Tim Faulkner is not afraid to make bold statements when it comes to preserving Australia’s treasured wildlife.
‘We are very good at researching and monitoring endangered species,’ he says, his voice rising slightly behind the passion of his words. ‘But what are we, as a country, doing with that information? And, important though research is, too often it means we are only watching and monitoring those species into extinction. We have to “do”, not just “watch”.’ It’s those very words that are behind his philosophy as General Manager of Australian Reptile Park at Somersby and as CEO of Aussie Ark in the Barrington Tops.
Tim grew up in western Sydney catching turtles and snakes in the local bushland, and holidaying with his family at South West Rocks and the Murrumbidgee River.
‘I was lucky,’ he says, ‘to grow up in a family that was into nature.
’While he was still at school, he talked his way into work experience at Featherdale Wildlife Park at Doonside and immediately knew he’d found his vocation. He couldn’t wait to start work and, as soon as he turned 15, Featherdale took him on as a full-time employee. He was there for nine years until he made the move north to the Australian Reptile Park where owners, John and Robyn Weigel, recognised the talent and the knowledge he’d developed.
Although Tim left school early to pursue his passion, he knew he had to formally expand his career knowledge and went on to not only achieve diplomas in business management, auditing and accounting but became the only student in TAFE’s history to achieve a clean sweep of Distinctions in all Zoology subjects. Although the Reptile Park today is very different to the organisation founded by Eric Worrell in 1948, Tim is proud of the continued emphasis on collecting snake and spider venoms to make anti-venoms, and calculates that the Park’s work has probably saved around 20,000 people’s lives to date.
‘It’s from those beginnings that the heart and soul of the park has developed,’ he says. ‘And although milking the snakes and spiders has always been done behind the scenes, we’d like the public to see how it’s done. So we’re working on how visitors can get to see that.
’The Reptile Park has grown to be home to around 2,000 reptiles, mammals, marsupials, and birds. But there are aspects of the Reptile Park that won’t change.
‘It’s about Australian wildlife and the conservation of threatened Australian species. That’s why the bush setting is important too. And it’s why you won’t see lions, tigers or bears here,’ says Tim. ‘We’re proud to concentrate on four major endangered species here — Tasmanian Devils, Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies, Komodo Dragons, and Koalas — and one of the ways we’re doing this is through educating people, and especially kids, on the importance of wildlife in our environment. We do this by making it fun and, where practical, by letting people interact with the friendlier wildlife.’
In the future, Tim and his team have big plans to extend the interaction with wildlife, even Tasmanian Devils.
‘We bottle feed the baby Devils, so why not open this experience to children as well,’ he says.
Another endangered species, the Komodo Dragon, is housed in the just-finished Komodo House. There’s an authentic Balinese temple feel about it as you walk through the portal into the ‘dragons’ den.’ The two Komodos, Kraken and Daenerys, are walked (on a leash) in the Park every day to keep them interested and socialised. It lets them test the air for all the smells of their surroundings, and helps in their training and interaction with their keepers to stop them developing any aggressive tendencies.
Tree Kangaroos from northern Queensland will be arriving later this year. All of Australia and New Guinea’s 14 species of Tree Kangaroos are endangered to some extent, with some so critically endangered it’s thought they may be extinct in the wild. ‘We’re proud to concentrate on four major endangered species here — Tasmanian Devils, Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies, Komodo Dragons, and Koalas — and one of the ways we’re doing this is through educating people, and especially kids, on the importance of wildlife in our environment. ’A Tasmanian Devil joey, successfully bred at Aussie Ark.
Tim and the team’s plans don’t stop there, ’We are also developing plans for a major aquatic centre representing the geographic wetlands,’ he confides. ‘Watch this space!’
There’s also romance in the air at the Reptile Park.
‘It’s taken us ten years to find the right mate for Hugo, our always-popular giant Galapagos Tortoise, and he will be getting his first girlfriend this year. He’s now 68 years old and it’s not before time, even though he’s barely into the prime of his life.
’Possibly less lucky in love is the giant Reticulated Python, the ironically named Cuddles, from South-Eastern Asia, whose species is the longest snake in the world, growing to around 10 metres in length. These pythons have backward curving teeth to bite and hold their prey before squeezing them to death … and swallowing them whole. Romantic hugs between this species must depend on a high level of trust! And as Reticulated Pythons mate in the first two to four years of their life, Cuddles may have missed his big opportunity.
Tim’s other passion is Aussie Ark, a not-for-profit, 400-hectare, fenced wild sanctuary in the Barrington Tops that was established to breed a robust ‘insurance’ population of Tasmanian Devils to help save them from extinction. Its success, on land donated by the Packer family, has led to expansion, with the long-term aim of creating a sustainable future for Australia’s threatened wildlife. There are now 250 endangered animals, including Eastern Quolls, Parma Wallabies, Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies, Rufous Betongs, Long-nosed Potoroos and Manning River Turtles who call Aussie Ark their safe haven. Some species, such as the Eastern Quolls — extinct on mainland Australia since 1963 — are breeding so successfully that 30 will be released into National Parks during 2019.
‘Australian Reptile Park and Aussie Ark have very similar aims,’ says Tim. ‘They represent two ways to help Australian wildlife: one is through the general public, by education and interaction; the other is by creating sanctuaries for them to live and breed in safety.’
For more information https://reptilepark.com.au/For information and donations https://www.aussieark.org.au/ Guided visits and overnight accommodation are available in limited numbers. Sponsorship and public funding goes towards fencing, allowing the safe area to be expanded. The Australian Reptile Park donates food, water, wages, motor vehicle expenses, etc.
WORDS CATHARINE RETTER