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Shepreth Wildlife Park director made chair of national zoos body



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21/07/16 Shepreth Wildlife Park, Rebecca Willers. Picture: Keith Heppell
21/07/16 Shepreth Wildlife Park, Rebecca Willers. Picture: Keith Heppell

She'll be the first woman to head the 112 member organisation in its 50 year history.

It's no longer just about visiting the zoo to stare at animals. It's about how we can be involved in various conservation initiatives, engage our visitors in our education programmes and support important scientific research projects
Rebecca Willers, Director of Shepreth Wildlife Park

Director of Shepreth Wildlife Park and Chair of Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity, Rebecca Willers, has been appointed to Chair of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).

She’ll be the first woman to chair the body, which represents 112 of the country’s zoos and aquariums that push for better welfare, education and conservation work within their zoos.

And as director of Shepreth, Rebecca will also be the first ‘small zoo’ director to chair the group. It’s a three year post, with potential for three further years, and Rebecca will be at the helm during the turbulent period for the group as they navigate the exit of the European Union.

Rebecca said: “Of course I’m looking forward to it, I love challenges. I’m super excited because I’ve strong opinions about what I think a good zoo should be and the morals and ethics behind them.

“There are some amazing zoos doing some amazing work and really putting a lot of staff, money, intellect and all sorts of things into projects in Asia, South America and all over the world.”

BIAZA members raise over £10m every year that goes towards the funding of hundreds of conservation initiatives. Their members make up about a quarter of all licensed establishments and receive over 23m visitors every year.

Rebecca continued: “We aim to raise our standards above the zoo licensing standards. This is really important for us now with the Brexit, as much of our licensing is based on EU Directives. We obviously want to make sure our standards remain high as Brexit goes forward.

“Even just things like the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive are important in terms of the work that we’re doing and trying to raise awareness of.”

Shepreth Wildlife Park is classified as a small zoo, which make up about 60% of BIAZA membership.

She said: “I have a very good understanding of the day-to-day struggles and challenges small zoos face to meet the required standards. The zoo licensing stipulates that you must be involved in education and conservation, and yet for some smaller collections a priority has to be about raising the essential funding needed just to keep open. But actually that’s not good enough. We need to have a justification for why we actually exist. It’s no longer just about visiting the zoo to stare at animals. It’s about how we can be involved in various conservation initiatives, engage our visitors in our education programmes and support important scientific research projects. I think that’s what I bring to the table; just remembering that we haven’t got access to endless funds, but in fact we actually don’t need it, it’s the simple things we can do which do not cost a lot of money, but still have a big impact, like teaching a child how to make a wildlife garden in their own back garden for example.”

When it comes to raising money, Rebecca and the team at Shepreth do not shy away from a challenge. They have donated over £160,000 for wildlife conservation charities based all over the globe. Rebecca herself has swam the Channel, climbed Kilimanjaro, trekked a Sumatran jungle in search of poachers and now plans to kayak the rivers of Belize all in aid of conservation. A climb to Everest base camp is also on the cards.

Rebecca said: “The hardest thing was the Channel. I got a team to swim the Channel together, we did a relay from Dover to Calais. The sea sickness was horrible on the boat when you’re not swimming. It’s weird, it’s the one thing you don’t think about. You think about the swimming, the cold water and the big ships but you don’t think you’re going to feel sick on the boat.

“The water was 17 degrees. I had trained in Windermere before and that was 13, and bitter. In February I hope to be doing a seven day kayak where we’ll be kayaking from first light till dark and then making a tent, and camping wherever we are.”

More about the work of the Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity and Shepreth Wildlife Park can be found online.



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