section the worry was that all these visitors would head to Ballarat Wildlife Park instead. So in a nutshell it was a business decision.

    RE Cape Barren Geese: all the cape barren geese in the zoo are wild - none are zoo animals. WORZ actually has a lot of wild animals living within the grounds including numerous birds, reptiles, frogs, and wallabies. I’ve even seen a platypus in the river (within the zoo grounds).

    The reptile house was built as the nocturnal house. At the start it displayed eastern barred bandicoots, tawny frogmouth, fat tailed dunnarts, growling grass frog, and one other species - I can’t recall which though.

    This building probably copped it more than most exhibits during Covid, and has only just reopened. It’s in a state of transition.

    RE the interactive play spaces: WORZ invested in these at a very specific point in time - when the birth rate in the local area was the highest in Australia. The idea was to built a heap of animal themed interactive play areas for kids (eg the monkey rope play near the monkeys) specifically because the babies being born at the time would be “zoo age” in 2-4 years and would grow up playing on zoo style play equipment instead of pretending to be Fireman Sam etc. My kids were that age at that time and loved it. There are more of these at WORZ than at most other zoos but that was a very specific intent. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it and so do a lot of the visitors there with kids. Again these were a business decision and I think they have been a good investment for the future - but of course I can understand why animal focused zoo visitors may see them as pointless or annoying.
     
  8. Grant Rhino

    Grant Rhino Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    There is a second (smaller) species of tortoise in with the leopard tortoise: bell hinged tortoise or something like that (I’m not into reptiles). I can’t recall the proper name.

    There have also been various reptiles (mostly snakes such as Madagascan boa etc) displayed in the indoor play spaces such as Ranger Kids and the hut building next to the dogs (on the way to the hippos). There were even small crocodiles in there for a number of years.
     
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  9. akasha

    akasha Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Thanks heaps for the reply. I’ve fixed the species list RE: geese.

    Okay, that makes sense in regards to the Aussie section. But I guess I figure if it’s there now, they might as well maximise on it. (I know everyone’s taken a hit with Covid, so it’s not going to happen overnight.)

    Yes, I got the feeling the reptile house was kind of holding space until it could be upgraded, and I do understand these things take time and money. Mainly I was just annoyed I didn’t get to see ‘my’ bandicoots, which is of course my issue :oops:

    The play spaces are fine, I’m all for them, human enrichment at the zoo I guess. I dunno how to explain it really, my objections are more to the simplification of language and signage. I always talk to kids like they’re adults (within reason), I think it’s a type of respect they deserve, and if they don’t understand, they ask! It’s how they learn.

    Overall I did enjoy Werribee, the good outweighed the bad and I know things are always changing, so I’d visit again if I was down that way :)
     
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  10. Grant Rhino

    Grant Rhino Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    I will check out the wording next time I’m there - I’ve never noticed or thought about this before. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes from someone new to the place to notice these things. I’m there a lot so I don’t notice what a newcomer might.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the trip overall! :)
     
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  11. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Awesome photos!

    I agree with your thoughts that Werribee should exhibit a larger group of Cheetah (i.e. a coalition of bachelor males). They’d get far more out of this exhibit. Similarly African wild dog has been bred at zoos like Wellington and Perth; while Werribee has this massive exhibit holding a pack of four dogs.

    It’s surprising Werribee doesn’t have a greater focus on felids - especially grassland cats like Caracal (they have Serval).

    I’ll note this is first time I’ve heard someone mention nyala as a species of interest. As a New Zealander, I take them for granted as a species that’s as common as meerkats; but respect they’re only held in four Australian zoos.