New Edinburgh Zoo boss highlights conservation effort

Barbara Smith, the new CEO of Edinburgh Zoo, in front of the newly opened tiger enclosure. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL
Barbara Smith, the new CEO of Edinburgh Zoo, in front of the newly opened tiger enclosure. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL
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SHE’S the new boss of the second most popular tourist attraction in Scotland.

But looking after the 600,000 annual visitors to Edinburgh Zoo is far from the only priority of Barbara Smith.

As the newly appointed chief executive of Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the 52-year-old from Dalkeith is responsible for ensuring the zoo keeps its place as one of the leading conservation charities in Europe.

There is also the small matter of raising enough money to keep the whole operation running.

“We receive no government funding, so we are always fundraising,” Smith told the Evening News.

“As well as donations, we ask for trust grants and legacies. It’s very important people understand the funds we raise go straight back into our conservation. We’ve got about 20 different ongoing projects at both home and abroad.

“Fundraising is critical. We do that through the enthusiasm of our staff and volunteers, as well as the support of our membership.

“When you come become a member, you are contributing directly to our work.

“We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren. Species are coming under greater strain. We face a real challenge to protect that diversity.”

The much-loved zoo on the slopes of Corstorphine Hill opened in 1913 and has been enjoyed by generations of families from the Lothians and beyond.

Famous for its long-established penguin colony and pair of giant pandas, the park opened its newest attraction, Tiger Trails, in June.

The £500,000 purpose-built enclosure is a new home for Jambi and Baginda, a pair of critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

With fewer than 300 left in their native Indonesian habitat, Smith hopes the pair will successfully breed as part of an ­international effort to boost their numbers.

“We’re supporting their conversation by raising awareness of why they become endangered – be it human conflict, deforestation or poaching,” she said. “We support a wide variety of research programmes both across the UK and around the world.

“Zoos have been really transformed in recent years. Edinburgh has become a leader in conservation – it’s all about communicating the value of diversity in the living world.”

Smith has worked across the leisure and tourism industry in her career and is a former executive manager of Edinburgh Castle.

She joined RZSS as managing director in 2013 after a spell working at Chester Zoo.

“I suppose when I set out in my career I didn’t have a firm view of where I would end up, but I’ve always been passionate about the roles I’ve undertaken,” she said.

“Edinburgh Zoo has played a great role in my life. I think to anyone from the city or the Lothians, who visited as a child, it’s one of the great institutions.

“It’s place I have very fond memories of. I used to visit regularly with my three sons.

“I feel privileged to have taken this role on.”