Meet the animal collection and curatorial team at Sydney Zoo.
Craig Sowden – General Manager Life Sciences
Craig was previously Director of Operations at South East Asia Aquarium, in Singapore for over four years – one of the world’s newest and largest animal facilities, where he was responsible for approximately 130 curatorial staff. His role covered all aspects of management, including animal husbandry through to sales and marketing. He brings with him a strong conservation, education and display ethic that has always been a strong feature in the facilities where he has worked.
From 1987, Craig was employed to play a key role in building and stocking the Sydney Aquarium and preparing it for opening. His skills with the handling and husbandry of animals and his understanding of the needs of aquatic animals were paramount to the success of the Sydney Aquarium. He was employed at the Sydney Aquarium for twenty-two years, which saw him ultimately assuming the role of General Manager of Life Sciences.
Some of Craig’s significant achievements during that period include a key role in designing and building the second stage of the Sydney Aquarium which included a seal oceanarium, Great Barrier Reef oceanarium, platypus and penguin displays, as well as many other associated animal habitats. He was also instrumental in the creation and development of the Sydney Aquarium Conservation Fund which is an independent organisation devoted to funding research and conservation initiatives.
The next phase in Craig’s career was the expansion of the Sydney Aquarium Company which saw the company buying out Manly Oceanworld in the mid-90s and with Craig involved in managing and starting the development of Sydney Wildlife World – a new major terrestrial fauna park that was situated in the Sydney CBD between 2003 and 2008. He designed all display and husbandry aspects of this fauna park, from the exhibits to all the back-of-house facilities. Craig was awarded a Master’s Degree in Aquaculture from Deakin University in 2007.
Through decades of experience, Craig has built strong industry connections both locally and internationally. He was the President of the New South Wales Fauna and Marine Parks Association in 2008. He also acted as the industry representative on the scientific shark summit as well as the Exhibited Animals Protection Act Committee for the NSW Department of Agriculture in 2006 and 2008 respectively. Between 2003 and 2008, he worked closely with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy while designing and stocking Sydney Wildlife World.
Some of the other organisations that Craig has worked with to coordinate research and conservation programs, include Conservation International, WWF, Traffic, Manta Trust, Shark Savers and the Australia Conservation Foundation. He also regularly attends local and international conferences such as the Zoo and Aquarium Association, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Zoo and Aquarium Association annual conferences to maintain networks and to acquire the industry’s leading-edge knowledge.
Rick Webb – Curator of Australiana and Operations Manager
Rick commenced his Zoological Career at Featherdale Wildlife Park in 1983 as a Zoo keeper. Rick’s passion for Zookeeping and success in animal management and breeding resulted in his rise to the promotion of Park Manager, a position he held until his resignation from Featherdale in 2014, following 30 years of service.
As Park Manager at Featherdale, Rick was responsible for the strategic direction, welfare and regulation of Featherdale’s animal collection. This included animal acquisition, disposition as well as management of all aspects of the business operations including curatorial, maintenance, building renovation work and landscape and exhibit design.
After years of dedication to the Industry as an Executive Officer of the NSW Fauna & Marine Park’s Association, Rick was elected as President in 2007. Subsequently, Rick was nominated and appointed as a Ministerial Advisor on the Exhibited Animals Advisory Committee in 2007 and Non-Indigenous Animals Advisory Committee in 2009, serving both committees for 3 consecutive terms.
Rick’s knowledge of the industry, as well as his animal experience and practical abilities led him to accept work for the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH). He was asked to coordinate the capture and relocation of animals resulting from the closure of the Australian Wildlife Park and Waratah Park. Rick has also assisted with the capture of many illegal and seized animals under OEH legislation.
Rick served as committee member of the NSW Standards Committee and was invited to consult on the Animal Welfare Strategy and the National Wildlife Strategy; assisting with drafting of these two significant documents.
Rick has been contracted by Blacktown City Council over many years as an expert in native animal management, assisting with animal identification and location surveys for areas identified for future urban development.
Rick has always taken a keen interest in the professionalism of the Exhibited Animals industry and was responsible for the development of formal training programs in conjunction with Richmond TAFE. These training courses included Euthanasia for Zoos and Wildlife Parks, Clinical Pathology and Microchipping as well as development of an Online Captive Animal Management Course for Owners and Operators of Wildlife Parks and Zoos.
Rick is currently working on the Sydney Zoo Project, using his experience in exhibit design and construction to develop the Zoo’s exhibits, back of house enclosures and support buildings and his extensive network of industry contacts for the animal acquisition process.
Dr David Kirshner – Curator Reptiles and Manager Interpretation and Graphics
David has had 20 years of experience in the zoo industry, in roles varying from curatorial to public education/interpretation. As a keeper and aquarist he has worked with a wide range of vertebrates, from native and exotic fishes to primates and Australian native mammals.
However, David’s particular area of expertise is reptiles, particularly crocodylians and monitor lizards, both in captivity and in the wild. He is a member of IUCN Species Survival Commission Crocodile Specialist Group and is a founding member of the IUCN SSC Monitor Lizard Specialist Group. He has produced scientific publications and presented seminars at international conferences on both groups and was also co-author of Biology and Evolution of Crocodylians, winner of the 2015 Whitley Medal.
In his role as a public educator/interpreter, David set up and managed the interpretation and graphics department for Sydney Attractions Group, designing and creating interpretive/educational graphics, videos and other interpretive material for Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World. He also designed and produced interpretive graphics for S.E.A. Aquarium in Singapore and developed interpretive material for two large conservation-themed developments at Taronga Zoo in the lead-up to the zoo’s centenary in 2016.
Louise Grossfeldt – Curator of Primates
Louise has worked in the zoo industry for over 25 years. She had a long-term supervisory role at the Primate Unit at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, where she worked specialising in the husbandry and management of a range of different primate species. Following this, Louise worked at Mogo Zoo where she was the Animal Manager for 3 years before joining Sydney Zoo.
Louise is strong advocate for primate conservation and education, being involved with a number of external organisations including Bornean Orangutan Survival Australia as Vice President. She provides animal husbandry advice on the care of the non-releasable orangutans held within the BOS sanctuaries in Indonesia. Louise has a teaching background and helped to develop BOSA’s orangufriends program, educating children on the plight of orangutans in the wild.
Louise is a published author, having written a book with David Blisett called Our Primate Family, with the foreword written by Jane Goodall. She also holds a number of positions within the zoological region including:
- Species Coordinator for Black and White Ruffed Lemurs
- Species Coordinator for Siamang
- Species Coordinator for Spider Monkeys
- Member of the Animal Management Committee which runs the ASMP
- Primate Tag Co-Convener
- Regional Husbandry Advisor Primates
Liz Romer – Animal Collection Coordinator
Liz Romer has been involved in the zoo industry since 1982 after completing a BSc at Macquarie University. She initially worked at Waratah Park as a keeper then moved onto Taronga Zoo where she was eventually Manager of the bird department. She then moved to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary as Curator during which time she was a Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Convenor for birds as well as being involved as a species coordinator and on various other TAG’s. She facilitated many transactions of animals both in Australia and overseas during that time. She was also President of ASZK (Australasian Society of Zookeeping) and a board member of the now ZAA (ARAZPA).
After moving back to Sydney, she worked part time for NPWS and the Australian Reptile Park and again facilitated a number of overseas imports and exports of animals. When Wonderland closed, she rehomed the entire collection of animals around Australia and overseas. She then worked for the Australian Museum on a two-year contract before assisting with some project work for Sydney Wildlife World and the Aquarium before moving into Local Government.
During this whole time, she continued to work for the ASZK part-time producing the society’s journal quarterly and organizing the annual conferences. She is the current President of the International Congress of Zookeeping having been on the committee since 2004 and has organized congresses in Australia (2006), Singapore (2012), Germany (2015) and in the process of one in Argentina (2018). Liz has also worked on the committees for minimum standards for keeping animals in captivity in Queensland and NSW.
Steve Blanchard – Curator of Elephants and Ungulates
Steve’s career in Zoos spans 25 years. Steve grew up in New Zealand with a passion for reptiles. After completing a BSc (Zoology) in 1993, he moved to Australia to pursue this passion. Steve was lucky enough to gain employment at the Australian Reptile Park in Gosford where he worked as part of the reptile team and over time ended up as Senior Keeper. He is very proud to have been part of the relocation of the Reptile Park from Gosford to Somersby.
Moving to Melbourne Zoo in 1997, Steve worked with native mammals before being offered a position working with marine mammals. This changed the path of his career, igniting his passion for training, conditioning and environmental enrichment.
Steve began working with elephants at Melbourne Zoo in 1999 and has been with elephants ever since. He increased his understanding of elephant training, husbandry requirements and behaviour by working at Auckland Zoo, Australia Zoo and by extensive travel around the world to different elephant facilities and in-situ locations.
Being part of the importation of 8 elephants into Australia from Thailand in 2006 was a definite career highlight, overshadowed only by the elephant pregnancies and subsequent births which followed. Most recently he headed the team that transported a bull elephant from Australia to the United States.
David Watts – Curator of Aquatics
David has over 23 years’ experience in the public aquarium and aquaculture industries. He has worked with many different species of aquatic mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and invertebrates over that time.
David’s career highlights have been establishing and maintaining a little penguin colony and developing a weedy sea dragon display during his time employed at Sydney Aquarium. He has also co-authored a paper on weedy sea dragon abundance and distribution in Botany Bay.
Despite having the privilege of working with a lot of different species over the years, David still thinks that people are some of his favourite animals to work with.
David French – Curator of Carnivores
Dave comes to Sydney Zoo with an extensive zoo background in New Zealand and Australia. He began his career in 2003 at Wellington Zoo, initially working as a Keeper before progressing into more senior roles, including several years as a Life Sciences Manager.
Aside from Big Cats, Dave has extensive experience with a variety of species, including large and small carnivores, ungulates, marsupials, primates, birds, and reptiles.
Dave is especially passionate about Tigers and loves connecting with zoo visitors to pass on the message of conservation and sustainability. In his spare time Dave enjoys riding his motorcycle, playing guitar, drawing, and exploring the great outdoors.
Sam Gilchrist – Veterinarian
Sam is an experienced wildlife veterinarian whose 15+ year career spans employment with multiple captive animal institutions, Wildlife Health Australia, NSW Department of Primary Industries and roles within the university sector.
Sam has an extensive understanding of the biology of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. He has post-graduate training in epidemiology, pathology and emergency animal disease management.
Sam has also operated as a management committee member of a not-for-profit conservation fund and maintains expertise in animal welfare science.