By Alesha Capone
The state government has announced $84 million in funding to upgrade the Werribee Open Range Zoo, including the construction of a treetop Sky Safari gondola.
Premier Daniel Andrews visited the zoo this morning, where he said the funding – to come from the upcoming state budget – will also see a new elephant sanctuary to house six Asian elephants built at the zoo, along with a specially-designed site for rhinos and bison and a brand-new waterhole precinct.
The new elephant sanctuary will be the “gold standard” in animal welfare with the herd able to roam freely over 22 hectares, including a walking trail to guide visitors through the landscape.
The Werribee Zoo expansion will create almost 350 jobs – including 90 direct jobs looking after animals and visitors once the exhibits are up and running – as well as increasing the estimated number of visitors and tourists through the gates from more than 680,000 in 2018-19 visitors to one million visitors annually.
Construction on the elephant sanctuary and tree-top Sky Safari gondola will begin soon and create an initial 41 jobs.
Once completed, the Werribee Zoo redevelopment is expected to contribute over $17.8 million annually to Victoria’s economy.
As reported by Star Weekly in August, the new treetop sky safari will be constructed as a gondola system, stretching across the zoo, with a capacity to accommodate 1200 people per hour (one way).
The sky safari will provide 360-degree views of the zoo savannah, the You Yangs, Melbourne’s CBD and the bay beyond.
The zoo’s expansion plans also include a 400-seat Water Hole Cafe with indoor and outdoor eating areas, providing diners with views of some animals.
Mr Andrews said the zoo’s redevelopment would “give more families more opportunity to enjoy precious time together”.
Werribee MP Tim Pallas said: “The expansion of Werribee Open Range Zoo will create jobs in Melbourne’s west boosting the local economy and attracting more tourists – and more tourist dollars – to our great community.”
The state government has also extended its “Kids Free” zoos policy until June next year, which means free admission to Werribee Open Range Zoo, Melbourne Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary for young Victorians aged under 16, on weekends, public holidays and during school holidays.
The Werribee Open Range Zoo is currently open to visitors who live within 25 kilometres of the zoo and bookings can be made online at zoo.org.au