When you think of those working at a zoo, your mind may cast to our keepers feeding and enriching the lives of our animals, or the smiles that greet you as you pass through our front gates. But have you ever wondered about who designs the zoo, improves our facilities, our works with our beautiful horticulture?

Here are nine stories you may have missed, of some wonderful minds at work and the creative solutions they produce. As our Horticulture Manager Hugo describes it, “it’s like having a blank canvas”. The exciting part is what we’re going to do with it!

1. What’s the best way to feed a giraffe? At height of course! In a collaboration between our ungulates and capital programmes teams, a series of ‘giraffe feeders’ were installed in our African Savanna habitat. It may seem straightforward, but it certainly was no easy feat. Just getting the two incredibly tall trees through the zoo, on a truck, involved a whole team of people, a few early mornings, and a very skilled driver! And that was just the beginning. Watch the video below and read more here


We've created enriching new feeders for our giraffes!

In this exciting habitat transformation, Senior Project Manager Tim Sherring collaborated with both our maintenance team and ungulates team to install two new giraffe feeder trees for our giraffes.

2. Sometimes it’s just ‘small’ jobs, like giraffe feeder installations (if you watched the video, you’ll hear the sarcasm), but at other times, we are designing ENTIRE habitats, purpose built for orangutans and other species. Each project has their own value, with each their own skilled team. And just like our giraffe feeders, it’s impossible to hide our excitement for another fantastic creation. The new soon-to-be-complete South East Asia Jungle Track has been a massive undertaking, the biggest in our history. Our orangutans have moved into their incredible, new habitat just before the lockdown. Witness their story in our video below, and here


Our orangutan trio return home!

The first stage of our #FutureZoo is the creation of a world-leading facility for our orangutans and siamang to enjoy – and when we say world class, we mean it!

3. Another exciting part of this redevelopment is our tropical dome. A real design stroke of genius, but this one’s still well under construction. This will be home to a large crocodilian species, along with some pretty spectacular reptile and fish species, like the Asian arowana. Although this one is a wee way off, ectotherm keeper Seth is already excited as he picks up a shipment of arowana – the first held in New Zealand. Share in Seth’s excitement in our video below. 


Our dragon-fish have arrived!

Ectotherm keeper Seth journeyed to Taranaki to collect these special fish, and since then they’ve been living in a back-of-house facility uniquely designed for their needs.

4. Our maintenance team is a pretty talented group. They are responsible for maintenance of our assets (obviously), but also some equally exciting, less obvious things too! Senior maintenance worker Kona is a man of many talents. When a staff member from any area of the zoo puts in a ‘works request’ he is there, with always the most creative of solutions at hand. And at Auckland Zoo our ‘works requests’ are far from standard. Some days it’s requests for vines to be built for tamarin habitats, other days it’s hand-building beautiful seats you’ll see throughout the zoo from scratch, and some days it involves helping build animal crates or even enrichment.

Read about the incredible Kona here.

5. As you may have read about in his profile, Kona jumped on the opportunity to help out on the ground in Niue (his home island nation) to work at the quarantine facility set up to bring elephant Anjalee into New Zealand. He worked hard helping to set up the quarantine facility, collecting browse, and just being another set of skilled hands helping out wherever possible! Watch this incredible series here (featuring the one and only Kona!) to journey to New Zealand with Anjalee and the team!

6. What about water? Doesn’t Auckland Zoo harvest and store 250,000 litres of the stuff? Understanding the management of that requires introduction to another pretty superb human, Kaitiaki o te Wai (guardian of the water), Mark Blackburn. Or as he’s more fondly known, ‘Mark on water’. Mark was ‘thirsty’ for a role that would focus on addressing water issues like consumption, quality, and looking after the environment, all of which he contributes to in his role at Auckland Zoo.

Learn about Mark and some of the fantastic processes used at the zoo like rainwater harvesting, interface technologies that allow us to monitor and track water usage, and our organic filtering systems here.

7. Our grounds team at the zoo is another team with a vital role – keeping our zoo in tip top condition. This includes everything from leaf blowing to water blasting, and importantly, rubbish collection. We learnt through a waste specialist that if contamination of your recycling is above 3 – 4%, then recycling centres will turn everything away and all your recycling will be diverted to landfill. So, what did we start doing? Sorting it!

The wonderful grounds team have started spending a few extra hours a day of sorting our recycling so that we’re 100% sure everything we’re recycling will have a second life and not end up in landfill. Read more here.

8. As we’ve learnt, sustainability is key… even when it comes to bug supply – a feast many of our ectotherms rely on! In another zoo collab between the ectotherms team and our talented Project Manager Roger, we’ve been buzzing behind closed doors to produce a world-class insect breeding facility, and this is certainly one for the books! So much had to be taken into consideration, every insect has different requirements and breeding processes – some need more warmth, some need more light, and some need more involved husbandry.

So how in one room can we provide all of those things? And that was just the first predicament. Roger had to find a suitable location; decide on temporary versus fixed buildings; design a building that could maintain 30 degrees of heat 24/7; design with the ability to have interchangeable air in the building to stop viruses, but simultaneously not lose heat; plan how to service these buildings; uncover how much electricity the building would draw and confirm it’s within allowable limits – and of course, each big decision brought about a hundred and one other smaller dilemmas. If you love a challenge and innovative solutions, you should definitely read more here.

9. Some (well… most) people come to Auckland Zoo for the animals, but others come for an enjoyable stroll through a fantastic botanical masterpiece. We have Hugo and his horticulture team to thank for that. An absolute whizz when it comes to naming obscure plants, Hugo’s knowledge is matched only by his artistic eye. He describes the zoo effortlessly in the most brilliant of ways “It’s like a canvas we paint, with plants!”

His affinity for the natural world, and the skill and knowledge he contains makes us at Auckland Zoo incredibly lucky to have him here, painting the place with his brilliance. Watch Hugo at work below.


Zoo Tales – Horticulture with Hugo

Our manager of Horticulture, Hugo is passionate about plants! Not only do he and his team make the Zoo look beautiful - they're also working to conserve many rare and threatened plant species.