June 14th 2014 | Director

Don Farst

Dr. Farst started his career as a private practitioner but in 1969 took a position as veterinarian at the Columbus Zoo. Dr. Farst was named Managing Director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville Texas four years after his arrival.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:00 - 00:01:28

I’m Don Farst, I was born in Wandsworth, Ohio, and grew up in Ohio except for a brief stint during World War II when I lived in West Virginia, when my father was down there building a defense project, but basically I’m a Ohio farm boy product. All of my public education was in Zanesville, Ohio, which is Southeastern Ohio. Then after graduating from Zanesville High School, I went to college at Ohio State University, which they make a big point now of calling The Ohio State University. But I graduated there in 1965 with a degree in veterinary medicine. While I was at Ohio State, I worked summers and part-time during the year for the Columbus Zoo and that’s how I got interested in working with exotic species and wildlife. And after graduating from Ohio State, there were no zoo jobs available. And so I wanted to try private practice anyway, which I did for four years. I was in a busy, mixed practice in Franklin and Grove city, Pennsylvania, where we had two small animal practices.

00:01:28 - 00:01:40

And then we covered about 1500 square miles of mountainous, rugged territory in Western Pennsylvania. Well, now let me back you up just a bit.

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What was your birthdate?

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My birthdate was February 25th, 1941. Okay.

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And when you had mentioned a couple of things, which we want to do a little more detail on when you’re growing up, were you interested in animals?

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Were you bringing snakes home?

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How did you start to develop an interest in animals?

00:02:08 - 00:03:15

I’ve always had an interest in animals. In fact, I’ve had an interest in anything to do with nature, animals, plants, rocks, you name it. I’ve been interested in it. Yes, I had the usual dog, didn’t have any cats, my father didn’t like cats and we couldn’t have cats in the house. I’ve had cats later in life and anything to do with both domestic and wild animals I’ve enjoyed. My family were all hunters and in Ohio that meant hunting squirrels and cottontail rabbits, things like this, nothing large or exotic because at that time, Ohio had no deer to speak of and they just came in in any amounts in the late ’50s and in the ’60s. So I grew up in the woods. My favorite time of the years is the fall.

00:03:15 - 00:03:27

Nothing better than get out into the woods and here and observe wildlife. So you enjoy wildlife as you’re growing up.

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When was your first exposure that you recollect to seeing a zoo and what zoo was it, if you remember?

00:03:34 - 00:04:10

The first zoo that I ever saw was the Columbus Zoo. And it was probably, in about 1950 that I did that. And family would take you there. Yes, it was about 60 miles away. So it wasn’t a regular weekend thing, but once or so, once or twice a year, we’d end up visiting that zoo. We also visited Pittsburgh Zoo, which was not too far away.

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Did it make an impression on you or was just a place you visited?

00:04:13 - 00:04:39

Oh, no. I love going and seeing the animals. And at that time we didn’t have the sophisticated exhibits or the more naturalistic exhibits that we have now. And a lot of it was just manajory type animals in barred tiled exhibits, but I enjoyed seeing them and smelling them and the whole interaction.

00:04:41 - 00:04:50

What were the deciding points that you said you wanted to work with animals and then why did you wanna do medical or become a veterinarian?

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What prompted you to go in that direction?

00:04:54 - 00:06:14

I was always interested in working with animals or being around animals, and then didn’t necessarily think of it as a career. But I dated a girl who I subsequently ended up marrying, who worked as a assistant in a veterinarian’s office. And so when I was in high school and able to drive, I would go and pick her up at her place of employment. And Dr. Zach, who was the person that she worked for would, would always invite me in and say “Don’t wait out in the car, come in and see what’s going on.” And so I would go in and observe. And I think the thing that impressed me most was one evening he had to do a cesarean on a dog and I got to help and rub the puppies and stimulate them once they came out. And that really gave me a hands-on experience that made me want to do more of that. So that was kind of a deciding point where you said that this might be a job for me to. Right.

00:06:14 - 00:07:03

When I was like a junior and a senior in high school, I would spend time there and he was the person that ended up sponsoring me to get into a veterinary school at Ohio State. So when you got out of veterinary school, you then had your first job was. I was a private practitioner. I worked for an established person, Dr. Arthur Richards. And as I mentioned in Franklin and Grove City, Pennsylvania, he was a very progressive veterinarian. And at the time he was a member of the American Animal Hospital Association Practice, very high quality medicine. And this was back in 1965. But he was doing spinal surgery on dogs that were paralyzed.

00:07:04 - 00:08:11

He would do patella surgery on knees. He would do a lot of things that are fairly routine now, but back then they were on the cutting edge of things. And then of course we did the large animal work, which I was more interested in. I really didn’t like to stay in the office as much. And that made him happy, ’cause he’d been out there. And if you’ve read any of the Harriet books with veterinarians laying out in the middle of a muddy field, in the cold weather, delivering caves, I’ve been there, done that. And Dr. Richards was willing to leave that part of it up to me. And so I could do the calls and some of the office work because our two offices were 22 miles apart and I lived and ran one and most of the time and he was at the main office in Grove City, which is a college town in Western Pennsylvania.

00:08:11 - 00:08:18

Now, speaking of college, you were a member of the Phi Gamma Delta at Ohio State.

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And how did that fraternity, if it did, which had a lot of influential members there shape or influence you in any way?

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Both of my brothers were Phi Gamma Delta. And when I went to college, they of course said that I should become a Fiji, which I did and was active. But I got accepted into veterinary school after only two years. And so once I got into veterinary school, I wasn’t really that active in the fraternity. You mentioned some influential people that had come out of there. Jack Nicholas, the famous golfer was one of the people that was active at that time and when I was going through rush, he was there. And when I was going through what they used to call Hell Week, he was one of the actives that made us go through our paces, but there were many other influential people and business leaders later on in life. And it was a good experience for me, although I was only active for my first two years of college and then once I went into veterinary college, I was not too much involved with the fraternity.

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Did you know Jack Nicholas?

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Oh, very well. Yeah. In fact, he offered to teach me how to play golf. And I told him, I wasn’t interested. (laughs) You must be one of the rare people who did that. Now you’re in the private practice, you’re in the muddy field, delivering calves.

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But when did you start thinking about zoo medicine?

00:10:04 - 00:11:17

I’d been outta school about two years, out of veterinary school, about two years and Jim Savoy, who was the director at the Columbus Zoo at the time, asked me if I was ready to come back into the zoo work because I had worked in the zoo for two full summers and for like three years on weekends at Columbus while I was in school. And so Jim asked me if I was willing to come back and consider working at the Columbus Zoo. And at the time I had just bought 100 acre farm in Pennsylvania and was in the process of remodeling a farmhouse. I just couldn’t see myself jumping up and leaving it. So I said I’d have to pass. Well, two years later, he called again and the veterinarian they had hired in 1967, hadn’t worked out. And so in 1969, he asked me if I’d be willing to come back. And I said, “Yes, I would.” And I thought, I’d like to do some postgraduate work at Ohio State.

00:11:17 - 00:12:18

And so they worked out a deal where I went into the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Veterinary School as a master’s candidate and taught the seniors part-time exotic animal medicine course and was the full-time veterinarian at the Columbus Zoo. And then at the same time, few months after I became veterinarian at the Columbus Zoo, the mammals curator left and they asked me to take over and be the mammals curator as well as the veterinarian. And so I did that and I enjoyed it. And that was one of those rare instances in a zoo where there was never any controversy between the mammals curator and the veterinarian, because they were one and the same. Well, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Now, you’ve mentioned that you had worked at Columbus Zoo earlier.

00:12:18 - 00:12:22

What was your position when you first started and how’d you get this position?

00:12:23 - 00:13:33

I got the position because I went and applied for it. They hired summer help. And so I was hired on and when they found out that I was in Veterinary School, they immediately put me into the Animal Care Department. And I worked actually with the great apes at Columbus. That was at the time that they had discovered tuberculosis in that collection. And so the Columbus Zoo Ape collection was under quarantine. And there were only a limited number of people that could go in and out of the facility that could work there and worked out well for me because the regular keepers would work Monday through Friday, and they were happy to have Saturday and Sunday off, which were the only two days I could work. So I worked Saturday and Sunday and it was an ideal job because no one was allowed in to enter out of the building behind the glass, the public viewed the animals through the glass.

00:13:33 - 00:14:04

And so I could be in the back and I had about three hours of very busy work in the morning and in about an hour break before lunch, where I didn’t have any responsibilities and I could study. And then in the afternoon I had maybe two hours of work after lunch and then a break and then an hour or so before I went home. So I had about an hour in the afternoon. I could study and with no one to disturb me.

00:14:04 - 00:14:12

Now, when you started at the zoo as veterinarian, aside from this fabulous mammal curator, what other curators did you work with?

00:14:12 - 00:14:13

Who were they?

00:14:15 - 00:15:32

The bird curator was actually Terry Strauser, who went on then to work at Disney as he was quite a talented artist. And he went to work in the animation team at Disney, in Florida, designing and building exhibits. He actually also designed the lion tiger exhibit at Miami Metro Zoo, which was an architectural thing, looking like an Indian Maharaja’s palace and some of these things. The reptile curator was the famous Lou Pastore. And Lou Pastore was one of the legends in her business back in the ’50s and ’60s put together a fantastic collection at Ohio at the time. He was all into animal care. Didn’t give a darn about naturalistic exhibits. As long as the animal was in a sterile atmosphere that he could keep meticulously clean, make sure they had no parasites and feed them and all he was happy.

00:15:32 - 00:16:06

So he would not fare too well in this day and age with the zoo exhibits, but he was the state of the art back then quite good. The aquatics curator was Arthur Hagatus. And Arthur was another artist. It seems like they had a lot of artists there, but he was talented. He did a lot with displays and had very, very good looking aquatic exhibits.

00:16:07 - 00:16:09

What kind of director was Jim Savoy?

00:16:09 - 00:16:45

Jim Savoy was always an upbeat, happy go-lucky guy. He demanded a lot out of his employees, but he didn’t micromanage. And he let you do your do your thing. He was pretty good at getting along with people at city hall, because at that time Columbus was a municipally operated zoo. And so he had to spend a lot of time downtown and all.

00:16:46 - 00:16:50

And did you work with Warren Thomas or have association with Warren?

00:16:51 - 00:18:03

Warren Thomas was one of three people that were quite active in Columbus. When Warren went to veterinary school there as well, 10 years before I did. And Warren and Lou Desabato and Don Davis were all at the Columbus Zoo at the same time working as keepers and then curators later on. At that time the director at Columbus was Earl Davis, who was Don Davis’ father. And he sort of took those three guys under his wing and brought them up in the zoo world and they went on to become then directors of some very famous zoos, Thomas in Oklahoma, Omaha and Brownsville then ended up in Los Angeles, Don Davis at Colorado Springs and then Louis Desabato went to, I believe it was Rochester for a few years before he ended up many, many years in the San Antonio Zoo.

00:18:03 - 00:18:05

So what was your relationship with Warren Thomas?

00:18:05 - 00:19:12

Warren, I did not know when I was at Columbus. He had already moved on and was in Omaha at that time. Warren went on to do a consulting job for the people in Brownsville, Texas for the Earl C. Sams Foundation who were going to build the zoo, which ended up being called the Gladys Porter Zoo. And he did the through the ’67, ’68, ’69. He helped them with the construction of the zoo. And when it came time to staff it, he called me and asked me if I’d be interested in the associate director veterinary position, which I jumped at, because it was a wonderful opportunity to go to a brand new zoo and build a collection from nothing. The Foundation provided very good financial support. So we had the means to put a world class collection together.

00:19:12 - 00:19:52

And it was just an interesting challenge. So in 1970, I went from Columbus to Brownsville, Texas to work with Warren Thomas. I worked with him for four years and in April of 1974, he left and subsequently then went on to Los Angeles Zoo. And then I became the director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in 1974. And we’re gonna talk in more detail about some of that time, but just to follow through on one quick question.

00:19:52 - 00:20:06

And that was, and then we’ll do a little more detail, why did you wanna leave veterinary medicine per se, to go then to the zoo in Brownsville where you were gonna be more into management?

00:20:10 - 00:22:00

A zoo veterinarian has a very defined function, and that is the care of the animal collection to provide for their animal health. It doesn’t take into consideration all of the different ramifications that for instance, the educational, the research, some of the other aspects, unless you get into a little broader area. And being the associate director, I thought that I would have the opportunity to influence more than just the animal health of the collection. I got to do all of the purchasing and putting together of the nuts and bolts of the collection. Dr. Thomas of course said we wanted to work with this species, that species and the other species. And then I ended up working with the various zoos and animal dealers to try and find the specimens to put together the family groups that we put together. I didn’t necessarily want to get away from medicine, but it was just an opportunity to be a little more broadly involved in the overall zoo aspect. When Dr. Thomas left, I sort of had it put to me that we’d like you to be the director and if you don’t, we can understand, but we’re gonna hire someone and bring them in and we don’t know who that would be. So either you can do it or we’ll bring someone else in to do it.

00:22:00 - 00:22:14

And at that time, our curatorial staff urged me to go ahead and step up from associate to the directorship. Well, let me ask, go back just a sec, ’cause we’ll hit more of that.

00:22:14 - 00:22:25

When you were talking about exotic medicine with animals and you were teaching at Ohio State, what were you trying to convey to the people there?

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You were teaching exotic medicine, but that was still an emerging science.

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Anything surprise you about animals exotics as you were teaching this class?

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Were there any discoveries that you made along the way?

00:22:39 - 00:23:48

Well, basically we weren’t, as veterinary students, given much training in exotic animal medicine. There was one elective course as a senior and I had these students for one week out of the year to come to the Columbus Zoo and to try and teach them. And basically the main focus of this was to give them information about working with animals that they might see in private practice, raccoons, skunks, ferrets, pocket pets, and also then some bird medicine, primarily citizen type parrots type birds, things like this. And then to go into some of the rehab work that they might get into such as working with injured raptors, that where they might be called upon to assist putting an eagle or a hawk back together. Now you talked about that you were full-time veterinarian at the zoo, and then you became the mammal curator ’cause of the vacancy.

00:23:48 - 00:23:53

Was it difficult to do both jobs or how did that work?

00:23:54 - 00:24:30

It worked very well because we had a very experienced keeper staff in Columbus. They knew their animals. They didn’t need a lot of hands-on. This is what you feed this animal. This is what you do here. The curatorial work at that time, mostly consisted of representing the mammals department at the staff meetings, working with personnel for scheduling, things like this. And it was not a conflict.

00:24:31 - 00:24:33

Were your days long?

00:24:34 - 00:24:51

Yes, the days were long, but the days were always interesting. No two days were the same so that you never became bored. and it was something where I always looked forward to going to work.

00:24:51 - 00:25:19

Now you had mentioned that in joking that you didn’t have any conflict as a veterinarian with the mammal curator, but indeed there is conflict at times between veterinarians and curators or animal keepers having worked on the keeper end, so to speak as, when you started and being a veterinarian, do you feel you had a sensitivity in helping and understanding each side and ultimately in director working with these groups?

00:25:19 - 00:27:01

Most definitely the being a keeper first and then a veterinarian and curator before I became a director, made me sensitive to the entire spectrum of animal care. And I appreciated the work that keepers did and the fact that they would have to be the eyes and ears of the veterinarian. If you couldn’t work with the keepers, you couldn’t take care of their animals because you could not observe them as much as they needed to be observed to know what was going on in their lives. So early on, I realized that you either had the confidence and respect and mutual respect with the keepers or you couldn’t function as a veterinarian. Conversely, when I became a director, I had been through all of these other positions and I realized that that to be a director, unless you had the confidence and respect and could work with the staff members, it wouldn’t work. And yes, in several instances I have been involved, after I became a director, with conflict between veterinarians and curators. And at conferences, or sometimes with phone calls, I’d be consulted by other zoo directors who say, “Hey, you’re a vet and we’re having problems with our animal care department and the veterinary department with.” And usually it was turf issues.

00:27:02 - 00:27:07

Who’s in charge when I go to treat an animal?

00:27:07 - 00:27:11

Is the curator in charge or is the veterinarian in charge?

00:27:11 - 00:27:56

And if they disagree, who takes precedence and things like this. And it usually came down to personalities. And in some instances you’d have a very experienced curator and a very inexperienced veterinarian or vice versa. And they each wanted, so to speak, insert their own influence on a situation. And they would have conflict when really conflict didn’t need to occur if they would just sit down and find out their commonalities versus their differences.

00:27:56 - 00:28:00

Well now, without mentioning names, does any memorable story come up to you?

00:28:04 - 00:29:21

It’s hard without mentioning names or without putting instances without people later on being able to figure out who it was. So, I would rather pass on that question. Okay. (chuckles) When you first went, you said you went to Brownsville as the associate director under Warren Thomas. Did you have anything in the back of your mind like I’m gonna go there and I think I wanna be a director someday or not. That was in the back of my mind to consider being a director. But I figured that I’d go to Brownsville and stay five years and then move on to another zoo. And through my career, I had the opportunity to interview for many fine zoo positions and each time that I did consider it, either my board would talk me out of it or I decide maybe I had a better deal or I was than what it would be. ‘Cause I had a pretty ideal situation in Brownsville.

00:29:21 - 00:30:04

I had a Foundation that was willing to provide financially for the major needs of the zoo. I had a very supportive board of directors and it was run by a zoological society, not by a city. So I didn’t have to put up with the city bureaucracy. And as long as I could keep my board happy, they would be supportive of me. So yeah, I had in the back of my mind to be a director, but I didn’t think I’d be in Brownsville and that I’d be the director there for 36 years. Now we were talking about Ohio.

00:30:04 - 00:30:13

Was it difficult to move from the Midwest to Brownsville, Texas, which is certainly different from Midwest?

00:30:13 - 00:30:14

How’d your wife feel?

00:30:14 - 00:31:22

Brownsville, Texas was to me an easy transition because I liked the Texas attitude and that’s pretty much, leave me alone, I’ll do my thing. You do your thing. And there wasn’t a lot of interference on things. At that time, I was married to my first wife for 18 years and she did not like Brownsville that much, although she did like the beach and the warm weather. So she enjoyed that, but she really did not embrace the culture as much as I did. To me, the cultural of diversity was stimulating. I loved it. Brownsville’s about 86% Hispanic. And so I was all of a sudden living in a minority situation and I had to learn a new culture and be aware of the cultural sensitivities in order to be effective there.

00:31:23 - 00:31:38

So to me, moving from Ohio to Brownsville, Texas was not a problem at all. My wife after, we were divorced in 1979, immediately moved back to Ohio.

00:31:38 - 00:31:44

So I guess that gives you what to answers your question about how did my wife like it there?

00:31:47 - 00:32:48

My children did well there in school. I still have one daughter that lives in the Rio Grande valley. My other daughter lives in Atlanta because she married a man from Atlanta after she was transferred there. She worked for Macy’s and they transferred her to Atlanta. She married a guy from Georgia tech and been there ever since. My youngest son who was from with my second wife is true Texas and born and raised in Texas, went to Texas A&M university. He’s a computer programmer, computer kind of guy and he still lives in College Station Texas works for a computer design firm there. Well now can you contrast the zoo you left with the zoo you came to.

00:32:48 - 00:32:52

What were they both like, what you left and what you came to?

00:32:53 - 00:33:57

Columbus Zoo when I was there was totally different than it is today. It’s probably one of the models that we should use about municipal politically run zoo versus a zoological society operated private sector zoo. And then of course the Columbus Zoo has had a boon with Jack Hannah putting it on the map. And Jack was probably the single biggest stimulus that helped the Columbus Zoo grow. When I was working in Columbus on when I left Columbus in 1970, it was typical municipal operation. We had a budget, it rose and fell like the city budget did. We had civil service. The curators did not have nearly the say over the hiring and firing of their employees.

00:33:57 - 00:34:59

We had a union there, but it was not a strong union. So it was a typical municipal zoo. We had to write purchase orders out to buy light bulbs and toilet paper for the restrooms and things like this. It was a lot of mundane paperwork involved with it. When I went to Brownsville, being a privately operated zoo, as long as we could justify what we needed, there was not a lot of red tape about getting it as long as we could show that we were getting what we needed at a competitive price and all. Our personnel we could hire and fire pretty much at will, Texas isn’t at will employers state. So it made management a little bit easier as far as personnel were concerned. It gave us more flexibility.

00:34:59 - 00:35:04

You mentioned that Dr. Warren Thomas was director of the zoo when you first arrived there.

00:35:06 - 00:35:16

Could you tell us a little bit about his working style and how well did you mesh with him?

00:35:18 - 00:36:24

Warren Thomas was one of the most interesting men I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. He had a photographic memory. He could read a chapter in a book and a week later someone would ask him something about it and he could quote what that book said about that. So he was a virtual encyclopedia of information, especially about wild animals. He was interested in the world’s wildlife from the time he was in high school, and maybe before, I didn’t know him then, but he had read voluminous amounts of information. And he went to veterinary school not to become a veterinarian, but to become a zoo director. And that was his stated purpose. Warren was always impatient when he wanted to do something, he wanted to do it now.

00:36:24 - 00:37:04

And he didn’t care if there were proper procedures that maybe he should have gone through. If he saw a way to get the job done quicker, he did it. And sometime this got him into trouble with the various entities that he was employed by. So he taught me a lot about management, but he taught me a lot of maybe how not to do things, to get along with your employer and helped me to avoid making the same kind of mistakes later on in my career.

00:37:04 - 00:37:09

Well, what’s an example of what he taught you about management that helped you in your career?

00:37:10 - 00:38:49

Well, first thing he taught me was know your subject, research it well to be sure that if you were gonna propose something, that it had a proper Foundation behind it. And then to go ahead with it. I think where I learned from his actions was yes, once you had the plan, you needed to convince the people that wrote the check, so to speak, the people that employed you, that this was the correct plan and to go about it in such a manner that they were comfortable with it. Many times Warren would decide we were gonna do something and would implement the plan. And the first time that the Foundation controller would find out about it was when the invoice hit his desk and this doesn’t make for happy employers. And I think this is what I learned from Warren was to keep everyone informed all the way along every step of the way. And when you’re gonna put together, for instance, a new exhibitor, a new group of animals, get the keeper involved, find out what their wants and desires are, find out that they’re comfortable with this, make sure you have a proper facility. Early on when we were building the zoo, a lot of times we would have animals arrive that we had arranged to either purchase or get on loan and we didn’t have their facility ready for ’em.

00:38:49 - 00:39:16

So we’d have to hurry up and get together a temporary facility until our regular facility was ready. And that bothered me a lot because I was at that time, the veterinarian that had to make sure that these animals were properly cared for. And in many instances, I know we could have done a better job had we had the exhibit ready before we had the animals on hand.

00:39:16 - 00:39:18

So what was your relationship with Warren?

00:39:18 - 00:40:47

I mean, how did you guys fashion. Warren and I were good friends. I looked up to him, he and I worked well together. He learned early on that I got along pretty well with people. And sometimes he would send me to a meeting or to meet with construction people about a problem we had with what they were doing because early on, he, with his very direct breast attitude, had alienated our superintendent that was building the zoo. So I would do that. On a professional scale, you’ve been in the zoo business long enough to remember the wild animal propagation trust, which was consortium of the larger zoos, New York, Bronx, Philadelphia, the National Zoo, some of these early on big time zoo operations got together and decided that there were certain species of animals that should not be taken from the wild. And they formed a group that said you can’t do this, or you’ll face the wrath of the zoo field.

00:40:47 - 00:41:59

And Warren got in trouble because he imported four orangutans from Indonesia and did not have the blessing of the Wild Animal Propagation Committee when he did it. And so they called him to go before the board and this was shortly after I’d gone to Brownsville. And so this would’ve been in the fall of 1970 and he didn’t feel like he wanted to appear before the board. So he sent me to represent his situation. And basically all I could give him was the facts. I mean, yes, four animals came in and they were in this physical condition and we did this with them, et cetera. But you can imagine my consternation at the time, because I was a young, so to speak, 29 year old associate director at a smaller zoo. And there I was facing the director of the National Zoo, the director of the Bronx Zoo, the director of the Philadelphia Zoo.

00:41:59 - 00:42:29

And these were all formidable well-established pillars of the zoo community. And here I was the young kid off the street trying to justify something that I really didn’t almost understand at the time. So it was a total immersion. Now, when you were there, I’m gonna ask you a series of questions here about Gladys Porter in the zoo and so forth. When you were there, the zoo was still being constructed.

00:42:32 - 00:42:32


00:42:34 - 00:42:59

I arrived there in July of 1970. The zoo construction actually started in 1968 and it wasn’t opened until 1971, September 3rd, 1971. We opened the zoo. So yes, I was there for the last year, a little over a year of construction and quite heavily involved in the construction.

00:43:00 - 00:43:07

Can you give us a little capsule thoughts about who was Gladys Porter?

00:43:07 - 00:43:14

How did the zoo come into being, did she have a vision?

00:43:14 - 00:43:19

Did you know her? How was she involved?

00:43:20 - 00:44:15

Micromanagement just didn’t care, wrote the checks. How did it all start? And tell us a little about that. Okay. In the mid ’60s, Gladys Porter traveled quite a bit. Her husband, Dean Porter, was an ardent hunter. And he started to go to Africa for hunting trips. And Gladys would go with him and she had no interest at all in hunting, never wanted to be a part of it. So while Dean would go on his hunting safari, she would go on a photo of safari in the other direction with another car and driver and she got very much involved in animals and appreciated them.

00:44:16 - 00:45:17

Then she started to see where they were being poached, decimated, saw them snared, the utilization of the animals and she really wasn’t comfortable with it. She wanted to be more involved. And so they had done many projects at the time in Brownsville with money that their Foundation, the Earl C. Sams Foundation had provided them. To understand that you have to understand who Earl C. Sams was. Earl C. Sams was the first employee of JC Penny in a small, dry good store in Kemin, Wyoming. And this was called the Golden Rule store. And this was in 1907. And then Mr. Penny went on to establish the second store.

00:45:19 - 00:46:44

And then by 1917, they had a series of 15 or more stores. And Mr. Sams was the first manager of the satellite store when Mr. Penny established it. So he was number one employee, number one manager. He went on that, I think it was around 1917 that Mr. Penny became chairman of the board and Earl C Sams became president of the JC Penney Company, a position he held until the mid ’50s when he retired. And so during that time, he made some money for the JC Penney Company, but I also made some for himself and he established a Foundation. Mr. Sams had two daughters, Camille and Gladys, and they were from new Rochelle, New York, but they would travel to Brownsville, Texas in the wintertime for the warm weather. And they were some of the first winter Texans, and they would come down, spend three or four months and then go back to New York. During the time that they were in Texas, both Gladys and Camille married local Brownsville people.

00:46:44 - 00:47:42

They were both in the farming and ranching business. And so they moved to Brownsville when they established the Foundation, the Earl C Sams Foundation, Gladys was the first president and they established their offices in Brownsville. And so they did many community service projects. They built a wing on the hospital, at that time they were going through polio when they built that. And so they built a wing to treat the polio patients, which then was turned into something else once we got polio on the run. They built a field house for Pan American University. They built the high school stadium for football and track the Earl C Sams Stadium. They built a part that was named after Dean Porter, which was in the central part of Brownsville.

00:47:42 - 00:49:01

And it just so happened that there were about 30 acres across the street that they subsequently ended up obtaining when they decided to build the zoo. Gladys hired Warren Thomas, as a consultant when they started to get the idea that they wanted to build a zoo. And so that’s how Warren got involved. He was at Omaha as the director at the time. And when Warren started to get with them, he immediately saw that this was an opportunity to maybe establish a zoo that was primarily endangered species oriented. And so he took them on trips to Africa, to Southeast Asia, where they could see the different wildlife and see what they wanted to put together. And then their original concept for the Brownsville Zoo was to have it native Texas animals. And he soon convinced them that the ranchers in Texas were doing quite well with native Texas animals and they didn’t need any trouble, but that the endangered species did.

00:49:01 - 00:49:26

And so that’s how the endangered species concept got involved. It was Warren convincing the Earl C Sams Foundation that that was the route to go in order to do something meaningful for the zoo. So Gladys Porter makes the decision to build a zoo and she brings Warren Thomas on full staff, so to speak, to develop this.

00:49:27 - 00:49:40

And did she just step back after that or was she actively involved in going to find the animals or was she just writing checks?

00:49:40 - 00:50:47

Not at all. Gladys was not that kind of a person. Gladys was a very hands-on person involved. For instance, she started the Junior Service League in Brownsville, she and her sister, Camille, and they were extremely active in it in the early days until they could see that it was in good hands and then they still were members, but did not spearhead it so to speak. She was involved in all the projects they did. She wanted to be sure, number one, that they built state of the art facilities for the stadium. I mentioned the hospital, but she also wanted to see that they got a proper deal and that their money wasn’t squandered. And so she was interested in all phases, the design, the implementation, and then the hiring of the proper staff to see that it would be run and the management. So, no, she was very much hands-on.

00:50:48 - 00:52:17

As far as was she meddlesome, no, she was not meddlesome, but after the zoo was built, she loved to watch a Soap Opera that was on at lunchtime. And so she would have her lunch at home, watch her Soap Opera, and then she’d normally come to the zoo and she’d show up around 1:15 and normally sit when Warren was the director, would sit and chat with him for 15 or 20 minutes. And then sometimes if we had something new baby or something the interest, one of the curators would take her and out on the grounds and then she’d be gone by 2:30 or so. And that was her routine when she was in town. Same thing after I became director, she would come in. She and I became very close friends. She had a lot of respect for Warren Thomas’s ability, but she got very frustrated with him because of his direct activities, how he would pursue projects sometimes without involving the Sam’s Foundation and then later on the zoological board. I never had that rapport with her.

00:52:17 - 00:52:53

I always involved her from day one with planning. And what do you think about this and that and we got along, I think so well, because she felt part of the process instead of the one that was just expected to write the check. So you had indicated the original vision of Glades and warrants was an endangered species zoo. And to that end, you purchased or acquired many endangered species. Hunter’s heart of beast, some many others that came to the zoo.

00:52:53 - 00:52:54

How did you acquire those?

00:52:54 - 00:53:00

You dealt with animal dealers exclusively. You did most of it. You did a little of it.

00:53:00 - 00:53:03

Was she involved in that process?

00:53:03 - 00:53:06

How did that work?

00:53:06 - 00:54:28

Interestingly, she was actively involved in the capture of our giraffes. She and her one of her closest friends in Brownsville, Mrs. Duffy, went to Africa on safari, and there was a animal dealership that was active then and still is International Animal Exchange. And they had a base camp in Nanyuki, Kenya, which is right adjacent to the Mount Kenya Safari Club. And they went over there and were guests of Don Hunt, who was one of the owners of the company. And he took them out on safari with him to catch gravy zebra and articulated giraffe. And so they did get to observe that although they didn’t do the catching, but they were present while the animals were captured and then acclimated in their moments. In 1970, late in the year or early ’71, I forget exactly which, I was sent to Africa to bring back a boatload of animals. That’s the last shipload of animals that ever came into the US.

00:54:29 - 00:55:50

Because after that time, we had big enough planes with 747 and all that they could bring elephants and giraffe and things by air. But at that time we brought in 11 giraffes as debt cargo on a ship. We brought back about five rhinos. We brought back ostrich’s the group of heart beasts that you talked about, which were the, at that time, the only captive group in North America, there was one other captive group that went to Dverclove in Czechoslovakia. and they were all part of a group that Don Hunt had captured. This was a very rare antelope, extremely hard to exhibit in captivity because the animals were so aggressive toward each other. And also they had a very specialized diet where they came from the Tana River area of Kenya was quite arid and very inhospitable area. And so they had learned to survive on certain foods and these weren’t available once they came into captivity.

00:55:50 - 00:56:51

So it was a process to get them over. On that shipload of animals, which left from Mombasa East Africa, went around the Southern tip of Africa up to New York, where they had to go into quarantine at Clifton, New Jersey for 30 days. And so I rode with the ship on the way back, I had two assistants to help. We had 83 animals. So we got ’em all back except one hundreds antelope that had been sick when they loaded her. And they said, well, you can probably take care of her just as well onboard the ship as we could take care of her here. So they shipped her and we knew that she possibly wouldn’t make it,. But all the others made it in good shape, including some very rare small antelope, black duiker and gentling duiker, and yellow-back duiker.

00:56:52 - 00:57:40

All of which Gladys Porter Zoo became noted for. We had the only gentlins duiker in the world in captivity from that point in 1970, until we finally the last one died early in the 2008, I believe. So we kept a group going that started from three different founders for 20 some years, or actually for 40 years. But that was another story. Now you’re on this, I have to ask you, you’re very few people have had that experience of bringing groups of animals over and a boat.

00:57:40 - 00:57:42

Any memorable stories from that?

00:57:42 - 00:58:56

Oh yeah. We went through one near hurricane going around the Southern tip of Africa. And then again, coming across the Atlantic, before we got into New York, we had swells waves like 38 feet high, and this was a 500 foot long German built, wonderful freighter. It was only like three months old when we got on it. So it was brand new. It was a good ship and it could stand to take those seas, but for like two days off of the Southern tip of Africa, and then again for about two days before we got into New York, we were in Gale force winds and had a lot of problems. Probably the most notable incident that happened there was some rolling back and forth as we were going along. And the zebras were in crates, wooden crates, and we would feed ’em and water ’em and then clean ’em out and all in there.

00:58:56 - 01:00:00

And there was so much bumping back and forth that one zebra kicked the end out of its crate. And so they gave me the ship’s medical quarters to live in while we’re on ship. So I’m in my bunk in the seas are rolling. Fortunately, I didn’t get seasick. And about six o’clock one morning, just at daylight, the little Pakistani cabin boy came and was pounding on my door and hollering words that I couldn’t understand. And I took it that he wanted me to come with him. And so I sleepily came out onto to the deck of the ship and there I see a gravy zebra on the ship. It couldn’t stand up because the ship was rolling so much, the water was coming over the sides and the zebra would roll from one rail all the way across the ship.

01:00:00 - 01:00:13

And then when the ship would go back the other way, it’d roll all the way across to the other way. Fortunately, there was about a four foot handrail all the way around, two or three rails, and that kept him from going overboard.

01:00:13 - 01:00:22

And so we had to figure out, oh my gosh, how are we gonna get that animal back and get him into a crate and get him done?

01:00:22 - 01:00:47

So I had to sedate him. And fortunately I had some drugs on board that I could do that, but I couldn’t have any capture pistols or anything because of customs and all. So I just had the hand syringe. So as zebra went by, I had to get a syringe full of sedative into him.

01:00:47 - 01:00:56

And then once he was to the point where it was safe, why four of us put him back into a crate and then repaired the crate?

01:00:56 - 01:01:22

So that was a little different experience. But surprisingly enough, giraffe are some of the most resilient animals around. They were in large crates with canvas tops over ’em and they would brace their feet one way and then the other as the ship rolled, and they didn’t have any problems at all and ate right through the whole storms and everything.

01:01:22 - 01:01:24

How many days were you at sea?

01:01:24 - 01:01:43

23 Days at sea. And I imagine your days were pretty filled. Pretty filled from daylight to dark we were busy. It was hard. So now you get these animals to Brownsville, you’re in good shape, you’re still the associate director.

01:01:43 - 01:01:44

and the veterinarian?

01:01:44 - 01:02:53

How difficult was it doing both of those jobs as compared to the jobs you had at Columbus when you were doing dual jobs. In Brownsville, here again, we had a very good staff put together there, Dr. Thomas Cherry pick people he wanted, and they were all hands-on people. Our curators were not just book curators. They were people who knew animals, knew how to handle, knew how to manage ’em. So I had a good crew that I worked with and they basically would let me know, we need to do this, we need to know that, do that. And we would go ahead and do it. We went from zero animals to over a thousand animals in one year. And if you can imagine you asked where the animals came from, I would say at that time, the majority of ’em came from animal dealers and we purchased them, but we’d get calls from the airport every day.

01:02:53 - 01:03:44

We have a shipment of animals here for you. and we were dealing with several dealers, most of ’em are out of Florida who were importing things out of South America. And we would get a call, hey, we’ve got 40 flamingos here for you. Or we have this or that. And usually the dealer would let us know, at least the day they were coming. We didn’t know always which flight and all that. They didn’t seem to be that informative, but we’d go and get ’em and we’d have to bring them in and delouse them. These were animals coming in from the wild or from holding areas and we’d have to Delouse them, warm them, check them over for injuries that they’d received.

01:03:44 - 01:04:22

And so there was a lot of work, a lot of processing. And it seemed like at that time, it was just natural, to be the person that had arranged for the purchase and then the person that was responsible for treating them when they came in and then the curators would have to make sure they had quarters to put them in and they knew about feeding and the day to day care of them pretty well. Now you had learned about curators and veterinarians when you were in Columbus, as you were a veterinarian and associate director dealing with curators.

01:04:22 - 01:04:26

Did you have any of those issues crop up that your experience helped you with?

01:04:27 - 01:05:51

We had a very strong minded mammals curator, and he and I sometimes got into it. And the fact that I was actually his boss made it to the point that I had the final word. It always wasn’t consensus, I respected this curator. I took what he had to say very seriously. But if I thought that there was something that needed to be done better or safer, that was usually my issue with them was the safety, because this fellow was sometimes not real careful and would jump in and grab something when maybe we should have considered being a a little more conservative with it. So we would sometimes end up with differences, not bad and he and I managed to maintain and still maintain a very good working relationship and are friends.

01:05:51 - 01:05:58

Now, as veterinarian, you were dealing with other veterinarians, how did that work around the United States?

01:05:58 - 01:06:02

What was the state of the art of communication with these people?

01:06:02 - 01:06:05

Did you call each other to consult?

01:06:05 - 01:06:06

How did that work?

01:06:08 - 01:07:12

In the beginning, it was a pretty loose connection between zoo veterinarians around the country. As I say, the Zoo Veterinarian Association didn’t start until about the late ’60s. And it was a loose group of people who started meeting at Michigan State University back in ’67, ’68. And at that time there were probably only 25 zoo veterinarians, more or less. We would meet once a year at an annual meeting, but then we would call around by phone quite a bit. At that time, there weren’t any formal programs like they have now for residencies or internships for zoo veterinarians. So yes, our communication was direct. It was person to person.

01:07:12 - 01:08:37

It was not so much an association thing at that time. As the Zoo Veterinarian Association grew to the point where I think it’s over six or 700 now active veterinarians around not just the US, but mostly North American, but also European, communication became better. And we had more formal papers being presented. We had a journal that put out a quarterly referee journal. And so articles became better known. We also were getting physiological normals down, which Dr. Lysis S Seal and a program that he and Dr. Mackey started back in the ’70s to develop, what’s the normal blood picture of a polar bear of a grizzly bear of a spectacle bear, all of these different things. And so Dr. Seal traveled all over the country and collected blood from various zoo animals, and then they would take it back. He was a VA researcher.

01:08:37 - 01:09:25

And so he had a grant that he could do this with. And they started publishing these tables, which gave the zoo vets sort of a guideline to go by whenever they would get a sick animal, they could check it, then they could check it to compare it to the normals. and that helped a lot. So as the zoo profession grew, the zoo veterinary profession grew, the amount of information available became more voluminous to the point now where there’s almost more than, than you can wrap your hands around and you have to pick and choose and become specialized in one form or another.

01:09:25 - 01:09:30

Did you have any mentors within that veterinary group?

01:09:30 - 01:11:13

Yes, Dr. Clinton gray at the National Zoo, Dr. Jack brunette from Dallas, Fred Soyfer from Houston. These were all some of the early leaders, Paul Chaffey from Fresno Zoo. And if I had a problem or a question, I could pick up the phone and call one of them or call two or three of them and get their experience. Early on when there’s a drug called M-99, when it came out back in the, it would’ve been about ’68 or ’69. And I was one of the experimental people in developing that drug to try it on different species and report the findings and back to the company. And Lee Simmons, who was a colleague who I had known in Columbus was a veterinarian there while I was a keeper. And I got together at one of the annual meetings and we were talking about M-99 because he was one of the principal investigators as well. And I said to Lee, “Have you ever tried M-99 on any of the great apes chimpanzees or anything?” He says, “Oh my God. Yes.” And I said, “Well, what happened?” He said, “Well, I gave Mickey,” which was the animal that he was talking about X number of milligrams, and immediately went into respiratory arrest.

01:11:13 - 01:11:36

I laughed. I said, well, join the club. I did the same thing in Columbus and had to immediately give the reversal agent and put ’em on oxygen to revive ’em because it doesn’t work. So we had fun instances like that, where things didn’t turn out to be too bad and we shared information.

01:11:38 - 01:11:48

What was the state of the tranquilizer drugs now that you mentioned it when you were doing things in Africa or at the zoo at the time you were at starting at Brownsville?

01:11:52 - 01:13:02

When I was in veterinary school, the two drugs were nicotine sulfate, which was a paralytic agent and very, very sensitive as far as the dosage. And you could give a certain amount and nothing would be apparent, and you’d give another 25% over that and the animal die. So that was a very touchy drug to use. Another one that in use back in the ’60s was sescenal korine or socastrine, much the same story. One dose would be perfect, a little bit more would be fatal unless you had oxygen on hand and could keep them undergoing respiration until they recovered. Then in 1970, ’71, the M-99 started to come out and be available. And that really worked quite well for most hoofed animals. We used it on cats and bears.

01:13:02 - 01:13:44

Obviously it was fatal to primates, which was one of the things that we had to be so careful about because you have keepers around, you have helpers around when you’re immobilizing animals. And if they would get in contact with one of these drugs, either while loading a syringe or bouncing a dart off of an animal and hitting one, it could be fatal to the human handler. So we had to be extremely careful with it, but it was available. German company made it, and it was being used in Africa at the time I brought that shipload of animals back.

01:13:44 - 01:13:51

Now as an associate director and as a director, did you make rounds of the zoo?

01:13:51 - 01:14:50

Oh, yes. And we made rounds. The curators made rounds every morning. Now they would have keeper meetings, keepers would come in and report any abnormalities in their area. Then they’d usually report it to the veterinarian. And then the veterinarian would go with the curator together to the various areas and see the animals. As a director, daily rounds were not part of my routine, certainly three times a week were, but usually there were so many meetings scheduled and things that you didn’t have time to be that intimately involved with the individual animals. And it was only when something was brought to your attention that you would put in your 2 cents.

01:14:50 - 01:14:57

Were there animals at the zoo that you were intimately involved with and why?

01:15:00 - 01:16:12

I’ve always been partial to the great apes since that’s where I started in a zoo. And we had two gorillas in Brownsville that were the original ones that came down. They were imported as five year old animals, more or less. And they went to the Omaha Zoo originally where Warren Thomas was and were held there from 1968, until we could take ’em in 1970 in Brownsville. Lamidock, and Katoga were the two first gorillas that came in. They went on to produce several offspring. And so I knew all of them closely, not nearly as closely as the curatorial staff did or the keepers, but knew them by name. Had one chimpanzee in particular, I had a close relationship with, and I’m not sure why, but she seemed to single me out as someone that she trusted, her name was rusty.

01:16:12 - 01:17:15

She was a female chimp and probably the single most agile chimpanzee that I’ve worked with. She escaped on two different occasions from the chimpanzee exhibit. And in one instance got out into the outside of the zoo, into the surrounding area. And she went into a supermarket and was running up and down the produce aisle on top of all the vegetables and the fruits and helping herself and throwing them and just making a general mess out of things. Then they got her the coasted. They tried to get her to go outside. Well, they had called the zoo veterinarian at the time that was working for us, my cues and our general curator, Jerry stones. And so they arrived on the scene and tried to coax her with food, which obviously, she was in the middle of a produce department.

01:17:15 - 01:18:17

So food didn’t work too much on her. So she ran outside and there was a police unit there and she walked right over and climbed in the cop car and sat down in the passenger side and the policeman on the other side immediately vacated. And he didn’t want anything to do with that hairy thing. So she got out of the police car, went across the street to a local convenience store and went in there and she was in there sampling the muffins and the Danish rolls and things by Jerry and Mike caught up with her and Mike, our veterinarian wanted to get a dart into her, but she knew that dart gun. And as soon as she saw that she was in defensive mode. And so they didn’t have any luck with her. So she knew Jerry pretty well. And so he went over and there was some French strawberry ripple wine there.

01:18:17 - 01:18:57

And so he sat down on the floor and handed her a bottle of strawberry ripple. And so she’d drink some and then he’d pretend to drink some. And so he got about a half a bottle of wine into her and she got a little more mellow then. And she went into a restroom and then they were able to dart her and bring her back. About two years later, she got out again and she was loose on the zoo ground. So we had several keepers chasing her back and forth out in the central part of the zoo. And she was petrified and they were afraid of her. She was not handleable at all.

01:18:57 - 01:20:00

And I just happened to be coming around the corner in a golf cart. And she saw me and I hollered her there and said, “Rusty, what are you doing?” And she screamed and gave the big smile like they do and came running over and she took my arm and she put her mouth right on my arm. And I thought, “Oh, this isn’t gonna be good.” But she just sat there and held on me. And so I very slowly drove over to the back of the chimpanzee exhibit. And I had radioed ahead and had the keepers there with a bucket of apples and bananas, which were her favorites. And we walked then with the bucket still with her mouth on my arm at first. And then she finally took the banana and walked in and went back into the building. So she knew that I probably wasn’t gonna hurt her because by then I wasn’t a veterinarian that had to be shooting her with the dart gun.

01:20:00 - 01:20:57

I was a friend who brought her apples. And so, yeah, I’ve had some personal things. Another time and zoo guys are always talking about animals that get out. Our big male gorilla Lamida we had on an island exhibit, which I was totally against. When you ask about Warren Thomas and I agreeing on things, that was one thing I totally disagreed. And when I became the director, there were a couple of things I told the board that we needed to change or fix. And we had a moat around the gorillas that was over their head they couldn’t swim none of the great apes swim. So they, I felt that was an undue dangerous situation for the animals.

01:20:57 - 01:21:33

Well, the female Katanga, his mate had gotten ill and she had a protozone infection and severe diarrhea and had become dehydrated. We had to remove her and put her in the veterinary clinic where we could get fluids into her. And Lamada was there alone and didn’t like it at all. And so one day he took a run and went out, jumped the entire moat and grabbed a bridge abutment across the moat, climbed up. And he was on the public walkway surrounding the exhibit.

01:21:34 - 01:21:41

And so here again, the keepers, you get the frantic radio call, Lamada is out and what do you do?

01:21:41 - 01:22:48

So we had to go and try and get him in. Well, I was at the office doing associate director work and the veterinary clinics on the other side of the zoo. So I had to have the technician bring the medical bag with the capture drugs and all. Lamada was sort of isolated on a walkway about six feet wide, concrete walkway raised up over the water. And so they had keepers at one end, keepers at the other end, they had brooms and whistles and things that try to keep him, and he didn’t want to go through either end. So I went out and shot him with the dart. And at that time we were using ketamine on the animals to anesthetize them. And the first dart hitting…

01:22:49 - 01:23:18

And I’ll take that back. We were using still sanoline at that time. which was a very potent drug, but shot him with the dart. And he went over and he laid down, put his hands behind his head, propped his feet up on the lower end of the rail. And I thought, oh, this is good. He’s just gonna lay there and go down. We’ll get him back in. Well, we went over to try and get to him, or I did.

01:23:18 - 01:24:16

And as I got within about 10 feet of him, he jumped right up and he was ready to go. And so he came running at me and I cocked the capture rifle with no dart in it and put it in his face and shot the blank powder, the CO2 charge. It didn’t hurt him, but it made a noise and he jumped back. And so he backed off. By then, we had decided that something was wrong with that bottle of sanaline because the dart had hit him in the nice muscle area of his upper arm. I knew the dart had gone off, we’d recovered the dart and the dart had injected. So we figured it was a bad bottle of drug and which subsequently we sent back to the factory and it was a bad bottle. It was basically nothing more than water.

01:24:16 - 01:25:37

So with got another bottle so I could shoot him again, and went to shoot him again but before they could bring the other bottle, he attacked and I tried the blank routine again, it didn’t work. He just took his hand and shoved me aside and went on by and ran right down the middle, the main zoo aisle. And they had cleared most of the people out there. But for some reason, there was some lady that came out of a building and was walking down the middle, pushing a baby straw. And Dave Thompson, who was our bird curator at the time, later on became the associate director, running out and said, “Lady, get outta here, there’s a gorilla coming.” And she looked and instead of running and taking her baby, she just left the baby in the stroller and she went running to get herself to safety. And Dave ran by and he grabbed that baby out of the stroller, ’cause he was a head of my dock trying to clear people away. And he ran by a concessionary and just bounced past the baby through the window into the concession worker that was standing there watching. All of a sudden she had a baby.

01:25:37 - 01:26:10

So Lamada ran into the concessionary, then sat down at a bench and he’s sitting there like this. And by then I had the second bottle of saturnine and popped him and five minutes later why we were taking him back. But there are a few animals that I’ve had close personal relationships with. Most of them turned well, all of them turned out okay but there were some hairy times with some of them. Well now this was during the time you were associate director.

01:26:10 - 01:26:14

And as associate director, what was the favorite part of your job?

01:26:17 - 01:27:01

Working with the animals. Yep. Always has been, always will be. That’s why I got into veterinary medicine because I really like animals like working with them and respect them for their personalities and for their physical capabilities. Most wild animals are so much more physically capable of athletic feats than humans. It’s just unbelievable. And I’ve always respected that and liked to help ’em.

01:27:01 - 01:27:08

During your time as associate director, did you have the opportunity to visit other zoos from Columbus or Brownsville?

01:27:08 - 01:27:33

Yes, I made it a point to try and learn as much as I could about zoos in general and travel as much as I could and have visited zoos in pretty much across the US and also in Scotland, England some of the German zoos and Mexico. I’ve been to the major zoos in Mexico.

01:27:34 - 01:27:42

Now, when you were associate director your responsibilities were they also the budget of the zoo and how did that come about?

01:27:43 - 01:28:30

Well, I sort of fell into being the CFO along with the associate director position because our first director, Warren Thomas, didn’t like to be bothered with numbers. And so he put me in charge of the numbers. And so it was up to me to make sure that we tried to keep the budgets balanced and make sure that the purchases were done correctly so we didn’t end up overpaying for things. And so I negotiated the contracts and did all of the finances. You’d mentioned that gorillas were a favorite animal of yours or the great apes.

01:28:30 - 01:28:36

Did you have other groups of animals you had a personal or have a personal interest in horses?

01:28:37 - 01:29:52

Yes, I had a personal interest in horses. I had horses when I was in college and helped at a polo club. Two of the veterinarians from Columbus area were active in the polo cycle. So I kept a horse at their barn and then I would help exercise their horses and got a lot of firsthand experience that way, I liked horses. And then my first two children were both girls and they had the typical young girl infatuation with horses. And so they went on to get me involved in horses and we ended up with show horses and both of them were miss Texas Apalusa and in different years. And then my one daughter actually has never lost this fascination with horses and as a professional horse trainer. She has a degree in accounting from University of Texas, but she also has never worked a day in her life, in an accounting firm.

01:29:52 - 01:30:37

And she is a full-time horse trainer, primarily with hunters, jumpers, dressage horses, but she got her start and she still works a lot with the teenage girls, which is where your market is for horses, and teaches them Western and showmanship and English and Western writing. And then they usually transition into jumping. Now you mentioned that when you were associate director, Dr. Thomas would decide what animals were gonna be at the zoo, generally, and that you had to figure out how to care for them and take exhibit them and so forth.

01:30:37 - 01:30:43

Did you have input as associate director to say, should we get equine?

01:30:43 - 01:30:45

Should we get other types of animals or not?

01:30:47 - 01:31:49

I, along with the curators, all had input. Warren was a very open person and he loved nothing more than getting us in for impromptu many staff meetings with the three major curators and myself. And we would talk about, wouldn’t it be fun if, if we could do this, if we could do that. Warren hated chimps. He just didn’t like their volatile attitudes, but we ended up with chimps and that was, I think one of the things that, where he didn’t want it, but we ended up with it because the staff wanted to have a family of chimps and Gladys Porter loved chimpanzees. And so she ended up in one of her travelings accepting the donation of a Chimp. Well, you can’t just have one. So we build a Chimp around that one.

01:31:54 - 01:33:04

We ended up with Spolski’s horses and that I don’t think anything other than the following, the endangered theme and we needed to have an equine. So we had gravy zebras and we had Alkis horses. We ended up then transitioning out of the gravy’s into regular grants zebras, the more common Bretalli zebra, simply because we were having foot problems with the gravy’s in our area. But yeah, we got an input on which species to work with. Just a quick question then was Gladys Porter involved in other things where she say, I like, and that was the cue to get it. The Chimp thing is the only one that really stands out, in that instance. She loved animals of all sort. And two of her favorites, we had a analang one of the original group named Susie.

01:33:06 - 01:34:05

And Susie was an animal that had been raised by an animal handler and used in the movies in California, Ralph Heer had her. And we obtained Susie and Ikabad the same time. And Susie was the absolutely nicest sweetest orang I’ve ever been around. To this day, we can still take her out, take her by her hand, sit her in a golf cart. She loves nothing more than ride around and she’ll just sit there and watch and just never creates a problem. Ikabad on the other hand was probably the most diabolic, well, there have been two that I’ve known that have been really bad, ikabad was one, Ching was the other one. Ikabad was a Sumatran orang raised by a Ralph Heer, same way with Susie. Susie turned out to be sweet and nice, ikabad turned out to be a real killer.

01:34:06 - 01:35:23

He is the one that when he was only like a 40 pound animal, he came into Omaha and Lee Simmons at that time was the associate director of veterinarian in Omaha. And Ikabad came out of the crate. Lee tried to take him by the hand and Ikabad ended up biting Lee’s finger off. So if you ever Lee Simmon’s, you realize he has a short finger. And that was Ikabad. And Ikabad was that way from the time he was a little guy and up until the time he died. There’s another story about Ikabad got out one day when we were building the zoo and they were on a peninsula on an island and we had a 12 inch wide two by bridge built across to get into the back of the orang building to service it until we got the full construction done. And one day Ikabad got out, a keeper lef, a lock off, Ikabad got out and he’s coming across that two by 12.

01:35:24 - 01:35:37

And just so happened that I was the first one to get there after the radio call went out, that he was loose in the building. And I got there just in time for him to come across the bridge.

01:35:37 - 01:35:42

And about the time I pulled up, what am I gonna do?

01:35:42 - 01:36:22

I don’t have any capture equipment. I don’t have a big net. I don’t have anything. Well, there was a pile of construction material laying there. So I picked up about a five foot two by four and was gonna contest the bridge with Ikabad. And so Ikabad’s coming across the bridge and I take the two by four and I’m pounding it on the bridge, trying to make noise and hollering at him and tell him, get back, get back. And I knew it wasn’t gonna do any good to hit him with it, but hoping the noise would stop it. And Ikabad just kept coming. And by then, Jerry Stones showed up, our general curator, mammals curator at that time.

01:36:22 - 01:37:06

And he’s screaming and howling. No, get back, get back, go away. He’s killer. And so I slowly backed up and gave ground as he kept coming, but trying to slow him down. And he got out in the middle and he saw Jerry and he hated Jerry. And so he took off after renting after Jerry and I put the board down and I ran up behind him and pushed him in the back and caused him to roll. And then he turned around to see me and I would took off the other way. Fortunately orangs aren’t very fast on the ground. And so he would chase me and Jerry came up behind him on the other end, pushed him in the back, made him roll.

01:37:06 - 01:37:32

He turned and chased Jerry. And we played volleyball with Ichabod for about five minutes until they could get the capture gun equipment and get out there with us, so. Good thing you didn’t slip. Yeah. (chuckles) Yeah. So that’s Ikabad. Now in 1974, you become the managing director of Gladys Porter Zoo.

01:37:32 - 01:37:35

Was the title managing director or director?

01:37:35 - 01:38:11

Well, the title was director. Some people used executive director, some used director, some used managing director. I just used managing director because I felt that that was appropriate title because we had the zoological society and every one of the people on the zoological society was considered to be a director. And so I thought managing director was more descriptive than just plain director. Now you were associate director.

01:38:11 - 01:38:19

How did it come about that the position of director opened up and how did you get into that position?

01:38:19 - 01:38:23

You had someone who was already there who was fairly dynamic.

01:38:23 - 01:38:26

What was the process and how did that unfold?

01:38:28 - 01:39:36

I mentioned earlier, Dr. Thomas was very direct and sometimes didn’t keep his board of directors and the Sam’s Foundation fully informed on what he wanted to do or what he was going to do. And this became increasingly evident over the years that there was a void in their mutual thinking to the point where the board and the Sam’s Foundation told Dr. Thomas that they thought it would be better if he would go to work elsewhere. And so at that point he said he didn’t wanna stay there or if he wasn’t wanted, so he resigned immediately. And then three months later, he was hired as the director of the Los Angeles Zoo, which was a good move for him. He did a good job for them and helped bring that zoo up to a higher level of excellence.

01:39:36 - 01:39:39

So now he leaves, how do they approach you?

01:39:39 - 01:40:34

Or did they do a search or. They didn’t do a search. They already had their mind made up, apparently. And two attorneys for the Sams Foundation came to me the next day and they gave me an ultimatum that I could either be the next director, or I could put up with who they hired from the outside, because I was the only one internally they would want to. And I asked ’em for 24 hours to think about it. And I talked to the rest of the staff and they decided maybe I was the lesser of possibly two evils and they encouraged me to accept it. So I did, and I don’t regret it. It was a hard move at the time I was moving faster than I had anticipated in the zoo field, but it was a good move.

01:40:34 - 01:40:42

So as director, you had to give up being a veterinarian. Right. Right.

01:40:45 - 01:40:50

In the beginning, did you automatically first hire a full-time veterinarian?

01:40:50 - 01:40:50

Oh yeah.

01:40:50 - 01:40:52

Or were you having to do again both jobs?

01:40:52 - 01:42:00

Well, I had to do both jobs till we got a new veterinarian and I’ve had a series of veterinarians that worked for us. Stewart Porter was one of the first ones, Jim Oster Hisis, who then went on to San Diego wild animal park, where he still is, was an excellent veterinarian. He worked for us for a couple years till he went back to San Diego. Mike Hughes, who was a local practitioner outta Corpus Christi. And he did the zoo job for about five years and decided he didn’t want the responsibility anymore of so many expensive animals that he really wasn’t familiar with and didn’t feel comfortable with. So he went back into private practice. Sherry Hunter’s worked for us. She went on then to leave our zoo, went to Dallas, then went on to work in New Zealand and a couple of the Australian zoos.

01:42:00 - 01:43:04

She was good veterinarian. So then my latest hire before I left, I retired in 2007, at the end of 19, or yeah, at the end of 2006, I hired Tom Derma who had about five years experience working in Africa at Old Joji wild animal park in Kenya. And so he brought a mixture of private practice in the US. Then he had worked at fossil rim ranch here in Texas, and then to Africa for five years and then back. And he had worked in Michigan for a couple of years. And he’s been a Gladys Porter for the last seven years and has been a good mixture. Talk a little about now you’re the director of the zoo. You started an Adopt an Animal program.

01:43:06 - 01:43:10

Could you give us some details and how successful was it?

01:43:10 - 01:44:34

Well that wasn’t unique to our zoo. Most zoos had some form of an Adopt an Animal program. The one that we had came about as a part of an annual fundraiser, and we had a couple of dynamic board members, one in particular was a banker who was one of the best marketing guys I’ve ever known, even though he was a banker by profession and they decided they were gonna have the adopt an animal program. And they had hats printed with I adopted et cetera. And at our annual fundraisers, as people came through the doorway, a banker and a local rancher who were both very dynamic, outgoing people, met the people as they walked through and say, hey, look, this is our new program wouldn’t you like to be a part of it. And they signed up a lot of people that night. And so that’s how our program started, but it’s been a, not a good money maker, it’s been probably more of a good public relations program. It makes several thousand dollars a year for the operating expenses, but it it’s really more important that people see that.

01:44:34 - 01:44:54

So, and so, this company or that person is assisting with personal input and financial support of the zoo, maybe we should also. You mentioned when you were offered the position that you had kind of consulted with the staff and they said you might be a better choice than someone we don’t know.

01:44:54 - 01:45:02

When you did become director of the zoo, did they all embrace you or was there some issues with the staff?

01:45:04 - 01:46:17

I don’t think there were so many issues other than who was gonna be the associate director. And I had two different staff persons that both wanted that position. One was a dynamic hepatologist and one was a more generalized person who had a mammals background who, when he came to our zoo, because we had a void in birds, he switched over to embrace birds. He also was our first IT person when computers started to become involved in the zoo arcs and the med arcs, and all these programs came out. He understood that and he was just more of an all around generalist and good with people. So I selected him and that was the right choice. He went on then to become the director of the zoo in Tampa, Florida. And then after he left there, he was the associate director in charge of the animal collection for white Oak Plantation in Yule, Florida.

01:46:20 - 01:46:37

And now that your director you’ve inherited Gladys Porter, so to speak. That was a pleasant inheritance. Was she involved in, you’ve mentioned certain animals she liked and so forth. Was she still then day to day or coming and looking.

01:46:37 - 01:46:39

at things?

01:46:39 - 01:47:22

And she also would go to the AZA meeting every year. She got to know zoo people through meeting Dr. Seal that I mentioned earlier, and Lee Simmons from Omaha, they ask her if she would put up the first challenge grant to establish the zoo computer program, which she put up half of it, or the foundation put up half of it and the US Department of Interior put up the other half of it. So that’s how our zoo computer program for the zoo aquarium association got started.

01:47:22 - 01:47:26

Was it her idea to go to the zoo association meetings?

01:47:26 - 01:47:29

Or was it your idea to take her?

01:47:29 - 01:47:37

I thought it would be good for her to be exposed to others. and she had gone, even when Dr. Thomas was the director.

01:47:39 - 01:47:44

Was she still interested in helping support during the time you’re there?

01:47:45 - 01:48:51

The Sam’s Foundation or through her is still funding the zoo. Their original commitment was the City of Brownsville would supply a certain dollar amount per year. It started at 100,000, it ended up, I think now it’s about close to 475,000, but they would supply a very low level of support. Plus they supplied the electricity, the water and the sewage, which were all three big things. The city provided the land to build the zoo on. Other than that, they had no involvement. They had nothing to do with day to day. Subsequently in the last couple of years, they’ve helped with such things as periodic paving and a couple of major support projects, where they had equipment that we were gonna have to rent or buy and they provided that.

01:48:52 - 01:50:10

But this was at, in the beginning, that was about maybe 10% of the budget of the zoo. And the Sams Foundation said, make what you can on the gate, which made up another like 50%. And then the Sams Foundation, as long as they would approve the annual budget and we’d stay within the annual budget, they would make up the difference, which what we didn’t make at the gate. That went on until 1980. In 1980, Gladys Porter passed away. And at that time, the Sam’s Foundation was run by her daughter, Dorothy Hun. Dorothy, Dody we called her, Dorothy’s husband, John, and Camilla’s two sons, Larry Litner Jr. and Earl Sams Litner, for a couple of years, it went along about the same. Then about ’84, the two Litner brothers decided that they weren’t so sure that they wanted to fund as much of the zoo as was being asked of them because they had other projects.

01:50:11 - 01:51:39

Larry Litner Jr. lived in Corpus Chris, or lived in Houston in Dallas and Earl Sams Layner lived in Corpus and subsequently he moved to Wyoming. So they had different interests and wanted to fund their projects. Gladys’s daughter, Dody, decided that they were gonna support the zoo come whatever. So for a while, we were writing grant requests, one to the Earl C Sams Foundation, which they kept the other was going to the Litner Sams Foundation, which the two Litner boys took and they split the Earl C Sams into two different Foundations. That went on for a while and then in about ’86, John and Dorothy Hahn came to us and on a very amicable, very good way said they wanted to be sure the zoo was able to care for itself in perpetuity better. And they thought we needed to get some broader involvement. So they made us a challenge grant to establish an endowment. And in 1986 was not a good time because periodically Mexico underwent a Paso devaluation.

01:51:40 - 01:52:29

Every time there’d be a new president, every six years, they’d go through a Paso devaluation. And they were doing that at the time. And that impacted businesses along the border. But the board mainly the executive committee decided that we really need to accept their challenge grant. So they made available 3 million. If we could raise 3 million, which our board accepted the challenge, and we raised the 3 million to start the endowment. And that’s been a very integral part of our operating funds. We’ve had about total of 15 million through the years, put into the endowment.

01:52:31 - 01:53:46

We’ve taken the majority of the income every year and given it to the zoo for operating to the point, we’ve given about 15 million to the zoo through the years for operating. And the endowment is still worth about 12 1/2 million. I serve as the secretary for the endowment. We established a separate 501C3 support organization. So we have the zoological endowment and the valley zoological association. And I still serve on the endowment as an officer, even though I’ve retired from the zoo and don’t report to that board any longer. So to what extent at this point in time is the Sam’s Foundation in its entered in its various groupings, supporting the Gladys Porter Zoo name. The Sam’s Foundation, the Earl C Sams Foundation, has continued to support us and to a lesser degree, the Litner Sams with our endowment program.

01:53:46 - 01:54:26

And they have helped us with two different challenge grants where they will make available money. And we’ve had subsequent endowment drives to get up from the original 6 million to the point where, as I say, we’ve raised actually 15 million with their support. This appropriate maybe at this juncture in the beginning, you didn’t have to worry about fundraising. In the beginning. No. Not at all. Now, all of a sudden you’re still director and you have to worry about fundraising.

01:54:26 - 01:54:27

How did that affect?

01:54:27 - 01:54:30

Big time the endowment became a priority?

01:54:30 - 01:54:36

How did that affect you and your responsibilities as director?

01:54:36 - 01:56:02

It took a lot of time and it took time away from what I thought I should be doing. In 1979 and ’80, I was president of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which we now call the AZA. I was also president of our local rotary club that year. I got a divorce in 1979. I got remarried in 1980. I mean, those were crazy years for me. And along then with Gladys’s passing in 1980, in March of 1980, I was that time doing a consulting job for the US State Department. There were three zoo people that they had asked to go to India, to help with India zoos, to do a survey of the Indian zoos and to try and help them. And James Doherty, who was the general curator at the Bronx Zoo, James Dolan, the general curator at San Diego zoo, Richard Felder, who was from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, and myself were asked to go over there.

01:56:02 - 01:57:13

So I was over there when Gladys Porter passed. So it was quite a shock and to come back and then two years later to have this foundation split and then two years after that to start to become talking in the endowment. So yeah, we switched from heavily being involved in zoo management that I outta necessity ended up having to get into more fundraising than I really wanted to do. So when you needed a new exhibit in the earlier days, you would just go to Gladys Porter and kind of explain what you needed in new exhibitry. And we had annual fundraisers through the zoological story. We started an annual safari party, which a lot of zoos have done, and it was successful. We built an aviary, we built an aquatic edition to the Pitar. We did did several major projects around the zoo, but it was always with the assistance of the Sam’s Foundation also.

01:57:14 - 01:57:28

Now you talked about earlier that you, you thought you wanted to be a director, ultimately, when you did become director, how did that veterinary training prove useful to you as a director?

01:57:28 - 01:57:37

Well, the veterinary training is very, very technical, nuts and bolts.

01:57:37 - 01:57:43

How do the various systems in an animal work, what disease processes do you have to be aware of?

01:57:43 - 01:59:14

I mean, it’s a very narrow scope of the overall zoo management. You have to get into then behavior into nutrition, which is also part of veterinary medicine. But you have to be aware of the fundraising of the political workings, HR, human resources, working with people, working with boards, the inter personality conflicts in staff. I mean, there’s so many more things that come in other than just the veterinary, but the one thing that it did give you some zoo directors have had very militant veterinarians that they’ve hired, who come in and make ultimatums to the director about you have to do this, or this dire consequence is gonna happen. And having the veterinary background, I didn’t have to worry about that because I knew probably as much or maybe more than they did. I may not have been quite as up to date on some of the procedures, but overall I knew knew more about it. So that helped a lot. And it helped not only with the zoo collection, but you always are once people know you’re a veterinarian, they’re coming to you and saying, oh, by the way, at a cocktail party, my dog has this or my cat has that.

01:59:15 - 01:59:34

And the fact that you can talk with them on a professional level helps build your credibility as an animal person with maybe the people. And it may have nothing to do with fundraising per se, but in the long run, it helps you develop a rapport.

01:59:35 - 01:59:53

When you came in as director, did you have top items that you wanted to address or enhance that you were had been thinking about or saw that needed to be addressed within the organization or procedures or items like that?

01:59:53 - 02:01:09

I mentioned earlier, I disagreed with Dr. Thomas about keeping apes behind water barriers behind using that as a barrier to keep them in. And so we made that a priority. We converted a sea line exhibit into a gorilla exhibit, which was one of the first things we had done. And we had water no deeper than 24 inches, more of a cosmetic effect around it, where we had raised the islands in the middle where the sea lions had been and lowered the water level. And so it was safer for the gorillas. We went in and put some electrified fence around the orang and the chimpanzee exhibits. And Dr. Thomas hadn’t wanted to do that because he thought it was ugly, and it wasn’t the prettiest, but I at least felt we had addressed the fact to keep the animals away from the water. When we built the zoo, there was a misunderstanding between Dr. Thomas and the design people, and they didn’t put an overflow on the polar bear exhibit.

02:01:10 - 02:02:14

And on two different occasions, we had keepers forget to turn the water off. They would clean the pool. They would turn the water on. It’d be late in the day and they’d leave the water running. It’d be dark. No one would realize it. The water level would realize high enough that the polar bears could just swim over to the edge, climb out of the exhibit. And so we had polar bears out. And that’s one of the most dangerous animals as you know Mark, that you can have to deal with. We had one crusty old Korean War Veteran who had been in the 101 airborne, and he was a champion boxer in the service, heavy stout man, and he came around the corner of the exhibit for the polar bears one day that when the keepers had let the pond up and he saw a polar bear sitting there on the iron railing, that the people were supposed to stand on to keep them back from the water.

02:02:15 - 02:02:56

And so being a tough old boot that he was, he ran over and smacked the polar bear in the nose, and the polar bear went back into the pool and he went around behind and pulled the plug and lowered the water level so they couldn’t get out. So that was one exhibit that I said, had to be modified. So we put an overflow, number one, and we raised the front of the exhibit about six feet so that we didn’t have to worry about polar bears getting out anymore. You had said that in the beginning, the zoo had, in a sense the mission of endangered species.

02:02:56 - 02:03:02

When you became director, did this mission change or was it modified?

02:03:02 - 02:03:03

And what was it under you?

02:03:07 - 02:04:02

We still maintained and wanted to keep the endangered theme. But on the other hand, we realized that there was more to it than that. And the fact that we were more and more dependent upon our gate, that we had to do things, maybe have some things that were for more public interest. And so we changed a few exhibits, but basically we’ve maintained and the Gladys Porter Zoo still maintains an endangered species theme. Unfortunately, more animals have joined the endangered species ranks than have gone off of the endangered species ranks. So more and more animals are now endangered. You mentioned fundraising that you had to get into.

02:04:02 - 02:04:06

How comfortable were you with in this new role?

02:04:06 - 02:04:11

And did you have any strategies that you were implementing to try and promote the zoo?

02:04:14 - 02:05:07

The secret to fundraising is getting people who know people to go and do the asking, not the professional person. So it was identify peers or people that would have influence with other people to go and make the ask, so to speak. That’s not novel our zoo that’s novel, or that’s the common norm throughout the entire fundraising world. I personally, don’t like to ask people for money. I do it because I’m passionate about the program that we need the funding for, but it’s not one of my favorite things. You mentioned the Zoofari and that it was a big success.

02:05:07 - 02:05:20

Do you think it was a big success because you could bring in and did bring in Jimmy Stewart, Betty White, Marlon Perkins, Amanda, you brought these people in or did they just naturally want to come to this?

02:05:20 - 02:06:52

They were all personal friends of Gladys Porter, and while she was still alive, they would come. We had Miss Kitty from “Gun Smoke Fame”, Amanda Blake was a stalwart and she was there at least four or five different fundraising times. And I got to know and adore her. She’s really quite a character. She and her husband, Mr. Gilbert, were into cheetah breeding. So she was not only a friend of Gladys Porters, but she was also intimately interested in animal welfare and in saving endangered animals. After Gladys passed away, and didn’t have all of these personal contacts, we didn’t have so many celebrities come in, but by then Zoofari was an established, it was the major fundraiser in the Rio Grande valley for a number of years. After people saw how successful we were, the McAllen Historical Museum and the McAllen Art Museum, and some of the other institutions in the area started having similar annual fundraisers, but it was the biggest and it still is the most successful.

02:06:52 - 02:08:01

And it’s takes a lot of work, takes mainly organization. And it’s means getting a team of people, getting ’em interested, having a format that they know that works, deviating from it enough each year, so that it doesn’t seem quite the same each year, but all sticking to having items donated that people want so that you have zero or little cost in them. And then having people come in and bid on these items either through live auction, silent auction, blackboard auctions, bucket auctions, there’s all sorts of different way you can go. But then in recent years, it’s just come down to a sponsorship and getting people to sponsor at different levels, be it the platinum level, the gold level, the silver level, and just basically writing you a check and handing it to you and saying that this is for the operating support of the zoo. Now, you mentioned you, weren’t super excited about asking for money when you were director.

02:08:01 - 02:08:07

Did you then feel the need to hire people, or did you just depend on your board?

02:08:08 - 02:09:00

Primarily on the board, we have had add two different full-time and two different part-time fundraisers workforce. And in most instances we found out that all they did was put together the lists or to get together the information for grant requests. And it was still, we had to have a board member or a certain staff member go and make the ask or the approach. So we haven’t had total success with fundraisers per se, raising the funds. Their biggest thing is they brought discipline, they brought methodology and they said, here’s how you have to do it.

02:09:00 - 02:09:24

These are the people, and our most effective tool in a couple of instances has been having an initial survey done of the community leaders and of the board to identify, well, now, if we did this project, would you be willing to support at such and such a level?

02:09:24 - 02:09:47

And when they walk in and they hand you a list and say, here’s a list there of these people combined are willing to give half million dollars to the zoo. You need to structure a program and ask ’em for it. And that’s a pretty good start. And in the zoos today, one of the things is education. It’s important.

02:09:47 - 02:09:54

What was your vision, as director for education within the zoo and how did you start to develop that vision?

02:09:55 - 02:11:04

Well, you can’t justify a zoo if you don’t include education as one of your pivotal roles and the animals that we have simply serve as ambassadors. We can’t hope to repopulate the world’s wild places with animals. We can maintain animals as a hedge against disaster, but we cannot do the work. It’s gonna take education of the public. And these people being willing then to support programs for in-situ or in the wild situations to provide preserves, reserves, support, stop poaching, things like this. And this is all through education. Education doesn’t stop when people graduate from either high school or college education starts with a two year old, and it goes up until people reach their grave because education is continual. You started a summer study program.

02:11:05 - 02:12:36

Summer safari. Yes. One of our education curators several years ago came up with this and basically it’s where you, people are always looking for things for their children to do in the summertime. And so we started programs half day and full day programs. And some of the full day programs were one week long, some were two weeks long. And then we ended up later on getting into our summer team programs, which were the whole summer long and it would be where you bring these people in, they go through structured activities through the day they go through learning things, but they also do fun activities along with it and get ’em out on the zoo grounds. That was a lot of the fun activities and a way to teach ’em, it’s easier to talk about the stripes on a tiger if you have one walking through the exhibit and going in and out of a pool or something, than it is showing a kid a slide on the board. The slide on the board or the video may intrigue them, but nothing intrigues the child as much as actually having them see the animal in the living flesh. So you have these exhibits, you’ve mentioned the aquatic wing and the Orangutan exhibit that you were built and that the zoo built it was funded.

02:12:38 - 02:12:40

How difficult was it to get the funding for that?

02:12:40 - 02:12:44

Was most of it from the Gladys Porter era or not?

02:12:44 - 02:14:12

Well, actually the first aquatic building was largely paid for by a grant from one of our friends of Gladys Porter’s who were big rancher and farmer in the area of the Russell family. And that was back in the late ’70s or early ’80s, I can’t remember the exact date. Since that time, we’ve totally taken that building down, enlarged it, and now have a Russell Aquatic Center, which they also went ahead and funded only on a much larger basis. And so that’s one family that has funded quite a number of projects for the zoo. Well, first off Martha Russell was Gladys Porter’s closest friend, and she and Gladys would do things together. After her passing her son, Jame, has been a major contributor and supporter. He’s also been president of our zoological society, president of the endowment, and he still serves on the endowment board. How does the Gladys Porter Zoo cope with some of the severe weather in the Brownsville area must be different than what other zoos have to worry about.

02:14:12 - 02:15:23

We’re dead center target for hurricanes. Hurricanes come up, go across the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. And many of the models frequently have them coming right up the mouth of the Rio Grande River. And the Gladys Porter Zoo sits less than a mile from the Rio Grand River. So yes, we’ve had some major hurricanes hit us. They knew that though when the zoo was designed and the high water mark for Hurricane Beulah, which occurred in, I believe ’67, is what they chose as the minimum elevation for any of the animal exhibits. They were all built at least a foot or two above that. And so the zoo was built with that in mind, the buildings to house the animals were all built like fortresses, they were concrete block buildings built with reinforced steel, a core filled block on the outside of that then went a naturalistic skin with gunite, concrete and steel.

02:15:26 - 02:16:24

And so the safest place in the city of Brownsville to be is in one of the animal enclosures at the zoo. We have practiced throughout the years, we have a hurricane preparedness plan. And from the time we blow the whistle and put the plan in action, to the time we have the zoo button down, we can have it done in about eight hours. You have plenty of warning with hurricanes coming days in advance. And as it gets closer and closer well, it’s gonna go up to Corpus or no, it’s gonna go down to Luca in Mexico or whatever. And so as it gets closer, if it looks like we’re gonna get even an indirect hit we put the preparedness plan and the fact then get all the animals in. So you’ve had to actually deal with hurricane. Three.

02:16:24 - 02:16:59

Plan worked great. It’s sort of funny to see flamingos, which have a normally an outside area, no building to go into, we have to herd them in and put ’em in the restrooms, public restrooms. So to see 40 or 50 flamingos in the ladies’ restroom, making a mess on the tile floor, that is easily cleaned. Those are parts of the plan, but no, it’s worked well. In 1988, the Australian Exhibit was open to the public.

02:16:59 - 02:17:02

Can you share some of the history and development of that?

02:17:02 - 02:17:05

And how did you get the idea that you wanted to have this?

02:17:09 - 02:18:18

Some of the animals had not done well that we had tried to work with in the zoo in an outside environment. So we wanted an air conditioned building where we could work with things like tree kangaroos, some of the smaller macropods. And so we realized that we’d have to have a building per se, to do that. Animals that had done well outside for 10 months out of the year at certain times a year, they didn’t do well. Red kangaroos, great kangaroos, some of the wallaroos with our heat, which kangaroos can take heat. They can’t take humidity with heat. And we have some pretty hum times in South Texas. So you come and visit the zoo in July, August, and you’re gonna find, unless it’s early in the morning or late in the afternoon, our kangaroos are gonna be inside in an air conditioned building.

02:18:19 - 02:19:04

And so it was outta sort of a necessity if we wanted to continue to have a holistic exhibit where we had, roughly, we try and have a third of the animals in the zoo, mammals, a third birds, a third mammals, or a third rectal amphibians and now aquatic fishes. And so we try and have a representative collection and some of the Australian fauna was essential to that. So we had to build a building that would accommodate it. And we talked about conservation as another part of the building blocks of a zoo.

02:19:04 - 02:19:13

How important was conservation to your zoo and what was your vision of making that grow and how did it grow?

02:19:17 - 02:21:13

Conservation on the ground in the wild habitat takes a lot of money and we did not have a lot of money to spend on conservation, even though we spent percentage-wise the same as some of the bigger zoos, it wasn’t nearly the dollar volume. So we had to pick and choose and be very careful what we worked with. We are right on the coast where the Kemps Ridley sea turtle nests are traditionally nested. And at one time back in the 1940s, there were film records of 40,000 of these animals coming on shore about 200 miles, south of Brownsville at a beach near LA marina and Aldama, where they would come in, lay their eggs, and then go back out to see these called aribados when they come in. A few used to come along the Gulf Coast, but not nearly so many because of the tourist development, the traffic on the beach, things like that but the primary focus was in Mexico, a few miles south of us. A gentleman named Peter Pritchard, Dr. Peter Pritchard was instrumental in realizing that this was probably the world’s most endangered sea turtle. And so he started a program back in the ’70s for trying to preserve these, and it used to be, he would handle it. He worked for the Otoban society in Florida, but trying to have logistics from Otoban society in Florida, working on a beach 200 miles south of Brownsville, Texas was difficult.

02:21:13 - 02:22:34

So he early on elicited our primary hepatologist, Pat Birchfield, to assist him with that program. And after a while, it became evident that Brownsville really was way better suited and could do a more efficient job. And so we started doing the Kent Ridley project for the world’s most endangered sea turtle. And we’ve worked with it ever since to the point where, when they started keeping records in the early ’80s, there were only, they figured about six to 700 breeding females that came in on an annual basis. That number has gotten up to be in the thousands, 6,000 or so. So at least a tenfold increase through the years. And so this is a actual hands-on conservation project we could do. Getting the US Department of Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Ocean Granite group, Noah and others involved made it to the point where they could fund the project.

02:22:34 - 02:24:10

We could efficiently administer the project and have done it ever since. So that’s sort of how we got into that form of conservation. One other way, our current reptile person and now general curator, Colette Adams, became very well known for her capability to breed iguanas and worked with iguanas and crocodilians. So she became involved in the zoo and aquarium association program for iguanas and crocodilians, and it wasn’t so much that we were putting so much in monetarily into programs around the world, as it was her providing time and expertise to do it. I got to early on work with the rhino programs and started with black rhinos and then subsequently of become active in all of the rhinos. And here again, even though we didn’t put in a lot of monetary help for those, we helped either raise funds. And I contributed time by serving on the International Board of the Rhino Foundation. So these are the ways that we approached it, and it was more with expertise and with time and some money to get involved.

02:24:13 - 02:24:24

You talked about rhinos. In 1984, you were named AZA, asked you to work with the conservation group and the ranchers to save the southern black rhino.

02:24:24 - 02:24:33

What were the details of this program and what was your relationship with the Texas ranchers and their relationship with zoos?

02:24:34 - 02:26:17

I had a great relationship with the Texas ranchers because I was right there and two of the ranchers who ended up with rhinos served on my board of directors. So I knew ’em well, they knew me and we already had a mutual rapport. I was asked to sort of spearhead the conservation side or the husbandry side of the ranchers, transitioning into rhino conservation to provide some what AZA might look at as a credibility, someone that they thought would be sure that the animals were cared for. And there had been some early on misunderstandings between some of the ranchers and the zoo association, rhino taxon advisory group. And so I was asked to sort of mediate and try… The ranchers had the land and they had beautiful habitat. The zoo association had access to some rhinos, and then another association called Game Conservation International, which is primarily hunters from Africa or from the US that they hunted in Africa and had taken a very personal interest in rhinos. They wanted to be involved.

02:26:17 - 02:26:50

So it was getting game coin, ranchers and the zoo association together. And it sort of, wasn’t a natural mix. It was between the ranchers and game coin, but the zoo association sort of looked on these as a bunch of Texas Cowboys that didn’t know what the heck they were doing. So that’s sort of why I got involved. And they asked me to sort of be a liaison and it was a little rough in the beginning, but I think in the long run, it weren’t worked out.

02:26:50 - 02:27:01

And in fact for the Southern black rhino, we wouldn’t have a program would it not be for the Texas Ranchers involvement with it?

02:27:02 - 02:27:07

So was this love hate relationship between the AZA and the ranchers?

02:27:07 - 02:27:59

Well, in the beginning it was, I look at it as a misunderstanding and a posturing. We had people in AZA who said, “We are the rhino experts. We know what we’re doing.” And we had people on the ranchers that say, “Hey boy, we’ve been raising cattle and horses for hundreds of years. And we sort of know what we’re doing with animals too. And rhino’s just a big horse.” And so that was, I think the two opposite views we had and slowly but surely, I think they came to reach a mutual agreement that the ranches could provide and help, and to work toward a common goal, which was to save the rhinos.

02:27:59 - 02:28:02

Do you feel that that goal was accomplished?

02:28:02 - 02:29:50

I feel that it’s working. Out of the game conservation, you mentioned 1984, actually in 1983, there was a first meeting and they got together Game Coin primarily through the efforts of one of their prime movers in shakers, Harry Tenon from Fort Worth and made arrangements with the NATA Parks Board to get some rhinos that were being held over there and to move them to the states and to put on the ranches because Mr. Tenon was intimately associated with the ranches. He knew what kind of habitat were here. We have some of the same feed trees, the acacia trees that the rhinos ate in Africa, and plenty of land. So he started negotiation with the South African government and the NATA Parks board to bring some animals in, got together with a couple of ranches in Texas. And that’s when the US Department of Interior was saying, well, we need a zoo, the rhino experts to tell us that this is okay to do. And so that’s what sort of brought this first meeting together. And this is what subsequently turned into five animals being imported in 1984 and then an additional 10 in 1989, and then some additional ones in 1992.

02:29:50 - 02:30:27

So they are still on some of these animals or they’re progeny are still on Texas zoos. Yes. Primarily the main one that, that has them now is, and they don’t wanna be named because they don’t want people to know where rhinos are for fear there will be some crazy people come in and decide they might wanna shoot a rhino. But there are animals in Texas ranches. You said at one time that because of with this rhino group, you said you were pressed into service.

02:30:27 - 02:30:33

And did you want to get involved or did they truly press you into service?

02:30:33 - 02:30:38

And how difficult was the situation that you found yourself in?

02:30:38 - 02:31:53

I could recognize that there needed to be some help to get the ranchers and the zoo people together. And I was uniquely situated in that I knew the ranchers and I knew the zoo people. I knew they both were good groups, and I thought that it could work. It was rather disheartening to me when it came time to apply for the first permit, three of the most prestigious zoos in North America wrote letters to the Department of Interior saying that they were opposed to this permit being granted, to bring these animals in. And they influenced the board of directors of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association to support this feeling. And the AZA did not support the importation. And I was one of the only people in support of it and wrote a letter saying that I was willing to try and work with the ranchers to make it work. And the permit was granted.

02:31:53 - 02:32:30

And I don’t think this sat real well with the powers to be in the zoo association at the time. And I was one of the recent past presidents of the association. And so I think they sort of thought that I’d maybe gone over to the other side, which I hadn’t. I just think that it was a position that was too firmly taken by AZA to pose what I thought was gonna be a worthwhile project. Because on one side they had asked you to be this liaison, and now they were. Opposing the permit.

02:32:34 - 02:32:41

Did you want also Gladys Porter Zoo to specialize in rhinos as part of this endangered species?

02:32:41 - 02:32:43

And how did you make that decision?

02:32:44 - 02:33:43

We have rhinos, but we’ve always had white rhinos. We didn’t, and don’t have enough land to provide enough space to do a large rhino group. One of the mistakes that the Valley’s Logical Society made when they established the Gladys Porter Zoo was to build us in an area where we were landlocked. And so we have 31 acres. Now, there can’t be anymore without eminent domain taking some of the surrounding residential areas. And so we haven’t been a huge player, although we’ve been a consistent player with rhinos. Now, you were asked to become the species coordinator in North America for the species survival program for the black rhino, vice chair of the AZA Rhinos taxon advisory group.

02:33:43 - 02:33:48

Were these positions ones that you felt you could make a difference in?

02:33:48 - 02:33:54

Did they have to press you into service and has it had some value in the conservation for the zoo?

02:33:58 - 02:35:30

No one has to press me into service for conservation project if I think that I can be benefit. And then in this case, I thought not so much for my expertise with rhinos, but because I knew the cast of players that had to work together to do it, that I could be of assistance to make this work. And so that’s, I agreed first to be the southern black rhino species coordinator. And then when the species coordinator resigned to be the black rhino species coordinator for both species, and which automatically put me on the taxon advisory group. I also became a member of the International Rhino Foundation, which we started in 1991. And this is a group of it’s both zoo people, ranchers and private corporate individuals who have banded together to form this and this not only now works for the saving and worked with the black rhino, but for rhinos worldwide and rhinos worldwide need a lot of help. There’s only 58 known Javan rhinos left as of 2014. There’s less than 100 Sumatran rhinos.

02:35:30 - 02:36:35

The numbers of black and white rhinos now are, they were improving and increasing over the last few years, but they’re having their problems now with poaching. There’s a rhino poached in Africa every eight hours now. And it takes a heck of breeding program to keep this flow positive. Fortunately, the rhinos are doing their part and they’re keeping their numbers of white and black rhino fairly stable, and the Indian rhino have done pretty well because the Indian government on a couple of the preserves, Kazaranga in particular, have been most successful. And they’re now well over 2000 of the Indian rhino, but rhinos worldwide are having problems for the same reason. People wanting to encroach on their natural habitat and also for poaching to sell their rhino horn for the primarily Asian medicinal market.

02:36:35 - 02:36:45

Now, has the International Rhino Foundation by its name done work in the countries where rhinos are found?

02:36:45 - 02:37:22

Yes, we have programs in India, Sumatra, Java and in several countries in Africa, Zimbabwe, South Africa and maybe a Botswana. We just translocated within the last month, 10 rhinos from South Africa into Botswana and Botswana rhinos had been totally wiped out. So now Botswana can say they have rhinos again.

02:37:23 - 02:37:30

And you’ve held this position of working with the organization, the international organization for a while, haven’t you?

02:37:30 - 02:37:45

Yeah, I’m one of the original signers of the International Rhino Foundation and I still am secretary of their board, although I try to resign and they haven’t let me. So we we’ll see how long that goes.

02:37:47 - 02:37:59

During your career as director, what would you consider to be one of, or some major events that affected zoos in general and affected Gladys Porter Zoo?

02:38:02 - 02:39:29

When I was president of AZA, the administration before me, primarily through the work of Ed Moraaco and Dennis Merrit had come up with the idea of having species survival plans to have zoos work together and pool their resources to save individual species. And that had already been set in motion. And during my term of office, we managed to bring that to fruition and started the species survival plans, which I think were very good start at the time for getting some of these programs formalized. Some of them have been successful, some of them have not. Most of the ones that have not been successful have been due to personnel that were put in the various positions of authority who maybe became too much personally involved in the management of the thing instead of looking at the overall what’s good for the species. And so we’ve in the beginning, they, I think were very good. Some of them were working now, some of ’em not. And I know that AZA has backed away from some of the programs.

02:39:29 - 02:40:17

For instance, I mentioned the southern black rhino originally would probably not be in existence now were it not for the International Rhino Foundation. This is one program that the Zoo and Aquarium Association decided they didn’t want to have as a species survival plan any longer. And so they said that it was no longer going to be a managed plan. IRF didn’t feel that was a proper way to handle it. So IRF is now taken over the program and I’m happy to report that the numbers now that had gone down are slowly coming back up again. And we have some births and some pregnant animals, and we have commitments for space. So it’s working out.

02:40:19 - 02:40:26

During your time as director at the zoo, did you have to deal with animal rights groups?

02:40:26 - 02:40:31

And if you did, how did you deal with potentially negative issues?

02:40:37 - 02:41:55

They’re animal rights groups and they’re animal rights groups. Some of them are well intentioned, but create problems. Some of ’em are well intentioned and help with animal welfare. I’ve always tried to work first with the groups and if they took what I thought were unreasonable or made, what were unreasonable demands, then I’ve opposed them. I myself belong to the ASPCA. I believe primarily with the work that they do with animal control, with spaying and neutering of dogs and cats and helping provide homes for animals in need are extremely worthwhile. And it’s something our society needs to be suing. Some of the other animal rights groups though that oppose holding animals in captivity across the board, I have been adamantly opposed to, because I think there are some instances where having animals in captivity, exotic animals or wild animals in captivity are beneficial in the fact that they serve as ambassadors for the animals in the wild.

02:41:55 - 02:42:43

They help with fundraising for conservation projects. They help educate our, not only our children, but our taxpayers and our adults who have funds available to donate to these various conservation projects. So I don’t lump all humane or all animal rights organizations together. There are some that I think are very radical and I oppose, and there’s some that I work with. And you mentioned ambassadors, how important did Gladys Porter feel it was important, not her individually, but the zoo to put money into the wild, so to speak, to help that portion of it.

02:42:43 - 02:42:48

Did you want to get into the in-situ portion?

02:42:49 - 02:44:53

Gladys Porter supported in-situ conservation primarily through supporting our zoo, which allowed us to make grants to the International Rhino Foundation, to the International Iguana Foundation to Galapagos for turtle conservation, to the Kemps Ridley program for sea turtle conservation. So she made money available so that the zoo could be involved in these programs. And that way she helped. She also though made grants to the couple different humane societies because she very strongly felt that they had a place to play and that they did good work. During your time as director what were some of your more frustrating moments. Frustrating moments usually came from the people side, not the animal side, staff members that couldn’t get along together, board members that couldn’t get along together, people who, I’ll just refer to them as pompous horses behind who felt that their personal ego superseded what was needed for conservation projects. Some things like this. Permits and foreign governments in many instances have been very frustrating because I’ve seen people sit on animals in their own country, living in deplorable conditions, and that were being slaughtered for either the fur trade or the bush meat trade or whatever.

02:44:53 - 02:45:22

And yet they wouldn’t let a representative group come out. They wouldn’t give permits for them to come into a better situation. And so there have been a lot of people. The US is not by far the only place that has people in authority that block good projects. And dealing with these things, I think has been my biggest frustration.

02:45:22 - 02:45:26

Does that occur specifically with the Rhinoceros Group?

02:45:26 - 02:45:27

Oh no.

02:45:27 - 02:45:31

That’s in any taxon that you want to pick?

02:45:31 - 02:45:50

There have been instances where this is. I’m most particularly aware of the ones with rhinoceros because I’ve had to deal with them in helping ride a lot of the permits and working with the rhinos. But no, it goes from reptiles to fish.

02:45:54 - 02:46:11

And on the other end of the coin, during your 10 years as director of the zoo, what would you say were some of your happier moments that you really were got excited about because something occurred or your program had made it happen something like that?

02:46:15 - 02:48:04

I think a lot of this would come through the education programs, seeing the children in particular, as they first become aware of the importance of wildlife conservation or of even things like recycling, saving our water resources, basic things like this, making the public aware and usually you have to start with the young ones and then hopefully they’ll get their parents involved or if you wait long enough, they’ll be grown up enough to the point where they’ll be the ones voting and doing the donating and things like this. As far as specific animal events that have occurred, I’ve always been particularly pleased with the birth of some of our endangered species and how the numbers can be rising instead of falling. I think the Kemps Redley program that our zoo has worked with in particular has actually made a difference in the conservation community and in the wellbeing of the oceans. This was only possible by our Kemps Ridley people getting the shrimping industry involved, and the shrimping industry had been given a bad wrap through the years as being the ones they were visible, they were killing sea turtles by catching them in their trawling nets and drowning them. And yes, this happened and it still happens to a lesser degree.

02:48:04 - 02:48:10

But the shrimp industry then said, what can we do to help balance this out?

02:48:10 - 02:49:18

And some of their members have put in not only just money to support the Kemps Ridley program to protect the beaches in Mexico, when the animals come in and lay their eggs, the local people don’t come and dig them all up to eat ’em. And this has worked because they have put people on the grounds in Mexico to build the facilities. They provided vehicles to bring things back and forth. They provided expertise in building solar powered equipment for the plants, things like this. So it’s, that’s been a very win-win situation. And the fact that we have data now, and we have tracking data, we can see where these turtles are. Their numbers are actually rising and doing better. Couple questions about fundraising in general.

02:49:18 - 02:49:20

Were there any surprise donations?

02:49:20 - 02:49:27

I mean, we know Gladys Porter and the Sams would give you money, but outside of them, were there any surprise donations?

02:49:27 - 02:50:05

Yeah, one couple gave us a half a million dollars that we had no idea was hanging out there. And came about because the lady’s father had died and had left them a very large estate and they were gonna have a state tax issues. And they felt they’d rather give some of it to an organization they wanted than pay it to the government. So they gave us a half million for the original endowment.

02:50:05 - 02:50:19

Do you feel that because many people of influence and money knew that Gladys Porter and the Sams Foundation were subsidizing the zoo, that they didn’t feel they needed to give money?

02:50:19 - 02:51:48

In the beginning, that was true through the ’80s, up until ’80, I would say that was true. After 1982, ’83, they started to realize that the foundations were not going to be able to provide the support we needed in order to grow. And so that’s when we started to see more outside funding come in. If I was a new director, what recommendations would you give me to be successful in raising support and finances for the zoom. Get involved locally, don’t be bashful about giving talks to service clubs, go to fundraisers for other organizations to see who’s active, see who does what, talk to bankers, talk to lawyers, get bankers and lawyers on your board because they know what estates are coming up. The bankers know who have assets that are being underutilized, things like this. As an aside now, one of your interests you list is investing. And what kind of investing do you do.

02:51:48 - 02:51:51

Me personally, or for the endowment?

02:51:51 - 02:51:59

Well, your personal investing help in your role as head of the endowment?

02:52:00 - 02:53:39

It’s all grown, I think pretty much the same way. I had some mutual funds that I was invested in through a 401k plan early on, but since I’ve been involved with the zoo and I’ve been exposed to some very good managers. And I’ve come to realize that asset allocation is probably way more important than the individual investments that you make. And I’ve learned that you shouldn’t keep all your eggs in one basket and to diversify things like this, just basic principles that investing 101, so to speak. I was telling Loretta earlier that our investment broker that we’re using now and have been for the last five years is a credit Swiss agent and he’s from here in Chicago, but he also has a home on South Padre Island, and that’s where he wants to retire. And so he’s down there quite a bit. His wife has gotten involved with the zoo they’re in fundraising and he’s become a personal friend. And so he and I talk a lot about investing for the zoo, but I also pick up things from him that I think of broadened my background.

02:53:39 - 02:54:01

Prior to that, we’ve had Wells Fargo advisors. We’ve had written house investments out of Philadelphia. We’ve had some very good investment people, and you never can stop learning about that. Now we talked about the zoo in general, with financing.

02:54:01 - 02:54:13

What kind of broad per percentages would you say that this endowment that you help to build gives to the zoo as opposed to donations or other things?

02:54:13 - 02:54:18

How much of the percent of the zoo’s operating budget do you think the endowment is helping?

02:54:19 - 02:56:05

When I was a director and looking at monthly statements, I could have told you within a 10th of a percent, now I will tell you that it’s probably about 15%. So the other, the 85% has to come from all of this. Well, the gate and the city, the adopt and animal program, concessions, we run our own concessions, operations, special events, all of the normal mix. And as far as the endowment goes, the endowment is invested about 65% in equities, and about 30% in fixed income and about 5% in cash, which you might think sounds a little bit aggressive for a non-profit organization, but we’ve been with enough investment people and have had enough savvy people involved with our endowment that we realize the traditional of putting it all in government bonds is gonna do nothing but slowly erode the principle and not allow as much to be given to the zoo each year. At the present time, we give around 5% of the Corpus to the zoo each year, which is a little aggressive, I’d rather it was four. But that way we could ensure a, I think, a more steady growth, but it’s worked out well. On a different subject involving the zoo, with the press.

02:56:05 - 02:56:06

How did you view the media?

02:56:11 - 02:57:17

I viewed the media as an ally to be kept at sort of arms length. And don’t ever trust the videographer who’s got his camera in your face to say, well, now this is off the record because seems like nothing ever ends up off the record. But no, you have to utilize the press. What you get from news stories is worth way more than you can afford to buy in advertising. So we were always very pro-press, pro-media but we were quite careful on never lying to them, ’cause when they catch you lying, that’s when they come in like hawks for the kill, never lie to ’em, but sometimes don’t volunteer information if they aren’t asking about it until it becomes time that it’s advantageous for that information to be put out.

02:57:19 - 02:57:21

How did you nurture the relationship?

02:57:23 - 02:57:29

Trying to always be available when they came. And if they had a slow news day, we would find something for them.

02:57:30 - 02:57:34

So did you ever plan special events specifically for them to cover?

02:57:35 - 02:58:04

Well, we invited them to all special events and we would have at least one event a year that was nothing but a media appreciation event where we would invite them in. They wouldn’t be expected to do anything other than show up and maybe have some good food and libation or two. Another different subject. You’re a veterinarian.

02:58:04 - 02:58:07

What should the veterinarian’s role be in conservation?

02:58:08 - 02:58:41

Veterinarians have a major role to play in conservation, because if you don’t know about why you’re having problems with animals, in some instances, if you don’t know how to keep them healthy, no matter what good intentions you have or what habitat you provide, if they have disease processes going on that go unrecognized and untreated, you’re gonna lose the population. So they have an extremely important part to play.

02:58:42 - 02:58:45

Were you able to get into the field yourself?

02:58:46 - 02:59:01

Not as much as I would’ve liked to because I was usually had the directorial duties and couldn’t do as much actual field work as I wanted to.

02:59:04 - 02:59:12

Were there any interesting stories or difficult situations or something that surprised you involving the veterinarians and field work?

02:59:15 - 03:00:22

Well, during some of our rhino importations in talking with the African field veterinarians, we would share stories and we had some veterinarians here that were full-time zoo veterinarians that went over there and helped with some of the field work and stories about being chased by rhinos and having to run up trees and things like this. But all in all, I think if you use common sense and if you didn’t push the envelope in working with the animals, why most times it wasn’t extremely dangerous, probably more problem with what you couldn’t see with the insects than with the disease processes around than with the actual charging elephant or rhino. You knew enough to get out of their way. You didn’t necessarily know enough to get out of the way of the insect passing azapropazone infection to you.

03:00:23 - 03:00:33

We talked about different things, education, conservation, how important should science/research be to zoos?

03:00:33 - 03:00:38

Should be they be doing more in this regard, are they doing what you think they should be doing?

03:00:39 - 03:02:20

Zoos are doing more and more in science and in scientific research now, because we realize that they’re a lot of things that we didn’t know about some animals that we know now, and that we can think back in our career and say, oh yeah, that’s what probably caused us this problem or that problem, or why we lost this animal. I’ll tell you one thing about domestic animals. In South Texas, there’s a prevalent disease now called chagas disease, which causes a neurological condition and a cardiac condition in dogs. It’s been brought in though to the US by people because it affects people. And with the large immigration influx coming in, especially from Central and South America, they’re bringing in chagas disease, which is spread by an insect vector, a kissing bug is what they commonly call them, rejuve type of beetle. And it is not spread by the bite itself, but it’s spread by, after they bite, they pass an excrement and it gets on the dog’s feet or the person’s hands. And then they end up putting it in their mouth and that’s how it’s passed. So there’s been a lot of work done on things such as this that’s just one example.

03:02:21 - 03:03:10

We know the same thing we had at ycombas samatra rhino preserve in Indonesia, we all of a sudden were losing some rhinos and come to find that it was a trypanosome infection being spread in the area. And it was being passed from the local domestic cattle, which sort of had their own immunity build up to it, to the neophyte rhinos that didn’t have an immunity to it. So there are a lot of intricate things like this that only scientific studies can find. And you do this by doing the blood work on, not only the animal, having the problem, but on the surrounding animals that might be serving as vectors.

03:03:11 - 03:03:25

Has the sharing of this type of information or other information internationally and nationally, is it more prevalent now and among zoo veterinarians?

03:03:25 - 03:03:50

Oh, it’s much more prevalent sharing. People are anxious to have their findings published because it not only raises their image and their institution’s image, but they also realize it’s part of their duty to share this information. So others can have the benefit and hopefully prevent some problems.

03:03:50 - 03:03:55

And are there some major vehicles for doing this?

03:03:55 - 03:04:12

You know, me journals, is. It mostly journals or there’s journal zoo animal medicine, there’s an international wildlife, the international zoo yearbook. There are quite a number of professional publications. We talked about frustrating times as director.

03:04:12 - 03:04:15

Were there frustrating times as a veterinarian?

03:04:16 - 03:05:20

Oh, very much so. One in particular that I can tell you is when I was in the early ’70s, we had, as I mentioned earlier, I bought in some duiker, very rare duiker. And we had the largest duiker collection in the world at the time. And in 1970, there was a disease coming in out of central and south America coming up through Mexico, Venezuela and equine encephalitis and light. And the whole us was virgin to it, it had never been here, so no one had any immunity. They called it equine, but we found that for whatever reason, duiker were very susceptible to it. And so fat, dumb, and happy we come to work and one day and oh, we got a gen tank duiker sick. And then a few days later, we have two yellow back duikers sick.

03:05:20 - 03:06:13

And within a period of two to three weeks, we’ve lost about five duiker. And these are irreplaceable at that time, and still are irreplaceable probably losses. And we didn’t know what it was because no one had seen it. And then we started the local area. They started to have problems with horses, with circling disease. They would lose their coordination and they’d just fall over and die. And the epidemiologist, it took a few months, but after two or three months, they found out that what it was, was this disease coming up from Venezuela, where it had started and was creeping into the US. Now we know about it in the US, and it’s incorporated in standard encephalitis vaccines.

03:06:17 - 03:06:31

When we talk about these various animals that you had to deal with, when you became director, what were some of the most significant changes that you implemented regarding the care of animals?

03:06:35 - 03:08:20

Care of animals is our responsibility once we bring ’em into captivity and it’s our responsibility to provide them the optimum care within reason. And within reason means within the space allocations we have, which are probably some of the biggest things in zoos. For instance, we’re finding out more and more, that elephants require more space. And it used to be that if people had a zoo exhibit where the elephants could walk around and lay down, get in a pool, do things, we all thought we were doing an adequate job, but we found out that they need a certain amount of exercise that they get in order to maintain a proper weight, to keep their muscle tone things of this sort. One of the things I did, we had elephants, African elephants for many years and we had what was considered a more than adequate exhibit when it was built in 1970. But as we came to learn more and more about it, we realized it was probably minimally enough space and we didn’t have enough space to make it larger. And then we had a couple of losses of elephants, and it was from EMC virus and encephalomyelitis virus, which caused not only a brain involvement in central nervous system involvement, but heart involvement. It’s an extremely fast moving virus spread by rats, mice.

03:08:22 - 03:08:47

And it can get things other than elephants. We’ve seen it in wallabies. We’ve seen it in some hoof animals, Arabian orcs, things like this. It’s endemic apparently to the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. We’ve had problems in Brownsville. They’ve had problems in Houston. They’ve had problems in New Orleans. So the whole Gulf Crescent has had problems with this virus.

03:08:48 - 03:09:24

So after going through a couple of these traumatic losses, which are terrible to go through because you have no warning and the keepers are dejected, the staff has dejected, the press has many questions and all that, plus the space issue we decided to get out of the elephant business, let someone do it in a part of the country that was safer and where they had more room. And so those are the sorts of things that, where we’ve made a conscious decision to change.

03:09:25 - 03:09:28

We have a lot of questions now, why don’t you have elephants?

03:09:28 - 03:09:41

But we feel that, that our responsibility to the elephant species is more important than the appeasing the public who want ’em for entertainment.

03:09:41 - 03:09:52

Do you feel that the lack of having elephants at your zoo has hurt image, attendance, things like that or not?

03:09:54 - 03:09:59

We get more questions about that than anything else about where are the elephants?

03:09:59 - 03:10:20

And once you explain to the people, why you made that decision, they usually are positive about it. It’s the ones that aren’t asking it that worry me. If they aren’t ask it and they just are disappointed and say, well, I won’t go back, they don’t have elephants. We have no way of tracking that.

03:10:22 - 03:10:24

Did you ever bring animals home with you?

03:10:24 - 03:11:35

Oh yeah. As a veterinarian or a zoo director. Both. When we started in Brownsville and we had orangutan births, we did not, at that time have a 24 hour nursery set. So I would bring home baby orangutan, keep it in an incubator at the house and some of the other staff people periodically, we would rotate and do this, same thing with baby gorillas. We had a lady that came in once a week and cleaned the house. And she came in one day and she saw an incubator in the house and a little baby all bundled up in a blanket. And she came in and she looked, and then she looked and she only comment to my wife was, “He’s got a lot of hair.” (laughs) She was too polite to say what an ugly baby, but it was a little gorilla baby, which we thought was beautiful and she did too.

03:11:35 - 03:11:44

Once she found out what it was, but yeah, we brought animals home. Are today’s zoos.

03:11:45 - 03:11:50

Are they doing enough to manage their animal collections regarding medical husbandry?

03:11:50 - 03:12:58

I think they’re doing a much better job now, medically, mainly because we know more, we know what to look out for, we know what disease processes have created problems in the past. So I think we’re doing much better job now, medically than we did 40 years ago when I was first in the business. I say 40, it’s almost 50 now. There were a lot of things unknown. And I mentioned earlier about, we had one veterinarian that just couldn’t take the fact that he had sick animals and he couldn’t do that much about him. And cause he, we didn’t know. And he got out of the business. And that was just one of the things that you had to accept as an early zoo veterinarian that sometimes these animals had diseases that we hadn’t seen here in the US and that maybe we weren’t used to seeing in a certain species, but that it was prevalent in other species.

03:12:58 - 03:13:56

And we’ve now documented a lot of these things. There’s still a lot of unknowns out there. There are a lot of emerging disease processes, mainly in the viruses, the bird influenza that has decimated the avian population all throughout Asia and it’s periodically touched us here. The one that also passes to humans. We didn’t know anything about this 20 years ago and don’t think it existed, but it probably did. Some of the, like the AIDS virus that came in, we now think it probably originated in Africa. It’s been around there for quite a long time. It’s carried by the ape population and monkey population transferred over to people when they kill and eat the gorillas, chimpanzees and some of the monkey species.

03:13:56 - 03:14:41

And that’s how it got started and probably came into North America with a flight attendant that had traveled and flown into to Africa. So these things emerging all the time. So we’re not done seeing new diseases. They’re still more that are gonna evolve and we just have to learn to react to them and try and get the science into it as early on as we can with blood testing, tighter testings, electron microscopy, the various tools that are available with the pathologists and with the epidemiologists.

03:14:41 - 03:14:46

Well, speaking of using tools, did you have a medical committee?

03:14:47 - 03:14:54

And if so, was that something you utilized of various physicians within that were not veterinarians?

03:14:55 - 03:16:05

We had an animal committee and a couple of the members of the animal committee were MDs. In our market in a fairly small town, 100,000 people, more or less in Brownsville and surrounding area, we pretty much knew the doctors, the specialists. In 1970, we did the first casserian section on an orangutan. I was the only, well Dr. Thomas was also a veterinarian, but he didn’t feel comfortable practicing. He felt more comfortable being a photographer on that instance. And so I did the anesthesiology, the two top OBGYN men in the area agreed to come in and do the medical procedure. And so we elicited their help to come in. And the proudest thing in their whole life was when they had a picture to hang in their waiting room of them with a baby orangutan and them masked up and delivering the baby.

03:16:05 - 03:17:04

Dr. Merrill’s first comment was my God. That’s the first kid I’ve ever had that could grab the forceps from his umbilical cord with his feet. So we had a lot of fun. We worked closely with the local medical community, and I can’t remember an instance when I ever had one of them say no from cardiologists. We did a lot of dental work, had oral surgeons. In fact, we had an oral surgeon that was on our board and he’d loved to come over and help us with dental things because as a practicing veterinarian, you aren’t taught that much about doing root canals and some of the more intricate procedures that should be done on some of these valuable zoo animals. So at times you’d lean on various experts that. My pride never gotten a way of asking for help.

03:17:11 - 03:17:13

[Mark] We’ve talked about stories.

03:17:13 - 03:17:25

Are there any other stories, whether they be medical stories or direct oral stories that come to mind that you might want to share with us of your time at Brownsville?

03:17:29 - 03:18:52

Oh, there are a lot of stories. Once we hit a topic, I’ll probably think of one, but the escaped animals are probably, and that’s something it’s not supposed to happen in a zoo as you well know we all have procedures for animal escapes and we categorize them by red, yellow, green, depending on the potential danger that that animal being out would have. We’ve had to utilize some different things in our zoo. For instance, when we first had the zoo under construction, we got in a whole group of Southwest African cheetahs. And they’re bigger than East African, they’re very tough animal. They’re taller, stronger. And Dr. Thomas was convinced that we were gonna keep them on an island and that they wouldn’t swim. And so during the construction of the zoo, once they got that area done, we put the cheetahs out and didn’t think that much about it until got to be a regular habit at five o’clock after the construction workers and the zoo workers left, the cheetahs started coming off of the island and they would go to the monkey islands and chase monkeys.

03:18:52 - 03:19:59

And they would do things like this. So, we shortly convinced Dr. Thomas that cheetahs could swim and that we couldn’t depend on a water keep them in. So then he decided, well, let’s put an electric fence at the base where they would have to come out of the water. And so we did that and it appeared to work. But we just couldn’t test or depend on it until we’d really put it to a good test. So you being a good zoom man know that cheetahs are fascinated with kids and would love to chase kids. And so at that time, I had a five year old daughter and we had a giraffe yard next to the island where the cheetahs were. And we asked Julie, my daughter, to run out to the browse holder in the center of the giraffe yard and back again and see what happened.

03:19:59 - 03:20:43

Well, sure enough, she did that and she was reluctant to do it. So we told her, we’d give her a nickel if she’d do it. This is back in ’70s. Now you could still buy a candy bar for a nickel, Mark, but we gave her the nickel and she ran out on her way back. Sure enough, the cheetahs hit the water and they jerked as they came through that fence. But that fence wasn’t enough to stop their want to get to that prey. And so she came running toward the building and I went out and grabbed her and held her up over my head. And the cheetahs were jumping up on me trying to get to her oblivious to me.

03:20:43 - 03:21:04

And we had people there and caught the cheetahs and put ’em back. But we had to go through some things like that to convince Dr. Thomas, we needed to actually go with a physical barrier at the edge of the water before we could feel safe to have the public come in.

03:21:05 - 03:21:09

As an aside, does she remember that today?

03:21:09 - 03:21:28

She vaguely remembers it and she wasn’t so upset about it but my wife was a little bit upset with me. Research in the zoo. Some questions to think about, two part.

03:21:28 - 03:21:34

What made you a good veterinarian, do you think, and what made you a good zoo director?

03:21:34 - 03:21:36

Same, different?

03:21:38 - 03:22:37

Basically the same made me a good veterinarian is the fact that I put the animals welfare first. I respected the animals. I wanted to do the very best we could by them. And if I didn’t know an answer either try and find someone that did, or in the instance where we couldn’t control it, like with the elephants and the EMC, we just decided, hey, that’s beyond our capabilities. Listening, as I mentioned earlier, to keepers. The keepers or the eyes and ears of the veterinarian, they’re the ones that can tell you, “Hey, this animal just isn’t right today. He doesn’t move, right. He isn’t eating right. He’s got loose stool.” Things like this.

03:22:37 - 03:23:13

And so working closely with the people that were intimately involved in the animals on a day to day basis and being willing to say, “I don’t know,” and either get help from outside or do research. The internet has made that so much easier now. We can find things on the internet now within a minute, that sometimes used to take us days or weeks to find out in calling and trying to locate articles, things like this.

03:23:13 - 03:23:15

What made you a good zoo director?

03:23:18 - 03:24:29

Being a consensus builder, realizing who our audience was realizing what it took to please our visitors, our children, that we were trying to educate, keeping close liaison with the board members, being aware politically, what was going on in the way of new laws and the way of fundraising potential or grants that might be available, not being so egotistical that you thought you knew more than the majority of the other people, just because you had a title that on the personnel roster puts you above someone else, the curator or the keeper or the veterinarian or the marketing director, or someone may have a lot better feel for that particular question or problem than what you did and be willing to listen to them.

03:24:31 - 03:24:40

And what skillset qualities would you say a zoo veterinarian, ’cause you’ve been both worlds, needs today as compared to when you started?

03:24:42 - 03:26:30

Well, they have so many more educational opportunities now. They have internships. They have residencies. They have externships. If you want to go into a zoo right now and be a zoo veterinarian, you have the opportunity to seek advanced education. We didn’t have that in the ’60s. The best thing that I could tell a young veterinarian now would be take at least two years and go and work in a busy, mixed practice or go and work someplace like at a SPCA hospital where you’re going to be inundated with sick animals, with surgical repairs, with routine space and neuters and things where you become surgically adept, where you have to face the realities of life on the fact that you’re going to run into things you either don’t know or are beyond your control, like a dog with advanced parvo virus that you can’t save things like this. And I probably learned as many good things in the four years I was in private practice as I did in the veterinary school as far as the day to day operation. Then once you get into the zoo, you can compare your antelope to cattle, your rhinoceros to horses, your birds of various sorts, to some degree to chickens or pair Keats or things that are commonly found in a domestic situation.

03:26:31 - 03:27:56

Conversely then what skill set qualities does a zoo director need today as compare to when you started. A better business background now, and it used to be that to be a zoo director, you almost had to be a biologist or as zoologist. You normally came up through the ranks and this was good as far as the animal side, but as far as the rest of the side, the fundraising, the HR, personnel management, the marketing, the finances, that’s a whole nother subset that you need to know about. And so if I were going to say, I’m gonna go to school and be a zoo director right now, I think that what I’d recommend to someone would be get a degree in biology, zoology, or one of the related sciences, and then go ahead and get an MBA for the business side of it. It’s very important. A zoo is a business, just like any other business. And I always like to liken a zoo to a small city and you have to worry about electrical, water, sewer, infrastructure. You have to worry about weather.

03:27:56 - 03:28:15

You have to worry about roofing repair, about building repair, about automobiles, insurance, marketing, just anything in any other business you have to worry about. You have to worry about in a zoo plus the care of the animals.

03:28:19 - 03:28:31

You mentioned it about business, what are the pros and cons of the kind of new wave of zoo directors, a large number have more, non animal related backgrounds such as business administration?

03:28:33 - 03:29:24

What I said, I think the business education, however you get it is important, but I don’t think that you can only come in and expect to operate a zoo with nothing other than a business background, because animals are the main reason we have a zoo. And if animals are your most important product, how can you manage that product without either number one, some own personal knowledge or number two, some very experienced or very knowledgeable people working for you that you implicitly trust that you’re willing to entrust the care on a day to day basis to those people that care for the animal collection.

03:29:24 - 03:29:35

So would you say in your opinion is better to have a animal man at the top with a business person underneath them or business person at the top with an animal person underneath them?

03:29:35 - 03:30:17

I’m probably a little prejudiced, but I think an animal person at the top with good business support and preferably someone who has at least a rudimentary knowledge of business before you can become a director, you should know how to read an expense statement and a balance sheet you should know about various types of insurance required of public corporations. And you should have some knowledge of marketing and development of it. Now, majority of zoo veterinarians have not been as successful as you have been as a zoo director.

03:30:17 - 03:30:19

What worked for you?

03:30:19 - 03:30:27

What do you want to tell vets who want to be directors, should veterinarians, zoo veterinarians, become zoo directors and why?

03:30:30 - 03:31:43

I think it has more to do with the long term aspiration of the individual veterinarian as to whether or not he wants to be bothered with all the other skill sets that he needs to develop to be a good director. He’s gotta have an interest in finances. He’s gotta have an interest in personnel management. Hopefully, if he’s gonna run a good zoo, he has to have a decent knowledge of horticulture and construction. Zoos are always building something. And if you’re going to design something and yet don’t know how to standard construction works, you may try and design something for an exhibit that’s totally unbuildable. So all of these things play into it and it takes more than just sticking your head in a medical book to learn it than a lot of veterinarians are willing to do. Some people are better off to if they are a good veterinarian to stay in the medical field.

03:31:43 - 03:31:55

And other people are, have a broad enough interest in learning other skill sets that they should pursue them and go on and become directors.

03:31:57 - 03:32:02

What would you say is the largest professional problem facing US zoos today?

03:32:02 - 03:32:08

And if you can identify it in your opinion, what can be done to correct the problem?

03:32:10 - 03:33:26

Well, probably the biggest, the tallest ladder we all have to climb is the funding ladder. And the fact that that zoos are very labor intensive. They’re a 24 hour a day, seven day a week, 365 day a year business. And you don’t have income coming in more than, let’s say 10 hours a day. And sometimes you have days where your facilities are closed and whatnot,. Regardless whether you’re open or closed, you still have a constant expense going out and meeting the challenge of funding these operations is, I think the single biggest common denominator that we all have. There are other minor ones that, they really aren’t minor, but they’re less important than the funding. And that would be the increasing public perception that we don’t need to keep animals in captivity, or that animals should be free.

03:33:26 - 03:35:19

But until someone has traveled in these countries where the “animals are free” and see what miserable conditions they live in and how their life is in danger all the time from either poachers or habitat encroachment, disease, drought, volcanoes, flooding, these are all things that animals in the wild have to agree with. So being “in the wild”, isn’t strictly a piece of cake and the fact that the US, and I’m speaking of our zoos and in our area, we are no longer so much of an agricultural community in our working. We still produce just as much, but it’s because the people producing our food and our products are more efficient. So instead of it taking 50% of the population to feed everybody, we’re doing it with less than five. And the fact that people, some kids growing up now have no idea that a steak doesn’t come from the supermarket. Shrink are wrapped in a styrofoam bag with plastic over the top. They have no idea that you have to raise that cow or that hog or chicken in order for there to be those nice little meat portions in a packet, or they don’t realize when they’re eating the vegetables, how much work it is to plow and to plant seed and to weed, and then to harvest the product. And we take so many of these things for granted.

03:35:19 - 03:35:29

And I think that has sort of slipped over into thinking that, well, we don’t need to keep animals in captivity, or we don’t need to control animals.

03:35:30 - 03:35:32

How would you describe zoos now?

03:35:33 - 03:35:37

In the future, what would you like to see them become?

03:35:45 - 03:37:23

I would like to see zoos, I think become more regionally-oriented with specialties. In other words, zoos that can do good with certain groups of animals or types of animals or species would concentrate on working with those species and not try and have-all do-all type zoo. And that might mean that some zoos would have a tremendous reptile collection, or they would be like specialized, the aquatic people having to do with water and water management, obviously don’t try and keep mammals. And I don’t think all of us that run a terrestrial operations should try to keep all forms of reptiles, amphibian, birds and mammals. It’s what we could do good with, what we have the financial resources to manage. I think we all should try and be realistic about that. Everyone can’t exhibit pandas, for instance, it’s not something that is economically feasible for many of the medium and smaller zoos to do and quite frankly, we don’t all need to show and work with the same thing. You’ve seen a lot of things change in veterinary medicine over years.

03:37:24 - 03:37:38

Were there some that stand out to you as really important changes, maybe it’s in diagnosis or treatment or some aspect, what changes in that vein have you seen.

03:37:41 - 03:37:49

Changes in veterinary medicine have been both in diagnosis and treatment and preventive medicine?

03:37:49 - 03:39:40

I think the prevalence of trying to prevent disease as opposed to treating it after it’s obviously present have been very important to us. And it’s been a continuum that’s been growing, we would much rather spend time on doing lab work on blood or on feces to find out if an animal might have a latent infection of heartworm or of trypanosome, or might have malaria, in the case of some of the penguins, some of these things are important instead of just waiting for them to get sick, show obvious signs and or die and diagnose it at the knee crop scene. So preventive medicine, the fact that we have so much more information, and the fact that we have more tools to work with. We have a lot more immunological tools that we can see what animals are allergic to see what they have been exposed to. And they may not be showing the disease, but they may have been exposed to it and, or they may be a carrier for it. So the fact that we have more scientific knowledge to work with has been a good thing. As far as treatment and what we’ve seen there, a lot of the newer evolving drugs, if you stop and think about it, we didn’t have the first antibody until World War II. And since that time now we’ve come through several generations of good antibiotics.

03:39:40 - 03:40:28

And we’ve now starting to see that we’re getting resistance to the use of a lot of these antibiotics. So some of the organisms are coming resistant to ’em. So we have to always be changing, but we seem to be always able to come up with a new treatment, a new drug. And this is part of the disease process we’re talking about, part of the research that the major drug companies are doing a lot of the workforce, but zoos can actually collect a lot of the specimens to submit to these different drug companies or pathology laboratories to help them see what we are working with and what battles we have to fight.

03:40:30 - 03:40:39

Do you see a realistic role in assisted reproductive techniques in maintaining the endangered species?

03:40:40 - 03:40:48

If you could comment on any of these AI, ET, siemens sexing or how important these may be?

03:40:50 - 03:42:53

Reproductive physiology is one of the places where zoos have made major changes and learned a lot more. There are assisted reproductive techniques that we are using, as you’ve mentioned, artificial insemination, embryo transfer that we’re utilizing fairly regularly. The only Sumatran rhinos ever born in North America are due to the work that they’ve done in Cincinnati, Dr. Terry Roth, and that’s artificially inseminating animals. And this was necessary because these animals are so ferocious when they are put together and they breed. And in a fairly small area that the males may really do a lot of damage to the females, but the females show almost no external signs that they’re in heat. And so it’s important that we learn when they are in heat and the way that they approached it at Cincinnati was they trained the animal to go and stand in a shoot and be fed while the reproductive physiologist would do an examination, a rectal examination with ultrasound to determine what stage of ovulation they were in. They could watch it on a day to day basis. They could say, here’s a follicle on the left ovary, today it’s this big to the, today, it’s this big today, it’s this big, look, it just ovulated and at that point where it ovulates, they have the artificial insemination, the semen ready, they inseminate the animal and they’ve had two pregnancies at least, and some more that they lost early.

03:42:53 - 03:43:21

So that’s one example. The first Gour, which is one of the world’s largest cattle, that was born with embryo transfer was worked done at the Bronx Zoo. And they took embryos from goer and put them into a Holstein cow and produced a goer that way. So all of these techniques are worthwhile.

03:43:21 - 03:43:23

Have they done more with the Gour?

03:43:23 - 03:44:29

No, because the goer naturally breed well, and they don’t have to. Will they do more of the insemination work with Sumatran rhinos. If we have a viable male and a female, that’s probably the best way to go. Unfortunately, right now we don’t have that situation. So yeah, they’re techniques. As far as the semen sorting, which means you centrifuge the seamen to the point where you separate the more of the male sperm go one direction, more the female go the other, and then use that fraction of the semen to inseminate the female. For hoofed animal, that is a utilizable thing for the great apes, which is where they are talking about it more than anything. That’s good, because one male can breed with several different females.

03:44:29 - 03:45:26

And it’s a problem holding all of the excess males. The other side of the coin, we run into an ethical thing and some zoos have gotten into difficulties with it by recognize it as a management tool. And that is if you have too many male babies born and they aren’t genetically important to the population, they can consider euthanasia. So that’s an ethical question that each individual zoo is gonna have to handle. It’s very tough to sell that to the public. And recently a zoo in Europe got in big trouble because they euthanized a giraffe and then fed him to their lion collection. And the hue and cry from the public was really, really tremendous reaction.

03:45:27 - 03:45:31

And would I have done it?

03:45:31 - 03:46:03

I wouldn’t have done it in my zoo because I wouldn’t have wanted to face the wrath of the public. Does that mean they were wrong? No. They made the conscious decision. They would do it. It was the same way that it would’ve happened in nature. If the animal died, it would be fed to the carnivores. So there are many of these things that you can take both sides and argue, and then you have to weigh the pros against the cons.

03:46:06 - 03:46:19

In your opinion, what is your take on, you’ve talked a little about it, on the insurgents of the anti-captivity animal rights activism, which has gained a mainstream status in our society now?

03:46:19 - 03:46:21

What’s kind of your take on it?

03:46:22 - 03:47:42

I think as Americans have more time for leisure and to be more critical in the fact that they’re getting away from the agricultural background than they don’t have nearly the practical utilitarian approach to animals that most Americans did 50 years ago, that they’re going to become more and more critical of holding any animal in captivity. And I’m surprised it hadn’t spilled over to dogs and cats, In many instances. I think we’re just the tip of the iceberg. And like we’ve been worn for years and years. First, they’re gonna come after the killer whales and pandas, then the elephants, then the gorillas. And then it’s just gonna go on down the chain until they’re objecting to anything being kept in captivity. And that gets down into discussions that are beyond my pay grade as far as the ethics of animal rights. I’ve participated in a few conferences before where we discussed the pros and cons of animal rights.

03:47:42 - 03:48:46

And I think if we lived in a society where it was dog eat dog, literally, and survival of the fittest, that it would apply more than it does now, where we have put everything pretty much under our control. And we’re taking habitat from wild animals. Therefore we couldn’t have lions and tigers running loose here in the US. We have mountain lions and as people are encroaching more and more into their wild territories and building housing complexes where mountain lions used to have their hunting territory, we’re seeing more and more conflicts. And this is all part of societal integration. We had talked about conservation.

03:48:46 - 03:48:57

What’s your take on, can a small or a medium sized zoo today be involved in wildlife conservation nationally or internationally, or does it just take big bucks?

03:48:57 - 03:50:14

I think we pretty much talked about that earlier with use the example of how our zoo got involved with the Kemps Ridley and with me with rhinos and with Colette Adams with iguanas, and you find what you can afford. You find what people on your staff have the expertise to participate on a meaningful basis and then you make the time available for them to participate and you raise what funds you can. And that’s the way we have to approach it. A constant complaint sometimes from zoo directors, that there are too few good curators in the zoo community today. As a veterinarian, you’ve worked with quite a few curators. What do you think are the top qualities curators should have today. By the very word curator we’re saying someone that’s in charge of a collection of something. And in order be in charge of a collection of something, you should have a very good knowledge of that collection.

03:50:14 - 03:51:17

I think a lot of our problem now is that we’re assigning the curatorial status to some people who have just book knowledge. They’ve studied it in college, they have a degree that says they’re a zoologist or they’re a mammalogist, but the many of them couldn’t tell you anything about the natural habitat that it takes for these animals. And a zoo is all about trying to simulate natural habitats, about what they eat, many of these things. So I think that a curator should not only have the book knowledge, but the animal husbandry knowledge to care for the animals that he’s gonna be in charge of. And he also has to be a people person. By being a curator, it means you’re in charge of collection. It means you can’t do it by yourself. You have to work with people and you have to be a good people manager.

03:51:19 - 03:51:24

What would you say are some of your most important contributions to the zoo world?

03:51:27 - 03:53:10

A lot of my contributions would have to be in the form of working with people to have ’em get along. I was on the first diversity committee we ever had for the Zoo and Aquarium Association. And that’s basically because I learned to operate in a part of the country where I was a minority white guy, and we had an 86% Hispanic population and we had to get along. We had to work together. So I think learning to work with various groups of people and getting them to cooperate. This is why I ended up in the middle of the zoo professionals and the ranchers to try and get them together because I realized they had a lot more in common than they had in opposition. So I guess being a consensus builder or mediator has been one of my strong points. As far as animal contributions, I think that the time that I spent as a keeper and learned a lot about day to day care of animals in general and great apes in particular, has worked on my behavior.

03:53:11 - 03:53:40

The zoologists that we’re talking about coming straight out of college, isn’t gonna know that you don’t look a gorilla directly in the eye or that you’re insulting him or that you don’t smile at a chimpanzee because they think you’re grimacing because you’re nervous. So things like this are just things you pick up by working with the animals and listening to the other people who have worked with them before.

03:53:43 - 03:53:57

With the move to naturalistic exhibits, which the Gladys Porters Zoo did and keeping animals in more natural groups, where possible did veterinary care help or hinder these changes?

03:54:00 - 03:55:49

I don’t think it hindered it in any way other than most veterinarians like to see things kept in fairly sanitary conditions. And that doesn’t necessarily mean having access to mud holes where bacteria and algae can breed, doesn’t mean necessarily having them graze on ground that is naturally drained where parasite eggs can be. But I think that that’s behooves the veterinarian to realize these are all potential problems you can have with that kind of an exhibit and to be careful and run your routine examinations, to make sure that they aren’t having problems with the parasites or with some of the opportunistic things that they may run into. As far as helping, I don’t think that veterinarian does that much in helping with naturalistic exhibits other than encouraging naturalistic behavior. And that might be like with primates hiding sunflower seeds under hay or things like this, stuff you would think of as more behaviorist. But I think they’re teaching this more and more to veterinarians now and they may encourage like an old time keeper who would’ve thought that was more bother to be more cognizant of the fact that animals need activities to do, other than just sit in a clean cage. We talked about, just a quick, going back for a second. We talked about you becoming the zoo director.

03:55:50 - 03:56:01

When you did become zoo director, were there mentors or people that you were looking up to and talking to that we’re helping you, not veterinarians, but other zoo directors?

03:56:01 - 03:57:02

By all means. We’re a fairly close knit group. And I knew many of the current directors, I told you earlier, I have one, a gift tie from Clayton Fly Height from Denver. Clayton was a mentor. Lee Simmons and I had a different relationship. I was a keeper working in a zoo and showed Lee Simmons around the week after he graduated from vet school to come for his first job at the Columbus Zoo as a mammals curator, not as a veterinarian. So he’s sort of a man, but he’s sort of a co-conspirator so to speak. Charlie Hessel at St. Louis was a good friend. George Felton and Baton Rouge, good friend.

03:57:02 - 03:57:41

Bill Breaker, Shed Aquarium here in Chicago, Louis Desabato, who was my first director in Columbus and then in San Antonio, he was my closest neighbor. So Louie and I would talk. And too many people to mention. But the zoo directors are giving people as a general rule and they tend not to withhold information from each other. They tend to share it. So it’s pretty easy to get some one-on-one help if you need it. There’s a National Zoo Association.

03:57:41 - 03:57:45

Is there a Texas Zoo Association or not, or informal?

03:57:45 - 03:58:36

We started to have one. We had a couple of meetings, maybe 15 years ago, but never formalized it, never incorporated. And after first couple of meetings, I don’t think they still get together anymore. I don’t know. I’ve been retired seven years and they may have started again, but toward the end of my tenure, as director in Brownsville, we weren’t meeting on an annual basis. Going back to exhibits, there are people who say, if you’re gonna spend 10, 20, 30 million on an elephant exhibit or something of that nature, it would be much better if you put it back into the wild to protect the animals in the wild.

03:58:36 - 03:58:50

What’s your opinion about the spending of large amounts of money on exhibitry as opposed to helping animals “in the wild” or are they two different animals?

03:58:50 - 03:59:54

I think you almost have to take that on a species by species situation. I don’t think you can buy enough land or provide enough habitat for a tiger with 10 or 20 million to be a significant contributor. As far as some of the frogs or lizards, things that have very specific habitat, you could make a huge difference with an influx of that much money. You mentioned, elephants is one of your examples. We actually have more problem still, even with all the poaching, with elephant over population in Africa, then we do scarcity. And so it’s not that they need so much help. They may need isolated help. They may need help to drill wells in a areas where they could live and do okay if they just had a regular water source.

03:59:54 - 04:00:09

So there are some targeted expenditures that could be made on the behalf of elephants or rhinos, but you can’t do it with just habitat only for them.

04:00:10 - 04:00:24

Do you feel that zoo should, when they build these multimillion dollar exhibits, should actually allocate, would it be a positive thing to allocate a percentage of that to help animals in the wild and would it do any good?

04:00:24 - 04:01:21

I think that concept has excellent potential and it should be done. We tried to sort of pin a 10% number on and it wasn’t cast in stone, but our animal committee decided that would be a reasonable number to consider when we build an exhibit to try and allocate that. And it wouldn’t necessarily have to be to in-situ conservation. It could be to research, to discover better diets, to discover better medical treatments. It could be to pay for relocations between institutions, to pay for animal moves, to enhance breeding any number of things. But as long as it was to enhance conservation in general.

04:01:23 - 04:01:30

To what extent, if any, do you continue to be active in the zoo field or the conservation field?

04:01:32 - 04:02:37

The main contribution I make now and what I spend my most time on besides being on the endowment board at the zoo and helping manage those funds, is with the International Rhino Foundation. I was one of the founding directors of what first was the International Black Rhino Foundation. And then we incorporated it actually shortly thereafter as the International Rhino Foundation. And I still serve as secretary of that group. And I’m on the executive board and just had a meeting last week in Fort Worth about that. And then we’ll have another annual meeting in Columbus in October. So I’m still active with that. I get regular email updates and I’m asked to give opinions on various projects and all with that group.

04:02:39 - 04:02:46

As you look back on your time at Brownsville, if you could go back in time, is there anything you would’ve done differently?

04:02:48 - 04:02:51

There’s always something you could have done better.

04:02:52 - 04:02:55

Would I have done differently at the time?

04:02:55 - 04:03:32

I probably thought I did what I needed to do or what was proper. I’ll stand on that answer. I think I acted at the time with the best information I had available. Obviously, I didn’t always make the right decision and yes, there’s some things I would’ve done differently, but I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t go back and do ’em now. And so I don’t cry over ’em.

04:03:32 - 04:03:37

As regarding your previous question, what other thing that I still do?

04:03:37 - 04:03:53

I still maintain a veterinary license and narcotics license in order that I can assist the zoo in Brownsville as the backup veterinarian in case they’re veterinarian is unavailable. So I still am “on call”.

04:03:56 - 04:04:05

Are there any exhibits that you would’ve liked to have completed or done that you just didn’t get the opportunity to do for various reasons?

04:04:06 - 04:04:47

We had on the books for many years, an Otter exhibit. I love otters and think that they properly designed exhibit for otters you can have a very good educational exhibit and one that’s fun for the public to see. And I won’t say that that I’ve thought we could do that much in breeding them and saving them conservation-wise, but hopefully we could have at least contributed somewhat. And I’m talking about freshwater otters, not sea otters.

04:04:49 - 04:04:57

I’m a young zoo director, I come to you and I say, “Don, I’m trying to market my zoo.” What advice would you give me?

04:04:59 - 04:05:10

Well, find out what resources you have first, find out what your standing is with regular media in the area.

04:05:11 - 04:05:14

How did my predecessor treat them?

04:05:14 - 04:05:17

What was his or her relationship with them?

04:05:19 - 04:05:23

Are they on good terms? Do they regularly come to the zoo?

04:05:23 - 04:05:30

Is the zoo on their minds when they think about news stories or media opportunities?

04:05:34 - 04:05:59

Then once I find out what’s available and what sort of a rapport we had with them, then I’d try to maximize on them. And I’d go with looking into my board of directors, assuming I have a board, and almost all zoos now even if they’re a municipal zoo, they’ll have an advisory board.

04:06:00 - 04:06:09

Find out what those people, what their contacts are, what strengths they have, are they well connected in the local community?

04:06:09 - 04:06:21

Do they have friends who are well connected and just try and see what resources you have to work with and then maximize the potential. You mentioned that you were president of the American Zoo Association.

04:06:24 - 04:06:32

In your opinion, has the zoo association continued to do those things that you felt they should be doing as an association?

04:06:34 - 04:08:00

Unfortunately, I think the American Zoo Association is like many other organizations. They’ve become almost too organized to the point where the bureaucracy is overshadowing the common good that they can and should be doing. It’s sometimes cumbersome to get something done. And you’ll find where a vocal minority of the members are controlling the collect output of the organization, simply because they do exert so much pressure on either the central office or on the board of directors. I think all in all the AZA still has a very hardworking well-meaning board of directors. I think they have a hardworking well-meaning staff, but I just think some of the mechanisms with which they have to interact with with their constituents and with each other is sometimes a little cumbersome. We have a lot more influence now than we ever did in Washington with the laws that govern all of us. I think this is a good point.

04:08:01 - 04:08:28

And I think that we need to be more and more aware of this because not only for laws that may affect how we act, but also for funding opportunities for our various nonprofit organizations. Going back just slightly, you mentioned that when you were putting things together at Gladys Porter you had worked with the international Animal Exchanges to acquire animals and that you worked with others.

04:08:28 - 04:08:35

Did you ever have op the opportunity or did you work with Fred Z handler to bring animals in?

04:08:35 - 04:08:36

Goodness. Yes.

04:08:36 - 04:08:38

Can you gimme a story or two?

04:08:40 - 04:10:39

I’ll give you one warning, but it it’s not applicable anymore and let’s not use a phone after Fred Z Handler talked on it because he would get so excited that he would slab and make the phone a mess. One good story about Fred Z, we imported an Indian rhino from the Bosel Zoo in Switzerland, and this would’ve been in 1971. And Fred was just paranoid as could be. He always was with an animal shipment, but this in particular was because the animal had some problem with constipation when it was in quarantine and they had been watching it and he was insistent and talked to Dr. Thomas, that he sent the veterinarian up to stay with the animal while he went through the short quarantine, until he could be shipped to Brownsville to bring him down. And so I went to New York, to accompany this little rhino back and to observe him up there and take care of him. Fortunately, he didn’t have any bouts with his constipation problem up there, but seeing what a nervous Fred Z Handler was about this rhino and worrying about him, it was really something. And he had taken out trip insurance on the animal and it included 30 days survivability after he came to our zoo. And unfortunately he came and he did have a bowel impaction.

04:10:40 - 04:11:13

And we did end up losing him shortly after his 30 day insurance was up. And I felt very badly about that. And Fred did also, but in all good conscious to Fred Z handler, he did everything possible he could to see that that animal had the best chance it could. And obviously it had some sort of a genetic or developmental abnormality that caused it to have all these digestive problems.

04:11:14 - 04:11:26

So in all the time you were director of Brownsville, is there one thing that you might point to, if I asked you about your proudest accomplishment, what you’re proud about?

04:11:31 - 04:12:32

I guess I’m pleased about going outside of the box and going into an area where I was uncomfortable and that is the fundraising to get the endowment established. And I worked very hard with our board and with the newly formed endowment board to get that project funded, because it doesn’t sound like that much money now, but when you stop and think about trying to raise $3 million in the poorest three counties in North America, which is what the Rio Grande valley is, in a year when there was a major Peso devaluation in the Rio Grande valley, which meant all the businesses were having hard times to get that accomplished. And what we did, I think I’m very proud of, not so much myself, but of the endowment board in particular.

04:12:34 - 04:12:41

What do you know about this profession you’ve worked in that you’ve devoted so many years of your life to?

04:12:44 - 04:12:45

What do you know about it?

04:12:45 - 04:12:47

What comes to mind?

04:12:48 - 04:14:42

You devoted so many years to it. When I think about the zoo of profession here in North America, I think about a close knit band of people with like minds who are passionate about wild animals, about wild places, about conservation, about what it’s gonna take to keep them, which includes water conservation, recycling, changed agricultural practices, as well as all of the various specific programs that we have for the individual animals. And probably the majority of my best friends that I’ve made in life are people who are either retired from the zoo community, or maybe still in it and about to retire. A lot of the younger guys, I don’t know, and gals, but I think the profession has a good future in that we’ve always been resilient. We’ve been able to change and meet the challenges that were thrown our way and I have to hope and pray that the younger generation of zoo professionals coming on will meet that challenge the same way that we have met it. How would you like to be remembered. Someone who cared deeply about animals. Dr. Farst, thank you very much.

04:14:42 - 04:14:43

You’re welcome.

About Don Farst, DVM

Don Farst, DVM
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Gladys Porter Zoo: Brownsville, Texas

Director Emeritus

Dr. Farst started his career as a private practitioner but in 1969 took a position as veterinarian at the Columbus Zoo. Soon afterward he was called to do double duty and take on the responsibilities of the mammal curator. Dr. Warren Thomas, director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville Texas asked Dr. Farst to take a job as associate director/veterinarian.

The opportunity to develop a collection from scratch and build a world-class zoo was the hook that brought him to Texas. Four years after his arrival Dr. Thomas left for the Los Angeles Zoo and Dr. Farst was named Managing Director. He was asked by the American Zoo Association to be the primary liaison between the Texas ranches working with the Black rhinoceros and the associations Rhinoceros Taxon Advisory Group.

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