History of Battersea Park Children’s Zoo

Until the middle of the 19th century, Battersea Park consisted of marshland and fields where carrots, asparagus and lavender were grown. The area was opened as a public park in 1858 and was used for sporting activities. In 1951 the park was transformed into a pleasure garden as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, and the forerunner of Battersea Park Children’s Zoo was born.

When the much-loved zoo, formerly run by Wandsworth Council, was threatened with closure in 2003, the Heap family stepped in and saved it. Carol, Roger and Ed Heap have a passion for animals and valuable experience of running two other wildlife parks - the Chestnut Centre Conservation and Wildlife Park in Derbyshire and the New Forest Wildlife Park in Hampshire.

Taking over Battersea Park Children’s Zoo gave them a chance to create a zoo exactly the way they wanted it - turning it into an opportunity for youngsters to enjoy, respect and learn about the animals that we share our planet with.

The Heap Family

Carol and Roger Heap have always been deeply committed to wildlife education and conservation, though they didn’t originally intend to shape their lives around animals.

Roger, formerly an architect, and Carol, a physiotherapist, first started volunteering at an otter conservation trust in the 1970s. They ended up looking after rescued otters in their back garden in Derbyshire, which had a stream. Gradually their menagerie grew and the Chestnut Centre was born.

The family were invited to take over the running of the two other parks later on, as their reputation grew. Along with their son Ed, they now devote their time to looking after the three wildlife centres, helping with animal rescue and rehabilitation and taking part in international captive breeding programmes for endangered species, such as the giant otter, European bison, Eurasian otter, Harvest Mouse, European polecat, Scottish wildcat etc. Other members of the Heap family are animal mad too and have carried on in the family tradition. Younger son Ed is General Manager to the three centres, Ed’s wife Clare is the resident vet and elder son Charlie has achieved a lifelong ambition by opening a birds of prey centre in Helmsley, Yorkshire. Find out more at

Zoo Staff

Anita Halligan - Animal Manager

Anita has been at the zoo since 2005 and quickly moved on to be Head Keeper and subsequently Animal Manager. Anita has a degree in Spanish & Latin American studies but realised her true vocation was to care for animals and with this in mind went back to college to study Animal Management at Hadlow College in Kent. Having been involved with the Zoo residents for a long time, Anita knows each individual animal’s likes and dislikes and senses when all is not well. Our animals could not be in safer or more caring hands.

Fiona Vella - Education and Events Manager

Time flies when you’re having fun! Fiona has worked at the Zoo for nine years and really enjoys working with children and animals. Each day is different, which keeps her job interesting and varied.

Fiona has a soft spot for the capuchin monkeys. “They are so intelligent and seem to recognise and welcome me with raised eyebrows when I come past with groups of school children.”

Catherine Jones – Senior Keeper

Catherine came to Battersea in July 2012 and says she has enjoyed every day. She loves the variety, working with some real characters - which keeps things interesting. Catherine finds it hard to pick a favourite animal but she enjoys working with the coatis and Scottish wildcats Cormack and Glenn.

Sam Pryor – Zoo Keeper

Sam joined the Zoo in March 2013 and says every day has been varied and different, making it really enjoyable. His favourite animals are the coatis, otters, cotton top tamarin monkeys and the other keepers!

Gbenro Williams - Retail Manager

Gbenro joined the team as a seasonal assistant in early 2013 and soon worked her way up to Retail Supervisor. She enjoys the variety of her role and likes the Zoo’s family atmosphere and chatting to visitors.  She’s on first name terms with many regulars!

Ozkan Suncer - Retail Assistant Manager

Ozkan joined the team as a seasonal assistant. He enjoys working at the Zoo so much that he has stayed for over 9 years and is now the Assistant Retail Manager! He enjoys the friendly atmosphere of the Zoo and his favourite animals are the Coatis and our new Shetland Pony Feather.

Beatrice von Preussen – Artist in Residence

Beatrice is a practising artist and illustrator who is inspired by nature. She enjoys the opportunity that her regular days at the zoo give her to observe and draw the animals.

She is particularly captivated by the Mouse House displays and creates artworks and runs collaborative print and craft workshops at the zoo often featuring her favourites: the mice and snails!