By GUY WILLIAMS
The long-term survival of Queenstown’s only wildlife park looks more assured after a financial lifeline from the government.
The Kiwi Birdlife Park on Brecon Street is one of 28 similar facilities around the country that’ll get a slice of $10 million from a wildlife institutions relief fund.
Park head Paul Kavanagh says it’s ‘‘such an incredible relief’’ after nearly six months of worrying about the biggest challenge in the park’s 35-year history.
‘‘It’s been pretty rough the past few months.
‘‘It means no more sleepless nights, and there sure have been a few.’’
The exact amount of the grant has yet to be decided, but he’s confident it’ll secure the park’s future, and the wellbeing of its 100 endangered animals, for the next 12 to 18 months.
The money also means his wildlife staff can continue the park’s nationally-recognised breed-for-release programme.
The breeding season has just started, with the first clutch of whio eggs laid and the hatching of five pateke ducklings.
The park’s kaka are also busy breeding.
Kavanagh says the Covid-19-induced border closure turned off the tap of the international visitors it had been relying on.
And unlike most businesses in the resort, it couldn’t just lay off staff or go into hibernation, because its animals continued to need a high level of care.
The park then missed out on money from the government’s strategic tourism assets protection programme.
The grant from the relief fund, which is for wildlife institutions affected by the pandemic, means it’ll have the staff and resources to care for its animals, and he’s now confident the park has a long future ahead.
One of the park’s saving graces is that last year was its best ever for visitor numbers, he says.
The wage subsidy has also been vital, allowing the wildlife staff to keep their jobs and continue their work.
Guest services staff have also kept their jobs, but are working reduced hours.
Kavanagh says the dedication of his staff and the support of owners Paul and Sandra Wilson has been ‘‘incredible’’, and they’ve all been feeling the love of the locals.
‘‘The support from the community is what’s got us through this.
‘‘The first day after lockdown, kids came in with cards and pictures they’d made for us.
‘‘It’s been really humbling, and we just want to thank the community for all their support.’’
The main focus now is a review of the park’s commercial operations to diversify its revenue stream, he says.
‘‘We need to think outside the square and pivot, and we’ve already started working on that.
‘‘We’re using this as an opportunity to take stock of all our operations, see what’s working and what’s not working.
‘‘We just have to get creative.’’
It’s holding fundraising drives and events, including a regular quiz night, and will be hosting a wildlife art exhibition from October 3.
He’s also hoping Covid-related disruptions to domestic tourism stay at a minimum during the coming summer, particularly any affecting visitors from Auckland.
In a statement, Department of Conservation boss Lou Sanson says facilities like Kiwi Birdlife Park play a vital community education role by allowing encounters with native species and wildlife experts, and providing a hub for community conservation activities.
Covid’s decimated wildlife institutions’ revenue, a situation likely to continue well into next year, Sanson says.