pukekura park - brooklands zoo

The concept of building a zoo was first formulated by the Jaycees back in 1959. Realising the enormity of the project it was designed to be done in stages. They relied on public subscriptions, volunteers, and the good will of local businesses to supply goods and services at cost or at no cost, which was often the case.

Having the zoo at Brooklands and featuring monkeys as its main attraction was conceived in early 1964 by Ronald Brooker Chairman of the New Plymouth chapter of the Jaycee’s. He felt that being centrally located the zoo would provide a means of recreation and education. Apparently at the time the closest monkeys were in either Wellington or Auckland.

After consulting various people around the country who had knowledge of controlling large aviaries a plan was formulated and put before the City Council in July 1964 and was tentatively approved.

Brookland Zoo Proposal 1964

The initial sketch submitted outlining the proposed development of the zoo at Brooklands

Stage one:

This was the construction of a block of 10 cages totalling 100ft in length each one measuring 10ft high and 15ft deep. Initially stage two, expected to follow some years later, was for a block of cages 114ft long and 15ft in height and depth which would include a free-flight aviary 60ft long holding up to 500 budgerigars. This however ended up being stage 5.

The Jaycees started fundraising with a target of £2500. £1700 to complete stage one and the remainder to set up a fund for future developments. An initial £200 was put in from chapter funds.

The City Council gave the final approval in August and construction began on October 3, 1964. The majority of the labour was carried out by members of the Jaycees, bringing in outside skilled tradesmen when required. The initial schedule was to finish by December but due to delays caused by bad weather it wasn’t completed until the end of February. The Chapter had 70 members at the time, 65 of whom were actively engaged in the construction of the project, working a total of 1411 manhours. Expert outside help and advice often came without charge.

Brooklands Zoo - 1965

Stage one bird and monkey cages

Paddock picked for zoo location

The internal fittings and stocking of birds was done with the help of the Caged Bird Society.

The zoo was officially handed over to the City on February 27, 1965, the name plaque was unveiled by Mrs Brooker, widow of Chapter President Ron Brooker who died suddenly in January 1965. The zoo was stocked with 130 birds of 14 different species which had been donated, and two monkeys on a long-term loan from Wellington Zoo.

Wallaby and Kea enclosures

Brooklands Park and the Zoo site were the joint location for the Arbor Day plantings in 1965. It was at this time that the first specimen trees were planted in the lawn areas of the zoo (some of the trees planted were quite rare, the zoo site was selected for these because of the presence of the security fence).

Stage 2:

In 1967 a Peafowl enclosure was constructed.

In 1969 a deer enclosure (which is now the farmyard) was developed. This was the site for Arbor Day plantings which took place on the 9th of August, it was on this occasion that the specimen trees were planted.

Stage 4:

In 1970 a wallaby enclosure and a kea enclosure were added, and Brooklands became a registered zoological garden.

1970 Plan of Brooklands Zoo

Stage 5:

A free-flight cage which was the first of its kind in the country was officially opened on 5th October 1974 by Mr V R Brownson of the Jaycees. This was a two-year project utilising many volunteer manhours and costing over $10,000. It would appear that this was the last work done by the Jaycees in the zoo.

Brookland Zoo - Jaycee Free Flight cage

Completed "Jacee Free Flight" cage, Taranaki Daily News Oct 10, 1974

In 1977 a pheasant enclosure, which was designed in house by Ian McDowell, was added at the front of the deer enclosure.

At the beginning of 1980 Capuchin Monkeys were introduced to the zoo, followed by Small Clawed Otters in 1984. What was the Peafowl enclosure was modified with the inclusion of ponds/pools to house the otters in one half and in the adjacent half Carolina Wood ducks were displayed.

In 1986 Golden-rumped (Red-rumped) Agouti were added to the collection.

The deer area was redeveloped into the Farmyard in 1997 and the Barn designed by Boon Goldsmith architects was constructed. The free flight enclosure was renovated with the addition of a waterfall and stream, a raised walkway, and refreshed plantings.

Capuchin monkey enclosure under construction

In 2000 new enclosures for the Capuchins, tamarins and otters were constructed. The peafowl enclosure was finally demolished, and its footprint was redeveloped as the current playground. In the same year Cotton-Top Tamarins were introduced.

In 2004 Brooklands Zoo became a full institutional member of ZAA (Zoo’s and Aquaria Association).

Mungo the red panda making himself at home after recently arriving from Hamilton zoo

Other species introduced to the zoo were African Clawed frogs and a Red Panda (Mungo) in 2006 followed by Ring Tailed Lemurs in 2007. (The enclosure for the Lemurs was enlarged from the original layout by the removal of partitions. At one stage part of this enclosure was home to Kea’s). Meerkats were added in 2010 as well as a Butterfly garden which was established with the help of the Friends of Pukekura Park. In 2011 the Weta Hotels were installed, again with the assistance of the Friends of Pukekura Park, and the following year Bolivian Squirrel monkeys were added to the collection. (Occupying the enclosure formerly used by the Lemurs).

In 2013 Simon the red devil cichlid, who was in an aquarium in the barn, was rehomed, and Blue tongue skinks and Oriental fire bellied newts were introduced. In the same year Brolga were added to the collection (a solo male passed away in Feb 2020 – due to lack of available animals within NZ and with no NZ IHS in place, this species was removed from the zoo collection).

Leopard Geckos were added to the collection in 2016 followed by Green and gold bell frogs, Scheltopusik (Pallas’s glass lizard the European legless lizard) in 2018 when Red-rumped (Golden-rumped) Agouti returned to the collection. 2019 saw the addition of Leopard tortoises followed by the Capybara in 2020. The most recent additions in 2021 were Little Owls and Red crowned Kakariki for which DOC permits were required. The zoo also saw the return of otters in 2021.

A tree of interest in the grounds is the Monkey Hand or Devil’s Hand tree, Chiranthodendron pentadactylon. It is planted next to the fence between the zoo and Brooklands near the Weta Hotels. The common name relates to the centre of the flower’s resemblance to a hand. It is native to Mexico and Guatemala.