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Zoo’s priority must be “own backyard”

Zoo’s priority must be “own backyard” says New Life Sciences Manager

After living and working in Africa, and most recently Australia, Maria Finnigan has returned to Auckland Zoo to take up the position of Life Sciences Manager.

Maria, who takes over the role from Glen Holland (now the zoo’s Director) is no stranger to Auckland Zoo, having worked here from 1985 – 1990. Her position encompasses leading the zoo’s team of keepers and their team leaders, along with veterinary and horticulture staff.

“It’s fantastic to come back here and see the amount that’s been achieved here over the past decade or so, both physically, and in the area of staff development,” says Maria, who sought overseas experiences to further develop her animal and zoo expertise.

“I’m passionate about Africa. It was always the place I wanted to go and get involved in hands-on conservation programmes, and my time there really was incredible,” says Maria, who in the mid-1990s worked as principal research assistant for the Serengeti Lion Project in Tanzania, collecting data on lion populations. In the early 1990s, she also worked as a guide escorting tours through Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Zaire and Uganda, and was a technical advisor for Tanzania’s Department of Wildlife.

Most recently Maria was Divisional Manager of African Mammals at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.

“As a zoo, we’re part of an international community working for the common goal of conservation of other species, and ourselves. Our role is to create an empathy that we live with other species of flora and fauna, and to advocate about what’s happening in the world,” says Maria.

“A top priority must be to look in our own backyard, play a practical role in native conservation, and create public awareness. Our Life Sciences team here at Auckland Zoo will continue to contribute and build on what we’re already doing for a range of native species including kiwi, tuatara, Mahoenui giant weta, brown teal, blue duck, kaka, and shortly, the endangered Archey’s frog. Conservation expertise by our veterinary team at the zoo’s Wildlife Health and Research Centre, is extensive, and we will also hopefully continue to grow, provided we can secure the funds for this centre’s development.”

Maria says encounters like the zoo’s Native Fauna Encounter, are a great way to enable people to understand the fragility of native species.

“Conservation is so much more achievable in New Zealand, an island population, than in places like Africa. The Department of Conservation has proven that we can protect, that there is the ability for conservation to work. On the African continent, the pressures are just so much greater, but the work is inspirational. Conservation is a global challenge.”

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