Sydney’s New Zoo: A Private Hell For Animals And A Loss Of Public Land


OPINION: The new tourist attraction will rob Sydney’s Western Suburbs of much needed public parklands while falling short of the best standards of animal welfare. Make no mistake, this zoo is not about conservation or community, writes Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi.

Last September, NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman announced that part of the Western Sydney Parklands would be leased to build a privately operated zoo. Ironically, the announcement was made on Threatened Species Day, which is marked yearly on the anniversary of the 1936 extinction of the Tasmanian tiger in Hobart Zoo. The loss of the Tasmanian tiger has taught us that we cannot rely on captive breeding for animal conservation. We need to prevent animal extinctions in the first place, primarily by preserving their natural habitat.

The new zoo plans are proceeding at a cracking pace, with the proponent confident of construction starting in August this year, despite development approval not having yet been granted, and submissions still being reviewed. The zoo going ahead would mean a significant loss of public parklands in Western Sydney, as well as harmful outcomes for the animals to be placed within its walls.

The simple reality is that a zoo that is established as a tourist destination cannot adequately meet objectives of conservation and animal welfare. There are many more effective ways of educating people about animals and habitat loss without condemning animals to a lifetime of captivity. It is very clear that this is a zoo designed for entertainment, not conservation.

A zoo (or better yet, a sanctuary) that genuinely wanted to promote conservation would not offer a show arena, and would provide enclosures that mimic an animal’s natural range. Wild animals such as elephants and lions range dozens of kilometres a day in the wild. In reality, natural ranges are near impossible to replicate in a zoo, and they certainly have not been in this case.

For example, according to the architectural drawings lodged with the Environmental Impact Statement, the enclosure for the cheetah – the world’s fastest land animal – is only 70 metres long, for a species that habitually covers territory of up to 40 square kilometres in the African Serengeti.

More generally, the educational benefits of zoos – for children and adults – are overstated and often spurious. Recent studies have shown few or no positive learning outcomes for children who visit zoos. Meanwhile, animals whose habitats are being continually undermined or destroyed are cruelly placed in stifling urban conditions for commercial benefit. Nobody wins – that is, except for those who stand to make money.

Equally concerning is the environmental impact of the new zoo. The Western Sydney Parklands were designed to be the ‘lungs’ of Sydney’s west, and provide open space for the people of Western Sydney as well as preserve the local environment. Communities are now rightly asking how a privately operated zoo fits into that vision. As Sydney grows in population and size, large urban green spaces such as Western Sydney Parklands will become more precious and vital to the amenity of our city. The government has failed to protect the Parklands, and has never revealed what alternative uses of space were considered before the zoo was awarded the lease, including those that could have preserved public space and access.

The Western Sydney Parklands Trust’s budget is almost three times smaller than that of Centennial and Moore Parks, despite managing almost fifteen times as much land. The small and insufficient pool of public money available to the Parklands means it is perpetually under pressure to sell or lease large amounts of land to private interests. Open public space is therefore inevitably lost to exclusive private developments.

We cannot allow conservation to be a fig leaf for a tourist attraction that harms animal welfare. We also need to resist any moves to reduce the green space and parklands available to the people of Western Sydney.

Dr Mehreen Faruqi is a NSW Greens MP and a civil and environmental engineer.