An international expert on fish and aquatics has been appointed Director of Conservation and Science.
Brian Zimmerman has moved to Bristol from the Zoological Society of London where he worked for the past 21 years.
During his time there he rose to become Chief Zoological Officer of both London and Whipsnade Zoos.
He said the new role at Bristol Zoological Society, which runs Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project, was “really exciting”.
Brian said: “Zoos have a unique role to play. They are places where people can see live animals to study and learn about but they also play a vital role in conservation. There are many species that would have become extinct if not for the work of Zoos.”
He said often people did not realise the conservation work that Zoos carried out. “Ensuring that we get that conservation message across to people is a real challenge. It’s about building a lifelong relationship with our visitors.”
Brian, who comes from Wisconsin in the United States, knew he wanted to work with animals from when he was a schoolboy.
“There was never any doubt about it. I was five years old when my parents gave me an aquarium for my birthday. It had awful fluorescent plastic plants and a model sunken ship in it and too many fish but it got me started.”
Before long he had built an aviary where he bred budgies and finches, and kept lizards and hermit crabs. “They were all in my room. It was my own zoo and all my friends loved coming around,” he said.
His daughter, Lila, shares his passion for animals. He has just bought her an aquarium for her 10th birthday.
Brian moved to England in 1997 when he came to work at Underwater World in Farnham, Surrey.
He said: “I love all animals but fish are the most diverse vertebrates. There is so much we don’t yet know about them. We discover dozens of species every year.
“But, like many animals, fish are threatened by people sometimes taking away the water where they live or introducing alien species to the detriment of native ones.
“I get very concerned that we are losing species every year,” he said.
Brian is involved in two important projects to help save threatened freshwater fish. One is the Corfu Killifish in Greece and the second the Mangarahara cichlid in Madagascar.
He had to trek for more two weeks to find the only surviving Mangarahara cichlids living in a remote pool in an otherwise dried up river. “It was incredible. I was sceptical whether we would get a result but when we found them I was ecstatic,” he said.
The discovery was all the more important because the only known female Mangarahara cichlid had died shortly before at Berlin’s Zoo’s aquarium.
The Mangarahara cichlids have since gone on to breed successfully in a protected environment.
Brian said conservation was critically important and he was thrilled to be leading the conservation projects for Bristol Zoological Society. The Society is currently involved in 14 conservation projects in 10 countries.
For the past 10 years Brian has been chair of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums – Fish and Aquatic Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group and for five years chaired the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums Aquarium Working Group.
Brian has known Bristol Zoo for years and has visited many times as well as working closely with its aquarium team on a variety of projects.
He said: “Bristol Zoo has always been special not only for its animals but its grounds. It may be just a 12-acre site but it always feels much bigger. It’s a wonderful place and I absolutely love Wild Place Project as well. I’m really excited to be here.”
Dr Justin Morris, Chief Executive of Bristol Zoological Society, said: “We are delighted that Brian has joined us at this important time for Bristol Zoological Society and wildlife conservation. Brian’s experience and insight will be invaluable as we continue our mission of saving wildlife together, with our visitors and supporters. This mission is more important than ever as humans and wildlife increasingly interact and Brian’s appointment will ensure that our conservation and science is central in addressing this issue.”
Bristol Zoological Society, which operates Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project, is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work at Wild Place and Bristol Zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.
In March, the Society launched an appeal to ensure the future of its work ‘saving wildlife together’. To find out more, or to make a donation, visit the appeal page.
Visitors to Bristol Zoo are now asked to pre-purchase and members asked to pre-book tickets in advance, online, here.