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Durrell devotees speak out ahead of charity vote

Durrell devotees speak out ahead of charity vote

Monday 29 April 2024

Durrell devotees speak out ahead of charity vote

Monday 29 April 2024


Two old hands of the Durrell world have published statements ahead of a meeting this week in which members will vote on whether the charity's board should resign and an independent investigation be carried out into the management of the zoo.

It comes after months of turmoil that has seen four senior departures and is to culminate later this week, with a vote on the trustees' future.

The Extraordinary General Meeting is set to take place on Thursday 2 May at 18:00 at the Freedom Centre in St Helier, following a formal request from 62 members, including some former staff, from a group called 'We Love the Zoo'.

The resolution proposed for debate is: 

“Because the members have lost confidence in the ability of the Board of Trustees of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to protect and maintain the legacy of Gerald Durrell, the Board of Trustees should resign and an independent investigation should be carried out into all aspects of the current and recent management's running of the zoo.”

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, two former Durrell staff members have shared their differing opinions on the resolution.

Quentin Bloxam, who worked at Durrell for over 45 years – including as a Senior Curator and as a Director of Conservation Management – was awarded an Outstanding Achievement award by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2010.

In his letter, he raised concerns about animal welfare and the conditions in which they are held, as well as about a Durrell-led rewilding project in Scotland.

In a response written on behalf of Durrell, Professor Carl Jones MBE – another Gerald Durrell disciple and leading conservationist – argued that the Zoo was working on improving conditions for animals, and that a new management team and trustees meant that the Trust had seen some significant changes in recent months.

Prof Jones's conservation credentials include being awarded the highest prize in the sector, the Indianapolis Prize, and being credited with bringing back nine species from the brink of extinction, including the Mauritius kestrel, pink pigeon, echo parakeet, Rodrigues warbler and Rodrigues fody.

Statement from Quentin Bloxam

"It is with huge sadness that I have decided to make this statement. 

"After gladly devoting 45 years of my life to the most extraordinary conservation organisation in the world, I would never have thought to read of such appalling issues at the zoo that was such an enormous part of my life. 

"I have read of animal welfare issues, staff bullying and more. Exceptional and talented staff have resigned because they could no longer tolerate the working environment at the zoo, nor the direction in which it was being led. 

"A number of these individuals were at the zoo when I was there. They are incredibly talented animal managers with great field skills, and were wonderful with our overseas trainees. To lose so many in such a short time frame is deplorably bad personnel management.  I am sure there are still many excellent animal staff at the zoo, but the unique talents of the ones that have left are a great loss. 

"I read of volunteers who raised the issues up to Board level, and who, in consequence, were informed that they were no longer welcome into the zoo for their duties.  I have seen a significant group of retired staff, recently-retired staff, and volunteers, labelled as ‘Rebels’, and accused of such threatening behaviour that security guards were needed at the entrance for the last AGM.   

"I have known many of these people for many years; they simply do not deserve these labels, and they are decent well-meaning individuals who care deeply about the zoo. They are Heads of Departments, Deputy Heads of Departments, Senior Keepers and a Director (me) and upwards. 

"After hearing of the animal welfare issues, I visited the zoo to see for myself, focusing on the sloths and aardvarks.  I really don’t accept the statements of the States Vet that there are no issues of concern.   

"The issue of the sloths’ accommodation is that it is unsuitable for a canopy-living species. There is no doubt in my mind that the States Vet’s examination took place during a quiet period of the day.  During a busy time, when the building is full of tourists or school children, the noise would be very distressing for sloths.  The comment by the Interim CEO that their management has been improved, and they now have foliage, is irrelevant. The inside of this building was never designed to hold mammals. 

"The aardvark accommodation is too small for two large-bodied mammals that need individual space.  They spend their day deep in burrows in complete darkness, and are active at night; occasionally they will sunbathe at their burrow entrance, but only occasionally, and when it is quiet.  Again this is not a suitable species for this accommodation. 

"All these issues were presented in writing to the Board, who took no action, and continue to be in denial regarding all these issues. 

"The zoo staff produced a very comprehensive collection plan in 2014.  When this was submitted to the new CEO, it was ignored.  It was also submitted to the new Collection Manager appointed by the CEO, and was ignored; ultimately it was sent to the Board, and ignored once again.  It is still fundamentally sound, although dated. With appropriate workshop discussion it would be a perfectly workable plan going forward. 

"It was with great disquiet that I read about the Scottish rewilding project.  Gerald Durrell’ philosophy was taking on ‘lost causes’: critically endangered species on a global level.  The Mauritian kestrel, pink pigeon, echo parakeet, Monserrat mountain chicken frog, Galapagos mangrove finch, Madagascar pochard and pigmy hog are just some of the many species that have been wrestled back from almost certain extinction by the work of the organisation.  The Scottish project completely fails to meet the criteria. It is simply not an appropriate conservation project for Durrell; it’s the wrong direction to be taken. 

"In conclusion, I believe that Jersey Zoo has been badly let down by the Board - who should be the custodians of this extraordinary organisation - and has been taken in completely the wrong direction.  I believe the Board, and in particular the Chairman, should be held accountable for this situation, and that changes are essential."

Statement from Carl Jones MBE

"The letter by Quentin Bloxam, a long-respected colleague at Jersey Zoo, raises issues regarding animal welfare, zoo management and the direction of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

"Like Quentin I also have a 45-year history of working with Durrell, running an overseas programme and during the last decade as its Chief Scientist. We can both claim that Durrell has been far more than a job and is a major part of our lives.  

"I agree with many of the sentiments that Quentin expresses, although with the benefit of more recent knowledge can give a more reassuring vision of Durrell.   

"The last few years have been among the most dynamic and challenging in our history with impressive achievements and the tensions that often emerge during periods of growth and change. With hindsight we see how things may have been done differently and are learning from these experiences."

The zoo at the heart of the Trust 

"Durrell’s strategy, Rewild our World, has been successful in integrating the work of the field programmes, science, education and training. Significant contributions have been made by the zoo, although it could have been better defined within our current strategy. 

"The zoo is the beating heart of the Trust, and it can make greater contributions in the future. A comprehensive collection plan is being developed considering the relative roles and needs of our animals and how they can best be used to meet our conservation goals, while supporting the necessary science, training, and education.  

"Animal welfare is always a high priority, and we strive for best practice. Quentin and others raise the issues surrounding the management of the sloths and aardvarks and we are working to optimise their care, as we continually do with all species in the zoo.  

"Durrell has always been progressive in its approaches to animal welfare. As we learn more about our animals the better we can care for them and allow them to express natural behaviours in appropriate social groups. It is our concern for our animals that has made us so successful."

World class conservation and internationally recognised staff 

"Quentin refers to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust as the most extraordinary conservation organisation in the world, a view I enthusiastically endorse. Durrell is a relatively small organisation that has had a major international influence. We have been involved in saving more species from extinction than any other organisation.  

"These successes are the result of Gerald Durrell’s vison and his ability to attract remarkable staff and volunteers to work with him. These were devoted and passionate, often eccentric characters who would rarely be seen in a suit or be able to fit into the corporate world. It is these people who have made the Trust what it is today.

"Quentin and I can both name colleagues who have grown within the Trust and played a major role in preventing the extinctions of the black lion tamarin, mountain chicken frog, orange-tailed skink and lesser night gecko to name just a few. We lament the loss of valued and creative staff and are committed to employee wellbeing and continue to attract and encourage these rare talents.  

"Durrell is being run differently today compared to only a few months ago. For the first time in our history, we have a professional conservationist as our Chair. Matthew Hatchwell has worked at the sharp end of conservation in developing countries and has worked in planning and administration. We also have new Board members and I have full confidence that they are being constructive and supportive. 

"The Senior Management Team at Durrell has been significantly altered and is in place to deliver sympathetic growth."

From species to systems 

"Working with the world’s most endangered species has aways been the mission of Durrell and is a very powerful driver for a broader conservation agenda of ecosystem restoration. Work with the black lion tamarin has driven the rebuilding of forest corridors in Brazil and our efforts with the pygmy hog have grown so that we are now restoring its grassland habitat in Assam, India. Our commitment to Round Island’s reptiles, that Quentin played a major role in, has been the motivation for rebuilding a whole community of animals and plants on Round Island, Mauritius. 

"This trend within Durrell for us to use species as catalysts for rebuilding whole ecosystems has resulted in our rewilding project in Scotland. Quentin suggests that this is at a variance with our mission of Saving Species from Extinction, since none of the animals and plants we will be working on there are globally threatened.   

Capercaillie_stock.jpg

Pictured: Durrell's work in Scotland aims to restore plants and animals to an 18,500-acre sporting estate in Perthshire. 

"As Durrell’s work develops, we need a project and training site here in Great Britain that shows how we can rebuild lost and damaged habitats. This has parallels to the zoo, which is a demonstration, training and research site for captive breeding.  

"Far from detracting from our work on Critically Endangered species, our rewilding project in Scotland is going to help Durrell become more effective on the world stage. It will demonstrate how our work on those animals often regarded as “lost causes” can be the most powerful driver for rebuilding vibrant and dynamic systems of animals and plants. 

"Durrell is showing the way forward, offering solutions and approaches. The Durrell philosophy continues to shine brightly. There is a clear vision for the future that we are working hard to develop. We are building upon the work of our staff and volunteers that have contributed so much, and together will restore a wilder, healthier, more colourful world."

READ MORE...

Cost of dealing with rebel zoo members has been "extremely high"

Durrell urges members to vote against rebels as EGM confirmed

READER LETTER: Zoo campaign group "threatening Durrell's very existence"

INSIGHT: Who are the campaign group behind the push to shake up Jersey Zoo and what do they want?

Jersey Zoo applies for "welfare" tweak and added air con for new gorilla enclosure

"Stop using Gerald's name and legacy", Lee Durrell urges Zoo critics

Zoo's Ops Director left "by mutual consent"

INSIGHT: Key resignation and campaigner concerns pile pressure on Jersey Zoo

Durrell CEO resigns as Zoo faces national scrutiny

FOCUS: Sloths, social media posts and 'snubbed' staff

FOCUS: Walking on the wild side


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