Durrell’s response to the EGM Requisitioners’ press release

A press release was issued on Thursday 11 April by the group calling for the EGM, and Durrell has provided responses to the points raised below.


EGM Requisitioners: 

Why more than 100 members of Durrell Zoo [sic] have called for a vote of no confidence in the Durrell board at an EGM. 

It is with great regret that an EGM has been called by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust members who feel that they have no option but to do so to get Jersey Zoo back on track in its mission of saving species from extinction. It is not, as has been suggested, a “targeted attack” by a “small group” but represents the concerns of an increasing number of members supported by donors and many in the wider conservation movement about the lack of stewardship of the zoo by the Board of Trustees (which numbers nine people). 

We have met the trustees on numerous occasions to express our concerns including the issues listed below, but have each time been met with denial and an unwillingness to accept that things are seriously wrong at Jersey Zoo. In the end, we felt we had no option but to follow the advice of the Charities Commissioner to call an EGM. 

Durrell’s Response:  

Since July 2023, the Trustees have engaged patiently with this group who have continued to make unreasonable and ever-changing demands. We have taken time to listen to them through dialogue and made efforts to address their concerns, including through independent mediation whose outcome was rejected by the group. The information below has already been provided to the spokespeople of the EGM requisitioners during the various correspondences and meetings with the Trustees. 

Demands that have been rejected by the Trustees include an attempt to coerce the Board into giving two leaders of the requisition group preferential treatment by co-opting them onto the Board of Trustees without any due process. This is not consistent with good governance, nor in the best interests of the Trust. The group has also made inappropriate demands in relation to individual employees, which would breach our duty of care to the staff concerned. 

The Jersey Charity Commission is an independent and impartial regulatory body whose advice in advance of the EGM was also sought by, and generously provided to, the Trust.  


EGM Requisitioners: 

1) Over the past 18 months, concerns have been raised about the management of the animal collection. Critically endangered species have left the zoo, while non-threatened animals – some of them nocturnal, and therefore unsuited to the role - have been brought in as crowd-pleasers. There remains no proper collection strategy to support Durrell’s mission. 

1. Durrell’s Response:

The mix of species at Jersey Zoo has always been a balancing act and we remain committed to finding the right balance between animals that we work with in the wild and those that will educate and inspire people on the plight of their wild counterparts. 

This approach is not new. In 2014, 45% of the species held at Jersey Zoo were classed as globally threatened. Today this figure is 48%. (44%: not threatened, 8%: not yet evaluated by the IUCN Red List) 

The threatened status of a species, in isolation, is not a good metric for conservation impact within zoos. A well-balanced collection plan in progressive zoos considers several factors when deciding which species to hold. Every species is assessed against several criteria to decide if they are an appropriate species for Jersey Zoo. 

For species in zoos to have conservation impact, they should fulfil at least one of the below categories:

  • Be part of an active conservation project for example reintroductions, such as our mountain chicken frogs and pink pigeons
  • Contribute to the knowledge of that or a similar species (known as analogue species)
  • Be used to help train other conservationists
  • Inspire the public to choose more pro-environmental behaviours

Not all of these categories require the species to be threatened with extinction. Indeed, some of these categories are very poorly fulfilled by Globally Threatened species, which may be more difficult to keep, less tolerant to changes in husbandry required to find optimal strategies, and take up more space and resources than less threatened species. 

The Anguillan racers we currently hold at Jersey Zoo are an example of an analogue species. Recent surveys have detected there are more than expected in the wild, so they are not especially threatened, but we held a population at Jersey Zoo to learn the husbandry required for a much more threatened species, the Saint Lucia racer (the world’s rarest snake). The husbandry skills we have learnt through holding the Anguillan racer has been invaluable for the team in Saint Lucia, where we have recently built a breeding facility for this species. 

Additionally, a species which is not classed as Globally Threatened may be threatened locally, as with the European Adder; Endangered in England, but Least Concern globally. If we were to select only Globally Threatened species, we risk the extinction of species on our doorstep, where we should have the greatest influence.  

We will continue to refine the species collection at Jersey Zoo, in collaboration with staff across Durrell, alongside developing a long-term strategy for the zoo, which will be part of our new organisation-wide strategy from 2026. 


EGM Requisitioners: 

2) In the past two years, an extraordinary number of staff with animal management and conservation experience cumulatively totalling more than 250 years, including several world experts in their field, have left the zoo. 

2. Durrell’s Response:

Whilst it is always sad to lose valued and long-serving employees, many of them stay in touch and become part of our wider network of professionals whose knowledge we can draw on. We are proud to have retained a huge number of our 350 staff, including colleagues that worked alongside Gerald Durrell over 40 years ago. Attracting new talent is an important part of the growth and evolution of any organisation and as such Durrell benefits from different experiences and perspectives. 

This statistic implies incorrectly that all departures in the past two years are a result of disagreement with the actions of our Board of Trustees or Senior Management Team. Confidentiality prevents us from discussing individual cases, however we conduct voluntary exit interviews whenever a staff member leaves Durrell. These are reviewed for any themes and reported to the Board of Trustees at quarterly meetings. The reasons for leaving have included retirement, cost of living, change of career, relocation, and personal reasons. 


EGM Requisitioners: 

3) There have been numerous reports of bullying of staff and volunteers despite assurances from the Chairman that there is a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, and very disturbing descriptions of inappropriate behaviour towards young female staff by a senior member of the management team. Volunteers with more than 20 years unpaid service have been asked to leave after they expressed concerns. 

3. Durrell’s Response: 

As an organisation, we have a zero tolerance to bullying and harassment and take all complaints seriously. These situations are confidential to the respective parties and therefore we cannot comment on specific circumstances or outcomes.  

However, what we can say is that we have robust policies and procedures in place. We always follow due process and act based on evidence rather than perception. We have fully investigated all matters raised to us and in some circumstances, have used independent third parties to conduct investigations to ensure impartiality.  

Transparency and clarity are key, so earlier this year, we reviewed and reissued these procedures. We are also scheduling training for managers to raise awareness of the forms of bullying and how to deal with matters appropriately.

In relation to volunteers, as with employed staff, we take our duty of care extremely seriously. Over the past few months there have been some difficult circumstances to navigate due to conflicting views amongst some of our staff and volunteers. This has meant at times we may need to adjust the programmes of volunteers or staff to ensure the safeguarding of all those involved. Just like with our staff, we are unable to comment on specific circumstances relating to individual volunteers.  


EGM Requisitioners: 

4) The trustees report an excellent financial performance; however, we understand that concerns about direction have led to donors withdrawing support. 

4. Durrell’s Response: 

We are extremely thankful to all our donors and supporters for their generosity and support of Durrell. Our work in Jersey and around the world would not be possible without their continued support and trust. 

We have contacted donors over recent weeks to reassure them that we are willing to discuss any concerns they may have, and we wish to be open and transparent about the matters raised. 

The audited financial statements demonstrate the excellent financial performance that the Trust has sustained, including a diversified income in recent years. This has enabled us to more than double our spend on conservation in the field and science over the past five years.  


EGM Requisitioners: 

5) The zoo procurement policy only requires one quote for any project. A £371K project was awarded to a UK start-up entity that falsely claimed limited status, based on one quote. Normal practice for a project of this size would be to obtain at least 3 quotes. 

5. Durrell’s Response:

The statement about Jersey Zoo’s procurement policy is factually incorrect.  

Whilst more than one quote is always preferable, there may be certain circumstances where that is not always possible or suitable. Should there be valid reasons, then one quote may be accepted, but this will always be signed off by multiple people in line with our authorisation matrix.  

The project that is referred to is the Tortoise Tunnel, home to four Aldabra giant tortoises.  

The total project spend was spread across 30 different suppliers, many of whom are trusted suppliers and contractors for Jersey Zoo who offer generous discounts in support of Durrell. The spend with the specialist UK company accounted for 40% of the total project cost, with 50% of costs allocated to local suppliers.  

The specialist zoo enclosure design and building company we worked with, although a start-up, was a registered company. The key contact at the company was professionally known by Durrell, as well as several respected colleagues in the zoo industry, from whom references were sought.    


EGM Requisitioners: 

6) The last AGM was farcical; two security guards were in attendance, while the Senior Management Team declined to show their faces. 

6. Durrell’s Response:

The decision that Senior Management Team members should not attend the AGM in October 2023 was made by the Board of Trustees. If legitimate criticism of Durrell as an organisation goes too far and becomes threatening behaviour targeted at particular individuals, it becomes an issue for the Board of Trustees which has a duty of care towards all employees. That line was crossed several times in the run-up to the AGM. Even though the behaviour might not have been intended as threatening, it can have that consequence, whether it is for staff trying to run successful fundraising events to raise money for the Trust’s work around the world, for zookeepers working to ensure the welfare of all the animals in their care, or for senior managers making difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions every day to ensure the continued smooth operation of the Trust’s global programme. 


EGM Requisitioners: 

7) Five years after a huge fund-raising effort generated approx. £1.2m from local residents and £980k was received from public Covid stimulus funding, the new Gorilla House remains an unrealised dream. 

7. Durrell’s Response:

The building of a new Gorilla House at Jersey Zoo is the biggest capital appeal in the zoo’s history. Funding for this project has been secured from a number of sources, including Go Wild Gorillas in 2019. We have a project manager and quantity surveyor appointed to manage this. 

The grant from the Fiscal Stimulus Fund was used for the preparatory works for this major build, as detailed and approved in our funding application. This work is now complete and has been reported back to the Government of Jersey via our project managers. 

The next phases of building work are planned to commence in the next few months. There was a pause in the project, partially due to significant market volatility for building supplies in recent times with costs now becoming more settled. With an enclosure such as this, there is time required to ensure the detailed specifications meets all stakeholder requirements. The design team have been working closely with the animal teams to ensure the enclosure meets husbandry standards whilst also managing the build costs.  

Donors who have generously supported this appeal have been kept updated. As with all restricted funds this income has been safely ringfenced to ensure it can only be used for this purpose. A unique project code allows us to report on all spend and income for this project in isolation. 


EGM Requisitioners: 

8) Following representations from staff and volunteers about concerns, the Trustees made a statement last August fully supporting the CEO and Senior Management, although the CEO left shortly after, reportedly after allegations of bullying and poor animal welfare, followed by the Operations Director in March. This statement has never been retracted despite evidence being provide to the Trustees. No acknowledgement of the distress caused, nor any apology, has been given to staff or volunteers by the Board or senior management. 

8. Durrell’s Response:

The August 2023 statement by the Trustees was made in response to specific allegations that had been investigated by the Board’s Audit and Risk Committee, which was satisfied with the evidence provided, explanations given and investigations conducted into the specific allegations. It was not a blanket statement about staff and animal welfare at the zoo generally and was certainly never intended to cause any distress to our team.

The Board’s commitment to the welfare of the animals and people who work at Durrell is unwavering. We continue to listen to any concerns raised by staff, volunteers, and members, and hold the Senior Management Team accountable for investigating and acting on complaints when necessary. 


EGM Requisitioners: 

9) We ask the trustees to advise the EGM how many of the staff who reluctantly left after raising concerns which were not heeded, signed compromise agreements in return for 

compensation, and how much has been spent on severance payments and related legal fees over the past two years, including 2024. 

9. Durrell’s Response:

Confidentiality rules prevent us from commenting on the specific cases of any staff. What we can say is that the costs to the Trust caused by the group of members who have requisitioned the EGM have been extremely high. In particular, the significant number of hours that Trustees and senior staff have spent engaging with this group since July 2023. This time would have been much better spent focussing on fulfilment of the Trust’s mission and working collaboratively with staff on the development of our post 2025 strategy. 


EGM Requisitioners: 

The Trustees have known about all these issues for many months but have failed to act. The Chairman and ex-Chairman have both stated that they rarely visit the zoo, and Mr Hatchwell stated that they were discouraged from doing so by the previous CEO. The fact that this did not cause the trustees to immediately look into what was happening is a clear dereliction of duty. The Chairman and several other trustees live outside Jersey. 

Durrell’s Response: 

Our Board is made up of nine Trustees, of whom six are based in Jersey and three are based in the UK. All Trustees come to the zoo frequently as members as well as for board meetings. The Trustees are actively encouraged to visit Jersey Zoo, as well as to attend staff and supporter events, and engage frequently with Durrell staff and visit Durrell sites outside Jersey. This has always been the case. 

The Trustees have a dynamic range of experience and skills, including in animal management, international wildlife conservation, professional governance, finance, law, retail, human resources and communications. 

All board positions are voluntary, which means they do not get paid for their role. 

Restricting our selection of Trustees to those in Jersey would restrict our ability to attract the talent we require to ensure our Board effectively oversees the Trust. 

Our current Chair, Matthew Hatchwell, has been in place since October 2023. He is an experienced international conservationist who has decades of experience at other zoo based conservation organisations. This experience is vital as we enter the planning phase for our next strategy where we will define the conservation role Durrell will play post-2025. Matthew’s resignation would hugely damage the Trust’s ability to deliver an impactful strategy.  


EGM Requisitioners: 

Jersey Zoo holds a special position in the conservation world, as a showcase for the excellent work the Trust carries out worldwide and a home to many seriously endangered species. Visitors from overseas often comment on how much they dislike “ordinary” zoos, but love Durrell, because it is different. We believe this difference is under threat. The board has ultimate responsibility for the running of Jersey Zoo, and the issues highlighted above have convinced many concerned individuals that the trustees are not fulfilling that responsibility. 

We therefore call for their immediate resignation, and an independent investigation into all aspects of the current and recent management’s running of the zoo. 

Durrell’s Response:

Jersey Zoo is vital to Durrell's mission but represents just one aspect of our charitable purpose. Since 2017, we've significantly expanded our global operations to maximise our impact on saving species from extinction, doubling our spend on conservation: in the field, on science and training. Today, half of Durrell’s employees are based outside Jersey. 

This campaign against Durrell’s leadership jeopardises decades of vital conservation work, both in Jersey and globally. The Trustees, with expertise covering a range of sectors, are carefully chosen to complement each other’s skills and ensure effective governance. Their resignation would disrupt Durrell's operations for years.   

The Trust’s leadership regularly solicits feedback on its performance, updates policies as required, strives to improve staff communications, and monitors our conservation impact. We need stable leadership to allow us to develop our next strategy, aligned with Gerald Durrell's enduring legacy and in close collaboration with Gerry’s widow, Lee Durrell, our Honorary Director.   


Durrell’s Board of Trustees recommends you vote AGAINST the resolution.