As you can imagine, our keepers are an extremely passionate bunch. Their love for wildlife and wild places, combined with their knowledge and expertise, allows them to really make a difference for nature and the environment. So much so, that they’re often involved in volunteering, travelling to visit our conservation partners, or supporting the great work of other non-government organisations (NGOs).

This is the case for Sachin, a multi-team keeper at Auckland Zoo, who had several key destinations on his bucket list to explore and learn more about the conservation of Central and South American species.

Sachin has been part of the Auckland Zoo whānau for almost five years and during that time he has held various keeping roles within carnivores, primates, animal experiences and pridelands (what is now called ungulates), gaining him a breadth of experience. Sachin was placed at Auckland Zoo as a student when he was studying for the ‘New Zealand Certificate in Animal Management’ certificate at Unitec. He initially wanted to work for the Department of Conservation but when he became aware of the incredible conservation work we, and other good modern zoos, are part of, he decided to apply for a job with us. The moment that piqued his interest was listening to a Sumatran tiger Keeper Talk, where he first learnt of the conservation partnerships our visitors and donors enable us to support globally. In his current multi-team role he spends most of his time divided between our carnivore and primate sections – this sees him caring for everything from otters to orangutans!

Kicking off his travels in September 2019, Sachin spent close to three months travelling through-out South America, from Argentina up to Ecuador. Then last year, just before the Covid-19 pandemic affected travel between countries, he flew to Belize to start a 4-month trip through Central America in the hopes of learning more about conservation efforts for some of the species that he cares for at the Zoo. Sachin visited several conservation centres, learning first-hand about the conservation work Auckland Zoo supports, as well as other NGO’s doing great things for wildlife and wild places.

One of his first stops was Bolivia to explore the Jungle and Pampas wetlands that sit on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. These wetlands are filled with rare and vulnerable wildlife like birds, sloths and caiman crocodiles. Sachin was particularly interested to see the capybara and squirrel monkeys, and was pleased to see that the incredible and complex habitats we create at Auckland Zoo are so much like the wild environments where these species live. In Bolivia capybaras are a food-source for the locals who live off the land. The eco-tour Sachin went on was sanctioned by the government, which afforded protection to the animals found here. This meant Sachin was able to see many capybara relaxing by the water, feeding and grazing in their family group – which is not common sight outside of these protected areas. 


Next stop was the Galapagos Islands to see the remarkable wildlife found there and learn more about their conservation. Many of you would associate the Galapagos Islands with Charles Darwin due to his ground-breaking ‘Theory of Evolution’ which was inspired by his travels here. Named in his honour, the Charles Darwin Foundation’s Research Station, is located on Santa Cruz Island. In visiting the Research Station, Sachin was able to see two of their three breeding facilities in action, helping to boost the wild populations of 9 of the 11 surviving Galapagos tortoise species. Tortoises are reared at the centre until they reach five years of age at which size they’re more able to defend themselves from predators. Historically, the Galapagos tortoise population within the archipelago numbered roughly 200,000-300,000 tortoises. Today, the population is just 10-15% of that and it will take a long time for the species to recover to their original levels. As you know, we recently hatched four of these incredible tortoises at the Zoo, which is a testament to the carefully controlled environment we provide them and the skills of our ectotherm team!

Next on the bucket list, Sachin travelled to Belize to visit Wildtracks – a not for profit like Auckland Zoo - that focuses on the conservation of Central American wildlife through vital rehabilitation programmes. Sachin had always wanted to visit after hearing about this incredible organisation from friends and colleagues, like carnivore keeper Helen who he visited when she was volunteering with their Antillean manatee rehab programme last year.

Their Primate Rehabilitation Centre is the primary rehabilitation space for indigenous monkeys that are rescued from the illegal pet trade. These monkeys often arrive stressed and in ill-health as many have been kept in solitary confinement. As part of their transition to full health, each monkey will be paired with another individual, or troop, based on their personalities and ages. Most will pass through three phases of rehabilitation over 1-3 months to get them used to wild-like conditions, before being released with their ‘buddy or buddies’.

Aren’t macaws so stunning? Next, Sachin travelled to Guatemala to see birds that were being rehabilitated by ARCAS – a wildlife non-profit in the area. Unfortunately, the rainforest homes of these incredible birds have been slowly disappearing and illegal wildlife trafficking is rampant. ARCAS and their volunteers rehabilitate 300-600 mammals, birds and reptiles which have been confiscated from traffickers by the Guatemalan government each year. If you’ve been to Auckland Zoo’s Flight School ‘keeper talk’ you may have met our scarlet macaw Jake who is an valuable advocacy bird for his wild cousins. At our daily free-flight encounters you can learn all about these amazing birds, the issues they’re facing in their wild homes, and what we can all do to help preserve them.

Visiting these places and seeing these species in the wild is a valuable experience for a keeper like Sachin, and helps inform how we care for our animals. Since returning from his trip, Sachin has had the privilege of assisting our incredible Vet Hospital team with caring for their kākāpō patients. Our Vet Hospital team not only provide veterinary care to the zoo animals but also treat wildlife patients from all around New Zealand. Throughout 2019 and into 2020 an unprecedented number of kākāpō chicks and adults became sick with aspergillosis, and our conservation partners at Kākāpō Recovery sent most of these birds to us for treatment. This in-flux of sick birds required the support of skilled staff from all over the zoo to build enough temporary rehabilitation pens, cut and deliver fresh browse plants daily for food and enrichment, as well as clean, feed and care for the bird’s every daily need.

Sachin is proud to work alongside his incredible zoo crew who play a vital role in conservation projects, such as our deputy curator of mammals Amy Robbins, who’s work in Sumatra led to the establishment of the Sumatran Ranger Programme. - These rangers patrol the buffer zone between villages and the national park, removing illegal snares and educating villagers on how to live in harmony with the forest and its wildlife - see them at work in our series Wild Work Sumatra.

Is there anything he wishes people knew about Auckland Zoo? Sachin says, “the amount of conservation work we do overseas as well as in New Zealand and the projects we support. I believe that our work educating and engaging the local communities in the areas where these animals are found is integral and essential to mitigating issues like human-wildlife conflict and building a future for these species.”