Just like the movie, you can buy a zoo near Cairns
A ZOO plagued by problems for the past 12 years will soon close unless a new buyer can be found.
Shambala Animal Kingdom at Koah will go to auction next month, with new owner Elaine Harrison citing family and health issues in her decision to sell the business.
The former Sydney lawyer took over the safari park in March, inheriting a business in financial strife and with a history of operational problems.
Despite her efforts to freshen up its image, Ms Harrison could not stem the financial loss.
"For someone to come in with a good marketing budget and marketing savvy, this place could be second to none in Australasia," she said.
"It is an amazing facility, it is a beautiful park with the most phenomenal animals. To get up close and personal with them is like nothing else in my life I will ever experience again.
"It has been the best and worst year of my life.
"My concern has always been for the animals."
The zoo was opened in 2004 as the Mareeba Wild Animal Park after years of problems surrounding finances and construction.
Founder David Gill was charged and the zoo closed less than a month later, almost $3 million in debt, after it was revealed animals had escaped from their enclosures and others had reportedly died.
The business remained in administration for almost two years, during which time nine lions escaped their enclosures, before it was then purchased by former Glencorp director Udo Jattke.
While visitor numbers were steady, the venture was losing money and staff revealed they often had to wait to be paid.
Ms Harrison said if investors did not want to buy the property as a zoo, she had made provisions for the animals to join an international conservation and breeding program.
The zoo boasts 24 lions, the largest pride in Australasia, and a variety of other animals including tigers, hippos, cheetahs, rhinos, gibbons, lemurs and monkeys.
"There will be a schedule of animals if anyone wants them, but they will have to let me know prior to the auction, so there is still a possibility it could be used as a zoo," Ms Harrison said.
"Some animals will be available to stay on the park if required.
"Alternatively, it will be sold as two vacant parcels."
Ms Harrison said she would return to the law profession and intended telling her five remaining staffers of her decision yesterday.
She said there was a development application before the Tablelands Regional Council for a 30-person luxury lodge and for 18 cabins on the property. The property will go up for auction in two lots on December 15.
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Saying goodbye: Elaine Harrison's Shambala Animal Kingdom at Koah will go up for auction next month. Picture: MARC MCCORMACK