How Malcolm Naden survived at Taronga Western Plains Zoo

It was 4.30pm on December 23, 2005, when a Pol Air helicopter and 60 police began a sweeping search of Dubbo’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo in the hope of catching Malcolm Naden.

At the time, the former abattoir worker was the prime suspect in the deaths of two women in Dubbo earlier that year.

Of course, history will show that Naden was eventually captured on March 21, 2012 when heavily-armed officers from the Tactical Operations Unit struck a night operation in dense bushland near Gloucester.

He later confessed to killing Kristy Scholes and Lateesha Nolan, and will live out his days behind bars

Often referred to as an expert bushman, Naden evaded capture as the sharpest minds within the NSW police force tracked him over that seven-year period but the noteriety that came his way may never have happened had he been found on that fateful day at the zoo.

A new book being released on Tuesday, titled The Contractor, outlines how Naden stole bananas from elephants, rummaged bins for thrown-out food and slept in the roof of a hut on zoo grounds as he evaded police in those early days on the run.

The section of the book devoted to Naden is told by a private investigator known as ‘Mike’.

One of his freelance jobs was to investigate reports of a 'homeless person' living within the grounds of the zoo after a series of strange incidents had occurred in the month prior.

The person in question had been taking food from various locations around the zoo.

The bananas were taken from the elephant area, uneaten chicken rolls were stolen from a garbage bin behind the cafe.

Following his own investigations, and after hearing a cleaner’s description of a man she saw in the hut, Mike started to camp on site, believing he was on the path of Naden.

The following is an extract from the book:

“I spent all the next day at the zoo, first having the culvert beside the main entrance welded shut so no one could get through it.

“Then we laid fishing line across some of the main footpads - it wouldn't trap him, but I'd know if he'd been using that trail. By evening Roger and I were bushed. And hungry. So at around 10.40pm we left the zoo and headed for Dubbo KFC. We were almost there when Roger got an alarm alert on his mobile phone. 

We U-turned fast and zipped back to the zoo, where the alert was telling us the breach was in the admin building, right at the main entrance.

“I told Roger what I was thinking as we drove: the zoo would be black, so he was to let me out in the darkness before he drove the extra 150 metres to the building with the alarm.

“We got to the main gate, where he slowed and let the Commodore roll just inside the gateway. I got out and it was a still, warm night, and I stalked to my left, along a cycle track, through some trees and past the hire centre where visitors can hire bikes for the day.

“I crossed the main car park in pitch-blackness. It was dark and quiet and very still. Roger continued motoring to the admin building, and as he slowed to a stop, he hit his high beams. Right in front of me, beside a large LPG tank against the admin building, a man stood up.

“It was him. 

“I was unarmed, and so stunned that all I could do was say, 'Malcolm, it's me.'

The Contractor, as told to Mark Abernethy, is published by Macmillan Australia at a recommended retail price of $29.99.

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