Obituary - Colin Rawlins
Colin Guy Champion Rawlins
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The following appeared in the Obituary Notices of the Daily Telegraph, 11 Nov 2003:|
Colin Rawlins, who has died aged 84, was Director of Zoos of the Zoological Society of London from 1966 to 1984; earlier, he had been awarded a DFC while serving as a wartime pilot with Bomber Command, after which he spent 20 years as a colonial administrator in Africa.
After a period in the doldrums, the fortunes of the Zoological Society had begun to revive with the appointment, in 1955, of Sir Solly Zuckerman as Secretary. Zuckerman instituted reforms to strengthen the scientific side of the Society's work, and to attract funds for much-needed reconstruction work. The zoo's directorship was created as part of these reforms.
The new post encompassed responsibility for the management and development of the Society's zoos at Regent's Park and Whipsnade, and for relations with other zoos worldwide, principally through the International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens, of which Rawlins was secretary and later president.
During Rawlins's time with the Zoological Society, the philosophy and techniques of zoo management were changing: increasingly, zoos became centres of conservation and education rather than mere menageries. The Society was in the van of these changes, strongly supported by its scientific work.
Whipsnade, for instance, played a leading international role in the conservation of the rare white rhinoceros in the 1970s, receiving a consignment of 20 white rhinos from the Natal Parks Board in South Africa. Edward Heath's high standing in China brought two giant pandas to Regent's Park.
Financial problems, however, dogged progress, and by 1981 had become sufficiently serious for the Society to seek, for the first time since its foundation in the 1820s, state funding. National zoological collections elsewhere in the world had long benefited from such support. "We see ourselves," said Rawlins, "as the third part of the triangle made up by the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens, which both benefit substantially from government support."
By mid-1983, government grants amounting to some £2.7 million had been given to the Society - which required £5 million a year to run both its zoos - enabling it to maintain vital staff levels that had been threatened by falling visitor numbers and mounting losses. Further problems lay ahead, but by the time Rawlins retired in 1984 the future was beginning to look more settled.
Colin Guy Champion Rawlins was born in London on June 5 1919. He spent his childhood at Pernambuco (now Recife) and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where his father worked for a shipping company. After his mother's death in 1924, Colin and his sister were sent to live with relations in South Africa for two years.
Subsequently, their father remarried and, with the children, moved to Kenya, where Colin attended Prince of Wales School, Nairobi. When the family returned to Britain in 1933, Colin went to Charterhouse, and then up to Queen's College, Oxford.
He joined the Oxford University Air Squadron and became an RAF reservist, before being called up in 1939. After advanced pilot training at Montrose and at Upper Heyford, he flew with 144 (Hampden) Squadron, of No 5 Group, Bomber Command, for a full tour of operations from August to December 1940. He was awarded his DFC in February 1941.
Having been rested, Rawlins pressed for a return to active operations and in May 1941 rejoined No 144 as a flight-commander. On only the second sortie of his next operational tour, he was shot down over Holland on the flight home from a raid on Bremen.
As a result of a broken ankle sustained in a low parachute jump, for three months he was laid up in a German naval hospital at Alkmaar, in Holland. He then spent the rest of the war in various German prisoner-of-war camps, including Stalag Luft III.
On demobilisation early in 1946, Rawlins joined the Overseas Civil Service and was assigned as an administrative officer to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), so fulfilling a long-held ambition to return to Africa. Before leaving, he became engaged to Rosemary (Patsy) Jensen, a WAAF cipher officer whose family had been friends of the Rawlins family years before in Brazil. They were married in May 1946 and, due to the idiosyncracies of civil sea transport after the war, sailed for Africa separately in July and August.
Rawlins served in Northern Rhodesia for the next 20 years, rising to District and Provincial Commissioner, with breaks at Government HQ in Lusaka and on special duties on rural development projects. In 1948-49 he returned to London to spend two terms at the LSE on a Colonial Service course.
In Northern Rhodesia, he became associated mainly with the Barotseland Protectorate, a region of the country near the Angolan border, which had separate treaty status with Britain. There, Rawlins was to be the last Resident Commissioner before self-government was granted in October 1964.
In the run-up to independence, Rawlins, who had become a fluent Lozi speaker, had the task of persuading the regional government to accept Barotseland's incorporation into the new state of Zambia, about which many of its people had misgivings. For this, and his other services to the people of Northern Rhodesia, he was appointed OBE.
Following independence, he spent nine months at Livingstone, near the Victoria Falls, as adviser and administrator to the newly-appointed Provincial Minister, as the process of localisation of senior civil posts took place. He and his family left Zambia in July 1965.
Once back in Britain, Rawlins, still only 46, began the search for a new career. The result was his appointment by the London Zoological Society as Director of Zoos (later designated Chief Executive) in 1966.
In retirement, Rawlins was a trustee, and for 10 years chairman, of the Zimbabwe Trust and its associate Africa Resources Trust, organisations set up to help rural development in newly-independent Zimbabwe.
Flying had remained an interest since his RAF days: in 1955 Rawlins had flown from England to Africa in a light aircraft without a radio. He kept up his private pilot's licence until he was nearly 70, and was a director, and latterly vice-president, of the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association.
Colin Rawlins died on October 23; his wife, and their daughter and two sons survive him.