It’s been 15 years of caring for creatures great and small at Snakes Downunder Reptile Park and Zoo but now, owners Ian and Barb Jenkins have hung up their hats and passed on the baton to a new family of animal lovers.
Former Sunshine Coast residents David and Kate Mercieca have taken over the popular Childers facility while the Jenkins look forward to a slower-paced lifestyle.
Ian said the moment was bittersweet for him and his wife, who were not only leaving their zoo life behind but also their home in Childers for a new venture in Brisbane.
“We will miss the zoo; I was born and bred in the region and we are really going to miss the locals who have made our venture so fantastic from the moment we opened 15 years ago,” he said.
“It is time for our next chapter.
“I think after 15 years we have decided that we have taken it as far as we could and we felt that it needed fresh ideas.”
Ian said the zoo had transformed greatly from its humble beginnings when it was originally operated as a snake demonstration show venue three days a week.
“The establishment of the zoo came about after a chain of events,” he said.
“I was the local snake catcher for 35 years and I kept my own snakes as a hobby.
“A friend of mine talked me into taking my snakes to the local school for a demonstration and that was successful, so we decided to travel around to other schools to do shows.”
Ian said he then set up a proper venue for people to visit and watch the snake demonstrations instead of travelling but when government rules changed, so did the purpose of Snakes Downunder.
“Because we were not a mobile operation, we could no longer have a demonstrators license so we got a zoo license instead,” he said.
“Our little zoo suddenly grew from just snakes and lizards to saltwater crocodiles, which have been our biggest attraction.
“From there we introduced turtles, frogs, kangaroos and koalas and then we got some exotic animals such as the meerkats, long-nosed tree kangaroos and Komodo dragons.”
Ian said he was thankful to have found the Mercieca family, who were passionate about keeping the zoo going and adding their own flair.
“We originally put the zoo on the market to see if there was interest and found David and Kate to be a great fit,” he said.
“They are very knowledgeable, driven and are excited to take the zoo to the next level.
“The same great staff will be kept on, as that was a condition of the sale, and they are very keen to work with David and Kate on what’s to come.”
Ian said while he would be slowing down and enjoying a very different life in Brisbane, he would still be making himself available to the Mercieca family whenever they needed a helping hand.
He said he was proud of what his zoo had transformed into over the years and how he, Barb and his staff constantly had the opportunity to learn from others.
“Being members of the Zoo and Aquarium Association has definitely been an amazing part about it all and has allowed us to become involved in breeding programs with Australia Zoo, including with our Komodo dragons.
“We even had Robert Irwin and his team visit us a few months ago and it was a really fantastic experience, he is such a knowledgeable young man.
“Virtually everything about the zoo has been a highlight for us.”