May 7th 2016 | Assistant Director

Dennis Meritt

With a background in research Dennis’s first zoo position was as zoologist at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo in 1967.

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My name is Dennis Meritt. I was born in Rochester, New York, and it is the 7th of May, 2016.

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When were you born, what’s the date of your birth?

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Oh, date of my birth is May 17th, 1940.

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What was your childhood like growing up in Rochester?

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My childhood in Rochester was much different than most childhoods. I was the oldest of four children, four boys, God rest my mother’s soul. And we had freedom that children today don’t have. It was not unusual for us, particularly during the summer to say, okay, we’re out on an adventure and off we would go. And in that part of Western New York, we had lots of opportunities to interact with nature. The closest place was a vacant lot that was just down the end of the block. And we used to steal potatoes from home, build a fire and cook potatoes in the fire while we were chasing frogs and catching snakes and generally be doing what boys do. Were you a collector of animals at a young age bringing them home or was that all the brothers did it or no one did it except you, or no one did it.

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Collecting animals was kind of intuitive to me as far back as I can remember. And I thought about this a little bit. I’ve always had this, not a need, but this knack for picking things up, for looking at things, for trying to understand nature and what’s in nature. And I don’t think, all these years later, I don’t think I’ve changed much because I’m still doing the same thing. I still have that, I tend to think of it as a gift now, to be able to see things and to want to understand more about them.

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What did your parents do?

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What did they do for a living?

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My parents were, I think, typical parents for that age, it was just after World War II. My mom was a stay-at-home mom taking care of the boys. My dad was a production manager for an advertising firm in Rochester.

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And what is your earliest memories of zoos?

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Was it the Rochester zoo?

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Did they take you there, did you go on your own?

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My earliest memories were probably Rochester. That was the only zoo that was there. Occasionally we’d take a trip to Buffalo and that was the big zoo, but I believe that my oldest, earliest interaction with zoos was in Rochester at the Seneca Park Zoo. You found it fascinating or it was just one of your childhood things that you did. Oh, it was just one of those childhood things that we did. We spent a lot of time outdoors. The Seneca Park Zoo is, was and is located in a very large city park along the Genesee River in Rochester. There’s lots of hiking trails.

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There’s lots of ponds and lakes. It’s essentially midland deciduous forest. And it was just a great place to go and to take a picnic lunch and the zoo sometimes was part of that, sometimes wasn’t. Also was a great place to fish.

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Were there any animals that you were drawn to when you were at the zoo or that stand out that interested you?

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I think the animals that I was most interested in early on before I really realized that I was interested in the profession were all related to reptiles and amphibians, if there was a frog or a toad or a snake or a turtle or a tortoise, it was right up my alley. And so whenever I had the opportunity to go to a zoo or to go to a nature center or to a wildlife reserve, I would look particularly for those kinds of animals.

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Do you feel that your interest in animals started to determine a career path?

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My career path is really kind of interesting. When I got out of high school, I can remember this vividly, I was planning on spending my entire salary just loafing after four years of education and my parents made it abundantly clear to me that I needed to go get a full-time job, something different than working at the corner Italian grocery store. I had to generate some funding if I was gonna live at home. And so I searched and searched and searched, and I actually interviewed at a general hospital and I was very proud when I came home and I could still remember this day, I was very proud that I came home with a full-time job. And my first paid full-time job in life was as a morgue attendant at Rochester General Hospital. And I can remember announcing as mom was getting dinner ready, that I was the new diener, so to speak, in the morgue in the hospital. And she flat out passed out and literally my dad had to catch her before she hit the floor, because she couldn’t imagine anybody would take a job like that. So after high school, you didn’t have college thoughts.

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You were getting a full-time job. I was getting, after high school, I was getting a full-time job. College wasn’t even an option. It was all related to dollars and cents. And so I went to work. I worked my way through the general hospital from being a morgue attendant to a histology technician, to a lab tech for bacteriology, had a little time in medical photography and then was, and then became the special projects technician for the pathologist, who was a very famous pathologist, and for a time was the Cook County medical examiner, Milton Borod. And I did that for probably five years time. And during that time he encouraged me to continue my education.

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Yeah, did that progress?

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With his encouragement, and given that I had done everything I could possibly do at the hospital in terms of opportunities for advancement, I again, looked for a new position and I ended up going to the University of Rochester Medical Center, where I got a job as a research technician in the Departments of Pharmacology and Physiology. And one of the benefits of that position was not necessarily the salary or those benefits, but I had the opportunity to go to school for free on a part-time basis. And so every semester I could take two courses at the university, which was adjacent to the medical center and I began my college career there. Tell me, we’ll jump just a bit ahead.

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Tell me about you’re in college now, but tell me about now how your whole schooling, we’ll get back to the other stuff, but how your you graduated from, and then you went to, and you went to where, what is your schooling?

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Well, my schooling, you have to understand that I was, at that time married with two young daughters, had a full-time job, full-time responsibility as a husband and father, was essentially doing school in the spare time. And I was doing it part-time. I was, when I left the university medical center to seek my career in the zoo kingdom, I was about four courses short of my bachelor’s degree, and I didn’t finish my bachelor’s until we made the move from Rochester.

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Finished it where?

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I had the choice of either being a graduate of, interestingly enough, DePaul University or the University of Rochester. And at the time I picked Rochester because Rochester was more prestigious.

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And you got your bachelor’s degree from Rochester?

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I got my bachelor’s degree from Rochester. And then your master’s degree from. Northeastern Illinois University some years later, and after that, a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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And it sounds like you’ve had this background in the medical community, how did this thinking about some other avenues, when did that start to come to fruition for you?

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I think when I was at the University of Rochester, I thought about what other employment opportunities there might be, related to animals and animal work. When I was at the university and in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, we conducted a number of experiments, drug-related experiments on small mammals. And again, picked my interest, and I thought, you know, if I ever was gonna, if I ever was going to make the move to a different profession or to an allied profession, I could take all of this experience from the general hospital, all of this experience from the university medical center and apply it to an area that I was familiar with, and that was animals and the animal care. So I began to explore what the possibilities were for employment in a zoo, and it didn’t have to be within a regional area. It could be almost anywhere in the United States because we were as a family, willing to make the move and to leave friends and family behind. And what was, you talked about, you were doing research.

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What was the research and did you write papers on it?

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Were you encouraged to be a published person or how did that work?

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The research that we did at the university was all related to drugs that impact the human brain. And we were doing drug testing in small mammals, in some small monkeys, in white rats, in mice and in cats to see what the effects of these drugs were. And these drugs were, at the time, largely drugs that we would characterize today as hallucinogenic. They were synthetic derivatives of morphine-like drugs and of derivatives that are extracted from marijuana.

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Where were you responsible for taking care of the animals in this study or was that somebody else?

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I was responsible for doing the actual experimental work on a day-to-day basis and doing measurements, making recordings and accumulating the data.

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So you’re, what would you say was your first time actually working or taking care of animals?

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Was that the zoo or was it previous to that?

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I think the first time, the first opportunity I had, taking care of animals per se, was, were animals that I kept, were animals that I, myself, either bought and maintained as pets or for a brief period of time bought and provided supplies to some pet stores.

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So at this time that you’re working at the hospital, you’re raising animals at home?

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Yes, that I was raising animals at home, at the same time, I was working at the hospital and going to school.

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Reptiles, mammals?

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Reptiles, small mammals, no birds.

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What kind of small mammals?

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Pados, hamsters, dwarf hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, almost anything that one could reproduce in a small area, small amount of space. And then you were, selling them. Selling the babies as an added source of income.

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Where did you get these animals?

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Oh, in 1960s, it was easy to get anything from anywhere. If you had the money, you could literally order animals of all kinds from major ports of entry in the United States. My preferred sources were in Miami, but there were animals that came from New York City, from Long Island and from the West Coast, primarily from Los Angeles. And you purchased animals from these sources, these unique animals. I purchased animals, exotic animals, people would call them, wild animals from these sources. And in those days, almost anything. I mean, literally almost anything small could come through the United States postal service. So a box would show up at the house and the box would have a dozen small turtles in it, or the box would have a pillowcase in it with half a dozen snakes or a small box would come that would be labeled tropical fish.

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And it would have small mammals in it, because it was during an era when nobody paid attention to any of those things.

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Your wife was happy with this?

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Well, I have to tell you that my wife, Gail, is somewhat short of a saint because during her childhood, in the home that she was raised in, she never even had a goldfish. So there was a significant period of not adjustment, but a learning, and she was very much encouraging, in terms of keeping animals in the house. At one point while I was still at University of Rochester, we had a rental apartment in Pittsford, New York. And the rental apartment had built into the dining room, the full length of the dining room, essentially a natural habitat. And that natural habitat was half aquatic and half terrestrial. And in it, and at that point I had some really strong interest in crocodilians. There were six species of young crocodilians and they’re ranging from dwarf caiman to American alligators.

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And as this is ongoing, you’re thinking about, was it a driving passion that I think I now wanna work at a zoo?

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Or was it just another place you felt you could use your talent to earn money and enjoy the job?

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When we had that family converse, when we had a family conversation about, okay, what’s next?

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What do we do?

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I had done just about everything that I could possibly do at the university in terms of procedures and learning and perfecting surgical techniques and learning how to take care of animals. And I knew that I was being directed or driven to use the skills that I had in an animal-related job. And the first thing that I thought of, we thought of it was okay, let’s if, if that’s what it’s gonna take, let’s find a job in a zoo. But the Academia didn’t call you at that time to be- Academia didn’t call me at the time. I made some very good friends and in fact, they’re still dear friends during that time that were, that were my either advisors or professors who encouraged me to do, to look further into the animal world about no Academics was not even an option, because I had just struggled through my bachelor’s degree. What was your next move once you had made this decision how did that kind of come about. Well, beginning in about 1965, I wrote a series of letters to every major zoo or aquarium institution or wildlife center or wildlife park that I could think of, looking for an available position. And I didn’t care what it was, I wanted to work at a zoo and it didn’t necessarily have to be a staff position.

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I was looking for any kind of starter position to essentially get my foot in the door, get my feet wet and to see whether this was something that I wanted to do. And we were really more than willing to walk away from family, walk away from friends, walk away from where we were very comfortable, in terms of the community, with the thought that if it didn’t work out, I mean, if we went somewhere and it didn’t work out, that we could always turn tail and come back and go back to places that we knew and family and friends that we loved.

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Write the letters, what happens?

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I wrote all of these letters. 1965, I wrote all, this is 1965, and I wrote all of these letters and there must have been, oh, easily more than two dozen letters directed specifically at that time, to either the director or the curator, whoever it might be, providing, you know, this is who I am. This is what my experience is, this is what my goals and objectives are. These are the kinds of animals that I maintained. I’m really interested in a zoological position. And out of all of those letters, I got two responses and they’re really very funny responses, looking back at it in hindsight. The one from Brookfield Zoo here in Chicago, came from Ray Pawley who was then a curator of reptiles, but he also was apparently the personnel manager for the animal department who very nicely wrote and said, “Thank you for your inquiry. We’d be happy to entertain your application, for a position if you had some zoo experience.

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When you get some zoo experience, please write us back and we’ll see if we have any available positions.” And I was left with this quandary.

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Okay, how do you get a zoo position?

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How do you get zoo experience, if you can’t get hired by a zoo in any position. And then the second one came from Milwaukee County Zoo and it came from the then director, George Spydell, who wrote this very nice, and I still have it, handwritten note that said, “Don’t give up, a lot of my colleagues will not even bother to answer your inquiry, shame on them, keep going, there’s a place out there for you. You just have to be persistent and determined.” That made me feel really good and was what I needed to keep up this search for a position. So you continued to write letters. You had this job you’re- I continued to write letters. I continued to explore things. I took it upon myself to go to the mid-year meeting of the then AZZPA, which was in Buffalo, New York. I went to that meeting.

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I was encouraged to go to that meeting by my local zoo colleagues at Seneca Park Zoo. I went, I met the then director, Clayton Freight, who just sort of took me under his wing. And he said, I’ll talk you around. You know, I’ll talk to you around. We’ll see what we can find for you. Yes, you should have a job in a zoo. I’d give you one, but we don’t have one. And I got introduced to the then director at Cleveland, who was Dr. Len Goss, a veterinarian, who interviewed me on the spot during the conference and said, “Okay, I want you, I want you to come work for me at the Cleveland Zoo.” I have to go home after the conference, I gotta do a few things.

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We gotta get some paperwork cleared up. He says, “But I think we have a position for you. I don’t wanna make any promises other than be patient with me, and we’ll get this taken care of.” I said, “Okay, great,” I came home from that conference and I was jumping out of my shoes literally. And then about four days later, Clayton calls from Buffalo and says, “Lester Fisher in Chicago has a position open for a zoologist, are you interested?” I said, “Well, yeah, but I’ve got this thing going with Len Goss.” And he said, “Well, what you, there’s nothing better than having two positions at the same time.” He says, “Why don’t you follow up with that?” So I call Les, talk to Les on the phone, Les didn’t know me from a hole in the wall. I didn’t know him. And I flew out to Chicago, my expense, which is really funny and interviewed with the famous Dr. Fisher. And he offered me a zoologist position. And I think at the time there were two vacancies and said, “It’s your job.

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The only promise that you have to make to me is that you will finish your college education,” because that was during the period when I was four courses short. So I assured him of that, went home, said, we’ve got a job. We all agreed that it was the right thing to do. And in the snow storm of 1967, we moved lock, stock and barrel from an apartment in Pittsburgh, New York to Rogers Park, to a garden apartment, which we all know in Chicago was a basement and began our zoo adventure.

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What happened to Dr. Goss?

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Dr. Goss followed up and called several weeks later and said, “I’d really like you to come out here.” We had made the move to Chicago and he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, it took me so long, but it just took this long. Good for Les, you’ll enjoy working for him. I’m sorry, we’re going to lose you.” And we still remained good friends. So you come to Lincoln Park Zoo in 19- 67.

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As, what was your title, what did they hire you as?

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My title in 1967 was zoologist. My office was in the West end of the Lion House. I was issued four used uniforms. And I was told what my schedule was, which was essentially work three out of four weekends, and have as your days off, when you don’t have weekends off, work every Tuesday, you have Tuesday and Wednesdays off. And this zoologist position, can you give me a kind of, what was the hierarchy of the zoo when you then started, you were one zoologist out of whatever, there was a Lester Fisher director. Les Fisher was director. Jean Harts was assistant director. There was a general curator called George Irving.

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There was a zoologist in charge of reptiles, and that was Eddie (indistinct). There was a zoologist in charge of birds, and that was Jim Mizaur. So that left me with the zoologist in charge of mammals or whatever else needed to be done. So your direct boss was the general curator.

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Yes, that my direct boss was the general curator who was a, how should I put this?

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A gentleman nearing retirement who always had done things his own way, and you were expected to do things the same way.

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Did you have specific responsibilities given you, or was just you’re in charge of the mammals, period?

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All mammals?

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My responsibilities essentially, were learn the mammal collection, help where help is needed supervise on a day-to-day basis the entire mammal collection, focus on the children’s zoo and the nursery, because that area needed almost constant attention because of the number of infant animals that were being hand-raised in the zoo nursery.

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What kind of zoo did you find?

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You’d had experience of going to Rochester Zoo, but what kind of zoo did you find at Lincoln Park when you started?

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The zoo at Lincoln Park, when I started was largely a reflection of WPA days, some leftover conservation core work, the collection was a very good collection. There were animals there that I had never seen before. I had a lot of book learning, but I didn’t have a lot of firsthand experience with some of the animals. There was general resistance to my presence by the senior, by some of the senior keepers and some of the animal caregiving staff, because I was characterized as the college kid who was coming to Lincoln Park to show them how to do things.

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What form did that resistance?

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What was that form of resistance?

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Yeah, the resistance was sometimes it was subtle. Sometimes it was overt. Sometimes it was direct in your face. Sometimes it wasn’t doing things that should have been done just to see what kind of arise they could get out of me. The senior keeper in charge of the zoo nursery, Dick Reichert, was by all accounts, by anybody’s account, was an honoree so-and-so, but deep down inside, he was this gentle, caring, concerned person, you just had to get through the veneer. And one of the things that I learned was that I just didn’t push things, I didn’t enforce anything. I tried to learn from the considerable experience that was there and then change things for what I thought was the better as time and circumstances allowed. And that seemed to be an effective strategy with some of these old timers who had been doing it, some of them for 20 years or longer.

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That strategy kind of developed, or you kind of had that as you were going in?

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The strategy developed because I learned, after I ran into the wall two or three times, that the only thing I was gonna do accomplish was to bruise myself. And so I worked with what I had. You have to remember that during this era, a significant number of the employees at the zoo were, or what would be characterized by almost anybody as political hacks. They had their jobs because they were politically connected. They had their jobs because they worked for the organization. Some of them were alcoholics, some of them were derelicts. Some of them were deviants, a significant number of them, when their paychecks came and they had the sign George’s check sheet that they received their check, signed an X because they couldn’t write their own name. Some of them couldn’t, I learned, if you just assume that everybody can do what you can do, that you can read and write, some of them couldn’t even read and write.

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So to try to implement any kind of written guidelines or instructions for whole areas of the zoo, whether it would be bird, mammal or reptile, just wasn’t gonna work because they couldn’t read, or they were incapable of understanding what was going on.

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You talked about your management style then, what was the director’s management style and what was your immediate boss’s style?

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Did they conflict?

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Were they in sync with what you were trying to do?

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Les Fisher’s management style was pretty much what Les Fisher’s life has always been, easygoing, friendly, outgoing, everybody’s buddy, don’t make waves under any circumstances, do whatever needs to be done, but do it in a politically correct way. His number two, Jean Harts, was essentially in charge of the zoo and the personnel and the collection. He was the person who acquired animals. He was the person who sold or traded or declared animals surplus. He was essentially the man in charge of the interior of the zoo, while Les was right up until the very end, the external force of the zoo. He was the person that, he was the person that everybody thought about when they thought about Lincoln Park Zoo after Merlin Perkins. Were there any major issues or things that you saw that the zoo was facing when you first came there as well, as just, or as you moved through your responsibilities as well I guess. I think the only evolution that took place from a personnel standpoint, was that we made a conscious effort.

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I mean, we made a conscious effort that people would be cross-trained, that they would know more than how to take care of antelope for instance, or how to take care of the chickens or how to take care of the handleable animals in the children’s zoo. There was a conscious effort to begin to cross train people, so that on days when people weren’t there, or on days when people were sick, that you had the logical people to put into those slots.

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Did you find that the zoo had good record keeping?

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A good question about record keeping, the record keeping was essentially non-existent when I arrived at the zoo and one of my first responsibilities was develop an inventory system. There were lots of ledgers in buildings that had either daily notes or scribbles on a page, in a bound volume that went back many, many years. That essentially was the inventory record that the zoo kept. There was no formal carved file, except for some very old and geriatric animals that had been there almost from the beginning of the modern Lincoln Park.

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Was this something they directed you to do, or this was on your own?

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Now, this was one of my, this was one of the things that I were supposed to accomplish over the course of time, no rush, no hurry, do it with detail, get as much information as you can from the old records as new animals come in, include that information. And each animal in the zoo had, at that time, essentially a four by six or a little smaller, I think it was probably a four by five inventory card that had all of the available information that we knew about that animal, common name, scientific name, its sex, where it came from, whether it’s kept, or born, or wild-caught and any incidental notes about it. And those were kept in individual card files in the various areas, in the bird house, in the small mammal house, in the reptile house. And I kept a master copy, master file in my office. So that at any one time I knew exactly what was in the zoo collection and where it came from and what its history was.

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As zoologist, did you, or were you required, or did you desire to make daily rounds of your kingdom?

00:35:14 - 00:35:48

I couldn’t be kept out of the animal areas much to the chagrin of some of the old time keepers. I made a point of being not only around, but in every area, front, back, up, down, if there was a closet, if there was a basement area, if there was an off-exhibit area, if there were holding stalls, if there was a storage area, I wanted to know where it was, what was in it, who had access to it. And I wanted most of all, to have a key to it, so that I could go any time that I wanted to go.

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How important would you say these rounds were to you or to people who aspire to be in a profession?

00:35:55 - 00:36:46

I think these rounds were very important to me. I learned a great deal by just being in the animal areas with the animals and with people who took care of the animals. It was an essential part of my day I, before I did anything else on any given day, I was out on the zoo grounds looking at the animals, talking to the people who were caring for them. And I think that was important. It was important to me from a learning standpoint, but it also was important to them in terms of our developing a relationship and developing in trust in one another. And gradually some of the barriers broke down and some of the old timers would teach me their little tricks. If you ever have to move this animal, this is how you do it. If you ever have to get in there and grab this animal, this is how I would do it.

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This is, these are the nets that we use. These are the tools that we use. This is a quirk of this particular ostrich, or this is a quirk of this red kangaroo. And so I got to know some of the animals in the collection as individuals. Give me one individual that stood out. One individual that stood out. One individual stood out. Well, I had never experienced a great ape before.

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I mean, I had seen great apes, I had seen chimps, I’d seen harangues, I had seen gorillas. One day when I was in the old primate house, the then senior keeper, Roy Hoff said, “Come here, kid, you wanna meet an orangutan?” And so I went behind the scenes with Roy and Roy did what he did to me, after hindsight gives you a 2020 vision. He did what he did to every newcomer. And that was he simply unlocked the cage door and out flew this full grown female orangutan, who literally, and as you know, it’s like being suction-cupped, they simply grasp onto you. And there’s no way to get them off until, or unless they’re ready to leave. And he got the biggest chuckle, first of all, of my reaction to having an orangutan, making kissy faces to me and hanging on to me, as he walked down the service area and locked the door and left me there sitting with the orangutan. Sort of, okay, you wanna be a zoologist in this zoo, you wanna know about orangutans, here you go, buddy. You indicated there were others who zoologists, who had other responsibilities.

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What was your read, did they all have the same, did you all have the same responsibilities in your different areas?

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Did they all have the record keeping, et cetera?

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And what was your relationship with these zoologists?

00:39:04 - 00:39:42

I think my relationship was really good. Eddie (indistinct), who was the zoologist in charge of reptiles and the reptile house later to become curator. He really was my mentor. Eddie kind of took me under his wing. In fact, in the beginning, we lived in the same apartment house. He at one end, up top and we at the other end, down in the basement. And so we got to be good friends. It also was clear to him that I knew a lot about reptiles and that we could share.

00:39:42 - 00:40:54

We could share that information. We could share that excitement with each other. And I also knew that if I was ever gonna make a mark in the zoo, that it had to be with mammals, Eddie was par excellence in terms of his ability, his intuitive knowledge with reptiles and the guy who was in the, Jim, who was in the bird house, he wasn’t going anywhere, he had that under control. And I really didn’t develop an interest in birds until somewhat later in my career. And so it left me with mammals and Eddie provided the tutorage that I needed, in terms of the subtleties of the political life of the zoo. He helped you then went your way through the, I’ll call it as you did the politics of the zoo. Eddie definitely helped me understand the politics of the zoo, understand some of the quirks of the personalities involved in the zoo and tried to keep me on the straight and narrow. You said there was a senior general curator when you started.

00:40:54 - 00:40:57

You’re the college kid.

00:40:58 - 00:41:01

Did you bump heads in philosophies?

00:41:01 - 00:41:12

Did or was he happy to have you there and a new era was being issued or did he expect you to fall in step with the rest of his zoologists?

00:41:14 - 00:42:19

The then general curator, George Irving, was an interesting guy. You have to understand that this was my first job. I was literally beside myself with joy that I had this position. I went to work a week before I should have, and he made it perfectly clear to me that I couldn’t begin employment at the zoo, despite what the park district had said, because it was midway through a pay period and he didn’t keep the books that way. And I said, “I’m here, they told me to start, I’m starting, I’m ready to go to work.” He said, “All that’s fine, but I will not put you on the payroll until the next pay period. And if you’re here, you won’t be paid for working for this week.” I said, “Great, I’m in, I don’t care about the paycheck.” And I went to work, that was our first interaction.

00:42:21 - 00:42:29

And did he essentially, or you know, it sounds like you had a lot of freedom, but did he give you the freedom?

00:42:29 - 00:42:36

Did the upper management essentially give you some general guidelines and then go do what you wanna do?

00:42:36 - 00:42:38

Did you have a lot of freedom?

00:42:38 - 00:43:50

I had an exceptional amount of freedom. I mean, any errors that I made were mine to make, I was essentially given a free hand with everything, from record keeping, to diets, to the management of a collection, to a more limited extent to who worked where and when, which was George’s realm. And I just dove into it. I mean, completely dove into it as an example of the degree of freedom my first weekend earned. There was a camel born, a dromedary, it was the first dromedary to be born at the zoo in a long time. The senior staff member on call, there was always one on the grounds, and one on call and the senior staff member on call was Jean Harts, his assistant director. And so the camel’s born, I looked at the mother and I said, she’s got mastitis. I know she’s got mastitis, I’ve seen mastitis before, the baby was trying to nurse, the mother was kicking the baby.

00:43:50 - 00:44:24

It was a Sunday afternoon. The zoo was full of patrons, something needed to be done. And my first inclination was I have to get that baby camel out of there. If the mother has mastitis, she’s never gonna let the baby nurse. And so I talked to the keepers in the area and they said, “Oh, you aren’t going to, you don’t wanna do that. But then we’ll have to hand raise her.” And I said, “Well, that’s no big deal. We’ll move her over to the children’s zoo. Or you can hand raise her here adjacent to her mother.” “Oh no, we can’t do that.

00:44:24 - 00:45:46

That’s not part of our job description.” I said fine, I said, “But I think we ought to take her.” And they said, “Well, you can’t do that without calling the assistant director.” I said, “Okay, I can do that, but we’re gonna take it. So get ready guys.” So I called Jean at home, got him. And he said to me, and I told him my story. And he said, “Here’s some advice for you, kid, don’t ever call me again when I’m on call on the weekend, do what you want to do.” So I get off the phone and said, I guess I can do what I wanna do. So the boys and I, I said, “Okay, you would distract the mother, and well, I’ll grab the baby.” And we went in the outdoor pen in the old antelope zebra area and grabbed the baby and pulled it inside. And then I didn’t know anything about raising a baby camel got a Coke bottle, got it to a lamb’s nipple, got some canned milk and water made an appropriate dilution. The baby began to nurse, all was well with the world. And then the second thing happened, somebody called the press.

00:45:46 - 00:47:19

And one of the old time sometimes, or tribune photographers showed up and said, we want a picture of you and the camel. And so I fed the camel and they took a picture and it showed up on the front page or the back page or whatever page of the newspaper the next morning. And then I got my second introduction to the politics. And that was, that morning I called into the director’s office and the director said, “You know, public relations is the responsibility of the director and I’m the director. So you will,” essentially what he was saying is, you will, if you value your life, you will never ever do that again, with or without anybody’s permission. And I tried to explain to the best of my young abilities, that it wasn’t my fault, that I had no control over it, that it had just happened. And he said, “All that aside, you understand?” I said, “Yes, I understand.” And then the assistant director, as I was coming out, pointed his finger at me and said, “You remember our conversation of the weekend.” I said, “Completely fully you and I are on the same plane. I understand exactly what I should do.” And that after that, it was get out of my way, because I knew I couldn’t do any wrong.

00:47:20 - 00:47:29

Now, at some point you said, reptile and trust, you’re gonna be the mammal guy. You developed this interest in edentates.

00:47:31 - 00:47:34

And how did that get started?

00:47:34 - 00:47:38

Was this as you were a zoologist in that position, and why?

00:47:40 - 00:48:45

I think a couple of things, a couple of things occurred during my career that were purely opportunistic. One of them was I wanted to go South America. I had read all of the early natural historians. I had read Bates. I was aware of the work of Beebe at the New York Zoological Society. And I knew I had to go to the tropics because I had to understand for myself, I had to feel whether it was a place where I wanted to spend some time or it was a place that I was terrified of. So in 1972, by then I had graduated from the University of Rochester. It was instilled in my position probably about then I was being called curator.

00:48:45 - 00:50:15

And I think it came with a little more money. I applied to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia for a grant to undertake a trip to south America, to look at small mammals, but particularly those small mammals that are generally referred to as edentates or xenarthrans or the armadillos and the sloths and the ant-eaters. And I had an interest in them because they were essentially animals that nobody loved, nobody cared about. They were animals that were interesting to me because of their natural history, their lifestyle, their feeding habits, they were animals that were not generally seen in zoos. Lincoln Park had a wonderful small mammal collection. And I thought, these animals really ought to be here. This is something that we could do, but I need to learn something more about them. So the American Philosophical Society founded by Ben Franklin, saw fit to find enough funds with a little bit of family money as well, to send Gail and I to Argentina first, and then to Paraguay second, and to spend a month away from the zoo, two and a half weeks in Argentina, and a week and a half in Paraguay.

00:50:15 - 00:51:41

Gail was with me the whole time in Argentina and part of the time in Paraguay, because we had two small children that were needed to be taken care of by a family member during our absence. And I really, I really fell in love with the land, the people, the environment, and the animals that were there and made some very good friends, some who were just interested people who happen to have a way to get to places where there were animals. And one was a commercial animal dealer who was largely a bird exporter out of Paraguay. And that was the start of my infatuation with South America. It was also the first time that I caught, except for North American animals, it was the first time that I’d ever captured animals in the wild that I actually went like Frank Brooke, bring him back alive, to find where the animals lived, to see them in nature and to be able to capture them, acclimate them for later shipment back to the zoo and to learn as much as I could from them. We’ll talk a little more about that in a second, but I wanted to go back to zoologist to curator.

00:51:41 - 00:51:44

Was this a title change?

00:51:44 - 00:52:39

Was there another zoologist coming up and you became, there was a new position created for you. Did that affect all the zoologists or part of them. Zoologist to curator occurred for all of us simultaneously. It occurred because there was a pressure, Les primarily, Jean to a lesser extent and via Jean and Les to the park district to get us some more funding and benefits. Keepers got an annual raise. It was largely related to the current economy. The zoologist positions pretty much stayed the same. If we got anything, it was a little bit, it was less than what the keepers got in terms of percentages.

00:52:40 - 00:53:43

We all simultaneously put pressure on Les to do something for us. Remarkably, Les always got raises, but his staff didn’t and it got to a point where he realized that he needed to do something. And I think what they decided downtown was, in order to give us additional funds, they had to change the titles. And so the job descriptions, as one knows, within the park district had to be rewritten, which took forever. When the jobs descriptions were rewritten, regardless of what your job was, we moved from zoologists to curators and there became formal, essentially, curator mammals, curator reptiles, curator birds, largely a reflection of the areas that we each and all were responsible for. So your responsibilities essentially were the same. It was a title change. It was a title change.

00:53:43 - 00:54:03

It was a title change and a title change necessitated by the need for additional salary. And the salary could only come if there was a new job title. So now you’re the curator of mammals and you are interested in edentates, you’ve been to South America.

00:54:04 - 00:54:13

Did you have a goal plan that you wanted to do with this, this group of animals and were you free to do whatever you wanted?

00:54:14 - 00:55:26

I didn’t, I don’t, I think in the beginning with regard to the edentates, I didn’t have a plan. I had a loose plan, the loose plan would have been, I’ve got to understand these animals. The way to understand them is either look at them in nature or the way to understand them is to bring them into captivity and to study them in captivity. I think it all began that way. It was reinforced by the trip to South America and the subsequent shipment back from South America of a range of animals as a consequence of that trip, that had never been done. Two things had never been done by a staff member at Lincoln Park Zoo before, a staff member had never had researcher travel funds. A staff member had never caught animals in the wild and acclimated them for shipment back to the zoo. And as a consequence of that South American trip, a number of armadillos of a couple of species, at least three species came from Argentina and also from Paraguay.

00:55:26 - 00:56:31

And a number of other animals came to the zoo, that the zoo had a potential interest in, both in terms of birds and reptiles, largely out of Paraguay. For instance, the importation of green anacondas that occurred at Lincoln Park in that 72 through 74 period of time were animals that I captured along with other people in Paraguay. And it was the first time they had been exported into the United States. They had been in Europe before, but they’d never been in the United States. So they came to Lincoln Park, they came to Eddie. Eddie was thrilled to have these yellow anacondas. Additionally, birds came to the bird collection, Bellbirds came, seriemas came. It was just after the United States had put on a bird ban on citizen birds, on parent-like birds, but there were other, there were other birds that were available.

00:56:31 - 00:58:23

And so when the shipment, when the consignment arrived in Chicago, it included all three major groups of animals, a significant number of animals, all of which had been acclimated prior to shipping, they had been hand acclimated part of my responsibilities in Paraguay while I was there at the compound, was taking care of the animals every day, and making sure they ate, making sure they were well taken care of. And out of there came, out of that Paraguay shipment came the first tamandua, came the first giant anteater for me, came some of the first primates and they were all very well-received, both in terms of health and circumstances when they arrived at Lincoln Park Zoo. And the zoo was very supportive of those efforts because they knew what they were getting as opposed to getting animals from an animal dealer. I got no compensation for any of those animals. The zoo paid the paid the collectors or the animal dealers directly for whatever was exported. So what do you feel, you’re looking back, your contribution to this group of animals in the research or the husbandry you did has been. Oh, I hope, I think with regard to edentates, particularly in South American small mammals, I think I opened the door. I opened the door for other people to be interested in these very unique, very, in many respects, bizarre animals that hadn’t been well exhibited or only exhibited occasionally and hadn’t lived very long.

00:58:23 - 00:58:54

I think my contribution was that I did several things. I introduced the zoo world to animals they already knew, but hadn’t done much with, I worked on their nutrition, on their behavior and on their reproduction. And I had a lot of help along the way from the veterinary staff, the keeper staff, and from colleagues in other zoos. During that time, you had a philosophy, I believe, of, you published during this time about these animals.

00:58:54 - 00:58:58

What was your general philosophy about the sharing of knowledge?

00:58:59 - 01:00:03

It’s an interesting question about the sharing of knowledge. During my first job, my first job at the Rochester General Hospital, the pathologist, Milton Borod, believed very strongly in, that if you study something, if you find results that you should publish. He also believes in a kind of a second law. And the second law was you give credit to people who have helped you along the way and with the work. And so when I went from the general hospital to the university medical center, my boss there, Dr. Jean Boyd, he was of the same philosophy. If you work on a project, you get credit for the project. And so, publications were shared publications. And so when I got to the zoo and began, I began to understand about these animals and their needs and their nutrition, I thought it was important to share that knowledge much as I had been taught by those two previous employers.

01:00:05 - 01:01:42

And that’s been my general philosophy, I’ve added a kind of an additional thought, and that is that you should publish where it’s going to do the most good. Many people publish in journals that will in peer review journals that will give them prestige because they published in this journal or that journal. My philosophy was I didn’t really care as long as it was peer reviewed, I didn’t care what the journal was, what the publication was, as long as it would hit the audience. So if you look at my CV, you’ll see that my published works are in some very strange places or so it seems, unless you understand what that philosophy is. During that time, during the time that I began to publish and others on the staff began to publish at Lincoln Park, I think International Zoo Book, Zoo Yearbook was the annual Bible of zoo information. If you needed to know anything about animals in your care or about exhibits or about nutrition or about veterinary medicine, that was the place to go. And that was the place to publish. And fortunately, they were very gracious in their acceptance of articles for publication, both from me and from other members of the staff, as well as from others in the zoo world.

01:01:45 - 01:01:54

Knowing that you’ve done this work with edentates do you think there needs to be more work done on the edentate group in zoos now, or has it all been done?

01:01:56 - 01:03:28

I think the one of the, one of the sadnesses of my life in terms of reflection is that the significant edentate collection that was at Lincoln Park, when we made the decision to divest ourselves of that collection, to disperse it to other zoos, for one reason or another. I look back on that as that was a very hard time for me, I understood the need to do that. I trusted that others within the profession would take that, take those animals and take those groups of animals and would carry on the legacy that had been started at Lincoln Park, not just mine, but all of their caregivers staff, as well as other staff members at the zoo. But sadly, it only worked for a short period of time. And those animals are very uncommon, very rare, very unusual in zoos today, largely because the animals aren’t available. And because there isn’t the interest in them from the professional staff that there was during my time at Lincoln Park. And that’s sad because they’re very interesting. They have all kinds of, if you need to put a use to an animal, you can use them in education programs.

01:03:28 - 01:05:00

You can use them in interpretive programs, you can use them in all kinds of conservation efforts and regrettably tragically, it comes at a time when the animals simply are not available from nature, because there are no more, or essentially are no more commercial animal dealers, but there’s a series of regulations and regulatory agencies that don’t encourage you to do importations. And there are very few people in the profession today who would do what we did and that is go to nature, find the animals, spend the time acclimating them, import them into the United States into your collection and to others. That’s a tragedy. You talked about this grouping of edentates and your freedom as a zoologist or a curator. And you had kind of picked out a space within the zoo to hold this collection that you were working on. Was there kind of tell us how that, I got permission to do it. And also was there a pushback from the senior management or did they just, again, let you go and do what you want. It’s an interesting question about housing and off-exhibit housing and how do you develop it and how do you gain the space.

01:05:03 - 01:05:59

It became very clear to me, that we needed to have significant numbers of animals in order to do reproduction, that we needed significant number of animals to know something about their behavior, their activity cycle, their nutrition. I look for an off-display area. The lion house was perfect. It essentially was a storage space for animal crates, probably 50 years worth of animal crates. It was perfect in terms of an environment because it was warm, they were tropical animals. It was well lit, it was off-exhibit. It was little traveled, it lent itself to that. And so it began very slowly, you know, a pen here, a cage there, a walking exhibit here, and the park district construction people were very cooperative.

01:05:59 - 01:06:10

And essentially I was given free rein, I was on one hand, not discouraged. Let’s just see how this plays out.

01:06:10 - 01:06:23

And it also interacted with a pathologist that we had on staff who had an interest in, what are the pathology, what are the disease processes related to these animals?

01:06:25 - 01:06:30

What happens when these animals die?

01:06:30 - 01:06:32

What can we learn from them?

01:06:32 - 01:08:15

And so it was kind of a one, two effort on our half, on our behalf to convince the director Les Fisher, that this is something that the zoo needed to do, and we were willing to do it. And as a consequence of that, she and I wrote a grant proposal for funding to study the diseases of this group of animals and was going to submit it to the National Institutes of Health or to the National Science Foundation, and Les decided that he ought to send it to his colleagues in Washington at the national zoo first to get that, get an overview of it. And strangely enough, about three months later, the national zoo and its research scientist, John Eisenberg, recruited two PhD students to go to South America to study this very group of animals that we had proposed this work for. You were kind of groundbreaking there. We were pioneering. A philosophical question. You had this freedom. Do you see today, as you understand the profession, that the curatorial staff does not have, or do they have that freedom to pursue their personal Academic interests, or are they, do they not have that freedom.

01:08:17 - 01:09:44

To talk about the curatorial staff then, and the curatorial staff now, and degrees of freedom or the ability to shape one’s own future it’s the difference, it’s 180 degrees from where it was during the time that I was at Lincoln Park. I think our philosophy, what the curatorial philosophy was better to ask forgiveness than permission. Just if you think it’s the right thing to do, then you go ahead and do it. And then you take the repercussions, if there are any. We made very few mistakes and everybody on the zoo staff from top to bottom looked good for some of the work that was being done. And so the director and the assistant director, and the general curator were all part of taking credit for the significant advancements at the zoo, which was a wonderful thing. I think if I had to compare that to today, I think the curatorial staff, even though they’re probably better educated in terms of, it’s very unusual in major institutions for a curator not to be a master of science or not to be a PhD or not to be a DVM PhD or not to be a primatologist or not to be an ecologist. But they’re lacking something that we had.

01:09:44 - 01:10:46

And that lacking is they appear to be, at least to me, afraid to make decisions, afraid to make decisions in the sense of, oh I have to check, I have to see if we could do that. I can’t make that commitment. I can’t give you an answer to that now. Part of that is because they simply don’t have the street smarts in terms of zoos and zoo animal care that we had during our days at Lincoln Park, they don’t have the street smarts and there are impediments to making independent decisions because there’s a whole hierarchy now of, I wanna say regulatory or legislative for internal committee discussions that have to take place before anyone would commit themselves.

01:10:46 - 01:10:49

Why don’t they have the street smarts?

01:10:50 - 01:11:25

They don’t have the street smarts because they don’t have the experience. They don’t have the experience because they’re unwilling to take a chance. They’re unwilling to take a chance because there are repercussions. They’re unwilling to take a chance because there’s this structure in place, which is an impediment to essentially learning on a day-to-day basis. You indicated that when you became curator, your responsibilities didn’t significantly change, but yet at that time, the zoo was undergoing major remodeling/renovation.

01:11:29 - 01:11:33

What part did you as a curator have in that?

01:11:34 - 01:11:55

As part of the growth of the zoo, part of the growth of the zoo and part of the restoration of the zoo, it undertook several capital campaigns. All of the staff were involved in both public relations, as well as the design elements of those campaigns.

01:11:57 - 01:12:10

And so additional responsibilities, including participating in planning meetings for facilities, providing direct things like how big does this area need to be?

01:12:10 - 01:12:12

How warm does it need to be?

01:12:12 - 01:12:14

How much space does it need to be?

01:12:14 - 01:12:16

What kind of safety features are there?

01:12:16 - 01:12:20

What kind of feeding elements do we need to build into it?

01:12:20 - 01:12:47

What kind of considerations are special for this group of animals, those sorts of things. And that was just the start of several, now to this day, probably a hundred million dollars worth of restorations, renovations that took place at Lincoln Park Zoo, and it fell to the curatorial staff. So if it was a mammal area, I had to be there. If it was a bird area, the bird curator had to be there. And if it was reptile area, the reptile curator.

01:12:47 - 01:12:53

Did that take you away from your other daily responsibilities or was it just added up?

01:12:53 - 01:13:49

I would say that it added on to responsibilities, but it added on in a very good way, because it gave the opportunity to share one’s knowledge and share the experience and to translate it from what was there now to what could be there in the future. There’s no question that it was a lot of additional work, but I think the satisfaction of seeing it to completion was in some way very nice compensation for the effort. At this point in time, the senior management did change. The assistant director did leave and a new assistant director, or the general curator left and new staff came in.

01:13:49 - 01:13:51

How did that happen?

01:13:51 - 01:14:55

And how did your relationship change or did it, now, you’re a little more experienced, you’re not the new guy. I think over time, we all know that institutions change both in terms of their hierarchy and in terms of what their needs are. People retire, people move along. People go to new positions. The same thing was true at Lincoln Park. I think internally the impact that it had on me, as well as the other curators was that we continued to grow. We continue to evolve. Our collection went from a essentially posted, stamp-type exhibits with animals that could be largely acquired from commercial dealers to more concern for interpretive programs, more concern for education, more concern for conservation.

01:14:56 - 01:15:19

The new staff brought experience with them, brought some of these ideas with them. And I think the zoo gradually evolved and had to evolve particularly with the capital improvements that were being made. We, our role changed significantly in that our emphasis went to conservation and went to education.

01:15:20 - 01:15:33

And these people that were coming in, they were bringing that philosophy, I mean, for example, when the senior curator, general curator left, did they replace that position?

01:15:33 - 01:16:07

Oh, when George Irving, the general curator retired, when George retired, that position became essentially a person to oversee the curators and the staff in the animal collection, it was no longer essentially a timekeeper position. It was a position that was in a sense required by the growth of development of the zoo and its philosophy. So they brought in a new genera curator. They did bring in a new general curator.

01:16:07 - 01:16:11

Your relationship with that individual, now that you’re the more experienced guy?

01:16:11 - 01:16:30

I had no difficulty with any changes that were made in the staffing. I saw that as an opportunity to share what I knew and to learn from them based on their experience at other institutions, and by and large, I think we were very compatible.

01:16:32 - 01:16:52

Did you find that in the position of curator now, that you had to do more managerial practices, were you more interested in that, were you losing your animal interaction or did it essentially, again, stay the same?

01:16:54 - 01:18:00

The growth from zoologist to curator, and then the addition of professional staff caused, or me in particular, and I think the rest of the curators to take a step away from what we like to do best, because we had to become managers. We had to become, essentially, people concerned about personnel. We had to be concerned about scheduling. We had to be concerned about legislation. We had to be concerned about all of those intricacies. And so with every step and every positions you take from, as you move up the ladder, so to speak, you step away from the things that you like the most. And so that change, particularly with the addition of professional staff, it was, yeah, it was a step away. There’s no two ways about it from what was the true pleasure or the true joy of every day at the zoo, but it was a necessary change.

01:18:00 - 01:18:03

It was all part of logical growth.

01:18:03 - 01:18:05

And still you were making daily rounds?

01:18:05 - 01:18:40

Still making daily rounds or a lot more meetings, or a lot more interactions. The zoo society was coming into its own. As a friend of the zoo, as a supporter of the zoo required more public relations, more special presentations, more donor tours, which all took time away from the day-to-day management of the collection. But on the other hand, it was absolutely essential for us to do in order to grow.

01:18:41 - 01:18:49

At that time as curator were you or just senior staff involved in the budgeting and policy making at the zoo?

01:18:49 - 01:19:07

During the time that the zoo was, during the time the zoo was under the park district’s management, the director was solely responsible for the budget. There were a bunch of codes in budget items.

01:19:07 - 01:19:21

Each of the curators would be asked for a major pieces of equipment or major expenditures, or to put forth what conference or meeting would you like to go to next year, how much would that cost?

01:19:23 - 01:19:47

There was a overall collection budget. And the largest part of that collection budget was, were the funds to purchase animals, for animal purchase and for animal transportation. And we all fed out of that, so to speak, pot, and that largely was determined by the director, but in concert or consult with assistant director.

01:19:48 - 01:19:51

Was there a commitment to professional growth?

01:19:51 - 01:21:02

You mentioned conferences, ’cause that costs money. There was, it was absolutely essential that the zoo grow professionally. It was doing that in terms of the staff it was taking on, it was doing that in terms of the capital improvements. The, so the staff needed to have interchanged, needed to have something more than conversations on falling with colleagues. And the way to do that was at the annual or the twice annual depending on the circumstances conferences where one could get together with our counterparts in other institutions, in (indistinct) relationships, and to reinforce the relationships were there. And that was very important because those relationships that occurred both on the telephone and even at those meetings, all were relationships that lasted a lifetime, they were gentleman’s agreements, they were handshakes. They were at a time when your word was your word, if you gave someone your word, that that was the way it was going to be, no matter what.

01:21:03 - 01:21:08

During this time did you have mentor or mentors outside of the zoo itself?

01:21:08 - 01:21:13

Was Dr. Fisher a mentor or other people outside the profession?

01:21:14 - 01:22:18

I think there were some significant mentors for me during this time. In tropical America, Dr. Nick Gale, was a very strong influence on my life. He was a DVM, PhD, doctor of public health, he was a civilian employee in the United States Army in the area of the former canal zone. Many trips were made to Panama while I was curator and general curator, largely because I was undertaking my master’s work. And my master’s topic was the two-toed sloth. And so I went to Panama to study sloths in the wild. All of the colleagues that I had met along the way, Clayton Freiheit, Danny McClowsky, Jim Dolan, Larry Kilmer. I mean too many people, too many people to name, all had influence on me and on my decisions and on my growth in the profession.

01:22:19 - 01:22:27

Was there anybody that when things got tough for you had a decision that you got on the phone and you kind of talk with them?

01:22:31 - 01:22:41

I think if I relied on anybody for insight in the animal world, it was probably Jim Dolan in San Diego. He was probably my go-to guy.

01:22:44 - 01:22:54

And then during this time, were you helping or were there new policies that were being, as the zoo’s growing, put forth at the Lincoln Park Zoo?

01:22:54 - 01:22:58

And what kind of say did you have as a curator in that?

01:22:59 - 01:23:37

Well, with the growth of professionalism, everything became the written word, the printed word. And so there had to be a collection policy. There had to be euthanasia policy. There had to be a formalization of the processes for record keepers, for a record keeper. They had to be all of these, essentially cookbook recipe type information sources that in the case of your absence or in the case of you no longer being there, that this information could be passed from person to person.

01:23:37 - 01:23:47

Was this something came from the top down to you to say, take care of it, or were you making recommendations to the higher ups to say, we need to get some of this stuff in?

01:23:47 - 01:24:27

Well, it came from the top down, but it came from the top down largely because there was pressure by the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums to formalize policies and procedures within zoos and aquariums and wildlife parks. And so the edict would come from AAZPA, now AZA, and then it would be passed from the senior staff down all the way down, oh that this is what we had to do, this is why we had to do it. And here were the guidelines that were provided. And when the assistant director left the zoo, a new assistant director came in from within the ranks.

01:24:27 - 01:24:29

Your relationship stayed the same?

01:24:30 - 01:25:07

I think so, I think my relationship didn’t, I don’t think there was any, there’s no, in my recollection, there’s no visible change in relationships with a change in hierarchy. Actually the departure of the assistant director and the hiring of a new person as a general curator/ assistant director was a welcome relief because it moved along some of the old and provided an opportunity for the new to get a foothold.

01:25:07 - 01:25:15

Were there situations that you can tell us about that you might’ve learned something new on the job that you did not know before?

01:25:16 - 01:26:35

Well- I learned from the first weekend that I was on with the camel, that you have to be very quick to grab a baby camel because adult camels can kick both rear legs off the ground at the same time, and you have to be away from them. I learned from an old timer, senior keeper, Joel Mcchale, that if you want to move an ostrich, the way to move an ostrich is to get an onion sack and two belts. And you put the onion sack over the ostrich’s head so that it doesn’t know where it’s going. And then you put one belt around his neck, on the right-hand side, and one belt around its neck on the left-hand side. And you stay away from it and you lead it anywhere you want it to go, and it will willingly go, just like driving a car because it can’t see, and it doesn’t know how to resist. That those were among my basic. And there were dozens more I can assure you, but those stand out in my mind. I also learned how you could appear to rake a yard so that it appeared to be clean, but you actually hadn’t cleaned the yard.

01:26:35 - 01:26:56

You had just raked it so that you looked like it was clean. There were all kinds of little tricks that I learned from my comrades. And you had indicated and said at one time that you felt you worked at Lincoln Park Zoo, move on word, but that you worked at Lincoln Park Zoo during a golden age.

01:26:56 - 01:26:59

Can you kind of tell me what you meant by that?

01:27:01 - 01:27:59

It was a golden age, at like in part, because we had the degree of freedom that we had. It was a golden age at Lincoln Park because there was, there essentially was no animal anywhere in the world that we couldn’t acquire if we could make the contacts. It was a golden age because the director of primarily, either allowed, probably allowed or didn’t really care what we did, as long as it all turned out in the end. It was a time without oversight. It was a time without committees. It was time without regulations. It was a time without the Endangered Species Act. It was a time when there were animal dealers, specialized animal dealers in the four corners of the world that you could count on, they were people that you knew, they were people that you could trust.

01:27:59 - 01:30:14

And again, I go back to the, your word is your bond. If they said they were going to do something for you, they did it for you. If they said I have this and it should go to you, and this is what his condition is, that’s, those were all, that was all a truism. We were very fortunate to live in that time. And a whole bunch of things happened during that time that could never, ever, ever happen again. When we moved from Rogers Park to Evanston, and our girls were growing up, Gail worked part time at an orthopedic surgeon’s office, but it was a time at Lincoln Park when we had outmoded and outdated facilities for great apes, primarily for chimps and for gorillas and the merit house in Evanston was an ancillary nursery for several years, for a handful of chimps, and more than a handful of gorillas that got there first six weeks or their first eight weeks, or a little more, being taken care of by just two of us, because my philosophy at the time was better to have one or two people taking care of an animal like that and getting to know the animal and its peculiarities, versus having a whole bunch of volunteers who were ready and available in a zoo nursery situation, to confound the insight into the animal’s behavior and into the animals’ needs. And so there are fond memories of all kinds of creatures being at the house during that time from new dad with a broken leg, to a black and white ruffed lemur who needed special care, single orangutan, several gorillas, as I said, and lots of chimpanzees. The assistant director at Lincoln Park Zoo left to become director of another zoo, opening that position.

01:30:17 - 01:30:33

Tell us about, you know, how that transpired and why did you decide to apply for the position and were you just the choice automatically, or were there other people within the zoo that wanted it or internationally that wanted it?

01:30:35 - 01:31:34

When the then assistant director went on to become director at another zoo, the position opened. And I don’t, as I look back on it, I really don’t know how it all happened. I don’t think I was the heir apparent. I think there were certainly would be interest from the outside. It was an enviable position because the zoo had some significant status and reputation then. There had been a lot of the staff that had gone on to become zoo alumni and had institutions of their own either in leadership or just under leadership positions. And I’m really unclear, I’m really unclear how it happened. I think in reflection, first of all, I’m very glad that it happened.

01:31:34 - 01:32:33

I’m glad I had the opportunity, but it did, as I alluded to earlier, it brought me one step further removed from the things that were most important to me, at least in the early part of my career. And I had to make that conscious decision about would this administrative position eliminate those possibilities that I had for the collection and for building the collection. And I think the answer to that is, yes, it did, but it was worth assuming the position, because then I could do things at a different level to improve zoo life, both at Lincoln Park and for its staff and all the way around, but also for the profession.

01:32:34 - 01:32:38

What were you thinking though, when you said I could improve?

01:32:38 - 01:32:45

So you had ideas or you had goals that you felt I can now further them and what were they?

01:32:47 - 01:34:24

Not so much stated goals or list of goals or something put on paper, but rather philosophical goals, attitudinal goals about how to treat the collection, how personnel would treat it, how people needed to be treated as individuals, how we could make the zoo a more inviting place to be, how to open it up to the community, to share the idea that the zoo was an island in the city. It was a refuge that anybody could come there literally at no charge whatsoever. And to enjoy stepping out of the city into this kind of island of vegetation and animal life, to lose themselves, to leave their worries and their troubles behind and to just enjoy the moment. So this wasn’t happening before, or it needed to be happening to a greater extent. In my opinion, it needed to happen to a greater extent. We needed to open ourselves as an institution, to the larger community, beyond what we were doing. And so we had a role to play primarily in education, but also we had a role to play in conservation, a role to make long-term commitments to both national, international programs in terms of animal management, in terms of the conservation of species. Were these conversations that you had with then Dr. Fisher, who was the director before you assumed the position.

01:34:26 - 01:34:35

Did he understand what you were going to want to try and do, or was he telling you what he needed for you to do in this new position?

01:34:35 - 01:36:36

I think when, I believe that when I interviewed for the position, he had a list of things that, he had a list of things for me, that for me, an individual, that he said, these are the things that I’d like us, which means you, to accomplish. And these are the things that we’re going to have to put aside in order to make those accomplishments. And so it was clear from the start that part of my day-to-day interaction with the collection was going to take second seat to the administrative responsibilities that he was giving me. And essentially the, essentially the assistant director was the director in the director’s absence and all of that and all that it entailed, which meant that it was a learning curve on my part to take on some things that I had only occasionally stepped into, public regulations, donors, soliciting donors, working with the zoo society to raise funds, in the director’s absence to give public speaking engagements, commitments to the community for a zoo, personal appearances, those sorts of things, which I had done some of, but there was a whole bunch more associated with that position. And it was during a time when the zoo was very visible, the zoo was trying to raise funds for additional capital campaign. The responsibilities were being shared across the board, and it was clear to me that that was something that I had to do as part of this position.

01:36:36 - 01:36:40

Was your relationship with Dr. Fisher the same?

01:36:40 - 01:36:48

That is, his management style continued to be what it was, was he, was there a different relation, kind of laugh.

01:36:48 - 01:36:55

So was there a different relationship because now you were in a new position, so it changed a bit or stayed the same?

01:36:55 - 01:38:55

I think our relationship, we always were good friends, we were colleagues. I took his daughters to Africa one year, we babysat for his house and his dog when they were away on trips, we had that kind of a relationship, but we were not truly friends in the typical way that one would characterize a relationship with another person. And it was almost as if, it was almost as if there was a line that I could not cross because, and I didn’t know what that line was, but I knew it was there, because that was his realm, that was his sphere of influence and activity. And that I shouldn’t dare go there because it would not be in my best interest. That became apparent during annual budget reviews and personnel discussions, financial decisions, particularly with interactions with the park district. And to the best of his ability, he tried to keep me out of those discussions so that he was the only one who actually knew what the details of things were. And I never quite understood that. There were times when he, there were times when I felt that he clearly believed that I was challenging him in one way or another, by what I had done or what I had not done.

01:38:55 - 01:39:09

And he would let me know in uncertain terms. And I think during my tenure as assistant director and then as the director of collections, he and I took probably two famous Lester walks.

01:39:09 - 01:39:18

And if Lester wanted to go for a walk with you, that it wasn’t good, but the Lester walk was, oh-oh, what do I do now?

01:39:18 - 01:39:25

And then you go back through your brainstem and you go, okay, what have I done?

01:39:25 - 01:40:54

And it usually was something that was not, it had nothing to do with anything that you thought that you were guilty of, it usually came from left field, and I never quite understood that relationship. For instance, one of the things that he was absolutely nutcase about was renewal of permits and payment of renewal of permits. And if one of those permit renewals was one millisecond late, he was on me like flies, literally, on manure. And I never could quite understood that, because I would do the paperwork and then it would sift its way through the system, either through the park district or through our own internal system, to see that it got filed, that the check got written and that got filed. And there was invariably, it didn’t make any difference if I started a year ahead of time, it would always be sort of last minute because it was always dollar-related in getting a check drawn, and he was absolutely insistent on that, and if we ever had any sharp words, it was related, it was related to his desire to have those things done faster than they could humanly be done. And didn’t wanna understand, or didn’t wanna know what the impediments to doing that was.

01:40:54 - 01:41:02

Did you still have the freedom that the other assistant directors before you had in the purchasing and the disposition of animals at the zoo?

01:41:02 - 01:42:36

Yes, I had all of the freedoms of the previous administration. The freedom that was a little questionable from time to time was that during the same time that I was assistant director, I was very active in the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. And he had been one of the founding members. I was essentially a non-director who was elected to the Board of Directors once. Then as a general curator was encouraged to go up through the ranks and I was told that I couldn’t, it was not in the institution’s best interest for me to work my way to the president of the association. And then several years later, I got back on the board, was in a similar position, they wanted me to make my way to be president of the association. And he was being kind, 100% dead set against it and said, you can’t assume that position, even if you’re elected to that position, if you’re elected to that position, this institution will not help you in any way, shape or form. You don’t have the title or the experience to assume that position of responsibility.

01:42:38 - 01:44:06

And I remember saying to him, with or without your help, I’m going to do everything that I can to assume that position, and I did. I did, and it was probably one of the most rewarding times of my life, and I don’t think he ever forgave me for it. I mean, even to this day, and I don’t understand why, because he never explained himself. And I always felt that it was in somehow, he conceived it as a threat, and I, you know, people who know me know that I am the least encountering person that you know in terms of threats, that I just like to get along and go along. But that was important to me because I had launched for the association, the species survival plan. I was very active in the national and international conservation arena outside of the zoo, as well as inside the zoo. It was a time of tremendous opportunity in terms of interaction with federal agencies. And I think, you know, jealousy would be too strong a word to use, but there definitely was a, I had crossed the line and I clearly had threatened something, whatever that threat was, but I’m not sorry I did it.

01:44:07 - 01:44:19

I’m not sorry I did it. I’m very pleased with the accomplishments that were made during my time on the AZA board and during that presidency.

01:44:19 - 01:44:28

And then we’ll talk more about that, but did you feel that that, were you still collegial though, in your day-to-day and things you had to do as a system director?

01:44:28 - 01:44:52

Oh, on a day-to-day basis, despite our differences, sometimes of opinion, we were, we had a job to do, we had a zoo to operate. We have funds to raise, we had programs to give, we had animals to manage, we had people to hire. Yes, we were, there were never was, I never felt uncomfortable. Our day-to-day interaction was very collegial.

01:44:54 - 01:45:03

When you first assumed the title of assistant director, was there any big concern looming that you had when you started the new position?

01:45:05 - 01:45:34

I don’t think in assuming the position of assistant director, I never gave it a second thought. I just thought it was a logical evolution of where I had been, where I’d come from, that I could use the skills that I had and just move on. I don’t think I ever questioned whether I was capable or competent to do whatever the task was, either specified or unspecified, that was before me. You mentioned that you now had new interactions.

01:45:34 - 01:45:42

One of that being with the zoo society, how did you specifically have to interact with them?

01:45:42 - 01:45:52

Was it at the level of use in the executive director, or was it things that you were told to do and you interacted with the zoo society?

01:45:53 - 01:46:42

I was in my interactions with the zoo society, I was pretty much guided on where I was to go, not so much what I was to do, but what the boundaries were, what the limits were, who I was to help and how I was to help them in terms of the zoo society being a friend of the zoo and being a significant supporter of the zoo. And I didn’t object to being guided at all, because for me, this was a new experience and I developed good friendships and relationships with people in this society, from the executive director on, down through the various, for the various specialties and departments. Now you talked about that there was budgets and there were these new capital improvements that were ongoing in the zoo.

01:46:44 - 01:46:56

Now as assistant director, did your role change in your participation in the budget process and setting priorities or in identifying new capital issues?

01:46:56 - 01:47:02

Or was there already this, I’ll say master plan, for lack of a better word, that was in place?

01:47:02 - 01:47:29

There was essentially, for capital improvements, there essentially was a master plan in place. And that was to the best of our ability and financial responsibility and with the resources we had was to improve how the living conditions for the animals of the facilities and the interpretation of the animals to the visiting public.

01:47:33 - 01:47:43

That pretty much was, you know, there was, there wasn’t a formal master plan on paper, but they were pretty much was what should the next project be?

01:47:43 - 01:47:45

What areas should we do next?

01:47:45 - 01:47:46

How should we do it?

01:47:51 - 01:47:53

What kind of exhibits are we going to have?

01:47:53 - 01:47:56

What kind of species are we going to show?

01:47:56 - 01:47:58

We’re gonna have the same ones, different ones.

01:47:58 - 01:48:03

And what are the implications for the zoo?

01:48:03 - 01:49:21

In terms of budget, Les would come back from the park district and would say, okay, this year, the park district has said that we need to have our budget cut by 10% or by 15% or 18%, whatever it was. And that the categories are essentially the same. Take a look at where we’ve spent money last year, where we need to spend money next year and see what we can do to accommodate their need as well as to grow, well, you can’t grow with, when you’re reducing your budget. He was in charge of salaries. He was in charge of salaries and benefits. And I had no purview in that arena at all. In all of the other areas, I was to propose a budget, justify a budget, and if need be, to go with him to testify or to present to our park district employers, to justify the need and that worked fairly effectively.

01:49:24 - 01:49:49

It must’ve been very heavy times doing all this improvement where other zoos didn’t even come close to what you were now being involved with from the time you were curator to this, was there a template of how you went about putting all of this together as these projects came to fruition when the money was there?

01:49:50 - 01:51:21

I don’t think we, I don’t think there was a template. I don’t believe there was a template in place for capital improvements. I think what happened is just simply evolved. So that park district architects, park district public relations people, contractors, general contractors, project managers, we kind of felt our way the first time, got to feel, got to feel what worked, what was comfortable, what was effective without spending a lot of money. And then with each succeeding project that we did, we tried to incorporate those same methodologies as in some cases the same people from the outside to help us accomplish our goal. And I think in the end, in the end, it was like wrote, we just knew what we needed to do. We had our meetings, we had decisions, we had discussions, we value and engineered a lot of projects that came in, programs that came in way over budget, but we value engineered them so that they could come within budget to what we had essentially in the bank and worked very effectively for the zoo, and for all of those of us involved on the team. Were any of these projects ones that you were a favorite where you said, this is great.

01:51:21 - 01:52:46

we’re gonna be doing this. It’s interesting, I think for me, no single project stands out as the project I wanted to put my thumb print on or to put my fingerprint on. I was more interested in updating, modernizing facilities, modernizing the holding the exhibit and the holding space for animals and modernizing what the animal caregivers, the animal keepers had in terms of their support facilities, as well as those things that were important to them. Did, during this time you were still involved with the keeper staff, working with the curatorial staff who was there, were there union issues and concerns that affected the development of the zoo or limitations or things that were moved at positively forward within the scope of a union and keepers working in union ever strike. I don’t remember, I don’t ever remember a strike. I mean, that could be a matter of our time and distance. I know we were sensitive to the union. We were sensitive in a sense that we didn’t do anything.

01:52:46 - 01:53:49

We didn’t do anything to antagonize the union. What we tried to do was accommodate the union’s needs or demands or suggestions before they were even suggested in terms of the caregiver staff. And by and large, this was handled above me in whatever political arena there was. We tried to always improve the staff, the collective staffs, the working conditions with every new project that we did, making their work not only more efficient, but easier and building new facilities, if you build them correctly, as we all know, I can’t accommodate that need. You indicated that the director, Dr. Fisher, at the time had certain boundaries that might’ve been onset.

01:53:51 - 01:53:58

Within the collection, how much latitude did you have in altering or changing the collection?

01:53:58 - 01:54:01

For example, I’ll use you as an example.

01:54:01 - 01:54:07

You probably didn’t change the great apes too much, but, or did you, what kind of latitude did you have?

01:54:07 - 01:54:12

Did you know what his direction was, or did he tell you?

01:54:15 - 01:55:39

The director’s wishes for the collection, were largely predetermined by the facilities that we built. So that, for instance, when we redid the large mammal area, we knew we were going to have a giraffe, an elephant and hippo and rhino and taper. And we built the spaces so that they were for a generic giraffe, for a generic taper. So it didn’t make a difference whether they came from Malaysia or whether it came from Central America, the space would accommodate it and all of those things. We were going to have rhinos for the first time and I can vividly recall our discussion. It wasn’t a discussion, it was an edict. He came into my office one day and he said, “Okay, we’re getting ready for the planning for the opening of a large mammal. And we don’t have rhinos.” And I said, “Well, we’re getting some pushback from the management group about black rhinos, which is what we wanted.

01:55:41 - 01:56:39

And I was one of the few times that he essentially looked me in the face and said, “I don’t care what kind of rhinos they are, but there will be rhinos in the exhibit when we dedicate that building, or there will be whatever to pay.” So I understood completely that I needed to do what I was doing anyway, there were just some delays and he wanted assurances that everything was going to be perfect. And in the end, as we all know, it worked out just fine. You got the rhinos. Got the rhinos, got the black rhinos. But you could have gotten any rhinos. He would have been okay with it. Oh, he would have been, totally okay as long as there was a rhinoceros in the rhinoceros exhibit for the opening. And you had indicated that when you started keeper staff was of a certain level, and that you were trying to improve things for them.

01:56:39 - 01:56:49

And at this time now as assistant director, had you achieved some of those goals were, was the keeper staff being upgraded in the hiring?

01:56:49 - 01:56:51

Was there better education?

01:56:52 - 01:58:22

They all could read and write now, I mean, what changed when you were assuming those responsibilities as assistant director. Over time, the keeper staff evolved just like the zoo evolved. The keepers that came to us were, they might still be political animals, but they were better informed, better educated, more inclined to come with knowledge about zoos and animals in zoos. There was a period of attrition where the older, seasoned experienced people moved along and the younger, more energetic, more informed keepers came along. And I think that was, it brought with it, several things. They had their own ideas about animals and how animals should be kept. They have their own ideas about what was something reasonable for them to do on a day-to-day basis in terms of their workload. And they had a very, they had no reluctance whatsoever to tell you how they felt about what was going on in the zoo and about animal management.

01:58:22 - 01:58:59

And the old timers didn’t do that. The old timers were more subtle. The old timers would just sort of take care of things unsaid, but with the new group more and more, it was, there were more people that were better educated, better informed, who had stronger opinions, good, bad, or indifferent who were willing to tell you exactly how they felt and why they felt that way. You talked about and mentioned, Ed Armendariz as the curator of reptiles and members of the staff. There were other members.

01:58:59 - 01:59:08

Can you give us just maybe some basic, kind of quick recollections that come to your mind of memorable characters within the zoo that you dealt with?

01:59:08 - 02:00:20

And I’m speaking specifically, there certainly could be others of Saul Kitchener, who was an assistant director who moved out, Pat Sass with the great apes or Ed Yanco or Joe McHale, or anybody that made an impression maybe you learned from, or they gave you a hard time, or was part of your education at Lincoln Park Zoo. Yeah, we’ll start with, excuse me. We’ll start with Saul. Saul came from Oklahoma City and he came with a wealth of private knowledge. He came with at a wealth of experience, he came with a psychology degree. He was get in there and get it done, kind of guy. He taught all of us. He taught all of us a different management style, a different way to look at the collection, particularly with primates, he was a tremendous asset for the zoo at the time that he was there because he brought something to us that we didn’t have.

02:00:22 - 02:01:58

Pat Sass, first woman keeper, need one say anything more. She broke the barrier. She broke the barrier in many different ways, but she allowed other women who followed her to assume a keeper position, a position of importance. Joel McHale, the senior keeper in a birdhouse was a full-time animal keeper and the senior keeper and a full-time animal dealer. Joe McHale taught me some things too, because when Joel McHale went away, he frequently asked me to take care of his animals, which were in the basement of his home in Rogers Park. And Joe could get things that other people couldn’t get. And I vividly recall penguins in his coal bin that were on their way to somewhere else, a banged wolf that lived in his basement that was on its way somewhere else. I remember one Saturday night, he banged on our door and said, “I got an animal I wanna show your girls.” And he brought in about a of five-month-old wild-caught cheetah that was as tame as anybody’s dog that you’ve ever known and brought it into the apartment.

02:01:58 - 02:03:45

And Gail ran out to get film for the cameras so that we could take pictures of it. And when she came back, the cheetah was in the playpen that was in the living room for our youngest, which she was absolutely horrified by, but we, he just did that. And one other time with Joe McHale, I remember him calling late at night and he said, he was practically in tears and he said, “I need your help.” And I said, “What’s the matter, Joe, is something wrong with your mother, something wrong with you?” He says, “No, I have an animal’s shipment at O’Hare and I need your help with it.” And I said, “Okay.” And he had an old checker cab that he had essentially gutted. That was his vehicle for both going back and forth to work as well as for picking up animals. And he picked me up, I went out in the alley, he picked me up and he was really down shot. And I said, “What’s the problem?” He said, “I ordered from Malaysia 12 coconut-eating crabs.” And we all know the coconut-eating crabs had not been a zoo collections and they’re huge animals. I mean, huge, and they literally do eat coconuts because they have the capability, their claws are so large that they can crack open coconuts. And I said, “So what’s the problem?” He said, “They sent me 12 adult, male, crab-eating macaques, and I can’t handle them alone.” And so we went to O’Hare and we picked up not coconut-eating crabs, but crab-eating macaques.

02:03:46 - 02:05:14

And then one other Joe McHale story. My last Joel McHale story, he called one time and he says, “I’m gonna give you a life experience.” I said, “Joe, you always do.” He said, “No, you’ve gotta go to the airport with me.” And I said, “Okay.” Then he said, “Here, hold on to this bag.” And I looked in the bag and there were kosher hotdogs and there were large shrimp. And he said, “Keep it down there with your foot by the heater so that thaws by the time we get to the airport, we’re gonna feed some animals and we’re gonna transship them. So I’m gonna grab the animals, you’re gonna feed them. Then we’re gonna put them back in their crates and then they’re gonna be transshipped.” And I said, “Okay, are you go tell me what that?” No, he says it would spoil the fun. So we get there and there are half a dozen crates, about four feet tall, about two foot on a side. He opened pops the top off of the first one and reaches in and grabs an out he comes, lower jaw in one hand, upper jaw in the other, shoe bill storks, which at that time had never entered the United States or had entered only years before from the Sudan. And he said, “Okay, shove a handful of hotdogs and a handful of shrimp down its throat and then get your hand out of the way, ’cause I’m going to close it’s bill and we’re gonna do this for the next six.” And that’s what we did.

02:05:14 - 02:05:27

And that was my introduction to shoe bill storks, an animal that I had never even seen in a moving picture, motion picture, let alone in life, that was Joe.

02:05:30 - 02:05:40

Would you just speak briefly about your encounter with one other keeper, Eddie Yanco, and how that was part of the whole keeper staff that you had to deal with?

02:05:40 - 02:06:20

Eddie Yanko was, was, probably still is, is Eddie still, I don’t know whether he’s still alive or not, but Eddie was a very smart, he was intuitive. Eddie took care of the small antelopes. He took care of the small antelopes. He took care of speaks and grants and tommy gazelles, I think wildebeest from time to time and some other things. And he was very good at what he did because he knew to move slowly, he knew to talk to the animals, he knew exactly what he needed to do to keep the animals calm. But on the other hand, Eddie was also Mr. Cotton guy.

02:06:22 - 02:06:31

I remember going through one time and I said to him, “Eddie, why are the oranges cut in half?

02:06:33 - 02:07:18

And why are the oranges with their cut end down on the floor?” And he said, “Oh, because that’s the way they like them.” I said, “Well, what do you mean that’s the way they like them?” He says, “That’s the way they eat them. So I always put them that way.” I said, “Okay.” And then there were times when you couldn’t find Eddie, he was off doing an errand or whatever. And it turns out Eddie had a sleeping place in the attic of the small antelope barn. And later on, I found by careful, Sherlock Holmes investigation by turning one of the oranges over that he would eat the oranges before he would put them in with the antelopes, which is why the oranges were upside down.

02:07:23 - 02:07:30

As assistant director, was there any time that you said to yourself, why did I take this position?

02:07:30 - 02:08:44

Was there some big headache, toughest problem that you just stood back and said, “Why am I doing this?” If there ever was a time when I questioned what I was doing and why I was still doing it at Lincoln Park, it had to do with personnel difficulties. But I think by and large, there was, I, I never had reason to pause. I know that I had opportunities to go to other institutions. I remember being courted, but in the end, I always came back to Lincoln Park was my home, it was the place essentially where I’d grown up. It was the place where I’d applied my skills. It was the place that had taught me, a place that had made me better than I was when I went through the door. And I had a certain allegiance or loyalty to the institution, good, bad or indifferent. You indicated that Dr. Fisher would essentially allow you to make changes in the collection, generally speaking, you had done a lot of work with edentates.

02:08:44 - 02:08:57

Did it ever, did you ever feel that yes, I can now get the animals that I couldn’t get before in this particular group or others now that I’m in a position to make those decisions?

02:09:00 - 02:09:57

Animal acquisition, particularly animals that I was interested in, it with adequate justification either as Jean Harts or to Saul, or to Les, if I had thought it out, if I had sought it out and I had justification for acquisition, they would pretty, I don’t ever remember anybody saying, “No, you can’t do that” or “You shouldn’t do that.” I don’t ever remember, I don’t ever remember an animal species that we wanted to, I or we wanted to incorporate in the collection, that was an immediate thumbs down response. And so we were very blessed in that sense, because there were a lot of other institutions that had measures in place that would keep one from doing that. As assistant director, you had these different responsibilities.

02:09:57 - 02:10:07

Were you thrown into the arena of dealing with animal rights groups, or was that even a consideration when you were assistant director of the zoo?

02:10:07 - 02:12:09

Oh, animal rights were very much the zoo’s agenda and on the association’s agenda. We very definitely were thrown into the animal rights arena. There were several significant animal rights demonstrations across the country at zoos. I remember at World Breeding 3 Conference in San Diego, there was a significant effort by an animal rights group to literally prevent the delegates from participating in the meeting. And that all the forces of the city of San Diego were brought the bear, including mounted policemen to keep them from interfering so that when they crash, literally crash the gate to get into the conference grounds, that the local mounted patrol, when they opened the bus doors to let the activists out, literally walk the horses up into the bus so that the activists couldn’t get out. That was repeated to city after city, I don’t remember at Lincoln Park any major confrontation. There were things from time to time that would hit at us. I remember that I particularly, during my time on the AZA board, I was not going to defer to them because we all knew that a lot of their anti-zoo sentiment and anti-zoo activities were related, not so much about the concern for animals, but rather for a way to build membership, a way to get on the front page, a way to get into the media, a way to make themselves more important than they were.

02:12:09 - 02:13:06

And I felt personally and professionally that that was, I wasn’t gonna let that happen. And so on a couple of occasions, once I remember during a Elephant Manager’s Congress in California, where I appeared as the representative AZA, that’s the president of the board, I took on an activist group. And I remember in a couple of local situations where I was vocal about their justification for their activities. And to this day, I understand where some of the thinking is coming from, but I don’t agree with all of it.

02:13:07 - 02:13:18

And did you have, were you tasked with responsibility at the zoo for dealing with the media and major issues as they came up?

02:13:19 - 02:13:22

Or was that something that went to the director?

02:13:22 - 02:14:16

Well, it always went to the director. It always went to the director, unless it was too hot to handle. It always went to the director if it was going to be positive, it was always going to the director if it was, something would put the zoo in a good image. I and others, that were from time to time called upon to do what were generally distasteful interviews. Most of them related to the television media, related to their attempts as similar to the animal rights activists to gain station rankings. And usually it was during a time when it was during sweeps week, when you stirred up a controversy and you tried to go after it to make your station more visited or more watched than another.

02:14:16 - 02:14:18

Any stories that come to mind?

02:14:18 - 02:15:33

Oh, sure, absolutely. Give me one. Absolutely, my worst encounter, taught me life lesson about how you can be set up to this day. I’ve tracked back about seven, eight civit, but there’s one eight that’s missing. I was tasked with the charge of talking to a investigative reporter from a local television channel who was investigating the dispersal of animals from Lincoln Park Zoo to undesirable places. The only kind thing I can say about the person was that he was loathsome. They did everything they could possibly do to antagonize me, including accidentally knocking everything off my desk while they were setting up for the interview, running out of tape halfway through the interview. And they actually hadn’t taped anything until they got to the point that they wanted to, and to doing the age old trick of handing over blank pieces of paper for your investigation, let’s say you did thus and so with thus and so on this date, and this is what happened to those animals.

02:15:33 - 02:16:52

And I had been coached by the public relations person at the zoo. I didn’t have a choice about whether to do this interview or not, there was nobody else who was going to do it. If, and in hindsight, if I had been smart, what I would have done is I would have all of a sudden had an attack of appendicitis or something when they showed up at the zoo. It got the channel the coverage that it wanted. I probably didn’t have any alternative to what I did about, I didn’t come off as professional as I should have, because I wasn’t trained, I wasn’t coached. And I think I was set up not only by the television station, but I think by others for that interview. And I can verify some of it and some that I can’t, it came off very badly. The only satisfaction that I have is that after sweeps week and they swept the market is that that investigative reporter went to some rum down town in Southern California and became a weatherperson.

02:16:52 - 02:17:35

So I think in a way I got my revenge. So there was a life lesson learned for you. Absolutely absolutely a life lesson learned professionally. And that is even if you know what you’re talking about, even if you think you are as best prepared as you can, even if you’re taking the high and mighty, you should avoid those kinds of confrontation with mass media. And I have successfully since. Talking about conservation, in 1980, you were appointed the chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the edentate specialist group.

02:17:37 - 02:17:39

How did that appointment come about?

02:17:39 - 02:17:49

Were you able to then do things in an arena you hadn’t been able to do it at Lincoln Park and was this just a ceremonial thing or did you actually have to do something?

02:17:49 - 02:18:38

Oh, I actually had to do something, when the IUCN calls, they ask you to volunteer to do things. And essentially my task for the edentate specialist group was to get together with like-minded and experienced sloth, anteater, and Armadillo researchers, zoo people, scientists, and to develop an evaluation system, to identify which of these species were threatened, were endangered, which needed conservation activities, which needed fundraising and to come to some consensus and to develop a plan for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to use as part of their programs.

02:18:40 - 02:18:44

Were you able to make changes or recommendations as the chair?

02:18:44 - 02:18:48

I mean, did you have power to direct this group and is that what you wanted to do?

02:18:49 - 02:19:39

I believe that the chair’s responsibility then, as it should be now, is to gain a consensus, to take input from different sources and to mold it or shape it by consensus to a viable plan that can be carried out, in a sense, I had the final say, but I never viewed that position as my way or the highway. I was more interested in trying to develop a plan that we actually could carry out over the course of time. Were you, you we’ve talked about animal rights, but community involvement is important.

02:19:39 - 02:19:51

Obviously Lincoln Parks who needed it, and you had a neighborhood zoo, did you have to be involved with the community in any of these things to bring them closer to the zoo?

02:19:51 - 02:19:58

Are there projects that you either developed or had to follow through on that involved the community and were they important?

02:20:00 - 02:21:42

I, and thinking about community interaction and the larger audience beyond the zoo itself, the only time that I can think of community involvement was when I put together information for other people to use. I never really either had the opportunity or had the assignment to interact at that community level. From a larger community, from a zoo society membership standpoint, from an annual meeting standpoint, from gatherings of the society, I was called upon a couple of times in Dr. Fisher’s absence to make presentations related to the zoo and the zoo animals. And the one I remember the the most vividly, and the one that I really enjoyed was a presentation. I stood in for him because he was out of the country and I stood in it for him in an annual meeting on the grounds of the zoo. A lot of people, several hundreds, if not more. And I talked about the zoo’s collective efforts to import and to begin a conservation program for Asiatic or Indian or juror lions. And I recently ran across a copy of those remarks that I presented at that gathering.

02:21:44 - 02:21:53

And when I finished reading my remarks, I essentially said to myself, “Who is this guy?

02:21:54 - 02:21:55

Who wrote this?

02:21:55 - 02:22:46

Where did this come from?” And then I put it in the context of where we all were as a staff, and where we all were as a profession, and realized that that was probably one of the most significant, significant activities in terms of animals, it certainly was larger, one of the larger ones in terms of larger mammals, that the zoo had done and what an impact it had both nationally and internationally, but also locally so that the zoo society could sort of puff up a little bit, puff up a little bit, be proud of what their zoo had accomplished with this species, which was a very visible species, which was in serious trouble in its native lands. Well, give me a little background.

02:22:46 - 02:22:48

Tell me about it, how did that occur?

02:22:48 - 02:22:50

What was your role in it?

02:22:50 - 02:23:32

These are lions, they seem very common. Well, lions are lions, except today they aren’t as common as they used to be. But Asiatic lions are restricted to a particular forest in the Indian sub-continent. They’re essentially hemmed in on all sides, either by an ocean or by human development and habituation. They’re a species that is different than African lions. They look different or they have kind of a skull depression in the center of their forehead. It looks like a piece of their forehead is missing. Their manes are not as complete.

02:23:32 - 02:24:41

Their hair coat is a little different. They tend to be thinner, not as heavy, they don’t in nature, they don’t behave as African lions do, but that may have been a function of what human interference was their habitats. And they were viewed as a threat to local communities because they weren’t so much, you know, as the horror movies like to say, man killers, they were livestock killers. And they were in competition with people who essentially had subsistent living and they were on the decrease. And so we made arrangements internationally to acquire animals, to begin to have at Lincoln Park, the first institution, a small family group of these animals, and to disperse offspring to other institutions in a cooperative management plan for this Asiatic form of lion, which was rapidly disappearing in its native habitat.

02:24:43 - 02:24:44

Was it a successful program?

02:24:44 - 02:24:46

Does it continue today?

02:24:46 - 02:25:38

Oh, I think that it was one of the most successful programs that we, except for spectacle bears was one of the most successful programs that we took on. We had a long list of cooperators. We produced many offspring. The program was very successful and it was successful for quite some time until the same thing that I referred to earlier happened. And that is people in other institutions lose interest or there’s other priorities or there’s species that they feel need more attention than that one. And so over time, it went by the wayside. The situation in the juror forest is somewhat better in 2016 than it was then. There actually is a national park.

02:25:38 - 02:26:05

There actually is some provisioning of lions. There actually are some agreements of, there is so much competition between people who live there and the animals that live there. And I would say that at least during our lifetime, their future is secure in nature. Although it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for some European institution to take on Asiatic lions again.

02:26:06 - 02:26:15

You talked about, you had an involvement and we’ll get to it in more detail, but with AZA, how did that involvement first start?

02:26:18 - 02:28:02

I think that my involvement with AZA probably started with my volunteering for committee service and their understanding what my philosophy was, as well as what my training had been and my abilities. And it was a question then of taking advantage of resources. If you have volunteers who have like any other volunteer organization, if you have volunteers who have specialized skills that you can utilize to their maximum, then you go ahead and do that. I served on the wildlife management, Conservation Wildlife Management committee as a chair, as a committee member for several years, became vice chair and then became chair. And it was at a time when the zoos were largely impacted by a lot of regulatory agencies, and not the least of which was the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. And for a while, we were essentially archenemies, zoos were no good as far as the Fish and Wildlife Service were concerned. And the zoo’s view towards the Fish and Wildlife Service was you’re nothing but, you’re an impediment to our conservation activities and to our development. And so early on in my chairmanship of that committee, an opportunity presented itself that I latched on to, and that was the Fish and Wildlife Service found itself in a unique position.

02:28:02 - 02:30:09

It needed to do something about the Mexican Wolf and increasing numbers of Mexican wolves. And the animals were essentially going extinct in the wild. They had to rely on captive reproduction as they have, since then till now, to bolster populations. And so I convince the AZA board that they should send me, as chairman of the Wildlife Conservation Management Committee to the Mexican Wolf meeting that was held in Tucson, Arizona. And it had representatives from the country of Mexico, from the states of New Mexico, from the states of Arizona, from the Fish and Wildlife Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife biologists from the individual states and from the country of Mexico, and I was the AZA representative. And over the course of about a year, largely with the help of largely with the help of the head of the department, natural resources in New Mexico, we developed a plan that heavily relied on captive propagation of Mexican wolves to ultimately be released into a former habitat as an endangered species that needed handling. And as part of that, we made a decision collectively and individually that we would hire a former Fish and Wildlife Service trapper, by the name of Roy McBride, who would go out and would trap remaining Mexican wolves in the Chihuahua Mountains, in Mexico, in Northern Mexico. And Roy to the best of my recollection, and he was a joy to be was something out of an old Western.

02:30:09 - 02:31:41

He showed up in spurs and boots and worn jeans and a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. And it was a this and that and it was a char tobacco, but there was nobody alive who could catch wild animals like Roy could catch, because he had like 20 years with the Fish and Wildlife Service as somebody who was hired to exterminate predators. And I remember somewhere along in one of the meetings, he said, “You know, I never believed I’d go from hunting them to catching them. I’d go from a hunter to a conservationist, isn’t this a wonderful life?” And it really was, and so that was the first, and I had to justify to the AZA board. And it was no easy task, ’cause there are a bunch of old curmudgeons then, 1980, there were some real curmudgeons there, that we should embrace this relationship with the Fish and Wildlife Service and demonstrate that we could be partners, not necessarily antagonists. And it worked, it worked well for the Mexican Wolf, it worked for the association, it worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service. It began a new era of understanding and cooperation. And I am most proud of sticking to my guns and trying to squeeze enough money out of the association to send me to that first meeting.

02:31:41 - 02:31:54

And after that first meeting, I didn’t have to worry about funding ’cause I was part of the team. So this association with AZA had its benefits for the conservation.

02:31:56 - 02:32:04

Is it at then, do you think members avail themselves of the advantages of being AZA members?

02:32:04 - 02:32:09

Did you then, or only when you became associated with AZA at national level?

02:32:10 - 02:33:13

I think the benefits, I believe the benefits of the then AZA were different than the benefits of the now AZA. The benefits then were that you were all in a common, you all had those similar problems. You all were in it together, you took care of each other. You looked out for each other, you shared information, you were experienced. There was nobody who could know more than you, but that was during the animal era. And then the profession has evolved so that it is no longer the animal era. It’s an era, it’s no longer as somebody characterized it to me recently, it’s not, it’s no longer a profession. It’s the industry.

02:33:14 - 02:34:32

And when the AZA changed from being a profession, to being an industry, a lot of things changed. And one of those was, you take care of me, I’ll take care of you, your word is your bond. And we worked collaboratively and cooperatively to a common good. I think that’s true for some things today but very much has gotten to be an individual institution takes care of the individual institution because it’s the need to survive. It’s the need to generate revenue. It’s the need to hold a position in an individual community. And so the animal portion of it, which was so important to us, all who were growing up then has kind of taken a back seat to some of the other activities, not only of zoos, but also of the profession. As you were moving through your career at Lincoln Park Zoo, was your philosophy evolving and changing.

02:34:32 - 02:34:43

And can you kind of talk about it if you can, about animals and zoos and conservation and species survival, was there an arc there?

02:34:43 - 02:34:44

And so what was it?

02:34:45 - 02:35:59

Well, the species survival plan came out of, came out of, a species survival plan was AZA’s first organized conservation effort. And it was mandated by the outgoing president, Ed Murrow Scott. He said, zoos need to do something for conservation. We need a plan, we need a species list. We need a set of criteria for identifying the species to go on the list and zoos need to voluntarily, cooperatively, manage these populations in captivity as a conservation management activity, we have to do this, this is our responsibility. And so I, along with the then conservation committee, Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee, were charged with developing the criteria, developing a preliminary list of species that needed assistance, set forth obligations to responsibilities of cooperating institutions. And it was all being done on a voluntary basis. It was all institutions cooperating with one another now for the good of the animals.

02:36:00 - 02:37:06

And we did that and it was launched. It actually was launched at the Chicago annual meeting here in Chicago at the annual meeting, AZA meeting. And I’ll never forget Bill Conway saying, as we sat in skull sessions, the original name, the original name was going to be the master breeding program. And in all candor, he said, it sounds much too much like masturbation, and I know the press would love it, but it isn’t gonna do us any good. We need to develop something else. So that’s where the species survival plan came from. There were a lot of people who provided input to that plan and to that program, the best minds in a sense of the profession at the time made contributions and it was launched and was, and continues to be a successful. And one of the most successful programs the association has ever had.

02:37:07 - 02:38:05

At times now in your new, well, in the position of assistant director, were there animals that you said, I wanna get involved with this, we’re not doing anything with, whether it be conservation or personal interest or, you know, knowledge of that they needed more information about them. Were there any group of animals you said, well, let me steer it this way. Small mammals, tropical small mammals, especially tropical small mammals from Latin America. They got a short shrift. They were very interesting, they were very attractive as, there were very attractive as exhibit animals. They were very attractive as education animals. And that was a group that we particularly took on. And there were other staff members who were equally interested.

02:38:05 - 02:38:35

So we took it on as a kind of institutional interest group. And we worked with others around the country particularly with the national zoo and others to develop the collection, to publish, to share information and to share animals so that it no longer was just Lincoln Park doing a particular species, but we would work cooperatively with other zoos so that they had some of the benefits of our experience.

02:38:38 - 02:38:46

When at what time in your professional career, did you begin your association with DePaul University?

02:38:46 - 02:38:50

Was it during this time as assistant director or did it come later?

02:38:52 - 02:39:32

My association with DePaul University kind of was a fortuitous. When I went back to get my PhD, I went back because it was a unique opportunity. A guy I’d gone to high school with, played basketball with during high school was the then who was a PhD, was the then recruiter for the Department of Biology at the University of Illinois in Chicago. And he called one day and said, you know, I know you got a master’s. He says, and I know you’ve got some hours over.

02:39:32 - 02:39:35

And he says, you got any interest in doing a PhD?

02:39:35 - 02:41:08

And he says, you know, you can pick your topic and you can, I don’t know, you can do whatever you want. He said, it won’t cost you anything, he said, but it will be a huge benefit to me because it’s a kudo for me, it’s stripes on my shoulder. He said, because if I recruit you into our PhD program, he says, it will generate for the university more than $150,000 in benefits. And I laughed and said, “You gotta be kidding.” And he said, “No, because not because we’re doing this for you, ’cause you’re really doing it for us.” He said, “You will be assuming you’re still employed, when you finish this PhD. You will be an employed professional in your demonstrated field. And we can say that you’re employed because of us because of the PhD.” And so I went back literally full-time, part-time, I have no idea how I ever did that for three years, I had to take a minimum of courses. I already had my dissertation topic chosen because I had been doing some field work in Panama, particularly in Panama with Central American agaouti, a ground dwelling rodent. I had done some field observations and it was just a question of formalizing what needed to be done to shape it into a dissertation.

02:41:08 - 02:42:03

So instead of spending five years or spending seven years as most do, because I had a head start on it, and because I had an empathetic ecologist advisor at the university, he and I agreed to three years. And at the end of three years, my field work would be done. All the questions would be answered. I would have written my dissertation and defended it successfully. And in the end it worked out well, there was, that was also one of the other times that Les Fisher sort of put his foot down and said, “I’m not gonna tell you, you can’t do that, but you got no flexibility here at all. Or you still have to do all of your responsibilities here. You have to do all of your time commitment. You have to do all of that stuff.

02:42:03 - 02:43:03

And if you take it on, you’re taking it on yourself because we can’t, it’ll interfere with your job. We can’t, you’re setting a precedent. This is not a good precedent for staff here.” So I said, okay, I’ll do whatever I needed to do. So essentially, during that time, we gathered what was called F time for overtime work, which was free time, which was time you could use yourself. So I used my accumulated significantly accumulated F time when I needed to, during the day, I would go to the few classes that I had to go to, one on biological statistics, which I still remember to this day, one on research methods and a third one, which didn’t amount to anything in terms of difficulty. But I would go to school, join the ranks of my fellow candidates. I was the oldest of the group. We were a mixed bag.

02:43:03 - 02:43:46

Somebody was studying quaker parakeets. Somebody was studying flower beetles. Somebody was studying tree growth. It was a wonderful collaboration. We were all in the same lab. And I would use my free time, and I worked for that three years. I essentially worked every weekend and every holiday with very few exceptions to make up for whatever time I took away from my time at the zoo. It was not discussed, it wasn’t open.

02:43:47 - 02:44:23

It was just one of those things that we didn’t really negotiate. It was just one of those things that worked out. Les said you gotta do your job, I did my job. Les said, you can’t have the time, I had the time. So I used my time, it was very effective. I’m glad that I essentially, against all odds, I did it. I completed it first of all, because of the contribution to the natural history and behavior of agoutis, but also gave me a different way to think. I think one of my incentives was I need a different way to think.

02:44:23 - 02:45:50

I need to be able to look at questions or problems or unknowns, particularly in science and then consequently in life in a different way than I had in the past. And the PhD did that for me, both because of my exposure to people that were in the same program with me, the instructors, the teachers, the professors that I had, the leadership in the labs there, and the work that it caused me to do, I have absolutely no regrets and all of the education that I’ve gotten from the time that I started in high school, I had to pay my way through high school, work to pay my way through high school, ’cause it was a private school, to the University of Rochester, where I had a job that helped me get tuition free to the University of Illinois. All of that, all of my undergraduate work, my master’s work, as well as my PhD was all done part time. And it was done during a time when I was gainfully employed, I was a father and a husband. We had family responsibilities and I wouldn’t have done it any differently because it might not work for everybody. It might not work for anybody, but it worked for me. And I think I appreciate the opportunities I have and have had because of that.

02:45:51 - 02:45:58

Let me just see if I’m, you said University of Illinois, but are we saying University of Illinois or DePaul?

02:45:58 - 02:46:07

No, I got my PhD, my PhD came from the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution.

02:46:07 - 02:46:15

And then back to your, back to the original thought or the original question was how did you form your association with DePaul?

02:46:15 - 02:47:12

About the time that I completed my PhD and I didn’t think I was any different, but it made a difference to some people and made people, it made a difference to a lot of people but I have no idea why, I still got up in the morning, same way, brush my teeth, put the same clothes on, did the same things. But DePaul was looking for someone in the biology department to teach courses that weren’t normally offered. And so they put out a, essentially an ad that says, we’re looking for instructors, instructors for ideas, for unique courses. And so I called and I went over and I talked to the then chairman of the department, Dr. (indistinct) and I said, I’m really interested in this. I said, I really like to teach a course to upper level undergraduates about animal adaptations.

02:47:12 - 02:47:15

How do animals fit into their environment?

02:47:16 - 02:47:19

How do animals mesh with their environment?

02:47:19 - 02:48:10

And I said, and I’d like to use my experience at the zoo as well as my field research. And he said, okay, put a syllabus together, put a course proposal together, get it back to me. Let me take a look at it. We’ll talk about it in the department, and we’ll see where we go with that. And I think that was along about 1990 and I taught during the winter quarter at DePaul and offered that, and it was a sellout. It was the largest class and it still is the largest class the biology department offers without a lab. It always I’ve been teaching it since then with only one year of interruption because of AZA responsibilities. It’s always more than 50.

02:48:10 - 02:48:32

They’re always upperclassmen or graduate students. It’s changed very little in terms of the basic premise of animal adaptations. But obviously it’s changed because the resources are so much more available to us now than they were all that time ago.

02:48:34 - 02:48:47

Do you think that that now is helping your teaching of this as a significant force in conservation or what are you trying to impart to your students?

02:48:47 - 02:50:28

Well, I’m trying to impart to my students that are nature challenged and technologically savvy, that there’s a whole world out there, that in order to be a biologist, you don’t have to be in a lab and wear a lab coat, that there’s a whole other world out there that’s ready for investigation. And by what I share with them, both in terms of the media, as well as personal experiences, as well as realia, both living and dead that I bring to class, I show them that there’s another way. And I continue to teach it because I get feedback from students who never realized that it was possible to be gainfully employed in the biological sciences, except for research in a lab or using equipment and wearing a lab coat. And so for me, that’s been particularly satisfying. And of course the thing that I bring to it, which could you just bring students to me is, is that I can share life experiences with them, sort of some of the sort of things that we’ve talked about here today, stories, interactions with animals, field experiences that are firsthand experiences. They’re not something that’s on a YouTube video. They’re the written word. It’s somebody who actually breathed that lived it.

02:50:28 - 02:51:34

And I presume you do give advice, but what kind of advice would you give a student interested in the career working with animals are at a zoo society or the zoo, what would you say to them. I’d say to them all complete your degree. In this day and age to be in the zoological profession, you probably need to have not just a bachelor’s degree, but also a master’s, if not more. There are more specialized opportunities than there ever have been. There are computer needs, there’s record needs. There’s veterinary needs, there’s veterinary support needs. There’s all kinds of opportunities. Get your education, take whatever internships you can take, volunteer in animal-related positions, do as much as you can do to demonstrate, first of all, what your interest is real to yourself and then to the profession and to the end it kind of is remarkable that it just happened.

02:51:34 - 02:52:34

Within the last week, I got an electronic message from a former student who was very interested in being involved in zoos and wanted to be an animal keeper or an animal caregiver. She didn’t care where it was, this was her life dreams. I encouraged her, we talked in and out of classes because by that time I was teaching several classes at the university and she wrote from Columbus, Ohio, where she went after she graduated last year to join her boyfriend. She got an internship, a non-paid insurance ship at the Columbus Zoo, and recently has gotten a paid summer position. And she essentially wrote and said, “I’m living my dream. I always thought that this was what I wanted to do. Thank you for our conversations. Thank you for all of the encouragement that you gave me.

02:52:34 - 02:52:59

Whenever I was down, you always came along and gave me a boot.” And she said, “I’m really living my dream.” And she said, “I’m hoping that at the end of summer, that they will find me invaluable and give me a full-time position.” And I wrote back and said, “No doubt, they will.” In 1992, you became director. Your title changed director of animal collections.

02:52:59 - 02:53:04

Was this new position or was it again the title change?

02:53:07 - 02:54:13

That’s an interesting question about 1992, 1992 was about the time that Dr. Fisher announced his retirement and the zoo was soliciting or about to solicit candidates to replace him. I was very happy to have the title. I was, it was a title change and it also was a benefits change. I got, I received additional salary. I got additional benefits. I don’t think my responsibilities changed any, except that it put more emphasis on administration versus the animal collection. Because by 1992, the collection was formalized. Processes were in place, we had a blooming conservation department.

02:54:13 - 02:54:56

There was all kinds of dispersal of both responsibility and power. And it pretty much was clear to me with that title change that I probably wasn’t going to be considered for director, because it was like, I don’t know what the right word is. It was like a quid pro pro. It was like, well, we’re gonna make some changes here. We would like you to continue to lead our animal collection. And we’re seeking new leadership for the institution.

02:54:56 - 02:54:59

Who gave you the title change, Dr. Fisher?

02:54:59 - 02:55:53

Yes. But you did apply the job of director when he left. I applied for the job for director when he left, as he was leaving, as they were interviewing candidates. And I did that because not so much because I wanted the directorship of the zoo, as I wanted to look out for the people who were there, who were important to me because I knew privatization was coming, I knew privatization was on the horizon. That’s why. So title change essentially, same responsibilities. You, whoever the candidates were, a candidate is chosen to become the new zoo director.

02:55:55 - 02:55:57

What was the relationship like?

02:55:58 - 02:56:00

With the new director, Kevin Bell?

02:56:00 - 02:56:29

No, with the new director that came in after Dr. Fisher. Oh, with the new director after Dr. Fisher left Oh, ha, antagonistic. The man was completely unqualified for the position that he was awarded. It was almost an insult to the professional staff of the zoo that it essentially was a political appointment was made.

02:56:31 - 02:56:37

Did he, I mean, did you continue to do your job responsibilities?

02:56:37 - 02:57:28

I continued to try to do my job responsibilities, but I was for ever being interrupted or interfered with, because there were so many things that he didn’t know nor know how to deal with them. And so I was, come with me we’re going to the park district, come with me, we’re going to a zoo society meeting, come with me, we’re going to a donor meeting, come with me, I want you to do thus and so. So I was more his personal assistant, which he was used to, than I was assistant director or director of collections at the zoo. And that tenure of that particular individual was not a long tenure.

02:57:28 - 02:57:38

And after he left the zoo, they again, did another search or did they go just within the organization?

02:57:38 - 02:57:42

And were you still interested in the job?

02:57:42 - 02:58:11

I do not know, I can honestly say that I don’t know whether a national search was done after his departure. I can tell you that I was less than enthusiastic about applying for the position, because I could see the handwriting on the wall in terms of how the zoo would change from what it was in the past to what it would be in the future.

02:58:13 - 02:58:15

But you did apply for the position?

02:58:15 - 02:58:33

I did make my interests known, but I wasn’t, I was mediocre about it. There was another individual within the staff that became, or was elevated to the zoo director position.

02:58:34 - 02:58:36

What was that relationship like?

02:58:36 - 02:58:40

And then how did that affect your long-term goals?

02:58:41 - 02:59:49

Well, when Kevin Bell was promoted to, was appointed director, I think initially not much changed between the two of us. I mean, essentially we went from being comrades and colleagues to comrades and colleagues, except that he was then in charge. I was kind of a reversal of roles, but there were no extraordinary or exceptional demands made on me different than had been made in the past. And I think our relationship at least to start was fairly good, but then it became obvious that the board and hence the zoo’s director had shifted direction and that there would be the zoo would be reshaped. And that there was no sense of history. There’s a sense, this was the new zoo in a very real sense, and that we’re moving forward from this moment, and that there is no significance to the history of this institution. This institution will be reflected in its future.

02:59:50 - 03:00:13

So your long-term goals then were they changing, or were you thinking now that you weren’t going to be the director, there was a new person in charge that in the, as you said, that things were going in a different direction that you wanted to continue onward, or you felt that you had done what you could do for the institution?

03:00:16 - 03:01:49

I, at the time of the appointment, I don’t know whether I was relieved or disappointed. And I say that honestly, on one hand, I thought I deserved to be the director of the zoo because I had invested 25 years or so of my life in the institution. And so I deserved serious consideration. I was taken aback somewhat by his appointment, but it didn’t surprise me because he had a different relationship with Les Fisher, especially with Les Fisher than any of the rest of us did. And I don’t think it made any difference to me at all, who was in the helm. I was happy doing what I was doing, what turned me, I mean, what made me say, “This is not good. I got to get outta here,” was when the new personnel manager came on and she, and I would sit in sessions with employees that I know knew firsthand, knew their children, had watched them growing up. I had cried with them, had laughed with them, had worked alongside of them, or unceremoniously dismissed, not through any fault of their own, but purely as an economy, our needs are different today, your services are no longer needed here.

03:01:49 - 03:02:34

And that was done in a very cold and calculating way. And I was forced to be in a position to be the senior staff person who sat with the personnel manager and had to look these people in the face and to say to them, “We don’t need you here anymore. Thank you very much for your service, goodbye, pack up your things and goodbye.” And then I realized that the ethics in a sense, the ethics, the morals of the life of the institution was changing in a direction that I didn’t wanna have anything to do with. And so I think it was, I think I was in place six, maybe eight months after privatization.

03:02:34 - 03:02:39

About the time I was having these second thoughts about what’s your future at this institution?

03:02:41 - 03:04:11

(indistinct) made me the offer to come on as his conservation and environmental advocate and to take on increased administrative, as well as academic responsibility at university. And I was reborn in a very real sense because I was freed of all of the disagreeable or the unpalatable of both ongoing as well as what I could project for the future at the zoo. And so for me, it was not difficult to leave. It was difficult to leave the people. It was difficult to leave the animals, but it wasn’t difficult to leave the situation. And I fully embraced the position at the university and all of its opportunities, as well as responsibilities. It gave me a new lease on life in the sense that I was able to put to practice everything that I had learned up until that point. So if I look back on it now, it was a logical, if I had planned it, it would have been a logical progression in terms of my personal history, because I’d always thought one of my incentives for getting my masters was that I would someday teach.

03:04:11 - 03:04:48

And one of my additional incentives when I got the PhD was certainly now you’re going to teach, you’re going to teach and do research at a different level. And so having that university affiliation gave me an opportunity I otherwise wouldn’t have had, and I didn’t lose anything in the profession. I was still treated as if I was still in a profession by my colleagues across the country and across the world. So it was a win for me. During this time as director of animal collections, you were still active in AZA. Yes.

03:04:48 - 03:04:52

You had ceased being president, or you were in that position?

03:04:54 - 03:05:07

I was president of AZA, 1994, and immediate past president in 1995. And I left the zoo in 1995.

03:05:07 - 03:05:23

And what benefit did you see it gave you or the zoo when you were vice-president then you became president to be in that position, aside from your personal growth, did it help the zoo?

03:05:23 - 03:05:48

Absolutely, it’s a reflection on the zoo. I mean, whenever your employees, regardless of what the organization is, reach a certain level, in a sense, the epitome of a career, then you wanna join in on that. You wanna celebrate that, you want, that’s a reflection of the institution and all of the people there. So I viewed it as kudos for the zoo as well as for myself.

03:05:48 - 03:06:00

And during your time as president, again, just to reinstate it, there were certain high water marks that you helped to establish, those were what?

03:06:03 - 03:07:59

The largest single accomplishment both immediately before my presidency, during my presidency and immediately after my presidency, was the resolution of the conflict between the People’s Republic of China and the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, and their member institutions regarding giant pandas. We came to a logical and fruitful end point where the Chinese were happy with what their benefits were for Panda loans and North American institutions, both from a financial standpoint, as well as an education and conservation standpoint, were happy with the resolution. And it allowed the importation of a significant number of giant pandas and subsequently many baby giant pandas that were born in the United States to occur. And up until that point, it was a stalemate. It was no, no, no. So that’s a highlight for me and to go to China and to go to China and to see a different and to interact with people at the highest governmental level, and to have no idea of what the thought process was, how they reached the conclusions that they reached, when they reached them. And to see giant pandas in the wild, to be with panda biologist, Chinese panda biologists, running around the Qinling Mountains, looking for giant panda signs or radio tracking them, and actually seeing them in the wild, that’s got a rank right up there. You were involved in the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

03:07:59 - 03:08:01

Can you tell us about the organization?

03:08:01 - 03:08:55

Was there some assistance from Searle. Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee is a federally-mandated committee that oversees in any organization that deals with animals that they comply with federal guidelines. I worked, I volunteered for Searle pharmaceuticals for five-year period as their outside Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee representative, meaning I represented the eyes of the community as Searle made its decisions about how it used its animals and what animals it used.

03:08:55 - 03:08:57

And you were at the zoo at the time?

03:08:57 - 03:08:58

I was at the zoo at the time.

03:08:58 - 03:08:59

What was your position?

03:08:59 - 03:09:05

I think at the time I was probably assistant director and then, excuse me, and then director of collections.

03:09:06 - 03:09:10

What were your feelings about the use of animals for experimentation?

03:09:10 - 03:10:05

Oh, you have to remember what, but you have to remember what my history was. And that I’d come out of medical research. I had no difficulty balancing the needs of the balance of needs, human needs versus animal needs. I knew that everything that was done at Searle in their testing and pharmaceutical was first of all, mandated by the Food and Drug Administration, that it was done in a humane way. And that it was not done in excess. It was done in a very professional way. I had no conflict with the use of domestic animals, which is essentially what the testing animals are, in their efforts to produce pharmaceuticals for the care of sick humans.

03:10:07 - 03:10:25

With the advancement in exhibit design, with all its that takes place, landscape, immersion, and so forth, a lot of emphasis has been on an enrichment with animals and their welfare, are zoo animals better off now than compared to when you started?

03:10:28 - 03:12:04

Zoo animals are probably better off in 2016 than they were in 1967 for a number of reasons. We know more about them. We’re better able to meet their nutritional needs. Veterinary medicine has advanced, we’ve had the insight of behavioral studies and we’ve learned that animals need to be occupied. And so beginning with landscape immersion, in a sense, staging the animal in a setting that’s appropriate to it, which allows you to tell a storyline, to enrichment has definitely improved the animals lives both in the setting that they’re shown in, as well as the activities that we give them to do, which mimics or duplicates what they might be doing in nature, in terms of gathering bedding, in terms of the ability to climb, in the ability to food search. That being said, I think you can go crazy enriching animals in an inappropriate way. And it still drives me to distraction when I continue to visit zoos and I see all kinds of what I would call roadside refuse in animal cages, that’s intended for them as activity. And it, I think it takes, it cheapens the animal.

03:12:04 - 03:12:06

It takes away from the animal.

03:12:07 - 03:12:15

You talked about when you visit other zoos, how important was it in your professional career to visit other zoos?

03:12:15 - 03:12:25

And what would you say to young zoo people wanting to enter the profession about seeing other zoos?

03:12:27 - 03:13:20

The best thing about visiting other zoos is that you can compare it to what you know, and you’ll find lots of things that you don’t necessarily agree with, or even like, but you always find something that you look at and you say, “Wow, that’s really special. I’m gonna steal that idea, I’m gonna take it back, I’m gonna modify it. I’m going to use in our circumstances to change the exhibit look or to change the exhibit activity cycle or to change the way things are done. Lincoln Park has been one of the major representatives of US zoos among many. Do you have any recollections or thoughts about this upper management structure should be a veterinarian, no, it should be a zoologist, no, it should be a businessperson.

03:13:20 - 03:13:23

What do you see as the pros and cons of these things?

03:13:23 - 03:14:39

Well, you have, we have today we have two, we have conflicts, a zoo is about animals, but on the other hand, zoos have to be self-sustaining. So it needs to be a blend of animal care plus business. And frequently those two are in conflict. One of the ways that some institutions have dealt with that is that they have two people at a senior level, whatever you call them. And one of them is essentially in charge of the zoo in terms of the animal collection, it’s care, its staff. And the other is in charge of the development of the institution as a financial resource. And between the two of them, that’s a really good model if they can work it out. That trend today seems to be, to find different and more varied and more interesting ways for our visitors at zoos to have a zoo experience.

03:14:40 - 03:14:54

And it’s gotten essentially quite a step away from what I and others felt that the role of zoos was even 10 years ago.

03:14:56 - 03:15:04

So what would you suggest for zoo management if you could suggest it, who should be in charge?

03:15:05 - 03:16:31

Well, I think a qualified person should be in charge and frequently, frequently directors, leaders of institutions come from not even allied professions and they come because they come with a business sense. They come with a way to see the future and to see how to make the institution and all of its components financially solvent. I don’t have any difficulty with that, but if you discount the reason why a zoo is a zoo or an aquarium is an aquarium, then it’s essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water, you’re losing your purpose. You become nothing more than another attraction and the animals are cheapened by that experience, and I don’t think anybody learns anything from that. I don’t think we send the right message when we are a blend of theme park with few exceptions, of theme park and zoological gardens. So, you have opinions and we’ll ask you about that. How effective today would you say, ’cause you’ve worked with some of these people, the conservation groups in trying to maintain the animals that are in trouble.

03:16:31 - 03:16:36

IUCN, you’ve been a member of these committees, how effective have they been?

03:16:38 - 03:17:09

I think we’re better. I think organizations that are committed to the conservation of wildlife at any level, whether that’s national or international or even regional or local they’re as good as their Board of Directors will allow them to be. And one of the things that we know is that there are far more animal forms or habitat forms that are in serious difficulty that we can save.

03:17:09 - 03:17:15

And so we have to make priority decisions about what do we save?

03:17:15 - 03:17:17

Where do we put our emphasis?

03:17:17 - 03:17:20

Where do we put our money?

03:17:20 - 03:18:14

Where do we put all of the energy that we have. The best example that I can think of in terms of conservation agencies, first of all, being head to head and then working together for a common goal is what happened with California Condors. There were 25 or 26 animals remaining alive in the wild on earth. And the decision was, there were two decisions made. One was we need to save them on the one hand and the other decision, let them go. They’re prehistoric, they’re a relic species. They can’t live in the modern world. And so these two competing factors, essentially warred for years, until someone stood up and said, we’ve got to at least try, and they did.

03:18:14 - 03:18:53

And now, 25 years later, you can go to the Grand Canyon. You can see California Condors flying. You can go to Northern Mexico and see California Condors flying. You can go to Santa Barbara and go to the Santa Barbara Mountains and see California at the Condors and within historic ranges where they used to be before the advent of European colonization. It’s a wonderful success story, but it wasn’t without pain. It wasn’t without conflict. It was finally a resolution that worked. That’s the kind of things that conservation agencies can do.

03:18:55 - 03:18:59

What are the biggest obstacles that animals are facing for future existence?

03:19:01 - 03:19:27

You and I are the biggest single factor against the survival of many species of plant and animal. And it’s simply because there are too many of us in too many places, using too many resources and we need to learn how to live in harmony with the land and with the other life forms that are on the land.

03:19:27 - 03:19:28

Can this be changed?

03:19:30 - 03:19:57

It’d take a tremendous effort on the part of educators. It would take a tremendous effort in terms of leadership worldwide. I think those of us who are still involved in conservation continue to make whatever efforts we can make at whatever level we can make them, and hope that we’ll develop an audience, that we will have followers that will come along and make their own contributions.

03:19:57 - 03:20:04

How does that fit in then to the future of zoological collections and their management?

03:20:06 - 03:21:27

Well, zoological collections in 2016, continue to shrink and they continue to shrink because zoos by and large don’t do as good a job as they could managing some species in captivity. The collections will continue to shrink because animals from the wild no longer will come into a captive environment unless it’s under a stringent set of circumstances. If the animals from the wild are needed, for instance, to improve the genetics, so the gene base of a particular group of animals or animals that are destined to be killed or euthanized in the wild because there are too many of them can be brought into captivity. And in a sense, be rehabilitated, be incorporated into zoo programs. About the long-term outlook for zoos, for zoos in terms of their collections, is, is there will be far fewer species of animals exhibited and interpreted within regardless of the size of the zoo, simply because we don’t have the space, we don’t have the availability of the animals and our goals have changed.

03:21:27 - 03:21:31

Are there major directions that zoos should be taking?

03:21:31 - 03:22:37

Well, my major directions zoos should be taking today and there’s been some effort being made in that direction is to ensure that the populations of animals that we currently have in captivity is self-sustaining. And that means that not only must we work with each other here in North America, but we must work with our counterparts in other continental areas around the world to ensure that that happens. And that requires the free flow of animals back and forth for various reasons. And this is the common case now, the animal has no value. So the animal transactions are done in a voluntary way, without costs, without compensation, as a response to a conservation need. You indicated that somebody told you a long time ago that you should get zoo experience to get a job.

03:22:38 - 03:22:46

What skill set or qualities would you say to someone they should have to get a job?

03:22:49 - 03:22:55

What would they have to bring to the table that might help them go into a profession you’ve spent your entire life in?

03:22:56 - 03:23:02

As I have said to many people in many different ways, over the course of time, how did you get where you are?

03:23:02 - 03:23:07

What can I do to do some of the things that you do or have done?

03:23:07 - 03:23:51

And I say to them, get a good education. Volunteer or get internships, or get temporary positions in institutions where, in institutions or organizations or facilities where you’re going to get some real on the ground experience about animals and how to interact with animals and just be persistent, you have to be persistent. You have to be flexible, you have to be persistent, and you have to be willing to settle for something less than what your ideal is at least to start, and then to invest yourself and let nature take its course.

03:23:52 - 03:24:05

As AZA president, you had issues you had to deal with at that time for that period of history, what would you say today are the largest problems, biggest problems that zoos are having to deal with?

03:24:06 - 03:24:14

Zoos today in terms of their day-to-day operations and day-to-day management are largely business decisions.

03:24:15 - 03:24:17

What are the economies that we can realize?

03:24:17 - 03:26:09

What kind of relationships can we build with other organizations or with corporations, or with companies or with foundations to ensure a free flow of resources to us, whether that’s material goods or finances, that’s a difficult challenge. It really takes a unique skillset. It takes a unique set of resources. It takes a lot of work and it takes for the leadership of the institution, it takes a very strong, co-operative board who is willing themselves to do whatever it needs to keep the institution alive, viable, vibrant in the communities for. Was there any one piece, important piece of advice that you received that really stuck with you, that you’ve used throughout your career, that you’d impart it to me if I was a young zoo person, maybe about zoo life. In terms of, no, in terms of animal management and animal husbandry, I think one of the best words of advice that I got with regard to infant animals or animal introductions, if you think you should do something, then do it, because it’s better to have tried and been unsuccessful than to do nothing and to suffer the consequences.

03:26:11 - 03:26:27

And I think of that reflecting on the number of bursts that we had at Lincoln Park Zoo and how we would labor over, is she gonna take care of it?

03:26:27 - 03:26:29

Is it gonna be all right?

03:26:29 - 03:26:31

Is it going to nurse, isn’t it gonna nurse?

03:26:33 - 03:26:34

Is it cold?

03:26:34 - 03:26:36

Is there something wrong with it?

03:26:36 - 03:27:20

And every time that we decided that we should intervene, it was a correct decision. And so I think it’s better to do something than to do nothing at all, that stuck with me. And to this day, as I’m out doing things in nature, if I think I should intervene for one reason or another, in something that’s going on, I will intervene. I will make an honest attempt to interfere and to have a good outcome. You’ve dealt with large zoos. You’ve been associated with large zoo. You’ve also consulted and been with smaller zoos.

03:27:20 - 03:27:32

What do you think a small or a medium sized municipal zoo can do today to be involved in wildlife conservation, whether it’s nationally or internationally, or can they make any difference?

03:27:32 - 03:28:37

I think there’s a role for every zoo regardless of size, in conservation. It’s just picking your efforts and determining what you can make the contribution to. There is in Wheaton, Illinois, a teeny tiny little park district zoo called the Cosley Zoo. It’s largely an assortment of native animals and farm animals and the benefit of the places is that you can do it in half an hour, or you can do it in half a day, depending on who you are and how many kids you have with you. And you can get up close to the animals. They took it upon themselves to offer their facilities and services for the Illinois and Midwestern endangered Blanding’s turtle and said, we’ll serve as a headstart place for these endangered turtles. You bring us the eggs or bring us hatchlings. We’ll either incubate and hatch the eggs, or we’ll take the hatchlings that you have.

03:28:37 - 03:29:16

And we’ll raise them up to the time that they’re somewhere between two and three years old. And then we’ll give them back to you and you can turn them loose in the wild, and we’ll do this without much human interference. So that they’re essentially raised in large tubs or pens of the only human interaction that they have is when somebody feeds them once a day, essentially. And, that’s huge. I mean, for a species, like that species, that’s a huge contribution. There are other things that other people have done that are similar to that. You don’t have to go international. You don’t even have to go national.

03:29:16 - 03:30:13

You can go regional and identify where the needs are and what kind of contribution you can make. Green snakes are disappearing in the Midwest. There’s a propagation program for green snakes. Massasauga rattlesnakes, the smallest of the rattlesnakes, which are here in this area are off towards wheeling that are disappearing because of the competition for habitat between agro-business and urban development. And there’s skeptic propagation programs that are being done by small institutions, Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana has made a contribution to massasauga propagation and re-introduction in Michigan by starting a propagation program in association with another half dozen eight, similar-sized small zoos. So you pick your conservation effort and there’s a real contribution to be made.

03:30:13 - 03:30:16

Should all zoos be striving to breed animals?

03:30:17 - 03:31:24

I think all zoos should participate in cooperative programs as designated by conservation authorities. The role of the modern zoo is not so much the propagation of animals about the holding of animals that may be needed in the future for propagation. So while we always thought that everybody had a breed all of the time, it’s equally true now that some need to breed some of the time, and that there is a significant role to be played by those who simply hold non-breeding groups to ensure the survival of the species. So that there’s sufficient numbers of them available if and when the need arises. At times, you’ve indicated that curatorial, that the curatorial level people should, are not doing certain things, not getting out, or they are doing certain things they’re certainly higher educated.

03:31:25 - 03:31:36

Are there things and standards that curators should have maybe before they get to be a curator, should they go through some apprenticeship?

03:31:36 - 03:32:59

Or is it just as easy to say once you have a master’s or PhD, you’re certainly qualified. That’s a very good question about what’s the future. What’s the future in terms of animal management, particularly at the curatorial level, it’s a very good query indeed. If there’s anything in the profession that concerns a lot of us it’s that there are not capable, competent, trained animal managers available for zoos to use. And it’s, part of that is that the profession, or now, as it’s known the industry, hasn’t made a concerted effort to provide the opportunities, and those include mentoring, they include training, they include experiential kinds of things, where you visit other institutions with more seasoned staff, and you learn the techniques that you need to manage your own collection. I think we’re falling very short. If you said to me today, name six people, if you were the director of zoo X and you had to develop a curatorial staff and the curatorial staff was going to be individuals that are between the ages of 25 and 40. Tell me who those individuals were.

03:32:59 - 03:33:27

And in all honesty, in all honesty I would have, and a lot of other people would have, a great deal of difficulty identifying six, let alone more, individuals in the profession in that age group, who had the same kinds of skills, the skill sets that were present in almost all zoos in the 70s and 80s and into the early part of the 90s.

03:33:29 - 03:33:40

So if you’re interviewing an individual for curatorial position, what three things would you wanna see in that person, man or woman?

03:33:40 - 03:33:49

You look at their academics, you look at their past experience, you look at where their interests are. You look at what they’ve done outside of the zoo world.

03:33:49 - 03:34:05

You look at where they worked and who they worked for, and you provide them with an opportunity to share with you, answers or responses to what if scenarios, if you were put in this position with these animals, what would you do?

03:34:05 - 03:34:07

Or what do you think the response should be?

03:34:07 - 03:35:43

Those sorts of things, to get some feel for the individuals. And as long as we’re talking about the curatorial level, we have to also talk about the veterinary aspect. And the same is true with zoo vets. There are a lot of zoo vets around, a huge number of zoo vets but there’s only a handful of zoo vets that are really good zoo vets, who have the same blend of academics, experience, history of volunteerism, motivation and commitment to the profession. From the exhibit standpoint, today’s in today’s world, one of the hot topics is elephants in captivity. And just to get your view about maintaining elephants in captivity, does one spend, I’ll use just the number $42 million on an elephant exhibit, and could that money be better spent, to helping elephants in the wild and third followup question is, has the national organization that you were president of, been supportive of zoos in their quest to do this. In my view, but you have to remember who I am and where I came from, in my view, a zoo is not a zoo, unless people can see elephants. People are not going to be empathetic to the plight of elephants in nature, unless they know what an elephant is.

03:35:44 - 03:37:28

I think the idea of consolidating elephant members into small groups or into family groups and having zoos specialize in that species, I think that’s a really good idea. It enriches the animal’s lives. It puts the focus to those institutions that can afford to do that. It exhibits the animals, it exhibits the animals so that people have some understanding of what the animal actually is. And in fact, as we know, there are elephants in jeopardy, in Africa who are part of cold programs, where there simply are too many animals in the wild for the habitat that they live in, that have, one of the very viable choices in my opinion is, is you bring those animals into captivity, you bring them to institutions or to centers, meaning an institution that’s made a commitment to elephants so that you have the opportunity to continue though their life in a captive situation. I see nothing wrong with that. If one is humanely interacting with elephants, if one is treating them in a professional manner, if they’re receiving daily care, as we know they are, and if the institution can have the facility, the institution can afford to have elephants, they should have elephants. And do you think the large amount of money spent on exhibitry is justified, very large.

03:37:30 - 03:39:05

The expenses related to elephants, at all levels, but particularly the amount of space and equipment and design that goes into it, first of all, to allow them to have adequate space and to allow adequate stimulus, it’s justified if the institution and its deciding board have said, this is the commitment that we’re going to make. I mean, a perfectly good example of that is what Cleveland did in the last few years when they made a commitment to elephants and they built their facilities and their program to match their interests and made a long-term, as in lifelong, many decades, a commitment to the animals and to that program at that institution. And they, the decision makers in that institution, as well as the community at large, not the vocal minority, but the community at large said, we need to do this, both so that we can have this experience of seeing, smelling, feeling, but also so that we understand something about the animals and what the animals needs are in nature. And they’ve done a very credible job. You’ve been involved in the collection planning, and you’ve been involved in establishing collection plans. When you started, you had the freedom to pick and choose your interests. Now, it’s more of a template of what you can and can’t have, some wiggle room.

03:39:06 - 03:39:09

What’s the positives and negatives of the collection plan?

03:39:09 - 03:40:06

Well, a collection plan essentially gets buy in from the institution that this is the direction that we’re going to go with our collection. We’re going to have birds, mammals, reptiles, and all of those birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians. There’s going to be representatives of whatever the examples turn out to be. And there’s some consensus about that. And by having a collection plan, it kind of keeps you on a track. First of all, that you made a commitment to a group of animals, but that doesn’t exclude, it does not exclude the possibility that you would add to your collection something that suddenly becomes available, that hasn’t been available before, and it’s only available to you. And it only loosely fits into the formalized collection plan. The trouble with most collection plans is they’re too rigid.

03:40:06 - 03:40:38

They have to be viewed as living documents. They’re subject to change, they’re subject to availability. They’re subject to the vagaries of animal availabilities. They’re subject to changing values and changing more it says as evidenced, both by elephants and by killer whales. And you said elephants to other questions, Ringling Brothers, commercial entity that has worked with zoos in some way, but has limited their elephants from their shows.

03:40:38 - 03:40:40

Is there any benefits to having such shows?

03:40:41 - 03:40:47

Do you have any feelings about it from the conservation or from an education point of view?

03:40:47 - 03:42:52

As someone who grew up with elephants in circuses, both as a spectator and a behind the scenes up close to elephants, I think it’s an American tragedy that Ringling Brothers has taken the elephants off of the circuit. I think it’s a tragedy because people who ordinarily wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to see elephants will no longer have that opportunity to see them. One could argue that the animals are shuffled from place to place, they’re kept under mediocre conditions in between, that they’re overworked or whatever the right words are. But sometimes you have to do kind of a value judgment about what’s the greater good from using these animals as the ambassadors of their own kind. I understand for the Feld company who made that decision, that it was a business decision. Part of it was probably directly related to pressure from humane organizations to stop mistreatment of animals, to give them a better quality of life. And I think part of it was, looking at today’s audiences and today’s interest in circus in general, and the necessity to do some cost cutting in order to keep profit margins up. But I think it’s an absolute tragedy that future generations I mean including my great grandkids, will never have the opportunity to go to the greatest show on earth and to see elephants up close, as we talked earlier, to sense them, to feel them move, to smell them, to literally taste their presence in the air.

03:42:52 - 03:43:19

I think it’s a tragedy. And I think it’s one that we will, some of us will regret that we didn’t take a stronger stand for the exhibition of elephants and the use of elephants in demonstrations like that. Animal rights groups have been against killer whales, have been very strong about elephants in zoos.

03:43:19 - 03:43:31

Do you think that there are these, there are additional things, that they will be attacking zoos for and what’s the philosophy of a zoo then?

03:43:31 - 03:43:34

Or do you think they’ve just picked certain species and we’ll end it at that?

03:43:34 - 03:45:43

No, I think that, I think elephants, elephants were the first cause chip, chip, chip, chip, chip, killer whales were second, killer whales, probably with some good reason if you understand anything about where they came from and what happens to the group once they’re taken out of nature, it was a disingenuous public relations project to get killer whales away from the American public. I think that was self-serving in terms of some of the animal activists. And I think they took advantage of disgruntled former employees who had an axe to grind with Sea World and similar kinds of entities. And I, again, believe that that is, that’s a tragedy. We will probably for the next 50 or 60 years have killer whales in captivity simply by the nature of how long they live, but to agree to stop propagating them, to agree to cheapen their exhibition by agreeing to not provide the animals with the kind of enhancement and enrichment that they had in the past with their interaction with their keepers, I think that also is an American tragedy. I understand from Sea World standpoint, from the corporate standpoint, I understand why they made the concessions that they made because it clearly, the company was on its way, essentially out of business because of the efforts of the animal rights activists. And this is a in-between step. This is a step they’ve taken to really gain some of the confidence of the visiting public.

03:45:43 - 03:47:06

You ask whether I think that this is the end of it. I think it’s just the beginning. These were two huge, two huge accomplishments for animal rights activists, largely as a result of disgruntled employees and insider information that may or may not be true as we’ve said before. And I think it’s just a question of time before other restrictions are imposed on additional species of animals in a captive situation because of the outcry from the activist group. It would not surprise me at all, that if one of the next group to be targeted would be polar bears. And polar bears need to be in zoos. Polar bears need to be able to be reproductively sound in zoos because with the continuing climate change, polar bears have the ability to disappear or to reach such a low level in nature in their Arctic environment that they may well disappear as a species. You talked about conservation, you’ve talked about elephants, recently, there’s been a large ivory burn off garnering a lot of attention.

03:47:08 - 03:47:15

Has this, was this a good response to elephant conservation in your opinion?

03:47:16 - 03:48:51

I viewed the burning of ivory with mixed emotions. I understand why it’s done. It’s done to make a very dramatic statement. It’s done to demonstrate primarily to poachers and those who buy poacher materials, that there is no hope for the future of ivory. But then I look at the millions of dollars worth of raw ivory that literally went up in diesel smoke. And I think there must be a better way to use this material in a sustainable way since it’s in a stockpile, to benefit the countries that are involved, because we’re talking about developing nations, where there aren’t even adequate supplies of portable water. We’re talking about nations where there isn’t even a minimal level of healthcare and has anybody ever a good, bad or indifferent has anybody ever sat down and said, “Wait a minute, instead of burning it, isn’t there a way we can put it into the market, put it into the market, generate these dollars so that we can do some of these human-related needs without increasing the need for it.” And I don’t know what the answer to that is. It’s very dramatic to see that the tusks and the horns are burned up.

03:48:51 - 03:49:04

I understand it’s a very dramatic, but I think it’s a, as they say, it’s a, maybe a two-day news cycle. And then after that people forget.

03:49:04 - 03:49:10

What do you say to these animal activists or other people who don’t believe zoos should be in existence?

03:49:11 - 03:49:15

I think they haven’t taken, I say to them, do you really understand what you’re saying?

03:49:15 - 03:49:24

Have you really experienced, have you really experienced what animals in captive, how animals are maintained in captivity?

03:49:24 - 03:49:32

And do you really understand how they can be ambassadors for their own kind, and the good that comes out of that?

03:49:32 - 03:50:58

The understanding, the concern for the environment. Most animal activists that I’ve encountered, and those that I’ve done one-on-ones with in those groups that I’ve tried to engage are so, almost rabid in their desire to see an end to elephants, to killer whales, to zoos, that they’re beyond reasoning with, they’re beyond engaging in a dialogue, and I’m still waiting for somebody to do an analysis of a general population and see what percentage of us out there in the world or in North America are actually supportive of activism, as it currently is, versus the silent majority. And I don’t know what the answer is. It will not get better, it will only get worse, in terms of those involved in professions related to animals and whether that’s live animals or whether that’s animal byproducts.

03:50:58 - 03:51:03

So for the future of zoos, is there one thing that’s potentially more important?

03:51:03 - 03:51:07

Does conservation, is education, is the research aspect?

03:51:07 - 03:51:15

Do they all have a place or should one be more emphasized for the future of the zoos as we move forward?

03:51:16 - 03:52:33

In my view, one of our major obligations is interpretation. We have a role to play in informing people, both formally and informally in education programs, in whatever activities are on the zoo grounds. We have an obligation to those animals that we hold to make contributions to conservation, more and more of those contributions probably should be in nature in situ where they’ll do the most good for the least amount of money. And we have the concurrent obligation with those animals that we have in a captive environment or those animals that we’re studying in the wild to do research, to begin to answer some of the unknown questions or unanswered questions, and they’re all, it’s almost, we have no limitations on the technology that we have available to us to remotely study and record animals in nature. The only thing we lack is either the desire to do it or the resources to carry it off.

03:52:34 - 03:52:45

You had talked about the SSP and you were very much involved in the program, from its earliest conception, looking back last 40 years, how do you see its evolution?

03:52:45 - 03:52:48

What were its successes, what are its failures?

03:52:48 - 03:52:50

What do you see 40 years from today?

03:52:50 - 03:52:56

And if you could go in and change something, in hindsight, what would it be?

03:52:57 - 03:54:05

As we’ve discussed earlier on, the SSP was a cooperative management program developed for the conservation of identified species. It was done in a way that everybody worked together to accomplish a set of specified goals. Over time, what’s happened to it is, is the bureaucrats have walked into it. The bureaucrats have stepped up their efforts. And so it has become more regulatory than it has, it’s become more regulatory than it has been cooperative. So it’s kind of like, it’s gone from, okay, gang, we’re gonna do this because we need to do it, ’cause it’s the right thing to do, to kind of parental where you shouldn’t do this. You can’t do this, you must do this. And it has become paper-oriented.

03:54:09 - 03:55:09

There are so many layers of discussion, approval, non-approval, justification, all of those words that we all have those layers that we learn and that it’s almost self-limiting. And the association is finally beginning to realize that there’s a real problem. And there also is a real problem about having sustainable numbers of animals in captivity for zoos to actually be zoos, because they’re no longer available from the wild. And in some cases we’ve done a very poor job of managing the animals that we originally had, who refer back to our earlier comments about juror or Asiatic lions and how it was not a problem. And now it’s a problem because they haven’t been managed. And this vein of people cooperating and trying to do the best for wildlife.

03:55:09 - 03:55:11

Do you have an opinion?

03:55:11 - 03:55:25

There is, I won’t say a new kid in town, but there’s the Zoological Association of America. That was a breakaway from the American Zoo Associations. It seems like to me, they cannot work together. It seems like that’s what they wanna do.

03:55:25 - 03:55:35

Why is there in your opinion, this, is there a place for both to be working together toward the good of animals as you’ve talked about?

03:55:35 - 03:56:37

When we talk about the long-term prospects for animals, shame on either of the two professional organizations, if they finally don’t get to the point where they literally get together and bury their disagreements. There are more animals of more importance held in private hands among members of the Zoological Association of America than in all of the zoos of North America. They have demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with zoos on an individual basis and in fact, there are some very fruitful relationships between AZA and ZAA facilities, but not at a national level. And it’s shame on the leadership for not recognizing that the potential is there, to do some real good with the animals that are here in North America.

03:56:39 - 03:56:46

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment in your career that stands that you’re proud of?

03:56:47 - 03:57:37

Well, I mean, you know, there’s tick off marks. You know, we’ve already talked about presidency of the association and the work with giant pandas. For me, I guess it’s in reflection, it’s probably that I was the first non-director ever to serve on the AZA board twice and the only non-director to be elected president. That makes me proud because my colleagues, it didn’t matter to my colleagues what my title was. It mattered what our collective contributions were. So that’s probably my proudest moment.

03:57:37 - 03:57:39

It’s a little self-centered, but you know what?

03:57:41 - 03:57:42

I earned it.

03:57:43 - 03:57:49

What do you know about this profession you spent your life and devoted so many years of your life to?

03:57:50 - 03:58:41

Well, I know that it’s got to change or we need to change it. I know there’s a lot of enthusiastic, willing, committed young people out there who are willing to do whatever they need to do to be employed and to make a contribution in the profession. I think we need to encourage those people. I think we need to mentor those people. I think we need to do a better job of reimplementing the idea that it’s a profession where you can make a real contribution to any one of several arenas that involve wild animals. So years from today, there’s two young zoologists talking and they mention this name, Dennis Meritt.

03:58:42 - 03:58:44

How would you like to be remembered?

03:58:47 - 03:58:50

Huh, how would I like to be remembered?

03:58:51 - 03:59:49

Within the profession, I think that my, how I would like to be remembered is the information that I dispersed to the profession and to allied professions in terms of my publications. It doesn’t do one any good to accomplish something individually, if you don’t share that information or share that knowledge. So I think, and I think when I look back, I look at some of those years and you’ve caused me to do that by having to update my curriculum vitae, you cause me to look back on my history and the areas of interest that I had and the publications that I produced. And I’d like to think that that shared knowledge is probably my greatest contribution. Now, let’s ask some (indistinct) questions.

03:59:50 - 03:59:57

Can you tell me something about acquiring the koalas for the Lincoln Parks?

03:59:58 - 04:00:01

How did it come about, what happened?

04:00:01 - 04:00:37

When you micromanage it, it was successful. Tell me about koalas. Koalas were always a hot political football. They continue to be a hot political football. It’s not who you are, but who you know. Lincoln Park decided that it was to embark on koalas. And we called in relationship a relationship with a sister institution in San Diego, and said, we wanna do this, we’re willing to commit staff. We’re willing to commit space to whatever it might take to get koalas here.

04:00:37 - 04:01:39

We don’t care if it’s a male and a female. We don’t care if they’re geriatric. We just want them here so the people of Chicago can know something about koalas and the plight of koalas in Australia. And they said, “Sure, we’ll help you out. You need to build facilities. You need to find a source of eucalyptus brows for them.” We called on a former zoo colleague from the St. Louis zoo to embark on who was in the exotic plant business to begin a eucalyptus farm, to be a source of supply for brows for not only ours, but for other institutions as well. And it was largely a cooperative relationship. It was the relationships that we built as staff members with other staff members that allows us even to think about bringing to, bring in koalas to Lakefront, Chicago.

04:01:42 - 04:01:50

And it was a nightmare in logistics. Pleasant nightmare or just- Not all pleasant, it was a learning experience for all of us.

04:01:50 - 04:01:52

Were you micromanaged?

04:01:54 - 04:02:11

Micromanaged, that’s not a harsh enough word. We were, he had overseers who made certain that everything happened the way it should happen in their view, not necessarily in the view of the animal managers or the animals.

04:02:12 - 04:02:19

Another animal activity you were involved with was gorillas to Disney, how did that occur?

04:02:19 - 04:02:22

And what was the evolution of it?

04:02:25 - 04:04:08

Gorillas are one of, at the time, they were one of two species that were managed, not necessarily the way they should have been managed. They were managed politically. Gorillas went from institution to institution because of the rank of the institution, because of the importance of the institution and potentially the audience that that institution was going to generate. When animals went from Lincoln Park to Disney for their opening, they went with all of those considerations. Those animals could have gone to other institutions and then cared for equally well, but because it was Disney, because Disney had planned on gorillas because Disney had invested so much in gorilla facilities, the political decision was made that they should go to Disney and gorillas today still continue to be more a political decision than a non-political decision. We could produce many more gorillas in a captive environment than we are, but we limit their interest. We limit their reproduction and we limit their distribution largely because it’s viewed as the politically correct thing to do. You were involved with the only elephant birth in the history of Lincoln Park Zoo.

04:04:08 - 04:04:13

How did that come about, and any stories on that?

04:04:15 - 04:05:47

Elephants and edentates are an interesting story for my, in my whole zoo career. The animal that I was most drawn to and knew had the potential to do me the most harm, were elephants. I, to this day, I visit zoos and I’ve visited zoos that have elephants just to look at elephants. I count as among my many blessings, my ability to interact, essentially, personality to personality with elephants at Lincoln Park Zoo, and to be part of a cooperative effort to get our then female elephant with a male to produce a baby. And the birth of that infant after innumerable years or months of logistics and the strategic moves and commitments was definitely one of the most memorable events in my zoo history. Now in the zoo’s history, sometimes bad things happen. Animal injuries, animal escapes, so forth. There were two incidents that you were involved with.

04:05:47 - 04:07:10

Maybe you could shed some light on, one was that a gorilla and a snow leopard were stolen from the Lincoln Park Zoo. They were indeed. Now one, the gorilla was stolen out of the zoo nursery and the snow leopard was stolen out of the lion house. It was our collective, our stupidity in terms of the security that we had in place, and the security we probably should have had in place. We never thought that anyone would ever violate the zoo space. We never thought that there was a way to get into both of those facilities. The zoo had a night watch, the zoo had Chicago police, but the method that were used to gain entrance to both of the buildings where the animals were, were methods that one would normally not even think of. Now, fortunately for both the baby gorilla and the snow leopard, it ended well in that we got the animals back as always, if you do something as rush as that, you have to tell somebody or you have to brag about it.

04:07:10 - 04:07:21

And ultimately those who were responsible, got caught because they couldn’t keep quiet about it. And the animals returned safely to the zoo.

04:07:21 - 04:07:33

And there was another instance of a young chimpanzee being taken from the zoo that involved an inside animal keeper that ultimately also was returned?

04:07:33 - 04:09:07

Yes, absolutely, absolutely and that was that versus the first case was an inside job, as opposed to strangers who thought it was a good idea to go to the zoo, to get these two young or infant animals for whatever purpose. In the case of the chimpanzee, it was, I got access. I like the animal, I can do this. It’s not a problem, it’ll never be figured out, and it was. Now I have mentioned a couple of animals. Are there any animal stories that are favorites of yours that come to mind as we’re reminiscing. Walking through the zoo on an early morning and seeing an adult male, a gorilla lounging on the rooftop of the Chrome Field Center, because the lead keeper in the great ape house had failed to take every single precaution that could be taken in terms of safe guards, that was an interesting experience, that ended well, fortunately, but the most memorable in terms of actual sight, sound, chaos, was everybody gathered at the outside of the lion house, warm spring and summer mornings. Everybody had their cup of coffee before we started off on our assignments.

04:09:07 - 04:10:19

And one morning at about eight o’clock when the old primate house, they let the chimps out, the chimps did what chimps do. And they came outside and they jumped up and down on their outside cage and outside door. And lo and behold, the door fell out and the chimp saw no barrier between them and freedom. And some of the chimps ran screaming back inside. And some of the chimps cowered in the outside cage, and some of the chimps said, okay, I’m going for it. And it was like being in a dream state. You were part of it, but you were sort of outside of it and you couldn’t really realize, I couldn’t realize what was happening, it was like, it was, it just, it was not definable, it didn’t have any place in my mind until it had its place in my mind and then I went, oh my God. We got them all back, it ended well.

04:10:22 - 04:10:52

What would you say would be, you may have mentioned already, but the most significant animal or groups that you acquired for the zoo were instrumental in helping to bring. Oh, I remember a curatorial program with spectral bears, and I remember the first spectral bears that we imported. We actually imported them for an Eastern European zoo, the first ones, we imported them as part of an animal exchange, they came out of the wild.

04:10:52 - 04:11:04

I don’t think there was any one of us, any one of us who was involved in that original importation, who didn’t say, why are we sending these animals to Europe?

04:11:04 - 04:11:08

Why aren’t these animals in our collection?

04:11:08 - 04:11:28

And we subsequently through the curatorial staff developed one of the most impressive spectral bear collections that has ever happened in North America. All of these things involve people. You’ve talked about some of the people.

04:11:28 - 04:11:38

Was there any other recollections that you might’ve had about the assistant director, Saul Kitchener, that you worked with as a colleague?

04:11:40 - 04:12:49

Saul was a, Saul was, I think we characterized him as a man who was always in motion. He had a hard time sitting still. He was somebody who was always looking ahead, thinking ahead, looking for new opportunities, looking to share knowledge, looking to share contacts. And the zoo grew considerably under his leadership and his tutorage. And when he left to take up the directorship of San Francisco, it was a very sad day for Lincoln Park, but we all wished him well, we knew it was the next logical step. He was very definitely, he had all the credentials, he had all the experience, he had all of the education. He had all the tools that he needed to be a zoo director and to be a classic zoo director in the real sense of the word.

About Dennis Meritt, PhD

Dennis Meritt, PhD
Download Curricula Vitae

Assistant Director

Lincoln Park Zoo: Chicago, Illinois

Assistant Director of Animal Collections, Retired

With a background in research Dennis’s first zoo position was as zoologist at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo in 1967. Promotions came quickly to Curator of Mammals and then in 1976 he became Assistant Director to Dr. Lester Fisher. Always a believer in education Dennis has authored over 100 scientific and popular articles dealing with nature, conservation, zoo biology and zoo management.

Early in his career his interest, research and publications with the Edentate group made him a world expert on the subject. His professional career has included helping to develop the fundamentals of the American Zoo Associations Species Survival Program and serving as President of the national zoo organization. He retired in 1995.

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