FOND FAREWELL TO ZOO STALWARTS
Blackpool Zoo is set to say goodbye to its two longest serving team members as both retire following a combined 80 years’ service.
Assistant Director, Russell Catlow and Zoo Vet, Mike Fielding have both been involved with the zoo since it opened 40 years ago and bid a fond farewell on January 31st 2012.
Originally a trainee camel keeper, Russell has worked his way up the ranks at the zoo and Mike formerly ran a veterinary practice near the park and was approached by management before the zoo opened in 1972.
Both have seen a great many changes over the years as the zoo has evolved from one that housed a handful of species to one of Blackpool’s best loved tourism hotspots with more than 1500 animals.
Reflecting on his time at Blackpool Zoo, Russell said: “I feel very privileged to have had such a long and rewarding career here and can honestly say that there hasn’t been one day that I have not relished the idea of coming into work.
“I am proud to have been part of all the changes to the zoo over the years and, in particularly in recent times, it has been great to see our visitor numbers grow and grow.
Despite these times of austerity, people are still coming to the zoo and we work very hard to ensure there is always something new for them to come back and experience.”
Mike feels very much the same and added: “If I were to start my career over again I know that I would end up in exactly the same place and my job has evolved into my hobby!
“Even at the end of the more difficult days I can leave the zoo knowing that, along with the fantastic keepers I have worked with over the years, we have made a difference.
“My job has been a continuous learning curve and I have been honoured to have worked with zoo vets from across the globe to update and improve procedures that protect endangered species and contribute to conservation projects.”
When asked what their favourite memories of their time at the zoo were, each had very different answers.
Russell’s came from when he was working with the elephants as a keeper and had to stand under one of the mammoth mammals whilst carrying out some footwork.
He said. “I was just about the finish work for the day when Kate, who came here as an infant when the zoo opened, decided to teach me a lesson and wee all over me. I wouldn’t imagine that many people can count that as a workplace memory!”
Mike’s proudest moments came from times when he and the team were involved in successfully breeding some notoriously difficult animals.
“Most people think that the high profile births are the most significant as they are defined as the ‘cute’ animals that people want to see when they visit zoos.
“In actual fact, the most noteworthy are those that are either critically endangered or are very hard to breed, such as the Australian Potoroos, which we became very successful in breeding here in Blackpool.
“Another example would be the birth of our Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra last year, who was the first of his kind to be born in the UK for nine years.”
Darren Webster, Managing Director at Blackpool Zoo, said: “I am sure all the staff here at the zoo will agree that it will be very emotional to see Russell and Mike leave at the end of January.
“Their combined knowledge of the zoo, along with their almost tangible passion for the animals means we are losing two fantastic assets but I am sure we will see them both on a regular basis.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank them both for all the hard work and dedication they have shown week in and week out for forty years and wish them both very long and extremely happy retirements!”
Pictures show: Russell and Mike with Gine and Anya the sea lions, who are just two of many animal born at the zoo in the past 40 years. Additional pictures are of Mike and Russell from the zoo archive
More information about Blackpool Zoo
Blackpool Zoo’s visitor numbers continue to hit record highs in 2011, with the year to date being hailed as the busiest in the zoo’s 39 year history.
Blackpool Zoo is owned by ParquesReunidos, the second largest European leisure parks operator and a leading world-wide player. The zoo is home to over 1,500 mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates set amidst thirty-two acres of mature woodland and lakes.
The zoo’s signature animals include elephants, giraffes, big cats, gorillas, orang-utans, sea lions, primates, zebras and kangaroos. It is open every day of the year, apart from Christmas Day, from 10am.
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