Why are you interested in wildlife? Why do you support conservation?

Nature is an inspiration in itself. I remember being excited by wildlife from a very young age and being encouraged to explore and discover more. Whether that was playing with friends in the local woods, going on a walk in the countryside or visiting a zoo – all experiences that added to my enjoyment and love of nature.

myfamilybookHowever, there are, in everyone’s life, people who make a difference too. This week UK TV channel ITV launched a new series ‘The Durrells’ based on the books by Gerald Durrell and his early life on Corfu. Gerry was perhaps the most influential ‘famous person’ in my life. I began reading his books aged about 10 and soaked them up page by page, imagining and picturing the scenes. Whilst ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is a favourite, over the years I loved his animal collecting tales and zoo stories, and appearances on TV.  I consider myself very lucky to have met him and to have been ‘persuaded’ by a conversation with him, that working in zoos/conservation was something I could do. I hope that the new TV adaptation inspires and brings more people to his work and especially to the work of the Trust he established in Jersey and now called Durrell


This weekend also saw the 82nd birthday of another very inspiring person, Dame Dr Jane Goodall whose work initially on chimpanzee behaviour has taught us all not only about these amazing animals but about ourselves. However, Jane’s contribution to science, whilst very significant, may be eclipsed by her humanity and recognition of the importance of people and education for survival of our planet, its wildlife and ourselves. This is epitomised by her roots and shoots initiative . I was delighted to meet Jane on a few occasions, perhaps the most significant being in Budongo Trail, the chimpanzee exhibit at RZSS Edinbugh Zoo which I helped to design the interpretation for – and in which we used some National Geographic clips of her work in Tanzania.IMG_2530

So, who will inspire the next generation? Gerald Durrell sadly died at the age of 70 in 1995, Jane Goodall is now 82, Sir David Attenborough is 90 this year… with the internet there are many more minor ‘stars’ and ‘celebrities’ influencing and communicating, and therefore there are many more opportunities … I hope that each of us inspires someone, and as an educator I am reminded of this quote from Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity, he never knows where his influence stops”


Dudley Zoo enclosures – Student visit

Dudley Zoo was opened in 1937 around the ruins of the castle on the hill. It is of particular note for the original features and enclosures designed by the Tecton partnership and Berthold Lubetkin.




Lubetkin and Tecton created ‘modernist’ structures using pre-stressed reinforced concrete and in the 1930s this was revolutionary. Perhaps their most famous zoo structure is the ‘old’ penguin pool at London Zoo, but Dudley Zoo was designed with these structures throughout, and they made a real striking feature surrounding the ancient castle.

Not surprisingly Dudley Castle is a listed (protected) building of historic importance. However, the 12 Tecton structures that survive (the penguin pool was lost in 1979 due to dilapidation) are now listed Grade II or II* and have World Monument Fund status.  This means that as a zoo, Dudley has a significant additional asset and burden – buildings of great historic importance, but ones that have to be maintained alongside the zoo, even when the suitability for their original inhabitants is passed. It calls for lateral thinking and budgeting – ideal for students to study and review.

I was therefore delighted to work with a group of nearly 40 animal care students from Sparsholt College, Hampshire, on a visit to Dudley Zoo last week looking at enclosure design and contrasting Dudley to other zoos they had visited.

Dudley Zoo has done well in ‘adapting’ old Tecton structures and making them usable and suitable habitats for other species – largely by adding substrates; such as bark; and features such as climbing frames and plants. The rest of the site also has some cost effective enclosure designs using features of the hill and landscape, eg gelada baboons, otters, walk-through lemur wood.









The students were able to focus upon how the needs of animals, keepers and visitors are met through the different approaches and styles of enclosure, as well as appreciate the constraints and limitations listed buildings have upon a zoo, as well as experience this unique zoo, castle, bird of prey display and talks on sealions and penguins.

Dudley Zoo staff were very helpful answering questions, and the students also got to meet the zoo director. This visit enabled learning outcomes relating to assessing and evaluating enclosures; comparing and contrasting different zoos and understanding zoo design and development within constraints of site and budget.

Thanks to all involved for a good day at the zoo!


World Wildlife Day & World Book Day

Today is both World Wildlife Day and World Book Day. So it’s a great opportunity to connect the two. As a bibliophile I have an extensive library of natural history titles – the vast majority of which I have read, and my favourites get re-read and referred to frequently.

What do I recommend? Of course it depends who for and what the desired outcome is. An obvious choice is the various books accompanying TV programmes by David Attenborough, although more adult focused, so perhaps today’s children may respond more to ‘Deadly 60’ and such like by Steve Backshall. There are various titles for the very young and early readers, such as Rumble in the Jungle (Andrae & Wojtowycz).

My personal favourite for linking learning, reading and getting outdoors exploring nature and the environment is The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell. There was a TV programme with Gerry and his wife Lee as well – but of course this was in the early 1980s. Nick Baker did a revision some 20 years later, ‘The New Amateur Naturalist’, but I still prefer the original – and if I could gift one title to the next generation, then this would be it.




ABWAK – supporting keeper development

I’m pleased to announce publication of the March issue of RATEL, the Journal of the Association of British & Irish Wild Animal Keepers (ABWAK).  I have edited and produced RATEL for over 10 years now and it is great to assist the UK, Irish & International zookeeeper community to share knowledge and expertise.

March RATEL features articles including: Barbary macaque conservation; operant conditioning in otters; positive reinforcement for lions; anthropormorphism in a zoo; and mixed exhibit of warty pigs and spotted deer.

This issue comes out as we prepare to meet for our annual ABWAK Symposium at Folly Farm, in South Wales (5-6 March). Over 160 people will be gathered together for a weekend of networking, presentations, training. Guest speakers include TV vet Steve Leonard and Barbary macaque conservationist Sian Waters.