Ongoing since September 2019, wildfires across Australia have ravaged more than 7.3 million hectares, obliterating entire towns and burning through habitats of the country’s wildlife. Those in the path of the wildfires do their best to save their properties, but one zookeeper went the extra mile – he took home most of the animals in his care to ensure their survival.
Mogo Wildlife Park is a popular tourist destination along the South Coast of New South Wales. It hosts about 200 endangered and exotic animals, including Sumatran tigers, southern white rhinos, zebras, and giraffes, as well as the largest collection of primates in Australia.
Lying directly in the path of wildfires, an evacuation order was sent out, but staff decided to stay behind to keep their wards from harm. All the animals were saved following the zoo’s established fire defense protocols.
Mogo Wildlife Park Director Chad Staples described the situation as “apocalyptic” and that it “felt like Armageddon.” The zoo was encircled by fire and smoke. “The scariest thing was how fast those winds were,” Staples said. “It got so dark it felt like it was midnight which was such a scary feeling.”
A precise plan for the safety of the animals was already in place, and as the fires moved in the zookeepers went into action. The first step was to remove all flammable materials from the area. The zoo staff had already collected thousands of liters of water, which were then placed in smaller tanks and loaded on vehicles so that staff can drive around and put out spot fires.
Then they turned their attention to the animals. Giraffes and zebras who had large enclosures where left there since there was room enough for the animals to move away from spot fires. Lions, tigers, orangutans, and other larger animals were placed in night enclosures to keep them calm and safe. The smaller ones, however, needed extra shelter.
So the chief zookeeper took some of them home! Most of the animals were kept on site, but Staples’ house provided temporary lodging for monkeys, pandas, and even a tiger. Staples said that these were mainly the animals that were highly stressed, not by the fires, but by the flurry of activity as zookeepers and vehicles moved quickly around the small zoo to battle the flames.
Mogo Wildlife Park staff Sara Ang said that “some of the smaller monkeys had to be moved to the house, the red panda is in the house and there’s a tiger in the back area of the house.”
Staples added, “Due to the amazing staff here and a well-executed plan, no one is hurt, not a single animal. Any species of animal that was small enough, or was in an area we couldn’t protect, we caught up. Right now in my house there’s animals of all descriptions in all the different rooms, that are there safe and protected… not a single animal lost.” Another staff member is keeping a tiger in their backyard.
Almost 30 people, including firefighters, have died due to the rampaging bush fires. Thousands have lost homes and properties and face an uncertain future. More than a billion animals, including thousands of koalas, are also believed to have perished in this devastating, and ongoing, fire season.
Staples said that the team battled spot fires at the 65-acre park for several hours. He expressed his gratitude to all the passionate staff and volunteers who worked tirelessly to protect the animals because they “love them like their own family.”
Temporarily closed, the zoo, however, confirmed that every animal was “safe and in wonderful care.” The heroic efforts of the zookeepers of Mogo Wildlife Park is a bright spot in this long battle against wildfires and continuing measures to save precious wildlife.