“Keep your hands off the koalas and no one will get hurt”.
That’s the message – of sorts – from the custodians of the Featherdale Wildlife Park at Doonside in Sydney’s west, which faces competition from the proposed $36m Sydney Zoo at the Western Sydney Parklands a mere three kilometres away.
Valued in the books at $39m, Featherdale is a valuable asset for Elanor, a property group otherwise covering more conventional assets such as hotels and warehouses. Last month, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) granted conditional approval for Sydney Zoo – overlooking Bungarribee Park – to go ahead.
Housing the biggest native animal collection in the country, Featherdale has operated for 43 years so it’s understandable that the owners would want to protect its furry turf. Despite opposing the new zoo Elanor is happy – or grudgingly so – with the conditions that prescribe the scope and nature of the fauna the new zoo is allowed to display. One of the conditions is that at least two-thirds of the Sydney Zoo’s exotic species collection is “present on opening”.
That’s to differentiate the new zoo – which will emphasise free-ranging exotic animals and a safari-like experience — from Ferndale’s native-only offering. Also, the new zoo must not include flying birds (Ferndale has ‘em) – but must include an aquarium, reptile house, insectarium and nocturnal house (because Ferndale doesn’t have ‘em).
Then we get to the koalas. For three years, no Western Sydney Zoo visitor is allowed to touch our furry emblem, unless they’re kids on an organised school trip. Why? Ferndale offers the Personal Koala Encounter in which visitors can touch the beast – but only around the waist mind you – and be photographed.
It’s possible the new zoo will be a boon for Featherdale, creating a wildlife precinct in the same way the Village Roadshow and Ardent Leisure theme parks attract thrill seekers to the Gold Coast.
The good news for pouched marsupials who want to be unmolested is that Sydney Zoo is due to be up and running by 2018.
In the meantime, Ferndale has been a strong performer for Elanor, which upped the asset’s carrying value to $39m as at June 30 2017, compared with $15.6m a year earlier. The 3.1-hectare park accounts for 25% of Elanor’s $159m investment portfolio, which also includes Cradle Mountain Lodge and John Cootes Furniture.
To assist its funds management and direct investing endeavours, Elanor last week launched an unsecured note five-year offering to raise $35-40m at a 7.1 per cent interest rate. Founded by Grange Securities’ Glenn Willis in 2014, Elanor has a host of big-name backers including ex Macquarie Bank heavy Bill Moss. But as far as we can see, there are no zookeepers on the register.