Conservation is deeply intwined with a good, modern zoo. At Auckland Zoo, we use our skills to save wildlife locally and even further afield. We fund: our Conservation Fund has contributed more than $4,000,000 to conservation projects overseas and in New Zealand. We research: knowledge is key – how can we save a species without knowing anything about it? We educate and advocate: for real conservation success, it’s imperative to ensure the next generation are part of the solution, and are invested in the future of wildlife and wild places.

Here are eleven conservation stories that make our hearts swell with pride, and that we hope will inspire conservationists, both young and old!

1. Come along with us into the heart of Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem – the largest intact forest in Asia, and the only place left where Sumatran orangutans, elephants, rhinoceroses, and tigers co-exist in the wild. In our 4-part series Wild Work Sumatra we’ll meet some of these forest edge communities and understand the human-animal conflict and palm oil sustainability issues that have been driving the near-extinction of these species.

Join our Primate team leader Amy Robbins on a journey to find the solution – Amy founded the Sumatran Ranger Project and is intent on working on a solution that both saves the Leuser Ecosystem, the animals that inhabit it, and the livelihoods of the communities that call this region home. 


Wild Work Sumatra - Ep 1

In Episode One, Amy introduces us to Jack and Agus from the Sumatran Ranger Project, a conservation team Amy set up in 2016 to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the ‘buffer-zone’ - the space between where people live and work and the forest where wild orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinoceros reside.

2. Next, let’s head to Sri Lanka to meet Pruthu Fernando, an expert on elephant behaviour who has dedicated his life to protecting this larger-than-life species. Our partnership with the Centre for Conservation and Research (CCR) has allowed us help to conserve elephants in Sri Lanka, specifically through funding GPS technology and gather invaluable conservation data.

As this video explores, this technology enables Pruthu and his team to understand where elephants travel to ensure new infrastructure (roading and housing) doesn’t stop elephants traveling in their natural home range, forging an encouraging future for human-elephant co-existence.


Conserving Asian elephants in Sri Lanka

We meet elephant team leader Andrew Coers and Pruthu Fernando from the Conservation Centre for Research in Sri Lanka who discuss the vital conservation work taking place for Sri Lanka's Asian elephant

3. Heading back to Aotearoa now, seal keeper Odin has been working alongside the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Massey University to help bring the New Zealand sea lion back from the brink. New Zealand is home to the world’s most endangered sea lions, with colonies mainly populating the Subantartic Islands. With skills learnt through zoo keeping, Odin feels privileged to be part of the solution.

A journey to Stewart Island is made annually, where pups are tagged so it can be determined how the species is faring, and if any are coming back to where they originally were found on the mainland. This data can also help in the future determine which areas they are choosing, and what we can do to make these areas safe and habitable for them. This video shows the gruelling work conservationists can often undertake. Read more and watch here

4. The New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine, more commonly referred to as Auckland Zoo’s Vet Hospital, undertakes a substantial portion of veterinary work for kākāpō, as well as our veterinary colleagues Dunedin Wildlife Hospital and Massey Wildbase. Kākāpō are an endemic, enigmatic, yet charismatic bird, currently only found on New Zealand’s offshore islands. Every breeding season (which is only every 3-4 years… problematic for a critically endangered species) alongside DOC, Auckland Zoo staff – bird keepers, vets, and vet nurses alike – are intimately involved in breeding season, describing it as having to ‘become the bird’s mother’. There’s a lot of adversity facing the kākāpō, but this past year they faced one (BIG) extra struggle – a wave of aspergillosis threatening to wipe out this species for good.

Watch this incredibly moving story here, about the lengths New Zealand, and THE WORLD, went to save the species. 

5. Kōkako are another endemic bird (slightly smaller, but more mysterious) Auckland Zoo are directly involved in conserving, and another story of how conservation is absolutely no ‘walk in the park’. At times it’s more of a hike, climb, rope slide, and sometimes tumble through the park. Bird keeper Erin is responsible for leading this project, and shows us how her skills as a bird keeper help her complete a kōkako census in the Waitakere Ranges spanning 10 weeks annually.

Watch along and try and spot this ‘ghost of the forest’ – maybe you’ll think you’re up for the challenge! 


Conservation In Action : Counting Kōkako

Follow bird keepers Erin, Casey and Cath as they head into the Waitākere Ranges in search of kōkako

6. Some of the most important species we can conserve are insects – they are the real heroes keeping the planet going. They are pollinators, decomposers, and even aerate soil. Not only that, New Zealand’s prehistoric wētāpunga outlived the dinosaurs, and now the introduction of predators to our tiny part of the world has near-decimated the population!

Auckland Zoo joined the wētāpunga recovery programme in 2012, and since then our ectotherm team have intensively bred and released over 6,000 wētāpunga on 5 offshore islands. We invited Earthwise Al Jazeera to document one of these releases – watch below, and read more here.  


Saving New Zealand's prehistoric wētāpunga

We invited Earthrise Al Jazeera along to one of our recent wētāpunga releases onto The Noises Islands.

7. Every species has a unique story that deserves to be told. Even Aotearoa’s remarkable tiny, 5 gram (a teaspoon of sugar!) cobble skink. A huge amount of work has gone into protecting and preserving this tiny native lizard. Over the years, the cobble skink as a species has endured a great deal of hardship and change, but thanks to Auckland Zoo and its partners, we’re hopeful for the future of this endemic skink!

The skinks’ coastal cobble habitat was dealing with erosion and rising sea levels, so DOC proactively moved the skinks to Auckland Zoo to give them another shot at survival – a real miracle, as not long after Cyclone Gita destroyed the remainder of their habitat. Read more about this incredible story of survival here.

8. Getting boots-dirty-deep in conservation is what our staff love to do and over the past eight years we’ve been lending our skills to the Archey’s frog recovery programme. Working alongside our partners at the Frog Recovery Group and Department of Conservation (DOC) we undertake annual surveys for this rare endemic amphibian. Number #1 on the list of Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species compiled by the Zoological Society of London, and with a threat status in New Zealand of ‘At Risk – Declining’, raising awareness for this species and the work of the Zoo and our partners, is so important. 

Read more about this pint-sized frog here

9. Auckland Zoo’s Conservation Outreach Education team runs one of its programmes at Tāwharanui Regional Park – a place of picturesque contrasting colours, where hills meet the ocean, and the fresh sea breez gives you a new lease on life. It all perfectly embodies our ‘Pure New Zealand’ image, and makes you swell with pride to call this beautiful part of the world home. Young kiwis aren’t necessarily frequently exposed to these parts of New Zealand, and may already know the bigger picture – understanding issues like water pollution, pest/predator invasion, and how our urban jungles encroach into our native species’ homes. This ideological haven can give our tamariki a real sense for what we have that is worth saving. And more importantly, connect our future generations with wild life and wild places – inspiring them to be kaitiaki, or guardians, of our irreplaceable landscapes, now and into the future.

Read more about Outreach Conservation here and watch our video below. 


Conservation Education Shaping Kaitiaki of the Future

Zoo educator Frazer discusses our conservation education programme and what kiwi kids get to experience in beautiful Tāwharanui

10. We also help with wildlife conservation efforts in the South Pacific! Our three year project in partnership with the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and Samoa Conservation Society was created to assist Samoa in their goal to boost the populations of their native reptiles, plants, birds and save the critically endangered manumea. The manumea is Samoa’s only endemic pigeon and therefore holds the special place of being their national bird – much like our kiwi! With only 500 found in the wild in 2006, helping to control the rampant rat population that predates on these vulnerable bird species is so important, and that's where we come in! 

Watch the first in our 3-part series in Samoa with pest management coordinator Sian, below. 


Helping Samoa's Wildlife - Episode 1

In this first episode of our three-part series our pest management coordinator Sian arrives in Samoa to lend her expertise in helping the native bird population.

11. Auckland Zoo has been proud to support kiwi conservation in the wild since 1994 through Operation Nest Egg (ONE) with our partners Kiwis for Kiwi and the Department of Conservation. Before this crucial work started, research found that 95% of wild hatched kiwi chicks were being killed before they could reach breeding age - something that we've worked to change by incubating and hatching kiwi at the Zoo and then releasing them to predator-free islands where they can go big, strong and capable of fighting off stoats. 

Read more about this Wild Work in our recent blog from senior bird keeper Nat