Jersey Zoo faces calls for its board to resign amid concerns charity is not honouring Gerald Durrell’s legacy

Graeme Dick Picture: ROB CURRIE. (37721402)

ZOO members are calling for the organisation’s board of trustees to resign – amid concerns over management and fears that the charity is not honouring Gerald Durrell’s legacy.

Pressure is piling on the institution, set up by the trailblazing naturalist in the 1950s, as another top executive announced he was stepping down.

Graeme Dick, who has been the Zoo’s director of operations since October 2021, told staff that he would leave on Thursday 28 March. Durrell confirmed yesterday that this was by “mutual consent”.

However, Lee Durrell, honorary director of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, asked critics to stop using her late husband’s name and legacy to justify their actions warning they could have “dire consequences for the Durrell we all love”.

Meanwhile, Durrell trustees have released a statement saying that they take staff and animal welfare incredibly seriously and have been working with the group to address their concerns.

In a message to employees seen by the JEP, Mr Dick said that his decision to move on to “pastures new” had not been easy.

Mr Dick highlighted criticism of the Zoo, which he said had made “the last few months” a “challenging” period.

He went on to cite what he claimed were improvements at Durrell, ranging from growing the team of zookeepers, carrying out world-leading procedures, and developing better signage.

He added: “This wasn’t an easy decision, and I am not leaving the Zoo because I do not care for the animals, the work of Durrell or the team.

“In fact, quite the opposite. I am leaving because I care deeply, and I feel this is the right decision for me and also the trust at this time.”

Mr Dick’s departure comes as Durrell supporters have banded together to demand a shake-up at the top level of the organisation.

In February, a group asked members to sign a letter asking the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to call for an extraordinary general meeting to allow them to remove the charity’s trustee board.

To be able to call an EGM, 60 members need to sign a resolution. The JEP understands the group’s letter has received around 100 signatures.

The resolution reads: “The members have lost confidence in the ability of the trustees to protect and maintain the legacy of Gerald Durrell. We call for the resignation of the board and an independent investigation into all aspects of the current and recent management’s running of the Zoo.”

Mr Dick joined Durrell in 2021 in a wide-ranging role in which he oversaw the running of the Zoo and played a key role in its collection.

He wrote on the Zoo’s website that his ambition was to “maintain Jersey Zoo’s high standards and reputation but perhaps with a twist” and also to “expand the range of species that we work with”, as well as developing the team to help with global conservation efforts.

Some of the newer acquisitions, however, have drawn criticism – though Jersey Zoo maintained that it needed a mix of animals to support its commercial operation, which underpins its conservation efforts.

The Zoo denied allegations of “Disney-fying” and said it had to carefully balance the inclusion of crowd-pleasers and what Gerald Durrell called “little brown jobs”.

Mr Dick’s resignation follows other high-level departures over the past few months.

Head of mammals Dominic Wormell, a respected figure in the conservation world, left the organisation in August and wrote that the Zoo had made “changes [he] can’t support”.

A September statement from the charity’s trustees, written in the wake of strong criticism, stressed the need for balance: “Species brought in for conservation breeding purposes, which may seem less appealing to visitors, can only be supported because of the presence of more charismatic animals.”

Durrell’s chief executive Dr Lesley Dickie resigned in September after scrutiny of the Zoo’s treatment of staff and animals was reported in national newspapers. Dr Dickie has been replaced by interim chief executive Rebecca Brewer.

At Durrell’s AGM around a month later, the chair of Durrell’s trustees, Robert Kirkby, stood down, and one other trustee left that year.

Mr Kirkby cited “other commitments” and said that the decision to leave after four years was “difficult”.

Durrell said in a statement: “A small group of people, including some former employees and current members of Durrell, have expressed concerns about how the charity is run. These concerns have been raised directly with the trustees and the chief executive. For several months, the trustees have been working with the group to address their concerns and demonstrate that Durrell takes staff and animal welfare incredibly seriously, and that the correct procedures are in place to deal with these matters.

“However, the group has now said it intends to call an extraordinary general meeting, which we welcome as an important opportunity to clarify the trust’s position on these matters.”

Rebecca Brewer, interim chief executive officer, added:  “I am dedicated to finding a way forward that reassures everyone that the charity they know and love is still dedicated to Gerald Durrell’s original mission statement – ‘saving species from extinction’.”

And Lee Durrell said: “Healthy debate about management decisions and strategic direction of any organisation is to be welcomed – Gerald Durrell himself encouraged constructive criticism of the Zoo. In recent months, however, the concerns raised, albeit well-intentioned, have infused the debates with diverse agendas and unyielding opinions, which have had a negative impact on stability and morale at Jersey Zoo, and could result in dire consequences for the Durrell we all love.

“I therefore ask those people to stop using Gerald Durrell’s name and legacy to justify their criticisms. Whatever outcomes they seek, Gerry would have been deeply saddened to see the damage done to the trust to which he gave his name and dedicated his life.

“Durrell is run by a team of dedicated professionals supported by a highly committed board of trustees. Together, we are developing Gerry’s legacy to the world: his unique approach to wildlife conservation, integrating animal husbandry skills, scientific expertise and a long-term commitment to the animals, people and places we focus on, including Jersey Zoo.” 

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