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Mogo Zoo sale: a farewell to Sally Padey

As today's news of the sale of Mogo Zoo ripples through the community Kim Odgers of Batemans Bay has put pen to paper with a reflection:

The Mogo Zoo is a remarkable enterprise and its founder and creator is a remarkable woman. Sally Padey’s story is a tale of vision, tenacity and sacrifice.

More than once she has endured some harsh and unfair criticism, even continuing into this week on local social media as she prepares to leave after selling her life’s dream to Featherdale Wildlife Park.

From a hesitant start in a marshy paddock at the head of the Tomago River almost 30 years ago, Mogo Zoo today enjoys a deserved international reputation for triumph and innovation.

The zoo specialises in providing a refuge for displaced and endangered exotic species and the development of a controlled breeding program. Visitors would argue that the dominant attraction of the zoo might be the majestic African lion, the snow leopard, the silvery gibbon, the white lion or perhaps the popular meerkat.

Not an easy choice. But for me, the standout star is Sally Padey herself.

In the late 1980s, Sally with her then husband, Bill, began an uncertain journey with little more than a vision and $4,000. The vision was to establish a sanctuary for the preservation of exotic animals assessed as endangered due to neglect or degradation of natural habitat. In those difficult seminal years, the project was almost derailed several times. Complex regulations and a sometimes inflexible bureaucracy proved a formidable initiation.

The zoo progressed modestly. First visitors were greeted by a display of pheasants, peacocks, deer and kangaroo.

Then followed the granting of an Exhibited Animal License, which permitted the purchase and housing of exotic animals. After further hard slog, the Padeys were finally admitted to membership of ARAZPA, an organization that links zoos and aquariums in Australia. They had now received the recognition of their peers.

The constant early pressure took a toll on the marriage. Sally purchased Bill’s half share, assuming full financial and developmental responsibility. She took another emotional and financial hit shortly afterwards when the enterprise was nearly crippled by the actions of a trusted key employee.

At one point Sally was forced to sell her humble sedan in Batemans Bay for just half its value in order to pay mounting bills. She hitchhiked back to Mogo.

With unwavering commitment over the next several decades Sally produced a multi-million dollar world-class facility exhibiting over 200 animals, one quarter being rare and exotic.

A particularly low point came in 2009. Sally, the passionate animal lover, lost a family member and one of her closest friends.

Jamelia was a rejected lion cub for whom Sally had been personally caring for 9 years. A tawny African lioness, Jamelia one morning left her enclosure due to keeper error and began moving towards a public area. Sally knew the required procedure. Thinking with her head and not her heart, she instructed a marksman to put her down.

Her decision, plus the unfair critical mail and phone calls that followed, made this the most difficult period of Sally’s long zoo involvement.

Mogo Zoo will continue to operate as before in the hands of a competent and professional corporation. But without the vision, passion and personal sacrifice of people like Sally Padey, enterprises like the Mogo Zoo would not exist.

I wish her well. Kim Odgers

Photo: Sally Padey Image: @MogoZoo

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