There are some strange cold-blooded creatures living at Ti Point, some even say ‘there be dragons’ around those parts.
Dragons, tuatara, tarantulas, a monkey named Harrison and even alligators lurk in the Reptile Park near Leigh. Ivan Borich turned his childhood hobby into a business and has been breeding exotic animals for almost 50 years.
“I was born with a fascination for all creatures and the natural world,” Ivan says.
He and his staff tend to over 200 reptiles on a beautiful six-hectare block, which overlooks the ocean out to Tawharanui.
“It could have been butterflies or insects, in fact we started as a zoo with zebra and bison in the front paddock. Harrison the Brown Capuchin is the last remaining legacy of the zoo. He must be one of the oldest Capuchin as he is 40-years-old now.”
Ivan scaled down the zoo, if that’s not too much of a pun, in favour of reptiles. They require less care than most animals, but catering to their needs is still a full-time job. If you thought last month’s power bill was a bit steep, spare a thought for the Borich’s. They heat most of the reptile enclosures in the park during the cold winter months. Ivan says electricity outweighs all the other expenses, but cold-blooded reptiles must be kept warm. They eat less than two thirds of their warm-blooded cousins, so the sun, or Ivan’s power company must provide the heat that would usually take energy from the body.
Ivan spends much of his time with on-going maintenance and breeding locusts, flies, crickets and worms to feed the array of reptiles. There are too many reptile species to mention, suffice to say they have everything from cute baby star tortoises, to American alligators. There’s a mighty looking pair of green iguanas, thick as tree branches and almost 1.5 metres long. Bearded dragons watch closely as you pass by, and an array of cleverly camouflaged skinks and geckos set their own kind of ‘Where’s Wally’ treasure hunt.
“That’s because in the wild, being seen equates to being eaten. If you see a tortoise on it’s back don’t fret. If it’s young then it’s had a mishap and will right itself given time. If it’s mature then its lost a sumo-wrestling bout with another tortoise. The winner is declared only after successfully flipping over the loser.”
You see there’s much to observe in the reptile kingdom, for the patient watcher.
Ivan has successfully bred many species and sends some excess stock to other zoos.
“Some, like cricketers make a century, when you live that long reproduction isn’t that necessary. In England, the habit of keeping tortoises as pets decimated them in the wild and that’s why importing them was banned in many parts of the world. They just don’t reproduce fast enough to maintain the population.”
Ivan adds that disturbing native lizards is against the law and a permit must be obtained by anyone thinking of keeping them.
The most popular attraction at Ti Point Reptile Park is the American alligators that laze around the pools, looking more menacing than they actually are.
“Most creatures are placid and won’t mess with you, but Alligators aren’t very bright. I feed them on a stick and they still haven’t learned to eat the food off it. They end up knocking it onto the ground and in their frantic search, could mistake your foot for their lost lunch!”
The Park also has many beautiful bright skinks and geckos. Ivan says when he started out there was believed to be around 20 native types of lizard, but research has now indicated there are over 100. New Zealand shares a trait with Madagascar, in that it provides a home to more of the brighter coloured species that prefer to be active during daylight hours.
Along with beautiful sea views the reptiles live amongst native bush. They don’t mind sharing the vistas, or the bush walk with visitors and there is a large picnic area if you would like to dine with the dinosaurs.