Nestled in beautiful and spacious Franklin country side, you may discover something you weren’t quite expecting; something a world apart, and you might just think to yourself, “Did I just hear an elephant?”
No, you’re not in Africa. You have found yourself at gates of the Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary. Just a five minute drive off State Highway 1, the zoo is located halfway between Pokeno and Tuakau.
The Franklin Zoo is a not-for-profit-organisation that is committed to providing rehabilitation, and a home, to exotic and native animal species, which have been displaced from the circus, small zoo, or the closure of a similar institution.
The zoo is home to more than 420 animals, including that elephant you heard before. Mila is former circus elephant, who was rescued by the Franklin Zoo in 2010 and she has since become the star of the zoo’s small family.
This zoo is not like any other zoo you may have visited previously. It’s set up and accessibility is completely different from the busy and crowded zoos of Auckland, London, New York or San Diego.
You look to your left, you look to your right and you realise that you are the only person here; you have an entire zoo to yourself!
Take advantage of the opportunity to purchase animal feed, as you have the freedom to feed majority of the herbivorous animals at your leisure.
The easiest and perhaps most enjoyable animals to feed are hundreds of birds wandering freely around the zoo. Just place some feed in your hand, and watch as they all flock and perch themselves on your arm and eat right from your palm.
If feeding birds isn’t your club of tea, there is always a goat, deer, alpaca, or my personal favourite, a zebra, more than willing to take your feed.
You may notice several of the zoo-keepers walking around. Each one of them is extremely friendly and will invite you to come along as they feed the rest of the animals. These personal tours are packed with information, as they share their extensive knowledge and love for each of these beautiful creatures.
Watch as they feed and talk about their lions, cougars, lemurs, monkeys and apes, reptiles, exotic birds and Tommy, their blind otter.
But the highlight is definitely Mila. Ask the staff when they’re feeding her and make sure you go down. Watch the sheer power of an African elephant’s trunk and mouth as she crushes an entire watermelon with one bite.
Mila and many of the other animals have tragic backstories, but with your support, they all have a bright future.
Cost: from $15 pp (all proceeds put back into the zoo.