Taronga Western Plains Zoo is no ordinary run of the mill zoo. It is an extraordinary achievement in conservation and entertainment and it's a bonafide tourism money spinner all wrapped up in a 300-hectare interactive adventure experience.
For more than 40 years the zoo has been delighting visitors, and my experience was no exception.
I have travelled all over the world and seen many zoos, but none have the ‘feel’ of the Western Plains Zoo.
The Zoo is a not for profit organisation supporting wildlife conservation and it is Regional NSW’s largest attraction.
Zoo Director Steve Hinks said the zoo opened to the public on February 28, 1977, to provide more living and breeding space for large animals such as elephants and lions which needed more space than was available at the restricted Sydney site. Since then more than 10 Million people have come to the zoo with more than 250,000 visitors annually, almost 40,000 of those annual visitors have stayed overnight.
What I loved about the zoo was its open-range design. Most zoos have walls and fences to keep the animals in and visitors out.
But the Western Plains Zoo wants its visitors to feel like they are roaming with the animals, well as much as is safely possible. So they have replaced fences in most displays with moats which creates the impression of actually being with the animals in the wild.
Of course, fencing off a lion or tiger is necessary because they can swim and jump! But adding see through glass to those enclosures still gives as much of an authentic ‘wild’ experience as can safely be expected.
My wife and I got to feed a tiger, and it was an experience of a lifetime. To see such a majestic animal up close was one thing, but to see it hungry and eager to eat the food on offer was another thing altogether.
To witness the sheer strength and power of the beautiful tiger, we were feeding was extraordinary. The size of its head and claws alone was awe-inspiring, the fact that I knew it could rip me to shreds in a matter of seconds in a wild situation added to my awe, but also heightened my appreciation for the very thin but strong fence separating us for the feeding.
But the best thing about the feeding experience...knowing that 100 percent of the money they make from it will go back to caring for the animal and conservation efforts, Bravo Western Plains Zoo!
The Zoo has an estimated $62.2M economic net benefit to the region and Tourism Research Australia said it is the top reason for visiting Dubbo.
Locals should be proud to have such a fantastic tourist attraction in their backyards, and if you haven’t been, then you should, it is amazing.