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The role of the zoo


My time as President of the Zoological Society
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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The zoo had been run by Solly Zuckerman for years and years and years. He had a council, he had officers that- he was a dominant figure. When he left they looked around, the council looked around and they invited me to become- to follow Solly as president, and it immediately became clear that the zoo was in deep financial trouble. It had expenses that it had taken on over the years. It was running its own little research institute, although it was getting a lot of help from outside to do that, some funds, some money was going into that, and money was going into sustaining a much larger number of animals than it was- than are present now. They were in the thousands and they fell eventually to less than a thousand different species. So that was- it had- it had a lot of expenditure, and the dynamic treasurer of the time, who was putting much more time into it than I was, decided that the zoo should be closed down in London, in Regent's Park, and everything transferred to Whipsnade. That was what he proposed, and he had been a Conservative Minister and he worked through consultants which he brought in, who cost money. Then there came a showdown with critics of the council and particularly with the idea that the- that the zoo, the London branch, the Regent's Park site should be closed down, and the officers of the council were thrown out in one dramatic meeting and the policy was changed, reducing the scale of scientific effort and the scale, vastly decreasing the scale of curatorship- there were many fewer animals. And the zoo has survived and I believe that is the right thing to do actually, but I was one of the officers who were thrown out, so my tenure was very short. But I must say that by then anyway I would have had to resign because I had taken a job in Germany and they said, oh, you can come in once a week or once a month, but by that time it was pretty clear that you couldn't, and the officers were all falling out with one another, also the treasurer, me the president and the scientific secretary, were quarreling.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 3 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008