Dreaming about going on an ethical African safari? Here’s how to experience one in style, in your own backyard.
With its large open plains, the Dubbo landscape echoes many of the hallmarks of an African savannah, which is why it’s an ideal home for zebras, giraffes, lions and the like, and the closest you’ll come to an African safari in Australia. And, just as we’re seeing an increasing number of ethical safari experiences on offer throughout Africa – reflecting the healthy cynicism that many of us have for tourist-geared animal encounters – Taronga Western Plains Zoo has the welfare of its wild residents at its heart. We speak to Nick Boyle, manager of conservation, health and welfare at Taronga Conservation Society Australia, about what shape that takes, and have the lowdown on the best way to experience it: from a luxe African safari-style tent at Zoofari Lodge.
Is the environment right for the animals?
The ‘savannah’ of Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo gives not only human guests a taste of Africa, but the animals too. “We always consider whether the environment is suitable when determining the species we care for” explains Boyle. “The large open plains, local weather and season patterns in Dubbo are quite similar to the features of the savannah of Southern African nations. This is why we focus on the conservation and care of both African and native species [here],” he adds.
How does the zoo care for the animals?
With an extensive range of experienced zookeepers, vets, behavioural biologists and its very own zoo nutritionist, Taronga Western Plains Zoo is well versed in the requirements necessary for its species to experience positive emotional and physical wellbeing. “Nutrition is a really important component [for the animals], not only for physical health, but for promoting and stimulating natural behaviours” says Boyle. “[This is why] we have a zoo nutritionist that helps to establish optimal diets to promote overall health and wellbeing.”
Where do guests sleep?
Taronga Western Plains Zoo has three overnight accommodation options. You can stay in the Billabong Camp or the Savannah Cabins, but the ultimate experience – for those seeking a true African-style safari, or something a little extra special – is a stay at the Zoofari Lodge. Tucked within expansive Australian native bushland, it has 15 luxurious lodges that each provide the opportunity to wake up in the wild, watch a beautiful sunset or go on a safari-like adventure. Guests can choose between Animal View lodges (which sleep up to four) and Bushland View lodges (which sleep up to six).
When guests choose to stay onsite, they get the added bonus of contributing to the zoo’s ultimate mission; conservation. “We are proud of our partnership with the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya and fund them directly to support conservation,” says Boyle.
How else does the conservation program help?
Aside from caring for the animals, Boyle explains that Taronga also aims to provide an alternative income for livestock-reliant families in Northern Kenya that does not conflict with wildlife. This is accomplished through their support of an initiative called Beads for Wildlife. “One of the biggest issues for species around the world is conflict with human activities, and for large predators, this conflict is often with the owners of livestock,” says Boyle. “To improve the security of wildlife and create safer ground for their movement, it is important to support community needs by diversification of revenue through initiatives such as tourism and beadwork production,” he adds.
Guests inspired to help after a stay overnight at the zoo can purchase these beads in its retail store, proceeds of which go directly to Kenyan women and families.
Who should go?
Zoofari Lodge is suited for couples seeking a romantic escape or families wanting an exciting wildlife encounter experience. It is also a wonderful option for those wanting to experience a budget-friendly African safari without the cost of going overseas.
What’s the cost?
Guests have the option of either a standard or premium package for either type of luxury lodge. Rates are from $279 per adult per night; $159 per night for five to 15 year olds; and $59 per night for children under five.
What do you get?
All guests receive inclusive meals, including a gourmet buffet breakfast, African-style canapes, banquet dinner and dessert at the nearby Guest House (which also has its own saltwater swimming pool). Inclusive activities include a two-day admission to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, behind-the-scenes tour with a local Zoofari Guide and a 10 per cent discount on additional animal encounters. Premium Package guests will also receive a welcome cheese platter, electric safari cart hire for a day and beverages excluding premium range, cocktails and mini bar.