Future looks bright at Natureland

A year after rescuing the troubled Natureland zoo from closure, its new owners are confident they have turned it around. Words and photos: Alden Williams.

Since taking the helm of Nelson city's only zoo, its new owners have been "full on busy" getting Natureland into shape.

Mike and Meg Rutledge have spent the past 13 months at the helm of the Tahunanui attraction. There have been upgrades, rebrands and the couple have been working literally at grassroots level since taking the wildlife park off Christchurch's Orana Wildlife Trust last year.

"We knew we were taking over something that needed a bit of love here and there but it has been like completely re-doing everything," Mike said.

The branding of Natureland has been slowly changing, as well, with new signage popping up last August. A new website has been up and running since the start of this month and refreshed entrance and enclosure signs recently completed.

"We needed to do things in stages and as resources became available we made changes. We wanted to get the basics like branding done really well so we can build towards and develop new exhibits, and theming them appropriately," Mike said.

The couple are confident that the park's future is secure.

"Through removal of unnecessary expenses and re-focusing on things that are making a difference, we have been able to significantly improve Natureland while maintaining balanced budgets.

"The changes we have made seem to be getting approval from the public as visitor numbers are up and one thing we are very happy about is that we are now getting schools visiting who either haven't been before or stopped coming because they didn't like how the place was prior to us taking over.

"The feedback is that the teachers and parents are once again seeing Natureland as a very positive place to bring kids for both fun and education," Mike said.

The most recent upgrade has been to the kea enclosure where large viewing windows, donated by Viridian, were added along with upgraded mesh, resulting in more natural light flowing in. It means the two birds are far more visible to the public than ever before.

"The kea are enjoying their improved view of the world," Mike said.

The couple also knocked over the old aviary block which did not meet their own high animal-welfare standards.

A new native aviary block housing tui, kereru and kakariki has been built in its place.

One of the three kereru was rescued after it flew into a window before being picked up by a family dog. It is being rehabilitated in a new home.

Along with a lot of hard work by Mike and Meg, and the five Natureland staff, the zoo has received an unexpected amount of outside help through discounted rates and pro bono work.

"There are a lot of great people in the Nelson community that are helping Natureland succeed," Mike said.

Wellbeing is also never far from the couple's minds.

A strict routine of keeping animals "on rotate" for welfare purposes has been in place since the couple took ownership. Animals are kept off site in open country where they can run around in the paddock and have some time away from people.

"What can be a concern is if you force people on to animals, the interaction is very much on the human's terms so there is potential for negative behaviour from the animal as they are saying 'hey, I just want to chill out for a bit'. "It is similar to having a whole lot of strangers constantly walking through your home."

Time away from Natureland was even more important for younger animals.

"We like to keep the young ones on fresh grass and we monitor their comings and goings from a veterinary perspective," Meg said.

While the pair do not plan to travel in summer they took a month off in July, travelling to Meg's family home in Portland to get married.

New exhibits of agouti and chinchillas are up and running, and has been joined by the world's smallest monkey, the pygmy marmoset.

- The Nelson Mail