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On-Board with Michael Johnson, Founder of Moonlit Sanctuary!

woman feeding baby wallabies in their natural habitat

On-Board with Michael Johnson, Founder of Moonlit Sanctuary!

Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park invites you to explore 10 hectares of Australian bush-land! You’ll get the opportunity to feed kangaroos and wallabies, pet koalas and enjoy encounters with colourful birds, reptiles, & dingoes. Today we catch up with Michael Johnson, Founder of Moonlit Sanctuary to find out what inspired him to create the park and their commitment to conservation.

What inspired you to create a conservation park?

Ever since I can remember I have been interested in wildlife conservation. When I was in first year at school I wrote something about how I wanted to look after all of the animals when I grew up. As a teenager I read all the books by famous British conservationist Gerald Durrell who founded Jersey Zoo, the first zoo devoted to conservation. I went through a typical mid-life crisis, divorce etc, and decided that if I wanted to do something I had better get on and do it. So, I went to the training center at Jersey Zoo for a course in Endangered Species Management, and from that developed the idea for Moonlit.

Do you have a favourite animal?

How could I? It’s like choosing between children. I have always admired Dunnarts, mouse sized carnivorous marsupials who will launch themselves at you no matter how big you are to try and bring you down. Boy can they bite!

What about Moonlit Sanctuary are you most proud of?

Currently our Orange-bellied Parrot breeding program. These birds are critically endangered with fewer than 30 birds in the wild. We have a state of the art breeding facility and have begun releasing birds into the wild. Breeding season has just kicked off and so far, we have 25 eggs, a fantastic start! We were privileged to recently win the Premier’s Award for Sustainability for Environmental Protection for this project, a tremendous honour.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Watching animals being born, growing and thriving, and seeing animals released into the wild. I really enjoy walking around watching people enjoying the Sanctuary as well.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Knowing we are making a difference. Also, our three dogs, who demand to be fed first thing in the morning.

What makes Moonlit Sanctuary so unique?

Our staff who are so dedicated and friendly, how we bring people as close as possible to our animals while ensuring our animals welfare, and our commitment to conservation.

What are your views on traditional zoos?

Good zoos have important roles to play in education, conservation and research, and we are fortunate that Australia’s major zoos are very good. A commitment to animal welfare is essential and in Australia the zoos association is doing a lot of good work in this area. At a minimum, look for ZAA animal welfare accreditation before visiting a zoo.

What I don’t like are zoos that claim they are working in conservation when all they do is breed a few endangered species that happen to thrive in captivity. Worse still are those who keep white mutations like white tigers and white kangaroos, and then claim they are “rare”. They imply some conservation outcome even though deliberately breeding these mutations actually works against conservation.

How would you like Moonlit Sanctuary to be seen?

As an organisation that is making a real difference to the conservation of our unique wildlife.

Moonlit milestones

  • 2001: Moonlit Sanctuary starts lantern-lit night time tours
  • 2009: Opening of Tasmanian devil enclosure
  • 2012: World’s first walk-in glider enclosure
  • 2015: Opening of one of Australia’s largest southern hairy nosed wombat exhibits
  • 2016: Opening of new 20 aviary orange-bellied parrot breeding facility.

Departing daily, our Phillip Island tour stops by Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park, offering the experience to get up close and personal with a range of native Australian animals.

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