National Careers Week: The Curator

by ZSL on

To celebrate National Careers Week we’re looking at a range of animal-based careers here at ZSL! Meet some of our colleagues to find out more about their current roles and their career paths...

Meet Ben Tapley, ZSL's Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians.

Ben Tapley with Chinese giant salamander

What is your role and what does that involve?

As Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at ZSL, I am responsible for the collection of reptiles and amphibians at both ZSL zoos. 

This involves:

  • Developing the species plan for ZSL’s zoos. This plan determines which reptiles and amphibians we keep at ZSL and what their role is at our zoos. Careful consideration and analysis of each species ensures that we deliver meaningful benefits for wildlife. 
  • Overseeing and carrying out innovative research projects to answer questions of conservation importance or to further our understanding of amphibian and reptile husbandry requirements. 
  • Developing conservation programmes for reptiles and amphibians - I am currently working on a number of projects focussing on highly threatened reptiles and amphibians in Vietnam, the Caribbean, India and China.
  • Mentoring and training future reptile and amphibian keepers and conservation biologists. 
  • Representing ZSL nationally and internationally (e.g. BIAZA reptile and amphibian working group, EAZA amphibian taxon advisory group, IUCN Amphibian conservation breeding working group).

Why did you choose to work in conservation?

Because I am in awe of the natural world and wish to do my bit for the amazing species we share our planet with. 

What’s the best part of your job?

One of the best parts is mentoring our many amphibian EDGE Fellows. The EDGE programme offers a two year fellowship programme to early stage conservation biologists working with EDGE species. I have been fortunate enough to mentor EDGE Fellows in China, India, Kenya, Vietnam and Mexico and find the capacity building component of my work at ZSL extremely rewarding. 

I’ve also been able to work with some incredible species in my role:

  • Working with mountain chickens has been a highlight. From finding some of the few remaining frogs in the wild on Dominica to breeding frogs in London and sending them back to Montserrat for as part of a ground breaking project to establish semi wild populations.
  • Breeding the Critically Endangered Lake Oku clawed frog, the species had never been bred in captivity before and its reproductive biology was unknown. We successfully bred and reared this species in 2014 / 2015.
  • Getting to grips with the world’s largest amphibian, the Chinese giant salamander. ZSL and partners worked in China to survey up to 100 sites across the distributional range of the species. I was involved in training teams across China in the standardised protocols we have developed in order to find salamanders and understand their conservation status and the threats posed to the species. 
  • We also recently opened an exhibit featuring the only giant salamander in the UK, which was also a career highlight. Not only is our giant salamander an extremely impressive animal, he also highlights the cutting edge conservation work that ZSL is leading in China.  

Ben Tapley, curator of reptiles and amphibians

What did your career path look like?

I studied conservation biology at the University of Roehampton, I then went on to do a Masters in the same subject at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (University of Kent). 

After completing my MSc, I secured a job in the herpetology department at Jersey Zoo. After five years I left to gain more field experience and participated in projects focused on amphibians in the Western Ghats and marine turtles in Indonesia. 

Later on, I volunteered with ZSL on the mountain chicken frog conservation project on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Whilst in Dominica I learnt that an application to work at ZSL had been successful. I have now been at ZSL for 8 years. 

What’s been the most challenging part of getting where you are today?

I didn’t particularly enjoy school; I have always known what I wanted to do and I didn’t see doing anything that was not directly related to it a good use of my time! I also found it hard to get my first job, perseverance is key!

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into this career? 

Network like crazy, get to know people in the field. 

Volunteer, gain as much experience as possible.

If studying at college or university, make sure you choose a project that you can publish, this will not only mean that important information is disseminated, it will also get your name out there.

Has National Careers Week got you thinking about your dream career? If you’d like to find out more about the range of animal careers available and how to get into them, ZSL London Zoo is running it’s annual Animal Careers Conference on the 16th April 2020. There you’ll find out all about what it takes to become a zookeeper and discover many other animal careers you may not have thought of!

 find out more about our Animal Careers Conference

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