David Fleay


David Fleay : biography

6 January 1907 – 7 August 1993

In 1962 Fleay co-founded the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland with Judith Wright, Brian Clouston and Kathleen McArthur.

Healesville Sanctuary

Coincidentally, the Healesville Sanctuary some 90 km from Melbourne was in need of a director and he was appointed. The animals there included quolls, Tasmanian devils, dingoes and various birds of prey, to which he added tiger snakes that were milked for antivenene, and platypus. Many animals were housed in large paddock-like areas with swing-weighted gates so that visitors could freely interact with the animals. He also conducted daily ‘feeding’ displays of the platypusses.

His greatest achievement at Healesville was in 1943, when he bred the first platypus in captivity. His platypussary (platypus enclosure) incorporated features of their native streams. On about 5 November 1943, "Corrie" was born. No-one other than Fleay successfully bred and reared a platypus until 1998 when Healseville Sanctuary again had success. Since then, breeding has occurred only twice more: at Healesville and Taronga Zoo (twins).

Between 1945-1947, Fleay led an expedition to Tasmania in an attempt to capture a breeding pair of thylacines, however he returned empty handed.http://www.naturalworlds.org/thylacine/additional/fleay/Fleay_expedition_1.htm

In 1947, he took three platypuses to New York for the Bronx Zoo where they occupied a platypussary built to his specifications. He studied animal husbandry at various zoos and wildlife sanctuaries across the U.S.A., returning to Healesville in October to discover that the Board had dismissed him for supposed unauthorised donations of animals to various foreign zoos. While untrue, this caused considerable hurt: He was demoted and remained at Healesville as a consultant.

He was also keeping a private collection of animals, but in 1951 the Government of Victoria legislated to prevent private individuals from charging fees for the public to see animal collections. This caused him to decide to move the collection.

Burleigh, Queensland

After extensive research, the Tallebudgera Estuary in the hinterland behind Burleigh on the Gold Coast in Queensland was selected, the reasons including that it offered an untouched natural habitat for koalas apart from already having cleared areas (then farmland) for development of animal enclosures. The Fleays gradually acquired land and by 1958 had enclosures for people to see platypuses, snakes, dingoes, plain turkeys, ospreys, crocodiles and alligators; in contrast, bandicoots, flying foxes, sea eagles, wallabies and koalas, were free to visit from adjoining the forest. However, his focus was on the scientific study of the animals.

The area also included middens used by earlier generations of the Gold Coast’s Kombumerri Aboriginal people. Fleay retained these heritage areas, and maintained good relationships with the Kombumerri.

The animals were fed partly from donations from local bakers and butchers, with local residents donating dead animals to feed the owls (or the goannas if no longer fresh); mice and rats were collected frequently from the McKerras Research Institute behind the hospital; worms were collected fresh daily for the platypuses; eels, pigeons and flying foxes were also killed to provide food for the owls, snakes and crocodiles.

Injured or sick animals from as far away as New Guinea and Central Queensland were accommodated at the sanctuary. Those that lived were kept for research or breeding; native animals, when recovered, were released into the wild; deceased animals were fed to the survivors.

In 1982, 37 acres (150,000 m²) of the land owned by David and Sigrid Fleay was sold to the Queensland Government and became a Conservation Park. The following year, the 20 acre (81,000 m²) main Fauna Reserve with its animal enclosures was also sold to the Government. The remainder of the site 7.5 acres (30,000 m²) was transferred in 1985. Under the terms of this arrangement, David and Sigrid Fleay continued to live and work at the park: In 1983 it closed for 5 years for redevelopment and re-opened in 1988. The government retains the property as the David Fleay Wildlife Park.