No 5: John Pullen, zoo keeper, on 'Fierce Creatures'
Sunday 16 February 1997
In the film, the keepers were very much like one big family, and in that way it was very similar to real life. It's a very emotional job and people do bond, particularly when the zoo or the animals are threatened. There was a reference in the film to when London Zoo was going to be closed down: we really did feel very militant and protective.
I thought the concept of "making contact" was slightly Americanised. But there are without a doubt people who have an affinity with their animals. The more time you spend around them, the more time you get to learn about them, particularly with primates, as they are very close to us. Their basic emotions are very much the same as ours: they laugh, they cry, they have good times, they have bad times, temper tantrums, all that sort of thing.
You can get zoo directors like Rollo Lee who know nothing about animals and it's also very possible for big corporations to own zoos, but the "fierce creatures" policy would never have worked. People do want to see aggressive animals like tigers or whatever - in this country you'd never see them otherwise - but often when you get to the zoo they're asleep and not doing anything. But most people come for the cute and cuddlies - I think the film got across their attraction very well, with Cleese becoming more and more attached to those five furry animals he initially threatened to shoot.
The Kevin Kline character's idea of sponsorship was a bit scary. We do look for corporate sponsorship to build new exhibits and while I don't think there's anything wrong in it, it must be done correctly. I wouldn't want huge banners all over the place, or to have to wear one of those stupid uniforms. London Zoo is the only capital zoo in the world that doesn't have government funding, which makes sponsorship part of our life nowadays. A lot of companies want to get involved with zoos and green policies - it makes them look good and they feel they're contributing to the wild as well.
John Pullen is assistant head keeper of the primates section at London Zoo.
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