Perth’s wildlife parks have been devastated by a year-long absence of foreign travellers, who normally flock to these centres to get up close to unique native animals like kangaroos and koalas. Tourists have been barred from entering Australia since March last year, creating financial black holes for privately-funded Perth attractions like Caversham Wildlife Park and Cohunu Koala Park.
Cohunu said on Monday that may soon have to shut its doors for several days a week due to extremely low visitors numbers.
Caversham is holding a fundraising event next Thursday March 25 to help keep it afloat. The Mad Hatter’s Critter-Crisis Tea Party is being organised by Perth touring company Global Gypsies, whose director Jan Barrie describes Caversham as “one of WA’s most important wildlife conservation centres”. Proceeds will go to the Park.
“It is a private family business that depends on gate takings to pay for such necessities as animal feed, wildlife carers and veterinary services,” Jan says. “COVID-19 has meant vanishing visitors and a vanishing income while the critter-related expenses keep coming in.”
Jan urges West Australians to help by attending the tea party, which will involve private guided wildlife tours, animal feeding sessions, a unique farm show, and a high tea amidst the lush bushland of Caversham.
In the massive, green expanse of Whiteman Park, in Perth’s north-eastern suburbs, Caversham has a huge number of native animals, including kangaroos, koalas, wombats, wallabies, kookaburras, emus and quokkas.
Meanwhile, Cohunu Koala Park in Byford is in crisis mode. Assistant manager Lucille Sorbello says their business has been smashed by the absence of international tourists in Perth. “We still get some locals on weekends, but weekdays are basically dead, we get virtually no one at all, and those are the days when we actually used to get a decent amount of international visitors.”
Lucille says that, pre-pandemic, international tourists accounted for at least 60 per cent of all visitors to the park. They have since slashed ticket prices from $25 per adult to just $15 in an effort to attract domestic visitors. But it hasn’t worked.
And while the park has managed to keep staff on its payroll due to the Federal Government’s JobKeeper payments, with that program ending this month they may have to remain closed two or three days a week, instead of opening every day.
Even the animals have noticed the lack of visitors. “(They’re) getting very lonely,” she says. “You can sort of tell they’re missing being around lots of people, because they’re used to that attention and human interaction.
“We’re one of the only places in Australia where the people who visit here can cuddle koalas, and I think the koalas miss that human contact. We all just can’t wait to get the full amount of tourists back, and get back to normal. But we also would love to call out to Perth people to come and visit our animals.”
Bookings for the Madhatter’s Critter-Crisis Tea Party at Caversham Wildlife Park (233 Drumpellier Drive, Whiteman — inside Whiteman Park) are essential. It is on Thursday, March 25, from 10am to 12.30pm and is $40 per person. Proceeds go to Caversham Wildlife Park. Contact GLOBAL GYPSIES and request a booking form for TEA PARTY at globalgypsies.com.au/contact/ or phone 9341 6727. cavershamwildlife.com.au
Cohunu is open seven days a week from 10am to 4pm and entry is just $5 for children aged 12 or younger. The park is home to more than 20 koalas and, for just $30 per person, you can even hold a koala and take photos. Cohunu makes for a brilliant day trip, especially when combined with the stunning Serpentine Falls National Park, which is just 20 minutes’ drive further south. cohunu.com.au