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FOCUS: Sloths, social media posts and 'snubbed' staff... The drama before Dr Dickie's departure from Jersey Zoo

FOCUS: Sloths, social media posts and 'snubbed' staff... The drama before Dr Dickie's departure from Jersey Zoo

Friday 08 September 2023

FOCUS: Sloths, social media posts and 'snubbed' staff... The drama before Dr Dickie's departure from Jersey Zoo

Friday 08 September 2023

From a social media post with concerns about sloths to national coverage about the alleged 'Disney'-fication of Jersey Zoo... Express explores the lead-up to the announcement of the CEO's resignation.

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust's Board of Trustees this evening announced that Dr Lesley Dickie, who joined in 2016 and has been credited for transforming the organisation, had resigned.

She will remain in post until November, then hand over to Rebecca Brewer, Director of Finance and Commercial who will take up the post as Interim CEO, the Board explained...

Social media spark


Concerns were first raised in a Facebook post by Joya Ghose, who worked at Durrell as an animal record keeper until 2019.

She said she had written three letters to the Zoo's trustees – in November 2022, March 2023 and June 2023 – but did not feel that her concerns were taken seriously.

Following the resignation of Head of Mammals Dominic Wormell, who worked at the Zoo for 34 years, Ms Ghose said she was prompted to speak out publicly about concerns surrounding the welfare of the animals in the Zoo's care.

Particular concerns were raised regarding the Guernsey goats, aardvarks and new "immersive" sloth exhibit set in the stairwell area of the Andean bears' enclosure, which is made up of ropes, poles, an artificial tree and baskets.

It was also alleged that staff did not feel able to speak up when they had a concern due to how they were treated by management.

Reviews and an inspection

While the letters had already prompted a full review of animal welfare and staff wellbeing concerns, which took place at the Trust's Audit and Risk Committee on Friday 10 March, Ms Ghose's social media post led the States Vet to get involved.

Chief Veterinary Officer Susana Ramos visited the Zoo four days later on Tuesday 29 August in the company of Durrell's Head of Veterinary Services and said she found "no reasons for concern in terms of animal welfare".

"The animals at the zoo are under constant vet care. The Animal Health and Welfare Team inspects the zoo frequently and have found no reasons for concern in terms of animal welfare," Ms Ramos reported.

"On this most recent visit, I did not highlight any welfare concerns regarding the sloths, goats and aardvarks. The Veterinary Team in Jersey Zoo maintains a good working relationship with Jersey States Vet Department."

Full support for CEO

In an official response, Durrell's Board of Trustees highlighted the outcomes of the reviews and gave their full backing to Dr Lesley Dickie.

They said the Board of Trustees "is fully supportive of the CEO and Senior Management Team and takes its responsibility for both the welfare of the animals and the wellbeing of the people that work and volunteer at Durrell extremely seriously".

The Board added that it "deplores malicious or ill-founded accusations against individuals who care passionately for our animals, are united in their aim to make Durrell the pinnacle of conservation excellence, and who strive daily to continue our Founder's legacy within a modern and forward-thinking framework."

They also stated that, given Jersey Zoo "is based on an island, with a small catchment area and reduced tourist visitation post-covid", the attraction "needs to be kept as an exciting place to visit with both new events and new species to raise the funds needed to carry out our vital conservation work".

"Today, Durrell is delivering better results in terms of conservation impact and commercial success than at any time in the Trust's history, despite the challenges we have faced over recent years," the Board added.

National spotlight on "'Disney' acquisitions"


But this wasn't enough to stop The Times from running a piece about Gerald Durrell's zoo being accused of "chasing cash with cute animals".

Bringing the row into the public eye, the article brought national attention to the suggestion that an expert had "quit over its 'Disney' acquisitions", and claimed that donors were "rattled".

The national newspaper reported that a "significant, long-term donor" had written to the charity "requesting reassurance and further explanation".

Dr Dickie's departure announced

One week to the day that report was posted, Durrell shared an update from the Board of Trustees confirming Dr Lesley Dickie's departure.

In it, they paid tribute to Dr Dickie's efforts to transform the organisation, noting that she joined in 2016, at a "pivotal moment in the history of Durrell" and that she was "key to the successful launch of Durrell’s ‘Rewild our World’ strategy in 2017."

"Since then, the Trust has been transformed while remaining true to our Founder's mission of 'saving species from extinction'," the Board continued.

"Dr Dickie’s decades of experience in zoos and conservation, combined with her innovative and optimistic approach have seen core income increase by 77%, from £6.9m in 2016 to £12.2m in 2022."

A lasting legacy

The statement went on to highlight that the Trust now "spends more money on conservation, and employs more people, than at any other time in its history".

"The Trust’s commitment to saving species and their habitats is reflected in the 73% increase in spending on mission delivery between 2016 and 2022, the most significant portion of this increase was on direct conservation in field, science and training. In addition, the number of people employed in Durrell’s Rewilding Sites has increased from 60 in 2015 to 143 in 2023 as a commitment to achieving Durrell's ambitious strategy," it read.

"In 2020, following the Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius, Dr Dickie made the bold decision to bring three species of rare reptiles to Jersey Zoo that might otherwise be facing extinction. This was no mean feat, given the travel restrictions in place at the time, as well as the urgent timescales for the translocation. Dr Dickie was also the driving force behind Durrell’s nature-based climate solution, Rewild Carbon, and Durrell’s two island-wide sculpture trails, Go Wild Gorillas in 2019 and Tortoise Takeover this summer.  

"Prior to 2016 there were concerns that Jersey Zoo would have to close due to falling visitor numbers and their impact on the financial stability of the Trust. Under Dr Dickie’s tenure, visitor numbers in 2019 reached their highest in nearly 20 years and the team is now rebuilding visitor numbers again post-Covid. More recently, Jersey Zoo has been recognised by TripAdvisor as one of their top 10% of attractions worldwide."

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Durrell CEO resigns as Zoo faces national scrutiny

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