Zoo time: Anatomy of a small estate.
Twycross Zoo, a conservation charity, may be world famous for its monkeys and apes, attracting half a million visitors each year, but many of the challenges this 87-acre estate faces on a daily basis will be familiar to CLA members.
Consider, for example, the work involved in maintaining over 3km of gravel paths linking 75 buildings with public access and 30 acres of parking. The expression ‘stock proof fencing’ takes on a variety of meanings when your stock includes elephants, leopards, chimpanzees, penguins and meerkats.
The weekly animal feed delivery includes tonnes of fruit , vegetables, meat and insects for the zoo animals. This is in addition to the 35 tonnes of dry food and 2,500 bales of hay consumed each year.
It is testament to the Zoo’s environmental credentials that around 97 percent of the 1,100 tonnes of waste produced every year is recycled, either through the onsite composting system, or by a nearby energy from waste plant. There are environmental solutions to waste water on site too, with 9.3 acres of wetland ‘TZ Nature Reserve’ encompassing a 19-pond reed bed system used to process waste water.
Twycross Zoo Chief Executive Sharon Redrobe said: “What people see when they visit the zoo is the tip of the iceberg! There is a lot going on behind the scenes to maintain and renew an infrastructure that not only suits the animals but allows the public a memorable day out. Our Health and Safety programme has to cover staff and visitors and take into account quite unusual working environments. Zoo welfare standards are always advancing (and rightly so!), and with the welfare of the animals our priority, we have to be planning and building new exhibits on a constant rotation which can be a logistical and funding challenge! ”
The zoo today is a major rural business making a huge contribution to the local economy, employing around 200 staff with a turnover of around £10M - a far cry from its humble beginnings in a pet shop in Sutton Coldfield. The brainchild of once-competing pet shop owners Molly Badham and Nathalie Evans, their shared loved of primates led them to open Twycross in 1963 and see them set standards which were to be followed by zoos around the world for years to come. They brought a step change in how monkeys were kept by giving them access to grass when many zoos still kept them in sterile cages.
Now a registered charity, Twycross Zoo East Midlands Zoological Society is renowned as a European specialist primate centre having wide variety of monkeys, the biggest gibbon collection in Europe and being the only zoo in the UK with all four kinds of Great Ape (gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and orangutan). The zoo’s importance is put into perspective when you learn that all of the Great Apes will be extinct in the wild within 20 years – Twycross Zoo is a member of the UN initiative (GRASP) to work to prevent this. In addition, Zoos currently act as an ‘ark’ whilst also trying to keep the wild population safe. Twycross Zoo sits on the European Association’s ‘Great Ape Committee’ which by managing the breeding of apes across European Zoos, is ensuring the captive population will remain genetically viable for 100 years. Twycross Zoo, in line with many charitable zoos, doesn’t buy and sell its animals anymore but swops them around using studbook management systems, familiar to cattle farmers, transferring animals around Europe and even America. The role of the modern zoo is now to keep rare species safe and is exemplified by the 30 percent of the species at Twycross which are classed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically-Endangered by the IUCN.
As well as being at the forefront of conservation, research occurs in collaborations with 26 UK Universities plus the zoo’s classrooms teaching over 30,000 children every year! The Zoo was recently the recipient of a grant from the CLA Charitable Trust to help develop learning programmes for young people.
The Zoo will continue to place a strong emphasis on creating natural habitats for our animals to live in, explain to the public the risks faced by the wild populations and what we can do to help (recycling mobile phone reduce the need to mine metals out of African rainforests!). There is a strong commitment to an education programme within the zoo which aims to increase the level of awareness, knowledge and understanding of visitors about the natural world and the role of the modern, scientific zoo in helping to save species.
Once you realise what goes on behind the scenes, a visit is all the more rewarding.
To find out more about visiting the Zoo and supporting its conservation work, see www.twycrosszoo.org or call 0844 474 1777