The Moreton Bay Region’s animal attractions and sanctuaries have been doing it tough but are hanging in there, so we can soon enjoy some much-needed wildlife and farm experiences.
When COVID-19 restrictions forced the operators of the region’s animal attractions and sanctuaries to close their doors to the public, or discontinue mobile wildlife experiences, they lost their only source of income.
But with dozens, and in some cases, hundreds of animals to care for their expenses have not changed. It’s been a hard slog, but all are passionate about what they do and determined to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
We checked in with some to see how they’re faring and when they think they might be able to reopen or resume normal activities.
Owners Katrina and David White say the best way the community can support them, is to visit when they reopen. This is most likely during stage three of the easing of restrictions.
“It’s not financially worth opening for 20 people. It takes a team of people, hours of work to make the farm look immaculate and ready to go and we wouldn't offer a compromised product. We have applied for an exception but hold little hope of approval,” Katrina says.
They haven’t asked the community for assistance because they don’t feel comfortable doing so, but they’ve appreciated support from Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism and the Moreton Bay Tough campaign.
“Moreton Bay Tough’s been great and inspiring and it’s helped us to keep looking in the right direction,” Katrina says.
“We just need to get over it and on with it,” David says.
“What we would like is the support of the community when we reopen, coming back to the farm and bringing their friends and family,” Katrina adds. “Sharing our social media and talking about us to friends and family is the best help we could ask for.”
They have two new paint pinto ponies they can’t wait for the community to meet when they reopen. The ponies will be available for pony rides.
“I think that’s something the community really wants,” Katrina says.
In the meantime, they are keeping their heads above water … just.
“We don’t have an income, we are technically unemployed, we have not received any government assistance, we’re still waiting for Job Keeper to come through,” Katrina says.
“Our expenses are exactly the same, we can’t pack up our animals away in the garage like a jumping castle business. We still have to pay for feed and we had to get a vet out last night, so that’s another $1000.”
The farm has been open for about four years and is home to llamas, alpacas, horses, goats, sheep, lambs, chickens, ducks, a cow and even a camel.
For updates, head to the Facebook page.
Owner Kelly Prisk is waiting for confirmation, but hopes she can reopen on May 17 to 10 people at a time.
The shutdown has been difficult, but not as tough as it has for others with more animals and expenses.
“The only way we get money, is from people visiting. Luckily, we don’t have a lot of expenses,” Kelly says. “It costs $30 a day to feed the animals, but it’s not too bad.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly had introduced a sponsor-a-deer program and as a result six of her 15 deer are sponsored by members of the community.
“That’s been enough to cover everybody. Everyone got food – not fresh fruit and vegetables - but they got their hay,” she says.
Reopening to small groups will be challenging as it’s difficult to make bookings for a set period of time – some visitors stay longer than others- but Kelly says she’ll make it work.
Head to the Facebook page for details including opening dates and times, and how to book.
Managing director Lindsay Rooke says the farm will not reopen during stage one of the easing of restrictions, more likely in stages two or three.
Like other farms and wildlife attractions, they have experienced a significant drop in revenue. Lindsay says they’ve been able to reduce some labour costs, access Job Keeper payments for long-term casual staff and have drawn on savings to feed their animals.
The farm is home to more than 50 animals, including 17 horses.
They’ve been able to continue to run their riding school, as it is one-on-one with social distancing possible. The farm has also been able to welcome some visitors who have either paid or volunteered to help feed and care for the animals.
“That’s one way the community has been supporting us. Anyone who’s able to help with feeding and caring for the animals can do that,” he says.
All other aspects of the business have ceased, for now. That means no excursions, parties or big group visits.
Ben Bawden has run his mobile wildlife experiences business for 10 years, six from Wamuran, and had planned to open a permanent attraction at the site this year.
The COVID-19 shutdown and subsequent cancellation of wildlife experiences at community events and schools, and the shutdown of the film and television industry has reduced Ben’s income to zero. This means his plans have been shelved, perhaps for a year.
Ben, the Secretary of the Wildlife Exhibitors Network - an industry body for owner operators who hold an exhibition license, says mobile businesses such as his are not eligible for Federal Government relief funding. He says there’s also no rescue package from the State Government at this stage.
Fortunately Job Keeper payments have enabled him to keep his two employees, but he still has to come up with the cash to feed 600 animals.
That’s where the community has sprung into action, donating about $2500 via a Go Fund Me page set up by former employee and now friend Taylor Cooper.
Ben says she originally wanted to co-ordinate a fruit and vegetable drive, but people told her they wanted to contribute financially.
As a result, they’ve been able to feed their animals for more than two weeks and have even been able to offer excess feed to other operators.
“It has kept me going to push further to get what we need to open to the public properly,” he says. “It reinforces the fact that people want an attraction like this, especially in their region.”
He’s keen to provide an affordable native and exotic wildlife experience for locals and visitors to the area.
But, with no income, he says the opening is not likely to be before Easter next year. He’s hopeful that with support from council and the State Government he might be able to do so earlier.
There are 600 animals on the property, ranging from native birds to reptile and mammals, to monkeys, snakes iguanas, alligators and crocodiles.
For updates, head to the Facebook page
While this much-loved attraction has been closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, volunteers led by Ray and Delphine Archer have continued the butterfly breeding program to ensure there are plenty on hand for much-needed nature therapy when it reopens.
The centre, which the couple founded almost three years ago, is a sanctuary for 19 varieties including the threatened blue Ulysses butterfly.
Ray says for every 100 eggs a butterfly lays in the wild, only two will survive. But in the laboratory, they have an 80 per cent success rate thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers.
The centre is most likely to reopen in July, when larger groups are expected to be allowed and more volunteers can be onsite to ensure it’s a safe experience for everyone.
Ray can’t wait and says he feels terrible that he can’t continue to donate $10,000 to community groups each month. The funds are usually raised from admission fees.
For updates, head to the Facebook page
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