By Stephen Taylor Pictures Gary Sissons
MOONLIT Sanctuary Wildlife Park celebrated its 20th anniversary. The milestone, Friday 17 September, and the success of the park is a tribute to the enthusiasm and commitment to the natural environment of director and founder Michael Johnson. He has dedicated his career to the conservation and care of Australian species over that time.
As part of the festivities, a few of the animals commemorated the anniversary with cake! The koalas woke up to a cake of the eucalyptus, dingoes dug into a birthday cake made of mince with peanut butter frosting, the wombats enjoy into a vegie cake made of fresh corn and sweet potato and the emu raced to a squirming insect cake that only an emu would enjoy.
Mr Johnson said growing up reading the works of wildlife writer, conservationist and naturalist Gerald Durrell fostered his passion for animals and led him to study at the Durrell Conservation Academy in Jersey.
Returning home after following this childhood dream, Mr Johnson set out to create a place where people could experience the rare and unusual animals that roam the Australian bush and play a role in halting the extinction of animal species in the country.
Assisted by his family’s marine business, he bought a 10-hectare property in Pearcedale. Over the years, the family-owned Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park has grown into an award-winning and thriving tourism business that employs 47, is home to 60 species of Australian wildlife, and welcomes more than 100,000 visitors from around the world each year.
Development of the property, starting in 1998, included building an educational visitor’s centre; planting 10,000 native trees and plants; construction of a 0.8 hectare wetland with lake and waterbird habitats, and erection of about 30 animal enclosures and support facilities
The sanctuary opened in September 2001 and, at first, provided lantern-lit tours because it was open only at night. Word quickly spread about this opportunity to get up close to nocturnal wildlife that many people had never seen before, and it wasn’t long before the sanctuary started opening during the day.
In addition to its lantern-lit tours, encounter experiences with wildlife, and keeper talks and presentations, Moonlit Sanctuary runs three breeding programs that contribute to the conservation of endangered species.
In 2017, the sanctuary was recognised with the Environmental Protection category award at the Sustainability Award for its role in helping to save the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot with only 70 left in the wild.
The sanctuary is committed to developing its breeding program to protect the species and release these birds into the wild.
“We are proud to be part of many conservation programs, notably the orange-bellied parrot recovery program,” Mr Johnson said.
“The project is our largest and most important, given the critical state of the wild population. We breed for release, this year having over 50 fledglings, and these are released at sites in Tasmania and on the mainland.
“Our relationships and partnerships with government, community groups, zoos, and the orange-bellied parrot recovery team, are key to the survival of this critically endangered species.
“Moonlit Sanctuary’s ongoing work and commitment to conservation educates visitors about the plight of endangered species and contributes to the survival of Australian species.”