Wednesday, April 23, 2014



5 February 1949 – 29 March 2014

At the beginning of the UK zoo renaissance during the 1980s, Nick Ellerton was working at Chester Zoo as Assistant Curator of Mammals.  As a young and rather handsome man, his knowledge of wildlife and his over-all demeanor belied his years and he was, right from the outset, one of the “old school”  who throughout his long and varied career never lost sight of the most important aspect of zoo keeping – animal welfare.

In those formative days Nick was one of the driving forces behind the early committees that pre-dated most of the animal TAGs that we know today.  He was “the young pretender”, considerably younger than most of his counterparts, with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to get things done, along with a healthy acceptance of collateral damage along the way should the established old guard need the occasional push or shove in the right direction. 

His knowledge of wildlife, wild places and conservation was staggering.  So too was his depth of expertise across a vast array of exotic animal species kept in zoos.  Against a backdrop of increasing complexity in terms of the way animal collections operate, Nick was the unfailing pragmatist who always provided straightforward and down-to-earth solutions to any problems or issues that came along.  Nick Ellerton held the passionate belief that zoo animals should be left to behave like animals and should not be over managed or used merely as objects of entertainment.  He sat on the first Anthropoid Ape Committee and later on he was one of an original group of concerned people who began to question the way we look after elephants in captivity.  Ironically, nearly four decades later some of those same questions and concerns about captive elephant care persist and remain unanswered.

Nick was a social, avuncular person who was passionate about all aspects of his work and the natural world in general. He made friends easily but held strong, sometimes immovable views that, as with anyone unafraid to stand up and be counted, meant he had his critics too.  Nick was never one to compromise his values or shy away from controversy and he was certainly not one of those people who felt the need to be liked by the politically correct majority.  He could morph seamlessly from a formal, high-powered business meeting to the classic raconteur over cocktails and dinner. 

It has been my privilege and pleasure to have known Nick Ellerton, both as a work colleague and as a good friend.  In my mind`s eye, during quiet moments of reflection, I can picture him in various settings around the world, from watching elephants in Sri Lanka to tracking chimps in Nigeria. The best, and perhaps the situation most representative of Nick, is to imagine him on a warm summer’s day fishing the salmon run on the Tay, a half drunk bottle of red resting in the grass. This is how and where I will remember him - because this was the place he loved best.

Neil Spooner
Animal Director
Howletts Wild Animal Trust
Nr Canterbury
Kent CT4 5EL
Tel: +44 (0) 1227 723904
Fax: +44 (0) 1227 721853

1 comment:

  1. A lovely man with a heart of gold! A dear friend whose absence from this world makes it a lessor place! My good friend Nick, may you find eternal peace