16 Jun 2021
A stunning ecotourism centre in the Otways is helping fund research and conservation land management, with help from a $500,000 impact investment loan from the Ross Trust.
Wildlife Wonders, near Apollo Bay, gives visitors the chance to take a guided walk through native bushland and spot bandicoots, potoroos, koalas and other animals in a habitat protected from federal predators.
The Conservation Ecology Centre spent five years building Wildlife Wonders, in a journey that started with an idea and came to life when the gates opened in February.
Conservation Ecology Centre Chief Executive Officer Lizzie Corke says Ross Trust was instrumental in getting Wildlife Wonders off the ground.
“The Ross Trust was the first major funder to come on board for the first critical stage of the project – the purchase of the site,” Ms Corke says. “A project like this requires one funder to commit in order for other funders to have the confidence to move forwards – for this project that was the Ross Trust and we are forever grateful for that commitment and support.”
The Ross Trust loan helped the Conservation Ecology Centre purchase of the 20-hectare property running from the Great Ocean Road to the sea, five minutes west of Apollo Bay.
“That initial commitment was particularly important,” Ms Corke says. “They took the leap of faith. The Ross Trust also has been incredibly supportive and understanding as the twists and turns of project delivery have played out.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns played havoc with the construction and opening of Wildlife Wonders. The centre was due to open to the public in June 2020 but instead welcomed its first visitors on February 12, 2021.
Since then, international border closures have also had an impact on the number of visitors through the door.
“Our visitor reviews have been outstanding,” Ms Corke says. “Our visitor numbers have been gentle. But that means we have been able to iron out any wrinkles and get things right.”
Wildlife Wonders a social enterprise which invests 100 per cent of its operating surplus in critical conservation programs across the Otways region.
Visitors to Wildlife Wonders take a journey designed by Brian Massey, an Art Director of The Hobbit films and the landscape designer behind the Hobbiton experience in New Zealand.
He worked with conservation scientists, zoologists, botanists, wildlife veterinarians and landscapers to create the stunning natural landscapes at Wildlife Wonders. A hidden, 1.4km fence keeps foxes and cats out and creates a safe haven for native animals.
Conservationist guides lead visitors on walk through Wildlife Wonders, with an educational focus on the conservation programs and species people can see around them.
Ms Corke says 22 funders supported the creation of the ecotourism centre, including the Australian through the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages Program, the Victorian Government through Regional Development Victoria, philanthropic foundations and private philanthropists.
“We have philanthropic investors from all over the world, including China, Germany and the US. They haven’t been able to see Wildlife Wonders yet, with borders closed, and we’re really looking forward to welcoming all visitors and showing them how beautiful it is.”