Real Life

The sanctuary for retired zoo and circus animals

Zambi Wildlife Retreat is providing homes for the animals that need it.

By Jacqui King
Most people sell old furniture and cars on Gumtree.
But someone in Australia recently tried to sell two miniature ponies on the site. The ponies were in a terrible state; their hooves were overgrown and they could hardly walk.
It seemed to be a last minute ditch of the gorgeous animals. They were too much hassle and clearly, getting treatment for them was going to cost too much money.
So, where do the animals who no longer have a home actually go?
It’s probably something you’ve never thought of – from retired animals in entertainment industries to the greyhounds who will no longer be racing. Where do they go?
Well, that’s where Zambi Wildlife Retreat comes in.
Zambi provides homes and rehabilitation for retired animals and one fully operational, will be the only facility of its kind in Australia.
Donna and Kibulu
And what makes this non-for-profit organisation so special and unique is that they not only look after exotic animals, but farm animals and domestic animals, too. It becomes a sanctuary for animals of all shapes and sizes, to live out a quiet, happy life.
Located in Sydney’s west, Zambi cares for over 100 animals, including lions, tigers, dingoes, reptiles, birds, horses and monkeys, with the hope to bring in more.
The retreat is the brainchild of Donna Wilson, Traci Griffiths and Silke Bader, who formed the non-profit animal welfare charity in 2012. Their testimony is to help, rehabilitate, re-home and give shelter to misplaced, abused, injured, aged or homeless animals.“My dream was to have a sanctuary for retired zoo and circus animals,” says Donna, who has worked with exotic animals for over 20 years.
Traci and monkey Lewy
Silke, who had known Donna for years, brought the idea to life. “She said to me: ‘Remember that dream of yours, I’m about to make it happen for you’,” remembers Donna when Silke called her and told her of her plan.
From there, the three women teamed up and began Zambi.
Donna is the operations manager, taking care of the animals and managing the facility, Silke is the business brains and Traci is on the creative side.
“Our goal is for the animals to come, retreat and live the rest of their lives in retirement – happily and peacefully,” Donna says.
Some of the animals need constant care which Zambi provides, and others are brought to the retreat after being mistreated by their owners.
As Zambi has grown such a name for itself for the incredible work they do, people in (or out of) the area approach them to provide a new home for animals that need it.
The three women have seen animals in awful conditions but, as Traci puts it: “we don’t care how big or small they are, all animals lives matter.’’
However, like many not-for-profit organisations, funding is an issue. They rely on donations, with 100 per cent of proceeds going to maintaining and developing the retreat.
The retreat is run with the help of volunteers and they’re always looking for tradespeople to volunteer their services at the property – like electricians, plumbers, builders and welders. To help out, click here.
Some of Zambi's volunteers
Currently, Zambi is not open to the public, but Donna is trying to change that. They’re constructing an exhibition on the property, and hope to turn the grounds into a training facility for students to learn the ins and outs of caring for animals.
They’re soon opening up facilities on the property for international and interstate students to come and stay for two to four week blocks.
“Education is a big thing, especially for the captive care industry,” says Donna. “There’s always going to be animals in zoos and captivity so you want the best people looking after them. The students will come here and meet the lions and see how beautiful they are.”
Traci, an animal activist, hopes that seeing the majestic creatures up close will encourage people to become more aware about animals and the dark futures they face. “They might think twice about that fur coat and canned hunting,” she says.
There are currently 24 big cats that Zambi care for, some of which Donna has hand-raised. Naturally, she loves them like they’re her own children.
Children with mighty big claws and teeth, that is…
“I’ve worked with big cats for so long and I know them so well, so I don’t really have a fear. I’ve been put in hospital because of tigers. I know what it feels like to be bitten, so I don’t have a fear of that. It’s that fear of not knowing and being scared of the bite. Yes, it bloody hurts but that’s ok,” Donna laughs.
The one exhibit you might not see anytime soon at Zambi? Spiders.
“I’m scared of spiders. Not snakes and reptiles, they’re fine, but I can’t do creepy crawlies,” says Donna.
Fair call, Donna!
If you’d like to donate, volunteer or sponsor one of the beautiful animals at Zambi, head to their website here.

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