Zoos Victoria; upholding a strong commitment to securing a future rich in wildlife

11 June 2021

From devastating bushfires to the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO of Zoos Victoria Dr Jenny Gray shares her insights on how the organisation has successfully responded to adversity.

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Welcome to another edition of Fast Five - our fortnightly series where we ask Victoria’s most influential and exceptional business leaders five simple questions to get a glimpse behind-the-scenes of Australia’s most exciting operations.

This week, we spoke to Dr Jenny Gray, Chief Executive Officer of Zoos Victoria which comprises Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee Open Range Zoo.

Having held the position of CEO for more than 13 years, Jenny has played an integral role in transforming Zoos Victoria into a conservation organisation and upholding a strong commitment to securing a future rich in wildlife and fighting extinction so that “no Victorian, terrestrial, vertebrate, species will go extinct on the team’s watch.”

From devastating bushfires to the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenny provides her insights on the extensive amount of work that occurs “outside of the zoo walls.” She details how Zoos Victoria has successfully adapted, innovated and responded to adversity to ensure the organisation continues to keep its staff and animals safe and its 2.7 million visitors engaged to reduce harms to wildlife.  

Zoos Victoria CEO, Dr Jenny Gray.#1: How has Zoos Victoria adapted over the past year?

The last 18 months have been an incredible time for Zoos Victoria.

The 2019-20 summer bushfires saw Zoos Victoria called on as first responders for the treatment and care of injured wildlife. For the first time, an endangered species was evacuated ahead of the bushfire and held securely at Melbourne Zoo until the individuals could be returned safely to the wild. Our community responded to our work with compassion, raising funds and supporting our work.

While we were still caring for injured koalas, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Zoos Victoria has responsibilities to our animals so we could not stop our operations or work from home. However, for the first time in 158 years we closed our gates to our community. We quickly transitioned to Animals@Home, live streaming animal footage, online teachers and a raft of ways to engage our members. We focused on keeping our staff and animals safe, our community engaged and remained ready to re-open when safe.

#2: What does Zoos Victoria need to thrive?

Zoos Victoria is the largest wildlife venue in Australia as a result of our commitment to our members and to our wildlife. With just on 300,000 members, we know that we are valued and that people treasure connections with nature. To thrive we will continue to focus on little animal lovers, ensuring that they learn the value of Australian wildlife and the simple steps we can take to secure a future rich in wildlife. 

#3: What are you most proud of in your time at Zoos Victoria?

I am most proud of our transition to a conservation organisation, working across three great zoos. Our Fighting Extinction promise is that no Victorian, terrestrial, vertebrate, species will go extinct on our watch. This promise means that we work with 27 critically endangered species, many of which would have already slipped into extinction if not for our work. We also engage with our 2.7 million visitors on the actions we can all take to reduce harms to wildlife. 

#4: What do you see as Zoos Victoria's greatest challenge moving forward?

I am so aware of the ongoing and escalating threats to wildlife. We see impact of decisions hundreds of kilometres away on our local species. For example, in the past three years we have seen a huge impact on the migration of bogong moths, and without the moths as their food source our tiny, charismatic mountain pygmy-possum numbers are dropping. We need to address the destructive practices that are destroying habitats and threatening our wildlife.

#5: What is something that most people don't know about running Zoos as a business?

Most people don’t know how much of our work happens outside of the zoo walls. We operate a Marine Response Unit that responds to animals in distress all across our Victorian coastline. Every year we seen hundreds of seals and sea birds impacted by human activity. Our animal hospitals treat injured wildlife and our conservation officers help increase breeding success for wild populations. Your entry fees and membership fees help animals thrive around Melbourne, Victoria and the world.

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