18 February 2023

Buyers circle National Zoo and Aquarium but strict conditions are attached

| James Coleman
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people looking at bear at zoo

The National Zoo and Aquarium could undergo an ownership change in coming years. Photo: National Zoo and Aquarium, Facebook.

Canberra’s zoo could face an ownership shake-up in the coming years, but only on the strict condition nothing changes for either the animals or the visitors.

Long-time owner Richard Tindale says the National Zoo and Aquarium is discussing either a partnership or all-out purchase with “some big players from Sydney”, including property company Savills Australia.

“The ones we’re progressing with are the ones that are looking at it for the right reasons,” he says.

“We want to continue doing what we’ve been doing and we’ll try to make sure that happens.”

Neither the zoo nor the attached accommodation suite Jamala Wildlife Lodge has gone to market as such, with Richard describing it more as “dipping a toe in the waters”.

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“An agency approached me last year to say they had someone interested in taking equity in the zoo,” he says.

“It just so happened my wife Maureen and I were looking at a succession plan and retirement. We’ve put everything into the zoo, so it’s probably wise to look at its future.”

The original plan was a near-50-50 partnership, where Richard would retain some control over the facility’s direction.

“I’d like a situation where someone else makes some of the day-to-day decisions and I can get out of the office more often and spend time with the animals I love.”

National Zoo and Aquarium Hummer

The National Zoo and Aquarium Hummer is used during the zoo’s night tours. Photo: National Zoo and Aquarium.

But he admits to being “like most businesses in the world” in that he’s open to someone who wants to buy the whole thing. Provided they meet the terms and conditions.

“I’m not interested in someone coming along and either entering a partnership or purchasing it whole for reasons other than they want to continue doing what we’ve been doing for the past 25 years. We put too much of our lives into these animals to have anything untoward happen to them.”

The Tindale family purchased the zoo in 1998, back when it consisted of seven hectares of empty land near Scrivener Dam and an aquarium bankrupted for the second time.

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Richard had grown his building business to a point he was happy with and wanted to branch out to fulfil a passion of his – big cats. He sold up in the early 1990s and he and Maureen travelled the world from Siberia to Africa and Patagonia to Alaska, tracking big cats in the wild. It was then he realised just how much trouble almost all of them were in.

“We realised their numbers were dropping by the day, virtually across all species,” he says.

The couple came back to Canberra determined to do their bit to save the big cats with an animal breeding and conservation facility. The original landholding was expanded with an open-range section years later, while staff and volunteers exploded to today’s 235 people – “all here for the right reasons”.

National Zoo leopard

A love of big cats led to the founding of the National Zoo and Aquarium. Photo: National Zoo and Aquarium.

“Our aim is to try and get this generation a bit more aware of what’s happening in the wild,” Richard says.

“The closer you get people to animals, the bigger the impact animals have on people. If we do sell or take on a partner, that’s what we want to protect.”

Staff were told of the plans about four months ago, although it’s understood the ACT Government has only been approached in the past week. But it’s far from cut and dried.

“There’s every chance nothing will happen and that doesn’t bother me too much,” Richard says.

“The backup plan is to get our current staff up to speed on running it. And they’re all very capable, it’s just that they don’t quite have the business experience yet.”

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The cat did it5:20 pm 23 Feb 23

I’m sure there will be any number of developers wetting themselves at the prospect of all that river frontage. It will be like the old salami game- first it will be just a few low profile eco-friendly (of course) residences, then a few more, then a relaxed height limit, then a bit more … As usual, the ACT Government allowing the creeping privatisation of what is essentially a public asset. Wadda ya reckon Mr Barr?

Trish O'Connor1:46 pm 19 Feb 23

Perhaps Geocon might get hold of this as they did the Phillip Pool !

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