Managing director of popular zoos steps down after 28 years

gary batters

Former joint managing director of Africa Alive! and Banham Zoo, Gary Batters, reflects upon his career. - Credit: Submitted

The managing director of a popular zoo attraction has stepped down after 28 years of service.

Gary Batters, 58, who lives in Kessingland, joined Africa Alive! and Banham Zoo, then known as Suffolk Wildlife Park in 1992 as head keeper.

Throughout his time at the zoo, he improved standards and is also a member of the lemur conservation project, which he has been president of for the last five years.

Mr Batters has a career spanning almost 40 years working in zoos and started off as a zoo keeper at Windsor Safari Park when he was 17 years old.

gary batters

Gary Batters, pictured in 2012 at Banham Zoo. - Credit: Submitted

He said: "Zoo keeping was always something I was passionate about and wanted to pursue when I was younger.

"My brother found an advert for a zoo keeper at Windsor Safari Park in 1980. I jumped at that opportunity and it started from there."

Mr Batters worked at various locations up and down the UK before he joined Suffolk Wildlife Park in 1992.

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He continued: "For three years I worked at Windsor Safari Park, mainly looking after the big cats they had there.

"Then I moved on to London Zoo and worked there for a further five years working mainly with the elephants.

"I then decided I wanted a change from the city environment so decided to take a job at Highland Wildlife Park, it was so remote and such a change."

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Gary Batters has worked at Africa Alive! and Banham Zoo since 1992. - Credit: Simply C Photography

Mr Batters was then offered the opportunity in 1992 to take up a position as head keeper at Suffolk Wildlife Park and transform the park.

"At that point the park was run down, poorly financed and had a very small team," he said.

"During my time there I was able to transform both parks for the better."

Mr Batters became joint managing director of ZESA alongside Claudia Roberts just before the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Whilst navigating the difficulties of the Covid lockdown, the chance to be joint managing director was one of the highlights of Mr Batters' career.

banham zoo

Zoos have been hit hard by the Covid pandemic. - Credit: Simply C Photography

He said: "This was the pinnacle of my career. It was a great honour to be given this job title after working in zoos for just over 40 years.

"A few months into the job though and then the Covid pandemic hit and everyone was fearful.

"Like all businesses, Africa Alive! and Banham Zoo were affected, we went through a restructure and a review of our whole operation.

"But even though I have stepped down now, I feel like the zoos are prepared and ready to reopen."

Alongside his work at both zoos, Mr Batters has also been a member of the lemur conservation project in which he has been president for the last five years.

gary batters madagascar

Gary pictured with Princess Anne and the president of Madagascar in 2017 as part of his work with the lemur conservation project. - Credit: Submitted

"The lemur conservation project aims to protect blue-eyed black lemurs on an area of coast in north west Madagascar.

"It is a community based project also aiming to build schools and pay for 50 per cent of teachers salaries in the country.

"It is such a rewarding project to be part of and I had the opportunity to show Princess Anne and the president of Madagascar around in 2017.

"Protecting the environment has always been an issue during my 40 years working for zoos.

"It feels like at first we were trying to protect one piece of land and this has now spread across countries, continents and the world."

africa alive

Mr Batters is set to continue his vital work. - Credit: Ben Thomas Photography

Mr Batters is now looking forward to what the future has to offer after stepping down from his position.

"I've got to the point where stepping down feels like the right time.

"I am excited about the new challenges that will now be on offer.

"One of the projects I am now excited to be involved with is working with the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums to improve the welfare standards at a zoo in Italy and Siberia. 

"This will be similar to what I did when I first joined Suffolk Wildlife Park."

Claudia Roberts of ZESA will become chief executive officer from next month.

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