The inspiring zoo geek...
Published: 28th Jun 2017This inspiring former zookeeper, who kept snakes and scorpions as a child, now heads the charity's education mission.
Steve Nash happily describes himself as a recycled zookeeper and “a bit of a geek when it comes to zoos”. You might also describe him as a reptile expert and an inspiring educator – and his parents might easily describe him as a bit of a nightmare, as he was keeping snakes and scorpions in his bedroom from the age of 7.
Steve is the new Group Education Manager at the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust. He’s been with the charity, which runs Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall, for just a few weeks. He’s still in the not-quite-knowing-who-everyone-is phase – but who, exactly, is Steve?
He was raised in Northampton in the East Midlands. “Most of my earliest memories feature trips to zoos as a young child in the early 80s. Family holidays were, for me, a chance to visit a new zoo and see new animals. I have vivid memories of the old Tropical House here at Paignton, for example!”
He always wanted to work in a zoo: “From the age of 7, when I got my first pet snake, this ambition ran alongside an all-consuming interest in reptiles and amphibians which continues to this day, alongside a childhood obsession with dinosaurs that I’ve never grown out of!”
Thanks to very understanding parents, Steve’s childhood bedroom housed a varied menagerie of unusual pets, from frogs to fruit bats and scorpions to skinks. “I suspect they were very glad to wave me off to university in 1994 when I moved to Liverpool to study Zoology. Whilst at university I got my first opportunity to work in a zoo, spending 12 weeks in Cameroon working at the Limbe Zoo and following in some of the footsteps of my childhood hero Gerald Durrell.”
After graduating, he worked as a mammal keeper at Banham Zoo in Norfolk before moving to Chester Zoo’s Herpetology (amphibian and reptile) Department. It was a move to Hampshire and a position with Sparsholt College that set Steve on the education road.
He designed and built the college’s new herpetology and invertebrate facility before moving into tutoring and lecturing, assisting with the development and delivery of the programme now known as the Diploma in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals.
By the time he left Sparsholt, Steve was managing degree programmes that he had written and validated. Sparsholt has a long association with the zoo industry and whilst working there he was able to maintain an active involvement in the zoo world, holding the position of Research Liaison for the Reptile and Amphibian Working Group and sitting on the BIAZA Research Committee and Living Collections Committee.
Steve have always been a huge fan of the potential of zoos. “Zoos contribute so much but there is always scope to improve and do better and current conservation challenges mean that their importance and impact will only increase.
“In particular, I feel there is still more to do with regards to engaging our visitors, inspiring them about the natural world, and helping them to see how they can be part of the solution to conservation challenges.” This desire to inspire led him to complete an MSc in Interpretation Management: “I wanted to better understand how people think, act and behave when visiting a zoo and then use this to provide a more meaningful and engaging experience.”
“Conservation can often be quite a depressing topic, but there is also plenty to be optimistic about. We do so much great work here and my aim is to make sure that we get this across to our guests in a way that leaves them enthused and inspired and valuing the world they live in. Every species has a story and every species represents an opportunity to connect with someone.
“I’ve always been fascinated by animals and I want people to feel the same sense of awe and wonder as I do when I watch a lizard or a loris or a peacock!”