Facilitating Wildlife, Wild Places and Communities Globally: A Conversation with Gordon McGregor Rei

The Chester Zoo is not only regarded as one of the premier zoos of the world but as a conservation powerhouse. This is largely because of the ambition and leadership of Dr. Gordon McGregor-Reid, who led the zoo from 1995 to 2010. Among his accomplishments at the institution were rebuilding much of the zoo, putting into place world-class animal wellness practices, doubling attendance to become the 2nd most attended paid attraction in the United Kingdom and setting up a strong field conservation program. Reid served as an important leader in the profession as President of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and wrote many important papers on zoo conservation. Here is his story.

@ Gordon McGregor Reid

Prior to coming to the Chester Zoo, Gordon McGregor Reid developed a good reputation within the academic and natural history museum worlds. “I originally trained in research at the University of London in conjunction with the Natural History Museum and, from this, took an evidence-based approach to many things in life,” he explained. “Museums aren’t that different from zoos in many respects, including programs in conservation, education and science. My time in museums in charge of living and preserved exhibits made me particularly interested in education, interpretation and storytelling. At that time, museum exhibitions offered better information and more thematic excitement than those at zoos, where interpretation guided by visitor surveys was often rudimentary or non-existent.” Gordon’s time in museums inspired his later work at the Chester Zoo. “I thought our zoo should use a lot more scientific evidence in determining strategy whether in biological curation, education, marketing or business," Reid stated. "I always wanted to bring much more of a rational, research-based approach to zoos generally.”

@ Gordon McGregor Reid

The museum world gave Gordon McGregor Reid some experience with live animals, albeit in a limited capacity. “My job in the Liverpool Museum put me in charge of the largest museum-based aquarium and vivarium in the UK,” Reid said. “In a later move to the Horniman Museum, London, I restored a dilapidated public aquarium and started the first ex situ breeding programs for rare and endangered cichlid fishes. We also bred invertebrates (including coral and honey bees on display), amphibians, reptiles and small mammals such as North American ground squirrels; and there was a park with deer and wallabies in the museum grounds. As a zoological museum curator, I had a wide range of disparate management responsibilities including answering animal-related public health enquiries, running a taxidermy lab, developing specimen preservation facilities, tending a paleontology and physical anthropology collection and looking after the welfare of live animals on display.”

@ Gordon McGregor Reid

A change in official policy regarding animals in museums led him a step closer to working in zoos. “When I was in the museum world in the 1980s, there came the Zoo Licensing Act,” Reid said. “If a museum had a live animal display, however small, it had to go through the same legal accreditation procedures as a mainstream zoo. I successfully gained zoo licenses for both the Liverpool and Horniman Museums. Curators in other museums would often ask me what to do about licensing their own facilities and so I circulated and then published advisory museum guidelines. From this, the UK government’s zoo licensing department invited me to train as a part-time zoo inspector, initially for museums in the UK and later covering accreditation for public aquariums and smaller mainstream zoos as my experience grew.”

@ Grodon McGregor Reid

Reid’s time as a government zoo inspector led him to meet Dr. Michael Brambell, then the distinguished Director of the Chester Zoo (a charitable trust, The North of England Zoological Society). “We got on like a house on fire and, in 1991, he asked me to apply for the new Curator-in-Chief position at the Zoo, which appointment involved a huge learning curve for me," Reid elaborated. "Frankly, my knowledge of larger animal husbandry was pretty limited but the good thing about working in a zoo is it brings you down to earth. I had to be honest about my deficiencies and my zoo staff kindly taught me the basics of what I urgently needed to know and generously shared their great knowledge with me.” In 1995, the Chester Zoo needed a new leader “Michael was ready to retire and, to my surprise, I was encouraged to apply for the directorship,” Reid remembered. For the next fifteen years, he led the Chester Zoo to unprecedented success and also became a prominent name in the world of conservation and animal welfare.

@ Chester Zoo

When he succeeded to the director’s chair, the zoo was not in the best financial shape. “There had been some grave economic problems and a recession, beginning in Michael’s time, and these continued into my administration,” Reid explained. He changed some of the institution’s priorities towards dealing with key animal welfare issues and attracting more visitors to pay for improvements. “The earlier focus had understandably been on upgrading basic infrastructure – important things like sewage treatment, toilets, gates and public spaces - but I was more concerned about developing better facilities for animals,” Reid recalled. “There were certainly a lot of chronic problems in the zoo. Animal houses were showing their age – leaky roofs, poor insulation and so forth - and hoof stock were overwintered on soft, sometimes waterlogged, paddocks rather than the hard standings that are better for healthy feet. We started creating new facilities on a limited budget and, using team work, we developed a new mission and an implementation strategy and prioritized a list of urgent things to address.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

The nature of exhibits radically changed too. “We wanted integrated, mixed-species exhibits with a conservation theme,” Reid enthused. "So we moved away from regimented ‘stamp collections’ of animal taxa displayed in traditional ‘silos’ such as ‘reptile house’, ‘mammal house’ and ‘bird house’. Instead, we sought to demonstrate natural ecology by having animals from particular biotopes displayed together in the same space, provided that this did not compromise breeding, safety or welfare. At first funds were tight so, for example, we netted over our old, abandoned polar bear exhibit (made from repurposed WW2 tanks traps!) and had Black vultures and other threatened European birds fly in it, interpreting it as Europe on the Edge. Similarly, we netted an old brown bear exhibit and made it Condor Cliffs for Andean condors to fly, nest and breed in. The old Monkey House was showing wear and tear so we tore that down and created an ‘Islands’ theme, highlighting threatened island species. One development advantage we had is clay in the zoo’s soil, so we could dig moats that naturally filled with water and served as a cost-effective security barrier for primates. George Mottershead, our founding Director, and the outstanding Michael Brambell after him, had been the first to keep chimpanzees on a free-ranging moated island - a ‘zoo without bars’ - so we did the same thing for the Celebes macaques, lemurs, orangutans and many other species.”

@ Chester Zoo

The first major project during Reid’s tenure was Twilight Zone, which would become the largest free-flying bat cave in Europe. “That was triggered by the fact that we had a nocturnal house full of species and individuals but had far too many of these in a cramped, bungalow-like space,” he remarked. “We replaced this with a very large internally-themed, well-interpreted agricultural building for bats and others such as cave fishes and invertebrates. This was much more beneficial for welfare and exciting for visitors. The threatened Rodrigues fruit bats could here fly for long distances, so greatly improving flight muscles, general behavior and reproductive success. My overall vision was having fewer species but doing much better for the species we had, adding where possible rare and endangered kinds. There was naturally a lot of initial resistance from our charity governing board and some staff about reducing the number of species at the zoo - as they believed it would reduce ‘attractive variety’ and thus public visitation and income. However, the opposite proved to be true when thrilled guests had bats flying around them in an open, immersive twilight exhibit.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

The Chester Zoo became renowned for its breeding success with the critically endangered black rhinoceros. This program was expanded with the opening of Tsavo in 2003. “There was an existing basic facility for rhinos where ‘Emma’, one of our first rhinos, was born,” Reid recalled. “Again, we created well-drained paddocks to upgrade rhino welfare and extend grazing opportunities; but we also wanted at the same time to greatly improve the guest experience. We created massive indoor rhino facilities as dayrooms in the form of walk-through, thatched mud huts accessible to the public. We themed the whole zone as Tsavo, [which let us talk about] our growing field experience in national parks in Kenya. We even included a large thatched cafeteria, complete with museum-style African artifacts. This, coupled with innovative interpretation, produced a strong visitor response.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

In 2004, the Chester Zoo opened Bears of the Cloud Forest, home to Andean bears from the mountains of South America. “We had a long fascination with Andean bears and we wanted to work with a bear species that was on the Red List,” Reid recalled. “We created large outdoor areas where the bears could roam freely. We built-up an excellent gardens department who recreated a sub-tropical landscape. We started breeding Andean bears and had cameras behind the scenes to show cubs to the public.”

@ Chester Zoo

Cloud Forest was a reflection of the Chester Zoo’s new focus on natural zoo horticulture, including the cultivation and display of threatened plants. “We worked harder and harder to create exhibits that looked like the native habitat,” Reid noted. “We recruited Mark Sparrow (ex Kew Gardens) to take over botany and horticulture and moved away from municipal ‘rose gardening’ and ‘bedding’ to naturalistic vegetation. Now the animals would feel more at home and the public could appreciate their native environment.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

With rapidly growing financial success, Reid’s emphasis on helping endangered animals became ever stronger. “We focused on those species listed as Threatened on the IUCN Red List,” he elaborated. “We didn’t have a proper inventory of rare species back then, so we came up with the idea of closely documented management system for our endangered species, including threat status and zoo breeding successes, published every year in the NEZS Annual Report. This system was quickly taken up by other zoos at home and abroad and helped compliment the international computerized Animal Record Keeping System (ARKS) which was becoming generally available. We resolved to do progressively more for conservation so, for example, we transitioned from common African lions to rare Asian lions, who had a very small and threatened wild population."

@ Chester Zoo

"In our Collection Plan we always looked at where we could add rare species, such as replacing common zebra with endangered Grevy’s zebra," Reid continued. "We steadily progressed from 25% of the collection being on the IUCN Red List to more than 50% of the collection being on it.”

@ Chester Zoo

Of course, Reid famously led the Chester Zoo to saving species and habitats through outreach work in range countries. “When I arrived at the zoo we certainly had an interest in conservation but we didn’t have any overseas field programs," Reid explained. "From my museum and academic research days, I had routinely done fieldwork in the tropics, with long spells in Africa, so it seemed like an obvious thing to do. We took much inspiration from Gerald Durrell and the Jersey Zoo (now Durrell foundation) which worked extensively in the field and encouraged all zoos to become engaged in field conservation programs.”

@ Chester Zoo

“The World Wildlife Fund contacted me to ask about Chester Zoo getting involved in a national park in Gashaka, Nigeria,” Reid noted as an example. “I went out there to conduct an original study in aquatic conservation and also took a first look at the park’s chimpanzees and chimp nests. It was clear we could engage mammal department and other staff in this and develop a chimpanzee conservation project in collaboration with WWF, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and University of London researchers. Dr. Mark Pilgrim, then Chief Curator, and Dr. Roger Wilkinson, Head of Conservation at Chester Zoo, developed a whole series of worthwhile partnership initiatives to help the local Gashaka villagers. We supported academic work on chimpanzee behavior in the wild and paid for practical measures such a helping to designate a clear park boundary to minimize accidental or illegal incursions of cattle herders and poachers.”

@ Chester Zoo

This focus on supporting wildlife, wild places and local communities in range countries became front and center at the Chester Zoo. “We aimed to do something for species in the wild and also give the local human population the means and a reason to conserve each species,” Reid articulated. “After a number of years, we were working on numerous projects in some 50 countries around the world. Now we’ve consolidated projects into programs in a more cohesive way for about 35 countries, so as not to spread our money and other resources too thinly. We wanted to use the surplus visitor income generated by the zoo to invest back in field conservation. We often provided technical expertise to help projects and support sustainable human activities harmonious with wildlife - for example the Assam Haathi project where we assisted farmers in planting cordons of peppers to deter elephants from crop raiding and sometimes fatally injuring villagers. Through research, we determined that the smell of fermentation from home brewing strongly encouraged elephants into villages to break down walls to get at the beer! Advice and remedial measures greatly reduced human fatalities.”

@ Chester Zoo

Another part of the challenge was inspiring the Chester Zoo visiting public to become engaged with conservation. “First, we did this with basic interpretation and then developed more innovative approaches, such as challenging children to physically operate puzzle feeders that provided behavioral enrichment for the animals," Reid elaborated. "We hired outstanding educators Stephen McKeown, from Edinburgh Zoo and Dr Maggie Esson from Jersey Zoo. They conducted visitor research and started to use sights, recorded sounds, touch and synthetic smells to create multi-sensory communications, personal discovery and strong emotional responses. We stimulated all their senses to explore and experience something they hadn’t before; and scientifically measured the impact or educational outcomes. For instance, black rhinos urinate backwards to mark territory, so we had a hygienic water jet deliver at unexpected intervals from a fiberglass rhino backside!This sprayed guests lightly to evoke that biology and generated surprise, fun and much laughter alongside the educational message.”

@ Chester Zoo

“At first it was a slow process getting the public truly inspired and emotionally engaged with conservation,” Reid continued. “We started growing the core zoo membership from a few hundred to many tens of thousands. My dedicated team and I would give regular lectures about successful zoo conservation projects at home (barn owls, sand lizards, harvest mice) and abroad (elephants, rhinos, jaguars, chimpanzees, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, invertebrates and, latterly, threatened plants). We also revamped our zoo members magazine and initiated a website to raise awareness for what we did. As that expanded, we tried to create more opportunities for members and general visitors to select and invest in the animals and conservation enterprises they thought were most interesting and worthwhile. You could ‘adopt’ animals and get a plaque in the zoo, which proved to be very popular. We everywhere explained to guests that what you could see in the zoo we also helped in the wild. Eventually, via ‘new social media’, we encouraged donations through mobile phones - as in our ‘Realm of the Red Ape’ (orangutan) exhibit. Word of mouth spread, the visitors streamed in and our guests, young and old, became more-and-more engaged.”

@ Chester Zoo

The Chester Zoo’s organization and structure grew accordingly, with greatly enlarged animal, veterinary, research, guest services, marketing, catering, retail, information technology, finance, planning, education and exhibit development functions. “In the education department for instance we employed dynamic presenters to mingle with guests out in the zoo and whip up enthusiasm," Reid stated. "We started a local outreach program where we had a dedicated bus go out with presenters, materials (and sometimes small species like snakes, stick insects and hissing cockroaches) to show schools what our zoo is all about - and that all good zoos were concerned about animal welfare, conservation, environmental education and sustainable living. Later, our education outreach spread to tropical field programs and projects, complementing our rapidly expanding animal conservation, sustainability and research initiatives.”

@ Chester Zoo

When it opened in 2001, Spirit of the Jaguar was a milestone exhibit for the Chester Zoo. “This was certainly a huge one for us,” Reid said. “This was when we began moving in the direction of getting large-scale external sponsorships. Hitherto, we didn’t have jaguars and thought they’d make an interesting and worthwhile exhibit. Through our outstanding conservation staff member Dr Alexandra Zimmerman we were also aware of conflict between jaguars and cattle ranchers leading to slaughtered wild jaguars. With expert input from John Regan our new Development Manager, we made a strong pitch to the Jaguar Car Company. We stressed that if jaguars became extinct in the wild this would be catastrophic for the company image or brand. That message hit home. They most generously agreed to millions of dollars in funding for a large in-zoo development; plus conservation field work in the Brazilian Pantanal, also engaging with cattle ranchers.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

Spirit of the Jaguar was a ground-breaking naturalistic exhibit for European zoos. “We created a spacious internal ‘jungle’ display, plus an outside moated island, netted over for high security,” said Reid. “This was richly planted by our skilled horticulturalists, which gave us an opportunity to create an interesting environment and do lots of behavioral enrichment work with the jaguars. It was a most successful exhibit.” It also created a milestone attendance for Chester. “When the zoo was struggling in the late 80s and early 90s, our figures were on or below 700,000 visits each year, hardly enough to sustain our operations or feed our ambitions,” explained Reid. “Helped by the jaguar exhibit we exceeded one million visitors and, with successive large and small exhibits - and greatly improved marketing and guest care, including new shops, restaurants and special events - we moved visitor figures far higher than we reasonably expected. When I left my CEO post in 2010, over 1.5 million visitors came to the Chester Zoo each year, making us the second most-visited charged-entry attraction in the UK - after the Tower of London!”

@ Chester Zoo

Not only did attendance increase but so did the Chester Zoo’s reputation, income and external awards in an upward spiral. “The gospel spread first to the wider Northwest England community,” Reid recalled.“Then we found increasing numbers of guests coming from all over England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and even continental Europe. Our commercial turnover had steadily risen from a few million pounds per annum to over £25 million a year, happily allowing us to devote even more money to conservation, education and associated science - including through our carefully monitored and audited grants program for external applicants from around the globe.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

In 2006, the Chester Zoo opened the Secret World of the Okapi, bringing the shy, elusive Congo Basin relative of the giraffe to the zoo. “We got our first opportunity to keep Okapi, which excited us as they were a husbandry challenge and from western-central Africa, where we already had field projects,” remarked Reid. “We thought it would be especially interesting to interpret them and their ‘hidden’ jungle world. Mark Pilgrim and his team did wonders to create an outstanding space for Okapi. EAZA studbook inspectors found the facility most satisfactory and we duly received Okapi for breeding. It was a thrilling time and, within that exhibit, we had several smaller living exhibits to show the general ecology of that rainforest region.”

@ Chester Zoo

That same year, the Chester Zoo opened Elephants of the Asian Forest, home to some of the zoo’s most iconic residents. “The old elephant facility wasn’t large enough and we had a traditional ‘hands-on’ approach to elephant management, which regrettably has grave safety risks associated with it,” Reid recalled. “We wanted to focus on Asian elephants as we thought we could help build up the breeding population along with other partner zoos. We built a modern ‘protected contact’ facility with very deep sand where elephants could dig and give birth on soft substrate. We worked hard on theming and tied that into our field projects in Malaysia and India.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

For decades, the Chester Zoo has had ample breeding success with Asian elephants. However, the new facility allowed the zoo’s herd to really thrive. “There have been issues in Europe with elephant infections such as herpes so we had to keep a close eye on that and put in precautionary healthcare procedures,” said Reid. “We trained the elephants so that we could take blood samples more easily and encouraged them to raise their feet up so we could check them. We improved diets and brought in a lot more browse.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

The Chester Zoo’s focus on elephant wellness relates to the larger cultural transformation in care and wellness at the zoo. “We were perhaps the first zoo in Europe to recruit a full-time, research-grade nutritionist (Dr Andrea Fidgett),” Reid enthused. A major advance at the Zoo was more health training and behavioral enrichment. “Initially, training developed through the veterinary care program," Reid noted. "We wanted to be able to demonstrate natural behaviors as part of a necessary veterinary procedure. For instance, we’d get sea lions to raise their flipper not as part of a circus act but as part of a health check. We did widespread behavioral enrichment to get the animals more active; and departed from the traditional zoo approach of feeding the animals at set times to intermittent feeding throughout the day, making animals work to find food. We developed special feeders so the primates and other animals had to solve puzzles to get a food reward. That kind of technique was great for their mental health and also good for guest education.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

As Director, Gordon McGregor Reid served as the public and professional face of the zoo and was determined to have Chester regarded as a mature, full-fledged, responsible conservation organization. He did not even mind debating the zoo’s mission and values with its severest critics. “A very rainy day where animal rights demonstrators were outside the zoo getting soaked," Reid remembered. "I went up to them and said ’why don’t you come in and have a warming cup of coffee and a tour’. That way, I could show them some of the things we did and how, despite their obvious reservations, we actually had a positive attitude to animal welfare. The demonstrators came in and I showed them around the zoo. They had never been in before and were not familiar with what we did and why. They were most surprised to see free-ranging marmosets running around the zoo and returning to heated feeding stations and nest boxes. They smiled, thanked me, went back out to the entrance, furled up their protest banners and disappeared, never to be seen by us again.”

@ Chester Zoo

The Chester Zoo became involved in a number of zoo association (BIAZA and EAZA) campaigns to promote positive attitudinal changes among the wider public and politicians. One of the most successful of these was participation in the ‘EAZA Madagascar Campaign’ organized by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. “We had gotten really involved with BIAZA and EAZA and started running programs for them such as studbooks and taxon advisory groups or TAGs,” Reid recalled. “We also wanted to contribute to impactful advocacy campaigns like Bushmeat. After the success of this, another thing proposed was having a campaign focus on a whole country and the range of species and issues there, so EAZA, via Alex Rübel, suggested Madagascar to the participant zoos. This was interesting and exciting for us as we kept Madagascan species and were well known for breeding several rare species of lemur. I had actually supervised a Chester zookeeper for a successful PhD thesis on lemur behavior and conservation. His results, using our free-ranging Lemur Island exhibit, helped to inform IUCN-SSC ‘soft reintroduction’ strategies. We also wanted to work with Madagascan authorities and promote tourism.”

@ Chester Zoo

Reid argued persuasively that the plight of Madagascar is an example of why conservation programs need to work with people as well as animals. “We always have to give locals a reason to conserve wildlife," he remarked. "Bringing money into the country through ecotourism is one way of doing that. We also wanted to help raise substantial amounts of cash to award grants to worthy conservation projects in the field in Madagascar. This was a most successful EAZA campaign and, as I recall, the partnership of zoos raised some 250 thousand euros.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

Gordon remains enthusiastic about EAZA, “They work really well as a regional association of more than 40 countries and foster a positive spirit of international collaboration," Reid stated. "EAZA introduced strict accreditation standards, so any zoo that does not meet these high benchmarks couldn’t be a member, or remain as one. EAZA also became a big center for coordinated programs between individual zoos, national TAGs, international studbooks and overarching global species survival plans. I was, for instance, chair of the EAZA Research Committee which produced a published ‘Research Strategy’ (2008) for zoos and aquariums. Working with Dr. Heather Koldeway, I also established and chaired the first Fish and Aquatic Invertebrate TAG of BIAZA and then EAZA coupled with EUAC (the European Association of Aquarium Curators). Here, I first introduced the idea of organized international programs for breeding endangered fishes and aquatic invertebrates. Strangely, there was initially a bit of resistance to genetically-managing fish populations but our FAITAG team brought forward immensely successful breeding programs for cichlids, seahorses and tadpole shrimps, among many others.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

On a global scale, Gordon McGregor Reid has also organized important work for IUCN-SSC and Wetlands International; for the Linnean Society of London, as President (2003-2006) of the venerable institution where Darwin and Wallace first gave their joint paper on the ‘Origin of Species’; and for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, joining Council and eventually serving as President. “I established and chaired both the WAZA Aquarium Committee and the Marketing Committee, and organized the first international conferences for both," Reid stated. "I also worked closely with Drs George Rabb, Onnie Byers, Bob Lacy and Jörg Junhold to establish the WAZA Climate Change Taskforce; and also the ‘Amphibian Ark’ - a global partnership between WAZA and the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group and Amphibian Specialist Group of IUCN-SSC. Among other things, we helped organize the ‘Year of the Frog’ (2008) as a successful global conservation awareness-raising and fundraising initiative.”

@ Chester Zoo

Reid became WAZA President (2007-2009) after many years of ‘apprenticeship’ on their Council, mentored by luminaries such as Ed McAllister, Willi Labuschagne, Alex Rübel and Karen Sausman. “There was a superb team involvement, especially with Jo Gipps, in producing a revised ‘World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy’,” said Reid. “Becoming President was at the same inspiring and humbling for me. We moved forward to radically reorganize the committee portfolios for, among other things, better focused policies and outcomes in animal population management, veterinary care, conservation science and sustainability; and I introduced stronger regional zoo representation on Council to greatly improve global collaboration. Following wide consultation, we developed a ‘WAZA Corporate Strategy to 2020’ resulting in us engaging more closely with the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD Aichi Targets) and moving WAZA headquarters to work alongside IUCN in Berne, Switzerland, and even share the same premises."

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

“I felt that the world’s aquarium community wasn’t as united as it could be in the service of conservation, so Dr Mark Penning (then Chair of the WAZA Aquarium Committee) and I organized a team effort to produce and publish WAZA’s ‘Turning the Tide: A Global Aquarium Strategy for Conservation and Sustainability’ (2009)," Reid stated. "We got this endorsed by several other big agencies, such as WWF, Wetlands International, Conservation International, Fauna and Flora International and the IUCN Species Survival Commission. Importantly, it was adopted by and had a big impact on the global aquarium community and aquarium trade itself.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

In 2007, the Chester Zoo opened Realm of the Red Ape, a state-of-the-art habitat for orangutans. “We had a fair bit of breeding success with Bornean and Sumatran species but they were in an old agriculture building that wasn’t as secure as it could have been,” Reid recalled. “We revamped this into a space with large outdoor moated habitats and several internal enclosures filled with climbing opportunities and other behavioral enrichment. We developed a far bigger and better managed orangutan program and displayed other animals like pythons to illustrate the threatened ecology of Borneo and Sumatra. Realm of the Red Ape certainly allowed us to raise more money for orangutan conservation and develop important partnerships in the field."

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

One of Gordon McGregor Reid’s last projects was unveiling ‘Natural Vision’, a proposal for a massive African rainforest habitat under domes featuring gorillas, chimpanzees and other threatened African wildlife. “Our team, working with Chester Zoo’s Simon Mann, completed outline architectural plans, business plans and fundraising projections; and one of my last acts was getting local authority permission to build it,” he stated. However, after Reid retired, growing financial pressures put this ambitious project on hold. The new Chester Zoo Director Dr Mark Pilgrim successfully repurposed the original concept and raised large amounts of money to plan in detail and then build ‘Islands’. This recreated, on a huge and impressive scale, the rainforests of Sumatra, the Philippines and Indonesia and featured iconic species such as Sumatran tigers, sun bears, binturongs, Sumatran orangutans, Malayan tapirs, gharials, Visayan warty pigs, cassowaries, anoas, babirusas and many species of rare Asian birds and freshwater fishes. “Mark Pilgrim and his outstanding team were very imaginative with Islands and I am delighted that this has been such a huge success and a leap forward in contemporary zoo design,” Reid praised.

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

In 2010, Gordon McGregor Reid retired from the Chester Zoo as one of the greatest, most visionary zoo directors of all time. “I wanted to get back to zoological research and my personal conservation projects and I judged it was time for a younger, more dynamic group to take over,” he reflected with a smile. “The Zoo Council, with extraordinary kindness, awarded me a sabbatical as ‘Director Emeritus’ generously funded for three years. This allowed me to teach conservation medicine to masters’ students at the University of Liverpool Veterinary School, to chair the IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, and to become a Scientific Research Associate at my ‘old home’ the Natural History Museum." In 2014, Gordon edited and contributed chapters to a reflective, landmark volume on the ‘History of Zoos and Aquariums: From Royal Gifts to Biodiversity Conservation’. He continues to keep busy with his lecturing, research, conservation and domestic hobbies. “Retiring thankfully allowed me to diversify and fully participate in things that I have long been especially interested in,” he smiles. “This said, I will always have the highest regard for my many friends in the zoo and conservation world and a very soft spot for Chester Zoo, the lovely animals, staff, zoo trustees, members and guests.”

@ Chester Zoo

@ Chester Zoo

“I see the future role of zoos in terms of facilitating global conservation and welfare initiatives in a cohesive and fully integrated way," Reid reflected. "Many things have been learned in zoos that can be applied to the wild situation and we can be huge funders for field conservation and reach ever-larger audiences, even non-zoo visitors and politicians. The field of conservation psychology is really taking off and, from this, we can help improve public attitudes to nature. This is a big part of what zoos can do. We can be advocates and actually inspire conservation in the wild, while as a ‘back stop’ manage living collections ex situ plus preserve gene-banks [he was a founding member of the ‘Frozen Ark’- a zoo, museum and research center partnership]. We must necessarily give people more reasons to conserve wildlife, highlighting essential ‘ecosystem services’ - from aesthetic pleasures to commercial fisheries and wild game ranching, to natural medicines and the vital oxygen from plants. Building partnerships with other like-minded agencies is extraordinarily important as is working directly in the field for species and habitat recovery. At home and abroad, we need to focus on carefully coordinated wildlife management plans agreed with the host countries and local people, work on protected areas and on habitat restoration; and cover contingent issues such as climate change, pollution, poaching, alien invasive species, wildlife health, sustainable human livelihoods, recycling and, of course, poverty alleviation. Zoos will, I hope, also take courage to help address current issues in human overpopulation and population management; and to counter the strange but widespread modern public and political skepticism over the value of science in society.”

@ Gordon McGregor Reid

"Ultimately, zoos and aquariums must relate closely to who we are as individuals, to our personal values and lifestyle choices as custodians of the planet," Gordon McGregor Reid concluded. "We can all take our own worthwhile small steps in environmental protection, such as selecting biodegradable or reusable shopping bags. Zoos have huge opportunities in promoting such simple actions to prevent damaging plastic waste entering the environment. Of course, this lies alongside rescuing and breeding endangered species, with the eventual prospect of successful reintroductions to nature. That still remains valid as an important zoo goal. I have had fantastic opportunities to work with outstanding teams inside and outside of the zoo. At some point you need to pass on the baton and let others build on what you’ve done to create bigger and better programs. Yes, I hope I have made a worthwhile contribution as an individual but I mostly see myself as just one active member of a wonderful local and global conservation movement.”

@ Gordon McGregor Reid

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I'm a 23-year old wildlife enthusiast, conservation and animal welfare advocate, environmental activist and zoo fanatic who aspires to work in zoo public relations or education. I am here to share some insight into the world's best zoos to show all the great things they are doing. 

 

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