The new boss of London Zoo is drawing up a plan for its next 100 years — and hopes a generation obsessed with Blue Planet will back its conservation aims.
In his first interview since taking up the role of director general last autumn, former diplomat Dominic Jermey said his long-term plan includes making sure ZSL — the conservation charity behind the zoo — helps stop the illegal wildlife trade. He also wants to work with the City on sustainable funding.
He said: “We want people to come to our zoos and to enjoy themselves, and to engage in the wildlife through them — but as an organisation one of my priorities is to put in a strategy for the third century. We are nearly 200 years old now and we are the first scientific-based zoo in the world.
“I would like to see us, in what I call our strategy for the next 100 years, focus ourselves on informing, inspiring and empowering people to take action and stop species going extinct.”
Mr Jermey, 50, wants to create campaigns to build on the concerns young Londoners have about wildlife and the environment, fuelled by TV shows such as Sir David Attenborough ’s Blue Planet series. He said: “We are working with this government on what it is you as a Londoner, what it is you as a visitor, can do. I think our individual campaigns, riding the wave of something like Blue Planet II, should reach young people.
“My question around our organisation is what can we do now that is going to spark a Blue Planet reaction, that is going to use the data we have in such a way that is powerful and changes behaviour. Funding conservation projects over the longer term is a real challenge, and one of the funky projects we have going on is about impact investment we are developing with partners from the City of London.
“If we can get the UK finance community fired up about looking for sustainable investment vehicles and achieve social and conservation outcomes and also make money, that becomes a sustainable financial instrument.”
Mr Jermey previously served as the British ambassador to Afghanistan, a post he held for 18 months until last year, after a stint as CEO of the Government’s UK Trade and Investment body.
He said his new role was less stressful than his work in Afghanistan, but added: “It doesn’t feel like such a jump to me. What am I doing? I am leading a group of passionate people wanting to make a positive change in the world. That is what I am doing here, it was what I was doing in Afghanistan.
“It is about training people up and empowering people so they can stop the damage to wildlife, and putting the systems in place to stop bad people doing bad things. In Afghanistan I was stopping harm coming to the UK through drugs, through terrorism, through people smuggling — well actually the next thing on the list for international crime, often using the same networks, is illegal wildlife trade. That is an area where there is a direct parallel.”
Mr Jermey rejected criticism of zoos as unethical, saying: “I absolutely believe that there is a future for zoos, and that zoos have got to be really putting animal welfare first.
“Zoos are a place where you can have a window onto wildlife for an increasingly urban population. They are also important for reintroducing species that are reducing or extinct in the wild, back into the wild.”
He said he was overwhelmed by the public response to last December’s fire at the zoo, which killed an aardvark and four meerkats.
He said: “The letters that we got in where kids had Sellotaped £1.50 because it was their pocket money, with a little drawing — it was just the most amazing thing to experience. It was my first few weeks in the role and was devastating, but the response from people in London was overwhelming.”
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