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African gamepark in Australia

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Kerry Packer, Australia's richest man, is negotiating with the Federal Government to establish a $50 million African game reserve in WA.

The project will see elephants, lions, rhinos, hippos and other exotic animals roaming a 16,800ha property in the Kimberley.
The Sunday Times understands the reserve will be the media magnate's legacy to Australia.

It is also a potential tourism goldmine for WA.

Details of the dream scheme are being kept tightly under wraps but plans include breeding programs for endangered species.

Mr Packer believes that the Kimberley can best replicate the huge savannahs of Africa – without the constant threat of poachers who threaten the extinction of several species.

The project needs approval from several Commonwealth agencies including the Department of Environment and Heritage, the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service and Biosecurity Australia.

It then has to go before WA Government agencies.

Animals are to be sourced from zoos and parks around the world.

The project is being put together by Mr Packer's private company Consolidated Pastoral Company.

Consolidated already has secured a land swap deal with the WA Government to free up property north of Kununurra for the reserve.

The Government recently agreed to convert 16,800ha of Mr Packer's leasehold property in the region to freehold title.

In return, he has surrendered some 140,000haof leasehold land and paid $1 million.

The leasehold land will switch from pastoral use to agriculture and horticulture as part of Stage Two of the Ord River Irrigation project.

The Sunday Times understands the whole deal requires the approval of the local native title claimants, the Miriuwunga Gajerronga people.

Sources claimed Mr Packer was a strong conservationist and was determined to see the scheme succeed.

In the past, he has backed the Western Plains Zoo near Dubbo, NSW, which has a breeding program for endangered black rhinos.

News of the proposed park is set to ignite enthusiasm in an ailing tourism industry which has been in a slump since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

The reserve will require fencing which can withstand cyclones which frequently rip through the Kimberley.

It is not known if the local wildlife will be herded out or be left to mix with the exotic African animals.

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I'm rather surprised that the Australian government would consider this... I'm thinking about what has happened in the decades since rabbits first came to Australia...

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As I read this story, my first thoughts were along the lines of, "What happens if some of these animals escape their enclosures and begin breeding in the wild?". There have been countless instances of species being introduced to new habitats (intentionally or accidentally) and flourishing there, often to the detriment of native species. Gypsy moths, killer bees, starlings, zebra mussels... the list goes on. I understand there are some bird species that were native only to certain islands but are now believed to be extinct because they were preyed upon by domestic cats brought by human inhabitants in the last couple of centuries.

Much as I applaud the man's efforts to help save some endangered species, I can only hope they proceed with caution.

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