Photograph of Ishimu Bebe with Agile Wallaby
Photo: Zoos Victoria
Chris Banks writes about the benefits of a partnership agreement between Zoos Victoria and the Port Moresby Nature Park. The internationally-recognised relationship has resulted in the sharing of knowledge and experience between the two organisations, and is building capability in PNG for conservation, as well as environmental stewardship and education.

Ishimu Bebe’s smile was a mile wide in accepting the Small Institution Education Award at the regional Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia 2018 annual conference.

Bebe is Life Sciences Manager at the Port Moresby Nature Park in Papua New Guinea. The Nature Park has been recognised by online travel site TripAdvisor as one of the best tourist attractions in Port Moresby.

The award recognised the Nature Park’s World Wildlife Week program that has operated for the past three years and has been experienced by more than 10,000 school students. The program focuses on three main themes: “City people don’t eat bush-meat”, “Don’t buy native animals as pets” and “Lukautim bilas bilong yu”.

The program is a highlight of the Nature Park’s commitment to education for students in Port Moresby. In turn, education is a cornerstone of the sister zoo partnership between the Nature Park and Zoos Victoria in Melbourne.

The partnership evolved from an initiative of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). In 2005, it published its 2nd World Zoo and Aquarium conservation strategy, Building a Future for Wildlife. The strategy noted that not all zoos are equal. It recommended that well-resourced zoos develop partnerships with well-intentioned but under-resourced institutions through partnerships or ‘sister zoo’ relationships.

Zoos Victoria and Port Moresby Nature Park initiated their partnership in 2013 as a result of this strategy. To date, it is the only sister zoo partnership across the global WAZA network.

The two organisations share a goal of collaborating to increase the capacity of the Nature Park to become a zoo-based conservation organisation. The relationship is managed strategically via three-year partnership agreements with agreed objectives and measurable targets, and annual reviews. At the heart of the relationship is sharing of staff knowledge, skills and passion.

Logistically, the relationship works by identifying operational priorities at the Nature Park and aligning them with the most effective means of support by drawing on Zoos Victoria’s expertise. In the main, this is through exchange visits – either Zoos Victoria staff travelling to PNG, or Nature Park staff heading to Melbourne – with specific goals in mind.

Traditional zoo-to-zoo relationships around the world have been primarily focused on animal transfers and keeper exchange. What sets this relationship apart is its whole-of-organisation approach. Since the partnership started, almost 30 people across ten functional areas of the two zoos have participated directly in education, horticulture, master-planning, retail, animal husbandry and welfare, interpretation, environmental sustainability, veterinary care and board management.

In addition, remote support and advice has been provided for information technology and workplace health and safety. External support for some of the training has come from Australian Volunteers International.

This is very much a mutually-beneficial relationship, with staff of Zoos Victoria also gaining greatly from their visits and experiences. Working alongside people in a different cultural and social environment is enriching and can provide new perspectives on work and life in Melbourne. Strong friendships have developed for staff who have been part of multiple visits.

Education has been a major focus since the beginning, with continual development and review of the Port Moresby Nature Park education program resulting in growth of student participation from 2,200 in 2013 to over 19,000 in 2017 – a 760 per cent increase.

Photo: Cyrelle Field from Zoos Victoria and Ishimu Bebe from Port Moresby Nature Park
Cyrelle Field from Zoos Victoria and Ishimu Bebe from Port Moresby Nature Park (Photo: Zoos Victoria)

The outcomes achieved through the partnership are having wider benefits. The partnership is officially recognised by WAZA and the park is working towards becoming an accredited member of the regional Zoo and Aquarium Association, hopefully by the end of this year.

Increased exposure to the broader PNG community is delivered through weekly coverage in The National newspaper. This includes a full page Kids Nature Tok section that enables Port Moresby Nature Park to share its educational messages across PNG and is a wonderful step towards building a more actively-engaged community.

The importance of this goal speaks to PNG’s global significance as an area of exceptional biodiversity, but with significant challenges for its protection and sustainable management.

Together, we are now looking into how the Nature Park’s institutional growth and commitment to conservation can translate into effective participation by the people of Port Moresby in improved welfare for wildlife and pets, in partnership with the RSPCA.

Creation of the park’s Green Team, a first for PNG organisations, will enable a transition to better recycling outcomes; it has already produced a 30 per cent annual reduction in the park’s water consumption and electricity usage.

Photo of collaboration between Zoos Victoria and Port Moresby Nature Park staff
Staff from Zoos Victoria and members of Port Moresby Nature Park’s Green Team (Photo: Zoos Victoria)

Zoos Victoria has a long-term commitment to wildlife conservation in PNG. Our partnership with the Port Moresby Nature Park is a hugely important vehicle in helping to deliver that commitment.

It is also a wonderful platform for building and acknowledging the knowledge, skills and passion of the dedicated people working at both these zoos.



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Chris Banks - Zoos Victoria - Lowy Institute

Chris Banks

Zoos Victoria

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Chris Banks is the Manager of Conservation Partnerships at Zoos Victoria and works to build its links with overseas organisations. Foremost is conservation partnerships that deliver measurable outcomes for wildlife and people. He first worked as a keeper at Melbourne Zoo in 1969 and has served in a series of roles with the organisation, including as Acting Director of Healesville Sanctuary. He was instrumental in the establishing of the sister zoo relationship between Zoos Victoria and Port Moresby Nature Park.