By Parker McKenzie
Mount Evelyn residents will be able to wander its beloved community zoo once again as it reopens to the public next week.
The Yarra Valley Nocturnal Zoo is set to reopen on Monday 22 November to pre-booked tours and school groups, bringing back the joy of seeing native animals.
The Zoo is located on Clegg Road and features an array of native Australian animals including kangaroos, wallabies, snakes, lizards, possums and owls.
Owner Steven Handy, who runs the zoo with his wife Loo Scoon, said they would reopen once Victoria hit the 90 per cent vaccination benchmark.
“We do tours in the morning at 10.30am and 12:30am in the afternoon that go for an hour and a half,” Mr Handy said.
“A small group like a family or two ladies with a few kids and we take them through the zoo to get up close and personal.”
For $10 an adult or $5 for a child, pre-booked groups can tour the Nocturnal Zoo and pet koalas, feed kangaroos and hold a snake.
Visitors will get the chance to meet the shy and nervous dingoes – who act more like dogs after being taught mannerisms by Red Dog, the Zoo’s friendly guard dog – and spy the endangered masked Australian owls.
“So the reason they are so endangered is because they only breed in the old growth forests in the hollow logs,” Mr Handy said.
“They are critically endangered because there are only 200 pairs left, but our females in there are sitting on two chicks.”
The owls aren’t the only endangered animal that the Zoo is currently breeding.
“These are South Brush tail Wallabies. They are critically endangered with only about 60 of them left in the wild,” Mrs Scoon said.
“To be able to breed joeys, which there are two of them in there at the moment is pretty significant for Mount Evelyn,” Mr Handy said.
The zoo serves a bigger purpose beyond caring for animals and protecting endangered species.
“A lot of people ask why we only charge $10 for tours, we essentially do the tour so the guys can get some experience showing people around,” Mr Handy said.
“All these guys are on the NDIS and are learning how to work with animals, but more importantly we teach all job skills to the guys at work,
“So whether they get a job at a zoo or at Bunnings it is the same concepts they learn.”
The couple run the zoo with funding through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, supporting people with disabilities to help learn job skills, social opportunities and community integration.
Towards the end of the tour people will have the chance to visit the reptile enclosure, where snakes, lizards and even a crocodile make their homes.
Visitors are sure to learn plenty from the friendly staff through the tour, including about the oenpelli python.
“This is the rarest snake in the world,” Mrs Scoon said.
“He comes from Arnhem Land. They took two out and paid the Aboriginal people for them, bred them and put them back they came from.”
“If you’re into snakes, this is the holy grail,” Mr Handy said.
“We’ve had the guy who owns the Ballarat Zoo came down and his big ambition was to touch one.”
Night tours are also held so people can see the nocturnal animals when they are at their most active.
Tours can be organised by ringing the Yarra Valley Nocturnal Zoo on 9736 4338, or visiting their website at www.yarravalleynocturnalzoo.com.au.