Auckland Zookeepers take conservation efforts worldwide in new series

Baby Bahmi
Baby Bahmi Photo credit: Auckland Zoo

The hit wildlife show that took us inside Auckland Zoo heads out into the field and to far-flung places for a new series of thrilling adventures.

Wild Heroes showcases zookeepers engaging in hands-on conservation efforts within Aotearoa and, for the first time, overseas: to French Polynesia, Rarotonga and the jungles of Sumatra.

Richard Gibson, Auckland Zoo's Head of Animal Care and Conservation, said the show helps reveal how the zoo had evolved emphasizing its role as 'the beating heart of a complex, multi-disciplinary science and conservation organisation".

He highlighted the zoo's eagerness to participate in fieldwork and cited the staff's specialised skills for managing threatened species.

"Some of the projects we're involved in are last-ditch efforts for critically endangered species," he said. "It's real seconds to midnight in terms of their extinction. It's not just that we want to do this work, we must - it's critical. If we don't do it, who will?"

Rahmah Photo credit: Auckland Zoo

Over 10 episodes, viewers will accompany the zoo's skilled team of keepers and veterinarians as they care for more than 3000 animals spanning 145 species at the zoo and beyond, witnessing triumphs, tender moments, and occasional challenges.

Gibson noted a departure from traditional zoo programmes which often focused on "happy, fluffy, and cuddly" storylines. "We're very transparent," he said.

While most can only dream of an outdoor office perched on a ridge in Rarotonga gazing at humpback whales, for zookeeper Devon Nicholls it was a reality for a short while.

"There is still a misguided perception by some that zookeeping is all about feeding, cleaning and hanging out with cute animals. In reality, it’s a fantastically challenging and diverse role requiring a lot of different skills and knowledge, and is both mentally and physically demanding," said the science graduate and self-professed bird nerd who's been with Auckland Zoo since 2012.

In this series, viewers witness her journey to the Pacific island, where she aids in the banding of Kākerōri or Rarotongan monarchs - a programme that receives funding from the zoo and is led by a long-term conservation partner.

"While many zoos focus on conservation in places like Africa, there's great opportunity in lesser-known regions like the islands. Participating in initiatives like this and sharing skills is incredibly fulfilling."

Auckland Zoo keeper Jasmine Rabaud and the Kea Conservation Trust’s Jeff Kutz with kea.
Auckland Zoo keeper Jasmine Rabaud and the Kea Conservation Trust’s Jeff Kutz with kea. Photo credit: Auckland Zoo

Meanwhile, on home soil, bird keeper Jasmine Rabaud sees kea in the wild for the first time while working on a project with the Kea Conservation Trust in the South Island's stunning Matukituki Valley.

"Seeing them in their natural habitat is mind-blowing," she said. "Field work like this is why I do what I do."

The show also features plenty of events back at the zoo. Vets race to save a critically ill native species brought in from the wild, welcome the births of Sumatran tigers and giraffe, and incubate and hatch threatened endemic birds.

The zookeepers hope the series will ignite a passion for conservation among viewers, particularly young ones.

"It's great to get kids excited about conservation," said Rabaud.

"If they're excited now, it will grow with them. There are so many ways they can help. Small pebbles can make big waves."

Watch Wild Heroes season two from Saturday, February 17 on Three or ThreeNow. Or if you would like to learn more about Auckland Zoo’s conservation work, find out more here

This article is created for Auckland Zoo