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Meet the team: Graeme Dick, Director of Zoo Operations

Graeme Dick joined the Durrell team in 2021 as Director of Zoo Operations. Graeme’s role includes the management of the animal teams, vet department, zoo grounds, and organic farm. In this interview, Graeme gives us an insight into his work before joining Durrell and his aspirations for the future of Jersey Zoo. 
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What have been your first impressions of Durrell?  

Durrell is an incredible organisation to work for. I love the beautiful grounds of Jersey Zoo, but also to be able to be part of such a fast-paced, progressive and friendly place. It is hugely inspiring and motivating. Everyone I have met and chatted to has had the same drive and passion and that makes me hugely proud to work for Durrell and shout about the work that everyone does. I am particularly amazed at how strong Jersey Zoo’s reputation is within the local community. Jersey Zoo is famous for its rare collection of critically important species, but also for the level of skill and expertise that is found in its staff, and this has been great to witness over the past few months since I joined Durrell. Every day is a learning day, and I am truly enjoying learning from my colleagues across the organisation. 

What excited you about the role when you saw it advertised? 

There are almost too many things to list individually as to why I decided to take up the role at Durrell; the outstanding reputation of Jersey Zoo, the long-standing and durable field programmes, the sheer volume of high-quality research just to name a few. However, there were a few specific key things that most definitely made the decision to leave my last zoo and move to the island easier. The zoo and conservation world is wide-reaching but rather small and having known many of the Durrell team over the years, getting the opportunity to work alongside some of these characters was a massive draw for me personally. I also saw Jersey Zoo as a place where I felt my skills and background could really make a good impact and continue to help push Durrell and its work saving species from extinction forward. (I may have a real soft spot for aye-ayes and bats, so this definitely helped!) 

Tell us about your career leading up to working at Durrell. What have been some of your career highlights so far?  

I've been involved in zoos for over 20 years now, starting as a volunteer bird keeper in Scotland and then completing my degree in Zoology whilst working every available weekend and holiday in some of the biggest safari parks in the UK. I dabbled for a few years in veterinary medicine before deciding to remain in the animal husbandry field. This led me to take up a post for a few years at Al Ain Zoo in Abu Dhabi as Curator of Animal Behaviour and Animal Training. From there, I moved to Longleat Safari Park where I was Head of Animal Adventure. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all around the world on various conservation and animal welfare trips. A more notable highlight was the project I spearheaded for koala and wombat conservation. I was able to work closely with the South Australian Government and local NGOs on koala genetics, population dynamics and bushfire recovery. I was very fortunate to have been sent over to Australia during the 2019 bushfires to help with koala triage and rescue.

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What do you hope to achieve in this role?  

I certainly hope to be able to continue to maintain Jersey Zoo’s high standards and reputation but perhaps with a twist. Looking at the collection and how the zoo interacts with the field programmes is key to showcasing our important fieldwork to our guests. We are living in a challenging world where technology is everything and most people experience wildlife by watching TV or TikTok. The zoo is a prime and safe location to engage our wider audience about the work we do; a place for children to become passionate about all animals and a place for us to continue to develop our husbandry and field skills in a captive setting. I certainly will be looking to ensure we upgrade facilities, expand the range of species that we work with, and keep developing our people so that we can directly help with the captive management of the species we champion worldwide. 

Do you have any highlights at Durrell so far? What have been the biggest challenges? 

For me the highlights have been really getting to know everyone, making friends and colleagues and watching how the zoo changes with the seasons. The birth of the bush dog pups has been a big challenge and huge highlight to be part of. 

Biggest challenges…and there have been many. The outbreak of avian influenza and the difficulties in moving animals and scientific samples around Europe have been interesting. I do like a challenge however and believe firmly that everything is achievable, but it has definitely given us lots of long days scratching our heads. 

What inspired you to work with animals?  

I’ve always had a love for animals. I think this started when I was younger really. My first pet was a stick insect and then it really grew from there. I got involved with birds of prey when I was young, and this really ignited my passion for working with animals and their conservation. I now sit as vice chair on the raptor taxon group for Europe and this has definitely spanned from my younger years flying birds in demonstrations. Conservation is a difficult term for people to grasp sometimes and I think zoos are hugely important as a way of breaking this down in bitesize chunks. I get great enjoyment out of creating habitats for animals in the zoo and knowing that the animals you're caring for are a safeguard for the future populations is hugely reassuring. 

Do you have a favourite species that you’ve worked with?  

This is always the hardest question. I think it has to be the sengi, otherwise known as the round eared elephant shrew. They may be tiny, but they have huge personality and the tiniest wiggly noses.