National award for Bristol Zoo’s long serving keeper

One of the longest serving keepers in our 184 year history has been given a national award.

John Partridge, who worked here at the Zoo for 45 years until his retirement in January, has been given an outstanding achievement award by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).

The honour came as part of the association’s awards which were announced at its annual meeting on Wednesday afternoon (September 16).

John said: “I am delighted to have been given this award from colleagues of the zoo community, many of whom I have known and worked with for years.

“I wasn’t expecting this. It’s a lovely surprise and very kind of my former colleagues to have nominated me. Being a zoo keeper was the job I always wanted to do and I loved every minute of it.”

John came to Bristol Zoo Gardens as an ape keeper in 1975 and rose through the ranks to become Senior Curator of Animals in June 2007.

John’s main love was (and still is) anything to do with mammals and, amongst many other things, he helped design and establish our ground-breaking Twilight World in 1995 but he has also worked in the reptile house and aquarium. He was also involved in setting up our sister site Wild Place Project.

He cared for hundreds of animals during his time at the Zoo, even hand-rearing a pygmy hippo.

His closest working relationships were with elephants, especially African elephant Christina in the 1980s and then later Asian elephant Wendy.

Back in his native South Wales his careers teachers told him there was no future in a job as a zoo keeper.

But John was determined and while working in the education department at Glamorgan County Council spent his weekends volunteering at Barry Zoo. Two years later he was offered the post of ape keeper at Bristol Zoo.

He also worked with Bristol Zoo’s most famous “keeper” Johnny Morris when he took animals to the BBC’s studios for Animal Magic.

During his career John edited the Zoo Keepers’ Association Journal for five years and has written articles for International Zoo News.

Once he spent an entire weekend at the Zoo, when he was supposed to be off, making sure a newly arrived elephant was all right and missing his mother-in-law’s birthday.

He said: “Zoo keeping will never be a nine till five job or a Monday to Friday job. It’s a vocation for those people who choose to follow that career.”

John added: “Good zoos, and Bristol Zoo is one of the best in the world, should always exist. They educate and conserve and Bristol Zoo has pioneered many changes that are taken for granted now.”

Dr Justin Morris, Chief Executive of Bristol Zoological Society, said: “John’s outstanding achievement award is thoroughly deserved.

“He was such an integral part of Bristol Zoo. I doubt there will be anyone in the future who will have dedicated their working life to a single zoo and to have achieved so much.”

Bristol Zoological Society is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the Zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is owned and run by Bristol Zoological Society, which also operates Wild Place Project. It is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work at Bristol Zoo and Wild Place, but also its vital conservation and research projects across five continents.

In March we launched an appeal to ensure the future of our work ‘saving wildlife together’. We launched the BZS Appeal following the temporary closure of both our sites in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Click here to find out more, or to make a donation.

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