Orana Wildlife Park facing 'financial demise', fighting for funding

By Georgie Hanafin

Christchurch's Orana Wildlife Park faces an "inevitable financial demise" without $1.5 million in annual long-term funding from the city council.

The country's only open range zoo houses 1000 animals from 90 species, including exotic threatened species like the Sumatran tiger and white rhinoceros.

The wildlife trust that runs the park received about $250,000 per year from the council, but said in a submission on the council's draft long-term plan that it needed an annual $1.5m contribution to ensure its financial sustainability.

"Covid was a silver lining, as central government funding bought time, but we cannot prevent an inevitable financial demise without increased council assistance," it said.

The trust proposed $500,000 in funding in the 2024-25 financial year, $1m the following year, and $1.5m annually over future years.

Photo: Orana Wildlife Park
Photo: Orana Wildlife Park
According to the trust, that would cost each Christchurch ratepayer $8.11 per year or 68 cents per month.

Orana Wildlife Trust chief executive Lynn Anderson said while the park's closure was not an option, it would be terrible for breeding programmes.

"A closure would be a disaster for on a national and regional basis," she said.

"We work very closely with other major zoos in New Zealand and Australia on collaborative breeding programmes for endangered species.

"As New Zealand's only open range zoo, we fulfil a really valuable role in terms of holding additional animals that can't be held in smaller zoos so that they're available for breeding."

Anderson said the trust did not want to resort to asking for a council bail-out.

"We're not at a situation of ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We have a responsibility to our animals and we don't want to be in that position," she said.

"Of course, if funding wasn't secured within a couple of years, we would be going to our council and asking for a bail-out. That's not the responsible approach we want to take."

The trust said it cost $5.1m per year to run the park, with 60 percent of its annual budget allocated to staffing costs and $600,000 to animals.

Until 2018, visitors covered 90 percent of the park's yearly operating costs but now only covered 65 percent, the trust said.

Anderson said the zoo's budget was managed on a "critical expenditure-only" basis that did not allow for building maintenance.

Ratepayers should make submissions on the council's draft long-term plan to ensure Orana Park's financial stability, Anderson said.

"We're asking the community to let the council know that Orana Wildlife Park is something that they really treasure," she said.

Orana Park was fighting for funding at the same time as Christchurch's Arts Centre and the company behind the Christ Church Cathedral rebuild seek multi-million-dollar contributions.

The Arts Centre warned it would be forced to dissolve without support from the council, which had not allocated any money for the trust in the draft long term plan, following a $5.5m grant for restoration projects.

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon
Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Ltd said it urgently needed at least $30m and a "new funding pathway" or the building would be mothballed by August, leaving a partially-restored ruin.

A Christchurch City Council spokesperson said: "It wouldn't be appropriate for the mayor to comment on an individual submission ahead of the LTP hearings. He looks forward to hearing their submission when the hearings process is underway".

Public consultation on the council's draft long-term plan ends on Sunday.