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The Zoo

Television, 1999–2013

A Perspective

Popular factual series The Zoo was filmed behind the scenes at Auckland Zoo. It tells the stories of the zoo's 900+ animals, and their vets and keepers. Events such as opening the new hippo enclosure, introducing new rhinos to each other and seeing a tiger give birth, are naturally [sic] fascinating and Colin Hogg's lively script-editing crafts them into compelling reality television.

The Zoo educates subtly whilst entertaining. Viewers learn how to weigh a tiger, and why keepers speak to elephants in a combination of German and Sri Lankan. Viewers can relate to the menagerie's melodramas and sympathise with Nisha the Sumatran tiger's monthly mood swings, and the cheeky Cotton-topop tamarins who don't want to go home after a big day out. 

The show's gently educational style is spotted with touches of humour. A new electric fence gives the writer carte blanche to go wild: "there's a shocking problem with the electric fence... but some bright spark has fixed it". Such flourishes combine with beautiful shooting and a wealth of information to make an eminently watchable programme.

The series' liveliness (and perhaps its achievement) means The Zoo is able to highlight the strong bonds between humans and other animals, while also delivering subtle conservation messages. The changing role of the zoo (conservation and education rather than just exhibition) is highlighted. For example, whio (blue duck) reared at the zoo are shown being released back into the wild; the stunning river cinematography is contrasted with scenes of a dead rat and stoat killed in traps designed to protect them.

Such assured family-friendly fare made The Zoo a long-running and successful series for TVNZ (it was originally commissioned by Geoff Steven). It enjoyed high ratings and sold to over 90 countries worldwide. Its awards include the TV Guide's People's Choice Award for Favourite Documentary Series for seven years in a row.   

The appropriately named Andrea Lamb was key to shaping the series in its early days. Along with Kathryn Moore, she produced and directed five series of the show, before going on to become Head of Production for Greenstone Pictures. Another key creative was script editor Colin Hogg, who wrote most of the early series (he also wrote a children's book, The Zoo Book, published in 2001).

The popularity of the series inspired several spin-off programmes and compilations, including Raising Baby Iwani,Trent's Wild Cat Adventures and The Zoo: This is Your Life.