Ivan, 84, has defied fire, floods and developers in Frankton.
Ivan Young has seen his beloved Frankton Zoological Gardens survive fire, flood and predators … in the shape of property developers.
The Queenstown pensioner created the animal refuge – well-known for its peacocks and rabbits – 33 years ago.
But since the day he bought the land – situated on a former rubbish tip on the banks of the Kawarau – people have been trying to persuade him to flog it.
But Ivan, 84, won’t budge.
“When I first got the section, in 1965, a land agent told me to do it up and he’d double my money after a year,” he says. “But it was our first home and I wouldn’t do it.
“I once even had someone come to my door six times in the one day asking me if I would sell.
“And because we’ve got a river frontage and a jetty, the people who own nearby Remarkables Park have been interested in it, too, as it would be the ideal place for a jetboat service.”
He adds: “The funny thing is, when I first bought it folk thought I was mad because there was nothing here. But I needed the space for the animals.”
The developer’s loss has been the public’s gain.
Thousands of visitors from all over the world have dropped by to see Young’s collection of animals and birds.
The tranquil site has also been home for Ivan, his wife of 62 years Daphne, and their four children. The couple also have six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
But a record flood in 1999 hit the family and their not-for-profit zoo hard.
The waters of the Kawarau rose to chest height on the property and a few of the animals drowned, including a rare albino peacock with entirely white feathers.
They shut the park for five months and Ivan even slept on a tent on his lawn while their home was being rebuilt.
A fire in 1970 also killed a number of cats, rabbits and possums.
“We managed to save some black and white rats by putting them under the shower.”
The Youngs shifted to Queenstown from Dunedin in 1962. Ivan retired from the former Queenstown Borough Council in 1976, where he had 14 years in charge of parks and reserves.
Despite his advancing years, he still gets up at 4.30am and is often still out grafting at 9.30 at night.
“I start with hosing down the paving stones because the peacocks make a mess,” he explains. “Then the animals and birds need to be fed and there’s grass to be cut …”
Over the years his property has become known as the place to take a creature if it’s injured or needing a home.
“When we first started people would come down at night, deposit animals in the carpark then drive off,” he says.
“They still do this today, so you never know what new arrivals you might wake up to in the morning.”
The park has also hosted wayward youngsters – including gang members – sent there by the courts to work off community service sentences.
“We never ask them what they’ve done and treat them the way we like to be treated ourselves,” says Young.
“We’ve had some terrific workers and helped a few boys turn a corner.
“We even had one young fella who was a member of the Mongrel Mob and was never out of trouble. But he turned his back on the gangs, got a job and his bosses think highly of him.”
Despite running the zoo for decades, the only thing Young gets fed up with is people asking him when he’ll chuck it.
“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have the animals to look after,” Young adds. “I’d be like a bear with a sore head.”