Brit to lead troubled Calgary Zoo

The Calgary Zoo's new director of animal care, conservation and research Dr. Jake Veasey. (Lyle...

The Calgary Zoo's new director of animal care, conservation and research Dr. Jake Veasey. (Lyle Aspinall, QMI Agency)

BILL KAUFMANN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:41 AM ET

CALGARY - The Calgary Zoo's new animal care boss says he's determined to turn the facility from what critics call a bone of contention into an international model. British conservation biologist Dr. Jake Veasey said the zoo hired him in response to a spate of unnatural animal deaths that's raised the hackles of activists.

"It's the overriding, primary focus in what I'll be doing here so Calgary isn't just meeting or exceeding best practises but also developing new standards of best practises," said Veasey, 39, who's garnered European animal welfare awards and advised the British government.

"I don't want to just follow the pack."

When asked if the criticism the zoo's endured following animal deaths was justified, Veasey was non-commital, saying he's not familiar enough with the controversies.

"I really need to get under the skin of the organization ... my mission is to be forward-looking and learn from what happened in the past to move forward and improve.

"All of these things take time."

According to a report into zoo operations earlier this year, of 214 animal deaths at the zoo in 2009, five were deemed to be caused by human error, a considerably higher ratio than other facilities.

Veasey said it's not completely clear what specific steps he'll take to realize those goals.

The biologist -- who's done conservation work in Africa -- said he'll also fine-tune that side of the zoo's operations.

"We need to prioritize the resources we have to achieve conservation returns," he said.

Linking conservation efforts more closely to animals in the wild, said Veasey, is another goal.

And having arrived in Calgary from the UK just two weeks ago means the city's winter weather and how it impacts the zoo's animals is part of the learing curve, he admitted.

"The climate's a big part of it, getting the experience of the weather here," he said.

"I've never experienced cold like this in the UK."

bill.kaufmann@sunmedia.ca


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