Infighting mars zoo search for leadership solution

JOE GIPPS, director of London Zoo, is clinging to his job amid further infighting at the Zoological Society of London, owners of the animal collection in Regent's Park.

Six of the zoo's eight-member board believe that Dr Gipps is not suited to the post and should go. But the society's council, its supreme ruling body, has rejected its recommendation and the board finds itself effectively suspended and resisting pressure for resignations.

The board chairman, Peter Wrangham, an international banker, is considering standing down after six months in the post. His predecessor as chairman, Professor Malcolm Peaker, a government scientist, only held the post for a few months before being deposed. Disputes over Dr Gipps were among the reasons.

A three-strong team of peacemakers has been appointed to defuse the dispute by proposing changes in the board and its relations with the director. They may call for individual board resignations. The hope is that when the council meets in mid-January it will agree changes that allow harmony to be restored.

A majority on the board, which includes leading business figures, academics and animal conservationists, believes that Dr Gipps lacks the management skills to secure the zoo's long-term future. He was formally appointed just under a year ago, after two years of internal strife in which the loss- making zoo had twice come close to closure.

Matters came to a head earlier this month after Dr Gipps conceded an extra pounds 200 payment for all 180 staff in annual pay negotiations, over and above the 1.5 per cent pay offer agreed by the board. It cost the zoo pounds 37,000, slightly more than the modest operating profit it declared in September after 16 years of losses.

After a board meeting, Mr Wrangham told Dr Gipps he wanted his resignation and asked him to stay away pending a final decision by the 22-strong council, but it rejected the recommendation.

The director has the backing of the zoo's staff. Union members have criticised the board's actions at meetings and told Mr Wrangham of their worries. Dr Gipps said: 'We need a quick, clear resolution for this problem. The important thing for me is not to dwell on the board's decision and to concentrate on running the zoo effectively.'

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