July 15th 2023 | Director

Barbara Baker D.V.M.

Barbara served as the long time director of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium but honed her skill in the profession as a veterinarian from 1982-1990 at various zoos. Her leadership helped the Pittsburgh Zoo to develop international programs dealing with wildlife.

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Okay, I’m Dr. Barbara Baker. I was born in Sanford, North Carolina in 1956.

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And who were your parents?

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What’d they do?

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My parents are Joe and Peggy Thomas, and my dad was a school teacher and also has a farm with tobacco, and soybeans, and corn. And my mom was a music teacher, actually. So she taught music and raised four kids.

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Piano, violin?

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Piano, piano. Piano and organ. Tell us a little about your childhood, growing up.

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Were animals part of your life?

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Very much so. We grew up on a farm, and so I had three brothers and myself, and I credit my parents with a lot of the gusto I have, for lack of a better word to put it, because they treated me just like the boys. I was no different. So we all did the same things, we all had the same chores, we all worked the tobacco in that time, was the big cash crop, still is a big cash crop actually. And so we worked in the tobacco fields, and I was treated the same as the boys were. And so that actually helped me a lot with learning how to handle myself, how to be a good leader actually.

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So on the farm, were you, did you go to the city?

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What kind of animals were you dealing with?

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Just all farm animals, horses?

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Yeah, farm animals. We had farm animals. We had cows, and horses, and pigs, and chickens, and all that kind of thing. So we basically had the farm animal setting, the old farm buildings, and everything you could think of from a farm standpoint. I was involved in 4H, showed horses in 4H in every kind of class you could think of. And then we also worked the farm. So we worked very hard from about 5:30 in the morning ’til dusk. And so you worked hard.

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We were the only kids in our school that were happy when we went back to school. All the rest of the kids were like, “Oh God, we gotta go back to school.” And we were sitting there going, “Hallelujah, I don’t have to get up at 5:30.” (Barbara laughs) So we really enjoyed that part of it. But it was classic. My dad, of course, taught nine months outta the year, and then the other three months of the year we farmed the farm. But we had a five acre garden. we had all those kind of things that go with a real, working farm in North Carolina. And as I grew up, I watched the veterinarians who were working with our animals there on the farm, and that’s what got me interested in the veterinarian field. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a veterinarian.

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Not a zoo veterinarian, ’cause I didn’t know anything about zoos, North Carolina didn’t even have a zoo at that time. But I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian.

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Well what was your first, what zoo was the very first zoo that you remember you actually saw?

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Well actually I didn’t go to any zoos at all until I went down to Auburn, Alabama, where I went to vet school. And while I was at Auburn, we worked with the Montgomery Zoo and the Birmingham Zoo, and I got involved there, and those were the first zoos that I had any kind of intimate involvement with at all. I went to vet school to be the horse doctor. I didn’t go to vet school to be a zoo veterinarian. As a matter of fact, there was no zoo veterinarian programs at that time. So the. That ages me. (Barbara laughs) Oh, so it was all about horses and farm animals.

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Horses, and cows, and goats, and sheep, and dogs, and cats.

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Did you have any teachers, mentors that affected your life when you were doing this and at school?

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Well, primarily I would say my mom and dad are my biggest mentors as I was growing up. My dad was very hardworking, had a very long stride, and I spent most of my time, I walked very fast, and my people at the zoo always wanted to know how I could walk so fast. And it was always ’cause I was trying to catch up with my six foot five daddy who had a very long walk. So I was definitely a daddy’s girl. And so I was able to learn a great deal of things. As I said, they didn’t treat me like a girl, they treated me like all of the boys. There’s another worker on the farm. And so we learned everything you could learn about a farm, for example mechanics and carpentry.

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I like to do carpentry, woodwork, and I played with that. And so each one of us kind of had a skill that we did as the three boys and myself growing up. And so we kinda learned from all of the things around the farm. So it made you, especially as a zoo veterinarian, oh, and as a zoo director as well, it made you very able to conceptualize and know that, if we were gonna fix this HVAC system in the aquarium, it wasn’t gonna be an overnight fix, it was gonna take a while to fix this. Because you know a little bit about the mechanics and a little bit about the things that make things work. So that was a lot of good things that my daddy taught me. And they could have said, she’s a girl, we don’t teach girls these kind of things, and everything. But that wasn’t the case.

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Well my daddy was a school teacher, he was a science teacher, and so he was very good at teaching and helping you learn, as was all my uncles and all that kind of thing. So it was hard work. It was hard work and actually, quite frankly, I couldn’t wait to get outta my hometown because of that, wanting to do something other than hard work. ‘Cause we started in the fields at age five. I actually have a block that I found when I moved back home, I’m at home now, and I found this block that went on the clutch of the tractors so that we, ’cause we didn’t have legs long enough to reach a clutch to drive the tractors in the fields. And actually my earliest memories of the fields and the tobacco is my daddy put me up on a mule, when they used a mules in the fields, and he put me up on a mule. And I know you’re not supposed to remember things like that from like when you’re two or three, but I distinctly remember that, probably ’cause I love horses now, but. So you wanted to be a horse doctor, you got exposure to the zoos as you were learning your craft.

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When did you decide, I don’t want to be a horse doctor, I think I want to work at zoos?

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How’d that come about?

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Well, as I said, at Auburn you had a senior project that you had to do, and so you had to come up with something. Well, most people did a lit search, they took the easy way route and they did a lit search, and they spent a couple of weekends in the library at the vet school and they were done with their project. I wanted to actually make it be something that helped my career and helped me learn. And so I went to the two zoos, Montgomery and Brookfield Zoo, and at that time the bird sexing was in its infancy. Now they can do it with DNA and all that kind of stuff and they can figure it out with just taking a feather sample. But back then we used a laparoscope, and we actually looked, we cut a hole in the side of the bird and we looked in to see what actually was there, gonads were there. And so, that was in its infancy. And so I borrowed a laparoscope from the vet school and I volunteered to go to the Montgomery Zoo and the Birmingham Zoo and laparoscope all of their birds, and that was my senior project.

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And so I got behind the scenes there because of that project. And I got to learn, and boy, I tell you what, I must have sacrificed 400 pigeons learning that technique before I could go to the zoo and convinced them that this little vet student could help them with their bird sexing. And back in those old days you would put two birds together and hope that they would mate, hope you had a male and female. You just didn’t know in many of the species of the birds, and so I was able to do that. And that gave me my first insight into zoo medicine, or the lack of, actually. There were very few zoo vets at that time. And so I was able to go in, work with the staff, get to know the staff and say, hey, this would be something really cool if I can get in to the zoo medicine field. And there were only, at that time, I think two residencies.

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So that was very hard to get. Alright, so you’ve graduated from vet school. Auburn, Alabama. I’m a War Eagle. Okay. You’ve graduated and you now know a zoo veterinarian is what you’re striving to be.

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How did you get this start?

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It was an internship at the Bronx Zoo. Yes.

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How did that come about?

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I actually contacted Emil Dolensek and the staff there and begged them to take me on as an intern, or what they called an extern at that point. A student, basically, a vet student coming on. And they had a program there, it was one of the few programs at that time. But I was lucky enough to get in there, blessed to get into there and work with Dr. Emil Dolensek, who was a crochety veterinarian, but great clinician. He was a hoot. I mean, I enjoyed him, because I like personalities, I like characters, and my upbringing with the boys and being treated like a boy, I was actually more comfortable with men than women. And so I could work with Emil, and Emil and I got along really, really well. So I was there for six months as a student.

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And then I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago as a student. Oh, hold it, I’m getting ahead of the questions. Let’s just stick with New York for a minute. Okay.

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So what were your duties there?

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Well, I was a student extern. So basically we tagged along with the veterinarians and we did whatever we could do to help out, basically hold anesthesia, basically what a vet student is able to do. I was very good, ’cause I’d actually been, I went to vet tech school first, so I was a vet tech before I went to vet school. And so I was very good at bleeding, I could hit any vein you could possibly think of, and so I was able to help them out a lot with that kind of thing. And so basically you were tagging along, just getting your feet in the industry, for lack of a better term, feet in the profession, and learning what the profession is actually about. And so Emil at that time also worked, of course, with the New York Aquarium, ’cause that’s under the WCS banner. And so we would get to go over to the aquarium and work at the New York Aquarium as well, and that was my first introduction to any type of fish medicine, which was definitely, it was in its very, very infancy. Nobody knew anything about fish medicine.

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Most of what we did with fish medicine, at that time, was pathology. Post whatever died and see if we can figure it out from there.

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So were you interacting with senior staff at the zoo, aside from the vet?

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Well, we did a little bit, because we were working with, usually the curators would show up, Jim Daughtery would show up if we’re working on some birds or something, and, we would have a chance to interact with those folks. So I met many of them. But we really, you’re a student, so you’re the lowest thing on the totem pole. So you’re just basically there to learn and help out.

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Did you happen to meet the then zoo director of the Bronx Zoo?

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I did. I was very fortunate to meet Dr. Conley and have an opportunity really to talk to him. I tend to do this in the weirdest situations. I met him when I was working on an animal by myself, and he roamed in, and I didn’t actually know who he was, except that he was very well dressed and he had a presence to him. The staff changed when he walked in. I’m very good at reading body language. I learned that working with elephants, ironically, but, and the whole air changed. But I did get a chance to meet with him several times.

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And then my husband, Dayton Baker, who ran the National Aviary for many years, worked with him on several projects that they were working on through the National Aviary. So we actually met and had dinner with them on a couple of occasions. So it was a lot of fun. I got to meet a lot of the really cool people in the industry as the industry was growing and becoming the profession that it is now.

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So your internship was how long?

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Gosh, that was a long time ago. I’m gonna say it was six months. I had previously, actually, my first externship was at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. So I was at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago with Dr. Tom Meehan. And I was there for, I think, four months, maybe, something like that. And then I went to the Bronx Zoo for my internship there, externship there, and was there for six months. Was supposed to stay a year, but I ended up only staying six months because Dr. Tom Meehan offered me a position back at Lincoln Park. So I came back to Lincoln Park because I had an opportunity to possibly grow into a position there.

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So only stayed at the Bronx for six months.

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So what was the position at Lincoln Park that was offered to you, full-time?

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Associate Veterinarian, full-time. Ironically full-time, but not paid. I didn’t get paid for the first, I think year. So it was like. Which is against labor laws now, but.

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(Barbara laughs) So it was like an internship?

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I was associate veterinarian, I wasn’t intern, but we weren’t as strict about titles back then. In today’s world, I probably would be considered an intern. But my title was actually associate veterinarian there.

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And how was Lincoln Park different than the Bronx that you had come from?

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Oh, well, Lincoln Park, the Bronx is one of my favorite zoos, honest to god, one of my favorite zoos. It’s this incredible oasis in the middle of the Bronx, and especially the Bronx back then. The Bronx is better now, but back then they wouldn’t let you leave the gate. You couldn’t drive out of the gate after dark. They literally made you stay. They had housing for the students there at the vet hospital. And if you came to the gate, I mean, I tried to drive out one day and they wouldn’t let me leave. And I’m like, you’ve gotta be kidding me.

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Like, no ma’am, we’re not letting you out in the Bronx, not at after dark. Little female, long blonde hair, no way. And so they made you stay. The Lincoln Park Zoo is a smaller facility, but it’s wide open and it’s in the middle of the city. So I think that’s so fabulous because everybody walks in and out of the zoo all the time. And it’s just a much more open facility. Certainly smaller, so the cool thing about Lincoln Park is you get a chance to meet everybody, all the staff, all of the people there. You work with everybody from Lester Fisher all the way down and you really have a chance to get to know everybody.

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And in today’s world, Lincoln Park would not be considered small zoo. I’m not calling it a small zoo at all. It was just a very different dynamic. So you mentioned the director who was a veterinarian also, Dr. Lester Fisher. Dr. Lester Fisher.

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Did you have dealings with him when you were at Lincoln Park?

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Oh, yeah. I had a lot of dealings with Dr. Fisher. It was great fun to sit in on the meetings with Dr. Fisher. He was always weighing the strengths and weaknesses, the pluses and the minuses.

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And he was so much fun, because we would come out of a meeting and we’d all meet in the hallway afterwards and go, “So did he say yes or no?

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We’re not really sure.” You know what, we weighed the pluses, and the strengths, and the weaknesses, and so where did we land?

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(Barbara laughs) So he was a lot of fun. I love Dr. Fisher.

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Did he give you any insights, as a senior veterinarian and a director, into the zoo veterinary profession?

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Did he tell you about it, the things you didn’t know from a senior person?

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Oh, he was absolutely one of the people that I consider to be a mentor. He was very present. You think of the director today, and a lot of the directors today kinda are in the office and they’re not out on the grounds like they used to be. But Dr. Fisher was always on the grounds. I mean, a lot of times he was on the grounds before the rest of us were even there. He would know about a sick animal.

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And we had this fellow, what was his name?

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I’m trying to remember. The fellow that was always on the grounds, walking around, a public person.

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And he would tell doctor, who was it?

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Coca-Cola Bob. Coca-Cola Bob. Coca-Cola Bob got me in trouble once, ’cause Coca-Cola Bob walks on the grounds in the morning once the gate’s opened, and they opened early, because we had deliveries coming and all that kind of stuff. And Coca-Cola Bob was this fellow who was certainly challenged, mentally challenged, and he would walk on the grounds, and he would go around and look at all the animals. And he was never any harm to anybody, but he was always there, every single day he was there. And so him and Dr. Fisher knew each other very well. They got along very, very well. But he would tell Dr. Fisher about animals that were dead in their cages before the vet staff would even know.

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So a lot of times Dr. Fisher would not be happy about the fact that he hadn’t been notified. And yet, we hadn’t even been notified yet that the animal was dead. I remember a snow leopard had died, and Coca-Cola Bob wandered on the grounds early in the morning and spotted the snow leopard, and it unfortunately had died overnight.

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And the staff wasn’t in yet, everybody wasn’t in yet, and here comes Dr. Fisher, and he knows, and we got a dressing down about that because, why didn’t he know?

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Well, we didn’t know. It was fun. Coca-Cola Bob was a hoot.

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So you’re at the zoo, but then also, how did you become a consulting veterinarian at the Shedd Aquarium?

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Yeah, we actually, at that time, the Lincoln Park Zoo vets also handled the Shedd Aquarium. And so for several years, the two years that I was there, actually, we would go down to the Shedd Aquarium and work on any of their animals, particularly their mammals. They had a few otters and a couple of other animals there that we worked on. And so we primarily worked on them, but we also helped out anyhow we could with any of the fish or mammal problems, dolphin problems, or anything like that that they might have. And so we worked both facilities. So we were on call for them just as much as we were for Lincoln Park. And so you were at Lincoln Park Zoo as an assistant veterinarian.

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Why did you feel you wanted to move onward?

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Was there no position for you?

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Did you want to grow more than you could in Lincoln Park?

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What was the genesis for where you went?

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And that was the Riverbank Zoo?

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What was the genesis for leaving Lincoln Park?

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Well, when I became interested in Zoo Animals, I did an externship, I did two externships at the Riverbank Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina. Fabulous Park. And it was brand new. It was a new facility. It had only been built, as a matter of fact, I was there on their 10 year anniversary. And so it was a brand new facility, and I had been there twice already as an extern, on summer breaks and all that kind of thing. Any time I could get anywhere in a zoo, I would try to do that to learn. And so I knew about the Riverbank Zoo.

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Well, the position, the head vet position became available at Riverbanks. The veterinarian there left.

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And so Satch Krantz called me and said, “Would you be interested in a position?

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We want you to apply.” And so I wasn’t gonna apply. I said, no, I’m happy at Lincoln Park, I’m having a great time. I’m in the big city, I’ve never been in the big city except for the Bronx, ’cause I’m a farm girl, a little country girl. And so I’m not ready to leave. I had just met my future husband at the time, so I was in love, no reason to leave. And Satch called, and he was very persuasive about, we want you to come down, we want you to interview. And so I went to talk to Dayton Baker, my future husband, in his office. And he strongly encouraged me to apply, much to my surprise.

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And so I did apply and I kept it secret, didn’t tell anybody I was applying, but I applied, went down and interviewed, and got the job. And then I had this real conundrum to figure out, ’cause here I am, I’m in love with this guy, and I haven’t met a good guy in a long, long time, except for you, of course. But anyway, and so, I didn’t know what to do, really. But he encouraged me to go, so we went, it was closer to my home in North Carolina, so I could visit my parents, be involved with my family. And so it kinda made sense. We were barely making it work. As I said, I lived with keepers who were fortunate enough to keep me in food and lodging for the better part of my time at Lincoln Park. And I was only paid, I think, of the whole two years I was there, I was paid one year out of the two.

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But anyway, so it was a hard decision, but one I made to go down there, and I cried all the way to two states away because I knew for sure that this man was not gonna follow me. There was no way that somebody was gonna follow little old me all this far way away. He was a Yankee, he wasn’t gonna leave to go to the deep south of Columbia, South Carolina. So I was absolutely sure about that. But thank the good Lord he did come, we got married, and 39 years later we’re still married. But yeah, so it was a hard, it was a very hard choice. I loved Lincoln Park, I loved the people there, and I was having a great time.

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What was your title when you went to Riverbanks?

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I was originally, I started out as the head veterinarian, or senior veterinarian, and then I ended up, they had no research program, so I helped develop the research program there, put it together with some of the great team down there. Alan Schumaker was instrumental in helping do that as well, ’cause he’s really into literature searches, and knowledge, and scientific information. And so I was able to put together the research program as well. And so by the time I left, I was a Director of Animal Health and Research. I was there six and a half years.

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Well, if you’re the director, the veterinarian in charge, why did you become the international studbook keeper for the Black Howler Monkey?

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How did that come about?

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Well, I’m always interested in how animals are managed. Part of the veterinarian’s challenge is that we see the animal when the animal is sick or thought to be sick, although I firmly believed that, one of the things Tom taught me was it’s so important that you also know what normal behavior is. Learn normal behavior first, then you can know and recognize when you’ve got abnormal behavior occurring as a veterinarian. That’s very important to know. With something you might think is not normal, like the body temperature of sloths being 88, and trying to warm up a sloth because you think that the temperature’s too low at 88. Well, no, that’s their normal temperature. That’s what they do normally. So knowing normals is just as important as knowing abnormals.

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But anyway, I was a veterinarian and I wanted to expand on my knowledge of what was going on in the zoo world. SSPs and studbooks were in their infancy at that time. So I begged Satch Krantz to let me go to the very first studbook keeper workshop. And so I went out to Omaha, roomed with Lori Perkins, and we roomed together. And there was a class of, I think 55 people who were interested in becoming studbook keepers. And so then I had to figure out what animal I wanted to work with. Well, Riverbanks had one of the best programs for howler monkeys, and they’re such a neat species. And so I decided that I wanted to work with the Howler monkeys, and so became the howler monkey studbook keeper, which was unusual.

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There weren’t too many vets that were doing that at the time. But I love looking at that kind of data, and doing a survey, and finding out all that kind of information. So I think that’s the kind of the scientist in me, and so that was really interesting to do. So I was a stud bookkeeper for a very long time. And you said that the zoo was kind of new when you were there.

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So what kind of zoo did you see when you got there and as you were working there?

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Well, we had a collection of a whole bunch of really neat animals. I mean, we had the classic, tigers and lions, polar bears, which were more plentiful at that time in zoos. We had a polar bear escape. That was fun. I was sitting in my office in my vet hospital, well actually the vet office was located in the education center, ’cause there wasn’t room in the vet hospital. But anyway, and so I was sitting there one morning early, ’cause I went in early, and I was sitting there about 8:30 one morning, and I look out the window, and on the grass walking by is a polar bear. And I’m thinking that’s, and so you kinda look away, and then you look back and you go, “That’s not right. That’s not right.” So I called on radio and reported it.

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We had, at that time, two yearling polar bear cubs that had been born there. And during the day before, one of the maintenance staff had worked on something in the moat, and had left the ladder there in the moat. And so the polar bear had flipped the ladder over to the public side, it was on the animal side, he had flipped the ladder over to the public side, and crawled out, and was out there walking around. Now this is not a huge polar bear. This one probably weighs 150 pounds, 200 pounds, but still not something you wanna play with and not something you wanna see walking around out there.

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And the zoo’s gonna open in an hour, right?

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But anyway, we called the alert, and by the time we got our darting equipment and everything ready to dart the bear, the poor guy had tried to get back across the ladder that he came in. They’re very intelligent animals. And so he had tried to figure out how to get back down into his moat where was his home. What’s amazing to me is people in the public who criticize zoos often say that the habitats are not appropriate, and the animals are not happy there, blah, blah, blah.

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And in reality, that’s their home. That’s their home space. This animal was born in that facility.

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This was all the home he knew, the polar bear, right?

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And so this was his comfort zone. Being in that exhibit was his comfort zone. That was his home. And so he tried to crawl back in. Well unfortunately the ladder didn’t hold like it did on the way up. And it knocked over, and he fell down, he broke a leg. And so that afternoon we spent repairing the leg on that polar bear, who ended up doing fine and lived a nice, long life. But it’s funny, the things you don’t expect.

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I mean, I think that’s one of the most fun things about zoos is that the animals don’t read the book, right?

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And they don’t read a book. So, you’d walk in every single day and I would have an interviewer ask me, “What’s a typical zoo day?” There is no such thing. You never know what you’re gonna be dealing with when you walk in that door. It could be a polar bear walking by where you’re trying to just have your coffee. You never know.

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Now are you one of the few women veterinarians at this time in the profession?

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Absolutely, oh yeah. Well for starters, there weren’t many veterinarians period. when I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo, Dr. Tom Meehan was the only veterinarian there. Now they have a ton of veterinarians. We’re here at Brookfield, they have 12 veterinarians, it’s crazy. But back then, like I said, I volunteered for a year just to try to get my foot in the door because zoos did not have full-time veterinarians. They had consulting veterinarians. So they had the local vet who came over and consulted every once in a while, whenever they had a problem.

00:29:27 - 00:30:06

But there was no in-house, full-time veterinarians in most zoos. So for starters, there weren’t many zoo vets. I think at that time there was 46, 48, something like that in all the zoos in all the country. And then women, there were very few. I think maybe I can think of one or two women veterinarians at that time that were in zoos. Now of course there are a tremendous number, and that’s great. But back then, no, and when I became zoo director, that was fun too. Because when I became a zoo director, and I was a young zoo director, I was 34 when I became the director of the Pittsburgh Zoo.

00:30:06 - 00:30:30

And you’d go to these director’s retreats, we had a once a year meeting where we’d go to these director’s retreats and talk about all the issues that we dealt with on a daily basis. But it was fun because it’s the only place I’ve ever been to where the line to go in the men’s room was longer than the line to go to women’s room. You breeze right in the women’s room, ’cause I think there were four women vets, well not four women directors at that time, and it was all boys.

00:30:32 - 00:30:43

Did you tend to work more closely or speak with your women professional veterinarians at the time, or it just was even?

00:30:43 - 00:30:51

It didn’t matter to me. I think that was one cool thing about my upbringing is that I talk to anybody, it didn’t matter.

00:30:51 - 00:30:57

So what were you learning while you’re doing this, about the zoo medical profession when you’re doing this job?

00:30:57 - 00:31:04

And were any of these lessons being learned at the time helpful once you became a zoo director?

00:31:04 - 00:31:22

Oh, absolutely. Because when you first start at a zoo and you’re a zoo veterinarian, you’re not mindful of all the things it takes to actually run a zoo. We think the thing about being a zoo veterinarian, or any veterinarian for that matter in any facility, is that you are a singular focus.

00:31:23 - 00:31:30

Your primary focus is on that individual animal that’s sick or needs your help that day, right?

00:31:30 - 00:32:03

And so you’re more on an individual basis. One of the reasons why I did the studbook was because I wanted to be on a broader basis, I wanted to help the species at large as opposed to just the individual animal. And that actually led to why I became a zoo director. God forbid, I don’t know why I ever did that. If I had do it over again, don’t know if I would. But, that kinda led to why you become a zoo director, because you wanna have a bigger impact on conservation and the animals in your care. Well that’s a reasonable thing to talk about.

00:32:03 - 00:32:12

When did you start thinking about leaving the medical side of the profession for going into zoo administration?

00:32:12 - 00:32:47

Well, I’d been a zoo vet for eight and a half years. And it’s kind of funny, I used to tell people that you can only see so many primate diarrheas before you’re kind of done with primate diarrhea. And that is a lot of what you see in primates, unfortunately. But I became interested in having a bigger impact. I was learning a whole lot at Riverbank. You asked about what I was learning, oh gosh, how to design exhibits. We designed our aquarium, and built it, and it opened there the first time. I was there when the Riverbanks Aquarium opened.

00:32:47 - 00:33:37

And so I was learning all about design and strategic planning. We went through two strategic plans while I was there. So strategic planning, and design, and construction, and all of those aspects. And I was blessed that Satch Krantz let me be involved in all of the aspects of the zoo. His senior management team there was really involved in almost everything, so it wasn’t like we couldn’t afford strategic planners off Here that that’s all they did, which zoos now can do. Zoos have their own design teams now. But back then, the senior management team worked to design the exhibits, and worked to make sure that the animal spaces were appropriate, the visitor spaces were appropriate. And so it was really fun to do that.

00:33:37 - 00:34:17

I was involved in a visitor survey while we were there to learn what the visitors like. And this was in the infancy, really, of us actually studying what the visitors thought, and now that’s a big field as well. But back then we didn’t really study the visitors. All our focus was on the animals and the visitors were, in some people’s minds, not mine, the necessary evil of keeping the doors open. But now we’ve learned so much about what the visitors think and how they can drive conservation, and wildlife, and everything else by what we teach them in the zoo and how we get ’em involved in the animals.

00:34:17 - 00:34:29

So you’re now thinking zoo administration, but you’re thinking, “I want to be a zoo director” or you’re just thinking the zoo administration?

00:34:29 - 00:34:58

Oh no, I wanted to be a director. And so my husband and I are sitting in our respective chairs one night at the house, and I told him, I said, I think I wanna go into zoo administration. I think I wanna get involved in zoo administration and have a bigger impact. I wanna try my hand at that. I think I can do that. And he said, well you don’t know anything about finance. You can’t manage your checkbook. And I’m like, well, yeah I can manage my checkbook.

00:34:58 - 00:35:43

I just don’t make it a priority to manage my checkbook, ’cause I’m busy, and that’s not top priority. And by that time we had a two year old, well we didn’t have a two year old yet, but we were thinking about it. And so he said, well you ought to go look at getting your MBA or something, so you know something about business, and you’ll know how to balance your checkbook, take some finance classes and everything. And so I said, oh, okay. So I went to the University of South Carolina and got my MBA, working, going at nights. I’d work a full day at the zoo, and then turn around and go to MBA classes at night. And they’ve streamlined ’em a lot better now, but back then you’d go two or three nights a week and then you go all day Saturday for a year. And so I got my MBA at the University of South Carolina.

00:35:43 - 00:36:20

While I was doing that, like I didn’t have enough to do, I had a full-time job, getting my MBA, right, and it was intense. We had exams, the whole nine yard, I got pregnant. And so during that time I delivered. During the time I was in school I delivered my girl, Catherine Casey. Little girl, Catherine Casey. And flunked my corporate finance exam because I was in labor, and I decided to go ahead and take it. And I literally had, I was sick. No, I wasn’t in labor, I was in the first trimester, ’cause I was sick as a bloody dog.

00:36:20 - 00:36:47

And I had my husband, my wonderful husband, tape the notes for the exam on the underside of the toilet seat, ’cause that’s where I spent most of my time, there. And so he helped me study. So I’m stubborn as hell. So I decided to go ahead and take the exam and made a 49 on it. I never told anybody that hired me about that, but I made a 49 on my finance exams. Corporate finance. My husband said, see nothing about finance. I’m like, no, I’m a little sick.

00:36:47 - 00:37:07

So luckily my professor let me retake it after the baby was stable, and I managed to pass and move on from corporate finance. Not my favorite thing, but I know the terminology. MBA doesn’t teach you how to be anything.

00:37:07 - 00:37:14

An MBA, a basic MBA, gives you the terminology and the introduction to a whole lot of things, right?

00:37:14 - 00:37:46

So they teach you about finance, and they teach you about strategic planning, and they teach you about this, but they don’t teach you actually how to do it. They teach you the terminology, marketing. Marketing and PR. Actually, my focus in my MBA was marketing and PR, because I saw that as being something that zoos had to do more and more of. And at that time they weren’t doing a lot of marketing and PR. So you get your degree. I get my degree, have my baby. Have your veterinary degree also.

00:37:46 - 00:37:47

Uh huh.

00:37:47 - 00:37:56

Why, and what was the thought process then of deciding to leave the Riverbank zoo?

00:37:56 - 00:38:57

Well, I had done, during the time that I was at Riverbanks, I served on the accreditation commission for AZA, and actually ended up being on the AZA Accreditation Commission for 12 years. ‘Cause I was a three for, I was a three for. And so by the end of the 12 years I was a director, I was female, and I was a veterinarian. So I was a three for, I fit a lot of molds that the accreditation commission needed, models the accreditation commission needed. So I had been involved in accreditation inspections for many, many years. And so I went to the Pittsburgh Zoo for their accreditation, their very first accreditation in 1985, 86. And I went there and I met the parks director, Louise Brown, during that process of the accreditation. And I viewed, I went through the whole zoo, and my thoughts when I went through the zoo was like, it was like a diamond in the rough.

00:38:57 - 00:39:01

Like why hasn’t anybody taken this place and run with it?

00:39:01 - 00:39:46

I mean this is like all the pieces, parts are here. You’re in a city that has 14 Fortune 500 companies, foundations, everything you could think of, and yet nobody was taking it and running with it. And so I was kind of perplexed about that. But anyway, Chuck Wiggenhauser, who was the director at the time, then moved on to the Milwaukee Zoo, and in 1990, ’89 he resigned and moved on. And then Louise Brown called me. I was at Riverbanks finishing up my MBA, hadn’t quite finished it by then, finishing up my MBA. And she called me and said, I want you to interview for this position. So I said, okay.

00:39:49 - 00:40:18

Put your resume together, send it to me. So that’s what I did. I said put my resume together and I sent it to her, and we had really clicked when we’d done the accreditation inspection, ’cause she was along on a lot of the inspection. And so anyway, I interviewed, it was a fun interview. So much fun. ‘Cause there were 52 applicants and they interviewed eight people on the same day. So we were all downtown in I think what’s now the Hyatt.

00:40:18 - 00:40:22

We were all downtown and so we all saw each other, right?

00:40:22 - 00:41:00

But we weren’t supposed to see each other, so they literally would drive up and pick you up on one side of the building, and then you’d go for your interview, and then you come back, and then they drop you off on the other side of the building. We were all waving at each other, ’cause we know each other, it’s a small community, right. It’s a small community, everybody knows each other, and so everybody knows who’s applying for whatever. And so we were all waving at each other. So it was a lot of fun. The interview process was intense. Oh my god, eight hours. We interviewed for eight hours and went here, went there, went there, went there, went there, like little chess pieces, moving us all around.

00:41:00 - 00:41:16

My last interview was with Louise Brown and her team. Four o’clock, five o’clock in the afternoon. You’ve been doing this all day long, eight solid hours you’ve been interviewing with different people.

00:41:16 - 00:41:24

Had lunch with the Zoo Society, met with all the people, and you’re exhausted, you’re brain dead, right?

00:41:24 - 00:42:02

And got the big old room, big old boardroom like this one. And you’re sitting there, and you’re at the end of the table, and you’re sitting there at your little interview, and there’s one chair right beside you that’s empty. And so Louise Brown’s at the other end, the director of Parks and Recreation, she’s at the other end, people are all asking questions. And then this guy comes in, he’s kind of pot faced and he’s kinda, and body language, I read body language. Body language, you can’t read a darn thing. I mean, he’s like, can’t tell anything about what he’s thinking. And he sits down right beside me. But the whole room changes.

00:42:02 - 00:42:39

Like the whole dynamic of everybody, everybody’s sitting up straighter and everybody’s like, and I’m like, hmm, this guy’s important, but I don’t know who he is. And I’m tired and I wanna go back to my hotel room. And so he sits there, and they ask a few more questions, and I answer, and I just nodded at him. And we went on with the interview, and then Louise Brown says, “Jim, would you like to ask the candidate, this is Dr. Barbara Baker, would you like to ask her any questions?” And he said, “I have just one question.” He said, “What will you do in the first six months to make me fire you?” And I’m like, oh.

00:42:41 - 00:42:43

That’s a heck of a question to answer, right?

00:42:43 - 00:42:47

And I said, “Do you have an aversion to change?

00:42:47 - 00:43:20

‘Cause if you have an aversion to change, you’ll fire me in the first six months.” He gets up, can’t read a thing. Good answer, bad answer, no clue. He gets up, walks out the door, he’s gone. So I laugh, and I look around the room and I said, “That was either the best answer I ever gave or the worst answer I ever gave.” And I said, “By the way, who is that?” He was the deputy mayor, second in charge, actually ran the city. So he was the deputy mayor, and actually a very good friend of mine now. But I guess it was a good answer, ’cause they hired me.

00:43:20 - 00:43:25

(Barbara laughs) So they hired you for the job, when was that?

00:43:25 - 00:43:29

1990. I started July 2nd, 1990.

00:43:29 - 00:43:36

What was the zoo, you had been there, but tell me, what was the zoo like when you took over?

00:43:36 - 00:43:38

You said diamond in the rough, but what kind of zoo was it?

00:43:38 - 00:44:08

It was a diamond in the rough. It was a facility that hadn’t, well for starters, let’s start by saying it was a city facility. It was a city run facility. And so our budget at the time was $3 million. That’s all we had. We had 45 full-time employees. Because of the union, we weren’t allowed to hire seasonals or part-times, so we were allowed exactly six seasonal employees. And so attendance at that time was right at 450,000.

00:44:08 - 00:45:05

And it had been level, dead flat, 450,000 for 10 years. Despite the fact that they had opened new exhibits, they had opened beautiful new exhibits, they had opened new areas, they had things that were going on that were very positive for people to see. And yet their attendance was dead level flat. And the reason for that was, it was run by the city. City’s budget was zero for PR and marketing, absolutely zero. And so all of the marketing and PR they got were PSAs that ran at 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM in the morning, not your target market for a zoo facility. They had, on average, 420 people in education programs year round, that was it. And mainly because they only had one little classroom that doubled as also the docents work room, and so they didn’t have a dedicated education space.

00:45:05 - 00:45:40

So that was very difficult. The programs there needed a lot of growth, we didn’t have a single full-time employee who did education. We had one person, Margie Marks, beautiful lady, wonderful person. Margie Marks, talk about dedicated, works more hours than anybody. But anyway, she did marketing, PR, special events, and education, that was her job. We were so lean and mean, so everybody did everything. I even tried to run the cash register once, but I’m terrible at that. So they wouldn’t let me do that anymore.

00:45:40 - 00:46:20

I messed everything up. But everybody did everything. We parked cars, we did special events, we did anything and everything that needed to happen at the zoo because we were so short staffed. In addition, we were not focused, we didn’t have a real focus in the animal collection. There had been turnover for general curators there for several years, and I’m not sure why. But anyway, that had occurred, and so we didn’t really, we were working with five endangered species. And when I say working with, we were just holding them. We weren’t breeding anything at that time.

00:46:20 - 00:47:08

So we were working with five endangered species. So one of the things I wanted to put a focus on, obviously, is growing the animals that needed our care the most, the endangered species, especially in the zoo. So that needed work. Also, the facilities needed work, the children, my office at that time was in a little chalet. I jokingly told people that the reason why I got the job was ’cause I could fit in the bathroom in the chalet, because the zoo office was in a little a-frame chalet in the children’s zoo, which also needed a lot of work. In the children’s zoo, in this little chalet, and the bathroom was in the corner of one of the lean-tos. And so my office had a lean-to in it. And so I jokingly told some of the people that didn’t get the job that were 6’5″ that you didn’t get it ’cause you wouldn’t fit in the room.

00:47:08 - 00:47:48

But anyway, and the children’s zoo needed work. It was outdated and very much needed work. And right in the middle of the children’s zoo was a Japanese Macaque exhibit. And, much to my horror as a veterinarian, I found out the second or third day after I started work that those Japanese Macaques were positive for herpes virus in the middle of the children zoo. Right there in the middle of the children zoo. So, needless to say, we fixed that pretty quick. But we had an aquarium, it was older, but we were one of the few zoos that had a full-sized zoo and an aquarium. So that needed work.

00:47:48 - 00:48:56

And we had an older hoofstock area that was just chain link and mud, and so we really needed to work on that alone. So there was a whole lot of things going on. And then additionally, the previous administration, back in 1975, not Chuck Wickenhausuer or any of that group, but back all the way back to 1975, and I started in 1990, had severely pissed off all of the major foundations in the city. Because the zoo, at one point in Pittsburgh Zoo’s history, there was the city side of the zoo, and then the aquarium, the nocturnal house, the Twilight Zoo they called it, and the children’s zoo was built and run by the Zoo Society. So there was two halves of the zoo. And you literally paid to get in one side, but the city side was free, which of course made the city elders unhappy. But eventually, in 1975, the foundation was behind a project to privatize the zoo. 1975, all the way back then.

00:48:56 - 00:49:39

And privatization is a trend now, but it wasn’t a trend at that time. And so the people involved at that time in the city had severely upset the foundations. So there was no money coming into the zoo. The foundations would not fund the zoo, ’cause they were still mad as all get up with the city even 15 years later. They were done. And so I had to rework that and really, really spend a lot of time culturing those relationships with the foundations, ’cause there were some big, there’s some huge foundations in Pittsburgh.

00:49:39 - 00:49:52

So as you’re looking at all this, are you able to start, or you have formed philosophies as to the management of the zoo, and what prompted that?

00:49:53 - 00:50:27

Well, I think that’s always evolving. I made a lot of mistakes when I first started, as all everybody does. It was my first experience in a union zoo, so really managing a union zoo and working with a union zoo. So I had to learn about that. Had to learn how to do that. It’s not that hard, believe it or not. People shy away from the idea, “Oh my God, it’s a unionized zoo, that’s terrible, blah blah, blah.” But it’s a set of rules. You read the rule book, and as long as you follow the rule book, you don’t have any problems with the union.

00:50:27 - 00:51:08

So we had a great relationship with the union at the zoo. I had a lot of fun with those folks. We worked very well together. And so I think that was a learning experience to learn about that. The projects I had to work on most when I first got to the zoo was, as I said, starting to develop the exhibits, exhibitry, and the philosophies that we needed to manage the animal collection. And a lot of our keepers at that time were unionized and they were keepers that were there just for the job. They were nine to fivers. One of the things that I had the most fun with, first six months I’m there.

00:51:08 - 00:51:10

I’m there the first six months, right?

00:51:10 - 00:51:15

1990. And I go, and I’ve got keys to everything. I demanded to have keys to everything.

00:51:15 - 00:51:18

So I’ve got keys to everything, ’cause I’m the director, I ought to have keys to everything, right?

00:51:18 - 00:51:47

And so I go into the backup area, two o’clock in the afternoon, I go in the backup area of our hood stop building, and the keeper’s there, and he’s on top of the hay bales with a blanket and a pillow, and sound asleep. (clears throat) So I clear my throat. (clears throat) Doesn’t work, so I tap him on the shoulder and I said, “Tom, what are you doing?” He’s like, (gasps) “Well, it’s nap time.” I’m like, no, no, no, no, no, we don’t.

00:51:47 - 00:51:49

When do we do nap time?

00:51:49 - 00:52:00

He’s like, “Well, I’ve always done nap time. This is nap time. You can’t tell me I can’t do nap time.” I’m like, I don’t know. I mean, I got this card here, it says “zoo director,” I think I can tell you.

00:52:00 - 00:52:06

“No, no, no, you have to see my union.” So I get a call from the union that afternoon, “What’s going on?

00:52:06 - 00:52:13

Tom’s all upset, he wants to see us.” And I’m like, I caught him napping. Blanket, pillow, the whole nine yards.

00:52:13 - 00:52:15

I mean, in these days you take a picture, right?

00:52:15 - 00:52:54

And he’s like, well he’s old, blah blah, blah. I’m like, there is nothing in the union rules that says he can take a nap at two o’clock in the afternoon. And he’s like, well he swears he got all his work done. I’m like, I don’t care. I’m paying somebody to nap. And so it was so funny, but oh boy, he did not like me after that. And he actually retired like two years later when we privatized the zoo. But it was a lot of changing mentalities and changing the thought process to help the keepers understand that they were professionals.

00:52:54 - 00:53:19

They were a profession. Zookeepers was a great profession. Be proud of your work, be proud of what you’re doing. And that was really challenging in a city zoo. Very challenging. I had an argument with finance people down in the city, the finance department of the city, because we managed to do marketing and PR.

00:53:20 - 00:53:22

I mean, I can talk, right?

00:53:22 - 00:54:09

So I got on all the talk shows, I got on all, yeah, we tried to get the zoo out there every possible way we could think of. And so we wanted to, I would be on every talk show, every, we had a nighttime zoo program that we did for the zoo. And so I was trying to get the zoo out there and get people thinking about the zoo, getting ’em excited about the zoo, because that was really one of our biggest challenges. We had a brand, we had a Pittsburgh Zoo. Nobody knew about the brand. Everybody knew about the zoo, but they didn’t have any impetus to go there. So that was one of the struggles we dealt with. But even with the city, it was hard, and it was hard to motivate employees, because all of our funds went into general fund.

00:54:09 - 00:54:33

So we could have a great year, we could make a bunch of money, we could actually have a surplus. And it went into the general fund. And I’d sit before city council and beg for another keeper position, and they’d say no. And I’m like, but wait a minute. We made $300,000 extra dollars last year. “Well, we need that. We need that for roads, we need that for water, we need that for police. You’re trying to take away from police.” And I’m like, no, I’m not.

00:54:33 - 00:54:47

I’m trying to feed the animals. And so it was a real struggle to try to motivate employees. When you can’t, they’re unionized, so you can’t give ’em a raise, can’t give ’em a bonus. If you do give ’em a bonus, you gotta give everybody a bonus.

00:54:47 - 00:54:49

Well, where’s that merit in that?

00:54:49 - 00:55:06

So you had to kind of be very creative about ways to motivate and get people excited, until we were successful in privatizing the zoo, which we did in ’93, ’94. Well, you talked about the trying to get to the public.

00:55:06 - 00:55:09

How important are amenities at a zoo?

00:55:09 - 00:55:11

Do you think people think of them enough?

00:55:11 - 00:55:13

You mean zoo people?

00:55:13 - 00:56:32

Not nowadays, I don’t think so. Back, as I said, back in the days when I first started, it was all about the animals, and the public was an afterthought. And it became so important as we looked at trying to market, do PR, get people back into the zoos, get people interested in zoos for a host of different reasons, that visitor amenities became very, very important. And I think they’re very important because people, you have to set the stage at the ticket booth for how people are gonna view your facility. They have to, from the time they pull in, in my mind, in my opinion, my humble opinion, from the time they pull into the parking lot, you have to set that up so that they have a pleasant experience. So that they’re in a great frame of mind. “Boy, that parking was easy, man, I’m ready to go.” They get to the ticket booth, “Oh, they’re so friendly, they’re nice, they’re ready to go, and they’re welcoming me, and they’re giving me my map, and they’re telling me what I need to do, and what exhibits are open, and what exhibits are closed, and they’re very happy.” And then they get up to the restrooms and they’re clean, and they can go to the bathroom and not feel like, ugh, I don’t wanna go in there. And they can go to the snack bar and they can get a hot dog that’s not green.

00:56:32 - 00:57:23

Every time I did accreditation inspections, I’d have a hot dog at the snack bar. Just wander off, get a hot dog at the snack bar and see what quality it was. Because when I first started at Pittsburgh, our hot dogs, in the center, were green. They were not something you wanted to eat, and I love hot dogs. So that kind of thing is very, very important, because our role, in my humble opinion, in zoos, is to educate people and to teach them about conservation and wildlife, and be excited about coming to the zoo and seeing the animals, and caring about, you gotta get people to care. If people don’t care about animals, then they’re not going to send money to conservation. They’re not gonna support a research project about animals, because they have to care about ’em. And it’s not just on National Geographic.

00:57:23 - 00:57:30

National Geographic’s great, but the closer you can get them to an animal, the more interested and excited they’ll be.

00:57:30 - 00:57:39

And if you excite their kids, if you get the kids are excited about animals, then you’ve got your future wildlife conservationists coming up, right?

00:57:39 - 00:58:24

People are gonna care about animals and be involved in animals, even if they have a career in finance. They’re going to find a way to be involved in animals and be interested in animals, if you can set that stage early on. But visitor amenities put ’em in the mood to do that, in my humble opinion. It sets the stage for, “Wow, everything’s gone great here, let’s go see the animals.” Versus, “Man, that parking sucked. It took me four hours to get a parking space, that hot dog was terrible, the french fries were cold, bathrooms stinks. I don’t wanna go see any animals.” So, very important. You mentioned kids and stuff, and it just harkens to something else.

00:58:24 - 00:58:33

How difficult do you think it is, and what should be done to interest teenagers in the zoo?

00:58:33 - 00:58:53

Hardest market. Hardest market to get in the zoo, interested in the zoo, because they’re into video games, they’re into all of the different things they can do on their computer. They’re interested in boys or girls, so it’s hard to get them involved. So you have to specifically target them.

00:58:55 - 00:59:00

So we always looked at it from a perspective of, where’s the biggest bang for our buck?

00:59:00 - 00:59:49

And clearly the biggest bang for any zoo’s buck is to target the family market. Without a doubt, any zoo, I don’t care which one you go to, the family market is the most important thing. And that age group is really from 25 to 40, or beyond with the grandparents who are interested in being involved in their kids. So you have to be in focusing the bulk of your marketing dollars there. But I think where you look at teenagers is you have to look at them in a totally different way. You have to develop apps, and games, and things that they can be involved in and interested in. And you have to develop programs so that you can get them to the zoo, get them involved early on. So we had what we call a “Zoo teen program” that Pittsburgh, and a lot of zoos have them.

00:59:49 - 01:00:23

We started the kids out at 12 and had them, in the summer, one day a week in the summer, they would come to the zoo, they would have an experience, all day long working at the zoo. They’d work at the zoo, work long, right beside the keeper in a different area. Might go to rhinos, they might go to Children’s Zoo. Everybody started in Children’s Zoo. Kids’ Kingdom, we call it, ’cause that was “safest,” quote, unquote. And then, anywhere else around the zoo. And so you gotta catch ’em early. You catch ’em in the preteens, the 12 years, the 10, 11, 12, 12 year olds were our zoo teen program.

01:00:23 - 01:00:47

And then they would stay on to 18. Many of the zoo teens would be there every single year and be involved. Very competitive program. Usually the signup for zoo teens was January 2nd, and we’d sell out that day. So you can get them involved, you just have to be more creative.

01:00:47 - 01:00:50

Do I recommend you put all your bucks in that?

01:00:50 - 01:00:58

No, that’s not the primary market. It’s a great market to capture, but you better have already captured them by the time they hit teens.

01:00:59 - 01:01:10

Can you describe your management style, and how do you think your staff would describe your management style?

01:01:10 - 01:01:13

Did it change over the years?

01:01:13 - 01:01:46

Oh, absolutely it changed. I mean, ’cause I believe that if you’re not learning, you’re dead. You should always be learning. You should always be doing something to learn something new. I always wanna learn something new. And so of course your management style’s, I hope to God you learn from the lessons that you’ve been through and the situations you’ve been through to be a better leader all along the way. And so, certainly the leader I was in 1990, it was very different than the leader I was 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. I mean, I have a 40 year zoo career.

01:01:46 - 01:02:26

And so, hopefully you’re evolving your leadership skills and you’re not stuck in one plan. I’m a very inclusive leader. I like having all of the team involved in all of the decisions, because I think it’s a learning process for them, it’s a learning process for me. I always looked at myself as a resource for my team. So I’m there as a resource for my team. And I tried to hire the very best people we could possibly hire, and then let them do their jobs. And I’m a resource. If they can’t fix it, they can’t figure it out, then come to me and I will help, but look at me as a resource.

01:02:28 - 01:02:35

There are only a few times when you have to be, for lack of a better term, the tiebreaker.

01:02:37 - 01:02:44

So for example, we had an animal management team, which made up of all the curators and the horticulturists too, ’cause plants are living thing too, you know?

01:02:44 - 01:03:10

And so animal management team in the zoo, and that animal management team would meet once a week, every Thursday at one o’clock for 31 years we met. And often, I put my team together so that everybody was equal. So the curators were equal to the veterinarians, who were equal to the finance director, who was equal to the marketing person, who was equal to.

01:03:10 - 01:03:14

So all the team was equal in their senior status, right?

01:03:14 - 01:04:08

Senior managers. And so often I would have to be the tiebreaker. One thing I can think of is that the aquarium team had a penguin that had an eye issue, and the veterinarians wanted to grab it three times a day to treat the eye, and the penguin team wanted to grab it once a day, because they thought that that would be very detrimental to grab this poor penguin three times a day to treat this eye. And they couldn’t, they were at an impasse. They could not agree. And so in that particular instance, I sided with the curator. I thought the wellbeing of the overall animal was more important than stressing it by grabbing it, and picking it up, and holding it for eyedrops to be put in the eye three times a day. There were other times that I would agree with the veterinarians on their call.

01:04:08 - 01:05:24

So it just depended on who made the best case where the tiebreaker would end up. But it wouldn’t necessarily, I tried very, very hard not to play favorites, although people criticize you when you say that you don’t play favorites, but you do play favorites. And it’s not because, I think people are not understanding sometimes when they say you play favorites when we are people. And some relationships are easier than other relationships. People get along with this person better than they do that person. It’s not that I’m playing favorites, he didn’t get any more money in his budget than you got in your budget, but we just talked to each other more than I talked to you. So, but anyway, so I think my management style was more of trying to empower the people that worked for me to the best of my ability, give them the tools that they need, ’cause a lot of times you’ll empower people to do stuff, but then you don’t give ’em the stuff they need to get it done. So then they fail, and you’re looking at ’em going, well, you failed, but hey, you didn’t give me the resources I needed to succeed.

01:05:24 - 01:06:00

So I really tried hard to set them up to succeed and to give ’em the resources they needed not to fail. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t let ’em fail, because you do. Because people, one of the things we did at Pittsburgh was we tried a lot of things. We tried a lot of different things. And we would try all kinds of crazy things that people wouldn’t think you could do. Like let’s fly three full grown elephants from Botswana to Pittsburgh under the radar, and not have PETA or anybody else find out about it. See if you can do that in six months time before they shoot them.

01:06:00 - 01:06:02

We’ll try that, what the heck?

01:06:02 - 01:06:49

And so you try that kind of thing. So we were very much, my management style was, try. Let’s see if it works, and if we fail, we laughed and said, uh oh, that was bad. Hopefully no animal was harmed, but, that was bad, we’re not doing that again. Let’s learn from that and move on. And so, however, I think my staff would say that I also, I’m very interested in everything. And I don’t know anything about a lot of things. Like I know very little about aquariums, and yet we have a full 43,000 square foot, 43 tank aquarium, and polar bear exhibit and Sea Otter exhibit.

01:06:49 - 01:07:18

So we managed, at Pittsburgh, over a million gallons of water, and I know nothing about aquariums. So you really have to trust the people that know a whole lot about it. So I’m very inquisitive. I would ask questions, I’d ask a lot of questions. And when somebody would first start to work for us, they would go, well, Dr. Baker’s asking this and asking that. And I would have to explain to them, it’s not because I don’t trust your judgment or anything. I wanna learn. You’re the expert.

01:07:18 - 01:07:42

You’re the guy that knows about fish. I don’t know squat about fish, and I know I don’t know anything about fish, so educate me, tell me, show me what you know. And so without a doubt I was a strong leader. I don’t think, I certainly wouldn’t be called a pussycat, that’s for sure. (Barbara laughs) Because we made some tough decisions.

01:07:42 - 01:07:54

During your career at the zoo, what would you consider to be like a major event that affected not only Pittsburgh, but zoos in general?

01:07:56 - 01:08:49

Well, we did a lot of things at Pittsburgh. I mean, we were one of the first zoos to privatize back in 1993, ’94. The city was having a very difficult time at that time. The mayor came to me and told me they were $35 million in the hole and that they needed to look at what the city should be running, what do they need to spend their money on, because they were losing money. The economy was down at that time in ’92, ’93. And so they were looking to spin off the golf course, the aviary at that time, it was Pittsburgh Aviary at that time. Spin off the Pittsburgh Aviary, the zoo, and the conservancy. And they wanted me to study and to look into privatization and to see what the opportunity was there to make that work for our zoo.

01:08:49 - 01:09:10

And so I did, I studied that for 14 months and put together a task force of major people, I mean like the managing partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, a major accounting firm in Pittsburgh, and worldwide, actually. And put together a whole team of people to work with us on all the things we didn’t know to learn about privatization.

01:09:10 - 01:09:25

And then I went to the zoos, the few zoos at that time that had privatized, and I went to those zoos to learn about what they had done for privatization, and what had worked for them, and what was the best thing for them at that time, and how did they go about it, what was the process?

01:09:25 - 01:09:28

And we had workshops at the zoo on the same thing.

01:09:28 - 01:09:32

We brought people in to try to figure out, well, who should run the zoo?

01:09:32 - 01:09:48

Because the Zoo Society at that time was not strong. And the most money our Zoo Society at that time had raised was a million bucks. They were doing the education program, they were supporting education, and they had the membership program when I first got there, and then we changed that. But they weren’t big fundraisers.

01:09:50 - 01:09:51

So who was gonna raise the money for the zoo?

01:09:51 - 01:10:41

And I had not been real successful in raising money for the zoo from the city. The biggest grant I got under the city of Pittsburgh that I remember, it was $200,000. And the reason that occurred was, for one, previous generations in the city had upset the foundation community and upset the corporate community, and number two, nobody wanted to give big money to the city, to a government run zoo, because they couldn’t guarantee that the money was gonna be spent in the way they asked it to be spent, or they designated it for it to be spent. I remember we raised $2.5 million, $2.2 million, for our new education center, offices and education center in 1992, ’93.

01:10:41 - 01:10:52

And I sat before city council with this gift to the city, ’cause we were city run at that time, of $2.2 million to build this new education center and this new office center, right?

01:10:52 - 01:11:11

And this one council member wanted to take that money. No, no, no, we don’t wanna spend that money on that. We wanna spend this money on this, not at the zoo, and this, this is more important. And I’m like, but you don’t understand, this money is designated for this education center. We’re not spending it. It cannot be spent on that.

01:11:11 - 01:11:13

And he’s like, well, why not?

01:11:13 - 01:11:27

And he said, well, they’ll give you the money and you’ll give it to us. I said, I will not do that. I absolutely will not do that. I’ll give them the money back. I had the check already. I said, well, I’ll give them back. I’ll give the money back. I’m not gonna lie to somebody.

01:11:27 - 01:11:54

I’m not gonna tell them that I’m gonna spend this money on this and have you take the money away. Well, it actually passed city council, thank God. They weren’t all of that frame of mind, we’ll just say, but city council was a hoot. Talk about a learning experience, worked with city councils for four years. Holy cow. Especially Pittsburgh city council, they were a hoot. But anyway, I get off topic, but yeah, it was interesting.

01:11:54 - 01:12:00

Well, but talking about that, what was your relationship with the Zoo Society and how did it change over the years?

01:12:00 - 01:12:01

Oh, that was funny.

01:12:01 - 01:12:03

So I get there in 1990, right?

01:12:03 - 01:12:44

Hot off the press, new director, all fired up, all excited. And the zoo society and the zoo did not get along. They did not speak. They did not speak to each other, like once or twice a year. And the executive director of the Zoo Society office was in East Liberty, miles away from the zoo, wasn’t on the ground. They didn’t talk to each other. And the city, people in the city didn’t like the Zoo Society either. So within the first, the first thing I did when I got to Pittsburgh was get the lay of the land.

01:12:44 - 01:13:22

You try, in the first six months, the only thing you could do in the first six months, and I wasn’t completely good at this, but the only thing you do in the first six months is walk around, talk to people, and learn the lay of land. Don’t do what I did, which is change stuff right away. Don’t do that. Go in there as a new zoo director and spend six months getting to know the players, getting to know who you can trust and can’t trust, getting to know the lay of the land. That’s not what I did. So anyway, after about three months, I realized that this was not gonna work. The Zoo Society was way over here. Fun fact, fun fact.

01:13:22 - 01:13:42

So one of the things I negotiated, when I took the job at Pittsburgh, with the city was I wanted a mobile phone. Now, mobile phones were about this big at that time, they looked like a handheld radio, there were huge, and there were seven of them in the city of Pittsburgh.

01:13:42 - 01:13:48

Seven of them at the time in the whole city administration, whole city government, right?

01:13:48 - 01:14:30

And I demanded one, and they gave it to me. Shock. They gave it to me. So the Zoo Society was so alienated that I said, well, that’s not gonna work. We can’t do that. And so I made a pledge that every time I got in the car to go anywhere, I called the Zoo Society. So every single day that I was at work, I would pick up the phone, and I got in the car, and I called the Zoo Society. And so we started talking, and then I brought the city of Pittsburgh, the Parks and Recs department, and the Zoo Society, and the zoo senior staff I brought in a boardroom, in a whole room.

01:14:33 - 01:15:00

And I had this silly thing I called “the cake model.” Stupid, I know, but it worked. So I had this cake model. And so they had a big old chalkboard up there. And so I drew on the chalkboard, I drew a cake, and I said, now here’s the plate. Here’s the plate. That’s the city of Pittsburgh. That’s our foundation, the zoo’s the cake. Here’s the cake, the zoo’s the cake.

01:15:00 - 01:15:17

There’s the cake, and the zoo society is the icing and the candles. So they let us do all the little fun stuff, like build new exhibits, and they help raise money for that. And they help us with our education programs. They help us with this, and that, and the other.

01:15:17 - 01:15:23

They help raise money for the zoo, which the city supports from the bottom, right?

01:15:23 - 01:15:27

And then all I am is the spark on the top of the candles.

01:15:29 - 01:15:33

I’m the spark that gets all this stuff together, right?

01:15:33 - 01:15:50

And I said, so, we’re done with this, “We ain’t talking to each other.” We’re done with, the Zoo Society’s gonna talk to the city, the city’s gonna talk to the Zoo Society, I’m gonna talk to both of you guys. We’re all gonna talk to each other. We’re gonna play nice.

01:15:50 - 01:15:52

Can we play nice?

01:15:52 - 01:15:55

And they all looked at me. I mean, they didn’t know what the meeting was about.

01:15:55 - 01:16:00

They had no idea what the meeting was about, except that I wanted to talk to ’em about the zoo, right?

01:16:00 - 01:16:03

And so I said, why can’t we play together?

01:16:04 - 01:16:06

Why can’t we play nice?

01:16:06 - 01:16:17

“Well, blah, blah, blah.” “Well, blah, blah.” I’m like, yeah, but that was in 1975, for God’s sakes. It’s been too long. Let’s play nice, let’s play together, for the good of the zoo.

01:16:17 - 01:16:20

What’s gonna be good for the zoo?

01:16:20 - 01:17:12

And so we ended up, I literally rented a trailer, a little trailer, and parked it behind the little chalet in the Children’s Zoo, and wired it all up, and brought the Zoo Society on the grounds so that they were no longer sequestered miles away, but they now were on the grounds every single day. And then I always treated the zoo society, and our concession folks as well, as a matter of fact, who were great partners, couldn’t have done half the things we did without ’em, brought them on board. And so they were just, all of those people were just another seat at the table of our department meetings. So they were part of the team, they were no longer out there in Lala Land. And we talk about relationships.

01:17:12 - 01:17:21

What was your relationship, as Zoo Director, to animal rights groups and Humane Society groups over the years?

01:17:21 - 01:17:58

Oh, number one threat to zoos today, absolutely. Number one threat to zoos today. And it’s sad because the animal rights groups’ sole purpose is to put us outta business. The animal rights groups’ sole purpose is to put us outta business. And the extreme animal rights groups’ sole purpose is to not let you have your dog or cat, even. The extreme groups. That’s not all of ’em, but that’s extreme groups. Sadly, animal rights groups misinformed the public intentionally.

01:17:58 - 01:19:13

And they have developed very, very good strategic plans. I mean, I give ’em kudos. They are 25, 30 years ahead of us in their strategic plannings. They very carefully have looked at, here’s the way we’re gonna close all zoos, and they have put together a plan to do that. And they raise literally millions of dollars annually to do that, to attack, to misinform, to try to have people believe what they believe. And it’s interesting because, when you talk about animal rights people, you don’t always, the people who are intimately involved in the organization, and very active in the organization are one thing. But the volunteers, the people that you see at the picket line holding the banner, or coming out to picket or to discredit you, a lot of times, sadly, they’re just misinformed. When you sit down with them, and you take the time to sit down and say, hey, we haven’t chained an elephant in 20 years.

01:19:15 - 01:19:51

We haven’t done anything you are accusing us of doing. Let me take you to the barn. Let me take you to the exhibit. Let me take you to meet the keepers. So a lot of times it’s, they’ve simply been misinformed, and drank the Kool-Aid, and a hundred percent believe what they are thinking. We once had a animal rights group who were attacking us at the zoo, and we sadly lost a baby elephant. The elephant was rejected by the mother. We tried to hand raise it.

01:19:51 - 01:20:43

Hand raising elephants is very, very hard, even for the people in Africa who we consulted with every single day. Very, very hard. And so we lost this baby elephant, who was premature, and we actually learned, premature, low body weight, and we actually learned later on, through the pathology, had an underdeveloped intestinal vela. So it wasn’t able to absorb what we were feeding it. So it was a lost cause from the get go. But anyway, we were being attacked by that group, this animal rights group, PETA. And so they came into my office and met with me, a young lady, just graduated outta outta college, and a dentist. Experts on animals, a dentist and a lady who just graduated outta college.

01:20:43 - 01:20:45

No animal experience, right?

01:20:45 - 01:21:09

And I’m sitting there with her, and I’ve got my PR person with her. And she’s got this list of questions, which clearly she didn’t write. Somebody else wrote. It came from up above, from the PETA organization. And she’s like, “How often do you chain your elephants?” And I say never. She said, “Well, what do you mean never?” And I said never. Never chained our elephants. We don’t need to.

01:21:09 - 01:21:46

We never have. And she asked a multitude of questions like that, that indicated that she had absolutely no clue, or had any experience with elephants. And yet she was on the news at night telling people how horrible our elephants were. Interestingly enough, what amazed me, or disappointed me, I guess, was I offered them a tour. I said, let me take you up to the barn. I had our elephant manager on call up there. Let me take you up to the barn, let me show you what we do. Come meet our elephants, come meet our team.

01:21:46 - 01:22:17

And they wouldn’t go. That wasn’t their purpose of being there. Their purpose of being there was to try to get me to admit that we had done something wrong and not tried our absolute best. Well, when you speak about that kind of challenge, when you first started zoo, it was an AZA accredited institution. Absolutely. But at some point you chose to leave AZA.

01:22:17 - 01:22:20

How difficult was that decision?

01:22:21 - 01:22:48

Very. That was a very difficult decision. I’d been involved in AZA, as I mentioned, all the way back when I started at Riverbanks. Got very involved. I spent 12 years on the accreditation commission of AZA. I had AZA studbook, I was studbook keeper. I had drank the Kool-Aid. I believed in AZA, I believed in everything AZA was about, and didn’t even know there was any other organizations at the time.

01:22:48 - 01:23:27

Had no idea there were other zoo organizations out there. So I was a big fan. We had gone through, I took the Pittsburgh Zoo through five AZA accreditations, and we passed with flying colors. And so I’d been very involved with the AZA. Unfortunately AZA, like a lot of organizations, as organizations get older and bigger, they go through an evolution as well. Organizations go through an evolution, and if you study this, you can see this is very much true. Where organizations start out as a membership organization, everybody talks to everybody else, it’s a small group, we’re all trying to help each other. We’re a membership organization.

01:23:27 - 01:23:37

And then over time, they grow to where they become more of a, well, we’re gonna add an accreditation program, we’re gonna add an accreditation aspect of it, right?

01:23:37 - 01:24:59

And so they add this accreditation aspect, along with all the other aspects of the great things that AZA is doing. A lot of great people in AZA. And so all these great programs are going on. And then unfortunately, gradually, like a lot of organizations, they became more of a regulatory agency, more of a regulatory policing agency, and not so much a membership organization. So they lost that, what I think is very important in a membership organization. They went from being a service to the members organization, where their sole function was to serve the members and to help the members run their zoos, become better, do better things, take better care of the animals, take better care of the visitors, educate, conserve, all those great things. They got away from that and became more of a regulatory and policing agency, and lost that really in touch with the membership, lost that feel of serving the membership. And so at Pittsburgh, we had actually looked at what we were spending on AZA, which the last year we were in AZA was $57,000, and we looked at what we got from that benefit.

01:24:59 - 01:25:01

What benefit did we get from that?

01:25:01 - 01:25:50

And we didn’t get a lot of benefit from it, quite honestly. We felt more like we got called to the carpet than we did getting membership provided to us. So it changed. AZA sadly changed, in my humble opinion. It’s just my humble opinion. Now, recognize, AZA is a whole lot different from the AZA members. There are many, many wonderful people in AZA, and actually, that’s what I miss the most when we left was the touch with all of the wonderful members, that meeting them face to face that I had developed over my 40 year career. But we made the very difficult decision to leave AZA, and we studied it 14 months.

01:25:51 - 01:26:32

It was not a decision that we made lightly. And we also worked very hard not to have to leave. So we worked the board of AZA, we worked with the staff of AZA, and we worked very hard to try not to be put in the position, the awkward position of having to leave. When you say “we,” you said “we.” Our team, our team at the zoo. Oh, not just we, though. No, actually, in that situation, so most people think that the Pittsburgh Zoo left over elephants. We left AZA over elephants. That wasn’t it.

01:26:32 - 01:27:14

Elephants were the tipping point, without a doubt. Elephants were the tipping point for us leaving AZA, sadly. But what really was the main philosophical difference that we disagreed on, was that I did not feel that a membership organization, which is what AZA is supposed to be, a membership organization, should be telling me how to manage a tree frog, much less an elephant, or a polar bear, or sea otter, or anything else in our collection. The people who take care of the animals and the staff that are there at the zoo know those animals intimately, work with them every single day.

01:27:14 - 01:27:26

So how is it that a board of directors, some who have never been to the zoo, can tell us how to manage our animals on a day-to-day basis?

01:27:26 - 01:28:05

I did not feel that that was, we did not feel, the whole team did not feel that that was a function of AZA as a membership organization. Now we were wrong, ’cause AZA was no longer a membership organization. It was a regulatory agency. But we felt it should be a membership organization. And as a membership organization, they shouldn’t manage our animals. We should manage our animals. At the time we left AZA, there was one person on the board of AZA that had elephants in their collection, one person. And yet they were telling us how to manage our elephants.

01:28:05 - 01:28:41

So we had a disagreement on that. But it wasn’t just Pittsburgh. We had 12 different zoos who signed a letter to the board of directors of AZA, asking them not to make some of the decisions they were making at that time. Demanding zoos, requiring zoos, mandating, really, that’s what it was. It was a mandate. Mandating how to manage our animals. And so we had 12 differences. Major zoos, Sea World, Busch Gardens, Fort Worth Zoo, were on that list.

01:28:44 - 01:29:27

Brookfield Zoo was on that list of people, directors who signed. And then we met with the board directors at the national conference, directors, at the director’s retreat. We met with them and we tried to explain how this was not their role. This was not what this organization was supposed to be doing, and that there needed to be some way that zoos, particularly zoos that were breeding elephants, could continue to work with their animals, because it was so important to our breeding program. And we were unsuccessful in that. A lot of people think Pittsburgh just picked up and left one day. But it didn’t happen that way. We actually tried to work the system.

01:29:27 - 01:30:00

We tried very much to get people to understand, please don’t put us in this position. Please don’t make us leave. Please don’t push us out. But we just got no, no, no, with no compromise the whole way. You said, “Sometimes we did some things right, we did some thing’s wrong. We were learning.” And when you spoke about elephants, you had a program where you were using dogs to help.

01:30:03 - 01:30:05

How did that come about?

01:30:05 - 01:30:09

And how did you, I don’t wanna say get in trouble, but how did people?

01:30:09 - 01:30:46

Much to do about nothing. Absolutely nothing. Actually many zoos had dogs in their behind the scenes, in their animal areas. We actually copied Houston Zoo that had dogs. Charlie Gray up in Canada, one of the absolute best, not one of, the best breeder of Asian elephants, caretaker of Asian elephants in the world. In the North American hemisphere. Well, both Americas, ’cause there aren’t any elephants in South America. But, we copied that out of them.

01:30:49 - 01:31:40

And there’s a whole incredibly awesome working dog group and philosophy. Working dogs have become incredibly important to farmers out in the Midwest who are caring for large herds of cattle. And they use dogs. Instead of having to use men on horseback or ATVs to bring the cows in, they can use three dogs, and the dogs can bring the whole herd in. In our case, the only thing we used the dogs for was Charlie Gray’s animals, his dogs. And we got our dogs from Charlie Gray up in Canada at African Wildlife Safari. And what we used the dogs for was the dogs helped the elephants stay in their space. Elephants are incredibly inquisitive animals.

01:31:40 - 01:32:02

They wanna take that trunk and they wanna touch everything, and they wanna touch every guest that walks in the building, and they wanna get in the hay that’s over there on the corner, and they wanna get in the grain over here. And, oh, you left a cup there, or you left a hay rake there, and we’re gonna drag it in here and play with it, and we’re gonna cut the hose with our teeth, we’re gonna stand on it and rip it apart, ’cause it’s fun and it’s something else to do.

01:32:02 - 01:32:06

And they’re just incredibly smart, intelligent animals, right?

01:32:06 - 01:32:42

And inquisitive. And so we had a long hallway, 12 foot down in our elephant building. And then we had the elephant holding areas, which had pipes, not solid, so that we could observe the animals, see the animals, feed the animals, blah, blah, blah. And so what the dogs did was the dogs would keep the elephants in their space. So the elephants were there in their space, the keepers and the dogs would walk around their space, and the elephants wouldn’t reach out and try to grab ’em or grab whatever things.

01:32:42 - 01:32:55

And so there were only maybe one or two times that the elephants, amazingly, these are little Australian Shepherd dogs, right?

01:32:55 - 01:33:39

The elephants are amazingly respectful of the dogs. So once the dogs were introduced, the elephants were very like, hmm, staying away from that thing, I don’t know what it’s gonna do. So we never had a situation where the dogs had to attack the elephants or in any way harm the elephants. We never had any injuries to the dogs. Well, we had an injury to a dog, but we didn’t have an injury to the elephants. And so it was never a situation, it was a positive situation. In addition, it was another, and major reason we had ’em, too, safety tool. So if the dogs were there, the elephants were more respectful of the space.

01:33:39 - 01:33:40

Respect my space.

01:33:40 - 01:33:42

This is my space, keeper space, right?

01:33:42 - 01:34:34

And so it helped keep the keepers safer, because the dogs were there, the elephants wouldn’t reach out and try to grab a keeper who, for whatever reason, is too close, where they shouldn’t be, ’cause they’re talking to so and so and not paying attention. So it was another safety tool for the keepers. It helped keep the keepers safe. But you did get a lot of flack. Oh, we got, when the animal rights people heard about it and thought this was a terrible thing, and we were mistreating the elephants and sending the dogs after the elephants, and we were, blah, blah, blah. And what actually happened, it was somewhat our fault, too. What actually happened was, we had a reporter out at the zoo one day, and the elephant manager was talking to this reporter, and they were doing a story about the dogs. And the dogs were very, very well trained.

01:34:34 - 01:35:27

Very well trained on their commands. And the elephants were out in their yard and the dogs were in the space. And at this point, there’s an electric wire across, which the elephants very much respect as well. Never had ’em go through it. Electric wire across separating the part of the exhibit where the reporter, the photographer, the videographer, and the keeper are with the dogs. And he asked, “Well these dogs look like babies.” If the elephant wanted, the dogs are like really nice animals. They’re petting them and everything, dogs are loving on them and everything. And they asked, “Well, what would they do if the elephants tried to attack you?” And, like a protection dog, my husband trains protection dogs, I’m very mindful of this.

01:35:27 - 01:35:30

Like a protection dog, these dogs had an on command.

01:35:30 - 01:35:33

They had a command to bark, right?

01:35:33 - 01:35:55

And so our elephant manager said, I’ll show you. And so he turned one of the dogs on, he told the dog to bark and he pointed towards the elephants. And so the dog darted out barking. It wasn’t actually near the elephants. He went barking. Keeper shut him down. He only went about six feet toward him. Shut him down.

01:35:55 - 01:35:57

Never near him.

01:35:57 - 01:36:00

Elephants, of course, here it is, they’re gone, right?

01:36:00 - 01:36:04

They scoot away, they take off. ‘Cause they’re like, uh oh, something’s up.

01:36:04 - 01:36:06

What’s going on?

01:36:06 - 01:37:01

And so, that goes on TV, and now we’re terrible people because the dog barked at the elephants. So the dogs are a terrible thing, and they have to go, blah, blah, blah. And so it took me about a week to put that firestorm down and explain to people that we’d never had an injury. We had a veterinarian on the news at night explaining that we’d never had an injury to a dog or the elephants. So it was just fodder for the animal rights people to attack us. It was something new to attack us. Anybody that believes a dog can seriously hurt an elephant has not met many elephants. So, speaking of elephants, you, during your tenure, you had an idea for a zoo farm, we’ll call it, that you wanted to develop, and it included elephants.

01:37:02 - 01:37:03

How did it come about?

01:37:06 - 01:37:08

How difficult was it to accomplish?

01:37:08 - 01:37:10

What was your purpose?

01:37:11 - 01:37:33

Ironically, that grew out of an accident we had with a keeper, where we lost one of our keepers at the zoo to an elephant accident. And we decided after that accident, I had a meeting with the whole team and I said, okay, we’re at a crossroads. We have to decide what we’re gonna do with elephants.

01:37:33 - 01:37:35

Do we get outta elephants?

01:37:35 - 01:38:13

We’re done, we’re over, we’re not gonna do elephants anymore. Or, if we’re gonna do elephants, the only way we’re gonna do elephants is we’re gonna do ’em big. If we’re gonna be in elephants, we’re gonna do ’em big. We’re not gonna be willy-nilly about it, we’ll make a huge commitment and we’re gonna be in elephants. And so we decided to go big. Go big or go home. And so we decided that, we were breeding elephants at the time, and we had had five babies. Well, no, we’d had seven babies at the time, and we needed more space.

01:38:13 - 01:38:35

We were outta space. We also had a bull elephant named Jackson. Jackson’s marvelous, he’s fabulous. One of the best elephants I’ve ever met. Sad history, but turned out really well. Anyway, and so we had Jackson, breeding bull. Most valuable breeding bull in the country, still is. And so we had Jackson, and we had to make a decision about, we didn’t have the room at the zoo.

01:38:35 - 01:39:17

We had one exhibit, we had a bull corral, and that’s all we had to manage all these elephants, with babies, which make it even more crazy, ’cause they’d go where no elephant should ever go. And so we had to make a decision. So we decided then to look for an offsite breeding facility, to set up an offsite breeding facility. And so I looked for probably two years for a place close by Pittsburgh. Close by Pittsburgh, so that the teams could work together and that we could manage the whole organization of this offsite breeding facility. And found one place, and actually made an offer on it. And they didn’t accept, thank God, ’cause it didn’t turn out well.

01:39:17 - 01:39:24

But anyway, long story short, I’m sitting at my desk on Friday afternoon at four o’clock one day, right?

01:39:24 - 01:39:36

And I’m sitting there, and I don’t know what you do at work at four o’clock on Friday afternoon, but I’m brain dead. Now I’m reading magazines, I’m reading “The Connect,” “The Communicate.” I’m reading “The Vet Journals,” I’m reading magazines.

01:39:36 - 01:39:44

I’m not making any heavy decisions at Friday afternoon at four o’clock, after a long 10 hour day all week long, right?

01:39:44 - 01:39:49

And so I get this call, and it’s a real estate agent.

01:39:50 - 01:40:04

He says, “I’m so and so, and I’m with this real estate agency, and we have this hunting ranch, and we wondered if the zoo had any interest in a hunting ranch.” And I’m like, a hunting ranch, are you kidding me?

01:40:04 - 01:40:05

And I just lost it.

01:40:05 - 01:40:15

I mean, I just lost it laughing, to the point where he actually asked me, is there somebody higher up I can talk to?

01:40:15 - 01:40:19

And I’m laughing, because my assistant’s left, so I answered the phone, right?

01:40:19 - 01:40:21

She’s gone at four o’clock.

01:40:21 - 01:40:24

And so I’m like, a hunting ranch?

01:40:24 - 01:40:55

And so I’m like, I said, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll get control of myself. I said, it’s just kinda hysterical that you’d call the zoo and ask them if we wanna look at a hunting ranch. And he’s like, “Well, I got this property, it’s about an hour from the zoo, it’s 724 acres, blah, blah, blah. It’s completely fenced, with a 10 foot high perimeter fence, electrified. Five miles of exterior perimeter fencing.” I’m like, yeah, sure, right.

01:40:55 - 01:40:59

And he said, well, can I send you some pictures?

01:40:59 - 01:41:00

I’m like, what the hell?

01:41:00 - 01:41:27

Sure, send me some pictures. So he sent me some pictures, and it took me like, I don’t know, a week to even open the email. I’m like, I don’t want no hunting ranch. I don’t need a hunting ranch. Still had 400 animals on it, primarily whitetailed deer, they had some bison just for show, and some elk. And big names came there. Dick Cheney came there and hunted one time, flew over and hunted there. So some big names had been there.

01:41:27 - 01:42:05

And so it took me about a week to open it. And then when I opened it, I’m like, holy cow, this is a really nice place. Holy cow. I mean, like, it had four houses on the property, beautiful houses, I mean, really nice. It had this restaurant that they used, they had a restaurant that they served bison and deer meat out of for Thursday, Friday, Saturday. They catered events there and that kind of thing. So that was completely redone, beautiful. They had a 65 x 165 workshop with all kinds of equipment in it.

01:42:05 - 01:42:09

One end was mechanical, the next one was hay, next one was carpentry.

01:42:11 - 01:42:17

It’s like all the infrastructure you would need, except for an elephant barn, right?

01:42:17 - 01:42:28

And so, I got a whim, and this is March. I’ve actually got a colleague, an elephant manager from the Wuppertal Zoo, and he’s visiting Willie Tyson.

01:42:30 - 01:42:34

And the way I do things at the zoo is like, I like to have everybody’s opinion, right?

01:42:34 - 01:42:46

And so I tell that department head, I said, I’m going out to see this ranch, just ’cause curiosity’s killing me. ‘Cause I don’t believe he’s got a perimeter fence, 10 foot high, electrified all the way around the darn thing.

01:42:46 - 01:42:51

Which actually was the thing I thought was the most interesting, ‘Cause who does that, right?

01:42:51 - 01:43:04

It’s miles of fencing. Anyway, and so I said, I’m gonna load up my Yukon this afternoon, anybody who wants to go can go. Pile in. I said, I’m gonna go look at this hunting ranch. Now mind, this is Pittsburgh in March.

01:43:04 - 01:43:08

So there’s an inch of snow that’s starting to fall on the ground, right?

01:43:08 - 01:43:15

But we’re going anyway. So I pile ’em all in there, we take off. I’ve got nine people in the car.

01:43:15 - 01:43:22

One person, our little development director, ’cause if we buy this, she got to raise the money to buy it, to fund it, right?

01:43:22 - 01:43:47

She’s sitting on the console. I’ve got the research director, I’ve got the mammal curator, who was Amos Morris at the time. I’ve got the mammal curator, I’ve got a guy from Wuppertal, elephant manager. I’ve got our elephant manager, I’ve got the marketing and PR people, we’re all going out to see this place. And so we take off out there. And so I’m mindful that I’ve got 10, nine people in this car.

01:43:47 - 01:43:50

I’m paying their salaries, right?

01:43:50 - 01:43:52

And so I said, all right, I said, get a notepad.

01:43:52 - 01:43:53

Who’s got a notepad?

01:43:53 - 01:43:56

So they get out a notepad and they’re like, oh, great, she’s gonna give us homework?

01:43:56 - 01:44:22

And so they get out a notepad and I said, okay, we need to make a needs assessment list. We’re gonna make a needs assessment list of everything we need in a conservation offsite breeding center. That’s what we’re gonna make. Conservation, research, education. We need to write that down. So they all started brain, ’cause my team was really good. I really encouraged a lot of input. So they were brainstorming, they were throwing out ideas.

01:44:22 - 01:44:32

We need this, we need that. I mean, and pie in the sky kind of, we need this, we need that. We came up with a list of 48 things. 48 things.

01:44:32 - 01:44:35

I’m like, hell, nothing’s gonna match that, right?

01:44:35 - 01:45:28

We are not gonna find a place that has that many. But okay, we got the list. So we went out and looked at the facility, and we drove in the driveway, and there’s this big lake on the left hand side and this big long driveway. And here’s this perimeter fence, and pastures on one side, pastures on the other side, fenced for wildlife fencing. And we’re looking at it, and there’s 20 corrals of different sizes. Because what they would do is they would breed their whitetailed deer, trophy deer outta Penn State. So they breed their whitetailed deer in one paddock, and then as the animals got older and older and older, they would grow ’em up and build ’em a bigger paddock, put them in a bigger paddock, a bigger paddock, a bigger paddock. And then they would release ’em out to the 600 and some acres where they actually did the hunting.

01:45:28 - 01:46:11

So the hunting was actually out there in blinds. You had a blind, and you sat in there and you did hunting. But they made it as natural as they could with what would be considered, quote unquote, “a canned hunt.” Because they let the animals go, and the animals were out there, on their own. And so they had a hundred acres, a hundred acres, Mark. That’s more than most zoos. A hundred acres that had paddock, 20 paddocks that were already there, of multiple different sizes. And then they had this fence line dividing all the infrastructure to this out area. That was 600 and some acres out there, 674 acres out there.

01:46:13 - 01:46:48

Place was drop dead gorgeous. It’s located in the Highlands area of Pennsylvania, and the mountainous area, just absolutely gorgeous. So we get back in the car, and we’re all laughing. We took a picture of all of us together and we’re all laughing because we’re like, yeah, like hell we’re gonna be able to have that place. That’s never gonna happen. And so we went back through our needs assessment, and our needs assessment, that place matched 45 of the 48. So now we gotta raise. So we’re all like, wow.

01:46:48 - 01:47:20

And I’m like, well, don’t give up yet. let me work on it, let me work on it. I’m like, how am I gonna, A, I gotta sell the board we ought to do this. B, I’ve gotta sell somebody to fund it, ’cause we don’t have the money for it. And I’ve promised the board that I’m gonna fund it by not taking away from any of the grants the zoo could get. So I’m not allowed to take away any grants the zoo could get, can’t take zoo money, ’cause that’s a conflict of interest. But if you can raise the money from some other source.

01:47:20 - 01:47:34

So I spent nights and nights and nights on the computer, Googling any kind of foundation, anything I could think of that could possibly fund this, that wouldn’t normally fund the zoo, right?

01:47:34 - 01:47:55

Most of the time I worked on figuring out how to fund a zoo, but I had to figure out how to make this happen. And so it took me almost a year, but I figured it out, and in the meantime, the property’s on the market, and they have a couple of people interested, but it’s not selling, because it’s such a different item.

01:47:56 - 01:48:05

Who wants to buy a hunting ranch, and manage all the animals, and manage all the infrastructure, and all the stuff that went with it, hay fields, everything?

01:48:05 - 01:48:10

Basically a working farm. And so anyway, it sat on the market, we kept fundraising.

01:48:10 - 01:48:16

So it finally came across the idea, well wait a minute, what about land preservation?

01:48:18 - 01:48:29

What if zoos became involved in land preservation, in conserving land, and having it not become developments and all that kind of stuff, and keeping it natural?

01:48:29 - 01:48:30

So I started Googling that.

01:48:30 - 01:48:32

Who funds that?

01:48:33 - 01:49:23

Wow. Lo and behold, the foundation there in the city of Pittsburgh is the number one funder of land preservation in the whole nation. RK Mellon. They buy more property and preserve it than any other foundation in the country. And what they do, generally, is they buy land, and they find a large tract of land. They won’t look at anything under 400 acres. They buy a large tract of land and then they turn it over, normally to like the city, or county, or state government to preserve. So they actually buy, a lot of people don’t know it, but they spend over $50 million bucks a year to buy properties to preserve them all across the country.

01:49:23 - 01:49:57

And so they have a whole branch to do that. So I’m like, whoa, okay. But RK Mellon is one of the foundations that was upset in 1975. So I haven’t cracked that nut yet. So I don’t have a relationship with them that’s real good yet. I’ve gotten little grants from ’em, but nothing really big. But I’m thinking this might be it, this might be the project that cracks that nut and gets us into that foundation, because they give away a ton of money every year. And so we went that route.

01:49:59 - 01:50:34

We called their land preservation branch and we said, we’ve got this idea, we wanna build this breeding farm. We wanna conserve this land. We don’t wanna change the land, we just won’t put animals on it. Keep making hay, keep doing all the things that are going on out there. We don’t wanna do the restaurant, that’s not our cup of tea. We don’t wanna do, they were having camp outs and stuff like that. We wanted to do that from an educational standpoint, but not as a moneymaker. And so, I presented to their board, which is unheard of.

01:50:36 - 01:51:01

Very few people get to present to the RK Mellon board, but they let me present to ’em. So I presented to them, and then they came out to the, what was then the conservation center. Wasn’t the conservation center, it was Glenn Savage Ranch at that point. They came out there, I showed ’em around, showed ’em everything that was going on, and they funded it.

01:51:03 - 01:51:05

So now how much do we pay for it?

01:51:05 - 01:51:44

So I really like negotiation. I think that’s fun. I think it’s fun to go back and forth, either arguing a point or discussing something. People who know me know I like to do that. And so negotiation was fun. So they originally wanted $3.2 million, and by the time we finished talking to ’em, and time it also passed, we got ’em down to $2.2 million for 724 acres of prime real estate in the Highland Mountains of Pennsylvania. 724 acres with four houses on it, and all the infrastructure that was already there. It was ridiculous.

01:51:44 - 01:52:00

But we got ’em down to $2.2 million, and RK Mellon funded it completely. The whole amount. Sent me a check, it came in the mail, just the regular mail. We get the mail. My secretary, my assistant comes to me and she says, there’s a check from RK Mellon.

01:52:00 - 01:52:02

I mean, what do you mean there’s a check from RK Mellon?

01:52:02 - 01:52:06

She said, there’s a check from RK Mellon for $2.2 million in your box.

01:52:06 - 01:52:07

I’m like, what?

01:52:07 - 01:52:08

You’re kidding me?

01:52:08 - 01:52:48

So we run over to the mailbox, we get the check, we are all, we’re dancing around with it in the office. We’re like, look at this, this is $2.2 million, and everybody wants to touch it, ’cause they never touched $2.2 million. We did the happy dance, the money dance, they call it. Everybody knew when we got money, ’cause we were all happy in the office. And so they funded it in total. And so we bought the property, and one of the things we required was that the previous owners had to depopulate it. So there was literally about an eight month process of buying it. And so, I’m very proud to say it has a conservancy on it, easement on it, so it can never be developed, ever.

01:52:48 - 01:53:27

It can’t be sold, it can’t be developed. If for whatever reason Pittsburgh wanted to get rid of it, for whatever reason, I don’t know what that would be, it would have to go back to RK Mellon. So that was the start of our international conservation center. And it was fun. It’s a beautiful, beautiful property. And we developed our elephant program out there, our elephant breeding program out there. And it’s just in its infancy, ’cause elephant breeding takes a long time. Well, you talked about this relationship that you obviously developed, and you talked about that you had left one relationship with AZA.

01:53:28 - 01:53:36

How did you become associated with the Zoological Association of America and develop that relationship?

01:53:37 - 01:53:51

Interestingly enough, I knew absolutely nothing about ZAA. So in the months that we were looking at, we did a very thorough analysis when we were looking at leaving AZA of what it would mean.

01:53:51 - 01:53:56

What’s it gonna mean, what do we have to do, where does it impact?

01:53:56 - 01:54:54

And one of the things we had picked up on was that we needed to be accredited to, we were getting some money from the state, not a lot, but a little bit. Some money in a line item that I had helped develop with Pete Hodgkins, the director of the Philadelphia Zoo. We had developed, founded the PA Zoo Council, which was the council that was of all the accredited zoos in Pennsylvania. And we lobbied our, I really don’t like to call it lobbying, but we developed a relationship with the legislators in Pennsylvania so that we ended up getting a direct line item for the zoos that were accredited at the time. There were six of ’em. And so we founded that organization, Pete Hodgkins and I did, that council. And so one of the things we picked up on was that we needed to be accredited to get the state funding. And so we didn’t say we had to be accredited by AZA, we just said we needed to be accredited by somebody, right.

01:54:54 - 01:55:52

And so we knew that we needed to be accredited. So we went through the process of becoming ZAA accredited, because we needed that for that funding. And that actually was reason we got in interested in ZAA, ZAA is the Zoological Association of America, and it’s only about 15 years old. It’s a very young organization. And we went to the very first conference, and we didn’t know what to expect, because we had left, when we left AZA, I called the president of AZA, and he was too busy to take our calls. And I called the director of AZA, executive director of AZA, and they were too busy to take my calls. And I’m like, okay. And so I waited ’til lunchtime and decided, well, we’ve got to put the media out on this.

01:55:52 - 01:57:13

We’ve got to get this ball rolling. And there was some kind of deadline, I don’t remember what it was even now, but there was some kind of deadline that we needed to meet. And so I sent them a letter via email saying that we were leaving, we had decided to drop our membership in AZA and no longer be members of AZA, and that we felt that there were a great deal of wonderful people in AZA, but that we had a philosophical difference that currently was not solvable despite our best efforts. So I sent that letter to them and Dennis Pate, at that time, was the president of AZA at that time, chair of the board of AZA. So we sent that letter out, and unfortunately AZA wasn’t very kind in their PR about that after that. And so they kind of blasted us. We’ve always felt like we have a philosophical difference and we were not here to badmouth you, but unfortunately they badmouthed us a little bit. But we’re big, we’re big kids, we can handle that.

01:57:13 - 01:57:43

But we needed to be accredited. So we went to ZAA, we went to our very first conference, it was in Las Vegas. It was a blast. Had so much fun. It was like the, ironically, Mark, it was like the AZA conferences of old, it was so much fun. And everybody was talking to everybody, and there weren’t any big wigs, and nobody was stiff and, “You’re a peon and I’m not gonna talk to you.” They were all nice people. And they were all tickled to death to have Pittsburgh involved. And we were like, whoa, okay.

01:57:43 - 01:58:00

And they were welcoming, honest to God. We walked into the icebreaker and it was like a breath of fresh air. Everybody was so nice. And I had five of my team with me. Everybody was so nice, and welcoming, and coming up and talking to you. And the board came up, and introduced themselves, and was talking to us.

01:58:00 - 01:58:04

And we all went back to the hotel together and we’re like, whoa, what was that?

01:58:04 - 01:58:55

That was really nice. Oh my god. And I laughed and I said, well, that was like AZA of old. It’s the way it used to be when AZA was young and AZA was just starting out, and you felt like you were a member of this great organization that welcomed you and was excited to see you, and not some of the stuffiness and elitistness that is there now. I don’t even know if that’s the word, but, and so, elite feel that was there now. An excellent example was, one of the board members came up to me and introduced himself. And we were talking at the bar and he said, he explained to me that he actually was a dentist, and he was a dentist in his community. And he has like 50 different, no, he’s not a dentist.

01:58:55 - 01:59:40

He’s a chiropractor. Sorry, he’s a chiropractor, and he has like 50 different offices. Huge entrepreneur, millionaire. Millionaire, could do anything he wants to do. Well, the little snake farm in his community in Texas, the owner had died, and they were gonna sell it and close it down. And he was approached by the county council, and the city founders and the mayor, “Please, please, please do something by this place and fix it up, please.” Because it was an icon. It was about the only thing they had in their community to take kids to and to be involved in, and everybody loved it, it’d been there forever. And so he thought, well, I need to learn about all this.

01:59:40 - 02:00:15

I don’t know anything about it. He ended up buying it because they convinced him to by it, and he had the money, ’cause he’s a millionaire. And so he goes to AZA and he says, I’m gonna go to the conference. I’m gonna go to the national conference, and I’m gonna go meet people, and I’m gonna learn about reptiles and what I need to do, ’cause that was primarily all they had in the collection at the time, and I’m gonna learn how to manage this zoo. Because I don’t know anything about running a zoo, but I just bought one. And so he goes to AZA and nobody will talk to him. Nobody will talk to him. When he tells people where he is and who he’s from, nobody will talk to him.

02:00:15 - 02:00:23

They snubbed him, for lack of better word. And he goes to ZAA and same responses we got.

02:00:23 - 02:00:26

Everybody was nice, everybody was like, how are you?

02:00:26 - 02:00:26

What you doing?

02:00:26 - 02:00:29

Tell me about your programs, how can we help?

02:00:29 - 02:00:31

What do you need?

02:00:32 - 02:01:28

A true membership organization, really a true membership organization. And what I love about ZAA is that it’s unique. It’s a very unique organization, and it has that over other organizations because it’s a membership organization first with an accreditation option. So it can be accredited, and we have 63 accredited organizations, but you can also be a member as well, or just a member. And I’m saying “just a member” because you want to learn. And AZA, unlike AZA, ZAA welcomes everyone. Everybody from the person who has two red tail hawks in their backyard and does educational programs, takes ’em to the school, or the Fort Worth Zoo, or the San Antonio Zoo, or the Pittsburgh Zoo. They welcome everybody.

02:01:28 - 02:01:44

And the philosophy is that we want everybody to have a place to come, and to learn, and to improve their animal care, learn and improve their conservation programs, their education programs, get involved in conservation. Anybody.

02:01:45 - 02:01:53

Why would we turn away anybody who wants to learn and improve their animal care and welfare, why would we turn them away?

02:01:53 - 02:02:11

So it’s a very unique organization because it welcomes everybody. It’s very inclusive, where AZA has become exclusive. ZAA is inclusive and welcomes everybody, anybody wants to learn and be involved. Now, so you received an accreditation from them.

02:02:11 - 02:02:14

Did you have accreditations from other organizations?

02:02:14 - 02:02:41

We did actually. We had years earlier become a member of American Humane. We were one of the very first organizations, the seventh one, as a matter of fact, that passed their very intense, hardest inspection I’ve ever been through, 90 some page report from them on every single animal in our collection, down to the Rabbits in education program. Very, very intense. Four day, four inspector inspection of American Humane.

02:02:41 - 02:02:49

And their sole purpose is to look at, are the animals humanely treated and cared for?

02:02:50 - 02:02:52

Are they humanely treated and cared for?

02:02:52 - 02:03:36

And so that was their sole focus. And so they did a very in depth inspection, and we were terrified what it was gonna be, ’cause they actually give you a score. I mean, they give you a number score. And we were very happy when we got a 90 plus on their inspection, because it was intense. But we had gone through that inspection as well. So we had that inspection and been through it. So we had several organizations, and we were a member of like 31 different organizations all across the country. The American Association of Zoo Vets, for example, The American Association of Zoo Horticulturists, our horticulturists had been president of that many times.

02:03:36 - 02:03:55

So, our team was actively involved. We were very involved in AZA, we had SSP coordinators at our zoo. We were very involved when we left. Couple of quick questions to finish up kind of a little on this part of Pittsburgh Zoo.

02:03:55 - 02:04:00

What do you think the Pittsburgh Zoo’s responsibilities are?

02:04:00 - 02:04:04

You talked about it to animal welfare, and what does that mean?

02:04:04 - 02:04:42

Animal welfare is different than animal rights. Animal welfare, when you’re talking about animal welfare, you’re talking about the best possible way that you can take care of the animals in your care, and you’re not necessarily talking about space. You’re talking about how to best care for that animal in your care. And so that’s animal welfare. Animal rights is talking about having the animals have rights similar to human rights in many aspects. So they’re very different things. Animal welfare is very important. I mean, animal welfare has actually evolved out of animal husbandry.

02:04:42 - 02:05:18

It’s kind of the same thing. Animal husbandry is about how you take care of the animals. And we have manuals and everything else on how to take care of the animals in each of our zoo areas. So you wanna be very cognizant, and constantly evolving, constantly learning, and constantly evolving your animal care and animal welfare. You don’t wanna be stagnant. ‘Cause if you’re stagnant then you’re going backwards. You want to try, we think that you need to continue to learn and grow in your animal welfare and in your animal husbandry. And there’s no right or wrong.

02:05:18 - 02:05:26

As a matter of fact, that’s something that one of my mentors taught me years ago. And they’re so, so right about it.

02:05:26 - 02:05:32

And that is that you should never use the words “right and wrong.” You know why?

02:05:35 - 02:06:14

You don’t wanna use the words right and wrong, because if I say I’m right, I’m implying that you’re wrong. But you might not be wrong. You have your opinion, I have my opinion. So it’s not that you’re right, it’s not that I’m right and you’re wrong. We just have a difference of opinion. I just differ in my opinion of this situation. That doesn’t mean your thoughts are wrong, doesn’t mean my thoughts are wrong, it means that we just have a different opinion. We are gonna take a different path, much like we did leaving AZA, we’re gonna take a different path.

02:06:14 - 02:06:34

So, I think that’s really important. When you look at animal husbandry, the animal rights folks want to tell us that we’re not doing the best we can by our animals in our care. But in reality, nobody gets in the zoo business to harm the animals.

02:06:34 - 02:06:40

Nobody gets in the zoo business to, who gets in the zoo business to hurt the animals?

02:06:40 - 02:07:20

We all want the animals to be healthy and have a wonderful life in their exhibits and in their environment. And so, but shit happens, too. Animals don’t read the book. So animals run into the wall, or animals get their foot stuck in this, and that, and the other. We had a baby elephant that would jump off a rock, swim the moat, and go over and eat the grass in the hoofstock area, which was next door. And we’d had to get out there and chase him back across the moat, and get him back in the elephant exhibit until we put a hot wire up and stopped that behavior. But he would dive into the water. So that’s the challenge, to try to figure out how to keep that little bugger in exhibit.

02:07:20 - 02:07:28

And it wasn’t that we weren’t providing him an adequate space, but he liked the grass on the other side of the fence, you know?

02:07:28 - 02:08:31

So I think that what people miss when they’re talking about animal rights and criticizing zoos is, often they’re looking at where we were 20, 30, 40 years ago, and not looking at the fact that, wait a minute, we’ve grown, we’ve learned, we’ve evolved. We’re getting better and better and better in what we do, and we’re learning from our mistakes. We’re learning from the things we tried and failed, we’re learning from the things we tried that worked, and we’re not stagnant, and we’re doing the best we possibly can for the animals. The other thing I think people miss, and I don’t know what the exact statistic is, but 93% or better, it was 93% when I left the zoo world. But 93% or better of the animals in our care were born in zoos. They weren’t born in the wild. They were born in zoos. So all they know is that this exhibit, like the polar bear cub I talked about, who broke his leg trying to get back into his exhibit, because that’s home.

02:08:31 - 02:09:04

The people that know the animals are born in the zoo, this is the only environment they know. So some animal rights people think we should take all the zoo animals and take ’em back to Africa or wherever they come from, and release ’em out into the wild, and they’ll do great. No, they won’t, they’ll die. They’ll starve to death, get eaten by something, or die. And that was proven quite recently, sadly. So that’s so important that we think about the fact that this is home to the animals. This is what they know and love. This is what they’re comfortable, this is their comfort zone.

02:09:04 - 02:09:07

You talked about that you asked lots of questions.

02:09:07 - 02:09:14

How involved were you in the day-to-day activities and hands-on when you were director?

02:09:14 - 02:09:15

And did you ever do rounds?

02:09:15 - 02:09:16

Was that important?

02:09:16 - 02:09:53

Absolutely. Rounds were a hundred percent important. Did it every single day that I could. Sometimes I’d have meetings or weather, weather didn’t permit it in Pittsburgh, but we did have some challenging snow storms on occasion. But that’s one of the most fun parts of the job, to get out of the office and go walk around the ground. So I would try not to get stuck in the office first thing in the morning. I’d try to get out on the grounds, 9:00, 9:30, walk the grounds, meet with all of the staff. That would generally bring me back in 12:30, 1:00, but it could be all day, depending on whatever we were talking about and wherever we were working.

02:09:53 - 02:10:33

So I talked to everybody, I got some great ideas from the laborers, I got some great ideas from the custodians who cleaned the toilets. Everybody, I mean, that was the fun thing about Pittsburgh, too. We fostered a culture that everybody could give us an idea. One time I had a keeper who was very upset at me about that. And he said, I gave you an idea two years ago, it never happened. And I said, look, Ray, I said, it was a great idea, but we get 200, 300 great ideas. We can only accomplish about half of ’em. We’ve only got this much resources, this much staff.

02:10:33 - 02:11:15

If we can accomplish half of them, we’re doing better than most of the zoos if we can get that done. So, I’m sorry your particular idea didn’t get taken, but don’t make that so that you can’t give us another idea, because you need to give us another idea. Don’t shut it down. You got great ideas. We just couldn’t make that one happen. So yeah, rounds are real important. I think that’s a problem with, or may be a problem, I don’t know, but if you don’t make rounds, you lose contact with the animals in the animal collection. And I did have animal management meetings, and animal management meetings I learned about all the animal collection and everything, but my board always complimented me on the fact that I knew what was going on on the grounds.

02:11:15 - 02:12:04

Because I walked the grounds at least three times a week. And so I was out there walking around, and so people get very comfortable with talking to the leader, because you’re just out there. And everybody called me Barbara, nobody called me Dr. Baker. The only people called me Dr. Baker I knew didn’t know me, because nobody called me Dr. Baker, everybody called me Barbara. Except when we’re doing public presentations or something. But it’s so important to get out there and to watch the animals, to learn the animals, to see what’s working, what’s not working. I love talking to visitors, walking around, talking to visitors. And a lot of times I’d be in a t-shirt, and nobody knew who I was, just walking around in blue jeans and a t-shirt and talking to the visitors and getting their, or just listening to ’em, listening to visitors talk about animal behavior.

02:12:04 - 02:12:09

A parent telling the kid what the animal’s doing, and you know that’s not what the animal’s doing. It’s a lot of fun.

02:12:09 - 02:12:17

And talking to visitors, you learn a lot about where they’re from, where they came from, what are you doing, how often do you come?

02:12:17 - 02:12:45

Well, those kind of things are very important, especially for the leader to do. In today’s challenging world of all these electronics, and all the computers, and all the emails you get in one bloody day, it’s easy to get sucked into that office and never go, never go out on the grounds. But you got to, you gotta force it. It’s got to be a regular thing. This is, I’m going. This is penciled into my calendar, I’m out on the ground.

02:12:45 - 02:12:49

During your time, did the zoo have a master plan?

02:12:50 - 02:12:54

And how important do you think master plans are?

02:12:54 - 02:13:29

I’m not a planner, I’m a doer. Planning is hard for me because it takes time. You gotta sit down, you gotta take time, and that takes away from doing rounds, or it takes away from, whatever, fundraising, whatever you’re gonna do. But planning, I’ve learned in my career, even though I’m not good at planning, and even though I don’t like planning, you have to plan. You have to do it. You have to do it. We did not have a strategic plan, we did not have a business plan, we did not have a master plan when I came on board at Pittsburgh, we had a three page budget. Three page budget.

02:13:29 - 02:13:57

We had six accounts in the city line item, six accounts. Animal food, provisions, it was crazy, staff. I mean, and that was it. That was a whole budget. So, one of the first things I did was we put together a full fledged budget for the zoo, independent of the city. We knew how much money we’ll get from the city, now we’re gonna spread it out. I asked the then assistant director at the zoo, when I started, and I got this three page budget.

02:13:57 - 02:14:00

I said, so how do you decide who gets the money?

02:14:00 - 02:14:09

And he literally actually told me, he said, “Well, whoever yells the loudest.” And I said, well, when does the money run out?

02:14:09 - 02:14:41

Then he said, “Oh, about June.” And I’m like, holy cow, about June, that’s not gonna work. So one of the first things we did in the first year I was there was put together a budget for every single department, and we had to train people how to do a budget. Because the vets had never done a budget, horticulture had never done a budget, they just spent money. ‘Cause the city gave ’em money, they spent money, but not specifically for them. They had to advocate for every single dollar. So we put together a budget. So strategic planning is very important. And then, master planning.

02:14:41 - 02:15:19

Master planning is about your facility and what you’re gonna build. Strategic planning is about all of your programs and everything you’re doing. And so I went through, I think three strategic plans with outside firms coming in, doing focus groups, and doing all that kind of stuff, getting involved. And then we decided, we collectively decided at the zoo that that didn’t work for us, that they were basically taking everything we already knew and writing a plan, but we were really doing all the work on it.

02:15:19 - 02:15:32

And my team said, they were getting us, they didn’t wanna do planning either, because it took too much time out of their already very, very busy schedule, right?

02:15:32 - 02:16:02

And we had, at the zoo, one of the things I instituted, the very first year I got there, was an annual retreat, senior staff retreat. Started out being three days. We got good at it, so we got it down to two days. And then, so in the fall we’d have a senior staff retreat, and everybody would bring their departmental goals and objectives, we’d put ’em on a board, we’d all stare at ’em, we’d work on ’em. We’d say, “No, we can’t do that. Yes, we’re gonna do that. No, we’ve gotta do that next year. We can’t do that this year.” And all those kind of things.

02:16:02 - 02:16:09

And then in the spring we do a mini retreat, and the mini retreat was primarily focused on, how are we gonna survive the next six months?

02:16:09 - 02:16:42

Because 80% of the attendance of Pittsburgh came in from May to September. 80%. And so we had to figure out how we’re gonna survive the next six months with everything that was going on. And that was the spring retreat. And at the spring retreat, we had the senior staff, which were 14 senior staff. We had the senior staff and then all of the middle managers as well. So we generally had 40 to 45 people in that meeting, and we worked hard to figure out how we were gonna. And the cool thing about it was nobody could say, well, I didn’t know about that.

02:16:42 - 02:17:25

And then the other meeting we had that I started, which was a lot of fun, was we had a monthly all staff meeting. Mandatory, monthly all staff meeting. So everybody would have to come to that meeting, unless you’re teaching a class, or we had one person at reception, or we had one person at the gate at that time. We’d pick a time, usually two o’clock, when most of the stuff at the gate was done, most people were in, and so everybody had to come to that meeting, all staff meeting. And at the first or second all staff meeting, I got bored because basically I was standing up talking and everybody’s sitting there like this. And I’m like, well, that don’t work for me. I know what I know. I don’t know what you know.

02:17:25 - 02:17:42

I can listen to me talk all day. I know what I know, but I wanna know what you know. So we stopped. So I said, okay, that’s over, I’m done with that. We’re not doing it anymore. And they’re all like, great, we don’t have to go all staff meetings. I was like, no, no, no, no, no, no. We’re going to all staff meetings, we’re doing them religiously every single month.

02:17:42 - 02:18:13

But now we’re gonna have every single department report. So every single department has to report. You get three minutes, three minutes only, I’ll call you on the time. Every single staff, every single department has to report. And the senior manager cannot report. It has to be one of the line staff. The senior manager, unless you’re the only person in the department, which at research was the only person a lot of times, researchers would be out and gone. So they had to report on what was happening in their area, births of animals.

02:18:13 - 02:18:36

And so it got to be a lot of fun. they got real creative in their department head meetings. So we would have the tool of the month. So maintenance would bring a tool, and they would tell people, and it would be an odd tool, it wouldn’t be like a wrench, it’d be something odd. And they’d bring this odd tool and they’d say, we use this for such and such and such.

02:18:36 - 02:18:40

And everybody would pass it around, they’d touch it, and they’d pass all the way through the whole dog gone team, right?

02:18:40 - 02:19:36

A hundred people, 145 people at the end there, everybody together. And then horticulture got to where there was a plant of the month. So horticulture brought the plant of the month, and so everybody passed that around. They ask about the care, how can I grow this, blah, blah, blah. It got to be a lot of fun. We actually had a lot of fun at those meetings, all staff meetings. Once I was accused by someone of not communicating with my staff, and it was an employee that gotten fired, disgruntled employee, disgruntled former employee, had gone to the media and said, “Dr. Baker’s not connected with her staff, and she doesn’t know what to do, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I pointed out that we had all staff meetings. We took a role at our all staff meetings.

02:19:36 - 02:19:39

So we passed around a sheet and everybody signed it, right?

02:19:39 - 02:20:02

So we had document, and I kept those all staff meeting sheets, who reported what, what day. And so I presented this huge stack of all staff meetings. And I’m like, well, for the last 20 years we’ve met every single month with every single member of the team. And then we have department head meetings, and then we have animal management meetings, and then the curators have meetings, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

02:20:02 - 02:20:04

Meetings and meetings and more meetings, right?

02:20:04 - 02:20:08

And so, I don’t know how we can communicate more.

02:20:08 - 02:20:10

You got any suggestions?

02:20:10 - 02:20:28

And just shut ’em down. And there was no story. So we didn’t end up being a negative story in the media about how Dr. Baker didn’t know what she was doing, although most of the time she didn’t. But, she just winged it. Now. One last question. One last question, okay. When you retired.

02:20:28 - 02:20:30


02:20:30 - 02:20:32

Did you give the new zoo director any advice?

02:20:35 - 02:20:56

Well, actually no. I was very steadfast. I had talked to a lot of people about retirement before I retired in the industry, and outside of the industry, too, as well, who had retired. And so they gave me a lot of advice. And one of their advice, key advice, was not to be involved in this selection process.

02:20:56 - 02:21:00

Because if the person doesn’t work out, then it’s gonna be your fault, right?

02:21:00 - 02:21:42

And to let that person operate without your advice for the first year. So I was president emeritus of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, and provided support when they needed it, but I did not directly counsel the new director. Because I feel that they, once again, I feel that they need to get the lay of the land. They need to figure out what’s going on. And then if they wanna know why the Kids’ Kingdom was built this way, and why we did this, or we did that, then I’m here, anytime you wanna pick up the phone, anytime you want to email, that’s great. But I really want them to get their feet wet.

02:21:44 - 02:21:46

What made you a good zoo director?

02:21:46 - 02:21:48

What made me a good zoo director?

02:21:48 - 02:21:54

I think because I always looked at the philosophy of several things.

02:21:54 - 02:22:00

One of them was, I talked to my staff a lot about this, is that somebody had to do the job, right?

02:22:00 - 02:22:06

Somebody had to be director, and why not have a normal animal person do that?

02:22:06 - 02:22:08

Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

02:22:08 - 02:23:09

Because of my animal background, the fact that I was zoo veterinarian, and at that time I came on board, there were a lot of finance people, marketing people who were starting to show up in the ranks. And that’s even worse now. And so I thought it was very important that there be an animal person, that understood the animals, and was able to approach it from the animal welfare and all those kind of things, and speak knowledgeably about the animals. But then secondly, I thought it was real important that you just be who you are. Just be a normal person. So I was always just who I am, a normal person trying to do the best that I could do, and trying and failing, everything else, but trying to make us better, and always make us better. But I think a couple of things are necessary to be a good zoo director, or to be a good president, CEO in any business, really. You gotta have passion for what you’re doing.

02:23:09 - 02:23:52

I mean, the reason why you’re able to be successful, and the reason why you’re able to raise a hundred thousand dollars in 31 years is that you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you’re able to sell that passion. People feel it when you’re talking about something, they can tell you’re excited about it. They can tell you’re enthusiastic about it, and they can tell you believe in it, or they can tell you don’t believe in it, either way. So you need to be passionate about it. And I’m very passionate about the zoo business, and the Pittsburgh Zoo, and all that we were able to accomplish there. Very, very passionate about that. And I think the other thing that a leader has to have is vision. You have to be able to see what’s not there.

02:23:52 - 02:24:52

You have to be able to look at a flat plane of land and see that new exhibit. You have to be able to look at this animal and believe that you can develop and see this conservation program that you’re gonna be able to develop. You have to be able to have that vision. And that’s something that is, you can teach a little bit, but it’s also a lot learned. You learn as you go along to be able to develop the skills, to be able to design and build something that’s not there, and see it in your mind, and be able to articulate it to a designer, or a graphics artist, or someone like that so that they can draw it and put it into a visual that then you can use that to go raise money. And then I think the other thing that’s good is I like people of all walks of life. I’ve always liked people. And I think that that’s a very important part of being a president, CEO, is you’ve got to be able to talk to everybody.

02:24:52 - 02:25:50

You need to be able to talk to everybody at every level. I talk to the custodians, the laborers, the keepers, the curators, the donors, my board, all the same. For better or worse, all the same. And so I think to be able to, and the press and the media, you have to be able to talk to the media. And if you have that passion, and that vision, and that knowledge that you have from being a veterinarian, and an MBA, you got that in your back pocket, then you’re able to be able to put out a lot of fires just by being, because they trust you. They’ve listened to you for all these years, and you’ve always been straightforward and honest with ’em, and blunt in some cases, because I have called them for BS at times. So, I think that’s important to have. And all three of those things are very, very important to have.

02:25:50 - 02:25:56

What skillset does the zoo director need today as compared to when you started?

02:25:57 - 02:26:10

Well, I think that the zoo directors today need to be able to, you’re really multitasking all the time, every single day, every moment of the day.

02:26:10 - 02:26:22

And so you have to have, when I started and we were the city zoo, the majority of zoos were either city or municipal zoos, city, county, or state zoos, right?

02:26:22 - 02:27:02

There was two zoos that were state, but most of ’em, city, county. And then that’s flip flopped now over the years to where there are more private zoos than there are governmental zoos. And so you have to be able to fundraise to a large extent, because there are very few zoos that are a hundred percent supported by whatever entity that is supporting them. Usually everybody has to raise money. So you have to be a good fundraiser, and you can learn that skill. That’s not a hard job. You just have to learn how to do it. And then you have to be able to juggle all of the different tasks that you’re going to do.

02:27:02 - 02:27:33

The other thing that wasn’t prevalent, and I mentioned it wasn’t prevalent when I started, was marketing and PR knowledge. But that’s become incredibly important, especially as we look at buffering the animal rights propaganda and all of those types of things, and the attack that zoos are getting now, we have to be mindful of being able to have the marketing and PR skills that we normally would not think would be associated with president and CEO. Pittsburgh Zoo is a large zoo. Yep.

02:27:33 - 02:27:40

But what can a small or medium-sized municipal zoo do today to be involved in wildlife conservation nationally or internationally?

02:27:40 - 02:28:44

Oh, any zoo of any size can be involved in conservation these days. And then in fact, we need ’em all. If we’re gonna have a chance at saving the animals in the world, we’ve got to have everybody involved. Little zoo, big zoo, every possible way that we can reach people to get them to care, get them to fund, get them involved in conservation efforts. And that’s critically important. It’s one of the key reasons you have a zoo in the first place is to have a venue where all of that knowledge and expertise can be spread out into the community, excite people about conservation. No matter if you’re three acres zoo or a hundred acres zoo, it doesn’t matter. And what a small zoo, a medium sized zoo does, all they need to do is they just need to hook up with a conservationist, a research program, either through their local university, through their trade organization, whether it’s AZA, or ZAA, or American Humane, hook up with conservation efforts so that they can get involved in and be in support.

02:28:44 - 02:29:38

And support can be sending staff over to help on a certain project, it can be sending money, money’s always good, but sending funds can also be involved. You can also have long-term commitments. You might not have a whole lot of money that you could raise. Maybe it’s only a thousand dollars a year, but maybe you can pledge to give to this organization $1,000 a year for 10 years. Well then it’s a lot of money and you’re making an impact. But really, truly any support of conservation efforts these days is what we need, because otherwise it’s too big for any one group to tackle. So get involved. You’ve kind of mentioned this, but zoos, in many cases, are afraid to confront animal welfare rights groups that are anti zoos.

02:29:38 - 02:29:45

Sadly, we have people in top positions in our field who seem in line with what these non-biologists have to say.

02:29:45 - 02:29:49

Can you give us your thoughts on how best to deal with these groups?

02:29:49 - 02:30:13

Well, it’s interesting because I frequently had disagreements, strong, great arguments, or discussions with our PR people at the zoo. Because I would want to address a certain attack we got or something, letter to the editor or something, and they’d go, no, no, no, just let it go or you’re gonna give it legs. So you really have to decide which fights you’re gonna pick.

02:30:13 - 02:30:21

Pick your fights and be aware of the, what’s the word for it?

02:30:21 - 02:30:39

Be aware of the fallout from them. Fallout. Be aware of the fallout from them that might happen that you unintentionally brought on board. So, we would get a letter to the editor, and I’m one that always wants to set the record straight.

02:30:39 - 02:30:47

And I’m all, I was always very protective of the zoo, so I would always want to, and I’m a big mouth, so I would always want to address it, right?

02:30:47 - 02:31:44

But our PR people taught me that you need to pick your fight, because what you do sometimes, when you address that letter to the editor or you address that little story in the paper, when you address it, then it gives it what they call legs. So now you’ve given the story legs, where it was just a one piece story in the paper and nobody believed it anyway. Oh wait, well, Dr. Baker was so concerned about it that she spoke up and said blah, blah, blah, countered the argument, whatever. There’s other times when you have to go to bat for yourself and for the zoo because the information is so blatantly out there. I, for one, think that zoos and aquariums have to address more, and more, and more of the accusations made by animal rights organizations. Because unfortunately, when they say it enough times, people start to believe it because they’ve heard it enough times.

02:31:44 - 02:31:49

“Zoos are bad for animals, we beat our elephants.” Who beats an elephant for God’s sakes?

02:31:49 - 02:31:50

How much do they weigh?

02:31:50 - 02:32:19

And so it’s really, you have to kind of pick your fights. I, for one, have gone up against media many times about different issues and just been very straightforward and blunt with them. One time I had a reporter say something so idiotic to me, I said, “Have you got any common sense?” And the rest of the room giggled, it was a press conference, the rest of the room giggled, the reporters giggled. Because he asked me such a silly question.

02:32:19 - 02:32:21

I’m like, have you got any common sense?

02:32:21 - 02:32:24

Does that make any sense to anybody?

02:32:24 - 02:32:58

And the room laughed, because the question was so idiotic. So you really, a reporter’s looking for an angle. He’s looking for a way to be sensational, especially today, in this day and age. I think, but to answer the question directly, yes, we need, as organizations, to speak up more when we are accused of things that really matter. A complaint from zoo directors is there are too few good curators in the community today.

02:32:58 - 02:32:59

Do you think that’s a problem?

02:32:59 - 02:33:05

And how should curators be trained today for what is expected of them?

02:33:05 - 02:34:17

Well, I think one of the things that we do, many zoos do very well, is they bring people on, and they orient them, and they train them when they first come on. And then a lot of the training after that is on the job training, which is great. But we need to do a better job as organizations at picking out those superstars, the people that are shiny, the people that show the qualities that we want in a leader. We need a better way to pick those people out and to do that. And to start putting them in situations where we’re putting ’em in training programs, we’re putting ’em in management training, we’re putting them in, we’re trying to put them in a role or a path that will lead them to being a good manager later on in their lives. And that can be done at a very early age. I mean, I can literally interview a person, and in three to five minutes I know whether we’re gonna hire ’em or not. And so you can, after working with a person for a year, know whether that person has the potential and the qualities you need to develop in a leader.

02:34:17 - 02:34:23

And we don’t do that very well, and it’s not because we don’t want to, it’s because we get so wrapped up in the day to day.

02:34:23 - 02:34:27

And the next thing you know, you’ve been in the zoo business for 40 years, how did that happen?

02:34:27 - 02:34:27


02:34:27 - 02:35:24

And so, you really, you have to make a concerted effort to train managers to come up. The other thing you gotta be, and I hear this a lot, the other thing you’ve got to be careful, you’ve got to be okay with, is letting that person leave. So if you’ve done the homework to get that person up to being a good manager, the best thing that can happen is to have that person go to another zoo and learn their system, and learn what’s going on there. And so if that person develops three to four years later, then you can pluck ’em out of there and say, hey, we want you to come home. You need to come home. You knew you missed your mama. And come home and we’ll get going on that. One thing we did at Pittsburgh was we started a school for kids who didn’t have the opportunities that other kids did in Peabody High School, in the zoo.

02:35:26 - 02:36:20

And we had a lot of students who came down and learned about the opportunities in zoos and tried to get them interested in being involved. Even if they weren’t gonna go to college, they weren’t gonna go to, because I’m not one who thinks that you have to have a college education to be a keeper. I think a college education is always nice, it makes you more well-rounded. You’ve had more experiences in life, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good keeper if you haven’t gone to college, or you weren’t able to go to college for whatever reason. So I think it’s just, it’s like everything else. We have to, as an industry, make an effort to put together programs and training within our own zoos that can help develop those curator level staffs. Curator staff levels, and president/CEO staff levels, too.

02:36:20 - 02:36:29

What issues caused you the most concern during your career, and how do you see the future regarding those same concerns?

02:36:31 - 02:37:34

Well, one of the things that we always worry about when we look at zoos at the president and CEO level is financial stability. And so I was very, very proud of the fact that one of my achievements at the Pittsburgh Zoo was that during my tenure in ’93, ’94, we passed a regional asset district tax for the zoo. So that ensured the long-term viability of the zoo and actually helped sustain us during Covid, for example, when we were closed. So we have to be able, that’s a big challenge to be able to maintain this and grow the financial stability of your zoo. And so very, very important. So it’s a big, big challenge for any zoo. Literally everything we do feeds off of that, because if we can’t feed the animals, and we can’t pay the staff, and we can’t take care of the visitors, then we can’t function, we can’t survive. And boy, Covid taught us that more than anything.

02:37:34 - 02:37:37

What issues would you like to see zoos address in the future?

02:37:37 - 02:38:28

I think in the future zoos have to address more strongly, as we talked about, the animal rights issues. But the other thing that I think zoos are totally ignoring, but is really at the root of all animal problems, is the human population growth. Human population growth is the number one cause of all of the animals going extinct that we looked at, if you think about it. But zoos don’t wanna tackle that, ’cause it’s somebody else’s problem. Somebody else is the expert in that. We’re not the expert in that. Well, we’re not the expert in a lot of things, but we can educate people about it, and it’s not an easy topic. People don’t wanna talk about human population growth, but the human population is exploding, and literally there’s not gonna be room for the animals.

02:38:28 - 02:38:41

There’s not gonna be food for the animals because of the human population. So we really, as a zoo, I think, need to take that issue and educate people about it.

02:38:41 - 02:38:46

Our graphics were never “hit you over the head” graphics, right?

02:38:46 - 02:39:27

Our graphics were never doom and gloom graphics, our graphics were always trying to be positive, and yet still address the issue. So, I think through graphics, through conservation programs, through educational programs, we need to educate the public about the human population growth and make them aware that, oh wait a minute, this is actually what’s going on. This is kinda like the top of everything else that’s happening. Everything else in the world that’s happening to animals today is happening because of the human population growth at the core.

02:39:29 - 02:39:38

Is education doing any good, particularly in boosting the image of zoos among the public in the face of the anti zoo groups?

02:39:38 - 02:40:19

Absolutely. I mean, here’s the problem. The animal rights folks got so far ahead of us, and they’re so well funded, that we’re behind the eight ball. But still, the wonderful programs that zoos have had forever, a good zoo has always had an education program. I mean, we did 400,000 students annually in our education programs at the Pittsburgh Zoo. That’s more than the school system in Pittsburgh serves. We did more than the school system in Pittsburgh did of students in our classes. And that’s people coming to the zoo, that’s not outreach programs.

02:40:19 - 02:40:48

We have 400,000 kids and adults coming to our programs. And so we absolutely had an impact on their knowledge of conservation, their knowledge of wildlife, their knowledge of the issues around those animals. And I think that’s so important, because education’s really what it’s all about. We really have to educate more, and more, and more. We’ve gotta put a significant focus on that so we can get people excited and interested in caring about animals.

02:40:48 - 02:40:56

But speaking of education, what direction should zoo education be going as it relates to conservation, education and research?

02:40:56 - 02:41:39

I think that our core mission is always gonna be our core mission when it comes to education. I mean, our core focus is always gonna be, and should always be talking about the animals, educating the visitors about the animals, the visitors, and our students, and our classes, our participants. It always needs to be about the animals, because I think that zoos need to be mindful of not getting too far afield of their core mission. And our core mission is to educate people about conservation, about wildlife, about exotic animals and how they’re doing in the world, good and bad. You indicated about things that a zoo director should know.

02:41:40 - 02:41:46

Any advice for the neophyte zoo director about the importance of marketing zoos?

02:41:46 - 02:41:49

What are the most important aspects of marketing in your opinion?

02:41:49 - 02:42:46

Well, in my opinion, marketing and PR are critical to our future. And when I think about marketing, I think about marketing, not just marketing to the general public, not TV, and media, and social media, and all that kind of stuff. But really what you’re doing when you’re fundraising is marketing. You’re selling the zoo, you’re selling a project, you’re selling an animal that you wanna bring in. Marketing is very, very important. And I would encourage anybody that’s interested in being a president and CIO, definitely, to look at doing some marketing and PR classes, getting some training in marketing and PR. It is something to stand up in front of a room full of 35 reporters after an incident at your zoo and field the questions that they send your way. It takes a certain degree of training.

02:42:46 - 02:43:43

It takes a certain degree of of experience to be able to stand up there and talk to the media, because they’re out to get you. They’re out for a story. They’re out to win their Emmy or their Eddie or whatever they’re looking for, and they really play “gotcha” a lot. And so you have to be very savvy in your marketing and everything else to keep that going and to keep them at bay. But the other thing I think that’s really important, marketing and PR wise, is always be honest. Always be truthful when you’re talking to the media, to the best of your ability, and concise. And that’s hard for me to do obviously, ’cause I talk a lot, but that’s so important when you’re talking to the media. ‘Cause they’ll twist every single word, or they’ll take half the sentence you said and make it something else.

02:43:46 - 02:43:51

What should zoos be doing, if anything, to help governments protect land masses?

02:43:51 - 02:44:45

Well, that’s one of the things we did at the Pittsburgh Zoo was we purchased almost a thousand acres. Our international conservation center is a thousand acres, now, of property through a land preservation trust. And we were able to preserve that land. And I think that’s kind of a new frontier for zoos, to have the ability to go out and to have an area where they’re preserving the land around them, or the land in their county, or near their county, and have an opportunity to be involved in that. It improves the image of the zoo. It’s a major conservation effort that we don’t think about often, ’cause we’re always thinking about conservation of wildlife and not land conservation. And so it’s really something that zoos could capitalize on. It helps you get in with your major funders that are interested in land preservation and it helps the environment.

02:44:47 - 02:44:53

What issues would you like the AZA or ZAA to be addressing now?

02:44:59 - 02:45:47

Well, I think the organizations at large, both organizations, need to be really addressing and working together to develop solid strategies to combat the animal rights folks that are coming our way. And I think that’s the number one threat to zoos. The other threat, and when we look at the animal rights plan, the animal rights plan is twofold. One fold is legislatively. So legislatively, the animal rights strategic plan is to legislate us out of business. So they look at traveling animal bans. So we can’t travel with our education animals. They look at blocking imports of animals to come in.

02:45:49 - 02:46:46

So we can’t rescue an animal from Africa. Heaven forbid there being an animal that needed our help. And then the other wing of the strategy is to pound us in PR efforts with lies and misinformation. And in that fashion then they’re trying to do both. What’s happening right now, unfortunately, is that we’re not working together, and we should be working together. The major organizations, ZAA, AZA, American Humane need to be working together to develop strategies, and we’re not working together. And so we really need to start communicating, start working together. Because once again, it’s just like, the need for conservation is the need to have as many people working with funding conservation, working on conservation projects, big or small.

02:46:46 - 02:47:01

The same thing is true for addressing the animal rights issue. If we don’t work together, then we’re gonna be sunk. In my humble opinion. There are now two professional zoo associations.

02:47:02 - 02:47:03

Is there room for both?

02:47:03 - 02:47:41

Absolutely, a hundred percent. Actually both of ’em are needed. They’re needed. So you’ve got AZA, and AZA is an established, been accrediting zoos since 1985 organization. And they’ve matured now to more of a regulatory, elite organization. And so, that’s fine and good. That’s where they are now. But that leaves out all of the little zoos, all of the startups, all of the people out there who are educators, who just have a few animals in their backyard that they take really good care of.

02:47:41 - 02:48:48

I mean, honest to God, they take great care of their animals. It leaves out the private owners who have their private animal collection. Good god, there’s more rhinos in Texas than there are in Africa in some parts. So it leaves out the people who have those collections, they have no organization to go to. So ZAA serves the function in allowing people who want to improve their animal care and welfare, want to improve their programs, they have a place to go. They don’t have to join this big organization, AZA, they can go to this smaller organization, ZAA, that’s inclusive, that still welcomes them, has education programs, has conferences, has webinars so they can learn, and get better, and be a part of an organization, and learn about how to get involved in conservation, learn about education programs, all those kind of things. And so I think that that’s very, very important. And it would be silly for one to disrespect the other for any reason, because there’s a need for both organizations.

02:48:48 - 02:48:49


02:48:54 - 02:49:05

As president of the Zoological Association of America, why do you think there was an impasse with the two organizations?

02:49:05 - 02:50:04

I think that the two organizations have very different goals. AZA’s goals, and recognize, I’ve been outta AZA since 2015 when we left. But AZA’s goals are to be an accrediting body, a regulatory body, and to be an organization that only allows certain members in who meet their standards of accreditation. You have to be accredited to be an AZA member. ZAA is a different organization in that it’s unique and it welcomes all with an accreditation program. So ZAA is a true membership organization, and we deal directly with the members and get their opinions, poll them often about their opinions. Just did a big poll and we wanna know what the members think, and it’s a membership organization with an accreditation option. So the ZAA has standards and accreditation program very similar to AZA.

02:50:04 - 02:50:47

The biggest difference is that AZA looks at finance, and government, and all that kind of thing. ZAA looks specifically at the animals and the animal areas in their accreditation program. So we don’t get into finance, we don’t get into all that kind of thing. We do do safety. We do do safety and security, we do animal care, animal programs, education programs, training, conservation efforts. But we don’t look, in our accreditation program, we don’t look at, as I said, finance, government, that sort of thing. And so they’re different types, different, but very, very similar. I’ve literally gone line by line in the two standards, between AZA standards and ZAA standards, and they’re almost identical.

02:50:48 - 02:50:49

Almost identical.

02:50:49 - 02:50:52

As a matter of fact, some of the language is so close I’m like, who copied who?

02:50:52 - 02:51:38

It’s so close, and yet the animal rights folks take the standards that ZAA had 10 years ago, and they present those as the standards. Well, look, ZAA doesn’t meet AZA standards because, and here’s the proof. Well, those standards are from 10 years ago. They’re not the ones we adopted just last year. We’re constantly evolving the standards and constantly improving the standards. And so we put a whole new set of standards out last year. But often the animal rights folks use a comparison from 10 years ago and say, oh, this is ZAA. Well, ZAA is very different, actually, than it was five years ago when I became chair of the board.

02:51:38 - 02:51:48

It’s growing, it’s very professional, great organization to be a part of, and I’m very proud to have been a part of it.

02:51:48 - 02:51:52

If you could go back in time, what, if anything, would you have done differently?

02:51:52 - 02:52:33

Oh, a ton of things. I screw up all the time, I’m really good at it. So a ton of things. Gosh, that’s a tough question. I think there’s a lot of things I would’ve done differently in my life. I might have second guessed whether I really wanted to be a president and CEO, because when you’re a veterinarian, and you’re a zoo veterinarian, you’re in the trenches every day, just like a curator. You’re in the trenches and you’re really involved in the animals. When you’re president and CEO you can go a week without seeing an animal, or being near an animal, according to whatever you’re tied up in.

02:52:33 - 02:52:42

If you’re privatizing the zoo, I’d spend eight hours a day downtown with the city and nobody would say anything about, well, what’s the best thing for the zoo?

02:52:42 - 02:52:47

It’d be eight hours and nobody, I’d walk outta the meeting going, well, what’s the best thing for the zoo?

02:52:47 - 02:53:57

Nobody said that. So I think that is very different. I think if I had to go back and improve Barbara Baker, I think that what has made me a successful leader is that I am passionate about what I believe in. I think that if I had to improve Barbara Baker, I’d tell young Barbara Baker to pick her fights because I can be very passionate about what I believe in, often to the point of making the other person feel disrespected. And I think we, as leaders, have to recognize that, that you have to sort of temper that passion a little bit and make it so that you’re not disrespecting the other person or the issue that they’re passionate about as well. So that’s kind of hard to do. You had to balance a personal life along with your full-time job. Yep.

02:54:00 - 02:54:04

How were you able to balance these two entities?

02:54:05 - 02:54:43

Well, I’m a type AAAA personality, so I’m always up to something. But I’ve been very blessed. We have a birth daughter named Catherine Casey, and we then, along the way, adopted six children into our family. They joined our family through adoption, older child adoption. We basically adopted two sibling groups, a group of boys and a group of girls. And so we have seven children. My husband worked full-time. We were the only, for 15 years, we were the only zoo director husband and wife team in the country.

02:54:43 - 02:55:13

My husband ran the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. As a matter of fact, he’s the one that got the designation for the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. That was his vision, that was his idea, and I’m very proud of that. So the national Aviary in Pittsburgh, he was the executive director there for 15 years. And of course I was at the zoo, and we had seven children. And we’re not rich, so we didn’t have a nanny or anything like that. So we really balanced that. It was a balancing act.

02:55:13 - 02:55:26

It really was. I often give lectures to women in looking at president, CEO roles and wanting to have a balanced life. And they wanna know how you do that.

02:55:26 - 02:55:27

How did you do that?

02:55:27 - 02:55:49

How did you go, how did you have seven children, a full-time job, an intense full-time job, seven days a week, and are always on call, all hours of the night and day, and then also have a husband of 39 years, hallelujah, put up with me that long, who works full-time, too?

02:55:49 - 02:56:32

We both work full-time jobs. And so I think the way you do that is that, you can do that. You can make that happen. You just have to take this time to be organized. Every Sunday we had a board on the kitchen, on the fridge, and the kids knew, and it said Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. And the kids knew that they had to put where they had to be that week on that board, otherwise they wouldn’t get there. So if they needed to be taken to soccer practice, or picked up from soccer practice, or if they needed to go to basketball practice, or if they needed to go to whatever, then they had to have that on the board so that we had the week planned, here’s what’s happening with the kids.

02:56:32 - 02:56:37

And then in my daytimer, the good old fashioned daytimers we used to have, before we had these darn phones, right?

02:56:37 - 02:57:15

The daytimer, I had color coded the family activities and the work activities. And I was blessed with a wonderful administrative assistant, Teri Delias, who was aunt to all my kids. And we would sit down every Monday morning and go through the week. Here’s what’s happening this week. And so we were able to pencil in where I had to be for family or for work. And the goal, the rule was family first, always family first. And that was actually true for my staff as well. I always told them family first.

02:57:15 - 02:57:32

If you’ve gotta be somewhere, it’s family first. Except, I couldn’t do anything for the union staff, ironically. I would’ve, but I couldn’t. But for the staff that were not unionized then they were, if they had a dentist appointment for the kids or whatever, they could go. Whatever we’re doing will be here. Unless it’s an emergency.

02:57:35 - 02:57:47

But the key thing, I think, about that is that, so you can schedule, and you can organize, and you can organize to the best of your ability, and most of the time you can make the juggle work, right?

02:57:47 - 02:58:06

But the key thing I think women have to understand, especially women, not discounting men, but women have to understand, is for that time period that you’re gonna have the full-time job, you’re gonna have the husband who you finally get to talk to about nine o’clock at night after homework’s done, right?

02:58:06 - 02:58:08

That’s when you finally get to talk to him.

02:58:08 - 02:58:10

‘Cause you’ve done homework with seven kids, right?

02:58:10 - 02:58:18

And so you’ve got that done, and then you’re gonna have, so you got work, you got the husband, you got the kids, right?

02:58:18 - 02:58:56

You’re gonna not have time. There’s gonna be no “you.” So you’re gonna have to give up “you” for the amount of time it takes to raise your kids, because there’s gonna be no me time. You’re not gonna have me time. It’s not gonna happen. And if you’re a person who has to have that me time, I’ve got to have my quiet time, I’ve got to do whatever. Then you have to figure out which one of the three prongs you’re not gonna do then, because you’re not gonna be able to have that me time. You have to be comfortable with the fact that, eh, okay, I can deal with that. I can not have me for a little while.

02:58:56 - 02:59:23

That’s all right. So I can get these kids on the road and get them moving up to teenage years when they can actually drive, and then maybe I can get some me time. But you really kind of lose that. ‘Cause there’s no time. When you get around to me time, you’re exhausted. Me time means I wanna go to sleep, I wanna get to bed, there’s just no me time. But it’s fun. And I’d come home, and the kids were from three to 13 at one point.

02:59:24 - 02:59:44

And I’d walk into the mud room, and it’d be, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom.” And we’re not talking about one little mouth. We’re talking about seven little mouths, six little mouths, five little mouths, yak, yak, yak. And mom, I need this, mom, I need that, mom, I need that. And I would tell ’em, I would say, rule number one, gimme five minutes. Let me get in the door for five minutes.

02:59:44 - 02:59:51

Can I take my shoes off before I have to address all y’alls issues?

02:59:51 - 03:00:15

And they’re like, okay, okay. We’ll give you five minutes. When five minutes was up, they were right back at it again, but you have, kids are so fun. And they’re so much fun and they keep you young. My kids grew up at the zoo. They slept on the couch during meetings. They sat, they sat at the back of the room and played during board meetings. So they grew up at the zoo.

03:00:15 - 03:00:59

They all were familiar with the zoo. One time my daughter, Casey, brought a little friend to work, and she popped out and went on the train. She had a radio with her so that I could find her if I needed her. And so she popped out on the zoo, and she popped down on the train, sat down on the train with her little friend, and was yak, yak, yakking. Guy comes along to get her a ticket. And she says to him, “Do you know who I am?” And so I get a call on the radio from the train station, which happens to be right outside my office, down from the train station, asked me if I could come over. So I go over, and there’s Casey sitting on the train, very indignant. She’s seven, I think, six or seven years old.

03:00:59 - 03:01:18

And she’s very indignant, she’s like, this guy wants a ticket. And I laugh and I said, get off. And she’s like, but mom. And I’m like, you have to get off, you don’t have a ticket. You can’t use my name. That’s not how it works. But come upstairs, I’ll give you a ticket. I got tickets.

03:01:19 - 03:01:52

But the poor little train guy was like, oh my God, it’s Dr. Baker’s daughter. Oh my god, oh my God. (Barbara laughs) My kids worked in the restaurants. They flipped burgers and made fries. They taught school. They started up as a teacher’s assistant, and then an assistant, and then a actual teacher. Two of my kids went into education, one into international education. So none of ’em became animal people, but they became teachers, and we managed to survive.

03:01:52 - 03:02:09

They all survived. They raised clouded leopard cubs, and lion cubs, and all kinds of things in the kitchen and in the dining room. So I think they had fun growing up. They still talk to me, so I think we’re pretty good. All seven of ’em.

03:02:09 - 03:02:17

(Barbara laughs) Are there programs, as you think back, or exhibits that you would’ve implemented during your tenure, but just didn’t happen?

03:02:17 - 03:03:01

Well, one of the things that I always wanted to do is, Pittsburgh is locked into a two lane entrance and exit road, believe it or not. Our zoo has a two lane entrance and exit road. And it comes off of, ironically Baker Street. And so when I went to interview for the job and we pulled into the parking lot to park, so we would walk around incognito, two days before my interview. And we pulled in, and we pulled into Baker Street. I’m like, that is really weird. Dayton’s like, that’s either a good omen or a bad omen. But anyway, and so we had, on our master plan always, a grand entrance, a proper entrance to the zoo.

03:03:01 - 03:03:36

Because with over a million visitors a year on peak season, in peak years, it was very, very difficult to get people in and out of the zoo with a two-lane road in and out. And it comes to a stoplight immediately after you get off that two-lane road. And so we always wanted to make a four-lane road, four-lane intersection there with the dedicated turn lanes so that we could make traffic flow much better in and out. And that’s something that we were not successful in doing. Just kind of ran outta time. It’s on the drawing board still, but we just ran outta time.

03:03:36 - 03:03:40

How do you run outta time with 31 years, right?

03:03:40 - 03:03:44

Are there any zoos in the world you particularly admire, and why?

03:03:45 - 03:03:46

And where are they?

03:03:46 - 03:04:34

There’s a lot of fabulous zoos in the world. I mean, it’s just amazing to visit, especially if anybody has an interest in being a president CEO, visit as many zoos as you can, worldwide. I had the good fortune recently of being at the aquarium in Vietnam, and it was an absolutely fabulous aquarium, and one of the best I’ve ever seen. So that was a fabulous area. But there are a lot of really, really good zoos. Still to this day one of my favorite zoos is the Bronx Zoo. I mean, 275 acres, big old oak trees, absolutely fabulous collection of animals, and just a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful zoo. Beautiful oasis for the city of New York.

03:04:34 - 03:05:14

So just a fabulous, fabulous zoo without question. Afrikaans in Mexico, another fabulous zoo, new zoo. Very large spaces for the animals, beautiful exhibits. So a wonderful, wonderful facility. Point Defiance Zoo is a gorgeous zoo. The view is incredible, the animal collection is fabulous, but really they’re too numerous, too many to call. There’s so many beautiful zoos all across the country. And the fun thing about ’em is, zoos, we used to be sort of matchbook collections, everybody had to have one of each.

03:05:14 - 03:05:55

You had to have a lion, you had to have a tiger, in the old days. And now we specialize in different animals. So if you wanna see a certain species, then you go to a certain zoo, like Lincoln Park, that does a fabulous job with gorillas, or any zoo, Pittsburgh that does a fabulous job with tigers or elephants, whatever else you’re looking at. So it’s hard to call. There’s so many good ones. And at times in zoos, tragedy happens. And the Pittsburgh Zoo has had two tragic deaths while you were director. An animal keeper who was killed by an elephant and the young child who fell into the hunting dog exhibit.

03:05:55 - 03:06:11

Can you give us an overview of each incident, and how did you handle it with your board, the press, your staff, and what lessons did you learn that you could pass on to a zoo director who may have a tragedy befall them at their zoo?

03:06:11 - 03:07:11

It’s interesting because, when you become a zoo director, and you become president and CEO of a zoo, the last thing you think you’re going to deal with is the loss of a human life. That’s really the last thing that you think you’re going to be dealing with. And you don’t have the training or the knowledge. You do crisis management training, and you do all those kind of things, but until you’re really faced with that, it’s very, very hard. And to lose a staff member is very, very hard as well. We had a terrible accident. I was at the office, I was sitting at my desk, at my computer reading my emails, and at animal management the day before, we had talked about walking the elephants on the ground, something we did for the elephants all the time, particularly the breeding females. The breeding females, part of our program that we think helped with our success of our breeding program, and helped us bring up healthy calves and easy births for the females was that we exercised ’em, we made ’em work.

03:07:11 - 03:07:38

We didn’t just let ’em stand there, fat, and not got the tone and the muscles they needed. We walked ’em around the zoo. And so before the public came on board, we would walk the animals around the zoo. And so we’d walk ’em around the zoo. Our zoo’s a big loop at Pittsburgh, so it’s a one-way loop. And so we would walk them out the elephant exhibit, and down all the way around the zoo, and back up again. And it was a regular thing. We’d done it for years, and years, and years, and years.

03:07:38 - 03:08:31

On this particular day we were walking our curator, and one of our elephant managers, elephant keepers, was walking a female elephant who we’d never had any incident, any problems whatsoever. And matter of fact, she was the animal we used for all of our photo ops, all of our education programs, very calm, easygoing animal. And she had a calf with her. So the calf was with her as well. And it was beautiful, glorious day. They were walking along, they started down the path. And as a matter of fact, the keeper that we lost said to our curator, “What a great day to walk elephants,” as they were walking along. And so as it happens, they came up the pathway between our twilight zoo and our aquarium.

03:08:31 - 03:09:22

And right there at that point, there was a shiny cart, a plumber’s cart. And the plumber’s cart was parked at an angle into the pathway where they were gonna walk. And the plumber’s cart had on the back of it, it was an open cart with all kind of plumbing things in it. So when it shook, it made a great deal of noise. And we think that there was also, well, we know at that particular time there was a power surge on, but we have a main power feed that goes through there. And there was a power surge that went through because we blew some power strips out further down the line. And so, right as the elephant crossed that power surge, it got concerned, it got nervous and spun around. And when it spun around, it hit that plumber’s cart.

03:09:22 - 03:10:42

And when it hit that plumber’s cart, now they’re up against a hillside. Plumber’s cart’s parked up against a hillside, there’s a light pole there, there’s the elephant, the elephant spins, and when she spins, not meaning to, but when she spins, the keeper loses his footing, because it’s early morning, there’s dew on the ground on that hillside, and goes down. Now we all know that it’s not a good thing to go down underneath an elephant. And so he slid down between the front two legs of the elephant, and unfortunately, but completely human nature, his response at that point was to grab a hold of the tusk to try to pull himself up again. And of course the elephant’s perception of that is that, there’s something under me, I can’t see it well, and it’s pulling on me, and I don’t know what to do. I’m panicked, the cart’s shaking, things are surging, and here’s my calf, and I’ve spun around, and I’m upset, and now something’s underneath me. I don’t know what to do. And so, unfortunately, she took it out on the keeper, and our curator was there.

03:10:43 - 03:11:41

He tried to get the elephant off of our keeper, but unfortunately it was too late. So now we’ve got an elephant and a baby elephant on the grounds, they’re halfway around the loop. The injured keepers laying there. And we’ve got staff converging on the site, ’cause people have heard on the radio, I hear it on the radio, come flying there, and know the elephant very well, because I’ve worked, I make rounds, I’m very familiar with the elephant collection. Worked with the elephant manager. But the elephant manager is actually in Germany. He’s consulting with our sister zoo, Wuppertal Zoo in Germany. So now we have an injured keeper on the ground and we’ve got to get the elephants back home again safely.

03:11:41 - 03:12:50

And so we were able to, with food, entice the elephants to move away from the keeper. And we began CPR on the keeper then until the ambulance arrived. Then we had the elephants on the grounds. Now we’ve got, literally, it looks like, along the fence line above where we are, there’s a whole line of police officers with guns up there ready to shoot the elephants. And we can’t let that happen. It was clear, although at that point it was an accident, and we need to get the elephants home safely. And so I called for the commissary van, and a whole bunch of produce, and a keeper, who didn’t work in that area then, but she was the only person that had worked in that area that was working that day. And so I got her to sit in the back of the zoo van and literally lead the elephants home with produce.

03:12:50 - 03:13:46

Now we like to say, and the animal rights groups particularly like to say, that animals have this long memory and will react because of whatever, abuse or whatever. But that’s not what happened here. The animal got frightened, the animal got scared, and unfortunately Mike fell underneath her, and she didn’t know what to do. But once that incident was over, with animals, once that thing has been taken care of, then she was literally grazing on grass, standing beside, within 20 feet of all of us and the keeper. She was standing there grazing, her baby was grazing on trees. They were just standing there, calm as cucumbers, just as calm as they could be. You could walk up to ’em, just as calm as they could be. ‘Cause the threat was over.

03:13:46 - 03:14:50

And so we were able to lead them all the way back around and into the building, and then continue to care for Mike at that point. So we were able to get the ambulance to Mike. Unfortunately, he passed away. He was not able to be saved due to internal injuries. Lessons learned. The thing about being the president and CEO, the thing about being the director of a zoo that’s unlike any other role at the zoo is that, when something happens, and especially when something really bad happens, people look to you for what to do. People look to you. And so you have to be prepared to put aside any feelings you might have, put aside anything that might be going through your mind, and lead.

03:14:50 - 03:15:28

You gotta lead. I mean, if you don’t lead any other time, that’s when you gotta lead. And so you have to be able to assure them that everything’s gonna be okay. We’re gonna be okay. This is a horrible accident, it’s a terrible thing, wasn’t our plan, but we’re gonna be okay, we’re gonna pull through this, we’re gonna make it. Even though we went through eight, 10 months of criticism, we did pull through, and we did come out the other side better. Lessons learned is that, it’s not your plan. Sometimes it’s not your plan.

03:15:28 - 03:16:30

Whether it’s the keeper or whether it was the child, heaven forbid you lose a child, but a child, it’s not your plan. You can do every single thing you can possibly think of to do, but sometimes stuff just happens. Sometimes things bad just happen. And you have to be able to pull yourself up, because you are who everybody else is gonna be looking at. So you have to be able to weather the storm of the negative PR and the negative, the inspections, and all of the things. I mean, we literally had the district attorney in our office because it was viewed as a homicide until it could be ruled otherwise. And so we had to go through, you go through so many things that you don’t think of, we went through three different investigations by different agencies, USDA, AZA. So we really went through the ringer with inspections at that time.

03:16:30 - 03:17:07

And then we went through, everybody has an opinion and a thought process, and managing all that, managing the media, managing the PR. I mean, we had media that wanted to show up in droves to the funeral. And I was able to call that off because of the relationships we had built with the four stations in Pittsburgh. We called ’em and said, do not do that. Do not do that. There will be no statements, there will be no comments. Nobody’s gonna talk to you, do not come to the funeral. We’ll hold a press conference later on, we’ll talk to you, but do not come to the funeral.

03:17:07 - 03:17:45

Do not do that to the family. I mean, people were camped out. The magnitude of it’s just incredible. People were camped out at the young man’s home, media were camped out there, they were banging on people’s doors, they were banging on the neighbor’s doors next door, they were camped out at our house. It was a media frenzy to have an accident happen like that. And so it was very, very hard. We were fortunate that the family understood that the keeper was doing what they loved. That was all they ever wanted to do was be an elephant keeper.

03:17:45 - 03:18:14

They loved what they were doing. And so they did not sue us. They didn’t actually respond to any of the ambulance chasers that came after them promising them big money if they sued the zoo. They were very understanding that it was just a horrible accident and it was not something anybody could have foreseen, including the keeper.

03:18:16 - 03:18:19

Were the lessons learned different from the other incident?

03:18:19 - 03:18:21

Or were there different ones?

03:18:21 - 03:18:57

Different ones in that case. That was hard, too. So we had a mother who had a two-year-old child who came to our school programs in the morning. They came and attended a school program. I was not there that day, it was a Sunday. But I was home, I was not there. And they went through the program and then they were gonna walk around the zoo, and they walked around the zoo and they got to the painted dog exhibit. We have 14 painted dogs, large group of painted dogs.

03:18:57 - 03:19:55

And we had a walkway, a deck above the painted dog exhibit, 14 feet high. And on that exhibit it had slanted graphics so that people wouldn’t put their kids up there, wouldn’t sit their kids up there, because it was slanted backwards so you wouldn’t do that. And it had a stiff point at the top, so you wouldn’t do that. And sadly, for whatever reason, very young mom, for whatever reason, sadly the mom stood her child, not just sat, but stood her child on that panel and let him go. She let him go. And he fell in and didn’t make it. And it was horrible. It’s just absolutely horrible.

03:19:58 - 03:20:44

We talk about the things you do as a zoo director that you never think you would do. Well, I’ve had the great fortune of talking to the coroner twice about the results of necropsies. And I’ve had the sad job of telling a wife that she needs to go to the hospital because her husband was severely injured, and she needs to get their ASAP. And I’ve had to tell a father that his son didn’t make it. That he didn’t make it. And you don’t sign up for that. You don’t sign up for that. And especially as a parent you don’t sign up for that.

03:20:48 - 03:21:48

We had had a million people the year before and, gosh, 850, 900,000 the year before go through that exhibit. Never had an issue. And, it was just a sad situation. Very, very sad. The challenge there that you don’t think you’re gonna have, well, there’s a lot of challenge there you don’t think you’re gonna have. But the biggest challenge there was that, you have a situation where you know what happened, I mean, the mother actually told me what happened that day. I got there within nine minutes of it happening, and she was there, and she told me what happened. And, in her defense, she thought there was glass there.

03:21:48 - 03:21:52

And several our exhibits before she got there did have glass, right?

03:21:52 - 03:22:10

And so the little boy stood up there, and then he put his hands up like this and she thought he was leaning on glass, but still, he was still four foot up on a graphic. But she thought he was leaning on the glass. And that’s what she said to me. She said, “I thought there was glass there.

03:22:10 - 03:22:20

I thought there was glass there.” But we, as parents go, but there, for the grace of God, go I, right?

03:22:20 - 03:23:12

I mean, you can let the kid go for two seconds on a busy street and they dart out into traffic. I mean, you try everything you can do to keep a child safe, but if you’re a parent, you know that there are times when a split second something can go wrong. And they’re in the pool, or they’re here and there, and you grab ’em, and you hopefully don’t have bad things happen to ’em. But, there, but for the grace of God, go I. The mom was doing the best thing she could do. She had no idea. The hardest thing after that, though, was that I felt terribly horrible for the mom because the media and social media were nasty to her. They were just nasty to her.

03:23:12 - 03:23:27

They were just vicious. And we had to shut down our Facebook page completely because people were so vicious and against her, not against the zoo, against her.

03:23:27 - 03:23:29

And I’m like, how could you do that?

03:23:29 - 03:23:33

It’s bad enough, but to be vilified in the world?

03:23:38 - 03:24:34

I mean, I’m sure that she wasn’t in any shape to bear that. So we had to go out and we had to tailor our message, and make sure that we went out there and were clear that yes, a horrible accident had happened, but we weren’t going to go in there and criticize the mom. ‘Cause like I said, there, but for the grace of God, go I. I’m just lucky that I had seven kids and none of them hurt themselves terribly. And so, we had to be very careful about it. I insisted that we never ever, ever, ever said anything negative about the mom in any of our publications, in anything that anybody said. And we stuck to that. Because she was dealing with a horrible, horrible loss.

03:24:36 - 03:25:06

So that was one of the hardest things to manage, because people in the world, that’s the worst thing about social media is people can say whatever they want to say under the cloak of anonymity. And so people say stuff you shouldn’t say, you have no right to say. You weren’t there, you don’t know, but people think they’ve got to throw their two cents in about how good the zoo is or not, or whatever. And it’s very sad.

03:25:06 - 03:25:16

Well, given your experience with elephants, what’s your view regarding zoos maintaining elephants, and how it should be done correctly?

03:25:21 - 03:25:48

Elephants are absolutely wonderful creatures. One of my favorite animals. I have a lot of favorite animals in the zoo. Elephants are up there, obviously, ’cause Pittsburgh has a fabulous elephant program. I think that the key, the zoos do need to continue to maintain elephants. And there’s some groups that will tell you, well, the elephants don’t belong in zoos, and we shouldn’t maintain zoos, and we shouldn’t maintain elephants. Elephants are the most recognized animals in the world. They’re the most recognized animals in the world.

03:25:48 - 03:26:30

I mean, I tried to take vacation on a cruise ship, and I look up and there’s elephants across the theater canopy, all elephants. They’re the most recognized animals in the world. And so they’re really kind of a cornerstone for education, and for programming, for conservation. And so it’s so very, very important that we continue to evolve and to learn about how to better take care of elephants. I am not one who believes that space is the big issue. ‘Cause space is not the big issue. It’s not the big issue at all. It’s also true for humans, if you look at it.

03:26:30 - 03:27:09

Some of the happiest people live in one room houses. All you have to do is look at some of the cultures that are very happy, who have one room houses, all live together in the same house, and yet do fine, do wonderfully, love each other, have loving relationships, and go through life. Elephants are the same way. Elephants adapt. We don’t give the animals enough credit. Elephants, any animal, adapts to whatever circumstance they’re in. And elephants actually adapt very easily. So as long as you provide, elephants move in the wild.

03:27:09 - 03:27:20

I’ve seen this. I went to Africa one year and had the good fortune of being there three weeks. And so we came through in the Yoko Vangogh Delta part of that time.

03:27:20 - 03:27:34

So we came through early in the trip, the Yoko Vangogh Delta, and there was a herd of elephants in this beautiful, lush, green area, and some of ’em very recognizable, ’cause they had tears in their ears or whatever, right?

03:27:34 - 03:28:04

We came back three weeks later and the elephants were in the exact same spot. They had not moved. So elephants move for three reasons. They move for water, they move for food, they move for sex. Three reasons. So if you provide ’em water, food, and sex, if they want sex, and we had a bull elephant, so. If you provide ’em water, food, and sex, or at least water and food, then they’re fine. And in fact, one of the challenges in zoos is to get them to move.

03:28:04 - 03:28:36

So what we did was we would put hay far away from the barn. So they would have to go out and get the hay. We’d put it further away the next time we put it out, so that we would encourage them to walk and to move. And as I said, we also took ’em on walks so they would actually get physical exercise. So the idea that elephants roam for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles in the wild. Well, yeah, they do. When they can’t find food, water, or sex, then they move. But if they can find it, they’ll stay exactly right where they are.

03:28:36 - 03:29:17

They are content and happy animals. So space is not really the issue. You need to provide ’em some space, of course, but they don’t have to have hundreds and hundreds of acres to roam, because they don’t do that. Even at the ICC, where we have huge pastures, huge areas for them to be in, when it’s time to eat, they’re by the barn, and they’re standing there by the barn. And they might wander out a little bit, but they’ll come back, stand by the barn. They’ll go out further if the calf wants to go running out and run around in the pasture. They’ll chase it to keep up with the baby, but they’ll stay right around the barn. And these are elephants from Botswana, so they know what the wild is.

03:29:17 - 03:29:48

They’re one of the few elephants in zoos that know what the wild is. And yet they still acclimated, and they’re like, yeah, we know where the food is. Here’s the food, here’s the water. This is where we want to be. So that’s very important. But I think that, years ago we started a program, we started working with a natural horsemanship trainer. His name is Jesse Peters, he’s out of Ohio. And he was, at that time, working with the Pat Perelli Natural Horsemanship Program.

03:29:48 - 03:30:36

And I was searching for a way to evolve and improve our care of, particularly the elephants, but all of our animals. I wanted to, to develop a new model for keeper training and to look at a new way to look at the animals in our care and how we’re taking care of them. To go to the next level. Challenge the keepers to go to the next level of their care of the animals. And so I started going around, and I went to all kinds of, I went to Colorado, I went to Florida. I was trying to find someone who could work with our staff with a program, and I came upon the Perelli Natural Horsemanship Program. And in that program, they worked with horses at Liberty, on the ground at Liberty.

03:30:36 - 03:30:43

And that most closely matched our Elephant program, because of course, we don’t put halters on our elephants to lead them around, right?

03:30:43 - 03:31:04

And so that most closely matched. So we started bringing that program in, and we started doing that program. And literally, it’s a very good program where it teaches you to read body language, teaches you to read the animal, and to figure out what kind of animal this is, how this animal thinks.

03:31:04 - 03:31:07

What’s this animal thinking about, what does this animal need?

03:31:07 - 03:32:29

And then tailoring your care and training program to that animal’s needs as opposed to what we wanna make ’em do. So instead of trying to get the horse to go into the barn, instead of trying to make the horse go in the barn, we wanted the horse to wanna go in the barn and beat us there when we told them it’s time to go in the barn. The training was based on the fact that we wanted to earn the animal’s respect and trust, and then we want to be able to take that and train them in a way, and use their behaviors in a way that we use that natural behavior and make them want to do what we want them to do, as opposed to forcing them to do anything. And particularly elephants, it’s hard to force an elephant to do anything despite what the animal rights people would like to say. So the Natural Horsemanship program did that. It helped the keepers learn how to not only read the horses, but read human nature as well. So there was a two part starter to it where we talked about horse behavior, and we talked about human behavior, and then we talked about how to put the two together. And so we used horses in the training program.

03:32:29 - 03:33:26

I brought horses from my farm, the trainer brought horses from his farm, and then we put people in a barn. So in the morning they would have classroom classes, and then the afternoon they would go to a barn close by, and they would end up in a stall with a halter, and a lead rope, and a horse on the end of it. Now, a lot of these people had no horse experience, none whatsoever of our elephant staff at the time. We had one person that had a horse, otherwise they had no horse experience. And yet we would put them on the end of the line and they would have to make these horses do things. We would teach them how to teach the animals and to get them to do things, simple tasks in the arena. Walk over a tarp, jump a jump, stand on a pedestal, things like that. And so through that process, we were able to increase and build their leadership skills.

03:33:28 - 03:33:39

And it was so cool, because here you’ve got people, and they don’t know the language. They don’t know the language, they don’t speak horse, or elephant, or tiger, or rhino.

03:33:40 - 03:33:42

They don’t speak that language, right?

03:33:42 - 03:33:48

But they’re on the end of the line, and they’ve got this horse, and they gotta get it over there.

03:33:48 - 03:33:50

Well, how do I get it over there?

03:33:50 - 03:33:52

I don’t know how to get it over there?

03:33:52 - 03:34:09

And so they learned, through this training program, how to read the animal and how to move the animal around. And we would have six to eight different horses in the arena at any one given time, with people on the lead rope.

03:34:09 - 03:34:15

And we’d switch horses, because the horses had different “horse-onalities”, right?

03:34:15 - 03:34:59

They had different horse-onalities, and so the keeper would have one horse here, and this horse was calm and you could barely make it move. And then you put him on the lead rope with my barrel horse who’s running circles around them and scaring them to death, and they don’t know what to do. Just to get it to stop, much less to get it to do anything. And so it really made them think about how they were looking at the animal, and that each animal was an individual, and how they needed to approach animal A and animal C completely different. my horse is a scaredy cat. He’s scared of everything. You don’t go up to him like a predator, because he’ll run away. he’s gonna run away from you.

03:34:59 - 03:35:31

He’s not gonna respect you. Horse C over here, my husband’s horse, is a “make me” horse. So you gotta make him do it. I mean, he’s literally the top dog and he’s not gonna do anything unless it’s his idea. So you gotta make him think it’s his idea. And people are no different. There are all those different ways that people look at the world and how they approach things. So we ended up with all of the keeper staff at the zoo, including the aquarist, everybody, marine mammal trainers.

03:35:31 - 03:35:59

We’ve sent everybody through this training program. And over 16 years we trained 140 some of my staff members. I ended up sending people from every single department. Finance people went, accounting people, the entire maintenance team went one year, one session. They all went together. They wanted to go together. So they all went together, the entire maintenance team. And they did really good, surprisingly good.

03:35:59 - 03:36:36

But it was more fun when we mixed it up. So if people from the aquarium went with finance department, and the marketing department, and somebody from Kids’ Kingdom, then people who never talked or knew each other got to know each other, found out what personality this person was, found out what personality that person was. And then they’re out there and they’re all laughing and joking as they’re trying to make a horse jump a jump, and the horse is looking at ’em like, uh uh. And so it was really a fun and different way to teach adults.

03:36:37 - 03:36:43

You know the three most dangerous words in the adult education language?

03:36:45 - 03:36:49

What’s the three most dangerous words in the adult education language?

03:36:49 - 03:37:18

And I only had one person in 140 some people say this to me after the course. “I know that.” “I know that.” Because that shuts down learning. That person’s not open to learning anything. That person has said, boom, I know. I already know that, I’m done. I know that. And so they’re not open to learning. So those are the most dangerous words.

03:37:18 - 03:37:51

If you’re trying to learn anything new and you already think you know it, you’re shutting the door for learning. And so that was a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun with that program. The interesting thing about it was it impacted how our staff members looked at each other. It impacted how our managers managed our staff. Not the animals, but our staff. I had people tell me after the program that they loved the program because it made them a better parent. They knew how to talk to this child versus this child better.

03:37:51 - 03:38:29

They were more understanding of the child, and what the child was trying to say to them, versus just telling them, oh, go do what I told you to do. I had one person tell me it helped their marriage. I never did explore how, but I had one person tell me it helped their marriage. But it was all about relationships, building relationships, understanding and leadership. And anything we could do to improve leadership, we wanted to do at all levels. Back to some of the larger animals.

03:38:29 - 03:38:42

When a zoo spends multimillion dollars on a gorilla, or an elephant, or a tiger exhibit, and critics ask why this money is not used to help animals in the wild, you say, what?

03:38:42 - 03:39:46

I say that a lot of times you have to understand that fundraising dollars are divided into two different categories, very separate categories. And one thing is called capital dollars, capital fundraising, and capital fundraising is raising money for a new exhibit or an improvement, it could even be a water main, but it’s for a capital improvement, it’s for a one-time expenditure. We’re gonna build this exhibit, it’s a one-time expenditure. Then on the other side of the coin, you raise for operational dollars. So that can be dollars that you’re gonna spend for research, you’re gonna spend for conservation, you’re gonna build your education programs, you’re gonna pay the staff, or whatever those operational dollars are. A lot of groups, a lot of foundations, a lot of corporations don’t want to fund one or the other. So you can have people that only wanna fund operations. You can have corporations or foundations that only wanna fund capital improvements.

03:39:46 - 03:40:35

And so when they’re funding those capital improvements, you can’t take that money and put it into operations, that’s fraud. You can’t do that. If they want to fund this exhibit, and they want to make that happen, then you have to do that. You have to build that improvement or whatever it is that you’ve sold them. So you’ve done the fundraising to get them excited about doing this capital improvement, you can’t turn around and take that money and put it into conservation, because that’s not what they’re funding. And so some organizations do not fund outside programs. There are foundations that don’t fund outside of their county, or state, or the US for example. And so they have specific guidelines that won’t allow them to do that.

03:40:35 - 03:41:14

So as a zoo, it’s not that I’m deciding that I don’t wanna take this money and put it into conservation. It’s that there’s different pools of money for different things. I have things I can, I have the organizations I can approach for conservation dollars. And we do. But I also have organizations that I know are not gonna fund conservation, but I still wanna get money into the zoo from ’em. And so therefore I’m raising for capital dollars, or operations for that matter. So, we were successful, over the course of my career, of raising a hundred million dollars worth of improvements for the zoo. And so that was phenomenal to be able to do that.

03:41:14 - 03:42:00

In 10 years time, we raised almost $5 million for conservation projects, outside of the zoo. In just 10 short years. So I don’t have any idea how much we raised in 31, but a lot. But you have to use those. My philosophy at Pittsburgh Zoo is that we would beg anybody, we’d take money from anybody, we would beg anybody. We’re an equal opportunity beggar for money for the zoo. And so, we would wanna get capital dollars in, and we would wanna make new improvements, because new improvements bring more people back to the zoo. More people back to the zoo brings more money back into the zoo, which allows us, through operation, to fund conservation projects.

03:42:00 - 03:42:24

So we make the capital dollars work towards conservation by bringing the visitors back, get the visitor money in operationally, kick it back out to research conservation projects. So capital dollars raised for capital projects do help our conservation projects, but it’s in kind of an indirect way, if that makes sense.

03:42:24 - 03:42:29

What are your thoughts about private zoos owned by people with means?

03:42:29 - 03:42:32

Will they survive the length of time municipal zoos have?

03:42:32 - 03:43:42

Well, it’s interesting, ’cause ZAA, I didn’t know about the number of private zoos in the country, but there’s literally a thousand private zoos in the country. And some of them are huge. I mean, it’s just amazing. I recently had the good fortune of visiting a zoo in Texas that’s a private zoo. You’re not allowed on their grounds unless you’re an invited guest, and it’s owned by a millionaire, and they have a fabulous collection of animals, and some of the neatest exhibits and techniques for giraffe shoots and things like that, that I’ve seen, that were just phenomenal. And so ZAA has many members who have really beautiful parks. As a matter of fact, ZAA members, a lot of the ZAA members own their own zoos and have put all their money into building their zoos. I think the long term for those zoos is that, and we help to teach people in ZAA about this, is to be sure that they have some mechanism by which that zoo is going to continue.

03:43:42 - 03:44:39

Whether they set up a trust or a 501C3 to help long term manage the facility or whatever, that they have a plan in place for if, heaven forbid, something should happen to them, and the children aren’t interested in it or something like that. So I think that’s really, really important. But some of the bird breeders in the country have beautiful, beautiful exhibits, beautiful facilities for their animals, better than in most zoos. I mean, bird breeders, and they’re just beautiful. Some of the reptile holders in this country have fabulous facilities. I mean, just like you walk in and you go, holy cow, I had no idea this was here. And they just love their animals, love what they’re doing. And in reality, a lot of our zoos started that way.

03:44:39 - 03:44:57

They started as a gift from a millionaire. Pittsburgh Zoo started as a gift from a philanthropist. And so a lot of our zoos that we think of today started out as private collections and then grew into the zoos that they are today.

03:44:58 - 03:45:06

Does euthanizing of endangered species, surplus, genetic issues, et cetera, still pose a political problem for zoos and aquariums?

03:45:06 - 03:45:51

Absolutely. I mean, euthanasia is something that is difficult for people to understand, and especially for management purposes. It’s not something that we would do at Pittsburgh. However, I’m not critical of people that have been in a situation where they felt that that was what they needed to do. The interesting thing about it is that the zoos only have so many spaces. There are only so many spaces in our zoos to hold the wildlife that we need to hold, and care for, and to breed and to propagate. And so some species have an abundance of males, nothing against males. I like males, I have three sons.

03:45:51 - 03:46:52

But some species, particularly hoofstock, end up with a bunch of males in the population and can only use so much of that gene pool. And so we often end up, not often, but we end up with the situation of what to do with those surplus males, and whether to euthanize them or not. So that’s a tough one. That’s a really tough one. I can see where, as a last ditch effort, and when you have gone through every possible scenario and every possible option that you can, that you might have to euthanize an animal, but we would, we would certainly try to do every single thing we could possibly do to avoid that. We, at Pittsburgh, had a no euthanasia policy for management purposes. So we managed a lot of geriatric animals for that reason. But each zoo has to do what they believe in.

03:46:55 - 03:47:07

You mentioned that marketing and public relations were important, and fundraising, obviously.

03:47:15 - 03:47:19

How active was your board of directors in getting money?

03:47:19 - 03:47:23

How did you try and get them to help us with fundraising?

03:47:25 - 03:48:12

Yeah. In the ideal situation, the board and the president and CEO are working together to fundraise. There’s some zoos where the Zoo Society does all the fundraising, and the president and CEO runs the zoo, and comes and helps with fundraising when asked, but the zoo society pretty much does the fundraising. So that’s one scenario. There are different, there’s not one way to crack the fundraising nut. Different zoos have different ways to do it, and all of them are correct for them and for their zoo. Ideally you would have a very active board, that’s active in fundraising, that helps to open the doors that you need. Because fundraising, and PR and media, by the way, are about relationships.

03:48:12 - 03:49:13

They’re about building relationships and building trust for the people that you’re working with. Because, as you’ve said, people give to people. And that’s absolutely true. People give to the zoo because they trust, and respect, and have worked with, and have met and know the leadership there. And so they feel like, well, I can give them my $2 million bucks, ’cause I know they’re gonna do with the money what I asked them to do, and it’s gonna be fabulous, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun, and I’m gonna get to go, and watch it, and see it, see it grow, and see the animals grow, and be involved in it. So I think the ideal combination is when the two are working together. And so I was very fortunate to have many board members who were very active in fundraising and in assisting the zoo. In our case, our zoo staff was the guiding light, or the spearhead, for lack of a better term, of our fundraising efforts.

03:49:13 - 03:49:25

And then the board assisted whenever they could to open a door into a foundation, to go with us for a foundation ask, and things like that. Or a corporate ask.

03:49:25 - 03:49:32

Would you say all newly constructed exhibits should incorporate a conservation conclusion, or any exhibit?

03:49:32 - 03:50:20

Absolutely. I mean, every single education program at our zoo ended with some kind of conservation thing you could do at home. So here’s something you can do. So every single person that walked out of one of our education programs had something they could do, whether it was recycling, or whether it was conserving water, it was brushing your teeth with the water off if the kid was five. They had something they could do. And so I think that we have to be mindful that we’ve got a captive audience in our visitors when they’re at our zoo. They’re there to see the animals, they’re a captive audience. Most parents read the graphics, a little bit, anyway, and want to tell their kids about what they’ve read and learned about the animals.

03:50:20 - 03:51:11

And so incorporating conservation messages into that is key. However, they have to be short, concise, in this day and age, and impactful. You can’t write a paragraph about something on a graphic these days, because people don’t read it anymore. They don’t spend that much time at a graphic. So you have to catch their attention, and you have to have something that’s impactful, and in a quick soundbite, for lack of a better way to put it, because people don’t do that anymore. We’re on our gadgets and we’re on our thing. So what we did at Pittsburgh was we developed a Pittsburgh Zoo app, and along the way, when you turned on your Pittsburgh Zoo app, you scanned it at the front gate. Now I’ve got my app, it’s got my map, it tells me where the restrooms are, I can order food early and get it, and it’ll be waiting for me when I get there.

03:51:11 - 03:51:24

And every time you pass by an exhibit, it would ding and give you a fun fact about that exhibit, and that animal, or whatever. This tiger’s pregnant, or did you know that rhinos, or whatever.

03:51:24 - 03:51:29

And so it would ding and you had no choice, everybody looks at the phone when it dings, right?

03:51:29 - 03:51:45

And so it would ding, and everybody’s like, so it was pretty funny because, I went by, when we first put it in, the little sound box dings too, where it comes off of. And we had to fix that. And so I was walking around the zoo and everything was dinging.

03:51:45 - 03:51:47

And I’m like, what the heck is that?

03:51:47 - 03:52:17

That’s annoying. And they’re like, oh, that’s a new app, we gotta work on that part. But yeah, we need to include conservation any way we can. It’s been said that many newer, younger zoo and aquarium professionals are computer curators, with little knowledge of the precepts of Heini Hediger, father of Zoo biology, Lee Crandall, Bill Conway. Right. Or knowledge of “The International Zoo Yearbook” or other publications.

03:52:17 - 03:52:24

How important for the future of zoos is it to keep this link with the past?

03:52:24 - 03:53:09

Extremely important. Extremely important. In this day and age, right now, sadly, we’re into the cancel culture in some respects. And I think that what I know, what others know in our industry, is that we need to learn from our mistakes, especially when we’re working with wild animals. Because the fun thing about working with exotic animals is that we don’t know everything about them. And the not fun thing about working with exotic animals is we don’t know everything about them. And so we need to learn from what people have learned from in the past, and the leaders. Murray Fowler’s books, when I was a veterinarian, Murray Fowler was starting to write his books.

03:53:09 - 03:53:57

And I read every one of ’em cover to cover many, many times, because they had so much information in ’em. So whether you take that book and it ends up on your iPad and you read it that way, or whether you listen to these wonderful video archive sessions, we need to know about and work with the animals. Because when you get out there on the grounds and you’re working with the animals, they don’t read the book. They are animals and they’re gonna go through their lives from an animal’s perspective, in the way that they approach the world. And we need to learn from the knowledge of the people that come before us, what they’ve learned about this species of animals, so that we don’t make mistakes with those animals that we don’t need to make.

03:53:58 - 03:54:05

Why do you say that land conservation is something zoos should be involved with?

03:54:05 - 03:54:42

Well, I think that land preservation is a natural extension of conservation efforts. It’s land conservation, basically. We have conservation easement on the ICC, so it can’t be developed and turned into anything except for what it is, a natural environment. So I think it’s so important that it’s a natural extension of stewardship of the wild and wild animals in conservation efforts. And it’s easy to do, and very, very important. So it’s kind of a new frontier that we can approach and be involved in.

03:54:43 - 03:54:50

What was your relationship with the Institute for Zoological and Wildlife Research and why did you have the partnership with them?

03:54:50 - 03:54:52

What did it bring to Pittsburgh?

03:54:52 - 03:55:41

We had, oh my gosh, the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research is incredible. Dr. Thomas Hildebrand and his team out of Berlin are phenomenal. They’re the world’s leaders in reproductive biology and physiology in wild animals and exotic animals. The world’s leaders. And they go all over the world consulting. So years ago when we were looking at working with, we were working with them on the breeding of our elephants, we were working with them on a host of different animals at the zoo. We decided that we wanted to have an opportunity to develop a formal partnership with them so that they would base out of Pittsburgh. So when they would come in to the States, they would base out of Pittsburgh, and then from there go out and work with other zoos all across the country, which is what they did.

03:55:41 - 03:56:36

And so we developed a formal partnership with them, one of the very first to work with them. So we did several projects with them. We went to Africa and collected African elephant semen from wild elephants. That’s a hoot. That’s a lot of fun. That’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, to go and dart wild African elephants out of a helicopter with no doors on it, just seat belts, and fly around and chase elephants, and be able to collect semen from those animals, and work with that fabulous reproductive team as they froze that semen, and be able to bring it back and have babies on the grounds from it is just amazing. It’s just phenomenal. So they’re light years beyond anybody else in reproductive physiology and reproductive procedures in all types of wild animals.

03:56:36 - 03:56:44

I mean, they did work on our sharks, they did work on our rhinos, they did work on our elephants. They’re just phenomenal, and a lot of fun too.

03:56:46 - 03:56:52

And in conservation, aside from in the wild, is the sister zoo relationship important?

03:56:52 - 03:56:53

And did Pittsburgh have one?

03:56:53 - 03:57:47

We did. We had one of the first, maybe the only at that time, sister zoo relationship with the Wuppertal Zoo. And what we were looking at is a way to help other zoos who were in similar situations as ours, but maybe 10 years earlier than us. And so we worked, we looked at a partnership with Wuppertal Zoo in Germany, in Wuppertal, Germany. And they’re at the same latitude as Pittsburgh. Longitude, latitude, that kind of thing. And they also have a wonderful collection of African elephants, which is actually how we found them originally. Our elephant manager went to an elephant manager’s conference and met the curator over there, and they got to talking, and next thing we know, we’re traveling over there to help their program, they’re traveling over to us to help our program.

03:57:47 - 03:58:32

So it’s basically a mutually beneficial program where you trade keeper staff, we traded keeper staff from their facility, our facility, and not just elephants. Orangutan keeper came over, aquarists came over to our zoo, our keepers went over to their zoo, and had an opportunity to learn and be involved in practices and procedures that were nothing like what they do in the states. They’re also a city run zoo. We were city run zoo, of course. So we knew some of the struggles with that. They weren’t looking to privatize, that’s not a big thing in Germany. But they were looking at how to fundraise, how to do marketing and PR, so we helped them with those types of things. And they helped us work with our programs as well.

03:58:32 - 03:58:38

So just mutually beneficial, and so much fun to have a sister zoo relationship.

03:58:39 - 03:58:45

How successful have zoos been in achieving the reintroduction of species back into the wild?

03:58:47 - 03:58:49

What are some of the stories?

03:58:49 - 04:00:00

Overall, reintroduction back into the wild of animals from a zoo is extremely difficult, in reality. There have been many reptile species that have obviously successfully been reintroduced back into the wild. There have been work with, I know that Fort Worth Zoo has been working with Penguin reintroductions into various different areas. But they are few and far between. And the reason for that is that it’s very difficult, not only to work with the governments and the entities that are in the areas where you’re trying to reintroduce an animal, but also from a standpoint of working with the transport, getting the animals there, getting everything such that animals can survive in that area again. Training them to be able to acclimate to the climate. And then you have, as a veterinarian, the disease factors. So you are taking an animal that has not been exposed to the diseases that may be found in that area, and therefore you lose the animals to disease.

04:00:00 - 04:00:17

And so it’s harder than you think. There have been some successes, Pittsburgh wasn’t involved in any, we didn’t try, but there have been some successes in that area, particularly with Arabian Oryx and things like that. But it’s hard, it’s a difficult thing to do.

04:00:20 - 04:00:24

Does space continue to be a problem for zoos and aquariums?

04:00:24 - 04:00:25

I’m sorry?

04:00:25 - 04:00:28

Does space continue to be a problem for zoos and aquariums?

04:00:28 - 04:01:22

Space continues to be a problem for zoos and aquariums because more and more animals are becoming of concern, species of concern. So in the wild, we’re not doing a super job of protecting the animals in their native habitats. So we’re seeing more and more animals in need of help. And therefore we need to find a space in our zoo to put those animals, or in our conservation center, or have more conservation centers. And so having the space to work with all the species that we wanna work with is a concern. And so we have to kind of rethink the model of how we do that. And maybe land conservation projects are a way to do that, like we did that with the ICC. We wanted to expand at the ICC, and I think they will, into different species.

04:01:22 - 04:01:53

Develop a cheetah regional center there, cheetah breeding regional center there that we were working on. We wanted to bring gower over there, takin, so there were a variety of different species that would be perfect out in that environment, especially takin. So that was something that we wanted to do, but I ran outta time. So that’s for the next guy. (Barbara laughs) You mentioned a regional conservation cheetah program. Yeah.

04:01:53 - 04:01:58

Why do you think zoos did not pick up on having a national elephant program?

04:02:00 - 04:02:31

I think people didn’t pick up on a national elephant program for the same reason that they’re leery of losing control of their species and their organizations. In other words, having a national elephant center means that people would have to support a facility that was not in their region.

04:02:31 - 04:02:41

If you look at it purely from a fundraising standpoint, it’s difficult to raise money for a facility that’s not even near you, or you don’t even have an elephant there, right?

04:02:41 - 04:03:30

You might have an elephant there in the future, but you don’t now. And so that’s very hard. It would be hard for me to raise money for a facility in Florida that I have no ties to other than it’s the National Elephant Facility, for example. It would be hard. So that’s from a fundraising standpoint. From a standpoint of animal care, it was difficult for some organizations to look at an area where they would send their elephants to and lose control of how they were cared for, lose any say in how they were cared for. And so that also becomes a concern for people. And also, quite honestly, when it came to elephants, there weren’t that many elephants to be had to set up a National Elephant Center.

04:03:30 - 04:04:28

So sort of the original model was flawed, because there’re not enough elephants for the zoos that want elephants right now in their collection. And a lot of the elephants in captivity today, in our care, are older animals. So they’re not gonna be moving them around. And so there are zoos that have gotten out of the elephant business purely because there wasn’t an elephant to be had. They had one elephant, maybe they had two elephants, one elephant died, and then they have one elephant and they can’t get another one to go with it. I knew a zoo that called us from California and wanted to move their one elephant, ’cause they had lost the other elephant, old animal, I think she was 39 or something. And they wanted us to take him out at the International Conservation Center. Now in that case, we wouldn’t do it because the animal was older and we didn’t wanna move her that far, all the way across the country.

04:04:28 - 04:05:04

We didn’t wanna do that. We didn’t wanna risk the move. We weren’t comfortable with that, that she would make it. That’s a long trip for anybody, much less an element, to drive. So I think that was really the key thing is that fundraising, having the control of the animals, and also having the number of animals that could actually go there. The “Adopt a Park” concept seems like a natural for zoos to assist the wild.

04:05:04 - 04:05:08

Why have zoos not picked up on the challenge in more numbers?

04:05:09 - 04:05:10


04:05:10 - 04:05:14

Is this kind of thing, adopting a national park, that’s still viable?

04:05:14 - 04:05:55

I think it’s still viable. I don’t think it’s gotten the marketing, or the PR, or the word of mouth that it needs to. And I think a lot of people may think that it requires millions of dollars, as opposed to smaller amounts of money are still helpful and appropriate. So I personally think it’s a great idea. We adopted the Wildlife Trust in Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust. And that was our initiative. And we didn’t call it Adopt a Park, ’cause that’s actually a wildlife trust. It’s a group of veterinarians that work in four different countries there out of Victoria Falls.

04:05:55 - 04:06:46

But we adopted that project, and support it, and we still support them. We supported them for 15 years, and sent staff over there, and work with them all the time. They come over to our place and give presentations, and educational programs and stuff about what they’re doing. They have a newsletter, all those kind of things. So it’s a very positive endeavor, and it’s something I would encourage other zoos to do. And so, but I think it’s a misconception, in some respects, that you need millions of dollars to do that, and you don’t. I mean our commitment to Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust was $10,000 a year. And then if we had the funds to do it, or we had a donor that wanted to do it, and we did, ’cause some of our donors went over there and stayed, and visited, and did tours, and worked with them, then we would, for example, we bought ’em a generator.

04:06:46 - 04:07:29

The generator was $18,000. So if they had a power outage, they didn’t lose all the tissues, and their samples, and all of the things that they had in their labs there. We helped them build part of their laboratory there for their veterinarian work out of, and we built caging for animals there. So I think people can adopt different projects, whether it’s a conservation, or a park, or something like that. I think the word of mouth needs to get out there more. And people need to understand that any amount’s appreciated. The relationship with zoos and aquariums with animal dealers changed dramatically during your career.

04:07:30 - 04:07:33

What do you see as the cause of this change?

04:07:33 - 04:07:40

And how has the role of individual dealers and companies changed with respect to the development of modern zoos?

04:07:40 - 04:08:19

Well, I think that, in some cases, animal dealers get a bad rap. It’s like anything else, zoos included. There’s good zoos and there’s bad zoos. There’s good people and there’s bad people. There’s good insects and there’s bad insects. I mean, anything you name, there’s the good and bad in it. And so there were some big exposes about bad animal dealers, people who had done things that they shouldn’t oughta done. And so there was a large hoopla about that, and it kinda gave people a bad taste in their mouth for animal dealers.

04:08:19 - 04:09:22

But in fact, the zoos, all of our zoos back in the day got animals, and we got animals through animal dealers. That’s how we got them. That’s how we got ’em into the states. And so when we looked to rescue three elephants outta Botswana, we were called by AZA to rescue three elephants outta Botswana that were under threat of being shot, because there had been a death of the animal handler, and the animal handler had been killed. And in Africa, especially in Botswana, when a wild elephant kills a human, they are shot. And so these animals were under threat of being shot by the government, but they actually were ride elephants, and they were elephants that were good elephants, females. Three female elephants, breeding age, 18. And they were all gonna be shot because of this death of this caretaker.

04:09:22 - 04:09:31

And so AZA called us and asked us to rescue these animals. Well, I don’t know how to move animals from Africa to here. I have no clue.

04:09:31 - 04:09:38

I have absolutely, how do you get three full grown adult elephants to Pittsburgh from Botswana?

04:09:40 - 04:09:59

I hadn’t a clue. So I called Holly Hunt, wonderful, wonderful person, great person, Holly Hunt, who is part of International Animal Exchange, who, in the old days would be called an animal dealer, animal mover, and a transport company.

04:09:59 - 04:10:01

And ask her, can you help me?

04:10:03 - 04:10:08

I need help, I have no clue what I’m doing, but I said I would try to do it. I have no clue what I’m doing.

04:10:08 - 04:10:10

As usual, right?

04:10:10 - 04:10:56

I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m gonna try. And so, she said, “Oh, sure, we can help you.” And she helped us. And we were able to successfully, in six months time, rescue those animals and bring them here. Without her help, it would’ve never happened. Without their knowledge and expertise, it would’ve never happened. But unfortunately, like a lot of things in our world, animal dealers and animal transport companies have gotten a bad name because of a few bad apples. And the rest, folks have shied away from working with them. And it’s a shame because there are a lot of really, really good people, who in fact built the collections that are in our zoos today.

04:10:56 - 04:11:29

Without them, we would not have the animals we have in our zoos today. And yet now they’re kinda shunned and cast aside. And we’re gonna need ’em. We’re constantly transporting animals in zoos. We’re constantly bringing animals. And as we get more global in our efforts, we’re bringing animals from, we brought an elephant, a bull elephant from the Wuppertal Zoo to change the genetics in our bull elephant population. So we brought a bull elephant all the way from Germany, and they helped us do that. We need to be able to move animals around.

04:11:29 - 04:12:10

We need to be able to bring new animals into our stock of animals, and be able to change the bloodlines of our animals so they don’t become inbred and have problems along the way. And so we need these folks as part of our business. We do need to be careful, and make sure that they’re honest, and trustworthy, and above board, and doing what they need to do for the animals, but there’s ways to do that without just completely eliminating the whole sector. And when you bring these animals in, you’re putting together exhibits. You’ve built, within your tenure, a lot of exhibits. Yeah. At the Pittsburgh Zoo.

04:12:10 - 04:12:15

What was your proudest animal exhibit achievement?

04:12:15 - 04:12:47

Oh gosh, they’re all so unique. I mean we, over the course of my 31 years, transformed, we literally rebuilt 95% of the zoo. 95% of the zoo. There’s four acres left that I hadn’t gotten finished. But other than that, 95% of the zoo we rebuilt in 31 years. Pretty amazing. And with a great team of people who work very, very hard. So, that’s really hard to call.

04:12:50 - 04:13:44

I think one of my favorite exhibits at the zoo is our polar bear exhibit, which we built and opened, oh, probably six years ago. And it’s a beautiful, we spent a lot of time going to all this. The nicest thing about zoos is that we’re one big family. Dysfunctional family, yeah, but one big family. And so we’ve got our crazy aunt and our crazy uncle out there, but we’re still a family. And so you can call up a zoo and say, “I wanna come and see your polar bear exhibit.” And they’ll let you come see it, and they’ll tell you what didn’t work before they tell you what does work. And they’ll tour you all around, and they’ll show you all the bells and whistles of what worked, and they’ll tell you all the things that didn’t work, and then they’ll take you out to dinner, and it’s great, and you have a great time. And so we went and visited all over the country, all of the polar bear exhibits that we could find.

04:13:44 - 04:14:26

And then we came back to the house and designed ours. And I think the exhibit is an above ground exhibit, of course, and we studied, we had a person on our design team that was very into color. He’s a professional photographer. And I hired him as our director of creative design. So he manages our whole graphics department and takes photos, absolutely gorgeous photos at the zoo. Paul Sevaggio. And Paul worked very much with us about the color of the rock work so that, and we had gone to some exhibits, like we went to Maryland exhibit. Beautiful, beautiful exhibit, but all the rock work is black.

04:14:26 - 04:15:03

And I think they’ve changed that since then, but all the rock work’s black. So in the summer months, they couldn’t have the polar bears out there, because it’s too hot. It absorbs all that heat and it’s too hot. The bears couldn’t be out there in the summer months. And so what we built was an area that had the color, and the variations of color that we matched literally off a photo that we found in a book about wild polar bears. And in the exhibit it’s such that the bears pop. I mean, that bear walks out there and he looks like he’s glowing in the dark, almost. I mean, he really pops out from the color.

04:15:03 - 04:15:47

The color of the rock compliments the color of the bear so well that you really see the bear. And we have seven different viewing windows on that exhibit, and an underground tunnel, so you can go under the water and see the polar bears. And one of my favorite things was to take a tour through there, and get on the radio and say, “Cue the bear.” And have ’em throw fish in the water, and the bear comes and grabs it, and looks beautiful, fabulous. Fabulous animal. We had a hundred people in the tunnel when we opened it. And it was all of our donors, the construction workers who had built it, and all of our team from the zoo, wasn’t public. When we opened that, when we first put the bears in the water. And so that’s a beautiful, beautiful exhibit.

04:15:47 - 04:16:39

That’s one of the best exhibits in the country that I’ve seen. And ironically, one of my favorite exhibits that we built is the bat exhibit in Kids’ Kingdom. Now, most of the time you go to a zoo, and you see the bats, and they’re in this one area, and they’re just hanging there, and they’re not doing anything. And they’re not flying and they’re not doing anything. They’re just hanging there. And they’re behind glass and you’re like, okay, there’s the bats. And so went to the Children’s Zoo in Indiana, and they had this little, teeny tiny bat exhibit, but the bats were flying, and I’m watching ’em fly, and it was tiny, it was like eight feet maybe. And I said, “Why are they flying?” And they said, “Well, what we did is kind of like a donut.

04:16:39 - 04:17:43

There’s a cave over here and a cave over here, and in the middle there’s nothing they can grab a hold of. So they fly from point A to point B.” And I said, “Well, how do you get ’em to fly like that?” And they said, “Well, we put food over here and we put food over there, different kind.” So they go from here, and then they go there, and then they go there. I’m like, cool, I like this. So we went back to the house, and when we designed our Kid’s Kingdom area, we built a huge 30 feet long exhibit with a very intricate cave on both ends, and in the middle it’s just a sloped area that’s completely smooth, nowhere to grab, and then it’s piano wire. I literally sat there and watched a poor fella do 600 strands of piano wire. Tie ’em all, piano wire, half an inch apart in the front, and then we put the bats in there. And they fly all day long, back and forth and back and forth. And when I left, we had some 1300 bats in that exhibit.

04:17:43 - 04:18:23

So it was always awful. The only thing we didn’t do well in that exhibit was we should have put in like 10 times the ventilation that we did, ’cause you can smell it. And we actually have a graphic that says, “What’s that smell?” And it’s because they’re fruit eating bats and you’re smelling the bat. But they fly constantly. And it’s so cool because they don’t make a sound. You’ve got hundreds of bats flying all at the same time, and they don’t make a sound. They’re just boom, boom, boom. And if you go in there to clean, I’ve been in there several times to clean, and you stand there and they come right by your hair, they’re just like (whooshes) right by.

04:18:23 - 04:18:25

And it is so cool.

04:18:25 - 04:18:27

A bat exhibit, of all things, right?

04:18:27 - 04:18:43

But you never see ’em displayed like that. We always display ’em, and they’re boring. They’re not interesting. And they’re so cool when they’re flying. Now you’ve been in this profession a long time. Mhm.

04:18:44 - 04:18:47

What do you know about- How did that happen?

04:18:47 - 04:18:53

What do you know about the profession that you devoted so many years of your life to?

04:18:53 - 04:18:54

What do I know about the profession?

04:18:54 - 04:19:44

It’s a wonderful wonderful profession. I was blessed to be able to say that I’ve worked in zoos for 40 years. A, 40 years is unheard of. But B, to be able to have the opportunity to be blessed, to have had the opportunity to know the animals up close, to know the people that I met along the way up close, and to learn so much from both. It’s just phenomenal. The profession is a wonderful profession, and it’s one that needs to be here if we’re going to do anything about wild animals, and especially exotic animals. It’s just amazing, and I feel so blessed. I’ve had so many experiences that I can’t even believe I was able to experience.

04:19:46 - 04:19:49

Who gets to fly around and dart elephants out of a helicopter?

04:19:49 - 04:19:53

Who gets to rescue elephants from Botswana?

04:19:54 - 04:19:56

Who gets to swim with the sharks?

04:19:56 - 04:20:00

Who gets to be there when a stingray gives birth?

04:20:01 - 04:20:34

I mean, it’s just, there’s so many things. I can’t even begin to express how much fun I had. To have clouded leopards over Christmas. You’re taking care of clouded leopard cubs over Christmas, and bottle feeding ’em, and all the kids are there, and they’re inviting their friends over to bottle feed the clouded leopards. And I’m like, no, no, no, don’t do that. And they’re like, well, it’s too late, they’re in the den. I’m like, okay. You know, you just have so many experiences that you’re blessed, so blessed to have.

04:20:35 - 04:20:37

It’s just phenomenal.

04:20:37 - 04:20:39

How would you like to be remembered?

04:20:39 - 04:20:40

Your legacy?

04:20:40 - 04:20:41

My legacy?

04:20:43 - 04:20:59

I have seven kids, which is phenomenal. And I would like to be remembered as a great mom and a great grandma. Okay, thank you, Dr. Barbara Baker. (Barbara laughs) Thank you.

About Barbara Baker D.V.M.

Barbara Baker D.V.M.
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Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Pennsylvania


While at Pittsburgh Zoo she developed a vision for an elephant breeding facility. That dream manifested itself in an off-site 724 acre African Elephant International Conservation Center. Her national involvement included Chairman of the Board for the Zoological Association of American (ZAA) and President of the International Elephant Foundation.

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The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Zoo & Aquarium Video Archive or those acting under their authority.