Tributes paid following death of Zoo’s ex-birdkeeper Shep Mallet

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Shep Mallet, whose real name was John, was a former curator of birds at the wildlife park, where he worked for around 35 years.

He was a colourful character in the history of the Zoo and was known for his jokes and pranks – and for always wearing his wellies.

Dr Lee Durrell, honorary director of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, paid tribute to Mr Mallett, who was born in Southampton to Jersey
parents. He died on 9 February.

Dr Durrell said: ‘Shep was a great character in the annals of the Zoo and Trust, perhaps most famously for working with Gerry on a breeding programme for the rare white-eared pheasant in the 1960s, before most zoos were doing such things.

‘He was also known for his jokes and pranks, which everyone fell for. With his white hair and beard in later years, visitors often mistook Shep for Gerry, and he would lead them around the Zoo, chatting gaily about this and that animal, as if he were Gerry. Everyone went away happy.’

Writing on Facebook, former colleague Chris Haines said: ‘Shep was very enjoyable to work with. He was a great fount of stories from the early days – indeed I had read about him as a child, so it was an honour to work with him – and he loved the birds (as could be seen from his own collection at home).

‘My unique contribution in his honour was the number of visitors who would come up to me and ask to see the giraffes. At first I was mystified, then I realised that any visitor who asked Shep whether we had them would be told: “Oh yes, behind the bird centre. Ask the giraffe keeper – you can’t miss him, he’s 6 foot 8.” Or some such to that effect. Our thoughts and prayers are with Margaret, his family and friends, and all those whose lives he made a little brighter.’

Chris Siouville added: ‘I smile whenever I think of Shep…How many students were conned into thinking he’d cut off his finger or thumb during food prep, or visitors perplexed by his “gull on a string” trick we will never know, but what is for sure is [that] he touched so many lives and will be remembered with joy by all that met him.’

And Tim Ransom said: ‘We have lost one of the big characters of the Zoo. Always loved my chats and time with Shep at the Zoo and you could always depend on him to put a smile on your face, even on those few days when, as a keeper, you were having a particularly stressful day.’

Mr Mallet, whose funeral is due to take place on 22 February, leaves behind his wife of 49 years Margaret, daughter Catherine and five-and-a-half year old grandson Robert.

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