Rotokawau Virginia Lake aviary

The aviary at Rotokawau Virginia Lake

Rotokawau Virginia Lake aviary closure decision

In May 2024, as part of their long-term plan 2024-34 deliberations, Whanganui District councillors voted to close and decommission the Rotokawau Virginia Lake bird aviary and find new homes for the birds – once a rehoming plan is in place.

The aviary closure was one of a number of options consulted on in the long-term plan to save money and help minimise rates rises. In the end, many councillors voted to close the aviary due to their concerns about caged birds.  

About the aviary

The Rotokawau/Virginia Lake aviary opened in the 1970s. It currently houses around 80 birds.

An independent review of the Rotokawau Virginia Lake aviary was completed in February 2023 by a qualified zoologist. You can read the report here.

The review found the aviary did not meet best practice standards for animal health and welfare. The zoologist’s report said significant updates to the aviary structure and layout, as well as increased staffing, would be required to meet best practice standards of care for the birds.

Consultation in 2023

Following this report, a proposal to close the aviary was considered as part of the council’s 2023-24 annual plan. At that time, councillors decided to keep it open and fund necessary upgrades after community feedback indicated strong support for the aviary. These included $50,000 for immediate remedial works and a business case, including design options and costs for upgrading the enclosure for councillors to consider as part of the LTP 24/34 process – and up to $150,000 total operating costs including voluntary and paid staff costs, training, feed and veterinary costs.

Improvements were then made to the aviary to improve bird welfare, including reducing bird numbers, changing feeding schedules, changing the birds’ diet (particularly the cockatoos), installing additional perching, additional planting in the enclosures, providing enrichment and improving veterinary services - including full health checks for the cockatoos.

An implementation plan was developed with the Practice Manager at the Companion Animal Hospital at the School of Veterinary Science, Massey University, a bird expert. However, the business case was put on hold as the aviary was considered as part of a suite of service cuts to bring the rates down.

Why the council has decided to close the aviary

Councils across New Zealand are facing huge challenges trying to plan for the future while dealing with the impacts of inflation, high interest rates and rising insurance costs and Whanganui District Council has a six-point plan to try to keep rates as low as possible.

When developing a long-term plan for 2024-34, staff and councillors turned over every stone to find cost-savings, including cutting services and amenities. Because the aviary was going to incur immediate and ongoing costs, it came up for consideration again before more significant and costly capital improvements were made. The aviary not only needs ongoing operational investment, but further capital investment.

In the formal submissions received in 2024, support for the aviary was more divided than it had been in 2023. 

Community response

After the decision to close the aviary was made, members of the community expressed their disappointment with the outcome, particularly online, but also in a community meeting held on 13 June 2024. A petition is currently in circulation.    

What happens next

From 1 July, council staff will begin to work on a rehoming plan for the birds to ensure every care is taken to find them suitable forever homes. This will not be rushed – and the aviary and birds will not be disturbed until this plan has been finalised.

There will be an opportunity for the community petition to be presented at the next council meeting on 25 June 2024.