ThE new boss at Edinburgh Zoo has defended his record at Adelaide Zoo after it racked up debts of more than £15 million and struggled to pay for a giant panda enclosure.
Professor Chris West, CEO of Zoo South Australia (ZSA) since 2006, quit the post amid ongoing financial problems to take the chief executive job of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, it was announced yesterday.
Last year Adelaide Zoo revealed it had amassed huge debts after borrowing for major redevelopments – including a new enclosure for two giant pandas.
Prof West blamed the global economic crisis, which had hit as work on a £20m refit at Adelaide Zoo was getting under way, for also hampering corporate sponsorship of the Australian pandas.
Facing a mountain of debt, the zoo received several government bail-outs while last month Professor West’s wife Di stepped down as the head of corporate sponsorship amid “ongoing media pressure”, according to ZSA.
“It was an uncomfortable period but it reached a satisfactory end in that the zoo is financially in a better position thanbefore,” said Prof West, a former director at London Zoo.
“The funding challenge was around essential infrastructure and fell between state government and the zoo.
“We were close to very significant corporate sponsorship just at the point when the global financial crisis impacted and we were left with less corporate sponsorship than we had anticipated.”
While in his previous post Professor West is credited with doubling zoo revenue through increased visitor numbers and attracting a three-fold increase in membership.
“Notwithstanding the infrastructure investment challenge, the revenue and diversification of revenue and the number of members have gone up very significantly in Adelaide,” he said. “So the long-term vitality of the organisation is clear.”
Manus Fullerton, chairman of RZSS, said the incoming CEO’s “knowledge and experience” would complement Edinburgh Zoo’s management team.
“Chris comes to Edinburgh as one of the world’s top zoo CEOs, combining business success and scientific insight with leadership of conservation and research at an international level.
“He has an exemplary and proven track record in organisational development and revenue creation.
“He was also was responsible for delivering major infrastructure enhancements.”