Zoo at Berry Springs

In 1979, the NT Conservation Commission briefed Dr Peter Crowcroft, former Director of Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney, to prepare a report outlining realistic objectives and criteria for a Darwin Zoo.

An area of land adjacent to the Berry Springs Nature Park was subsequently recommended for the development of a zoo and Cabinet approved the preparation of detailed plans.

In July 1982, Cabinet was presented with a proposal for the zoo concept, being that of an open range zoo with large enclosures of natural appearance without fences or bars set in bushland.

The proposed site included an attractive lagoon and had a range of interesting natural features that could be developed. 

Visitor access included roads or walking tracks and cycle paths. Although educational aspects of such a zoo were important, the major emphasis was to be on visitor recreation, with an information centre, kiosk, toilets and picnic areas.

The advice to Cabinet noted that all other Australian States had large public zoos. 

With the exception of the Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo, these were all established many years ago along traditional lines, with animals confined behind bars in artificial surroundings, and featuring exotic animals not native to Australia.

It was suggested that a zoo of this nature would cost too much to build and operate and that people preferred to see animals in a free and natural condition. 

A reasonable standard display featuring a modest collection of exotic animals such as large carnivores, elephants and so on at Berry Springs would be expensive to develop and maintain and would provide poor competition for the larger and longer established collections of southern zoos. 

Instead, the new zoo was seen as an opportunity to adopt a unique emphasis on Australian fauna.

Tropical wildlife was seen as one of the major attractions for both tourists and residents of the Top End. 

It would be possible to capitalise on this and feature species native to the north as well as introduced feral animals such as buffalo, Bali cattle, Timor ponies, donkeys and deer.

The proposed zoo was described as a prime addition to the tourist resources of the region, an important education resource for schools and a major recreation facility for local people.

Three options were put to Cabinet to progress the zoo:

  • allow private enterprise to develop a major zoo, either with government or independently
  • approve the development of a government-funded open range zoo featuring a unique display of Territory wildlife at an overall development cost of $4 million
  • continue with a smaller government-funded development, which could be expanded later.

Experience Australia-wide had shown a lack of success by private entrepreneurs in the establishment and operation of zoos with a wide diversity of exhibits. 

The direct income generating potential of such zoos was reported as being low, generally barely sufficient to cover operating costs, let alone service capital.

Zoos with a wide spectrum of fauna were associated with high capital costs, complex management, limited income and were usually public sector projects. So the private sector option was not recommended.

Although more costly in the short term, option 2 could be less expensive and would result in a unique, high class and significant public resource and tourist attraction in northern Australia.

Cabinet was advised that, if the initial development cost of the total proposal was of major concern, option 3 could be adopted, which involved approving the total concept in principle, with an initial development valued at $2.5 million over three years and completion of the development in the years after the zoo had been opened to the public.

This could be achieved by postponing the construction of some expensive elements, such as the proposed nocturnal house and the reptile house and by staging development in other areas.

Cabinet approved in principle the allocation of $4 million over the next five years for the construction of the Berry Springs Zoo subject to normal budgetary considerations.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 2056 and decision number 2440 of 29/30 July 1982 (1.5 mb).

Print all pages in this section

Last updated: 18 April 2016