Q&A with Healesville Sanctuary keeper James Goodridge

James Goodridge with Millie the barking owl. Picture: JED LANYON

In celebration of International Zoo Keeper Day on Friday 4 October, Healesville Sanctuary keeper James Goodridge sat down for a Q&A with the Mail.

What is your role at Healesville Sanctuary?

I specialise in working with free flying birds. I train the birds to free fly and then present the show twice a day. We train parrots and a range of raptors for our free flight show.

What do you enjoy most about working at the sanctuary?

I really enjoy free flying birds. I know it sounds a bit obvious but I enjoy the variation of it, in that every day and every show is a little bit different. We don’t know what our birds are going to do… And when there are a thousand people in an arena, anything can happen. I enjoy working with animals and allowing them to express their personality as well.

In saying that ‘anything can happen’, what is something that has happened during one of your shows?

I’ve been doing this for 12 years. Two shows a day every day and we’ve never done two shows the same. Just yesterday we started our show and had a black kite flying around, but we had two wild eagles just up above him. That’s when you realise, anything can happen here… Having eagles fly above them can be highly intimidating so you wonder, are they going to do their job? Will they want to come out at all?

What is something that visitors might know about Healesville Sanctuary?

I think a lot of visitors don’t know that we breed and release a lot of endangered animals. I think a lot of people don’t appreciate that Australia has as many endangered animals as anywhere else in the world.

What is your favourite animal and why?

Can I have two? I love wedge-tailed eagles. They’re great, they look big and scary but our eagles are quite nice. My other favourite is the opposite, in the little kestrel. So the wedge-tailed is the largest raptor in Australia and the kestrel is the smallest. His name is Rusty… He’s got a big personality for a little bird.

What is the Spirits of the Sky presentation?

It’s a free flight bird presentation that we run twice daily. We try to show about 10-11 different bird species in about 24 minutes. It’s really quick, there’s a lot happening. But in saying that, we give our birds the opportunity to represent themselves. We give them a lot of choice and control in how the show will go.

What is something you’re passionate about?

Changing the world. Dealing with some of the environmental issues in the world in a positive way. It’s on a small scale what we do here, but say if we have 400,000 visitors a year. That’s a great number of people we can influence to hopefully change their behaviour to make a bigger difference for the future of humans and animals.

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