Auckland Zoo Tasmanian Devil Exhibit Hero

Auckland Zoo – Tasmanian Devils Exhibit: creating an insurance population of the endangered Tasmanian Devil

Once widespread throughout Australia, Tasmanian devils are now only found in Tasmania. They are threatened with extinction due to the deadly Devil Facial Tumour Disease - a devastating illness that emerged in 1996 and still has no cure. In response to the emergence of this disease and the alarming decline in the number of Tasmanian devils, the Australian and Tasmanian governments teamed up and created the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. The programme includes a global zoo-based initiative led by the Zoo and Aquarium Association, which manages a disease-free population of devils for future release into the wild, should the wild population deteriorate even further.

Auckland Zoo, along with Wellington Zoo, Orana Park and two American zoos decided to house ‘Ambassador Devils’ to raise awareness of the plight of the species on a world stage and contribute directly to its conservation. In order to participate fully in the recovery effort, Auckland Zoo needed a purpose built exhibit to be designed and constructed.

Auckland Zoo’s aims:

  • To construct a purpose-built exhibit to accommodate the Tasmanian devils in order to participate fully in the recovery effort for the endangered species.
  • To provide advocacy opportunities for visitors to Auckland Zoo. 

What we did:

Auckland Zoo had a specific completion date for the project as the Tasmanian devils were to arrive in New Zealand in time for the April 2014 school holidays. This gave us slightly over 4 months from start to finish.

Work involved demolishing several existing aviaries and enclosures, clearing existing landscape formations and ground undercutting:

  • Over 1,000m³ of soil was removed from site
  • Over 1,500m³ of material was imported
  • A 2 metre high block retaining wall created the flat enclosure with maximum viewing capabilities.

An artificial stream and waterfall created the backbone of the enclosure, with the main viewing deck built around a protected Karaka tree at the centre of the enclosure. We constructed two holding buildings to house the animals.

We consulted with Auckland Zoo throughout the project to ensure we built an enclosure that would require little construction in the future.

Unique challenges:

  • The main challenge was the layers of fill that had been laid down on top of the existing bedrock. It meant that a combination of undercutting to remove soft spots and breaking to remove bedrock was required – and the ground conditions were often unpredictable.
  • There was a lot of interest in this project from the public and the children visiting the zoo were fascinated with the machinery. Site security and safety were essential to make sure no children entered it out of curiosity. Our team required access to the site through the zoo on several occasions, which were hairy times. Close management and monitoring were key to ensuring no visitors were put at risk.
  • The site was surrounded by public spaces and animal enclosures, which meant that we had to take noise, dust and environmental impact into account at all times. On a few occasions the noise of the rock breaking was near the edge of the site. We monitored the noise levels, and if these exceeded safe levels, erected a temporary barrier/cordon to keep visitors away. We communicated regularly with the animal keepers to ensure that any necessary noise disturbances were coordinated appropriately. This meant halting or altering work on a number of occasions to meet the needs of the animals.

The outcome: 

Four Tasmanian devils, one female and three males, arrived at their new home just in time for the April School Holidays, as part of an insurance programme for the endangered species. Auckland Zoo is now able to fully play its part in both raising awareness of the plight of these amazing creatures and insuring their survival into the future.