On the weekend I had the joy of visiting the Altina Wildlife Park just outside of Darlington Point in country NSW. I was riding on the coattails of my daughters 15th birthday present from her Aunt and Uncle, which included an up-close encounter with their Meerkat family. I am still perplexed as to why we always let the kids have all the fun!
But I as we toured the vast expanse I didn't need the Meerkat experience to be impressed.
The place was amazing, a hidden gem. I immediately put my marketing hat on - why hadn’t more people heard about this park? It was a private zoo, a business. It had exhibits of animals that I had never seen before (and I was a member of the Melbourne Zoo) And it was achieving extraordinary feats in relation to endangered species research and breeding.
Always curious as to the backstory I dug a little deeper and was saddened to find that the Founder of the Park, Gino Altin had passed away just this week, tragically at the young age of 55.
A former champion powerlifter before becoming an animal activist Gino was an extraordinary man. He went on a family Safari in Africa over 20 years ago. Like so many other tourists he was incredibly affected by the endangered animals he saw there. But unlike the many others who travelled he made a vow to do something to help. He had the idea to establish a sanctuary in Australia to save endangered animals and with the support of his family they took on this enormous challenge.
When he appeared in the local paper in 2004 (The Area News, Griffith), describing his ambition – which was to transfer 1500 acres of farmland into an animal sanctuary, it is fair to say that most locals thought he was crazy.
Crazy is what makes entrepreneurs stand out from the dreamers. So many people have the desire, the ideas, the vision, yet so few have the determination and commitment to follow through.
Crazy worked. As well as working a successful family concrete business he poured everything he had into establishing the sanctuary. He and the family worked physically hard to build the park. At the same time and his wife lobbied hard to get through the red tape associated with caring for and breeding exotic animals especially as a private concern. They self-funded most of the development and called on the generosity of the local community to provide him with in-kind support.
He started small with animals no one else wanted and few people knew of. This included Mongolian Wild horses and the Himalayan tahr. As the park grew in reputation and funds, so too did the names and number of animals.
Most recently Gino got to see one of his dreams come true when in October 2016 the White Rhino enclosure opened.
Gino leaves behind a legacy for future generations with his wife and children honouring his dreams by continuing the work they started together 13 years ago.
This extraordinary tale is an example of how you can make your dreams come true through being determined, a little crazy and a lot loved by your local community.
I can only imagine the sacrifices he and his family made so that I could enjoy such a wonderful day with mine.
As editor of The Daily Advertiser (Wagga) remarked in his opinion piece on the weekend
“His (Gino Alton) life is a reminder that through perseverance and passion, an individual can change the world.
Rest in peace, Gino.
Here’s hoping you have the best seat in the house to watch the rhinos on heaven’s savanna.”
I hope we can all live a little like Gino - not afraid to be called crazy when we have a vision and a mission to create something marvellous.