Acquiring land was the first step
The property was originally purchased together with a friend, but as he was never involved in the business, Bill and Sally bought out his share in July 1995. From day one they couldn’t wait to get the zoo going and this enthusiastic approach shone through when the authorities tried to dictate what kind of animals were to be kept at the zoo.
“I’ve always had a love of animals. The Department of Agriculture wanted us to have native and I said, ‘no, so many people are already doing things with native animals. We want to concentrate on endangered species, if they are going to be behind wire they have got to benefit from being in captivity’, so that’s why we chose endangered, exotic species.”
The 26-hectare zoo (13 hectares is dedicated to housing the animals) opened its gates on Boxing Day in 1989. Today her team work with more than 200 endangered animals and are involved with breeding programs across the world. Mogo Zoo is currently home to 42 endangered species, such as the cute golden-lion tamarin.
How to run an astronomically expensive business on $4,000 and a dream
When they started they only had a plot of land and a few thousand dollars.“People just have no idea of the expense involved in running something like this. Everything goes back into it,” she says.
“It’s a seven day a week business. In the winter, it’s $10,000 a month just for my power bills because of the heating. The South American animals need heating, and just to feed the gorillas can cost up to eleven hundred a week.” Sally may have started the zoo somewhat naively: “That’s the one thing I forgot about, the food bill."
“We had $4000 and a dream. Someone said to me once, ‘how did you do it?’ and when I think about it – I don’t know. It’s like you have blinkers on and you just do it. You don’t think that you can’t do it. We always dreamt that this is what we would have, but who would have thought that when we started,” says Sally.
“I have had a couple of grants, little ones, but we don’t get any government funding at all. We did get one major $500,000 grant but that was specifically for infrastructure to save water.”
So funding comes from visitors, and clever marketing schemes thought up by Sally and her team of 40 who are all invited to give their input.
Inventive money making methods
There are four levels of sponsorships, starting from just $55 for individuals and going up to platinum for $10,000.
“About 10 years ago we started offering different sorts of sponsorships, but people are just amazing – a guy walked in here one day and handed me a cheque for $10,000.”
Donations come in materials too – recently they received decorative rocks and leftover pallets of bricks from building developers. While Sally’s energy and passion is infectious, zoos always come into criticism for keeping animals in captivity. Sally’s heartbreaking decision to have lioness, Jamila, shot rather than use a stun-gun when she escaped and bolted into the visitor area endangering people’s lives, is an example of negative attention. Reflecting on the 2009 situation and the subsequent attacks from the public causes Sally to tear-up.
“It changed my life forever. When something like that happens people are so condescending, it’s devastating, but I got support from every zoo. Dart guns can take around ten minutes [to take effect]. I’m a greenie and I’m an animal lover, but you have to be sensible.
“A lot of people say: they shouldn’t be in captivity. Within this space it’s not the fact that they are in captivity, it’s the quality of life you give them within the areas,” reflects Sally.
Mogo Zoo employees have the same dedication and ethos as Sally, and are more like family than staff. Many of the staff members started in customer service positions before proving themselves in their present jobs – whether it’s working with animals, organising their food or maintaining the gardens.
Everyone here has the same vision as me. I’ve got an amazing staff. I couldn’t do it without them; I really couldn’t because everyone here has the same passion.
Mogo Zoo-goers are offered unique up close and personal experiences, including the chance to feed a 225kg white lion and to take a hand-reared dingo for a stroll through the zoo’s grounds. “I love giving people a life experience that they never ever thought they would ever get. Sometimes you just feel that something is really going to make a difference in somebody’s life.”
On-site nature photographer June Andersen offers additional zoo access through a tutorial-based MOGO ZOOm Photography Course. Sally says these programs took a while to take off, but are now hugely successful and is one of the key things Mogo Zoo are known for.
Sally's tips for organic growth
- Keep strong to the ideal:
“It’s got to be for the animals and it’s got to be for the people. I get tremendous pleasure out of the enjoyment people get from something that I have done. I like to try and give people the experience that I would love.”
- Find your real motivation:
“Expanding Mogo Zoo is a big financial challenge. I am conscious that, as a business, we have to make money. However, money is not what drives me nor is it my prime motivation.”
- Build for future generations:
Sally has established the Mogo Zoo Foundation: which will become fully operational in the near future. It aims to provide education, training and employment in the field of animal welfare.