After a career spanning 40 years, with highlights that include helping to save numerous animal species from extinction, Bristol Zoological Society’s chief executive is retiring.
Dr Bryan Carroll has been chief executive of Bristol Zoological Society for the past eight years. He arrived at Bristol Zoo in 1995 as operations manager and later became deputy director.
Prior to that, he worked at Jersey Zoo for 18 years, during which time he completed his doctorate on the South American Goeldi’s monkey.
At Bristol Zoo he has overseen the opening of many new exhibits, such as Seal & Penguin Coasts, Twilight World, Bug World, Gorilla Island and the recent opening of the Zoo’s dedicated Conservation Education Centre.
He has also developed the Zoological Society’s conservation, scientific and educational work as well as being the driving force behind the opening of Wild Place Project (which is also owned and operated by the Bristol Zoological Society) which opened in 2013 and last year attracted more than 200,000 visitors.
But Bryan’s curiosity for the natural world began as a youngster, playing in rock pools and catching small fish and shrimps while on holiday. “I was always fascinated by wildlife and I suppose I’ve simply never lost that interest,” he explains.
At school, Dr Carroll focused on scientific subjects before studying zoology at Liverpool University. “I studied everything from corals to gorillas and loved it,” he recalls. After university, he got a job at Jersey Zoo as a stopgap while he decided on his future career.
“At the end of the first week I realised how much I had enjoyed it, it was a real ‘wow’ moment,” said Bryan.
That ‘stopgap’ job turned into a 42-year career full of highlights and lifelong memories. High on his list of achievements was the vital research he carried out on rare fruit bats in the wild, which undoubtedly helped prevent these majestic creatures from becoming extinct.
“In 1980 I travelled to the Mauritius to study critically endangered Rodrigues fruit bats which had suffered from the impact of a recent major cyclone,” he explains. “There were thought to be just 70 left alive. Fortunately, thanks to the continued conservation of the species, their numbers are now much healthier, but they still remain extremely rare and under threat.”
Following this Bryan travelled to the Comoros Islands in search of Livingstone’s fruit bats which were feared to have possibly become extinct. It was then that Bryan made a discovery that has stayed with him since, and would change the future of this species. “After two weeks of looking for these beautiful giant bats, I found a roost of around 100 of them high up in the mountains – the only known population in existence, it was hugely significant,” he remembers.
The discovery led to a worldwide conservation action plan to help save the species, led by Dr Carroll, and resulted in him setting up the world’s first captive group of Livingstone’s fruit bats back at Jersey Zoo, which bred well and thrived in the zoo environment.
Today Jersey Zoo and Bristol Zoo remain the only UK Zoos that keep breeding groups of Livingstone’s fruit bats. The species remains critically endangered but there are now thought to be over 1,000 of the bats on the Comores, a vast improvement on the population figure of the 1980s.
“I am hugely proud to have contributed to saving the species and preventing their total extinction,” he said, “There remains a lot to be done and the continued conservation work being done by the zoo community, particularly at Bristol and Jersey Zoos, is essential to continue protecting this magnificent species for the future.”
Bryan also developed the first set of captive breeding guidelines in Europe for small new world monkeys, the marmosets, tamarins and Goeldi’s monkeys. This set husbandry standards for the care of these animals in zoos, established projects to protect them in the wild, and created a robust information-sharing network across zoos in Europe. It led to many of these species thriving and bolstered the numbers of these endangered animals.
“Many of these co-ordinated breeding efforts began in the 1980s,” explained Bryan. “It was a time when the focus of good zoos was shifting from simply being animal attractions to being at the forefront of the conservation and research effort for many at-risk animal species and habitats.”
He added: “Jersey Zoo and Bristol Zoo very much led the way in that regard and I have been very fortunate throughout my career to have worked at two truly great institutions. It has certainly been a rewarding career and I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside many extremely talented and passionate people over the years.
“Bristol Zoological Society is regarded as one of the leading zoos in the world and it is not without good reason. And now, to see the success of Wild Place Project and the conservation projects that link to the exhibits we have there – such as giraffe and lemurs - is hugely satisfying.”
Last month Dr Carroll received two coveted awards from the European Zoo community. The first - the Zoological Society of London Outstanding Contributions to the Zoo Community award - celebrates excellence and achievement in zoo and aquarium activity, including conservation, education and scientific research.
The award was given to Dr Carroll in recognition of his numerous achievements and the work he has done for the benefit of zoos and the wider zoo community.
His second award was an Outstanding Achievement Award from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).
Dr Carroll was presented with the award by the executive director of Paignton Zoo, Simon Tonge.
Mr Tonge said: “Under Bryan’s leadership the Bristol Zoological Society has gone on to become one of the most important in the world for its primate conservation work. His great professional judgment, calmness and sense of humour have made him a wonderful colleague over the years and he will be much missed by his peers.”