A visit to the Ti Point Reptile Park
The creature eyeing its lunch was an Australian bearded dragon living out its life in a leafy cage at the Ti Point Reptile Park, an hour’s drive north of Auckland city. The park is the only dedicated reptile park in the country and is owned and run by Ivan Borich, whose affection and knowledge of reptiles far outreaches my own. Like me, reptiles fascinate Ivan. “I don’t know what the attraction is, they are certainly not cuddly,” he says. “Some people like art – I like reptiles, and they’re much easier to look after than animals are.” For many years before it became a reptile park, Ivan and his wife Myfanwy ran a private zoo on this same seven-hectare property by the sea. But 15 years ago Ivan’s reptile “hobby” began to take over and one by one the animals were rehomed. The only creatures left from that time are two aged monkeys and a tame sulphur-crested cockatoo. Cold-blooded residents have taken over the adapted spaces. Some are exotic but many are native. Until Ivan pointed it out I had no idea that New Zealand has so many native reptile species. The park now houses 100 land tortoises and terrapins, 50 skink, 50 gecko, three alligators, nine tuataras and a lot of insects in the larder. A group of itsy-bitsy baby star tortoises stole my heart, so did the tree geckos with their lustrous green and gold markings, the giant day geckoes from Madagascar, whose favourite position was hanging upside down from the ceiling, and the pastel-coloured iguanas from South America. The leopard geckos are refugees from Afghanistan, the bearded dragons from Australia and the alligators from Florida. All the residents are free to breed should they feel inclined and many of them do. Their progeny is then passed on to other collections and some natives are released into the wild but only in carefully controlled conditions. Of the three creatures I did not spontaneously admire, one was the soft-shelled turtle whose ‘helmet’ looked like congealed gravy, and the two resident tarantulas – the Red Kneed and the Chilean Rose. Unfortunately I’m an arachnophobe. But as long as I didn’t have to hold them, I could appreciate the soft-toy look of their fury bodies and sprouting legs. Apparently they are docile creatures. Frankly I would rather stroke an alligator.