Halls Gap Zoo leads return to normality

HALLS GAP - The Halls Gap Zoo was one of the first places to reopen after last week's Grampians fire threat had passed.

Its opening was met with appreciation from people that, through their visit, could see the Northern Grampians Shire and many of its attractions were untouched.

Owner Greg Culell said the zoo has a fire plan in place to ensure safety and welfare of all animals with the preservation of human and animal life its top priority.

Unfortunately, television coverage of the zoo's evacuation plan was less than accurate, portraying its response to a worst case scenario as its only fire plan.

"We would like to personally thank the public for their messages of support and well wishes during this stressful and difficult time," he said.

Mr Culell said he was asked by the CFA media controller during the evacuation meeting in Halls Gap to have the media out to the zoo to explain the plans in place at the zoo.

"The four television crews were here for over an hour, during which time it was explained to them, on camera, that we had an extensive fire plan developed in conjunction with the CFA," he said.

"This included fire tracks, clearing around the perimeter fence of the property to aid in halting the advance of the fire and that all the animals, where needed, have cooling systems which includes having a generator placed down at the supply pump in the event of electricity being lost," he said.

Mr Culell said one of the media asked if they had plans in place for a worst case scenario - if a fire was out of control in the zoo, what they would do.

"The response to this was in the unlikely event of this outcome happening and we had to flee to save human life, we would take the most critically endangered species in vehicles down to the dam," he said.

"On the day and overnight we had nine CFA fire trucks patrolling the property as well as having a CFA quick fill pump set up at our dam for all the fire vehicles in the area to use to fill up if required.

"I had spent well over 40 minutes grading a track into the dam for the CFA to use on the day with our Caterpillar loader which was also offered to the CFA incident controller for use that day anywhere in the district for use in fire control."

Mr Culell also responded to questions about why they didn't evacuate the animals in the four hour window they had from when the evacuation order was given.

"Firstly, if we did attempt to catch and box up these animals in 44 degree heat they would have died from heat stress," he said.

"Secondly, how could we transport them out when the roads were closed by the police and as you all know the advice given is not to travel during a fire event.

"Thirdly, think seriously of the logistics, how would it even be remotely possible for four people to catch and move them and where would the animals go? The other zoos couldn't accept them for quarantine reasons."

Mr Culell pointed out that the zoo has operated for 31 years and in that time, has never been directly impacted by fire.

He said that was as a result of a successful fire plan that has been developed over many years and costing many thousands of dollars.

Mr Culell said the zoo continues to be successful due to its beautiful location and he is encouraging everyone to come, if they haven't already and see how the animals are faring for themselves.

"Between Yvonne, myself and our staff we have dedicated the past six years of our life to endangered species breeding and are fully committed to the welfare of both our animals and life on this planet in general," he said.

"We fund all of our conservation work out of our pockets and receive no government funding.

"We cannot express enough our heartfelt gratitude to the CFA and DEPI fire crews, as well as being incredibly proud of all of our dedicated staff."

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