Lord returns to tourism ark
Lord Alistair McAlpine at the zoo in 1985. Picture: John Mokrzycki/The West Australian

It was a tourist attraction like no other - a lush, tropical oasis in Broome filled with weird and wonderful exotic animals and a cacophony of bright, colourful birds.

When Lord Alistair McAlpine opened his Pearl Coast Zoological Gardens on 10ha at Cable Beach in 1984, it housed only kangaroos, camels and wallabies.

Within five years, the grounds had expanded to 26ha and were home to the nation's best collection of Australian parrots and African exotics and attracted upwards of 35,000 visitors a year.

To Lord McAlpine, the zoo was far more than an expensive hobby.

He regarded it as an ark - a sanctuary for rare species threatened by industrial development, hunting and civil wars.

From the late 1980s, a steady stream of animals were trucked and flown to Broome, including oryx, addax, sitatunga and zebra.

By 1989, the zoo's 280 aviaries had more than 80 varieties of birds, including the rare great palm cockatoo, South American macaws and eclectus parrots.

Over five years, Lord McAlpine invested millions of dollars into a bird breeding program, eventually supplying zoos all over the world.

Former Broome Shire councillor Chris Mitchell, who worked at the zoo for five years, said it was an unbelievable place to work.

He said Lord McAlpine was a frequent visitor, doling out jobs as he strolled around the thatched-roof enclosures to check on the animals.

Having secured an extra 25ha, Lord McAlpine had been about to build the southern hemisphere's biggest walk-through aviary - a 20m-high enclosure with waterfall - when everything collapsed during the 1989 pilots strike.

Visitor numbers fell and Lord McAlpine was forced to close the doors in 1991.

But the British peer, who lives in Italy, will fly to Broome for the first time in almost two decades on Saturday to accept the title of Freeman of the Municipality from Broome business and civic leaders.

The West Australian

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