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Riverside Zoo welcomes new director
June 16, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen Peter Halliday, from Cambridge, England, brings 35 years of zoo and nature center experience to the area as the new director of the Riverside Zoo.

Preparing for a flooding situation isn’t usual for the first day on the job, but Peter Halliday, Riverside Zoo’s new director, is ready for the challenge.

At 58, Haliday has 35 years of experience in zoos and nature centers. Originally from Canterbury, England, his most recent post was in Georgia, where he served as Director of Animal Care at a privately funded gorilla sanctuary.

“I was just out of school and wanted a job where I could open the door and walk outside whenever I felt like it,” he said. “By chance, I got a job with a zoo I didn’t even know existed.”
That job had him working with primates, looking after chimps, monkeys and gorillas.

“I was there for 25 years, eventually managing the largest collection of gorillas in the world,” Halliday said. “We had 55 gorillas and had over 65 births. I was actually responsible for eight percent of the world’s captured population of gorillas.”

After leaving, Halliday earned a master’s degree in conservation biology. Through contacts, that brought him to the United States to a gorilla sanctuary in northern Georgia. Then about 18 months ago, he was laid off as the facility experienced financial difficulties.

As his unemployment benefits were about to run out last February, Halliday saw an advertisement for a zoo director in Scottsbluff, Neb. After sending in a resume, director Anne James called to set up a phone interview.

“After that, I didn’t hear a word,” he said. “At that time, I prayed hard that I’d find a job. The next day, out of the blue, Anne called and asked if I was still interested in the job. So we did a Skype video interview and she asked me to come out.”

He added they had originally planned an in-person interview, but Anne called back soon after the video interview and offered him the job.

“The more I got to know the staff, the more I saw of the area, the more I liked it,” Halliday said. “One of the reasons I came to America was for the people, as I really like Americans. But here is even more special. It’s an honest, genuine, caring community. Now I’ve got to find a house to live in, but I’ve already found a home. It’s a good feeling to know this is what the Lord wants me to do.”

He said the zoo needs some renovation, but it has great potential to draw in even more visitors, especially with the addition of Wildlife World and the Children’s Museum.

At the moment, Halliday’s position is both as curator and director. The curator takes more hand-on responsibility for the living collection, while the director is more concerned with the day-to-day administrative operation.

He said the board made wise decisions to keep the zoo operating and funded in spite of the facility’s closure due to flooding conditions around the North Platte River.

“Visitors are the main revenue stream for us,” he said. “Our forced closure is a concern, but we plan to remain in operation.”

While the zoo remains closed, Halliday said he will work on a collection plan, outlining what animals they have and how they tie in with the zoo’s mission – to promote stewardship of the earth and inspire all for the natural world.

“We want this to be a place where people want to come, where children can be entertained and also learn,” he said. “They need to know about the earth we live on and how important it is and how we need to take care of it.”
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