Three new animal experts have boosted the team at Paignton Zoo this summer.
Dr Kirsten Pullen, the new Director of Conservation and Education, started in June.
Curator of Mammals Lisa Britton took up her post in July. And Jay Redbond, Assistant Curator, Lower Vertebrates & Invertebrates, arrived in August. Together they bring nearly 60 years of professional experience to the charity.
Kirsten is a noted gorilla expert and a familiar face, having gained her doctorate at Paignton Zoo. She’s spent the last six years in charge of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the professional body representing top zoos in the country. Lisa has come to Devon from Chessington World of Adventure, while Jay was previously at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s Slimbridge Wetland Centre.
Kirsten has good reasons for taking the job. “Having been the Director of BIAZA for six years, I wanted the chance to come back to the ‘coalface’ as it were, to try to implement some of the strategies and guidance we’d been developing. Also, I’m a Devon girl and the opportunity to do a job that I’m passionate about, in an organisation I strongly believe in, and in a part of the country I feel immensely attached to just doesn’t happen that often!”
Kirsten’s aim is to provide an environment in which her staff can excel: “I’ve worked in different zoos, each with their own strengths. For the last six years I’ve broadened my experience across the full extent of the zoo and aquarium community in the UK, within Europe and on the global stage. I’ve gained experience in developing effective partnerships, building political conversations, exploring conservation initiatives and forums as well as the practical considerations of zoo management. All of this will add to our ability to achieve the Wild Planet Trust mission of “a world rich in wild places and wildlife.
“Paignton is a beautiful site in a wooded Devon valley and really gives us the opportunity to bring native species and the exotics in our care into the lives of our guests. Our British white-clawed crayfish are just as important as our tigers or gorillas.”
Paignton Zoo’s new Assistant Curator of Lower Vertebrates & Invertebrates Jay Redbond is unfazed by having the longest job title in the organisation. He says his approach is one of “Get up and go, there is always room for improvement, nothing is impossible!”
Why did he want to come to South Devon? “I’ve heard good things about this organisation with the conservation work it’s involved in. It was also a good opportunity to get reacquainted with larger reptiles again, having mainly worked with amphibians and some invertebrates and fish for the last 12 years.”
Jay was born and bred in Gloucestershire. “I helped out in an exotic reptile shop when I was young. I was paid in live food and animals, I built up a collection of amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and native fish over the years. My main passion is tailed amphibians – newts and salamanders.” And on that subject: “My best animal moment was when I found a Chinese giant salamander (the largest amphibian in the world) during three months of survey work on secondment from WWT to the ZSL Giants on the Edge project. I am one of only a handful of people to have found all three giant salamanders in the wild.”
What will he bring to the post? “Passion, positivity and drive! But the biggest challenge is learning everyone’s names!” Having come from a Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust reserve, there is one huge difference for Jay: “At the end of the day I used to hear ducks and geese – now I hear lions and monkeys!”
Lisa Britton is clear on what motivated her to move zoos: “It’s a new challenge, and who wouldn’t want to work for Paignton Zoo? I want to bring new energy into the Mammal Department – this is an exciting time, with the TB restrictions lifted and animal moves now possible again.”
What’s her approach? “To learn the team dynamics and understand how to move the department forward. I’ll bring enthusiasm, drive and an innovative approach. No challenge is too big to handle! Having such a great research and conservation department to work alongside is a great plus.”
At Chessington she was assistant zoo manager. She recalls her best moment there as the day they opened a multi-million Amur tiger exhibit: “The build, the animal move, the zoo licence special inspections had been two years of my life, from concept design to the arrival of the cats from Sweden and the then public opening.”
In the wild, a favourite moment among many was going up the Nangaritza River in Ecuador to place camera traps. “The landscape was absolutely stunning, with its unique forest ecosystem. Our trip showed why it was paramount the area was protected from deforestation.”
The three will work closely with Newquay Zoo Curator John Meek and Living Coasts Curator Clare Rugg, as well as Alex Brotherton, who started as Paignton Zoo Curator of Plants and Gardens earlier in the year. Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.