How to run a zoo
Published: Apr 24, 2019Have you ever wondered how many people it takes to run a zoo?
The answer – loads! For example, let me take you around Paignton Zoo…
Everyone knows a zoo needs keepers to look after all the animals. From elephantine Duchess to tiny tadpoles, all the animals are dependent on the expertise of our Living Collections staff. And Living Collections doesn’t just mean birds, mammals, spiders, reptiles and amphibians - we also have a wealth of plants, many of them rare and all important.
Our fantastic team of gardeners works tirelessly, not only to keep trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses healthy and the site tidy for guests, but also to maintain enough wild corners here and there to encourage native species to thrive. Some places can seem a bit overgrown at different times of the year – but look out for the many native birds, bees, butterflies and insects that use these areas.
The plants provide protection, privacy and natural enrichment in the enclosures for the animals, and some of the trees provide browse for the herbivores like giraffes and rhinos. As well as all this, the gardeners propagate and grow plants like the giant Titan arum, the biggest and smelliest flower in the world. They have even cultivated a grass that was extinct in the wild.
We have a reserves warden who looks after the nature trail and the other areas of woodland around the Zoo. He also takes care of Primley, an area of mixed grassland and trees used by local people for leisure and dog-walking. Primley is part of the former grounds of the house in which the founder of Paignton Zoo, Herbert Whitley, lived.
One of our more unusual departments is our team of vets and vet nurses. Our Vet Centre boasts operating theatres, laboratories and a quarantine unit. Our vets work to treat sick animals and to stop them getting ill in the first place, but with thousands of animals there are always a few that are poorly!
All those animals need suitable places to live, adapted to their individual needs; as you can imagine, these are as varied as the animals themselves. So we need a Maintenance team with skilled welders, electricians and carpenters. They plan, build, maintain, decorate and repair the buildings that people and animals use every day.
In order to understand the needs of the animals and study the problems of our planet, we have our Field Conservation & Research Department. Here’s a group of people with doctorates coming out of their ears and the knowledge and experience to research, study and advise on everything from animal welfare and nutrition to conservation breeding and how to save species from extinction.
We send people out into the field on trips to do research and to see the conservation projects we support in the wild. We also attend conferences, meetings and seminars, talking to conservationists from all over the world.
Our guests are very important and we have many departments devoted to looking after you, too. Our Front of House staff are the welcoming face of the Zoo, here to help you with tickets, annual passes, adoptions or animal encounter experiences. They can hire you mobility scooters and they can answer questions to make sure you get the most from your visit.
Because it is such a big site, you need signs and maps to point out where all the plants and animals actually are and information panels to explain about them when you find them. Which means we need another department. Graphics also produce posters, leaflets, videos, murals and interpretation displays. And they make name badges for staff, students and volunteers.
Out in the Zoo we have a lovely restaurant overlooking the lake with birds in the water and gibbons in the trees. We also have cabins and takeaways around the Zoo. So we have a large kitchen, a lot of kitchen staff and a Catering department to keep them all on the go. The Zoo has an awesome gift shop, too, recently remodelled to look better and work better. Here you can buy not only souvenirs and Fairtrade gifts, but also rain ponchos and umbrellas (for if it rains), T-shirts (for the summer) and even pyjamas (should you get tired…).
With all our guests and such a big site, we need a large Facilities team to pick up the litter, empty bins and keep our many toilets clean. They are so good we have won Toilet of the Year!
A lot of people work behind the scenes. We have Accounts, who keep track of the money coming in and the money going out; reception, at the heart of our telephone and keeper walkie-talkie network; and the usual administration, HR and IT people. Marketing covers advertising, events, photography, the news media and social media.
At the back of the Zoo we have stores. There’s one for retail and one for animal feed. This second looks like a very strange supermarket, with loaves of bread, every fresh fruit and vegetable imaginable, cartons of yoghurt, nuts, seeds and a variety of brown bags labelled flamingo food, rhino pellets and more. There’s a large chilled room that looks like a butcher’s shop.
To make sure we meet our targets as an environmental organisation and do the best we can for the planet, we have an Environmental Officer, who deals with everything from recycling rubbish to complicated energy monitoring and control systems.
In the middle of the Zoo is a large red building that houses two very important places. One is the indoor soft play area, a great place for children to play and very important to our Members and child minders with small children. The other is our Education department. We take the education of the many, many school children who visit the Zoo very seriously. The next generation has to be aware of the fragility of our planet and what the choices they make in their daily lives will do to their world.
One final department is the one for our volunteers. Without volunteers, the Zoo wouldn’t run as efficiently as it does. Roles are as varied as lemur warden, food prepper, garden assistant, meet and greet and fundraiser.
This is a very quick overview of the running of the Zoo. Departments could probably point out so many other things they do. So when you buy your ticket, or your lunch, and wonder what we do with all that money, think about what – and who - goes into the running of a Zoo. Your money makes it all possible, from vets to gardeners, scientists to chefs.
And that’s just here – now what about Living Coasts and Newquay Zoo…?