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Chris Banks – how life at the zoo has evolved

28 March 2018

Over the past 28 years, there is one man who has worked tirelessly behind-the-scenes establishing much of Zoos Victoria’s extensive work with overseas organisations. His name is Chris Banks and as we’re celebrating our international partners throughout March, we thought it was important to share his story and shine a light on some of the work he has done that has helped keep many animals from being permanently banished to the history books.

"I always knew that I wanted to work with animals. This door opened for me when I started as a keeper at Melbourne Zoo in January 1969. Zoos were oh-so different places then, but I have fond memories of that time and the people who I worked with.

New keepers at Melbourne Zoo at that time started in the ‘Breeding Aviaries’, a row of long-gone exhibits housing mostly small Australian parrots. Stints in other sections led me to reptiles, where I started in what was then Melbourne Zoo’s new Reptile House. My relatively low knowledge of reptiles was an appealing challenge and these animals remain a ‘favourite’ today.

After three-and-a-half years at Melbourne Zoo, I headed to the UK which was a fascinating time for a young keeper but after three years I was ready to return to Melbourne by 1975.

I was fortunate to move straight back into reptiles and spent the next 18 years as a keeper and curator at Melbourne Zoo. My interests in matters outside the Zoo walls and much further afield were established in this period, as was a focus on the role of zoos in conservation and Zoos Victoria’s shift to supporting overseas organisations as well.

The first visit to the Philippines was in 1992 to explore the options for most effectively supporting conservation of the Philippine Crocodile. With the species being confirmed in north-east Luzon Island, our focus shifted to this population and protecting and conserving the Philippine Crocodile with the now-established Mabuwaya Foundation.

Between 1993 and 2004 I worked in a range of roles, including Acting Director of Healesville Sanctuary as well as a role that helped save the Romer’s Tree Frog in Hong Kong from extinction when more than 50% of its entire habitat was threatened by the construction of the new airport.

By 2004, I realised my interests rested with conservation rather than curatorial roles, and I successfully applied for the position of Manager of Conservation Partnerships, the position I hold today.

Strengthening Zoos Victoria’s support for and engagement in wildlife conservation internationally has been the overriding focus for the past 14 years. This has included establishing our Sister Zoo partnership with Port Moresby Nature Park, our international conservation grants which have provided more than $280,000 to 18 projects, and our three multi-year conservation partnerships that align people and wildlife outcomes.

I never thought I would still be based at Melbourne Zoo when I started here 49 years ago. What has enabled this longevity? Still being passionate about animals and their conservation of course, and job satisfaction.

But Zoos Victoria as an organisation has changed and evolved too, and over recent years we have become a global leader in many ways. Recognition that meaningful, measurable wildlife conservation has to be the path that we take started perhaps about 20 years ago, but has significantly gathered pace over the last decade.

We are continuing to boldly push boundaries and challenge previously-accepted paradigms. The state of global biodiversity and the challenges that it faces demands that we have to take this path; to do otherwise is to silently accept defeat, which is completely unacceptable.

This trend sits very well with me and I am more stimulated now by my zoo journey than at any time over the almost five past decades."