Moment of truth arrives for Durrell’s board of trustees

Gerald Durrell in 1959 nursing the new baby gorilla recently purchased. (37968801)

A VOTE that could see Durrell’s board ousted is due to take place this evening amid concerns around animal and staff welfare at the Zoo.

Durrell members, many of whom have already cast their vote online, are to gather at the Freedom Centre at 6pm for an extraordinary general meeting.

The EGM – which will also decide if an independent investigation should be carried out into the management of the Zoo – was called after a group of Durrell members, known as “We Love the Zoo”, submitted a formal request.

Their resolution reads: “Because the members have lost confidence in the ability of the board of trustees of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to protect and maintain the legacy of Gerald Durrell, the board of trustees should resign and an independent investigation should be carried out into all aspects of the current and recent management’s running of the Zoo.”

The charity has recommended that members vote against the resolution, and insisted that they take staff and animal welfare seriously.

In March, Lee Durrell, honorary director of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, also hit back at critics, calling on them to stop using her late husband’s name and legacy to justify their actions.

Months of turmoil at the Zoo have seen several senior departures and former employees speaking out to voice their concerns.

Former chief executive Dr Lesley Dickie resigned in September after scrutiny of the Zoo was picked up in national newspapers. She has been replaced by interim chief executive Rebecca Brewer.

Ms Brewer has said she is “dedicated to finding a way forward that reassures everyone that the charity they know and love is still dedicated to Gerald Durrell’s original mission statement – ‘saving species from extinction’”.

The Zoo’s director of operations, Graeme Dick, left in March, highlighting a “challenging” period in recent months in a message to employees.

In a letter shared with the JEP, Quentin Bloxam – who worked at Durrell for over 45 years – said the sloth and aardvark enclosures were unsuitable.

He also criticised the board, who he claimed had taken no action and were in denial.

But a response from another leading conservationist Professor Carl Jones, written on behalf of Durrell, said animal welfare was “always a high priority”.

Prof Jones admitted that the last few years had been “among the most dynamic and challenging in our history”, but highlighted that they had been “involved in saving more species from extinction than any other organisation”.

Speaking to the newspaper ahead of tonight’s vote, former head of mammals Dominic Wormell said it would be “silly” to ignore voices calling for change.

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