Beale Wildlife Park

Blog: IWD - Lucy Costello, CEO

Posted: 7th March, 2022

To celebrate the run up to International Women's Day on 8th March, BIAZA are sharing the stories and voices of women from across the BIAZA membership.

Today's blog is from Lucy Costello, CEO at Beale Wildlife Park.


As a small child, Lucy Costello loved nothing better than ‘rescuing’ animal waifs and strays, a mission that quickly matured into a fascination for conservation and rewilding. As CEO at Berkshire’s Beale Wildlife Park, she today remains as passionate as ever about a cause that gives her ultimate responsibility for no fewer than 160 species in 350 acres of glorious riverside parkland.


Lucy’s route to her current role began with a veterinary nursing qualification before moving on to university to study for a degree in zoology. She went on via practice work to become Head Veterinary Nurse of the Equine and Large Animal Hospital at the Royal Veterinary College, which provided valuable managerial and business experience in an animal environment. Her commercial expertise was further honed as regional manager for a large corporate veterinary group in London.


A career break for two children followed, during which Lucy piled in with her husband on the launch of a digital communications business.The opportunity towards the end of 2020 to return to the animal world at Beale and to tie in education with conservation was a rare one.


“As David Attenborough famously said, ‘no one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced’ – and that is very much our role at Beale,” she says. “I want our visitors not just to enjoy the animals but to understand the issues and crises that go with them.”


“The children who come to our Zoo Club, for example, can appreciate that lemurs face huge habitat and food loss in their natural environments. Conservation is the end goal but education is the vehicle through which we can get there – they are indelibly linked.”


Beale operates a well-equipped education centre and runs a programme of school visits. Even on the darkest of days in mid-winter you will find a member of the animal care team surrounded by small children as he or she gives them a rare chance to get up close with a snake or an armadillo.


The sheer diversity of Beale’s animals represents a remarkable transformation from what was just a few years ago known locally as ‘the Peacock Farm’. Today, you will still see peacocks but now the noisy beauties are just a small element of a fabulous zoological collection that ranges from lynx to dwarf crocodiles and from zebras to guanacos.  


The park opens seven days a week right through the year and its rapidly rising visitor figures are testimony to its popularity over a wide area. They have climbed considerably from 2020 and are now recovering nicely from the huge impact of the pandemic.


Lucy still shudders at the memories of getting through Covid, but even then there were positives coming from staff resilience and from a community that dropped off whole crates of fruit and vegetables while also enthusiastically supporting a crowdfunder to pay for food.   


“When we re-opened under restrictions in April 2021, we had a record number of visitors – it was brilliant to see all those happy faces and children running around the place again. Even the animals were happier because they had missed the stimulation they get from our visitors.” As the 2022 season unfolds, there is still a holdover on the maintenance side, but work is progressing quickly on getting Beale back to it best.


Of all the excitements on Beale’s current agenda, there is little better than the prospect provided by a female lynx joining the lone (now matured) male. Lucy talks with enthusiasm about the prospect of a breeding programme that could, a little further down the line, lead to kittens being added to the depleted natural population in their native Carpathian Mountains.


“To be onboard with various European breeding programmes is a great step for us,” says Lucy. “Membership of BIAZA is a big plus and demonstrates our commitment to the wider conservation agenda that you may not fully appreciate when you visit.”


While proud to be a woman leader in the zoo industry, Lucy insists that she has seen no gender-based barriers to her progress. “It has honestly never been a problem for me through my career,” she says. “If you have ability and enthusiasm then you will be given the same opportunities in this industry as a man. I can honestly say that there are no jobs here that a woman couldn’t and doesn’t do. We don’t yet have a woman train driver but I feel sure that will happen!”


“As with all working Mums, my entire life is a juggling act,” she says. “It’s a choice you make and it has pros and cons but I wouldn’t change it for a moment.”


By Lucy Costello, Beale Wildlife Park.

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions. 

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