Taronga Zoo eco fu-ROAR
Since its inception more than 100 years ago, Taronga Zoo is one of Australia's most iconic institutions.
In April, it was announced that the Mosman-based venue will receive a $40 million face lift from the NSW government as part of a $114.8 million, 10-year master plan to rejuvenate the zoo.
The funds will go towards the new Taronga Wildlife Retreat, where guests will be able to stay overnight in 62 pods nestled in five, two-to-four-storey accommodation buildings.
The eco-friendly retreat will occupy less than one per cent of the existing Taronga Zoo site.
Many local residents support the project but others, including Mosman Council, are vehemently against it, claiming the zoo is turning into a theme park that will benefit rich overseas visitors instead of locals.
A North Shore local not too happy with the decision is Joseph Arena, who owns Arena's Deli Cafe and Cucina in Mosman.
"Why do they need a resort when they've got the existing overnight accommodation option, Roar and Snore? We're concerned it's going in the direction of becoming a theme park rather than a zoo," he reasons.
Roar and Snore is described by the zoo as the "ultimate sleep over" where visitors can stay overnight in luxury glamping accommodation.
Mosman mayor Peter Abelson says allowing building on the foreshore, overlooking Sydney Harbour, creates the wrong kind of precedent.
"Anybody visiting the zoo will now have a much stronger impression of buildings rather than of animal life in the eastern half of the zoo. Obviously, the zoo thinks that won't happen, but if it does happen - it's too late to do anything about it" he says.
"We support buildings for education and scientific training and learning, but this is essentially a money-making experience. This is an affluent, high-expense area and the view of council by six votes to one was unanimous that it's inappropriate and out of place."
Mosman councillor Carolyn Corrigan, adds, "Another big beef is it's Crown land that was gifted to the zoo. If the zoo ever moves out, we don't get left with a beautiful bit of public land.
We get left with buildings on public land that we didn't ask for and won't be able to dispose of." However, Mosman Council's deputy mayor Roy Bendall, who represents the council on the Taronga Zoo board, supports the plans. He says there is lots of misinformation and people are jumping to the wrong conclusions.
"There are 40,000 overnight stays between Taronga Zoo and Western Plains Zoo per annum," he says. "This is just an extension of that existing accommodation and will bring more positive things to the community.
"We'll increase the number of children and groups going through, and it will increase employment."
Kate Eccles, president of Mosman Parks and Bushland, claims, while the zoo has put a lot of effort into the design and tried to answer various doubts, many remain.
"Our main concern is that it's very much for high-end use, and the public will lose out," she says. "The focus should always be on the education and it's very important that the funds raised be strictly used for conservation and educational purposes."
A Taronga Zoo spokesperson insists it won't be an upmarket eyesore only benefitting tourists, explaining, "The Taronga Wildlife Retreat will be accessible to both local and international guests.
“It is not a luxury development and it will be priced comparably to Taronga's existing overnight experiences, Roar and Snore and Zoofari Lodge.
“We're ensuring the design of Taronga Wildlife Retreat is sensitive to the local site. This includes preserving existing views from Bradley's Head Road and Sydney Harbour by ensuring the highest point of the small-scale accommodation pods is no higher than the first floor of the existing Taronga Function Centre.
“The development will be sensitively integrated with the natural bushland, heritage items, significant trees and the sloping, harbor-side location of the site.
“All revenue generated by the Taronga Wildlife Retreat will support the care of our animals and our vital conservation initiatives both in Australia and overseas."