Sydney Zoo boss promises to be a 'leader in conservation' amid criticism from Greens

DEFENDING HIS VISION: Sydney Zoo managing director Jake Burgess holds a tawny frogmouth owl at the opening of Bungarribee Park in Blacktown. Picture: Isabella Lettini
DEFENDING HIS VISION: Sydney Zoo managing director Jake Burgess holds a tawny frogmouth owl at the opening of Bungarribee Park in Blacktown. Picture: Isabella Lettini

The man behind what could be one of the region’s main attractions has defended his plans to bring large African animals to western Sydney.

Sydney Zoo managing director Jake Burgess said animal welfare was the “number one priority” of the venture after news of its approval drew criticism.

NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi said the zoo in Bungarribee Park would be “bad news for animals and bad news for public access to green space”.

Our number one priority is to ensure that the needs, interests and welfare of our animals are provided for to the highest possible standard.

Jake Burgess

“We cannot allow genuine conservation to be a fig leaf for what looks like just a big tourist attraction at the expense of animal welfare,” Dr Faruqi said.

“Wild animals, like elephants and lions, naturally range tens of kilometres a day in the wild, something that simply cannot be replicated in a zoo.

“Zoos are old-fashioned and there are many more effective ways to raise awareness of conservation without condemning animals to a lifetime of captivity.”

Dr Mehreen Faruqi (left) in Blacktown with Antony Lewis and Amelia Kerridge, Greens candidates in the 2016 local government elections. Picture: Eliza June

Dr Mehreen Faruqi (left) in Blacktown with Antony Lewis and Amelia Kerridge, Greens candidates in the 2016 local government elections. Picture: Eliza June

Mr Burgess said the zoo would be a leader in education and would directly contribute financially to conservation efforts in the wild.

“Our mission is to educate and contribute to the community’s understanding of both local and global conservation issues by connecting people with animals and nature in a safe and accessible environment,” he said.

“Our number one priority is to ensure that the needs, interests and welfare of our animals are provided for to the highest possible standard.”

He said a “highly experienced” team of zoological experts would ensure the animals’ physical, social and mental needs were met.

Dr Faruqi said a 16.5 hectare zoo did not fit with the government’s vision for the site to be “the ‘lungs’ of Sydney’s west”.

“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,” she said.

Mr Burgess said the zoo’s commitment to planting 85,000 trees would lead to a net contribution of about 1.6 hectares of native vegetation at the site.

He also allayed residents’ fears about smell, claiming even “peak odour emissions” would not be detectable by neighbours.