One of the most excellent aspects of a conference is the networking opportunities, and the chance to glimpse a broader understanding of how a role similar to yours fits in different organisations and industries.

At our recent Asset Management in Government Symposium, I was able to chat with John Pryor, Asset Manager Zoos Victoria. I found asset management within a zoo environment to be fascinating, given that many of the zoo’s assets are live beings, going far beyond a common understanding of physical assets, such as buildings, electricity cables and tram networks. 

Since childhood, John has felt a strong connection with wild places and enjoys spending time outdoors; a feature of his personality that perfectly aligns with working at Zoos Victoria. In fact, John has spent twenty-five years at Zoos Victoria in a range of different capacities, from procurement, to landscaping, to managing major projects. It’s fair to say that he has a broad understanding of the zoo’s business, the challenges and complexities, as well as the many positives.  

John is situated in the corporate office at Melbourne Zoo, Parkville, overlooking Royal Park. During any given day, he may travel to Healesville Sanctuary and the Werribee Open Range Zoo, where he’ll work alongside on-site teams. When in the office, John writes asset management strategies and gives support to other departments in writing policy, risk and asset management principles. Zoos Victoria ensures that all asset management plans, such as the AM Policy, Strategic Asset Management Plans and the Asset Class Plans are integrated with the overall corporate strategy, aligning with operations and systems. Asset management is a big part of the operation, and its capacity to build value for the organisation is further-reaching than just financial. Asset management enables Zoos Victoria to provide a safer, more sustainable and efficient zoo, and deliver on the objectives of conservation, animals, visitors, people and financial stability.

Each of Zoos Victoria’s three sites contain complex and varied spaces, including gardens, accommodation, animal exhibits, restaurants and natural habitats. The Melbourne Zoo in Parkville has a history of close to 150 years and its ageing infrastructure requires renewals and upgrades to provide quality animal welfare, and service the needs of the zoo’s visitors, while also minimising its ecological footprint.

The live assets at all three sites bring additional complexities to asset management. Some animals need to be kept cool, others warm. To gain a picture of these added complexities, let’s look at the Baw Baw Frog facility at Melbourne Zoo. Unique breeding bunkers are constructed with climate-control systems that mimic the frogs’ natural alpine habitat.

The Butterfly Enclosure, similarly, houses up to 300-600 active butterflies at any given time. Butterflies are bred onsite and up to 30,000 released into the structure each year. It is built entirely of glass; it must maintain an optimal tropical climate, with the temperature sitting at 22-28°C and the humidity remaining between 65-75%. Seven years ago, Zoos Victoria replaced the glass roof in the enclosure with double-glazed (argon filled) glass and thereby reduced the natural gas consumption in the enclosure by 35%1.

Zoos Victoria employs a risk-based condition monitoring approach, with the frequency and detail of the monitoring varying to the risk allocation. A Category 1 Dangerous Animal Facility, for example, has a high frequency of condition monitoring from daily to regular inspections and periodic structural engineering reports to ensure that animals such as lions and tigers are safe and secure at all times.

The botanic estate and grounds are managed daily by specialist staff, with condition audits taking place with GIS and asset data systems. Specialised life support systems—comprised of pumps, chillers, UV generators and filters— maintain seawater treatment quality for penguins, seals and fish, and are monitored by dedicated contractors. Operated onsite are a water recycling plant and materials recovery facility, along with a range of fleet, plant and equipment.

John notes that the introduction of the mandated AMAF brought a new level of staff involvement and support with implementing asset management and clear governance structures. An Asset Management Working Group meets regularly to coordinate activities and improvements, and reports to the Senior Executive Team and external stakeholders. An internal audit team completes reviews and a Board Audit Committee works to ensure monitoring and attestation complies with the AMAF guidelines.  The experience of the AMAF has been entirely positive overall at Zoos Victoria.

To close our chat, I asked John what he most enjoyed about the symposium. He replied that he appreciated hearing about the challenges faced by other agencies throughout the AMAF journey, and how new opportunities brought assistance in risk-management strategies.

Linda Kemp, Communications Specialist with the Asset Management Council, wishes to thank John Pryor for his availability in the lead-up to, and during the symposium. Your generosity in sharing your asset management journey is appreciated.

Image of tiger provided by, and used with, Zoos Victoria’s permission