Vet David Butcher tells a funny story about the first time he took the temperature of a giraffe.
It was so high he was certain the animal was going to die. In a panic, Butcher consulted his veterinary textbooks and contacted zoos in the United States. Neither source shed any light on the subject. Then came the obvious solution - take the temperature of the other giraffe.
Butcher laughs as he recounts the story.
"Oh, the time in between - that was terrible. I really thought I had a serious situation on my hands," he says. "Of course, the temperatures were the same and the giraffe lived."
We're standing in the back paddock of Butcher's Jamberoo property and his granddaughter's pony, Toto, gently nudges us, trying to win our attention, but we barely notice. Butcher's career is so interesting and varied, there is a lot of ground to cover.
In 1976, he was in charge of overseeing the formation of Dubbo's Western Plains Zoo, transforming an old army camp into 300 hectares of woodland and irrigated grasslands. When it opened, the zoo had 35 different animals from six countries. It was the beginning of massive changes in zoo practice, with fences replaced by concealed moats giving the visitor the impression of being in the wild.
"It was fascinating to build something like that," Butcher says.
"The whole object was to display animals in a way where people, if they partly closed their eyes, could imagine they were in Africa or Asia.
"All the enclosures really took into account the behaviour of the animals. We had thought that it should also be as much a living thing as the animals it contained, so it developed organically, in that it could be easily changed and modified over time. Most people will never see these types of animals in the wild and to be able to imagine that, to consider their ecosystems, was really important from an educational point of view."
Butcher grew up in New Zealand surrounded by open spaces and collecting as many animals as he could. Becoming a vet was an extension of those childhood years.
Even at the age of 72, he is still a bit of a Dr Dolittle, surrounding himself with animals. Almost all of them have been down on their luck at some point.
Of the eight horses on his property, six are old and five have been adopted from Horse Rescue. Only three are rideable. His three dogs are former patients, now all much-loved members of his family.
"As a vet, you never get used to putting animals to sleep," he says.
"I guess there are times when you look down and think 'oh no, I can't do this, I've got to keep you'."
Butcher has had two veterinarian clinics in Sydney, although over the years his career extended into animal conservation work.
"When you look back, it's the bleeding obvious, really. You realise it's not about individual animals, although I like individual animals, but if you're looking at conservation, it's about whole species and it goes even further than that; it's about whole ecosystems. For example, in the future, I'm not sure if tigers will survive outside of zoos. You can't have tigers living in close proximity with humans, as humans tend to become prey. You have to have an ecosystem to support them. They need huge areas of land. There are a lot of species in trouble because they are running out of habitat. At the end of the day, we're an animal too. We are no more immune from extinction from losing our habitat than any other species."
Butcher was one of the experts invited to submit a paper to last year's report of the Club of Rome 2052 - "A Global Forecast For The Next Forty Years". Based in Switzerland, the Club of Rome is a group of international independent thinkers. It began in the late 60s to identify the most crucial problems that will determine the future of humanity.
A previous report published in the early 70s sparked a worldwide environmental campaign.
In his paper, Butcher writes about the limits and threats to high-quality, cheap animal protein, including land-based animals and fish, which he predicts will be a major issue over the next four decades.
In the article he writes: "The distributional effect of the limited supply of protein will be ugly. The affluent will force up prices and consume what high-quality protein there is. The poor, especially in urban areas, will get less, and signs of protein deficiency will reappear, with resultant disease and a lowering of the quality of life for those affected."
The report is selling so well worldwide that the Club of Rome is flying all contributors to the United Kingdom in early October to participate in a think tank on future global issues.
Butcher is also interested in epidemiology and wildlife disease and, during his time as assistant director of Taronga Zoo, set up a pathology registry. It is hoped the slides and tissue samples collected will enable future studies on the pathology of particular species.
"Sometimes just a little, wee nugget of information can reveal the very basis of a disease and how and why it spreads," he says.
Butcher is also a former chief executive of World Wildlife Fund Australia, Greening Australia and the RSPCA (NSW). He has also headed a string of high-profile committees, including the Centennial Parklands Foundation in Sydney.
Most recently, he was appointed chairman of the Sydney-Nagoya Sister City Committee. His involvement with the Japanese city stretches back to 1984, when as Taronga's chief veterinarian he transported and helped settle koalas at Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya and at Tokyo's Tama Zoo. Since then, he has maintained strong links with Japan, having travelled there seven times.
The koalas were the first exported from Australia since the 30s and they became ambassadors for their species and for Australia.
"The koala colonies are still going strong. It's such a popular animal that a huge amount of kudos flowed between Sydney and Nagoya and most probably between Australia and Japan for that very reason."
This month, Butcher hosted an exchange program for a group of Nagoya school pupils.
"The whole object is really to bring people closer together," he says. "It breaks down those cultural barriers. When young people experience a different culture, it affects them for the rest of their life. It's an experience they never forget."
When he joined WWF Australia in 1994, he had no idea the organisation was technically insolvent.
"It was an organisation in dire straits when I arrived," he says. "But we went from strength to strength. We had a clear view of what we wanted to do and we got stuck in and built it up. We became far more focused on Australian animals and ecosystems. We increased its income tenfold so that by the time I left, the turnover was about $12 million. That gave us the cash to go from 13 employees to 130 people throughout Australia."
Butcher is also on the Advisory Council for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and chairs the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative.
The relatively new program aims to set up systems enabling plants and animals to adapt to future environmental threats, such as climate change, by maintaining, improving and reconnecting "islands" of natural vegetation along the great eastern ranges. The initiative runs from the Australian Alps north of Melbourne to far north Queensland.
Butcher says the connectivity of these natural areas is vital for the survival of several endangered species. It is one of the reasons he and his wife bought the Jamberoo property 3½ years ago. Their long, narrow property, on 21 hectares, extends up into the Illawarra escarpment, of which 30 per cent is subtropical rainforest.
"This property goes straight up the hill and it was covered with 10 hectares of lantana when we bought it," he says. "We're now down to one hectare. We've fenced off the creeks and planted them out, because they are the corridors connecting corridors."
The initiative has been awarded a $4.5 million grant to be spent over the next three years.
"This is a long-term, 30-year program," he says.
"It's in the first stages. We're currently hunting for interested people, private landowners, who may need our support in conservation, because a lot of this land is not used for agriculture.
"Species are under threat because the biodiversity has contracted and, even worse, it has been split up into little islands. The smaller the island, the less likely a species is to survive into the future. That's the whole object behind the corridors. There's got to be north-south connections and east-west connections, because isolation will cause mass extinction."
As for retirement, Butcher seems unlikely to let up any time soon.
"The thought of retirement horrifies me. If you ever think you're going to retire, you're in trouble. You've just got to keep yourself active."