Meet Our Team 11/08/2016

Claire

How long have you worked here? 6 years.

What animals do you work with? Sumatran and Bornean Orangutan, Chimpanzee, Moloch Gibbons, Lar Gibbons, Lion Tailed Macaques, Sulawesi Macaques, Columbian Black Faced Spider Monkeys, White Faced Saki Monkeys, Buffy Headed Capuchins, Mandrills, Black and Gold Howler Monkeys, Ring tailed Lemurs, Red Fronted Brown Lemurs, Alaotran Gentle Lemurs, Aye Ayes, Golden Headed Lion Tamarins, Emperor Tamarins, Pied Tamarins, Red Titis, and Pygmy Marmosets. 

Why did you become a keeper? I have always been fascinated by wildlife ever since I was a child, and spent a lot of time around animals. As an adult I have been lucky enough to travel extensively to see many species in there wild environment across Asia, Africa and North America. When I was around 25 I visited Ranthambore National park in India, the wildlife there was amazing and I remember being shocked at seeing peacocks which sounds really stupid now!

Whilst tracking in the park there were many tracks and signs of tigers but no sightings, but in the second week in the mid-afternoon, we came across a fork in the road and as we turned left, there right in front of us was a tigress with her 3 adolescent cubs, just laying out in the middle of the road soaking up the sun!

The Ranger explained who each individual was and told their story. We watched them for what could have been hours but they soon moved off and disappeared into the bush. Something just clicked and I realised I really would like to become involved and decided to change my career, best decision I ever made. Once I began working with animals it wasn’t long before primates got me hooked!

What’s your favourite animal and why? Can’t really say I have a favourite as they are all such different characters with their own personality.

What’s the best part of your job? I feel incredibly lucky being able to work with such interesting species, most people never get to see these animals other than on documentaries which is one of the reasons I feel zoos are so important. Being able to see these animals face to face and learn about how complex and endangered they are is incredibly important, people can’t care about things they don’t understand because that’s just human nature and if we don’t care, we are unlikely to do what we can to help even when the opportunity arises.

A six-week-old pygmy marmoset born at Chester Zoo hitches a ride with dad, Gumi

What’s the worst part of your job? The death of an animal is always difficult, especially when all our endeavours to save it fail – it’s undoubtedly the worst part of the job.

What’s been your most memorable moment in your career to date? That’s a difficult one as there have been quite a few! But recent years, seeing the first Pied Tamarins born here at Chester and watching the group now thrive, also the birth of Hery our Gentle lemur was also a first,  we had to intervene briefly when he was first born as he was very weak but he’s nearly two now and doing great. I suppose the biggest one most recently is the successful move of the orangutans and Sulawesi crested macaques into their new homes, it all went incredibly smoothly with the minimum of stress and seeing how well everyone is settling in is really great to see.

What’s so special about Chester Zoo? The passion of the team here is something I am incredibly proud to be a part of, we are very lucky to have the facilities we have here at Chester but the continual push to improve and evolve in every area of animal husbandry really makes the difference.

Have you visited any of our conservation projects abroad? If so which ones and what did you do?

Have you visited any of our conservation projects abroad? I’ve been lucky enough visit Java and Sumatra in recent years with the Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group (OVAG) which is an umbrella organisation which brings together vets and wildlife professionals from various orangutan conservancy bodies across Indonesia and Borneo and the wider world to share their skills and knowledge in the fight to conserve both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.

Much of what is learnt about this species in captivity can be useful in the wild and vice versa, for example tooth eruption is an accurate way of aging young orangutans – this knowledge learned from our orangutans can help to estimate the ages of orphaned orangutans in the wild. Unfortunately, many orangutans are under huge pressure from habitat loss due to human pressures, palm oil plantations being one of the major contributing factors. The work Chester Zoo does in educating people in sustainable palm oil is vitally important to ensure this crop is managed sustainably in order to protect the forest.

In 2014 I visited one of the quarantine centres in Medan, Java where orphaned orangutans are cared for immediately after rescue and also one of the release sites for Sumatran orangutan. The release site was in an area in the north of Sumatra in Aceh which contains areas of prime forest with an abundant supply of fruits, edible vegetation and fresh water supply which is stable throughout the year.

Once the infant orangutans have been rehabilitated at the quarantine facility they are then transported to one of the release sites and transferred to soft release enclosures.

The youngsters are then given time to acclimatise to their new environment and the enclosures are opened and the individuals are free to explore. When you consider the some of the situations these animals have been removed from prior to rehabilitation, the transformation really is remarkable, it was a real privilege to see it first-hand.