Oakvale Wildlife Park celebrating 40 years of conservation and education

CELEBRATION: Oakvale owners Kent and Leanne Sansom feeding the wildlife park's lemurs. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts
CELEBRATION: Oakvale owners Kent and Leanne Sansom feeding the wildlife park's lemurs. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

From humble beginnings as an educational farm to the wildlife park, boasting 150 species of animals, that it is today, Oakvale has come a long way in the past 40 years.

Jeff and Elaine Sansom established a family legacy when on November 1, 1979 they opened Oakvale Farm and Fauna World to help educate younger generations on the basics of farm life.

Their youngest of three sons, Kent Sansom, took over the park in 1995, later joined by wife Leanne in 2003.

In the past 16 years the pair have grown the park physically by adding more animals, exhibits and staff, expanded its educational offerings in promoting conservation and becoming an accredited training site, and turned it into an award-winning tourism attraction.

Now its the Sansoms wish to see the legacy continued with their four children, Rebekah, 15, Jack, 12, Ellie, 11, ad Georgia, 5.

"It is amazing to think that I was only 5 years old when my parents opened the doors of Oakvale Farm and Fauna World all those years ago," Mr Sansom said.

"The dedication, passion and conservation efforts our team put in every day has assisted in the growth and development at the park over the past 40 years.

"It really warms my dad's heart to see something he established 40 years ago grow into what it is today. What I hope is that Leanne and I can pass it on to our children to grow it even further."

Jeff and Elaine Sansom operated a dairy farm on the land in Salt Ash where they later established Oakvale - land that has been in the family for 120 years.

They were approached by passing holidaymakers and local schoolteachers asking if they could watch their farm operations. The idea for Oakvale Farm and Fauna World was born.

When it opened, the park was home to wombats, emus, kangaroos and other farm animals such as cows and goats, all of which were under the care of four staff.

The park now has a team of 36 staff and about 38 volunteers who look after hundreds of animals including koalas, dingoes, alligators, reptiles, birds, lemurs and Lumholtz-tree kangaroos, plus the administration side of the business.

Mr Sansom said the park is forever growing and changing. Currently, the final touches are being put on the new meerkat exhibit ahead of the opening at the end of the year.

The greatest change to Oakvale came about 10 years ago when the park went through a redevelopment that saw a new kiosk put in, the Reptile Ravine and Koala Country areas established along with the formalisation of breeding programs, and the addition of cassowaries, dingoes and later alligators.

LEGACY: Jeff Sansom at Oakvale in 2012. Jeff and wife Elaine opened Oakvale Farm and Fauna World on November 1, 1979.

LEGACY: Jeff Sansom at Oakvale in 2012. Jeff and wife Elaine opened Oakvale Farm and Fauna World on November 1, 1979.

In 2016 Oakvale established the Save Our Wildlife fund, raising money through its animal encounters to help conservation efforts in the area.

Further changes came in 2017 when a splash bay was added to the park and its name was formally changed to Oakvale Wildlife Park.

While proud to see his family's labour of love grow into what it is, Mr Sansom said what he loves most about Oakvale is what it always had - the ability to make people smile.

"Seeing people come in young and old and their faces lighting up at the animals, that's a highlight," Mr Sansom said.

"Seeing the excitement animals can bring to people is a real sight. Animals break down barriers. People come here to touch a koala and you know that will stay with them for life.

"What we also love is second and third generations of visitors. People who visited as little kids come back with their children, and then they come back with their children's children."

LIFE'S WORK: Oakvale owner Kent Sansom with one of the Salt Ash wildlife park's lemurs. Mr Sansom was 5 years old when Oakvale opened 40 years ago. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

LIFE'S WORK: Oakvale owner Kent Sansom with one of the Salt Ash wildlife park's lemurs. Mr Sansom was 5 years old when Oakvale opened 40 years ago. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Oakvale's 40th anniversary will be marked by three days of celebrations starting on November 1.

There will be speeches, a cutting of the cake and Oakvale will hand a cheque donation from its Save Our Wildlife fund to Tilligerry Habitat on Friday.

On November 2 and 3 there will be extra family friendly activities at the park including free pony rides. The park is offering free entry to one child per paying adult.

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