November 11th 2010 | Director

Gary K. Clarke

Gary Clarke had a number of firsts in his career. He was Topeka Zoos' first director and served in that position for 26 years. In 1971 Gary became the association's first president.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:01 - 00:00:24

Gary K. Clarke, K stands for king. (chuckles) Just joking. I was born in Wichita, Kansas on January 19th, 1939. And grew up early years in Kansas, but then moved back to Virginia ’cause of my father’s job and then to Kansas City, Missouri. So I finished grade school in Kansas City, went through high school and started college.

00:00:24 - 00:00:27

What zoos did you see when you were growing up?

00:00:27 - 00:01:18

Well, the first zoo I am told that I saw was the old Central Riverside Park Zoo in Wichita which, quite honestly I don’t remember seeing it then. I remember seeing it in later years, but that probably was the first zoo that I visited. The zoo I remember most vividly from my early childhood is the National Zoo in Washington, DC. And my father used to take me there. And that may be where I gained my empathy for wildlife and animals. What a magical place, it was marvelous. And then when I moved to Kansas City, of course, as a youngster, as a teenager, ride my bike out to Kansas City Zoo in Swope Park. So I spent a lot of time there and all the things I’d read about animals came alive there at Kansas City Zoo.

00:01:18 - 00:01:35

So it had a strong influence on me. But I took the train to St. Louis just to see the zoo and I didn’t have a car. Didn’t have a car till I was probably 25 years old and went to every zoo I could just taking the bus or the train or whatever.

00:01:35 - 00:01:39

Now as a child, were you interested in working in a zoo?

00:01:40 - 00:02:30

Mark, as a child, there were two things I wanted to do in life. One was work in the zoo and the other was go to Africa. And I’d always had this fascination with wildlife and the animals of Africa and Africa itself always intrigued me. And my father, a wonderful guy, had polio, and walked on crutches, but he had a fascination with the world. And this is back in the 40s, so we didn’t have a television set or anything like that, but had a short wave radio and he would, at night, we’d get BBC and we’d hear Big Ben striking and then he’d get some African country, and he’d know what it was. And then we have these maps from National Geographic. And he’d show me on the map where we were actually hearing on the radio. Oh, it was so fascinating.

00:02:30 - 00:02:53

In fact, when I was seven years old, he got me my own membership at National Geographic Society. Now that’s long before they had these junior memberships, like they have these days, full fledge. So he’d get his magazine, I get my magazine. And that was really good. It encouraged me to read, and so on, so I attribute a lot of this to him, ’cause he was kind of a citizen of the world.

00:02:53 - 00:02:56

What kind of schooling did you have when you were progressing?

00:02:58 - 00:03:53

Standard and routine, I would say. Went to grade school in Alexandria, Virginia, Robert E. Lee School, whose birthday is January 19th, Robert E. Lee’s birthday. And came back to Kansas City and finished, I actually took seventh and eighth grade together at the time and went through De La Salle Military Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, and became a company commander, company C, captain of company C. And then went to Rockhurst College for two years and flunked out ’cause I didn’t study. It was so boring. Zoology was nothing but taxonomy. And I wanted to know about the living animal and what was going on, but I was working as a summer keeper, started in 1957, Kansas City Zoo. Tell me more about how your career began in the zoo world, that you got even that temporary job.

00:03:54 - 00:04:57

Well, actually I, on January 19th, 1955, when I was 16 years old, I rushed out to Kansas City Zoo in Slope Park and the director at the time was Mr. William T. A. Cully. And a very nice guy and well known in the zoo world at the time, started out at the Bronx. And I met him and, one of these kids, go in and raise your hand and say, here I am, God’s gift to the zoo world. (chuckles) And he said, “Well, that’s great, but you gotta be 18 to work in the zoo. Now that I think is probably a very valid policy, ’cause you are working with dangerous animals. So when I was 18, I rushed back out and they hired 12 temporary keepers for the summer, well, I say keepers, we were actually called zoo attendant or zoo attendant one or something. So my first day, I was so excited, my guys, I gotta get there, ’cause I’d been to the zoo all the time. I knew all the animals, knew those individual animals.

00:04:57 - 00:05:07

I didn’t know just about hippos, but I knew those hippos and those polar bears and those giraffes and I was so excited, what am I gonna get to work with today?

00:05:07 - 00:05:41

And of course the first day they give you a long pole with a nail on the end and a gunnysack and say, go clean all the papers in the parking lot. But that was good. That was good for me. And I thought this I gotta do. I’m gonna clean this parking lot better than anybody’s ever cleaned it. Of course you learn a lot about zoo visitors then too (Gary chuckles) when you clean a parking lot. But people pull into a zoo parking lot and if it’s clean, they take it for granted. That’s the way it should be. If it’s not, it’s it’s the first bad impression or a negative impression on the zoo.

00:05:41 - 00:06:34

So having a clean parking lot, having a parking lot is important, and having a clean one is very important in my opinion. Anyway, so during the summer, we did all these menial jobs, digging up broken shorelines and painting fences and cutting weeds and all this and once, about one of these young kids like me, one a week would quit, because it wasn’t the glamorous working with the animals thing. And to get out of the zoo in Slope Park, and to catch the bus, you had to go up over a hill to the bus stop. So we’d come in some morning and Joe wasn’t there. What happened to Joe? Well, he went over the hill. Meaning he’s gone, he’s outta here. And the old assistant director, Virgil Pettigrew, he was like a zoo foreman. He wasn’t really very scientific, but he’s the zoo foreman.

00:06:34 - 00:06:53

And all us menial guys, we were on the chain gang. And so if you’re on the chain gang, he’d say, “Let’s bow and arrow it.” Which meant bow that back and arrow that ass. Get that shovel and start digging this broken sewer line or whatever. So every week somebody went over the hill.

00:06:54 - 00:07:05

So by the end of the summer, I was the last guy. (chuckles) And Mr. Cully said, “Well, you’ve stuck it out.” It was kinda his way of saying who’s really serious about zoo biz?

00:07:05 - 00:07:53

And he said, “We’ve got a regular keeper going on vacation. We’re gonna train you for his job.” Oh my gosh, that was a dream come true. So I, and this was in what we called the north end with some miscellaneous animals, aoudad and tahr and camels, and tapirs, emus, so on. And he trained me and I felt pretty good about it. And he, this guy, he was a bachelor and he loved his animals and he knew them well and showed me how to shift the camels in the barn, and so on. And he goes off the next day for two weeks. And as you might expect, the animals knew maybe I was trained, but I wasn’t the guy. Those camels wouldn’t shift and the emu wouldn’t go in at night.

00:07:53 - 00:08:12

And, oh my gosh, I thought I’m a failure. (chuckles) But after a couple of days, I learned, I remember what he said and I was patient and I learned that animals accepted me and by he time we got back, things were going well. So then he goes around and inspects his whole area.

00:08:12 - 00:08:17

In other words, is he gonna pass, fail type thing, you know?

00:08:17 - 00:08:21

And he said, “You did okay, kid.” And he told Mr. Cully. And so that was it.

00:08:24 - 00:08:29

What was the zoo like though when you first started, what was its physical makeup?

00:08:29 - 00:09:13

It was, there’s no perimeter fence. It was one main, what they called, a lot of zoos had this, I guess, the main zoo building, and this was built 1909. And it was one of these combination buildings. There was a row of barred cages on one side of the interior with external barred cages. Most of those were for carnivores. So they had a pretty collection: lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, pumas, so on. And a few large primates, chimps, mandrill. The interior had a, initially a sea lion pool, but in 1950 they built the current sea lion pool.

00:09:13 - 00:09:42

They’ve expanded it and improved it since then. So they put hippos in the interior and a pool. And primates units for like red patas monkeys and green monkeys, mona monkeys. On the other side, a few reptiles. And at the far end was the elephant stall. And they had Asian elephants, two Asian elephants. Later they got African elephants. But that was the main zoo building.

00:09:42 - 00:10:36

And then outside, they had the bear pits and they were like the old postcards. We all have those old postcard, where the bars went up and curved over the top. But they had a American black bears, grizzly bears, polar bears. And then they had the grottoes built by WPA in the 1940s with giant anteaters and Patagonian cavies, things of that type. A nice monkey island built in 1946. It’s actually a pretty good monkey island. Molded flamingo pond. Then the north end, which I described a little bit ago, and in 1954, they built the African veldt, which was an old rock quarry that they then expanded and put a wall, barrier wall around to make about a seven acre display.

00:10:36 - 00:11:51

I’m sure Mr. Cully was thinking of the African Plains at the Bronx and he wanted to model it after that to some extent. He didn’t have lions over a boat, looking in, but he did have this collection of hoofstock. So together on the veldt, running together were zebras, eland, wildebeest, various cranes, and some waterfowl, ostrich, but we had to be careful how we managed it because we usually kept the stallions off exhibit holding yards, brought the mares in to be bred, let the mares back out on the veldt, deliver their offspring there, so on. Then he built a conical barn for giraffes, which were on development, separated by stockade fence. And then he brought in African elephants through Z. Handler. Young pair came in in 1955. So by the time I got there, they were youngsters, but I’d seen ’em come in, and so on, before I started working at the zoo. And then a couple of years later in 1958, he brought in the first gorilla, Big Man, through Dr. Deets Picket, a local veterinarian in Kansas City.

00:11:52 - 00:12:06

So, I mean, that was an exciting zoo for me. I wished it had more reptiles. Birds, they didn’t have a lot of birds, but some, mostly predatory birds. So it was a pretty neat.

00:12:06 - 00:12:09

Did you interact with the curatorial staff?

00:12:09 - 00:12:12

Did people stay on in their different areas?

00:12:12 - 00:12:14

Did they talk to one another? How did they interact?

00:12:14 - 00:13:08

(chuckles) What a marvelous question. There, and I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but there was no curatorial staff. Mr. Cully was a knowledgeable experienced zoo man, an animal man, and then became an administrator and a construction man and development man, everything you need to be to be a zoo director at that time. And the assistant director was Vigil Pettigrew who, as I say, was a great guy, but a glorified foreman. The most knowledgeable animal person of all was Benny Henry who had an intuitive feel for animals and was just a marvelous guy. And I learned so much from him. So there was no curatorial staff. Oh, Dan Watson was on the staff and he was the most educated.

00:13:08 - 00:13:54

And he was, we didn’t use the term nerd in those days, but if we had, he would have been the nerd. But he was a very positive, pleasant guy. And I learned a lot from him too. But then he went off to other zoos. So knowing there was no staff then, my heroes were the keepers. And I couldn’t wait to get acquainted with all these keepers who took care of these wonderful creatures. And in the mornings before work, instead of talking to animals, they’re talking about their car or the baseball game or their girlfriend or running out of money. And the mantra of many of them was quitting time and payday.

00:13:54 - 00:14:00

It was very disheartening. And it had a very small zoo library.

00:14:00 - 00:14:06

And during my lunch hour, I’d always be reading books up there, which they scoffed at, “Huh, who’s this kid reading all these books?

00:14:06 - 00:14:56

You gonna be a zoo director someday?” (chuckles) And I hadn’t even thought about that quite honestly. So I didn’t really learn much from them. But Benny Henry, yes, he was a wonderful guy. I learned a lot from him. But Mr. Cully called me in the office one day and he said, actually, you know, there’s a stint where I worked at Midwest Research Institute for two years, the reptile laboratory. And then when I came back to the zoo full time and he called me in the office one day and he says, “I know you love reptiles. And we only have a small snake collection. So what do you wanna do with your zoo career?” This is a penetrating question and a great question from this man, “What are you gonna do with your zoo career?” If it’s gonna be reptiles, then you can’t learn much more than you’d already have here.

00:14:56 - 00:15:42

But I know George Vierheller at St. Louis, and they have a big reptile collection there. And I could probably get you on there. Or if you wanna be a general zoo man, then I’ll let you work with every species we have in all areas of the zoo. Not only learn ’em, but be the relief keeper, and so on.” Wow, so I had to make a decision. So fortunately, that whole ploy, can I think about it tonight? (laughs) So I thought about it all right, I thought, I love reptiles, and I don’t mean to say that I’ve outgrown them, but gosh, now I’ll get to work with all these other fabulous species. I just wanna be a general zoom man. So I told him and so he let me work on all these other species, although I still love reptiles very much. So I was really fortunate.

00:15:43 - 00:15:46

Well, What were, so it sounds like you had a good relationship with him.

00:15:48 - 00:15:53

What other things did you learn from him and what were his strengths and his weakness?

00:15:54 - 00:16:39

He was a great guy. He and Mrs. Cully, there was a little office, a cubbyhole office in the main zoo building, but he didn’t use that. And I don’t blame him. But this is in the days when a lot of zoo directors had a residence on the grounds and that was part of the job. So at his residence, he developed an office in the residence and his wife, Mildred Cully, was his secretary. And by the way, they had a green ink typewriter ribbon. I don’t know if you ever saw these letters, anyway, when they would send out letters, they were green ink, which I always thought was kinda neat. And he would always sign these letters, zoologically yours.

00:16:40 - 00:17:29

And Mrs. Cully would type it out. They had one daughter, Kathy and it was not a question of me being a adopted son type thing. He wasn’t that kind of individual. But I think it was a question of him recognizing somebody who did wanna make a career out of this And like when the International Zoo Yearbook first came out, well, he gave me the brochure. And I got one and one of those originals. And he just, he did what little he could. There wasn’t a lot because the zoo was run by a park board, by Kansas City Park Board. But anything he could do, he would encourage me.

00:17:33 - 00:18:24

Probably the most important thing was letting me work with all these different animals. His strengths were, he knew he loved the animals, and he knew that the zoo revolved around the animals, and he knew it was for the public. And he wanted that zoo to a good for the public. He wanted that zoo to shine. And so he was somewhat of a stickler in this regard, but I think that was good. At the end of the day, this is one of these zoo situations where we had a dump truck called the manure truck that would go around to the various hoofstock areas where you stockpiled the manure after you cleaned the exhibits. And then the manure truck driver would dump it on and then he’d take it to the dump. And, boy, he wanted that truck washed every day, spotless at the end of the day, washed.

00:18:24 - 00:19:07

So I learned that a clean zoo is a good zoo, so to speak. And the zoo was free. There was no perimeter fence. And on Sundays, it was a 12-hour day. You start at 8:00 am and we keep the zoo open till 8:00 pm, because of the long summer days. But I loved that, I mean, just to be there the whole day. By the end of the day, the place, they used to allow feeding the animals and they allowed them to feed peanuts in the shell. Part of the reason was the concessions operator had a contract with the city was Sam Bornstein.

00:19:08 - 00:19:56

And, boy, he made a ton of money selling peanuts in the shell, but what a mess. On Monday morning, you were almost ankle deep walking through peanut shells, ’cause people would eat ’em too. So we’d have to get out the oversized firehoses, we’d come in early, come in at 07:00, work till eight o’clock Sunday night, take the bus or the streetcar home and be out there at seven o’clock Monday morning, the oversized firehoses. And those things are powerful. I mean, what water pressure. I’d hook ’em up to the fire plug and (Gary mimics fire hose spraying) blast that walks down, peanut shells clog up all the top of the drains and shovel those off. And peanut shells are really heavy when they’re wet too. But, boy, by noon, that zoo sparkled.

00:19:56 - 00:20:06

My favorite day to go to the zoo was Monday, because that was the lowest attendance day. And the place for sparkling. It’s a lot of fun.

00:20:08 - 00:20:11

What your question was, what are his strengths and weaknesses?

00:20:14 - 00:20:57

Weaknesses, I don’t know that I could cite any. He was active nationally in the old ACPA and served as president, 1962, I believe, something like that. When the old AIPE conference was in Kansas City. And that was one of the things I got to show visiting zoo dignitaries around the zoo. One of the guys selected to do that. But Mrs. Cully was so supportive of me too. And when I left to go to Midwest Research Institute, and then I came back, she’s the one that was, “I think we could find a spot for you” and stuff like that. She was always very supportive.

00:20:58 - 00:21:45

And when I had a chance to go to Fort Worth, Lawrence Curtis was director then, and it was a supervisory position, which today would be curatorial level. And Mr. Cully said, “That’s a totally different zoo, the way it operates, so I’d encourage you to go. I hate to see leave, but I’d encourage you to go.” Wrote me a nice letter. And Mr. Cully did, when I had a chance to go to Topeka less than a year later, then they were very supportive here too. So they were always very supportive. I’ll be ever grateful to them. So take me from this start at the Kansas City Zoo to the next phase leading up to when you became director. Well, I had that a stint at Midwest Research Institute where I got bitten by a red diamond rattlesnake.

00:21:45 - 00:22:28

And then, and I went to University of Missouri for two semesters and flunked out. And then back back to Kansas City Zoo. And then I went to Fort Worth in December of 1962. It was a fascinating time because the zoo had a lot of stars. Lawrence Curtis himself, Frank Thompson was assistant director. John Mertins was the curator of reptiles or supervisor of reptiles, they call it. Tim Jones was on the staff, later would become director of the Waco Zoo. Let’s see, Frank Kish was there for a while, but then he came to Topeka.

00:22:28 - 00:22:54

Anyway, and then they had animals stars. They had an aardvark which made Life Magazine. Had of pangolin, which made Life Magazine. Had pink porpoises, which Emily Hahn came and swam with. It’s in her book “Animal Gardens,” things like that. So that was a lot of fun. So they had an aquarium. So I got a little bit of experience there. They had a extensive tropical bird house with the little jewel box displays.

00:22:56 - 00:24:25

They were the opposite of Kansas City. Not much on hoofstock, more limited on carnivores, better on great apes maybe, but they were just building the then new herpetarium. And my first task was to help the rush to open the new exhibit. Every single goes through that, was to go help decorate and paint and finishing touches on the new herpetarium, which, as we talk today, is now gone, and the new MOLA, Museum of Living Art, is what they call the new harp is there But what fun it was, because that was a very innovative, imaginary building, imaginative building at the time. So that was fun, and to work with those guys. And less than a year later, during my first year there, the zoo hosted the midwinter AAZPA meeting. And Topeka came down, the park commissioner from Topeka, and park superintendent came down and made the offer to come to Topeka and when I started out, I wanted to be a keeper until I was at least 30, because I wanted that much time directly with the animals. And I felt I needed that to learn about the animals.

00:24:25 - 00:25:13

And then maybe when I was 30 or 35, I would be in a position to accept or think about curatorial level spot, and then maybe 5 or 10 years there. So in my 40s, I might be experienced enough, wise enough to be a director. So I started as a keeper at 18, and then at 23, I went to Fort Worth in the supervisor, curatorial level. And when I was 24, I got the chance to come to Topeka, which much too young to be zoo director, but I took it. I wrote a four page letter telling ’em everything that I felt was wrong with the zoo, knowing they would say, oh, well, we can’t do all the things you wanna do. So thanks, but no thanks. And they said, yeah, you’re right. Come on up. We need help.

00:25:13 - 00:25:37

And the Humane Society was trying to close the zoo. People in Topeka, if they’d say, after church on Sunday, let’s go to the zoo, that wasn’t the zoo in Gage Park. That was a zoo in Kansas City. Let’s get in the car and drive to Kansas City. That’s what they did. But I was already getting bald. I could bluff my way through, people thought it was older and wiser than I was. So that made it easier to try to function.

00:25:37 - 00:25:44

And I learned a lot on the job. And started on October 1st, 1963.

00:25:44 - 00:25:47

Why do you think they considered someone so young as yourself?

00:25:50 - 00:26:59

The previous park commissioner, who was out of office when I came, but was in office for many years, his name was Preston Hale and he did a lot to build the zoo up at the time. It was one of these park department zoos that sometimes it’s run by the park commissioner. It was one of these things. They didn’t have an official zoo director title or anything, but he loved it. And he used to come to Kansas City when I was a keeper and follow me around. And one of these, well, kind of a distinguished elderly gentlemen, always properly dressed, coat and tie. And he’d say, “We need a young fellow like you in Topeka.” I said, “Mr. Hale, I’m not near ready to do anything like that.” And he just kept saying, “We need a young fellow like you in Topeka,” I can’t help but think that after he, I can’t remember if he decided to retire or lost the election, but the new commissioner came in, Mr. Gooden, and the park superintendent was continuous from Mr. Hale to Mr. Gooden.

00:26:59 - 00:27:07

I can’t help but think that Mr. Hale might’ve said, “Well, why don’t you get that young fellow who was in Kansas City?

00:27:07 - 00:27:12

He’s now in Fort worth or something.” But I don’t really know, I mean.

00:27:14 - 00:27:21

When you accepted the position, did you have doubts about being named director at such an early age?

00:27:22 - 00:27:44

I probably wasn’t smart enough to have doubts. I was so excited. It was such a wonderful opportunity. It wasn’t that I was gonna be the boss. It wasn’t that, it was, I’m not sure how to explain it.

00:27:44 - 00:27:58

It was a feeling of because, Kansas City, there was no education department, but every time the zoo got a request for a talk, Mr. Cully said, can you go give a talk at this group or whatever?

00:27:59 - 00:28:56

And I was giving talks all the time to scout troops just on my own. But it was a feeling of being in a position to, and having a facility, needed a lot of work, oh my gosh. and having these wonderful, to help other people understand animals better. And it was just, that was the thing that excited me the most, I guess. So I didn’t, I wasn’t smart enough to think about having doubts until I got here. And the old guard, who were political appointees, had been running the zoo. And, I mean, with all due respect, they were older gentlemen from rural areas wearing their bib overalls, chewing the tobacco. And here comes a young whippersnapper.

00:28:59 - 00:29:45

They didn’t have much scientific basis in what they did. They would, we had one beat-up pickup truck. And so the foreman said, “Well, today, we have a special mix for our hoofstock, a feed mix. So I’ll go get that. So he’d be gone all day. So one time I said, “I’d like to ride along with you to see how they do this special mix.” Boy, he was teed off and incense. It turns out he drives south of Topeka to the co-op in the next little town and the guy there was a campaign contributor to the previous park commissioner, and they would chew the fat all day. And they needed to get the feed. It wasn’t that special.

00:29:45 - 00:30:34

Bring it back, well, we didn’t have the pick up truck all day long. I said, “I tell you what, let’s get some Purina Omolene.” (Gary chuckles) What is that? (chuckles) And they’d go around to one of these places, and they go around to the grocery stores till the end of the day to get the stale bread, the leftover lettuce leave, that’s how they were feeding the zoo. They monitored the sheriff department radio. And if there was a cattle truck wreck on interstate, the zoo rushed out to get whatever carcasses were there, with their permission, and slaughter ’em. And I’ll walk into the walk-in cooler, there’s was all these carcasses hanging there. Oh, they had a wreck down on Interstate 70 the other day, and it’s gonna feed the cats, these things. And they’d hack off a hunk and throw it into the cats who would know, and then the bones would clog up the drains. Oh, you know. You know that story.

00:30:34 - 00:30:58

(Gary chuckles) But the first day I was on the job, I had a little old beat up desk. I’m in the commissary smelling of fish throwing out, and all the cleaning fluids and all this stuff. And the phone rings. And there was a little thing in the paper, a new zoo guy, “Are you the new zoo guy?” “Yes.” (chuckles) “Well, there’s a prairie dog on my backyard and he’s digging it up.

00:30:58 - 00:31:02

Can you come and get him?” Oh, okay. What’s your address?

00:31:02 - 00:31:36

And whoever checked it out, it wasn’t a Prairie dog. It turns out, well, then the phone rang again, another call, I mean, all day long, the zoo had gone out and taken a chainlink fence, and put it into the ground that deep and put a guard rail around the top, and put prairie dogs in there before I got there. And they had all dug out, they were all over, not just all over Gage Park, they were all over that end of town. And everybody’s calling me the new zoo guy. Well, got a new zoo guy. Have him coming get ’em. (chuckles) Oh my gosh. That’s what I wondered.

00:31:36 - 00:31:45

(Gary laughs) Were any of the previous directors you worked for, did they ever give you any advice when you now took this new position?

00:31:47 - 00:31:49

You mean within a profession?

00:31:49 - 00:31:52

Well, the former zoo directors that you worked for before.

00:31:52 - 00:31:55

Did they call you up and say, I got some advice for you?

00:31:56 - 00:32:44

They didn’t do exactly that. Mr. Cully, he called, well, I called him after I got the offer. And he gave me a cautionary endorsement, sort of thing. He said, “They need a lot of work over there, but we think you can do it.” We, ’cause his wife has always, had her opinion too. So we would encourage you to take it. Lawrence Curtis and a lot of other people said, “Clarke, you’re not,” because Topeka was known in the zoo world somewhat as a political football, because the park commissioner had such a strong influence up to that point, the new one, Mr. Gooden, he didn’t. He wanted to be a business. I had a lot, yes.

00:32:44 - 00:33:22

I had a lot of colleagues, a few I knew at the time who called me and say, “We’re never gonna hear from you again. That is professional suicide.” If you leave Fort Worth or that new herp building and all the exciting stuff that’s going on there and all these qualified zoo people, which was right, there was a lot of stuff. And I used to take the bus, the Trailways bus down to Houston and see John Werger and go over to Dallas and see Pierre Fontaine. and Alby Turner was over in Dallas at the time, and all that stuff and it was great. They said, “If you go to Topeka, that is professional suicide. We will never hear from you again.” So they kinda wrote me off.

00:33:22 - 00:33:33

(Gary chuckling) When you got there as director, what were the top items, procedures, things that you wanted to address or enhance?

00:33:33 - 00:34:12

Well, number one was animal diets. I’m no nutritionist, but I could tell that this feeding garbage to them, it wasn’t, sometimes the food may have been acceptable. It was the concept, that’s number one, was the concept. And they were not balanced diets even if it was fresh produce sometime. Plus it was spending too much time. It was wasteful. And so the first thing we did was revise diets, make diet cards for the animals. So that even relief caregivers would be feeding the same. Keepers had a tendency to feed their favorites extra, or whatever.

00:34:12 - 00:34:50

Get that established, clean up the commissaries. Stop the carcasses on the road. Start getting the meat from Hill’s packing plant, which slaughtered the horses right here in Topeka, down by the river. Clean that up. Clean the zoo up. Clean the keepers up. Get some khaki uniforms. They didn’t have a lot of budget. But do some things to make, but the best thing was, there’s only, there were only, what, three keepers, three or four keepers and myself. And I had to be a keeper at least one day a week, because of the day off sequence, that we were short.

00:34:50 - 00:35:31

And so I had to fill in and be a keeper. Well, of course the regular keepers then would always booby trap me. First of all, they’d leave all the dirty jobs until it’s my turn to do their run. And then they would always put the hose, it was about ready to split, I’d hook it up, and all the rusty sewer lines, and all this stuff. So it was all these kind of games going on. But I caught on to a lot of those. Fortunately, I’d been a keeper myself. (chuckles) Caught on to a lot of those. But the best thing was to take this crew, I said, “Okay, today we’re gonna walk through the zoo like a visitor.” They only saw the zoo from behind the guardrail.

00:35:31 - 00:35:50

And it was get done as fast as you can, and go sit and have coffee and talk and, and so we’re gonna walk through zoo like a visitor. Now play like, we didn’t charge admission, any of that stuff, but I said, say you live in Topeka. You hear about the Kansas City Zoo, You hear about St. Louis, you hear about Denver. You hear about Tulsa. You hear about Omaha.

00:35:50 - 00:35:53

But what if somebody comes to Topeka and they walk, what’s it look like?

00:35:53 - 00:36:45

And they walked through and I said, “Yeah, we got some broken sidewalks. I’ll try to get those fixed, but what can we fix?” There’s mud on the sidewalks, the chainlink’s falling off the guardrail, branches fell down from the last windstorm are still there. When they would clean out the hoofstock yards and they had the manure trailer, it would bounce and stuff would drip on the public walkway and they just leave it. This typical stuff, I said, “Let’s at least make the place look as good as we possibly can.” Then I got ’em the new uniforms. Well, when we started making it look better and had a uniform, then people started saying to the keepers, hey, this place looks good and you sure look nice today. And so it wasn’t me telling ’em, it was the visitors telling them. So they started taking a little more pride in their work. So that was very important.

00:36:45 - 00:37:34

And then letting the people know, we have some fascinating animals here. We’ve got maybe not much, but a neat little zoo here. We need your support, come out and see us. And I started giving a lot of talks and so on. But this diet business, we had a couple of lion cubs born at the zoo who legs were all skew. And I knew of Dr. Mark Morris Jr. here in town. And they had this research lab called Theracon. And I called him and said, “I got a couple of lions.” And he came out and looked and he said, “Let’s take ’em to Theracon.” We’ll try some experimental diets.” That was how we got involved with the Morris, Dr. Morris and Hill’s Pet Products in developing the Zupreem diets.

00:37:34 - 00:38:12

And that all came, that’s something a small zoo can do. I mean, if you’ve got a resource in your community, join forces with that resource. So that was a good thing. And so I came in October ’63, and in April ’64 we formed the Topeka Friends of the Zoo, which we wanted to call friends of the zoo. And not Zoological Society. I felt it sounded too scientific and structured. And a friend of the zoo is a friend of everybody, or everybody would be a friend of the zoo, that kind of philosophy. So we started Friends of the Zoo and it’s been a great support arm since then.

00:38:12 - 00:38:14

Was Friends of the Zoo your idea or did people come to you?

00:38:14 - 00:38:33

No, it was my idea, I actually had a fella come to me though and say he’s with a local club, it’s not the Jaycees. It’s called the 2030 Club. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with ’em, but you have to be between 21 and 39 and you have to be in a given profession. And they do community service.

00:38:33 - 00:38:45

He said, “We wanna buy an elephant for the zoo.” I said, “Whoa, the last thing we need now is an elephant.” That’s like giving a subway to the city of Topeka, nice but what we’re gonna do with it?

00:38:45 - 00:39:45

I said, “What we need before we need an elephant,” I said, “What I wanna do, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it, we need to form an organization to help the zoo in many ways.” So that’s what I thought maybe the 2030 Club would be the best way to do it. Instead of me being a new kid in town, trying to find, say an attorney to draw up the bylaws of our corporation, an accountant or a banker to be the treasurer. Somebody, a printing business to do the newsletter. And on down the line, then the 2030 Club had all of these things represented in their membership. And I said, “If I could call on you folks to serve in these capacities,’ plus they had 45 members. I said, “If you were to either ask them individually to pay dues or take it out of your treasury, we would have 45 members to start this thing with. And then let’s see it grow. And make it family oriented and have family days at the zoo and all that kind of stuff.

00:39:45 - 00:39:46

So we did.

00:39:46 - 00:39:49

So this was part of your vision for the zoo?

00:39:50 - 00:40:06

Yeah, it wasn’t specifically Friends of the Zoo or support organization. The vision was get the community involved. And that was a good way to do it. That was one way to do it and a good way to do it.

00:40:06 - 00:40:12

Did you have thoughts then about education in the zoo and how did you try and start to implement this?

00:40:12 - 00:40:28

Yes, first thing was there were virtually no labels. So the first thing was to do labels. And not just the typical English name or common name, scientific name, range, food, longevity.

00:40:30 - 00:40:36

What’s a neat little behavior bit that maybe people could actually see this animal doing in this zoo?

00:40:36 - 00:41:17

So I try to come up with that kind of stuff. Park department made the labels, these old plastic labels for the router, (Gary mimics whining machine) type thing, you know, they were very good about letting me use some of that stuff. That was number one, but number two, I started giving a lot of talks. I’d talk to anybody and everybody: schools, civic clubs, church groups, whatever, just to get people interested. And it’s always, there’s groups always looking for a program, a free program. And I wasn’t asking for money, but I would like for ’em to join Friends of the Zoo and so that started it now.

00:41:19 - 00:41:27

And how important was conservation at the time you started or your vision for it?

00:41:27 - 00:41:56

Well, I believed in it. I thought it was one of the important functions of the zoo. I wasn’t really sure how much we in Topeka could do. We were one of these zoos that would receive injured animals. So we were a rehab facility for local species. We did work with Kansas Fish and Game and USDI. We did have trumpeter swans. In fact, we were the second zoo, I think, to hatch trumpeter swans.

00:41:59 - 00:42:30

And Philadelphia was right up about that time too. I wanted to do something with it, but quite honestly, there wasn’t a lot I could do at the time. The best thing we’d do with conservation, it was conservation education, was to get people aware of the importance of conservation on a local, national, global scale. But we were limited in what we could do then quite honestly.

00:42:30 - 00:42:35

Did you think about science and research as part of what the zoo would make out or?

00:42:35 - 00:43:28

Yes, and the science and research that we started out with was the ready-made one of the nutritional studies, but then I wanted to get Washburn University involved, even KU or K State. K State has a vet school. And so if we could cooperate with them in some way to help us and maybe we could help them with some programs for students, Washburn University. Mostly in the psychology department, having psychology classes come out in observational projects. Although later we were very involved with Przewalski horse because Lee Boyd was a student. And then now she’s chairman of the department of biology at Washburn. She’s been very involved with Przewalski horses. And San Diego Zoo and a lot of other places.

00:43:28 - 00:44:29

And that’s when we had an off-site conservation propagation center too, 160 acres out in the county with P horses and all kinds of stuff. But the other thing that we were able to do initially was some of these eagles, golden eagles and bald eagles that were brought in, because we were a park department zoo and necessity’s the mother of invention, to make a fight unit or aviary, we had the park department take two baseball backstops, the baseball back, put ’em together. So we had high enough and long enough, perch at each end, that eagles could even find in it if they were birds that could fly, if they didn’t have an injured wing or something. And so we did that in the 60s and the eagles started nesting. So we built nest structure and nest material. And of course they successfully hatched in ’71. First zoo to do that. You mentioned your breeding area.

00:44:31 - 00:44:59

That seems very unusual for a small zoo. Yes. Couple of things. One, we are a small zoo. Our zoo occupies about 30 acres in Gage Park, which is only 160 acres. And I was always conscientious about it. I want the zoo to override the park. I begged the park department to do a master plan for Gage Park. Well, they never would.

00:44:59 - 00:45:41

I said, I’d like to see the master plan in Gage Park and traffic patterns, and so on, before we do a master plan for the zoo, no. And drainage and service and utilities, all the underground stuff. Not the glamorous, the underground stuff. No, they wouldn’t do it. So we did a master plan for the zoo. Well, quite honestly, in my opinion, that’s the tail wagging the dog, ’cause we closed a major street into the park, so we could develop the zoo. And maybe that wasn’t right, but I wasn’t gonna let the zoo stand still, because the park department’s standing still. But we’ve always been limited.

00:45:41 - 00:46:21

So our first offsite facility was at Forbes, which used to be an air force base. And now it’s just Forbes Field. It’s the main airport in town. And they have some ammunition storage areas out there, which are now abandoned, but they’re big bunkers covered with earth and then big grassy area. They were not being used. We got permission to put animals out there. We had onagers, zebras, giraffes. So when we were limited in space for extra animals or new blood lines or animals in quarantine or animals to be shipped out, that was a wonderful thing.

00:46:21 - 00:46:58

Then we started the Przewalski horses out there. And that became so successful for us that we convinced the city to allow us to buy a farm in the county, 160 acre farm. And we got this regulation perimeter fence, got it approved, USDA. Not open to the public, and moved our horses and other animals out there. It was great. We were able to participate in a lot of conservation things then, that’s since been discontinued after I left. And the zoo is less capable of doing some of that stuff. But you’re right.

00:46:58 - 00:47:01

We were unique for a zoo our size to have something like that.

00:47:02 - 00:47:06

How did zoo exhibits change and evolve during your time?

00:47:09 - 00:48:03

We had a lot of old, a four-letter word I don’t like to use C-A-G-E, we had a lot of those, just the old barred cages. And I wanted to change that even though it’s a psychological thing with a visitor and a lot of chainlink fence. And I wanted to, mainly so that psychologically, the visitor felt better about the animals in the zoo. You know the story. You’ve got a zebra exhibit that’s this size and the chainlink fence all the way around it. And the visitors are down here. There’s a shrubbery row and there’s a guardrail, and it’s a chainlink fence. So one day you put the zebras in the barn, you come in and you take out the shrubbery row.

00:48:03 - 00:48:41

You take down the chainlink fence and you dig a moat. And then of course, before when you put the zebras out, you string some burlap along so then they’ll know where the boundary. Then you eventually take that down. Now the same visitor comes up and stands at the same spot, looks into the same amount of space at the same zebras and says, look, how much more freedom those zebras have, but it’s because they’re not looking through a chainlink fence. So we wanted to do that. The animals are doing fine, husbandry-wise, they were breeding, they were healthy. They’re living a long time. We felt we had adequate facility for the animal.

00:48:41 - 00:49:32

We just wanted to make it better for the visitors’ perception. And in zoo biz, that’s what a lot of it is. So that was one thing. The other thing was we had this old building. It was a greenhouse built in 1909. It was called a monkey house because winter, there was Monkey Island monkeys in there, and it was dull, dingy, smelly, it was everything the stereotypical old zoo facility is. So we converted that to the Animal Kingdom building, where we had glass-fronted exhibits for tropical birds or reptiles. And we had one for constrictors where the glass was recessed, it had rock work all around, the glass was recessed, had this huge log in for the constrictors to lay on.

00:49:32 - 00:50:10

We sawed it in two, glued it together on the other side of the glass and let it come out to the visitor. You could hardly see the glass. You could put your hand on the same log that the constrictor’s on. Yeah, that was, just little things like that, the interior lighting and stuff like that, which I thought was important. And getting in smaller creatures. Tarantulas, rhinoceros beetles, things like that. What we wanted to do was show representatives of each of the major groups in the animal kingdom. Although when he got to invertebrates, we couldn’t go much further than a few spectacular things.

00:50:10 - 00:50:27

But in this one building were mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and some invertebrates. And so we were trying to expand into people’s, individual’s mind that it’s not just the charismatic megavertebrates, but it’s other things too, come in and see ’em.

00:50:29 - 00:50:39

Now, what zoo professionals were either your mentors, or did you learn from and respect while you were in this position?

00:50:40 - 00:51:29

Well, certainly Mr. Cully continued, during his tenure at the Kansas City Zoo, to be, he would come over periodically. Walk, and do the rounds, make the rounds with me, and that was, well, I loved that, that was marvelous. He was great. And early, when I first came, Clayton Frye was, he was still at Buffalo. And then he came, and I met him at a conference. And when he left Buffalo and went to Denver, he drove and he stayed and spent the night in our house here in Topeka. Don Davis was very supportive. Charlie Hessel, before he was director of St. Louis, he used to run a pet store.

00:51:29 - 00:52:24

And then he was a reptile guy. And when I was a keeper at Kansas City, and I would take the train to St. Louis, then I’d see him over there. So we were kinda the same generation and we became buddies. So as he progressed up the line, he was very helpful to me. But actually, and Pierre Fontane, oh my gosh, he was president of AZA or at least program chairman or something. I came in ’63. He asked me to come to the AAZPA National Conference in Houston and give a paper. My gosh and, which was a great honor and kind of scary. But he was extremely gracious and cordial, but everybody I met at the time, it was good.

00:52:24 - 00:53:05

Fred Stark at San Antonio and Matt Marlin early on and Warren Thomas who was up at Omaha at the time, just every everybody was. It’s the days when it was like a big fraternity. It’s usually one zoo per town, maybe two, and even though you had a staff maybe you could talk to, it’s the only when you talk to other zoo people elsewhere that you get a lot of ideas and support, and so on. I was, for a punk kid just starting out, I really got a lot of support.

00:53:06 - 00:53:10

Now why was it important for you to visit a lot of zoos?

00:53:10 - 00:53:32

Oh, number one, that’s how you learn. Number two, I think the highest compliment you can pay any zoo person is to visit them in their zoo or aquarium. Number three, it’s to develop the rapport, the professional rapport.

00:53:33 - 00:53:36

And it wasn’t just how do you manage this animal?

00:53:36 - 00:53:38

How’s this exhibit designed?

00:53:42 - 00:54:04

It was drawing upon them and their perspective of zoos, their perceptions, their knowledge of the literature, and just communication. And I don’t know, it was just, and I learned so much every time I went. Took a lot of slides, kept a card file on things. That was a great education to me.

00:54:06 - 00:54:09

What was the first big development you did at the zoo?

00:54:09 - 00:54:12

What was your first big vision that you wanted to get accomplished?

00:54:12 - 00:54:56

Well, cleaning the place up and everything, as we said earlier on but that all revolves around one species, this first big development, and that is somewhat of a controversial species these days. That species is elephants. I could tell if when people would ask me a question at the zoo, I could tell if they were from Topeka or from out of town, by the way they asked me the question about elephants. If they were from out of town, they would come up to me and say, “Where are your elephants?” In other words, we’ve been around the zoo. We know a zoo’s supposed to have elephants.

00:54:56 - 00:54:58

Where are your elephants?

00:54:58 - 00:55:06

If they were from Topeka, they would say, “When are we gonna get elephants?” They knew we didn’t have ’em. When are we gonna get ’em?

00:55:07 - 00:55:36

Had it been my personal zoo, I would have built the rainforest first, because the concept for the rainforest was this geodesic dome, one structure with a ecosystem of live plants, birds and free-flight bats and free-flight animals roaming free, and visitor walks through. So you get multiple experiences. It wasn’t my personal zoo. It was the community’s. It was the people’s zoo.

00:55:36 - 00:55:40

So they were asking, when are we gonna the elephants, where are the elephants?

00:55:40 - 00:56:37

So elephants became the key. Well, if you’re gonna do elephants, then you should, a facility for elephants, with oversized drains, thick walls, high roofs, whatever, then you should think about what other animals that are appropriate for your zoo in that category that need that kind of requirement. So the others that jump to mind would be hippos, rhinos, giraffes, whatever, excluded rhinos, because they were more difficult to get. Hippos because, we chose hippos ’cause they were aquatic, or amphibious at least. They would be in water, they’re a bigger attraction, may be easier to get. And giraffes, so we settled on the three, the big charismatic vertebrates, megavertebrates, elephants, hippos, and giraffes. Then in the same building, we would then have had one section for large primates. Although we wanted to start with young animals.

00:56:37 - 00:57:50

Four chimps or orangs, or maybe eventually gorillas. So that building initially was called, as lot or more, in those days, the Large Mammal Building, but 10 years later, we changed the name and the whole theme of the building to Animals and Man, but 1964, I came in ’63. So in 64, we did our first master plan. And that consisted of the zoo, fixing up the zoo as it was, eventually phasing out the barred units for lions, and so on, bears, whatever. Kind of a central mall down the middle, the Large Mammal Building on one side and the rainforest on the other side. And the thought on that was, because we are a zoo that does experience a winter, then if it’s cold weather, people could come to the zoo, go to the indoor buildings, accessible to each other, close, and not go from polar bears to bison, and see the whole zoo. So city commission, city commission formed a government at that time. They were, we get the building design.

00:57:50 - 00:58:52

It was $250,000, which today is nothing, but in those days was a lot, especially for what we were getting. And was to be paid for by general obligation bonds, the city, and the city commission met every Tuesday night. So it was all set. Five commissioners agreed to approve it. The Friday before that Tuesday, a major bridge fell in over the Kansas River. Several cars went in, one fella was killed. So the mayor, this was a big tragedy for this community, mayor authorized all the bridges of the town to be inspected, half of ’em had structural failure, all capital improvements projects stopped. And, boy, I thought if we don’t get this thing approved now, as far as we’ve come, and as close as we are. And if we don’t get this project going, then the first big thing for the zoo, we’ll probably never get any project going.

00:58:52 - 00:59:01

So I went back and said, if the zoo pays for this through admissions, can we build it?

00:59:01 - 00:59:36

So that’s how the admission came about. We wanted to do an admission fee anyway, because I just felt it was better. We needed a perimeter fence. So you have to have a perimeter fence to get admission fee. And I just felt if people paid even mammal fee, it would just be better. So we started out at a quarter for adults, kids are free. But the first year we opened a building, which is 1966, it was still free. And after that, we started charging to build the building or to pay for the building through that.

00:59:37 - 01:00:08

So then we changed the concept to animals and man, same building, but we changed the theme, the graphics, the way we presented the animals to get the conservation element more in there and the impact of human population expansion in wild areas, on the types of animals that we see in these exhibits. And today, they still call it the Animals and Man Building. You mentioned, Gary, that you felt that cleaning up the zoo would be good for visitor services.

01:00:08 - 01:00:12

What other things did you wanna do for visitor services when you were director?

01:00:12 - 01:01:09

Well, obviously our zoo, when I first came to town in 1963, the first thing we needed to do was clean it up. Second thing was, well, the first thing was to get the animal diets and general management up to a professional level. And then the next thing was to clean the facility up, the public facility. And then wanted to improve the labels so that the zoo became more of an educational institution and more enjoyable visit. And start working on a master plan, so we could generate some interest and hopefully some funding for major improvement. There’s a lot of little things that, and we were totally dependent on the park department maintenance crew. And there was so much that needed to be done. I almost felt like I was imposing on these people, because they had whole park system.

01:01:09 - 01:01:43

They have, I don’t know, 45 or 50 parks in the community. And here I was wanting the welder all the time. I wanted the plumber all the time. I wanted the painters and whatever, and we didn’t even have a horticulture, so we had to call in the Park Department of Horticultures to come down. And I had to do that diplomatically, ’cause they didn’t want the zoo to be a thorn in their side. They didn’t want the zoo to be, oh, those guys at the zoo are bugging us all the time. We can’t get our regular work done type thing. But they became part of the team and they became proud of what we were doing.

01:01:43 - 01:02:49

And they would bring their families out and say, we worked on this at the zoo. We worked on that at the zoo. In fact, we even started having a, once the Friends of the Zoo was formed, that was another thing, ’cause then the Friends of the Zoo gave us funds that the city didn’t have for little things, such as a thank you picnic for park department employees and their families. So the summer in the evening, they would all come out and we’d showed ’em the new stuff and take ’em around and say, your father helped weld this, whatever it is. And that was another thing that I thought was very important. But education was high on my mind. And so in this new building, the Large Mammal Building, which we started planning in 1964, and then got approval, and it opened in 1966, we built an education room in there. That was the first official education facility of any kind, and all it was, it was a 60-seat classroom with these folding chairs with the little arm that comes up.

01:02:49 - 01:03:30

The old types of school chairs. But we had a slide projector and a screen. And the things those days were a big deal. And through the Friends of the Zoo, we started a zoo school program. That was one of the greatest things we could do, because number one, it expanded the education of the zoo. And we started a docent program too, which I thought was great. I think we were one of the first zoos to have a docent program, 1966 or so. Oh, and then I started expanding the staff, bringing in some people with some background in education who wanted to make zoos their career.

01:03:32 - 01:04:35

And with all due respect to the keepers we had and some of the old-time keepers we had decided that some of ’em would switch over to the park department and do something else, because the zoo was beginning to be more than they wanted to keep up with, I guess. But bringing in some other staff so that we could train the docents. And the docents would extend the zoo on a personal level. I thought that was fabulous. The zoo is the classroom, the animals are the teaching aides, but we needed people to help interpret this, so people would understand what the animals were doing and the value of the zoo and what was going on. And special programs for the blind. The Menninger Foundation was still a very prominent institution in our community then, the state hospital was very prominent. And for some of these folks with mental disabilities or whatever, the zoo was a great place ’cause the animals didn’t make any demands and accepted ’em as they were.

01:04:35 - 01:05:47

And it was wonderful to see all these folks come out. In fact, the zoo got an award from the Shawnee County Mental Health Association. And that’s the things a zoo should do, in my opinion. But building a new building, bringing the animals in and to raise the money for the animals, we had a program called Operation Noah’s Ark, in which, through the Capital-Journal Newspaper in town, we got a series of sponsors, mostly food products, a bakery, and a potato chip manufacturer, and a soda pop bottler, so on. And if you would save the product label, buy that, and save it and deposit it in one of our local super oil stations, each product label counted for a point and we would get 50,000 points, then the sponsors would buy a hippo for us or a giraffe or a pair of chimps or whatever we needed at the time. And the community responded. We would get at least 50,000 every month, sometimes 100,000 points. In fact, our last month we got 300,000 points.

01:05:47 - 01:06:50

And it was a fabulous thing, because the whole community was involved. And the hippo would come in and people would come out to the zoo and say, I ate 500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to help earn that hippo. (chuckles) But getting people involved was great. Let me jump ahead just a moment, when we opened the, before we opened the orangutan exhibit, where we built these, structured these concrete trees for brachiation and perching, we got the visiting public, first the Friends of the Zoo members, and then the public come in to climb all these trees. And yet today I can go to the zoo, stand there incognito, see a father, come in with his little kids and say, “You know, when I was a kid, I sat on that tree perch right there where that orangutan is. (chuckles) And it’s a great thing. But Operation Noah’s Ark really brought the community together and got ’em involved. And we had other zoos contact us about doing that. And I don’t think it was as ever as successful as it was Topeka, ’cause Topeka’s a good zoo town. And they really got involved.

01:06:50 - 01:07:09

So now we were bringing in all these spectacular, fabulous animals that the zoo had never had, sometimes the state had never had. We had the first giraffes in the state of Kansas, had the first giraffe birth in the state of Kansas. And these are just wonderful things. You mentioned many ideas when you were young man.

01:07:09 - 01:07:10

Where were all these ideas coming from?

01:07:11 - 01:07:16

(Gary chuckles) Where did he get all these ideas?

01:07:22 - 01:07:47

I don’t know where, all these ideas came from, this just general, part of it from my travels to other zoos, part of it from reading about other zoos, part of it from wondering how to do things new and different that zoos hadn’t done, that could get people involved, that were in the parameters of a smaller zoo.

01:07:50 - 01:07:53

And sometimes people would say, why don’t we do this?

01:07:53 - 01:07:54

Or why don’t we do that?

01:07:54 - 01:08:02

I mean, people would come up with ideas. I’m not really sure how all these ideas come about. (chuckles) They just.

01:08:02 - 01:08:09

Did Friends of the zoo meet your expectations in the beginning and the goals you thought you wanted to set for them?

01:08:10 - 01:09:07

The Friends of the Zoo, in the beginning were fabulous. They were the epitome of a community support organization. They were citizens in different spectrums of our society, structure in Topeka who were willing to give of their time and talent, and if they had the finances, to even give of the finances. But it was their enthusiastic support of wanting our zoo to be special and to be better, that I think was so important. And I’ll be forever grateful to them for that. All the little things like, the money for the picnic, for the park department, maintenance crews, and so on, that was all very important. And then getting a publication out and eventually sponsoring the first safari and on and on and on. The zoo schools and the docents.

01:09:07 - 01:09:19

And we counted, we were dependent on the Friends of the, the gift shop, started a gift shop, things that we couldn’t do otherwise. The Friends of the Zoo did this. And so they were just fabulous in that regard.

01:09:19 - 01:09:27

How did the name, and why did it happen that the phrase world famous Topeka Zoo was coined?

01:09:27 - 01:09:32

Well, frequently I asked, how and why did we become the world famous Topeka Zoo?

01:09:32 - 01:09:36

And sometimes it’s with a scoff, (scoffs) what?

01:09:36 - 01:09:38

Topeka? World famous Topeka Zoo?

01:09:38 - 01:10:27

But I even had a guy who writes crossword puzzles puzzles for the New York Times call and say, “Now I’m doing zoos. I wanna make sure that world famous is part of your official title. (laughs) I said, “Yeah, it’s the world famous Topeka Zoo. That’s our official title.” (chuckles) We had a couple of things happened. First we had the first zoo to successfully hatch and raised an American golden eagle. That’s number one. Number two, we had an orangutan named Djakarta Jim, Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia spelled a D-J-A-K-A-R-T-A, it was a silent D. And he did a series of paintings. A lot of zoos have done this, but the park department said, there’s a park recreation conference in Hutchinson, Kansas.

01:10:27 - 01:11:04

Let’s enter one of those. I said, “Wait a minute. If you do that, people are saying we’re making fun of modern art, or we’re comparing apes with people. I mean, that’s not a good idea.” Oh, no, we’ll say that he’s an orang. So they put his name down as D period, D for Djakarta, James, his middle name, Orang, his last name. They entered it, the judges did not catch on. They evaluated it as a piece of art and it won first place, statewide art contest. So that became world news.

01:11:04 - 01:11:43

Air France Magazine did an article, a museum in California wanted to show his paintings. Remember the old television program “What’s My Line?” I was on “What’s My Line?” with some of this paintings. I presented one to the White House. The president of Steuben Glass in New York bought some. I mean, that’s when I wished that I had a PR department to keep up with this, ’cause I was trying to run the zoo, and all day long the phone’s ringing with all these PR things going on. But that’s a great thing though. Then we had monkeys get off of Monkey Island. (Gary chuckles) That’s not the kind of PR you want, but it went worldwide.

01:11:43 - 01:12:44

And Mike Le Roux was in Vietnam at the time. He eventually came back and worked his way up to zoologist, assistant director, and after I left, he was director for a while. He read it in Stars and Stripes, Pacific Stars and Stripes. So we started getting all these, this is long before all the internet and all this modern communication, all these clippings from all over the world. So at a staff meeting one day, I said, “Well,” I said to the secretary, I had a secretary by then, I said to the secretary, “Next time you answer the phone, answer it world famous Topeka Zoo.” So she did, everybody kinda, you know, so she did, and the person on the line was local and they said, “Hey, you’re right, because my cousin in Denver’s heard about us. We must be world famous. (chuckles) So it caught on. And what it was, it was a source of pride for the local community, but it caught on. It wouldn’t work someplace else because here’s this little old zoo in a Kansas prairie and they’re world famous, it’s great.

01:12:44 - 01:12:58

And when we borrowed the koala from San Diego back in 1986, they would call making arrangements and say, this is the other world famous zoo calling. I’ll accept that. (Gary laughs) So it’s been a great thing.

01:13:00 - 01:13:13

Now having said that, during your career at the zoo, what would you consider to be major events that you saw happen that affected zoos in general, and of course the world famous Topeka Zoo?

01:13:14 - 01:14:33

A major event during my career that affected zoos in general, and of course, the world famous Topeka Zoo, oh gosh. A major event, hmm. Well, I don’t know if it’s a major event, but I think economic impact had played a big role, what was it, proposition 13 or something in California, when park departments and zoos had to start restructuring how they finance themselves. It doesn’t affect us in Kansas as much, but that’s impact. I would say zoos, the concept of zoos breeding more of their own animals, and not bringing animals out of the wild, that’s been very important and we wanted to be a part of that and be producers, not consumers all the time. And another thing was early on, and when I was at the zoo early on, we, back in 1966, when we put in the large primate units, we used that glass. And that the glass, I think glass has been a great thing for zoos. You can be nose to nose with a 400=pound gorilla or a lion, with the king of beasts, or whatever.

01:14:33 - 01:14:44

I think that’s been a great thing. You had mentioned earlier a couple of names and situations.

01:14:44 - 01:14:49

What famous people have you met and how has it affected you as a zoo director, if at all?

01:14:50 - 01:15:58

Well, I met some famous zoo people. (chuckles) Marlin Perkins, one. Charlie Schroeder, who I always considered a famous new person, he’s a great guy and he came to Topeka, and he always kinda shrugged his shoulders and held his hand down and, “Well, I tell you, Gary, I’ve never seen a zoo do it quite like this, but it works.” (chuckles) That’s great. Ted Reed was extremely helpful to me. The one famous person outside the zoo world is this fellow named Ken Blanchard. He lives in San Diego. He is a management guru. He wrote this book, “The One Minute Manager,” and a lot of other books since then. And he came to town for a seminar and I was on the committee to help bring him in and elected to go out to the airport and pick him up and did so, and we had a great time at the zoo. And since then, he’s been on safari with me a number of times and mentioned me in some of his books and on his website and channeled people to me, and so on.

01:15:58 - 01:16:00

So that’s been very beneficial.

01:16:00 - 01:16:02

You’ve met presidents, haven’t you?

01:16:03 - 01:17:14

Well, yes, I have met some presidents. I hadn’t thought about that. (chuckles) In fact, when I met Jimmy Carter, when they formed the National Museum Services Board, and decided fortunately to include zoos and aquariums as part of that, and they had a 15-member national board, well, the zoo, AAZPA at the time, I’m not sure how it came about, but I was asked to be the board representative for zoos and aquariums. So I was the first zoo and aquarium guy on the National Museum Services Board in 1977. And the FBI did the big background check and all my high school buddies called and said, “What’s going on?” And, (laughs) God, that was something. And I guess it was okay. And so when I went to the White House to have a reception with President and Mrs. Carter, I wore my Zoo Power button, (mic thuds) and gosh, darn it, he never made a comment about it or said a word. I was so disappointed. (Gary laughs) And officially met him and shook his hand.

01:17:16 - 01:17:25

I guess that’s really the only one. We did present a orangutan painting to the White House when Nixon was in the White House, but he wasn’t there that day.

01:17:27 - 01:17:33

As director, what were some of your frustrating times as being director of the zoo?

01:17:33 - 01:17:36

Oh my gosh, as zoo director, what were my frustrating times?

01:17:37 - 01:17:57

I think it’s because of me as an individual personality, my frustrating times were not getting things done expediently. I don’t mean around the zoo on a daily basis. I mean projects, I mean the next phase of the master plan, I mean storm drainage system that should have been fixed years ago.

01:17:57 - 01:17:59

Why can’t we get this through the council?

01:17:59 - 01:18:02

Why can’t engineering department get what we need for this?

01:18:02 - 01:18:52

Those were my frustrating times. And the budget, preparing the budget every year, was the most difficult task. Fortunately, I had a good staff. I had a staff that could do that for me, at least outline it, and then I would have to do final approval or whatever. Those were the frustrating times. Sometimes if I’d had hair, I woulda torn it out. I mean, I know it’s what it takes to run a zoo and it’s necessary, but what I wanted to do the most was be at the zoo, be with the animals, be with the people, see all these students coming in, see these docent tours going around, see these zoo classes going, see people worried about animals, and not be worried about stupid budgets and stuff. But I know we had to do that.

01:18:52 - 01:18:56

So that’s a flaw in me as a zoo director, I’m sure.

01:18:57 - 01:19:03

When did you start the master plan and how did it develop?

01:19:03 - 01:19:06

Just out of your head or did you have other people helping?

01:19:06 - 01:19:37

Well, first of all, master plan is a general guideline and it’s not a master plan that stays forever. It’s a master plan that should be used as a guideline and then revamped because everything changes. And when I got there, and got all this initial cleanup done, then I wanted to do a formal master plan. And the one person that I knew, and had worked with, even though briefly, and he was a sharp guy, was Frank Thompson, ’cause he was then assistant director of the zoo in Fort Worth.

01:19:37 - 01:19:42

So I went to Topeka, I called him and said, “Hey, could you come up to Topeka for a few days?

01:19:42 - 01:20:30

And let’s sit down, and I’ve got some thoughts. I’d like to hear what your thoughts are,” and so on. And that’s how the first master plan came about in 1974, or 1964. And then once we accomplished the Large Mammal Building, which became Animals and Man Building, and we accomplished the rainforest, which are the first two major elements of the master plan and a lot of other minor things, then we redeveloped or redesigned the new updated master plan. And then we did even a third master plan towards the end of my tenure. But a master plan is not just a pretty picture that most people say, oh, this would be a new exhibit. It’s traffic flow and parking and service areas and delivery trucks and concessions.

01:20:30 - 01:20:31

And how do you haul the waste out?

01:20:31 - 01:20:34

And how do you get this animal crate in here?

01:20:34 - 01:20:36

And how do you get this dead animal out of here?

01:20:36 - 01:20:43

And it’s all that, it’s all these things. So that’s, and it’s financing.

01:20:43 - 01:20:46

And it’s, how’s the community changing?

01:20:46 - 01:20:47

How’s the political structure changing.

01:20:47 - 01:20:49

How’s the zoo gonna be managed in the future?

01:20:49 - 01:21:23

All of these things are very important. That’s why a master plan needs to be updated. But it would, the first one was Frank Thompson and myself. The next one was a lot of zoo input from the staff, ’cause we were developing a really super staff then, and I wanted their input. And also had consultants through zoo plant, so that’s when Charlie Schroeder came in, for example. And when we were doing great apes, had Terry Maple come up, and variety of people like that. So it’s gotten a lot of professional input.

01:21:25 - 01:21:35

What was your relationship with your staff, the curators, and how did you start looking at their development, their training, their upgrading?

01:21:37 - 01:22:23

One of the great things I had when I was director at Topeka was a staff. And the staff was superb, because they did so much. It was kind of one of these, they did most of the work, and I got all the credit. I always felt bad about that, because they did do the work. And I’ve tried to get them in positions so that they would get the credit too and make the presentations, or do the PR, do the press conference or whatever. And they were quite capable of doing that. But we started by bringing in graduates, young graduates with a degree in zoology who wanted to make a career out of zoos. Howard Hunt was our first degree person.

01:22:23 - 01:23:13

He went on to be curator of reptiles at Atlanta, but he started here, and I said, you know what, I mean, I knew he was a reptile guy, ’cause he was in Fort Worth when I knew him. We don’t have many reptiles here, but we do have a lot of experience at our res, so he hand-raised our first jaguar cub here. A lot of things like that, it was very important. Paul Linger came in, young graduate and started out here and became curator, assistant director and then eventually went to Denver, assistant director. John Wortman started here too. He went to Louisville and then back here for a while and then to Dallas and then to Denver. And Mike Le Roux of course came in. And I just felt it was important to let them have the professional freedom and responsibility to do what they needed to do.

01:23:14 - 01:24:06

And I didn’t want to interfere anymore, and I mean, they need to do it. And we’re a team and everybody knew what we needed to do as a team. But the key was they were all zoo people and they were all animal people and they loved it. Now they had computer skills, which I didn’t, Mike Le Roux developed great computer skills and Ron Kaufman, great education skills and all this business. But they were in zoo biz. And we had these, we’d take a staff picture every year and then we had a whole series of these staff pictures titled, “The Way We Were.” And it was fun, ’cause we started out with a handful of guys and the first picture’s black and white film. And then we built the rainforest, started taking pictures in there and taking ’em in color. Then we started getting female keepers.

01:24:06 - 01:24:17

And the staff expanded and it’s fun to see those pictures over the years. The staff has been so terribly important. A good staff is critical.

01:24:19 - 01:24:23

How would you describe yourself as director and how would your staff describe you?

01:24:23 - 01:24:26

(laughs) Oh, gosh.

01:24:26 - 01:24:29

How would the staff describe me?

01:24:29 - 01:25:21

Well, the way I would describe myself as director is, I don’t like, and I’m somewhat inefficient at budgetary things, finances, fundraising, it’s not my favorite thing. It has to be done. I can do that. I’m better at that. The drudgery of zoo biz, I don’t like that, and that’s just animal stuff, it’s animal stuff, and working with kids in education, and so on. How would my staff describe me? Oh, boy. Probably in a lot of different ways, to put it in who they were. (Gary chuckling) But always had a pretty good rapport. And we had a lot of people go through here and move on to other zoos.

01:25:21 - 01:25:45

And I was always proud of that fact, that the training in Topeka was accepted by other zoos as being professional and helping making them qualified. But whenever they would be in the area or come back or see me at a conference, it was always, hey, I really loved it when I was there. And how are things going, and so on. So I feel good. It’s always been a very positive thing.

01:25:45 - 01:25:50

You talked about development of the volunteer staff, how did the docents develop?

01:25:50 - 01:25:58

Was it a concept that you thought about or had seen and how significant would you say their role was in moving the zoo forward?

01:25:58 - 01:27:09

Well, the paid professional staff was very important, but in a different context, but just as important, were the volunteers. I mean the docents and our zoo school teachers, my gosh, without them, our zoo never would have, would never have reached into the community on a personal level and extended the zoo into the community as much as we did without the docents and the zoo school teachers. I always thought that giving tours of the zoo is great. I love to do that myself, but I couldn’t do all of ’em. And to have, it started really through the junior league here in town, because these were young women who, many of them were able to give time during the day. If they had young children in school, then they had time during the day that they could devote to volunteer activities or community activities. And so we wanted the zoo to be one of those desirable places to be. And with our staff conducting the classes, the docents loved the classes.

01:27:09 - 01:27:40

They loved going to these classes, learning about the animals and about zoos in general and our zoo and history of our zoo. And so that just kinda grew and it became almost a prestige thing to be a zoo docent, which was great. But then they did so many things beyond that. They’d always have a Christmas party for the staff and we should be having parties for them. They were having parties for us. And a summer picnic for the staff. And then they would bring their families, their husbands and their kids to these functions. And so that was a great thing.

01:27:40 - 01:28:29

But that was terribly important for this zoo in this community. I think it was one of the key things that helped really make the zoo what it was within the community. So I’m always grateful. I’ve always be grateful to those folks. And today, yet today, I’ll be someplace, there’ll be a young professional, dentist or, I don’t know, or a financial planner, and they’ll say, “You know, when I was a kid, I was in zoo school. I got a picture of me when you came to our class.” (Gary chuckles) It makes me feel old, but it makes me feel gratified. And I trekked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon one time, and it nearly killed me. I don’t know, it was a terrible thing, ’cause I’m not really that good at physical conditions.

01:28:29 - 01:29:04

And I got down there and I was exhausted laying on the floor of the Canyon exhausted. And the rest of the guys said, “We’re going down to the trail to see a waterfall.” And I said, “I’ll just stay here and watch our gear and stuff.” And this park ranger came through and nice man in his uniform, young guy, looked at our permits and he says, “Hey, you’re Gary Clarke, aren’t you?” And I said, “Yeah, I’d rather not be right now.” And he said, “You know, when I was 12 years old, I lived at Topeka and I came over and you took us on a tour of the zoo and the docents gave us this and,” and that’s why I decided to be a park ranger. Oh, my gosh. That kind of thing makes it all worthwhile.

01:29:07 - 01:29:12

What was your relationship at the beginning with Friends of the Zoo and did it change over the years?

01:29:12 - 01:30:05

Relationship at the beginning was fabulous and it did change over the years. Friends of the Zoo was a group, as I said, initially, a group of really sincere, dedicated people in the community, volunteering time, effort, and sometimes finances and helping to expand the membership and the membership services to make our zoo better. Over the years, it seemed to change. The board changed. The concept changed. And quite honestly, they became a more internal self-focused thing. They seemed to be doing things more for them than for the zoo. That was a little difficult to deal with, but they were still important to us. And it wasn’t a totally unworkable situation by any means.

01:30:06 - 01:30:14

And then the city started pressuring me saying, now they’ve got office space at the zoo, don’t they?

01:30:14 - 01:30:17

Yep, well, we should charge them rent.

01:30:18 - 01:30:22

And I resisted that, because, well, now their members get in free, right?

01:30:22 - 01:31:04

Yep, now they pay dues to Friends of the Zoo, but then they get in free, which shortchanges the admissions for the zoo. We should charge them or they should pay us. And to me, that was getting awfully complicated. Now I know that society marches on, things change, the relationship between governing institutions, cultural institutions, support organizations, all changes. And maybe today you need all those contracts and things. That’s another one of my downfalls, probably as an administrator, I don’t like that stuff. I wanna shake hands. If people wanna be there and help the zoo and volunteer, we want you.

01:31:04 - 01:31:39

If they don’t, fine, if you don’t wanna volunteer anywhere, if you want to go volunteer at the history museum, that’s great, but the ones who wanna volunteer, let’s take the zoo and run with it. So I don’t know. That was a difficult part for me, it started changing. Talk about AAZPA. What was your impression of the AAZPA, the Zoo Association, was part of the parks department and association group. And can you tell us about this evolution of the AAZPA.

01:31:40 - 01:31:47

Was zoos breaking away from the Parks Association and all that time?

01:31:47 - 01:32:59

The AAZPA initially was formed, as I recall, in 1924. And it was a part of the American Institute of Park Executives, AIPE, and AIPE was the dominant organization, and we were the sub-organization. So all the conferences were held, they were AIPE conferences and zoos where a subset. A lot of zoo people, at that time, a lot of existing directors didn’t get the goal probably, but some direct, there were even some zoos where the parks director was the zoo director too. So it worked. And I think the reason that it was a subset of AIPE was because so many zoos in the early days were operated by parks and recreation departments, or at least parks departments before recreation became a entity that became part of parks recreation. Then AIPE evolved into or became NRPA, National Recreation and Park Association. So the American Institute of Park Executives expanded to become Park Recreation.

01:32:59 - 01:33:50

So that was a whole nother gamut of people. And AAZPA was still a subset of that. And I guess there were times when they would meet and the national conference would be held in the city. They didn’t even have a zoo at that time. Most major cities do now. And so they were very inconsiderate. So I think the feeling among AAZPA members at the time, it got to be, the feeling during the 60s got to be, well, we are chicks hatched in the wrong nest. We ought to be on our own, do our own thing, have our own organization, but we were tied in to them in so many ways, financially, membership-wise, publication-wise, we had some pages in their regular publication.

01:33:50 - 01:33:55

And we talked, one of the things where you talk about it a lot, but can we do it?

01:33:55 - 01:34:20

We didn’t know if we could or not, didn’t have enough gumption to try or whatever. But 1971, we met in Salt Lake City. And by then, the feeling was running rampant. Everybody agreed. We need to get out. It wasn’t so much a rebellion. We weren’t necessarily rebelling against them. We just wanted to be on our own. And they didn’t wanna let us go.

01:34:20 - 01:35:13

We were revenue to them for one thing, so on. But the AAZPA conference in Salt Lake City was well attended. And the motion was made and a long time zoo guy named Saul Kitchener (chuckles) was, I think at Lincoln Park Zoo at the time. He’s a no bones about it guy. He stood up and said, “Let’s disassociate from these clowns.” (Gary chuckling) And everybody kinda cheered and anyway, the vote was taken, I guess, it was unanimous. We’re going to split and be on our own. And the gavel was handed to me and said, okay, Gary Clarke, you’re the new president, good luck. (chuckles) NRPA said, we can’t separate your membership out of our computer. We can’t extract your dues from our treasury.

01:35:13 - 01:36:11

In other words, we got nothing out of NRPA. We started out as an independent organization for the first time on our own two feet with absolutely nothing. And the 10 of us on the board at the time, which included Lester Fisher and Bill Breaker and Louis Desabato, and some really prominent zoo people at the time, I was the youngest guy. I really shouldn’t have even been president then. Those guys should have been president before me, but somehow it ended up that way. I suggested that I’ll take $25 out of our billfold and put it in an envelope, and that’s the treasury. So we started with a $25 for the 10 board members for $250. And at the banquet, I said, “I will in order for us to do this, we’re gonna need to work together.” But that’s when zoo people, the comradery was just marvelous.

01:36:11 - 01:37:20

All zoo people knew all other zoo people. And everybody responded. Bob Weidener from Jackson, Mississippi Zoo said, “I’ll be the treasurer.” Don Davis, Cheyenne Mountain said, “I’ll have my accounting department send out the invoices.” Karen Salsman from Living Desert Museum came up and said, “I’ll do the newsletter.” I mean, people just came from everywhere. I came back to Topeka. I didn’t even have a secretary. A little old zoo, a little old town, didn’t even have secretary, and there’s this nationwide organization we gotta pull together. But a lady at the park department, a secretary there who could take dictation over the phone and then I’d go down to city hall, sign the letters and run ’em to the city hall postage meter. (chuckles) And there was a fellow with Hill’s Pet Products at that time, Jerry Hoagland. He was a salesman, came to all the conferences, and I said, “Jerry, you think a Hill’s would print up some AAZPA letterhead for me?” So I got the logo and they printed that up for us. And it was because of the comradery of zoo people that it worked.

01:37:20 - 01:38:00

Oh, the other thing was, when we made the split, the aquarium people were disenchanted. They said the last A of AAZPA, American Associations of Zoos, Parks, and Aquariums, that’s being ignored. We’re gonna split off and go with the histologist and herpetologists. And the rest of the board said to me, “Oh my God, Clarke. Don’t let the Aquarius go. We’ve got enough trouble as it is. They gotta be with us.” So I met with the Aquarius and I don’t know that much about aquariums and stuff, but a nice visit and said, “We really needed to stick together in this and let’s make aquariums important. Let’s do it right.

01:38:00 - 01:38:58

If we’re gonna be zoos and aquariums, let’s do it.” And they agreed, and today, we are. So that was how we started. And then Bob Wagner, no, let’s see. We started, and I said, “I can’t offer this out of Topeka.” The lady who used to be within NRPA that was the staff person assigned to oversee AAZPA was Peg Dankworth. And she was willing to quit NRPA and become our full-time executive secretary. And she said, “I’ll do it for three years.” But she did it with, and Wheeling, the park system in Wheeling, West Virginia gave us office space that became our headquarters. And she did it. And three years later, kept her word and said, “Okay, I’m out of here.” And then Bob Wagner, who was director of the zoo in Jackson, Mississippi, he came on board and became the executive director.

01:38:59 - 01:39:13

And then we evolved into AZA and lots of changes. That was long after I was out of zoo biz, I retired from zoo biz in 1989. And many changes have happened since then.

01:39:15 - 01:39:31

Would you say from what you know that, in your relationship with people within the profession, has AZA fulfilled that initial dream that those 10 people and other zoo people have?

01:39:31 - 01:39:45

The initial 10 board members and all the members of AACP in 1971 did have a dream. We did have a vision, let’s be an independent professional organization to serve the membership and to advance our profession.

01:39:46 - 01:39:58

Whether or not, how has that, in the intervening years, how has that progressed into what today is the AZA, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and is that dream still alive?

01:39:59 - 01:40:38

That’s a very difficult thing for me to assess. I’ve been out of zoo biz for 21 years. I’ve gone to some of the conferences, but not to a lot. I’ve been too busy doing safaris in Africa. I’ve not really kept up with the ins and outs. Things have changed. I think we’ve lost a lot of the comradery, but that may simply be because the organization is so much bigger now. The organization has, it has people associated with zoos and aquariums that all play important roles, but are well out of the animal area.

01:40:38 - 01:41:23

And the old timers like me, I guess, we’re so animal oriented, that’s what we think of. It’s hard for me to say if they’re doing what shouldn’t be done or not, ’cause I can’t really assess that. I would say this. I would say that things have changed and they responded to those changes. They have a national presence in Bethesda, Maryland and Washington now. They’re playing a bigger role in that regard. They got national corporate sponsorships, they’re doing a lot of things that probably should be done. And maybe it’s not AZA’s fault, but I think we’ve lost a lot of the comradery of zoos and zoo professionals.

01:41:27 - 01:41:29

One quick, last question in this section.

01:41:30 - 01:41:33

Did the glare of the job of being zoo director ever wear off?

01:41:37 - 01:42:30

Being a zoo director is a glamorous job and being a zoo director in Topeka, Kansas is especially a glamorous job because we used to have a weekly TV program, and not long, but every week. And a lot of zoo directors said, oh gosh, I don’t like the fishbowl routine. Meaning everywhere you go, people know you, the zoo guy. But no, that always gave me a chance to get another Friends of the Zoo member. (chuckles) I always had an application blank in my pocket. And so on. And, no, it was a living, vibrant, channeling gene, exciting time, despite the frustrations. And I enjoyed every minute of it. I remember one time we were planning the rainforest, I was downtown in Topeka at the tallest building in town, which is 17 stories.

01:42:30 - 01:43:00

Architects’ offices were up in the upper floors. I got on the elevator to go up to a meeting. A little lady gets on with me. We’re going up and I could feel her eyes looking up and down at me. And she said, “Well, has anyone ever told you that you look like Gary Clarke?” And no one had ever told me this and it’s caught me by surprise. I said, no. And she says, “Well, I see him on TV all the time, but he’s taller than you are.” And she got off and went down the hall. (Gary laughs) So that kinda keeps you humble.

01:43:01 - 01:43:04

Your mother had her hands full when you were a kid.

01:43:04 - 01:43:06

You actually had a zoo in your backyard?

01:43:06 - 01:43:59

Yes. (laughs) When I was a youngster, we lived in Kansas City, Missouri, in 7,700 block of Summit Street in a very small little one-wood-frame house. And my mother was extremely tolerant, bless her soul, because I was one of these kids in the neighborhood, a lot of zoo people, I’m sure, were like this, started out with every injured squirrel and every bird with a bad wing, and so I would bring it home. And I had virtually a zoo in the backyard. And of course once that happens, then the neighborhood says, oh, that kid down the street will take care of this. And they’ll find some little orphaned animal or whatever. And so some animals came to me for that reason. And we were kind of a rehab center. And then others, I wanted to see and understand and study, like a colony of box turtles in the backyard.

01:43:59 - 01:44:56

That was great, because they would, fall weather came, they would dig down and the spring came, they would come back up. I loved seeing that. But lots of things and a tarantula, and a boa constrictor named Julius Squeezer or Victor The Constrictor, or whatever you wanna say. Anyway, so she was very tolerant to this. Although I do remember, I wanted to work in a zoo so bad. So like I said, when I was 16, I went out, and Mr. Cully said, “no, you can,” this is in Kansas City Zoo, “No, you’ve gotta be 18 to work in a zoo.” And at 18, I went out, and I got the job and I came back and it’s like it was, I dunno what it was 97 cents an hour or something like that. I said, “Mom, I got the job at the zoo.” And she says, “Oh son, I know you love animals, but can’t you do something else with your career?” (Gary laughs) No. That’s what I wanna do. Okay, okay. So she was very tolerant, yeah.

01:44:56 - 01:45:02

So do you think this love of animals prepared you for your zoo profession ultimately?

01:45:04 - 01:45:44

Yes, when I was a youngster, the animal kingdom was fascinating to me. And when I was a boy, I wanted to do two things. One was work in a zoo and other was to go to Africa. But before the thought of working in a zoo entered my mind, what I really wanted was somebody to pay my way to go around the world all the time, to watch all these animals, which now you can do on TV, I guess, but I wanted to probably do that, well, that was an impractical thing. So the next best thing is if I can’t go to the animals, then the animals come to me. And that’s where the zoo came in. So if the animals come to me, then that’s where I wanna be. That’s a fabulous thing.

01:45:45 - 01:46:01

So I used to go to the Kansas City Zoo and knew all these animals even before I worked there and it was just, it’s the greatest thing in the world. (chuckles) When you became a zoo director, how did you change the handling of the animals at the zoo?

01:46:01 - 01:46:07

Were there challenges, were there problems, crating, sending animals to zoos?

01:46:07 - 01:46:11

Were they doing it all perfect or did you see things that ultimately you had to changed?

01:46:11 - 01:47:11

Well, when I first came to Topeka, animal handling was more cowboy slash farm techniques than sometimes thinking about it or preparing the animal for it. And it was a lot of, the old days, you would push or prod, or use a hose or whatever. Instead of, for example, if we’re gonna, (chuckles) that makes me think of an incident too, transfer a tiger to Sedgwick County Zoo. I said, okay, now let’s get the shipping crate and hook it up so she that can go in and out whenever she wants to, bedding in there, don’t force her in, leave it up for a week. She goes in and out and gets used to it. Now let’s start feeding her in there, change a bit. Now she likes it in there and everything. And then today we’re gonna ship, when she goes in, then we could just close the door, secure it, put her on the truck, have all the veterinary certificates, and she’s on her way.

01:47:11 - 01:48:14

So this was a new thing for a lot of the old timers at the zoo at the time. So we tried to incorporate a little more management practices. I mentioned the Sedgwick County tiger, which Ron Blakely is having us hold until he got his new tiger exhibit done. We got her crated up the morning ready to go, Sedgwick County Zoo sent their truck up and they’re ready to go and everything’s ready to go. And before we loaded the tiger, one of the keepers, one of our keepers looked in the crate and he said, “My gosh, there’s an opossum in the crate.” And a wild opossum in Gage Park had slipped through the bars of the tiger exhibit and gone into the crate into bedding. And we didn’t know it. And the tiger went in and we shut the door, secured it, load it on. So here was this Bengal tiger, this adult female Bengal tiger, ready to go down the turnpike to Wichita, to the Sedgwick County Zoo, and there’s an opossum laying in there.

01:48:14 - 01:48:15

A plain opossum.

01:48:15 - 01:48:18

And everybody looks at me, what are we gonna do?

01:48:18 - 01:48:46

(Gary chuckling) So I’m thinking, oh my gosh, if we hook the crate back up to the exhibit and open it up and let the tiger out so we can get the opossum out, she’s not gonna go back in today, or maybe not tomorrow. We gotta start this whole procedure over again. Sedgwick County wants the tiger. They got the new exhibit comin’ up, got the vet certificates, they’re all dated. They’re here, everything.

01:48:46 - 01:48:47

What are we gonna do?

01:48:47 - 01:49:29

So using all of my wisdom on animals, I said send her. (Gary chuckles) So they went down the turnpike and if that tiger had eaten that opossum, I’m sure the story woulda gotten out and animal rights people would’ve really hammered me. But the tiger didn’t eat the opossum. They got down there, and both animals were fine. They unload the tiger, Ron Blakely writes me a letter. It says, “You’re such a marvelous animal behaviorist. Who would have thought of sending a companion with our tiger?” I wrote back and said, “Ron, you got it wrong. The tiger’s the companion for the opossum.

01:49:29 - 01:49:47

You keep the opossum, send us the tiger back.” That’s when zoo people could laugh at yourself type thing. (chuckles) Well, what would you say are some of the most significant changes that you made in animal care when you were at the zoo?

01:49:47 - 01:50:42

Well, there were a lot of safety issues when we came. I mean, just for a keeper, even in the older exhibits for a keeper to open the transfer gate and tigers or bears, whatever, to reach up to grab the metal handle of the transfer gate, an animal could reach out right there. So simply having the park department welders come down and putting mesh, heavy duty mesh screens there, so that the keeper can work in safety. There were a lot of common sense. This is long before accreditation standards were established for zoos. But accreditation standards, in many cases, are common sense anyway, they’re common sense safety things. So that was a lot of the things we did. And then behavioral enrichment slash positive reinforcement, all of these things started coming into vogue.

01:50:42 - 01:51:27

And I think that’s great. First of all, to keep the animals, like I used to call it occupational activity, give animals things to do within their environment there to keep them active. Plus it makes them more active for the public, for the visitor. But those can be used as management techniques too. And most zoos these days are using management techniques with behavioral enrichment and training an orangutan to extend its arm out so you can take a blood sample and things of that type. So we incorporated a lot of that into just our daily practice. And not only that, but the keepers respond too, the keepers like that too. You mentioned the rainforest.

01:51:27 - 01:51:30

Can you tell me about the development of the rainforest exhibit?

01:51:31 - 01:52:10

The rainforest, a lot of zoos had birdhouses, tropical birdhouses where at one end there would be, say, the end of the building would be a square, the square end of the building would be filled with tropical plants and there’d be a guardrail and lots of live trees and some birds in free fight. And usually sometimes there may have been harp wire or very thin wire, but usually, not usually, but sometimes there was also just no barrier at all, no glass or anything, but it was darker in the public area. And the theory was the birds would not fly into the dark, although they would fly out sometimes and back in.

01:52:11 - 01:52:15

And I always thought that was neat, but why not do a whole building like that?

01:52:15 - 01:53:23

The entire building where you walk in and it’s, it was almost taking a tropical greenhouse or a botanical garden, tropical exhibit, but developing it so you could incorporate animals as well, which means you gotta know which birds you’re gonna eat, which plants, which plants may be poisonous, certain animals, all of those things. And having the animals free-ranging throughout. My concept was not to have any standard cages, wire mesh or anything. Everything in free flight with two exceptions. One would be a yellow anaconda exhibit, the yellow anaconda’s smaller than the green anaconda. And then we would make a big enough exhibit be adequate for them, but wouldn’t have been maybe adequate for green. That would be glass-fronted, so you see underwater. And then for margay cats, instead of the mesh, we developed a stainless steel spider web, so that the barrier was a spider web for the cat and the spiders loved it.

01:53:23 - 01:53:52

They came in and built their own webs on the stainless steel spider web. But everything else, cooties, and iguanas, giant fruit bats, everything else was in free flight or free ranging, two-toed sloths, whatever. So we wanted people to get the feel of the humidity and just take a path through the habitat.

01:53:53 - 01:53:55

How did you fund it?

01:53:55 - 01:54:24

Oh, we, we built the Large Mammal building. When we had to fund that, we had to institute the admission fee because the bridge fell over the Kansas River and they stopped all capital improvements. And attendance was going well and admission fee was going well, and we’d raised the admission fee. And we said, well, build the rainforest with zoo missions as well. Although we had to have Friends of the Zoo help with the animals, and so on.

01:54:28 - 01:54:35

Can you tell me how involved you were in day-to-day activities and were you a hands-on zoo director?

01:54:37 - 01:55:42

(chuckles) My vision of being a zoo director was, I guess I kinda liked the European school of zoo directing, or we used the old European school, and maybe they don’t do it these days, but where they make the rounds every day. And I made the rounds every day. And I loved making the rounds. But as the zoo grew and as my responsibilities grew, and as my responsibilities as director changed, I made the rounds less, and I missed that. And I frequently had to make the rounds after normal working hours or when it was supposed to be my day off, which I didn’t mind. I was usually there seven days a week anyway. But it changed because I was more involved with politicians and boards and finances and fundraising and all of these things. The bigger the zoo got and the more complex it got, the further away I got from the animals, and I didn’t like that, ’cause I got into the zoo profession to be with animals and people.

01:55:42 - 01:55:50

But I didn’t like being chained to the desk. You have said that there’s always something going on at the zoo.

01:55:51 - 01:55:54

Can you give us a few things in your tenure that were memorable?

01:55:56 - 01:56:00

Either that stood out like, oh my gosh or, oh my gosh?

01:56:00 - 01:56:37

There’s always something going on at the zoo, yeah. That’s the Simon & Garfunkel song, I guess. ♪ And it’s all happening at the zoo ♪ And it is. I think one of the most exciting things for us was the birth of our first giraffe, which was in 1970. And it’s the first giraffe born in Kansas. And we had carefully managed this. We waited till we felt that the adults were mature enough and developed enough that for the female, the pregnancy wouldn’t be a strain on her system, and so on.

01:56:37 - 01:56:49

So we observed breeding dates and we calculated gestation and on the 468th day, 15 and a half months, and any ladies watching this, aren’t you glad you’re not a giraffe?

01:56:50 - 01:58:01

We were having a lecture, we used to have different zoo people come in, like Ron Blakely from Sedgwick County or whoever from so many zoos, and give lectures to the staff on their own time in the evening, and no obligation, but most of ’em showed up. And we were there, and we would go back and check to see how she was doing. And I think it might’ve even been Ken Kuwata who went back and came back up to the room and says, “She started having it.” Oh my gosh, we rushed back to the giraffe stalls and there she is in and the front hooves are out. And it was just such an exciting time to be there to see this magnificent animal deliver her offspring right there, and we were just all enthralled. And then of course when the baby drops and then it looks like it’s made out of rubber. It looked like the bones aren’t connected. The neck goes all like this and it tries to get up and you think it’s gonna hurt itself, and you’re all worried and concerned. And then about 30 minutes later, it stands up for the first time and there’s a silent cheer that goes up, ’cause you don’t wanna upset the animals.

01:58:01 - 01:58:59

And it turns around, looks you in the eye, and horns are crossed over ’cause they’re not fused to the skull yet and oh my God, that was just so fabulous. But then she grew up and had babies of her own, so you get into second generation Topeka Zoo-born giraffes, and so on, that was fabulous thing. That was a fabulous thing. Opening a gorilla encounter was another, ’cause I think we were the first zoo to ever have a glass tunnel built through the outdoor gorilla yard. And we had all these previews for VIPs and donors, and so on. But today we opened, but the people came in through the front gate and we had a little traffic pattern where they would ride around, come into the gorilla tunnel, get into the glass tunnel. And once that was filled, but by then we had walkie talkies, that was a big deal. And I radioed the keeper, the gorilla keeper, Max was our big male gorilla, 400-pound beautiful specimen.

01:58:59 - 01:59:14

I said, “Let Max out.” And the crowd is there anticipating and waiting. And I said, “Let me let Max out.” And crowd was there and, “Let Max out,” and this is to be continued.

01:59:15 - 01:59:23

(Gary chuckling) No, they keeper radioed back and said, “Max won’t go out.” (chuckles) What do you do?

01:59:23 - 01:59:46

This is the biggest event we’ve ever had at the zoo. And the gorilla won’t go out. We had another gorilla on loan from Omaha. His name was Oscar. I said, “Okay, Let Oscar out.” (chuckles) So they open Oscar door. (Gary mimics swooshing) Oscar went out, what a great thing. That day, I mean, a busy day for our zoo, I mean, 5 or 6,000 people’s pretty good. 10,000’s pretty good.

01:59:46 - 02:00:27

The biggest crowd I’ve ever had was 14,000 and some. For a little old zoo, the city limit, the population of Topeka is 120,000 or something. That day we had 21,995 people go through the zoo. Somebody said, “Why don’t you round it off to 22,000?” Well, cut in all the volunteers there, by the way, we had more than 21,000 in the zoo, but the official visitor attendance count was 21,905. Never been surpassed. Our whole end of town was gridlocked. Even though we knew it’d be busy, and we had shuttle buses down to shopping center parking lots to bring people up and we’d made plans, but even so, it was terrific.

02:00:31 - 02:00:35

How did you, and when did you think about bringing koalas to the zoo?

02:00:42 - 02:01:32

Everything was going so well, I mean, the first building and then, not only did we have the elephants, giraffes, hippos, the giraffes were having babies, and even the second generation, that was great. The rainforest was a huge success. Everybody loved that. The Discovering Apes and the orangutans and the tree house and the gorillas and the glass tunnel, that was fabulous. And Lion’s Pride was on the drawing board, but that was several years down the line. And that’s when San Diego started loaning koalas out. So one night I was at my desk at the zoo and I got a file folder out, and I wrote in a little tab in a file folder, operation long shot, because I figured, I’m not sure we could ever afford it. We couldn’t qualify or afford it.

02:01:32 - 02:02:43

And I put it away and I kept thinking about it. And I think, heck, we’re the world famous Topeka Zoo, we could bring a koala in from San Diego. So I contacted ’em and said, “What’s involved?” And they sent me this, I mean, it was jillions of pages of requirements, and we had to be on the list and only so many went out a year and all this stuff, oh my gosh. And it was long shot, maybe even an impossibility, ’cause after that time, at least, we were the smallest to even considered trying to bring a koala in. So I reviewed, so I at a staff meeting, I said, “I wanna tell you about operation long shot.” And of course, the response or reaction was, oh my god, Clarke’s got another crazy idea, but let’s do it. (Gary chuckles) It’s great, these folks, we’d hit ’em up with some impossible thing and they’d say, “Let’s do it.” So we asked San Diego to send us all the requirements and we had to convert a whole building just for the koala. And I called it, I liken it to bring it in a rockstar. If you’re gonna book a rock star, you gotta paint a dressing room fuchsia, and you gotta have a six pack and 17 pizzas between acts and all, I don’t know what.

02:02:43 - 02:03:25

We had to do climate control, temperature control, crowd control. We had to arrange to have eucalyptus flown in to Kansas City Airport and have a refrigerated beer truck, Coors Beer truck from Topeka drive over to Kansas City and pick it up, get volunteer drivers to do that. We’ll give you a t-shirt if you do. Just on and on down the line. Pay for the keeper, pay the keepers’ wages, pay the insurance on the koala, all of this stuff. And the city budget didn’t have one penny for any of this. So once again, the community responded. We formed what we called the K Team for koala.

02:03:25 - 02:04:08

And anybody and everybody who did something was on the K Team. So burger king gave six free meals to the keeper, and Land Rover, Ford will provide a car for the keeper. I mean, just all this stuff, it was just tremendous. McDonald’s had place mats with the koala on it. The Dillons Grocery Stores, on their bags, had the koala on it. Now that’s a great deal to get your animals on there. That’s when paper was still big, paper grocery bags. And we had stuff going from St. Louis to Denver along I70 about the koala.

02:04:09 - 02:04:40

It was terrific. And Elaine Tu was the koala keeper. And she came in ahead of time, examined everything, and approved it. She went back and then she brought Ka Bluey. That was the koala assigned to us. And I was so nervous the 30 days he was here, ’cause I didn’t want Ka Bluey to go Ka Bluey while he was here. (Gary chuckling) San Diego’s koala was all the world famous zoo needs is San Diego. But Elaine was marvelous and everybody, she’d go around town, she’s on TV.

02:04:40 - 02:04:52

She’d go around town and the little kids say, “There’s Ka Bluey’s mommy.” (Gary chuckling) That’s the way this town is though. I mean, it was just fabulous. And a big success. Every day was like a Sunday.

02:04:52 - 02:04:54

You’ve heard that expression, a month of Sundays?

02:04:56 - 02:05:35

I never knew what that meant until every day was like Sunday. I mean, the restrooms are out of toilet paper. The ice machines run out of ice. The parking lot is filled and has to be cleaned, I mean, and we got no extra money for any of that. But the staff and the volunteers responded, and it was fabulous. But the only drawback was the first Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents ASAD, when they became a national organization, they had their first meeting in Kansas City, 1986, asked me to be the keynote speaker. I was honored. I went over and spoke to ’em.

02:05:35 - 02:06:29

I called San Diego and said, a few days after Ka Bluey goes back, we’ve got all of these voluntary education zoo, 47 zoos across our country are gonna be in Kansas City. We wanna bring ’em to Topeka for a post-conference tour. And we’d love to show ’em Ka Bluey the koala. We won’t even open it to the public, just for them. And San Diego said, “No, he needs to come back.” So we saved koala dung. We saved some of the fresh eucalyptus leaves. I went out and bought a little stuffed koala. Put him in the tree, because they don’t move anyway, left all the educational signs up, left everything up, gave my keynote speech and said, “Now when you folks come to Topeka, we’ve got a great surprise for you.” I didn’t say we had a koala.

02:06:29 - 02:07:31

And they all knew we had Ka Bluey there and I could hear ’em whispering, “Oh, they’re gonna get to keep Ka Bluey. We’ll get to see the koala.” And I have a great surprise, so they came to the zoo and we wanted to show ’em the rainforest and then I kept saying, “Where’s our surprise?” Meaning I wanna see the koala. Took ’em down and they said, “Oh, Mr. Clarke, you’re so wonderful. Thank you for doing that.” Then I really just feel like a heel, because this was such a dirty trick, such a dirty, and they were such wonderful people. And they went into the building through the little channels and all the videos and all the education panels and the sign saying shh. And the docent on duty there going shh, and they all came in and looked up at the koala, oh, look, there he is. And one of ’em even said, “I think he moves.” (Gary chuckling) And they saw the leaves and the dung and they came out and I got up on a park bench and said, “I told you I had a surprise for you.” Oh, that was just so wonderful. I said, “No, the the surprise was, that’s not a real koala. (chuckles) Oh my God.

02:07:31 - 02:07:39

I thought they were gonna throw me into the waterbird lagoon. (chuckles) But, no, they were very good about it. They enjoyed it.

02:07:39 - 02:07:45

Well, from having famous animals, were you ever involved with the zoo in any animal escapes?

02:07:45 - 02:08:35

Yes, we had monkeys get off our island. The valve, it’s an old monkey island built by WPA and the valve broke overnight and the water moats run in the island, and these were spider monkeys and they all got off, and out through the park. Come in the next morning, no monkeys. But in zoo biz, if an animal gets out, then the whole town gets involved. And by that, I mean, we knew where every one of these monkeys was. They stayed in Gage Park and they were up in the trees. And we knew, we saw them, we watched them every day to keep track. We had telephone calls from all over town, “Hey, those monkeys are in my backyard.” “Those monkeys are up in these trees.” (chuckles) Oh my God.

02:08:35 - 02:09:28

But that’s the way the public is. It’s wonderful. And Paul Linger, he was on our staff at the time. He said, “I tell you what, I know how to get those monkeys. Let’s just slip ’em a Mickey Finn. So we took some oranges and injected them with kind of a tranquilizers thing and put ’em at the base of the tree, backed up, man, they swarmed down like water down a funnel, grabbed those oranges, went up at top of the tree. We went around, stood at the bottom of the tree with this big net, waiting for the monkeys to eat the oranges, get sleepy and drop down into the net one by one. And now we all knew this, but it didn’t dawn on us, because the idea was so fantastic. When monkeys get drowsy, I mean, if you’re a buoy animal living in a tree, you gotta sleep sometime, you don’t wanna fall.

02:09:28 - 02:10:06

Then their reflex grip kind of comes in. And so they all conked out and hung on. (chuckles) We stood down there with this net feeling like fools. (Gary chuckles) but one by one, they started coming back to the zoo. So we baited the island. And when they would go into the little shelter, then we had a long string on the door and we had, very old fashioned, they go in and we’d pull it. So one by one, they all came back and we got ’em. We did have a tiger escape one time. The keeper had shifted it into the transfer stall, went into the main exhibit, cleaned it, hosed it down, disinfected, grabbed, all that stuff.

02:10:06 - 02:10:41

Went out, pulled the door shut, but didn’t latch it or lock it. Pulled the door shut, was, I dunno, working with the hose. We don’t know, got distracted, but the door was in the shut position and looked okay, opened the transfer door, let the tiger out into the main exhibit. Tiger didn’t know the door was unlocked, keeper didn’t know the door was unlocked. Keeper went down the line about his business. And the tiger was brushing against the bars and the door goes (mimics swooshing) and the tiger walks out. Didn’t run away. Just walked down, looked around, went to sleep under a bush.

02:10:41 - 02:11:35

Word got out, we had, fortunately, we had our first response team procedure set up that we had, gotta wear a rifle in case we had to, heaven forbid, destroy the animal, or we had to capture equipment with the mobilizing and all this business. And that functioned beautifully and popped the tiger and he went to sleep. Before, oh my gosh, these days with all the cell phones and everything, I mean, every news media in town would know. And if the news media knows, then the police know, and if the police know, then they wanna frequently come in and kill the animal before the zoo staff has a chance to do anything. But anyway, and we got it back in safely. But I consider those things embarrassments in a professional organization. They shouldn’t happen. That’s like the driver, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 race having a wreck in the parking lot.

02:11:35 - 02:11:44

It shouldn’t happen to nobody, but it does ’cause zoos are human institutions. There was a biological supply house in Topeka.

02:11:44 - 02:11:50

(Gary chuckling) Quivira Specialties, can you tell us about him and your relationship or was there any connection?

02:11:50 - 02:12:40

I recently got a paper from James B. Murphy, the renowned prominent herpetologists at the National Zoological Park in Washington. And he gave a list of all these dealers that used to deal in reptiles. And on that list was Quivira Specialties Company, Topeka, Kansas, he was at 21st in Gage, not too far from where we are right now, and just down the street from the zoo. And he used to supply universities and biology labs. and so on, with all kinds of plentiful reptiles. And he was an older fella. Nice, a little cranky at times, I guess I’m probably getting the same way. But I would go down, and even before I lived in Topeka, I would go down and see him, because he had all these neat reptiles.

02:12:40 - 02:13:53

And to visit with him and it was kinda like a long wooden shed and then out back were a few more sheds. And, boy, they was sending orders all over the world, but things were always getting loose. I mean, I had a very distant relationship with him, but things were always getting loose, including the European wall wizard, not only got loose, but became established here in Topeka, Kansas. Nobody thought they would survive the winters, ’cause some of our winters are severe, well below freezing, even below zero, snow on the ground for weeks at a time. And there is a thriving colony of European wall lizards living in Topeka, Kansas around the 21st in Gage area. And Joseph Collins with the Center for North American Herpetology in and Lawrence, Kansas. Every year he teaches a class, herpetology class at Washburn University. They have what they call the running of the lizards and they have all these young students go out and catch as many as they can to do a census and see how things are going, and so on.

02:13:53 - 02:13:54

It’s a great thing.

02:13:54 - 02:14:04

(Gary laughing) Have there ever been any accidents with animals that threatened your life or the lives of keepers in the zoo?

02:14:05 - 02:15:12

Yes, none, in this zoo, that threatened my life. I did have one in Kansas City, working with the African elephants, as I was taking them out of the barn one day onto the veldt, a sparrow or something flew over and scared Casey, the bull elephant. And he turned his head and hit Lady the cow elephant, and she unintentionally smashed me against the wall and knocked the breath out of me, and I just dropped to the ground. And had I not had a good rapport with those elephants, I probably would have been stomped. But they’ve just stood there nervously wondering what’s happening and finally, I got my breath and said, it’s okay, it’s okay. Then they relaxed and okay. But accidents involving animals, serious accidents involving animals in Topeka, we did have a long-time experienced tiger keeper who was shifting the tigers, and I still don’t exactly know what happened, but one of ’em reached out and scratched him on the arm. And it was not life-threatening, but I thought it was serious.

02:15:12 - 02:15:31

It shouldn’t have happened. And then we had one incident where a keeper was knocked down by an elephant years ago, but no permanent injuries and did all right. Fortunately, that’s all that I can remember.

02:15:31 - 02:15:33

And your rattlesnake?

02:15:33 - 02:16:20

Well, my rattlesnake bite was at Midwest Research Institute. Now that, yeah, it wasn’t in the zoo, but it was kinda a zoo-like setting because we set up this laboratory with all these snake exhibits that Kansas City discontinued to study the snake bite. And so I wanted to create a zoo situation. And I had to weigh these snakes every week to keep track of ’em. And as I was weighing this one, he bit through the sack and through my trousers leg. And it was a big robust Crotalus ruber, red diamond rattlesnake, never milked him, he’d never injected venom, fed him dead rats all the time. And he gave me a dose, and much more than I realized. And I was pretty sick.

02:16:20 - 02:16:28

National Guard had to fly the St. Louis Zoo to get additional antivenin, because I didn’t have enough stock, and so on. That’s a bad deal.

02:16:29 - 02:16:30

You were in the hospital for a while?

02:16:30 - 02:17:33

I was in the hospital for a while and my left leg, he bit me in the left knee, inside the left knee, my left leg felt like somebody had run it through a meat grinder, then poured hydrochloric acid on it, and was taking a blow torch going up and down. And this was me being on morphine or whatever painkillers they had back in 1959, 1960. Even when the physician would lean down to examine it, just the breath from his nostrils was almost unbearable. Then it started swelling up like an overdone sausage, and he was afraid that the skin was just gonna rupture and split. And it was all these colors, purple and blue and yellow, so he did six incisions around my upper thigh, and I guess when the scalpel hit the skin, it’s, (Gary mimics swooshing) just like I say, like an overdone sausage. So I’ve got a couple of scars on the inside knee from the initial where, the old days, they would slice it and try to draw the blood out, and then six more around my upper thigh.

02:17:35 - 02:17:40

So that taught you a little about safety with animals as you transferred it to your zoo people?

02:17:40 - 02:18:28

Yes, and that entire incident was totally my fault. Was not the snake’s fault. Normally it was a quick procedure. You’d pin him, pick him up, put him in a sack, tie the sack, weigh him, put him back in, over. It was so routine every week, he almost went into the sack himself sometimes, but this time I had trouble getting him in, and he got aggravated and I held him longer than necessary or than usual. I’m sure in a snake’s mind that he was just agitated. And I don’t even think he was trying to bite me. He reared up in the sack and opened his mouth and kinda did a whiplash, if a table leg had been in the way, he would have bitten the table leg, my leg was in the way.

02:18:28 - 02:18:59

So totally it’s my fault. And that’s so often the case in zoo situations, it’s human error or misjudgment or whatever, although the animal frequently gets blamed. But no, in fact, in my last Midwest Research Institute, they gave me the snake and I had Big Red as a member of the household for many years after that. He’s a wonder, he was a wonderful snake. Liked to have his back scratched. He would arch his back up when you scratch his back. He was a wonderful snake. He was about the nicest snake I ever knew.

02:18:59 - 02:19:01

Did you ever have an incident with a tapir?

02:19:01 - 02:19:08

(Gary chuckles) I did have an incident with a tapir one time.

02:19:08 - 02:19:10

Gosh, how did that slip my mind?

02:19:10 - 02:19:27

(Gary chuckles) I love tapirs. In fact, if you know the movie “2001,” when it starts out and there’s not one word of dialogue is spoken the first 30 minutes of that film. And it shows the dawn of creation.

02:19:27 - 02:19:32

And long before all these animatronic animals, what did they use?

02:19:32 - 02:20:11

Tapirs, what did ingenious thing, because so many people don’t know what a tapir is and they look kinda, not only weird, but it’ll maybe free a story. And we had a tapir when I first came to Topeka, (chuckles) a tapir named George. I was kinda surprised to see a tapir in this zoo, but that’s where Mr. Hale came in. He went to some zoo conference and some zoo had a tapir. And they didn’t, an extra tapir, surplus. So he got it for Topeka, but it was in an outdoor yard with a little shelter. And it was this mesh, not chainlink, but just a farm fence, and no guard rail. You could stick your hand in and pet him.

02:20:11 - 02:21:12

And people, George, the public loved him. And they’d sketch him on the chin and stuff. It was kind of scary in a way, but we did put a guard rail up. We had a father with his little boy one day come in after church, I guess, because it’s a Sunday, a little boy’s dressed up and a tapir can retromaturate, which means they piss backwards. And instead of just, and they not just, they don’t just really release this, or relax the sphincter muscle, and let gravity cause the flow of urine, but they will constrict it and squirt. And they can squirt, I dunno, 5, 6, 8, 10 feet and be fairly accurate. But this father with his little boy came and squatted down beside his little boy and talking about George and George turned around and (mimics swooshing) all over the father. And the little boy said, “Look, daddy, he baptized you.” (Gary chuckling) But we used to go in, it was routine to go in every day and feed the tapir, clean the tapir, scratch him.

02:21:12 - 02:21:46

I went in one day and I have no idea what I did or what happened, but he attacked me. He knocked me down. He grabbed me by the, I didn’t think a tapir could open its mouth, but he grabbed me by the knee, shook me like a ragdoll. And I, man, I was in deep dung and I couldn’t get away. And Paul Linger was on the staff. He’s six foot, four, 200 and some pounds. And a visitor yelled and Paul came out and ran in, jumped on George’s back, rained him with blows, with fists on his head. It didn’t faze George.

02:21:46 - 02:22:31

Pretty soon he just dropped me, ran around the yard, squeaking and urinating, Paul dragged me out. Didn’t have any broken bones. Boy, was I beat up and bruised and just scabbed everywhere. So I did a survey on tapirs in zoos. I was astounded at how many injuries had been done by tapirs. And some people had lost fingers and stuff and a tapir, I always thought tapirs were no, no more. And then Charlie Hessel, my good buddy at St. Louis Zoo, he did a survey on attacks by snails in zoos, funny guy. (Gary chuckling) Okay, you’d mentioned that Topeka was a small zoo.

02:22:31 - 02:22:35

How did you have people come to the zoo?

02:22:35 - 02:22:43

Topeka is a small community and I would classify it as a small zoo, so how did we get people to come to this zoo?

02:22:45 - 02:23:16

Word of mouth as much as anything. We didn’t do one penny of paid advertising in any way. But so many community organizations and businesses were willing to help promote the zoo. It was almost a prestige thing to be able to be associated with the zoo. So they did that. So that’s a lot. Plus the news media were very important. The Capital Journal, Topeka Capital Journal, which has a great photo journalism department.

02:23:16 - 02:24:11

A lot of people started out there that went on to do, the current editor of National Geographic Magazine started as a photo journalist here in Topeka, the Capital Journal. And they had great pictures and they’d run great stories, but you have to be honest, upfront and candid with the media. Because great things, you wanna tell ’em about all the baby animals and all the new exhibits and everything, but if you have bad things, you need to share that too. ‘Cause that’s life and death in the zoo. The weekly TV spot, I had a weekly radio program. The second longest zoo, continuous zoo radio program in the country. Who had the first? Roger Conant, Philadelphia’s Zoo. He beat me by number of years, but we were on the air for 25 years, I think.

02:24:11 - 02:25:27

And then after I left the zoo and started doing safaris, I had the same host and we continued with a program called “Gary on Safari.” So I might’ve beaten Roger’s record, but not totally the zoo’s. And Friends of the Zoo memberships and giving programs, giving talks everywhere, just to stimulate interest in the zoo and making the zoo the place to be and a fun place to be and have something going on. And the kids who were in zoo school, they were great ambassadors for the zoo, ”cause they would go spread the word. So, yeah, I think, a lot of zoos say, well, if we get, in a smaller community like this, if we get enough people to equate our population, like if we get 120,000 people through the zoo, that’s great. But if we can do more than that one year, we would easily do one and a half, even twice as many people. I think our record attendance one year it was 270,000 or something like that, which for a small area, bringing in a lot of people. And of course, some of those are repeat visitors too, people who don’t just go once a year. They go regularly, which is important.

02:25:28 - 02:25:31

Tell me about the concept of zoo school and what it was.

02:25:31 - 02:25:35

And is that in part how you captured the kids’ attention?

02:25:35 - 02:26:33

Zoo school, I loved our zoo school. And the concept was, I almost wish that we had a better word than school, but because everybody could relate to what the word school was, this was back in the 60s and 70s, and into the 80s, then we used school, and it’s kind of a rhyme zoo school, but zoo school was trained teachers. Now for zoo school, we actually had teachers from our local school district, but then they would be trained by the zoo staff to do zoo-oriented things. They were fabulous. And it was not just in a classroom, the whole zoo was the classroom. Although we did have the classroom. But the kids would be all over the zoo doing things. And the concept was, as I may have mentioned one time, the zoo’s the classroom, the animal’s the teaching aids, and the teacher there to help interpret, but it was the kids’ involvement and participation that was so important.

02:26:34 - 02:27:07

And then from that evolved the zoo explorer post. So when the kids got out of the zoo school, then they became zoo explorers and were able to do more, involved in more mature projects around the zoo. And then some of them became keepers and went on to other things. So that was a great thing. But I loved the zoo school concept, because the kids were so enthusiastic. And I dunno, it’s just one of my favorite things.

02:27:08 - 02:27:15

What were some of the strengths of the public, the marketing strengths of the world famous Topeka Zoo?

02:27:16 - 02:28:18

The world famous Topeka Zoo, we had no structured marketing campaign. I personally have no formal training in marketing whatsoever, but once again, it’s the animals. I mean, we had 450 fascinating personalities in the zoo, and to let people know about them, what was an important thing and how unique they were as a representative of their species, as an ambassador for them, and as an individual, and people would know our animals as individuals and by name. Now if you have an animal that you’ve known for many years, and then he passes away, that’s a sad thing. Or heaven forbid, if there’s an accident and he dies, but that’s life, the zoo is life and death. And we try to convey that to the public. It was important. We had such great success with giraffes, have had over the years.

02:28:18 - 02:29:21

They still are to this day, many giraffes born here. Not like Cheyenne mountain, which has, I guess, the world record, and we weren’t trying to duplicate that at all. We just wanted a successful breeding program for our giraffes. One of our young giraffes, oh, we don’t know how this happened, but, oh my gosh, we came in one morning and she had, the bars were like four inches on center from ground level to four feet up and then eight inches on center up above that. But this young giraffe had got her head through the eight inches on center bars, turned her head and as she pulled it back, her horns got caught. And instead of pushing her head up and coming back like this, she must’ve panicked, and her feet went out from under her, and she hung herself overnight. And we came in in the morning and here’s this beautiful baby giraffe, dead, hung itself. I was a terrible tragedy, I mean, the morale of the zoo, we all just hit rock bottom.

02:29:22 - 02:30:21

And I had to call the news media and explain that. And we did, and the reporter was very receptive. Didn’t gloss over, wrote it up, I thought fairly, but it’s a tragic accident, and it was. And rather than being criticized, I got mostly condolences. And even when the eagle eggs, sometimes the eagle eggs each year, one wouldn’t hatch or something, we’d get cards from kids saying, we’re sorry your Eagle eggs didn’t hatch. (chuckles) So the people were responsive for births and then deaths and all that, there were a lot of longevity, the old animal would live for many years and pass away, then people would say, God, it was a wonderful animal. I enjoyed so many memories from him. We’re sorry to see him go, or her, whoever it is. But I think it’s important that you you’ve got to be upfront and candid with the media.

02:30:21 - 02:30:39

You can’t hide these things, because you can’t hide anything in a zoo. It’s gonna get out sooner or later. You need to be the first ones to tell them what’s the factual situation before all kinds of rumors and stories get started, and before they think you’re trying to hide something.

02:30:39 - 02:30:45

How did politics of the city, or the state even, affect the workings of the zoo?

02:30:45 - 02:31:42

Politics, oh, boy, politics. I’m not a politician and politics is, (exhales) it’s with every zoo in one way or another, because there’s a governmental, generally there’s a governmental entity in some way associated with the zoo. In Topeka, the state was not involved. We didn’t get any money from the state, so the only jurisdiction they had was the state livestock commissioner get a certificate when we shipped an animal interstate to some place else. The county was not involved. It was strictly a municipal operation, strictly the city of Topeka. And during my tenure, there were five city commissioners elected at large, not from districts that, it was the old style government, a water commissioner, like “The Great Gildersleeve” and the old radio programs. And a park commissioner, and a street commissioner and a finance commissioner and the mayor.

02:31:42 - 02:32:37

But they would make the decisions and the votes for the city. I as zoo director, and our zoo was a division of parks and recreation department. So a zoo director, I was responsible to the park superintendent who was appointed. And he was responsible to the park commissioner who was elected. So every, and that was every two years. Sometimes he would be reelected, but every two to four years, I would have to educate a new park commissioner. And I would do this with the approval of the park superintendent who was a great guy and very supportive. I said I’d like to meet with him and take him on a tour of the zoo and hope he understands the zoo, so when we have some needs, and if there’s, like we’ve got a giraffe birth, we can give him a call if he wants to come in in the evening and to watch it or something like that.

02:32:37 - 02:33:07

So I used to meet with the park commissioner. I like to meet as early as possible in his new tenure. I know he’s busy, but even the first day. And he would usher me in and he knew who I was. And I’d say, “I’d like to make a deal with you. I’ll take care of the zoo in Gage Park if you take care of the zoo in City Hall. (Gary chuckling) And I said it kind of as a gesture, but he got the message. They were all very sharp people who got the message.

02:33:07 - 02:33:46

And I said, “We’re so fortunate because we’ve not had a lot of political interference in the zoo.” And I’m responsible, I’m the zoo director. I would like to have the professional freedom to be the zoo director. If I’m not doing the job you think I should be doing, let me know. And it’d be your decision or the park superintendent’s decision to tell me to go someplace else, you’ll get someone else to do the job. But I said, there’s some zoos around the country where the park commissioner calls the zoo director and says, hire my cousin. He likes polar bears. I said, this is not happening in our community. And I hope it doesn’t.

02:33:46 - 02:35:03

So I tried to paint a picture that staying out of politics, but quite honestly, me as a city employee at my level, I could not really influence the city commission or the park commissioner or even some of the bureaucrats at City Hall. The saving grace during my tenure in Topeka was that the business community and the movers and shakers in the community, the president of Hill’s Pet Products, manager of Fairlawn Plaza Shopping Center, whoever, who would have the power structure in the community, they from above, I would always have to go from below up to City Hall. They from outside and above would come down with their thumbs on city hall and say, “Hey, don’t mess for the zoo. Let the zoo function like it’s supposed to.” That was my saving grace. And I’m afraid that when I left, some of my successors didn’t have that blessing, but the community is the one who kept the politics out of the zoo. I mean, that’s the way it has to work. The zoo director can’t really do that. I can have the philosophy of doing that, but to make it happen, the community had to do that.

02:35:03 - 02:35:08

What role did politicians or politics play, if it did, in the success of the zoo?

02:35:08 - 02:36:09

Well, politics is important to, I mean, I complain about politics because I don’t like the negative asset. The other side of the coin is politics is a necessity. We have to get approval from them to do certain things. We have to get approval for funding even if we’re raising the money through admissions, we have to get the approval. Fortunately, we didn’t have to get approval to ship animals in and out, and so on. I think some zoos maybe have gone through that, but we could do that. But as a city department, as a part of a city department, and we were dependent on city services, and of course we had to function within the policies of the city, but the politicians were the ones representing the people, and they were the ones who would make some decisions that impacted us. So it was very important that we were on a positive basis with the political entities and the individual politicians.

02:36:11 - 02:36:16

To what extent was the city appreciative of your marketing efforts?

02:36:16 - 02:36:23

Particularly in increases in operational revenue or getting capital projects going?

02:36:24 - 02:36:33

They were supportive, the city, when you think about how was the city appreciative of marketing efforts of the zoo?

02:36:33 - 02:37:27

Yes, they were. They were appreciative of the fact that this community got attention because of the zoo. And we brought a lot of people in, tourists, who then went to other facilities. They liked that. They didn’t always give us the money that we thought we needed or should have, but at the same time, the zoo was the shining jewel in the crown of the city, the park department, and even the city. The other side of the coin was when we had the koala here, and it was a month of Sundays, every day was a Sunday, and we had increased operating expenses, we got no more money to do that, because of the way the budget was structured. They wouldn’t just give it. That’s where Friends of the Zoo came in and were so helpful.

02:37:27 - 02:38:15

There were some things, quite honestly, that I felt were the responsibility of the city, that the city should have done, but because of the financial or bureaucratic structure of the city, they couldn’t just say, zoo, we know you need this. We’re gonna let you have this. So they were hampered to some extent by the way things were structured. You can’t spend the money unless it’s budgeted and you can’t budget it unless you feel you’re gonna generate it or can prove or whatever. And we didn’t really know, quite honestly, with a koala coming in, how much it would generate. It was kind of a dilemma in that regard. You had mentioned the press. You seem to have a very good relationship with the media.

02:38:15 - 02:38:18

How did you nurture that? What were your secrets?

02:38:19 - 02:38:25

The press, I did feel good about the relationship with the news media in the community.

02:38:25 - 02:38:30

And the question could be asked, how do you nurture that?

02:38:32 - 02:38:32

I don’t know.

02:38:32 - 02:38:40

I mean, to be real honest with you, I never sat down one day or one evening and said, how am I gonna nurture the press?

02:38:40 - 02:39:49

I guess that’s just not the way I function. From the moment I came into town, everything that I thought was of interest, possible interest to the media, I’d let ’em know. And I tried to do it on a personal level, not a press release. A personal phone call to a radio station and say “If you wanna do an interview or you wanna come out, we’d be glad to work with you.” The television station, I’d say, “If your camera man’s coming, let us know ahead of time and we’ll help him get behind the scenes.” Or if they invited me to come out on a local talk show or something, I’d do that. And the newspaper, I would try to be conscious of their deadlines. I tried to be conscious, if it was immediate news, the birth of a giraffe or something, I call ’em right away. If it was something that would be of, what’s a general interest or a feature thing, then I would try to schedule it when I knew, I wouldn’t call them on a really, what’s gonna be a busy news day. ‘Cause like city council’s meeting tonight.

02:39:49 - 02:40:44

Well, you don’t call on Tuesday to try to get a Wednesday morning, something in the paper Wednesday morning, ’cause this town is very politically on it, and the city council gonna be on the paper Wednesday morning. But I would always call, I would try to come up with something that would be a valid, not a gimmick, but a valid interest that they could take or leave, but they usually took it. Then they kind of looked forward to it. Then they would call when things were slow. And we’d always have something that we could come up with. And I tried to tie every holiday in with the zoo in some capacity. So you talk about the Christmas story, we’ll look at the animals involved in the Christmas story, and whatever it might be. But it was always, it wasn’t a gimmick, it was valid and honest and upfront.

02:40:45 - 02:40:53

And I try to see it from their point of view and do what would be of interest and benefit to them.

02:40:53 - 02:40:56

Did you have negative press, and how did you handle it?

02:40:57 - 02:41:41

I’m sure every zoo has negative press. We had negative press, what I would call negative press when we would have a death. It’s negative in that people don’t like to read that. And when we had the young giraffe that hung herself accidentally, that was terrible. But, gosh, it happened. There’s no way to get around that. I thought they handled that factually. Well, every time we would propose to raise the admission fee, when we kept it in line and surveyed other zoos and felt it was still appropriate, et cetera, that would always get some negative reaction.

02:41:41 - 02:42:19

I don’t know if it was negative press, because they just report what the proposal was and why, but it would get a letter to the editor or something. These days, oh my gosh, I feel sorry for zoos because everybody gets on the internet and the Twitter and just the civility of complaining has gone out the window. It’s ranker, it’s, oh my gosh, today’s zoo professionals, I dunno if people can rant and rave, and say whatever they want, but, I guess, I don’t remember people ranting and raving and saying that kind of stuff during my tenure. Thank Heavens. Talk about fundraising.

02:42:21 - 02:42:30

Ultimately, how did the, well, how did the Topeka Zoo get its money, in the beginning, and as it progressed?

02:42:30 - 02:43:22

Fundraising is probably more important to zoo directors and zoo professionals today than are more critical maybe. It was still important in my day. When I started as zoo director in 1963, there’s nothing in the job description about fundraising. And of course, big zoos have a whole staff, a whole department to do fundraising, and rightly so. But fundraising started out for me, what we tried to do, we needed to generate funds above and beyond the city budget in order to make the zoo progress. So the first project, when we formed the Friends of the Zoo in 1964 was to, first project, was to raise the money for a pair of tigers. Our zoo had never had tigers. We had facilities for tigers, for big cats, which would work for tigers, we’d never had ’em.

02:43:22 - 02:44:27

So I thought, well, this is something new and different and be something for Friends of the Zoo to have a dynamic first project. So to try to, I think, fundraising, you need to make it interesting and get people involved. So I counted the stripes on a pair of tigers and figured out if, the tigers at the time was $2,000 for the pair, each stripe cost $20. So one of our keepers had a little artistic talent, so I had big piece of plywood, and I had him paint the outline of two tigers on it, and they had a little deal about $20 a stripe. And we got some PR on that. And every time we would get $20 worth of contributions to Friend of the Zoo, we’d pin another stripe on it. Kinda like United Way and their thermometer and stuff, same type of deal. Well, that was enough of an interest grabber that we were, I’m not even halfway there, and the Topeka border realtors, without me even going to them, I guess their board said, this is great, look what the zoo’s doing, let’s give ’em the rest of the money now.

02:44:27 - 02:45:29

And they did. And of course we let them, we named one of the tigers Tabor, T-A-B-O-R, Topeka Board of Realtors. (chuckles) And listen to this spontaneous response. So we’re trying to make fundraising of interest. When we were raising the money for the concrete trees for the orangs, then I came up with that to be in the tree fund, you could be, if you made a major contribution, you could be a branch manager, (chuckles) or you could go out on a limb or, I mean, stuff like that. But I could only do so much. That’s kinda small-time fundraising and fund fundraising. To do major fundraising, say in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which we did for Lions Pride, which is almost a half a million dollars, Friend of the Zoo needed to do that. Now this is where I think we may have talked earlier about Friends of the Zoo and my relation, and how did it go.

02:45:29 - 02:46:46

At the beginning, they were fabulous, but they got to the point where beyond some of these projects I just outlined, the board wasn’t structured to do more than that. They would get out and beat the bushes, but we didn’t have people on the board, the movers and shakers of the community who could play golf and say to their buddy, I gave the Boy Scout campaign when you were chairman, and now I’m with the zoo and we need $100,000 from your company. We didn’t have that on there. And I diplomatically tried to explain, “We need to get people on here to do this.” And the people on the board at the time really resisted that, and maybe even felt threatened. So I’d make a bold move, if we were gonna move forward, we needed to raise serious money. So Friends of the Zoo is intact, primarily membership services, educational programs, PR, zoo schools, some fundraising. And over here, I establish the Topeka zoological foundation, no membership, a board strictly to raise money. Not competing with Friends of the Zoo, but strictly to do major capital improvement projects.

02:46:46 - 02:47:33

First project, Lions Pride. And got, fortunately, the key people, key leaders in the community responded and formed a board, raised the money. It did tee off a few people in Friends of the Zoo. I was sorry about that. And they may have felt a little threatened, but the same time they saw the value of it and then became supportive Topeka Zoological Foundation to raised the major funds to do the necessary major construction, Friends of the zoo came in with money for graphics, money for landscaping and stuff that they were capable of doing. So it became, fortunately a partnership, but that was a difficult thing.

02:47:35 - 02:47:39

Is that organization still functioning today?

02:47:39 - 02:48:30

No, when I left, it carried on for a few years, but my immediate successor came in and did not work well with the board. And the board got a little disillusioned with the zoo at the time. So the board kind of, they didn’t disband. They just said, well, we’re not gonna do much at the zoo until we see what happens. And then other things happened, they have since disbanded and the money’s gone to the community foundation. It wasn’t much left in there. But the other side of that coin, the Friends of the Zoo have now come on to do major fundraising as they should’ve in the first place. And maybe the foundation helped stimulate that, I don’t know.

02:48:30 - 02:48:33

That’s all happened since I left 21 years ago.

02:48:34 - 02:48:36

How did you adjust to fundraising?

02:48:40 - 02:49:09

I liked the excitement of a fundraising project. Like the tiger thing, which was, or the branch, something that’s got a fun dimension to it. But the cold hard the structured way of doing it, get the client list, get the potential, get the list of all the potential people in town. Categorize ’em A, B, C.

02:49:09 - 02:49:10

How much could they give?

02:49:10 - 02:49:25

At what level can they give? Blah, blah, blah. I don’t know. I get a little uncomfortable at the harshness or the impersonal approach of looking at, I mean, I know a lot these people.

02:49:25 - 02:49:34

I don’t know how much they’re worth, but I know a lot of these people, but I felt uncomfortable looking at them and evaluating how much can we ask for them?

02:49:36 - 02:50:18

But the way it worked was the foundation, the foundation board members, and they were good at this, they would ask for the money, I went along as a zoo director to have the fancy plan, to here’s Lions Pride. Here’s how it’s gonna be unique or whatever. So I did what I call the dog and pony show. Then they asked for it. So we went to this one gentleman’s house. He’s a great guy. And I sat down and I did the dog and pony show. And I thought they were gonna ask him for $50,000 or something, which was pretty good, I thought. And this lady on the board didn’t give me advanced warning.

02:50:18 - 02:50:51

She said, “Well, sir, you’ve seen the presentation it’s a great project. We’d like to ask you for $500,000. (Gary chuckling) I laughed out of my chair. I almost felt like saying, I didn’t know she was gonna ask for that much. But this guy had been hit up so many times by so many, he just took it straight and he said, well, I’ll give it serious consideration. He didn’t give us 500,000, but I think he gave us 50,000. Maybe asked for 500,000 to get 50,000. I don’t know.

02:50:51 - 02:51:05

But it got to the point where that was not the most fun. I spent a lot of time in these preparations and in these presentations, that’s not really what I like to do, but it’s important these days.

02:51:05 - 02:51:08

Do you think it’s become more of a necessity for zoo directors?

02:51:08 - 02:51:10

Yes, yes, unfortunately.

02:51:10 - 02:51:34

Even though your board people are the ones asking or you may even have a staff person or a department that structures all of this, at some point, the director should be involved, because you are the director because of the status of your position, you don’t want to use, what’s the phrase?

02:51:34 - 02:51:36

Mrs. Gotrocks, or whoever.

02:51:37 - 02:51:38

You know what?

02:51:38 - 02:51:56

Even though she may have been romanced and massaged by the board and the staff, at some point, the director’s gotta show up and say, we really are interested in you being part of this project. So yes, it is important. We gotta do it.

02:51:56 - 02:51:58

Were you able to ever use the political process to raise money?

02:52:00 - 02:52:25

Not really in this community. The political process in this community, at least in my tenure as zoo director, didn’t really lend itself well for raising money. I mean, the Huff ‘n Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally did, but not the political process. I mean, except we never did have a vote on a bond issue or anything like that in this community.

02:52:27 - 02:52:30

Was it tough to secure private money?

02:52:30 - 02:52:36

Yes, it’s tough to pick up because we don’t have a lot of potential, oh, you mean private money?

02:52:37 - 02:53:26

It’s tough to raise money in Topeka, let me respond to private money in a minute. We don’t have a lot of corporate entities and the ones we do have have headquarters someplace else. For example, there’s a huge, a huge Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant here. They build tires that are as tall as this ceiling for all these earth-moving trucks. You go out and visit with them, and they say, “We love the zoo, but you know our headquarters are in Akron and they’ve got a zoo there, and that’s where most of our zoo money goes.” Well, I understand that. Hill’s Pet Products was, or Pet Nutrition, I guess they call ’em, Hill’s today, was the number one sponsor for us, ’cause their headquarters were here, an animal-oriented product and they supported us. But it’s a government town. It’s a state capitol and it’s an agricultural center.

02:53:26 - 02:54:17

There’s not a lot of other entities to go to. Private money is, the zoo, we worked hard, nobody gives you money. I learned that, nobody gives you money, you earn it. And we worked hard to make our zoo an institution worthy of receiving gifts and an institution where recipients would want to be associated with us and would provide funds, make a gift, but they still didn’t give it to us. We earned it. But there’s so many people competing to, the university, the YMCA, the library, the art museum, everybody. And in a smaller town, there’s only so many people, and so on. But we did well because we served the community so well and served so many people.

02:54:17 - 02:54:31

But after I left, the one thing that happened was I think the zoo lost its position in the fundraising structure for a variety of reasons. And once you’re out of that position, somebody else comes in and fills that void just like that.

02:54:31 - 02:54:34

Were there any surprise donations that surprised you?

02:54:34 - 02:55:08

Yes, one fun surprise donation. The Rotary Club gave us money for Max the gorilla. And he came in from the zoo and was born in Dallas Zoo, female gorilla born in Kansas City Zoo named Tiffany. And we needed another $5,000 for her. I didn’t have $5,000. I didn’t know what to do. A spontaneous campaign went up around town, signs on billboards, and marquee said, Max loves Tiffany. And people started bringing in dimes, quarters, pennies, nickels to my desk. But I had a fella called me at home one night.

02:55:08 - 02:56:01

And he said, “I’d like to donate $1,000 to help by Tiffany. And said, “Sorry to call you so late.” I said, “It’s not late. You can call me anytime.” (chuckles) And just within a week, it just, (claps hands) it was fabulous. But that was Topeka responding to the zoo. I’ve written a book about my life in the world of zoos called, “Hey Mister-Your Alligator’s Loose!” But at the beginning, I have expressed my philosophy of, when I was a zoo director. And it says the zoo is like a secret garden. As zoo director, I held the key. What a joy each day to share the allure and magic in the enchanting lives of wondrous and incredible animals with children and adults to make it to their secret garden as well.

02:56:03 - 02:56:05

What made you a good director?

02:56:05 - 02:56:08

(Gary chuckles) What made me a good zoo director?

02:56:10 - 02:56:11

How can I answer that?

02:56:11 - 02:56:55

I mean, that’s for someone else to evaluate, I guess. I think what made me comfortable and enthused about being a zoo director is number one, I don’t like this phrase, I love animals. I mean, so many people say I love animals and I’m sure they do, but there’s so many different aspects of that. And sometimes it’s even misdirected love. I have an empathy with animals. I appreciate animals. I guess I do love animals too. And I want other people to understand and appreciate animals. And I like people. I enjoy being with people.

02:56:55 - 02:56:59

So maybe that was the first thing that started it out.

02:56:59 - 02:57:03

But if you asked the question, what made me a good zoo director?

02:57:03 - 02:57:53

I would say this community, the people of Topeka, Northeast Kansas, because they supported the zoo, which made me look like a good zoo director. My staff, what a team. They made things happen, made me look good. Volunteers, Friends of the Zoo, all these factors, all these combinations came together. And I was the cheerleader. And so I’m the guy who got the focus of attention to the spotlight or whatever. And that’s, I guess, if there was such a question. The other thing, I hadn’t thought about this but what I wanted, among other things, what I really wanted, I wanted people to understand the zoo and the animals in the zoo and the role of the zoo, and all of this.

02:57:53 - 02:57:56

And I think we achieved some degree of success in that.

02:57:56 - 02:58:02

So that could be one of the answers to the question, what made me a good zoo director?

02:58:02 - 02:58:54

That’s a good question. (Gary laughing) A difficult one. Oh, wow, today’s zoo directors, my guys would, this is 2010 and I started, I was a zoo director, started in 1963. Obviously that was long before computers. I think today, and most zoo people are this way, I’m sure, need to be technologically skilled and oriented. And I’m a dinosaur in that regard, because that’s the way our world is, and I recognize that. Probably need more finesse in finances, and which jumps over into fundraising. Management skills, I mean, a lot of zoos, even a small zoo now is an organization.

02:58:54 - 02:59:32

And I had no training in management. I just had to learn as I went. Management skills are probably important, but I still think that animal knowledge is important. I realize of zoos today have directors with, the directors have an animal background, but the zoo has a curatorial staff that’s strong in that, so things still function. But the community looks to the zoo director to be the one who knows about animals. And I just wish all of ’em did, some of them don’t, I guess.

02:59:32 - 02:59:47

What can a small zoo or even a medium-sized municipal zoo, or even a zoo society run, do today to be involved with wildlife conservation, maybe nationally or even internationally, what can they do?

02:59:47 - 03:01:00

Yeah, small zoos or even medium-sized zoos, I think those that are dedicated zoos, do feel conservation is an important mission, an important function in addition to recreation education, so on. It’s a bigger challenge, but they can still do a lot of things. The very first thing that they could do, every zoo can do, no matter how large or how small, is conservation education. I think the first role of zoos in conservation is education. We are the ones that people look to for knowledge and awareness of conservation matters and the status of animals, and their needs. So that’s the first thing we can do. The second thing, I think we can instill a stewardship value, in children especially, to be conscious of our world, our environment, not just animals, but plants in, the entire ecosystem, and to be aware of that, and preserving it for the future. But on a more practical level, smaller institutions can certainly be holding facilities.

03:01:02 - 03:01:44

And if they have the capability, breeding facilities, maybe be selective, be part of a SSP program, or something, and contribute to the status of certain endangered species. Here in Topeka, we were involved with the Bali myna. And bread a lot of Bali mynas in that program. The golden lion marmoset. We were involved in that program. And for a while, we were involved with the Przewalski horses as well. So I was very proud of that, because we were part of a national or international program, and these things. So those are a few examples.

03:01:44 - 03:01:47

I’m sure there are a lot of others too.

03:01:47 - 03:01:56

So when you consider the financial resources available to the small and medium-sized zoo, should the focus be on different parts of the collection?

03:01:56 - 03:01:59

Should it be regional? Should it be endangered?

03:01:59 - 03:02:01

Should it be non-endangered?

03:02:01 - 03:02:58

Well, there’s been a lot of discussion as to what type of collections zoos should have. And it’s a good question to consider smaller institutions and financial resources, and so on, and whether or not it’s indigenous animals or specialize in endangered species or general collection. There certainly are examples. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, I think, is a good example of a facility specializing in the animals of that region, in that habitat. I’m not sure that the size of the zoo and the finances of the zoo are the main factors, the main factor in dictating or suggesting what type of collection it should be.

03:02:58 - 03:03:04

I think it’s more, what’s the role of that zoo in the community?

03:03:04 - 03:03:07

What is the status of the community?

03:03:07 - 03:04:19

For example, Topeka is a small committee, 120,000, city limits 160,000 metro area, but we’re the state capital. So as the state capital, I feel we maybe have more of a responsibility to have a broader collection, a more generalized collection. You take a smaller zoo, like Emporia, which is an accredited zoo with AZA, 50 miles down the turnpike, they’re specializing in waterfowl, among other things, and doing a beautiful job of it. And some predatory birds as well. That’s a good example. I think a zoo needs to evaluate itself with reference to the community, what the community is, and then that should reflect what the zoo is. Zoos today, in many cases, are afraid to confront the animal welfare, the rights groups that are anti-zoo. We have people in top positions in our field who seem in line with the non-biologist.

03:04:20 - 03:04:24

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

03:04:24 - 03:04:31

Animal activists are certainly a presence and critics of zoos are certainly a presence.

03:04:32 - 03:04:43

In fact, when we would evaluate our success at the zoo, and we’d say how many people are coming, and so on, I would always ask the question, who’s not coming?

03:04:43 - 03:04:47

Who in this community is not coming to the zoo and why?

03:04:47 - 03:04:48

Why are we not serving them?

03:04:48 - 03:06:00

I’m sorry, I got a little off the subject there, but the animal activist situation, it’s a very emotional thing. And if you’re passionate about zoos and animals in zoos, it’s so easy to get agitated with these people. But my thought has always been, first of all, they have a particular viewpoint. I don’t agree with that viewpoint, but I should respect their viewpoint. Second, I’ve always felt it’s good to be civil with these people, to try to relate to them on a polite and pleasant basis, and respect them. But thirdly, I think if I believe in zoos and what zoos are doing, I’m going to espouse that philosophy and all the good things that are happening with zoos and, I guess, if it doesn’t satisfy them, I’ll just have to accept that. But I don’t see being antagonistic, I guess, is what I’m saying. I don’t see having a public battle, who’s right, who’s wrong.

03:06:00 - 03:06:17

This whole country seems to be so divisive on everything. I hate to see that happen to zoos. I think we need that to have more of a level head about this, because we’re always gonna have detractors and people who don’t believe in zoos. There’s some people who don’t like ice cream.

03:06:18 - 03:06:30

And I don’t agree with them either, but I respect their situation. (chuckles) You mentioned that you would ask the question, why aren’t people coming to, can you follow up on that?

03:06:30 - 03:06:31

Why were you asking that question?

03:06:31 - 03:06:33

What did you wanna try and get to?

03:06:33 - 03:07:13

Well, what it’s getting to is, zoos, yes, you will hear for recreation, education, conservation, research or scientific studies, but I’ve always thought this, we need to broaden that. The zoo needs to be community service, a community resource. And I know not everybody loves animals, but if we could get the zoo to be the focal point, the centerpiece of the community and have a lot of activities in that would bring people in, then we could, by osmosis, help them understand animals a little better.

03:07:13 - 03:07:15

But why don’t some people come to the zoo?

03:07:17 - 03:08:07

I remember, when I first came to Topeka in 1963, people would come out to Gage Park into the zoo to see the animals, to be in a semi-natural setting. By that, I mean, we have a lot of shade trees and it’s very pleasant in landscape grounds. Over time, we’ve developed landscape grounds. And they enjoyed that. And even on a hot summer afternoon, it was a pleasant thing to be. Then shopping malls came into vogue and people went to shopping malls to cool off and shopping malls had food courts. And I’ve really felt shopping malls were a big competitor, at least in this community for our zoo. And then of course, we got all these wonderful things on TV and people say, I can see all this natural stuff on TV, it’s not the same.

03:08:07 - 03:08:10

Nothing replaces a living, breathing creature.

03:08:10 - 03:08:12

But I wonder why aren’t we reaching some of these people?

03:08:12 - 03:08:15

Why don’t they come out to this fabulous resource?

03:08:16 - 03:08:44

So I don’t know if they were ever successful in identifying that. We probably didn’t have the proper method in trying to pursue that and didn’t have the money to hire somebody who could do that. So you didn’t find the answer. Nah, I don’t know. Sometimes you hear a complaint from zoo directors that there are not enough good curatorial staff in their community or resources.

03:08:44 - 03:08:51

Do you think that’s a problem and how do you think curators should be trained today and what’s expected of that?

03:08:51 - 03:09:32

Well, I think curators today, like I said, no. Remember I’ve been actively out of the zoo profession for 21 years, but I’m still associated with it. I mean, I still wanna keep up with it, but I think curators today all seem to have the academic training. They’ve all got a degree or even an advanced degree, they’re all computer literate and technological skills. But there’s a couple of things. One, frequently, A lot of times it seems they haven’t had much, sometimes very little, if any, hands-on experience.

03:09:32 - 03:09:39

How do you actually work with this species, with individual animals of a given species?

03:09:39 - 03:09:41

How do you transfer them?

03:09:41 - 03:09:43

How do you exhibit them? What’s their diets?

03:09:45 - 03:09:47

What’s the breeding situation?

03:09:47 - 03:10:49

And it’s a lot of book knowledge, but books are important. They need to read books, but they haven’t had the hands-on experience. I sometimes think it’d be great if those who wanna be curators could spend time, not just working as a keeper in a zoo, but working on a well-managed farm. my livestock farmers, boy, they can work with their animals quite well. And I think that would be good. The other thing is I’m concerned that today’s curators and maybe zoo people in general, are losing the culture of zoological parks. We’re losing the significance of how zoos developed and what they are today and the history of zoos. And the perspective of, if you live in America, the perspective of US zoos in relation to other worlds zoos, particularly European zoos, but even oriental zoos in Australia or wherever it may be.

03:10:53 - 03:11:23

When I talk to old-time zoo people, we always mentioned Hediger. Well, there’s a lot of people who don’t even know who Hediger is. And I cringe when I see that. I see that they’re losing touch with the perspective and culture of what zoos are. So like more hands-on experience, more appreciation of history and philosophy of zoos. More knowledge of how zoos came about, those things would probably be important.

03:11:23 - 03:11:29

Do you think the average zoo professional is professionally well-traveled as you were?

03:11:31 - 03:11:43

I think I did have a great opportunity to travel a lot. And I traveled in the States to see other zoos or traveled to wild places.

03:11:45 - 03:11:46

Other zoos?

03:11:46 - 03:12:44

Other zoos in particular. I think they travel some, but it’s rather than, we used to do what we call a zoo marathon. If the AZA was in Buffalo, New York, and we were in Topeka Kansas, then we’d figure out who’s gonna be able to go. And half the time we’re paying our own way. And whoever volunteered to drive, we’d take turns for whoever started out, and we’d take some food with us and we start off and visit every zoo between here and Buffalo, New York. And if we had to drive all night and visit zoos all day, we’d take turns doing that. Then we’d have a different route on the way back, so that part of the experience of going to a conference was visiting all these other zoos. And that was a fabulous thing.

03:12:44 - 03:13:13

But today I think it’s probably more, you go from your home city where your zoo is to the destination of the conference, and back. So probably they’re not traveling and seeing zoos like we did. That’s an important thing, that’s another thing back to the curator question. That’s another thing that they should do. They should visit as many zoos as often as practical as they can. I think that’s a tremendous education.

03:13:15 - 03:13:22

What changes have you seen during your years in the zoo field regarding visitor attitudes and administration at the national level?

03:13:24 - 03:14:41

Visitor attitudes in zoos, they’ve changed a lot because of, in my opinion, because of television, the influence of television and wildlife specials, some good, some bad. I’m not real enthused about some of the things that we see because they’re misleading. They give people the misconception of animals and animals in zoos. But that’s a change. I think the animal rights movement is stronger than it’s been. That’s somewhat a change, as far as people’s attitudes. And I think in this day of instant communication, instant messaging, and so on, we have a lot of negative perceptions of zoos that are being played up, because you can take the camera on your phone and take a picture and put that on YouTube or whatever, and make that into a negative thing when maybe it’s not a negative thing, but people believe all this stuff. And it’s very disheartening, in my opinion.

03:14:42 - 03:14:52

What issues caused you the most concern during the time that you were zoo director and how do you see the future regarding those same type of issues?

03:14:53 - 03:15:18

The issues that caused me the most concern when I was zoo director, (moans) gosh. I guess, strictly from the zoo person’s point of view, one of the issues was status of animals in the wild and captive propagation.

03:15:18 - 03:15:22

Are we at zoos, are we being consumers?

03:15:22 - 03:15:24

Are we being producers?

03:15:25 - 03:16:16

That was, when I first got in the zoo field, that was an issue. I think that’s been resolved to a large degree by, to some degree, by SSPs and the tags, and breeding loans and cooperative readings, and so on. I think that’s all been a positive thing and something that we need to continue to be concerned about. I guess I’ve always had a concern of, and it’s always been an issue in my mind. It may not be a national zoo issue, but in my mind, how zoos are perceived. You got everything from a jail to the ark. And I’d like for people to hopefully to understand the proper role of zoos and the life of animals in zoos. I think that’s improved a lot.

03:16:16 - 03:17:02

I think we have a long way to go in that regard though. And I guess the other thing is I see zoos stepping out of character. I see zoos becoming more, I don’t know how to phrase it, maybe entertainment centers, than zoological centers. Particularly in the US, we’ve got so many gimmicks to get people out to the zoo. The animals themselves oughta be enough if we just convey that to people. Not to say you shouldn’t have special events, and all that. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that, I guess, I always cringe when I see zoos, when people are going to the zoo to see “Spider-Man” instead of a spider.

03:17:02 - 03:17:34

And spiders are fascinating animals. And I’d rather people go to the zoo to see spiders than to see some cartoon character. I guess I’ve always felt that that, particularly children who are impressionable, I wish they would learn about animals as they are, accept animals for being themselves. And not as they’re portrayed in cartoons and advertising gimmicks, and so on. Animals are so maligned and that we don’t know what they’re really like, but in the zoo, they are real. That’s the importance of the zoo.

03:17:36 - 03:17:42

So tomorrow, if you could make it happen, what issues would you want the zoos to address in the future?

03:17:43 - 03:17:48

If I could make it happen tomorrow, what issues should zoos address?

03:17:48 - 03:18:31

I am pleased to see so many zoos getting involved with field research and field conservation. I’m pleased to see zoos expanding beyond the perimeter fence of the zoo in a given community and supporting research in various wild areas around the world, not just financially supporting, but sending staff members and having teams there. I think this is fabulous. Zoos are taking a leadership role in this regard. Smaller zoos can’t always do this. They can earn financial support, maybe have a staff person participate in a project for a while, but I think that’s great. I would encourage this. I hope that that continues.

03:18:36 - 03:19:22

I still feel that the perception and concept of zoos is misunderstood by most people. I’d like to see us address that. And, I guess, through better education. And I would like to see the zoos, I would like to see zoos, I think there’s maybe, we always, not always, but a lot of times in zoos, we say our functions are recreation, education, conservation, research, or scientific studies, I think a fifth would be as a community resource. And some zoos are doing this to some extent, but I think there’s a lot of things zoos can do beyond what we’re doing now.

03:19:23 - 03:19:35

And service can be a meeting place, a place where civic clubs meet, even a latchkey program, where the kids, some of the kids whose parents work, what do they do after school?

03:19:35 - 03:19:39

Guys, why not come to the zoo and have programs at the zoo for them?

03:19:40 - 03:19:58

I think there’s just a lot of potential for that to happen. You’ve talked about this a little, but for a long time, decades, you built a strong basis within the community for support of the zoo, but, in time, to see it start to deteriorate.

03:19:58 - 03:20:02

How important, you’ve talked about it, is this community support?

03:20:02 - 03:20:04

Can a zoo survive without it?

03:20:04 - 03:20:09

What caused the changes here and can zoos learn from this experience?

03:20:09 - 03:21:14

(chuckles) Wow, wow, wow, wow. I was fortunate during my tenure as the zoo director of Topeka from 1963 to 1989, that we had tremendous community support. For a smaller institution and a smaller community with more limited finances, that is extremely important. It’s terribly important. It’s not just people’s money. It’s their general support by attending the zoo, by supporting the programs, by being a member, by buying things at the gift shop or the concession stand. And that’s all important. So it’s terribly important, I think it’s important for any zoo, but particularly in small, medium-sized communities, it is extremely important. And after my tenure, politics seemed to play a stronger role in our zoo and I think that my successors had a much bigger challenge and some of the support community fell away from the zoo.

03:21:16 - 03:21:51

I don’t know exactly how all that happened, but the zoo lost a lot of stature. And it lost stature, which reflected in the attendance, and the general support. I was sad to see that happen. It wasn’t so much a personal thing like this is my baby, and look what’s happening. No, it’s not my baby. It was never my zoo. It was always the community zoo. I was sad to see it happen for the community’s sake, because this town supported the zoo. This town deserves a good zoo.

03:21:51 - 03:22:15

This town can have a good zoo. And I was just sad to see it do that. But a lot of zoos go through cycles. New Orleans went way down came back up. Atlanta went down, came back up. I was hoping our zoo wouldn’t do that, but I think that’s what’s happened. I think Topeka did kinda go down, but now it’s on the upswing. It’s getting stronger.

03:22:15 - 03:23:03

It’s coming back, all that needs to be done, but the people are starting to support it again. And I think that’s important. It’s an integral part of the community. Zoos do more than just the animals. One of the things I always felt was important about zoos is zoos make memories. And here I am today, 71 years old. And if I go someplace, people will come up and say, I remember at the zoo, when I was a kid and you had the giant tortoises out on the lawn and we got to get our picture taken, or whatever it is. I mean that’s a great thing.

03:23:03 - 03:23:23

That’s one of the prime roles a zoo should play. Everybody has a zoo story, no matter where you go. If I give a program someplace afterwards and ask for questions, it’s not always questions. They wanna tell me a zoo story or they would, some zoo somewhere. Even in communities who don’t have zoos, people have a zoo story.

03:23:23 - 03:23:25

How many people have a library story?

03:23:25 - 03:23:29

Some, I’m sure, but everybody has a zoo story.

03:23:31 - 03:23:38

So a zoo really can’t be airtight and against interference, external or otherwise?

03:23:40 - 03:24:37

Zoos can’t, no, I don’t think zoos can be airtight against interference. They can certainly be strong and they can resist it a lot, but they can’t be airtight. And even when they are strong, that’s gonna change, that’s gonna fluctuate. So the zoo has to be able to, like animals, has to be able to adapt, I think. Even a privately owned zoo, and I’ve been to some privately owned zoos that are open to the public that are very successful, but even they, they may not have the city government to contend with or whatever, but they still have outside influences that impact them. It’s a dynamic living institution, it’s gonna fluctuate, and it’s a human institution. It’s gonna fluctuate to some extent by who’s involved with the zoo at the time, who’s on the staff, who’s on the board, whatever.

03:24:38 - 03:24:52

We’ve talked about governmental things, what advice would you give to zoo people for dealing with elected officials and municipal bureaucracies in order to develop and manage their zoo?

03:24:54 - 03:25:04

What advice would I give to zoo people dealing with elected officials and politicians in managing their zoos?

03:25:04 - 03:26:15

Number one, be upfront, be candid, be honest. Don’t try to pull any punches. Number two, no surprises. I mean, if we had an animal death, if it was 09:30 at night, and we discovered that the polar bear, the old polar bear that we knew it was in the last days, long-term, longtime resident of the zoo, had a name. Everybody knew him, and fathered a number of cubs, been at the zoo 25 years or whatever. And if it was 09:30 and the keepers called and said, well, he passed away, I immediately would call the park commissioner and the park superintendent and say sorry to bother you at home. But I wanted you to know before you hear it on the news, no surprises, I think that’s, you don’t want. But the other side of that coin is I always try to, I don’t mean to say insulate the zoo, but I try to protect the zoo from too much interference.

03:26:15 - 03:26:33

I want the park commissioner, or in my case, that was the elected official I had to deal with, park commissioner to be supportive of the zoo and vote favorably for the zoo and do things for the zoo. But at the same time, I didn’t want him to call me up and say, hey, my nephew loves tigers.

03:26:33 - 03:26:37

Would you put him on for the summer, taking care of your tigers?

03:26:37 - 03:27:28

No, so we always tried to structure the zoo so that they understood if you have a nephew who likes tigers, then we have a zoo explorer program and he’d be welcome to join that. And we would certainly try to help him know more about tigers, and so on. It’s a delicate thing. It’s a bit much. I recall when I was a keeper in Kansas City Zoo, Mr. Cully, the director of the Kansas City Zoo, had his house on the zoo grounds. And, Sunday, theoretically was his day off. Although he usually made the rounds anyway. But if the chairman of the board of park commissioners came out with his grandkids, he’d go right to Mr. Cully’s house and say, “I want a tour of the zoo.” And poor guy, he had to do that.

03:27:29 - 03:27:45

So it’s a trade off, I guess. (chuckles) You mentioned that some just go through highs and lows in their governance. And Topeka Zoo temporarily lost its accreditation.

03:27:46 - 03:27:51

Why do you think that that type of thing came about?

03:27:54 - 03:27:57

Why did Topeka Zoo lose its accreditation?

03:27:57 - 03:28:51

Zoos do go through highs and lows. That’s a interesting situation. Now when I retired on December 31st, 1989, I made a vow never to look over anyone’s shoulder, any of my successors’ shoulder. I did say if I can be of help at any time, let me know. But otherwise I’m outta here. I mean, the zoo is still in my heart, still is today. And six days later I was on safari, because I decided to make the change after I climbed Kilimanjaro and turned 50 on the mountain. I decided to make the change, make a passage, as I’ve been told, from life in the world of zoos to life in safari, because I really loved Africa, and I loved sharing Africa with people.

03:28:51 - 03:29:54

I didn’t have to put up with politics and bureaucracy, and (chuckles) so on, in doing that. But anyway, so I vowed to never look over my shoulder. Now because I was here for 26 years, and because this is a smaller community, and because the position of the director is kind of a glamorous thing that’s all in the news a lot, even though I was no longer zoo director, in people’s minds, they associated me with the zoo. I remember one time, George Speidel, who was director of the Milwaukee County Zoo for many years, he and I were talking and he said, “You know, once you retire, you should move out of the community in which you were zoo director for a long time, just make a clean break.” And that was probably good advice. Pretty good advice. But my situation was, I love Topeka. My kids were raised in Topeka. Several of my kids were still in Topeka. My grandkids were in Topeka.

03:29:54 - 03:30:13

This was home. So I didn’t wanna move out, but I was out of town and out of the country much of the time in Africa. But I did not have a direct line to the zoo as far as any information or what was going on with activities or the changes.

03:30:13 - 03:30:20

I didn’t get a call from my successors saying, what do you think of this or we need help, or can you do this?

03:30:21 - 03:30:32

I would go to the grocery store, the post office, or the library and people, I mean, 10, 15 years later, people would say, oh, hi Gary, how are things at the zoo?

03:30:32 - 03:31:03

(Gary laughing) And when things would get bad, sometimes they’d say, oh, we need you back at the zoo. They didn’t need me back at the zoo. They needed the zoo to be better, but that was the quick fix, they thought. And then when they lost accreditation that things really got bad, then, like I said, been gone 15, 18 years. Oh, we need you back at the zoo. As if that would be a magic quick fix.

03:31:03 - 03:31:13

And I would always say to these folks, I would say now, remember, back in the late 80s, when the Kansas City Royals won the World Series?

03:31:13 - 03:31:56

Oh yeah, I remember that. Well, asking me to go back to the zoo and make a quick fix is like saying to the manager of the Royals in the late 80s, when they won the World Series, and the Royals are now in last place, as usual, well, go manage the Royals and make ’em win the World Series again. (scoffs) It doesn’t work that way. I have not been privy to what’s going on at the zoo. It’s a different situation. Everything’s changed. The staff has changed. The city governance has changed from commission to council form of government. All the politicians have changed. You don’t need me.

03:31:56 - 03:32:31

You need somebody, but you don’t need me. But that’s the way they would think. Now let me tell you what has happened. (chuckles) From, oh, we need you back at the zoo, to the new man’s in place now, Brendan Wiley. He’s young, he’s enthusiastic, he’s passionate, he’s got energy. He’s got a long road to hold, but he’s putting it back together, and he’s making things happen. People are coming back to the zoo. They love this guy. It’s a wonderful thing. And now as we go around the community, they’d say, oh, you’re Gary Clarke, aren’t ya.

03:32:31 - 03:33:15

I didn’t know you were still alive. (Gary laughing) So you see, they didn’t need me. They needed somebody. And Brendan apparently is the guy. I hope he is. And the first day he was in town to be announced as the director, he was busy as hell, the media was hounding him, “What are you gonna do about all these problems and everything?” That guy, I never met him before, he made his way out to Fairlawn Plaza and popped into main camp here, and said, “Hi, I’m Brendan Wiley.” I’m the new zoo director. I just wanted to meet you.” I thought that was a great thing. I said, “Look, if there’s anything I can do, fine. Otherwise you’re the director.” And he has called me periodically.

03:33:15 - 03:33:36

He’s called me more than all the rest of ’em put together. (Gary chuckles) But I still don’t have any direct pipeline to the zoo. Everybody thinks I should or would, but no, I shouldn’t. No, I’m history, and that’s the way it should be. Talked about education. We’ve talked about that.

03:33:36 - 03:33:44

Do you think that’s important in boosting the image of the zoo, especially in the face of people who are anti-zoo?

03:33:44 - 03:33:51

Yes, it’s very important as a function of the zoo and education is not just how many bones are in a giraffe’s neck?

03:33:51 - 03:34:58

Education is an awareness of how magnificent animals are. It’s an appreciation of animals. It’s a sense of, as I said at one point, a sense of stewardship, about wildlife and wild places, and the Earth, but it’s important as far as the image of the zoo, because, and first of all, it’s important for children to learn about animals as they really are. And the zoo has real animals, not cartoon characters. The zoo has real animals. Secondly, these youngsters are the greatest little ambassadors in the world, ’cause they get enthused about the zoo and they go home and tell their folks, and then folks get enthused about the zoo. I mean, it’s great when you see a zoo school student taking their parents around and telling the parents all the things about the animals, that’s a great thing, but it shows that the zoo is not just a menagerie of animals sitting in Gage Park. It shows that the zoo has played a vital role in the community, and it’s a living dynamic community institution.

03:34:58 - 03:35:39

I don’t know if they do it today or not, but when I was at the zoo, we had a magazine called Zoo Magazine. It was every other month. Not only would it go to the members, but we made arrangements for, we printed enough copies for a copy to go to every classroom, not just every school, every classroom within the city of Topeka. And I thought that was important. Now today, look what zoos could do today. Gosh, I wish this had been there when I was there. They got all this distance learning thing where, with all the video things. And they’ve done it in Topeka, they’re just starting to do some of this now.

03:35:39 - 03:36:33

They’ve got cameras at the Black Bear Exhibit that monitor the black bear behavior and transmits this to classrooms in schools. Other zoos around the country are far advanced, much more advanced in doing that than Topeka is at this point. But Topeka, you can do a lot of that. Zoos don’t always have to build a new exhibit every year or every three years or every five years to get to people and zoo, in fact, I think maybe there’s a lot of zoos, even Topeka, maybe to the point where you don’t need to. Take care of the ones you got, but expand the zoo through video, expand the zoo through outreach, expand the zoo through community, as a community resource. So much can be done in that regard. And education is the forefront, and you could get grants too. You don’t have to use city budget, you can get grants.

03:36:33 - 03:36:40

So are these some of the things and others that can make this visitor connection to the zoo more powerful?

03:36:40 - 03:37:23

Oh, yes, very definitely. I think any way you can get people involved with the zoo is helpful and elicit their support. I think that’s very important, but I dunno. I think about that from time to time. I don’t have a lot of things popping into my mind right now, but I know that if you get somebody really enthused and creative, my gosh, the the sky would be the limit. Even with a small zoo, though more than what Topeka Zoo may have today, they could increase their educational outreach 100% quickly.

03:37:26 - 03:37:35

So what advice would you be giving to the education programs at zoos as it relates to conservation and scientific research and things like that?

03:37:35 - 03:37:44

What advice would I give to education people in zoos regarding conservation, scientific research?

03:37:44 - 03:39:03

First of all, I think I may have said this already, but awareness, consciousness of our environment and our responsibility for the world as it is, the world as it will be. It is our responsibility. Zoos, because it’s such a high profile public institution, I think, have real responsibility to make this awareness a very prominent thing. And I think making it, like I may have said already about, when we use the term zoo school. School sounds so structured. I wish there was a more fun term, but make it so that kids want to learn, not dredge it, but kids went to learn, but when you got the whole zoo as a classroom and the animals teaching aids, then that helps a lot. That and, and also we can do so much with the lesser known animals, the smaller animals, the animals that aren’t high profile. And once kids get involved in that, I think that the sky’s the limit there too.

03:39:06 - 03:39:16

There’s just so much potential. And someone who gets involved and is there on a daily basis, I think they’ll see that and can make it happen.

03:39:18 - 03:39:23

Well, what type of advice would you give the new zoo director about the importance of marketing your zoo?

03:39:25 - 03:39:28

What are those important aspects of marketing?

03:39:29 - 03:39:33

The important aspects of marketing a zoo?

03:39:35 - 03:40:36

I think that it needs to be candid and honest and forthright. Marketing the zoo means getting people involved with the zoo, all aspects of the zoo, on a regular basis. Most of the aspects of most zoos, most of the time are positive. New exhibits, new programs, baby animals, new arrivals, but sometimes there are negative things, death of an animal or transfer of an animal or a long-time exhibit that everybody has loved has now served its purpose and needs to be closed or completely revamped. You need to be candid and upfront about that as well. I think that that’s the key.

03:40:36 - 03:40:48

And just being aware of tying the zoo in any way you can, with holidays, for Thanksgivings coming up, what’s the history of turkeys?

03:40:48 - 03:41:06

And why wasn’t the turkeys chosen as the national bird for United States, and things of that type. There’s all kinds of tie-ins. You’re in a unique position, you have your zoo hat, your zoo hat, and your safari hat.

03:41:06 - 03:41:30

And is there a way to make the connection between zoos and eco safari expeditions in order to make people, like politicians or business people, who have the capacity to affect change, more aware of the natural areas and their facility, in their facility?

03:41:34 - 03:41:38

How to have safaris play a role in impacting decision-makers?

03:41:40 - 03:42:33

Yes, I think safaris can play a role. A lot of zoos sponsor safaris, photo safaris. And I think that’s a very positive thing. It does illicit contributions and more support and so on, but to get decision-makers involved, what I have found, and I’ve been able to do this. One of the great things on taking groups in safari, is not just the individuals, but a lot of times you have individual with their children and frequently I’ve had three-generation families, grandparents, grown children, and grandchildren. That is a marvelous thing, because you see that happen at the zoo. You’ll see grandparents, grown children, and grandchildren. And just like at the zoo, you’ll see the grandparents’ view of the zoo, or the grandparents’ view of Africa through the eyes of the grandchildren.

03:42:33 - 03:43:23

That’s a delightful thing. Plus if you take three generations, the Africans love that. They love extended families and they really make a big deal out of that. Once again, children are a great influence. If a politician takes his family or his children and grandchildren, and they have a marvelous time and the zoo has sponsored this and it relates to the zoo, that’s a positive thing that makes that individual, I think, more inclined to be supportive of the zoo. A way also to raise this awareness is to hopefully get the media involved. And I think a lot of zoos have done this. They have a television crew from the local station come along as part of the package.

03:43:23 - 03:44:07

And you could get sponsorships for a lot of them. And document this, make a documentary out of this, which spreads the gospel, in that regard. So I think safaris can play and have played a very strong role in this regard. I’ve had people who had been members of Friends of the Zoo to go into first safari and come back and say, boy, that was just marvelous. It wasn’t that they saw the animals in the wild and said, well, I hate to see the animals in the zoo now, wasn’t that at all. They came back and said, we were privileged to see these animals here. Most people can’t do this, but we bring them to the people in the zoo. So the zoo, now I see it.

03:44:07 - 03:44:16

I recognize even more now the importance of a zoo than I did before I went on a safari. And that has been a positive thing.

03:44:16 - 03:44:33

I would always try to bring back something for my park commissioner (Gary chuckling) from Africa that he could hang in his office. (chuckles) How do zoos reach teenagers to heighten their awareness, their zeal about the natural world?

03:44:33 - 03:44:38

How do zoos reach teenagers to heighten their awareness and zeal?

03:44:38 - 03:45:54

I don’t know. This is a very unscientific general observation, but it seems like that when children get to be teenagers, they don’t want to go to the zoo with their folks anymore. They would rather not be seen with their parents at the zoo. But one of the things that we did, the zoo school youngsters who were elementary school age, when they were graduating and growing up, then at our zoo, the next thing that evolved was the zoo explorer post in conjunction with the Boy Scouts and there are number of explorer posts in the community. There’s one in the airport and the police department and so on. And to have a zoo explorer post was kind of a new idea, at least in this community. But a lot of the youngsters who went to zoo school and became teenagers joined the zoo explorer post. But having special events for teens at the zoo and special education programs even a lot of zoos now are doing overnight camping situations with parents and teens at the zoo.

03:45:54 - 03:46:08

Those are all things, but having your education animals that can be handled, you get the, even teenagers, when they get to handle some of the animals, that really turns ’em on. And I think that’s an important thing.

03:46:10 - 03:46:19

Going back to the national organization, what issues would you like to see AZA addressing now?

03:46:20 - 03:46:24

What issues would I like to see AZA addressing now?

03:46:26 - 03:47:06

One of the things, I guess, is important these days is a national organizations presence in Washington, and they seem to be doing that, from what I can tell, pretty well. I would like to see the AZA address what zoos are and what zoos can do beyond the well-defined functions that most of us subscribed to, recreation, education, conservation, research. Gets back to what I mentioned earlier, I guess, and that is zoos as a community resource.

03:47:06 - 03:47:12

How can zoos, in any community of any size, play a stronger role in that community?

03:47:12 - 03:48:09

Be more of a focal point in that community as a meeting place, as a gathering place, as a leader in recycling, which a lot of zoos are doing, but let the zoo be the leader in recycling. And even in a book fair, have a book fair at the zoo, civic clubs meeting at the zoo, all of the organizations pertaining to nature like the local Audubon Society or whatever, I think they should all just automatically think, let’s meet at the zoo. And the zoo will be the focal point for that. I guess I do see AZA doing that to some extent, but I think that could be done a lot more and helping their individual members come up with resources or ways to be a resource.

03:48:09 - 03:48:20

You mentioned that at one time, someone came to you and said, “We’d like to give you an elephant.” What is your view regarding the topic now of zoos maintaining the elephants in their collections?

03:48:24 - 03:49:35

Elephants and zoos has become a very emotional situation. Elephants may be, elephants as a species may be the single most recognizable symbol of the animal kingdom in the wild or in zoos. Elephants in the wild though are anonymous, distant, most people, unless you have a chance to go to Africa or India, the majority of zoo visitors have never done that, the majority of zoo visitors have never seen elephants in the wild. Elephants, to a lot of people, may just as well be imaginary, but in the zoo, they are real. They are living, breathing, defecating, urinating, trumpeting animals, usually with names. Usually people know them on an individual basis. Usually long lived. People grew up with them. I remember helping get the money to buy such and such, Penny or whatever the elephant’s name might be.

03:49:35 - 03:50:43

And they associate with that animal. I think zoos and AZA are making great strides in improving the accepted standards for facilities and management of elephants. I would like to see that continue, but all animals in zoos, no matter how naturalistic you make the exhibit look to the visitor, or even how much behavioral enrichment you provide for the animals, they’re not in the wild. They’re in the zoo. Although animals in the wild are paralleling animals in zoos, to some extent because animals adapted to zoos accept the close proximity of human beings. And if you’d been to Africa, you know animals in national parks accept the close proximity of human beings in vehicles. Otherwise you’ll never get any decent photographs. If you go to a truly wild remote area of Africa, all you get is rear-end shots of the animal running away.

03:50:43 - 03:51:23

So it’s the animals accepting the close proximity of people in some capacity both in the wild and in the zoo. I think the important thing with elephants in zoos is the daily management routine. Animals like routine and how these animals are managed. You’re never gonna convince a lot of the critics of animals in zoos that elephants can have a fruitful worthwhile life in the zoo. I think you do what you know is right and you do the best you can and you carry on with that and you respect their point of view.

03:51:24 - 03:51:27

So do you still have contact with the Topeka Zoo?

03:51:27 - 03:52:31

Well, earlier we were discussing my relationship with the zoo. As I said, once I left in 1989, I vowed not to look over my shoulder and I haven’t. But a couple of years ago, the Friends of the Zoo who went through somewhat of a resurgence and became stronger in the fundraising capacity, they asked me to help with fundraising. They developed a new master plan. One of the things they were doing actually was expanding the original Animals and Man Building, which we built in 1966 for elephant, giraffes, hippos, expanding those facilities for elephants to meet the new AZA standards. And all the interior shifting, and so on. And it’s great, but they asked me to help with this campaign. And one of the new species they wanted to get for the zoo was a hyenas, spotted hyenas.

03:52:33 - 03:53:24

And so I was involved at some of the capital campaign committee meetings and they decided to approach security benefit association here in town. It’s kind of a financial slash insurance type company, but their headquarters are here. So that was good. And I think we were asking for $150,000. It’d be a nice, but basic exhibit. So I agreed to help with trying to solicit the contribution from them, from security benefit. So since it was hyenas, then I thought, well, let’s help these people understand hyenas. Now I have a cast of a hyena skull. Maybe you saw that on the shelf last night.

03:53:24 - 03:54:04

And I have a bronze cast of a hyena track. And I have a recording of hyenas hooping in addition to the laugh everybody hears. They also who woo, whoop, woo, whoop! Which is great, one of the greatest African animal sounds. And hyenas have the most powerful jaws of any land mammal, not more than a shark, but any land mammal. Strong enough to even crack the bones of the Cape buffalo, thus to eat a lot of calcium. And their dung is white. And in Africa, some of the remote schools will use hyena dung as chalk.

03:54:05 - 03:54:35

So I took all these things along and we met in just a wonderful new facility they have, really elaborate building, and we met in the boardroom. And here’s the committee and the board term or thing. And so my part of the presentation is to explain about hyenas and then the board member would ask for the contribution.

03:54:35 - 03:54:44

So I said, “Well, folks, if you don’t mind, can we close these blinds?” And we did, and now can we turn the lights off?

03:54:44 - 03:56:18

Now I want you to visualize that you’re in Africa on safari. And if it’s not dark enough, then close your eyes, and you’re snuggled up in your tent in the middle of the night, and here’s what you hear. And then I played the, woo, whoop! Woo, whoop, woo, I said, “That’s a hyena.” And then we showed the skull, showed the track, explained about the social structure, the dominance of the females, explain how difficult it is to determine the sexes externally, because the genitalia is similar, et cetera, et cetera. Then I explained about the dung and I had a small chalkboard, and I said, “This is even used as chalk.” So on the chalkboard, I wrote security benefit. (Gary laughing) And the board chairman said, “There’s been a lot of shit going on in this room, but nothing like this.” (chuckles) And we got the money. (Gary laughing) Again goes to marketing and knowing yourself- Well, yeah. Yeah. Well, if you’re gonna make a pitch, if you’re gonna hit somebody up for money, make it interesting, and make it so they can relate to it, and what it’s all about, well, I would see somebody at a function, at a meeting or something that worked there, but wasn’t at that meeting.

03:56:18 - 03:56:20

And they said, oh, that story’s gone all over the building.

03:56:20 - 03:56:40

(Gary laughing) AZA, how would you, what would your generalization be about how AZA today compares with the AAZPA of when you started?

03:56:41 - 03:58:14

Well, this is just a personal opinion now, and that doesn’t mean that it’s what I’m saying is that things are better or worse, but as a comparison. And this is a somewhat distant view because I haven’t been to a lot of the conferences with, but I hearken back to when I got into the zoo profession, started as a keeper at the Kansas City Zoo in 1957, most zoo people were animal-oriented people. And AZA people at the time, all directors were pretty much animal people. And those who maybe didn’t start out as animal people seemed to have absorbed enough animal knowledge that they could talk the language. And that’s why we were doing what we were doing. As AAZPA then eventually became AZA over the years, the membership categories changed a lot of, and I’m not saying this is bad, but just different. A lot of non-animal people got in to be on the senior level of membership and they’re important people, financial people, public relations people, whatever. And now the last conference I went to was the regional, or kind of a mid-year, I guess you call it, at Oklahoma City.

03:58:15 - 03:58:16

When was that?

03:58:21 - 03:59:24

That was in 2008 or 9. That was 50 years from the, 50 years after the first AZA I attended. The first AZA, which was AAZPA that I attended, was when I had been a keeper at Kansas City Zoo and Mr. Cully, I forgot to tell this about Mr. Cully. Mr. Cully said, “There’s gonna be a meeting of zoo directors in Columbus, Ohio, and I think you should go and I’ll introduce you to the people there.” And I did. I took the bus. Took the Greyhound bus to Columbus, Ohio, in February. And that was 1958, because Colo, the first gorilla born in captivity was born December 22nd, 1956 in Columbus. And I got to hold her when she was two years old, got a picture of me holding Colo. That was a great treat.

03:59:24 - 04:00:25

But there were maybe 40 or 50 people there. And they were the prominent zoo directors of the time or up and coming. There’s only three, of that meeting, there’s only three still alive today. One is Bill Conway, sort of first met Bill Conway. And the other is Ted Reed, now the retired director of National Zoo. And the other is me, but all the other people there, including Marlin, and Moody Lynch and Earl Davis, director of Columbus, father of Don Davis director of Cheyenne Mountain later. So I got to meet all these guys and it was fabulous. I was just a punk kid, was a minuscule keeper, but Mr. Cully was so gracious introducing me to all these guys, boy, what a, and then I got to hold Colo.

04:00:25 - 04:01:30

That was even better than meeting the guys, (laughing) quite honestly. But so that was my first time. So then 50 years later, which would be 2008, I go to Oklahoma City for AZA meeting there. And first of all, of course, a lot of colleagues have passed on or they’re retired and don’t go to these anymore. So I still knew some people and some people knew me, but there was so many people and so many, what we used to almost call the fringe elements of the zoo business were now the prominent people and the animal people were a minority. And I understand now that there is once a year, there’s a, something like a zoo directors retreat or something where it’s just zoo directors. It’s almost like a rebirth of the old AAZPA when the directors got together to talk about animals and director things. So that’s become a subset of the giant AZA these days.

04:01:31 - 04:02:07

But society has changed. The world has changed. That’s the way things are. So I’m not saying it’s good or different. I’m glad, I tell ya. I am so fortunate and so pleased that I was able to be in the zoo profession when I was. Everybody probably thinks this, but I truly think that was the golden age of zoos. It’s when zoos were up and coming and really developing new techniques, glass for animals, all this stuff, it was just great. And I got to be a small part of that whole thing, and all these fabulous people.

04:02:07 - 04:02:09

And now it’s just so different.

04:02:11 - 04:02:23

I’m happy to be retired. (chuckles) If you could go back in time, is there anything, speaking of your directorship, and your tenure, is there anything you would have done differently?

04:02:23 - 04:02:27

If I could go back in time, is there anything I would’ve done differently?

04:02:28 - 04:02:52

What a question. I happen to have my book here and the very last page, page 512, there’s an afterward. It says, if I had to do it all over again, I would. (Gary laughing) (book thuds) We’ve talked about the Topeka Zoo.

04:02:52 - 04:02:54

Can you give us kind of a history of the zoo?

04:02:54 - 04:02:56

How did it develop?

04:02:56 - 04:02:59

Oh, that’s, how did the Topeka Zoo develop?

04:02:59 - 04:03:46

It developed topsy turvy, like so many zoos, small municipal zoos. But here’s the funny thing. When I started in 1963 as zoo director, I wanted the zoo, not just community-wise, locally, we needed to so many things, we’ve talked about that, but I wanted the zoo to become part of the zoo world. We were just kind of a adjunct of the zoo. I wanted to be part of the zoo world. I wanted, not just me going, I wanted the staff to go to conferences. Now we started the regional concept, which was the first one we called the Central Zoo Workshop. And it was, Tulsa came up and St. Louis came over, Omaha came down, it was just that.

04:03:46 - 04:04:22

And then AZA asked me, put me on a committee and that’s, you may recall the director, we used to have five regions and there were five regional con. There was one national and five, I’m the guy who came up with the regions. (Gary laughing) And we had the first regional here. But I wanted the zoo to be part of the zoo world, which meant, like doing such things as filling out the questionnaire for the International Zoo Yearbook, so we would be listed in that and listed in the AZA, AAZPA director at the time, and so on.

04:04:22 - 04:04:32

One of the things it says in the International Zoo Yearbook questionnaire is, what year was your zoo established?

04:04:32 - 04:05:23

Well, I went down to the state historical society, being the state capital, it’s right here in town. Went through all their material, including researching the newspapers. They had this great newspaper collection, went through all the newspapers. And Gage Park was established in 1901, I believe, Guilford Gage had a farm outside of town. And now it’s courts and cities all surrounding it. And he gave that farm property to the city and people had to take the street car out to, then they called it Gage Park. And there was a pond there. And in 1912, that’s 1912 is the first reference to any type of wildlife that people could come and look at.

04:05:23 - 04:06:07

And that was a pair of swans. And there were a few other miscellaneous things. But it was not until 1933 that there was a specific facility built, especially for exotic animals, and they built a monkey island in 1933. So in my wisdom, I said, well, we may have had animals in Gage Park prior to that, but I would, and there were some deer, or whatever. Local guy had found a baby deer, orphaned, and he’d bring it out.

04:06:07 - 04:06:08

And what do we do with it?

04:06:08 - 04:06:23

Well, take it to Gage Park and they put a fence up. But I decided it wasn’t a zoo until somebody built a facility just for exotic animals. That happened in WPA in 1933.

04:06:23 - 04:06:37

So I established the date, 1933. (chuckles) So then in 1983, when the zoo was 50 years old, that’s only because I said it was 1933 when we started, but who knows?

04:06:37 - 04:07:37

I think Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago may have had the same. A lot of zoos start out with people putting native animals in the local or the biggest city park. Then once that happened, then it was just a hodgepodge of miscellaneous things. The famous cowboy movie actor Tom Mix even had a bear in the zoo. They stuck a metal pole in the ground, the bear had a collar on, had a chain around his neck, a collar around his neck and a chain to the pole. And they exhibited him in Gage Park for two or three days when Tom Mix and circus were in town. Funny stuff like that. But to kinda sum up, there was an early park commissioner who built the new greenhouse and then took the old greenhouse and convert it into a monkey, what they called a monkey house.

04:07:37 - 04:08:15

So the monkeys from monkey island, instead of going in winter quarters where they couldn’t be seen, would go into the monkey house. And then they built a large pin for a bison, an elk. And then Preston Hale was the one who built the first units for carnivores, lions and bears. And then they built the yard for George the tapir. And they had a lagoon and they put waterbirds on that. So that’s kinda what the zoo was when it came in 1963. But that’s how it came about.

04:08:15 - 04:08:22

Are there programs or exhibits that you would have liked to have implemented during your time, but just couldn’t?

04:08:24 - 04:09:46

Yes, first, it took, in my opinion, it took so long to get everything done. I mean, we opened the Animals had Man or Large Mammal Building in 1966. We didn’t get the rainforest open until 1974. My gosh, I would’ve liked it done maybe five years later. And then to get Discovering Apes and the Gorilla Encounter, and Lions Pride, my gosh, it just seemed to take forever, because of all the bureaucracy, and sometimes raising the money or whatever. So I would like to have been able to move faster with implementing a master plan. But the one, my biggest disappointment was not being able to do with Lions Pride all of the imaginative things we wanted to do, for example, I wanted to, in addition to the main exhibit for lions, I wanted to have meerkats and a few other, African crested porcupines, and a few other, subsets, smaller species that you would find in lion habitat. But I wanted to really have visitor experiences enhanced.

04:09:46 - 04:10:58

For example, we proposed a large baobab tree, the big fat-trunked trees found in Africa, one that had fallen or been pushed over by an elephant so the trunk was at least five feet in diameter. And part of that was on the visitor pathway. Part of it was in the lion space. And there would be, and where the barrier was between visitors and lions, there would be glass and kids could crawl into this tree trunk and lions could crawl in from the other side, and there you are in this baobab tree face-to-face with the king of the beasts. We didn’t actually get to do that. Then I wanted to have a tug of war with visitors and lions where, say you have an iron pipe and you put a thick rope in it and you tie knots in the rope so that it can only go so far this way, and so far this way, and it extends out into the public space. This would be under supervision with a volunteer. And maybe even issue gloves.

04:10:59 - 04:11:56

And maybe even charge as a little fundraiser. And then from the lion’s side, you have these knots in there and you put a little catnip or something in there, and then you have the people jerk on it and the lions respond. They come over and grab it and take it in their teeth. And then the visitors are pulling here and the lions are pulling there, you have a tug of war with the king of beasts. Well, the city safety department nixed that. Then I wanted to have a Lions Pride bush camp for kids. And we even built in a section, off exhibit section with a view into the exhibit so you could watch behaviors. And we had a behavior chart based on Schaller’s work with lions in the Serengeti, and so on, where kids would go in and spend every day and even into the evening hours, charting their behaviors, and so on.

04:11:56 - 04:12:53

And even, this was about the time technology was coming in in the late 80s. Then our thought was to have that parallel with a researcher in Africa who has lions radio collared or whatever they’re going to do and watching their movements and have the kids compare those movements with the ones at the zoo in Topeka. And now today you can have all this interaction with all the researchers. The kids at the Topeka Zoo could even ask the researcher in Africa questions. And, oh, man, it could be so great that we didn’t get to do that. But I did develop what I called the Cubs Adventure Path, which was parallel to the exhibit, a little path that kids could go down where they had to crawl through a hollow tree trunk, go over a little bridge, so on and so on. I didn’t get permission from the city to do that, because I didn’t think I needed it. We just did it.

04:12:53 - 04:13:22

We had a telescope where kids would look up on the copy rocks and see a eagle’s nest and some high racks, which were little just fiberglass high racks up there. And things like that. And the city, the safety department came out one day and saw it and whack, that was the end of that. So there was, as good as it was, there were so many things, it could’ve been better. In fact, I even have a chapter in a book called, “And It Could’ve Been Better.” Just mention about some of that stuff.

04:13:22 - 04:13:24

So what’s your proudest accomplishment?

04:13:26 - 04:14:55

My proudest accomplishment, probably not a given specific exhibit at the zoo, but my proudest accomplishment I would say is making or is helping the Topeka community to develop into a zoo-oriented community with a sense of zoo, so to speak. And having and developing pride among the people in Topeka and Northeast Kansas, developing pride within them, of the zoo. Part of that was the world famous Topeka Zoo moniker. But they would go to bigger zoos, really great zoos, Lincoln park, Brookfield, San Diego, Bronx, St. Louis, and they’d love ’em and they’d come back and say, and they always wanna tell me. It’s like people who’ve been on safari would go someplace else and they’d go to the Amazon, and come in and wanna tell me about it. They would always wanna tell me about their visit to another zoo and what they saw and what they, then they say, “But we really love our zoo.” (Gary chuckles) And that probably was the greatest accomplishment. We’re not competing with other zoos, we’re cooperating, and we want them to see these other zoos, and they understand that we couldn’t do what they did, but they had a sense of pride. And that that was good.

04:14:55 - 04:14:56

You mentioned other zoos.

04:14:56 - 04:15:03

Are there some that you admire that you think highly of for some reason?

04:15:04 - 04:15:07

Why and where are these zoos?

04:15:11 - 04:15:50

I’ve always admired the Bronx, because despite the zoo being in, maybe not the best neighborhood you could desire, they do all the things I think a zoo should do. I mean, they do great exhibits, innovative exhibits. I remember when Conway tried the fiberglass trees for the orangs and the orangs demolished ’em. But I admired the guy. He tried it. That was great. Education, they’ve always had good education. They are certainly a world leader in conservation and field research. They have a strong scientific arm.

04:15:51 - 04:16:40

They do a lot of these, I think that’s great. And I’ve enjoyed the zoo. And not because I know people from Brookfield and Lincoln park, but those are great zoos. I think Chicago is so unique because Brookfield is originally master-planned in somewhat the formal European garden style, and so on. And Lincoln park, being kind of the overgrown neighborhood zoo city. So for people in Chicago land to have those two, I think that’s fun. And Indian Boundary Park Zoo too is fun. San Diego, because of the extensive animal collection and the botanical collection.

04:16:40 - 04:17:11

St. Louis is creative, enjoyed St. Louis. Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. Earl Wells and his successor done a great job there. Making that zoo part of the community. Denver is great. And Mickey Olson in outside of Phoenix, World Wildlife Zoo and Aquarium, that’s a fabulous little facility. I really enjoyed that. Overseas, I liked the Emmen zoo in the Netherlands.

04:17:11 - 04:17:34

Frankfurt, partly just because, historically, it’s been so significant. I enjoyed that. And when I, in 1969, got to go to both East Berlin and West Berlin, go through the wall and all that stuff, that was exciting. I enjoyed those. I like all zoos though, I mean, I still go to the zoo every chance I get.

04:17:38 - 04:17:42

So in your career, how many zoos do you think you have seen?

04:17:44 - 04:18:31

Some people keep a life list of birds (chuckles) and I guess I kinda, I wasn’t trying to, I wasn’t going to see zoos just to make a long list, but I did keep a list. So it’s been about 250 around the world, including, and I went to Katmandu and I went, I saw the zoo in Katmandu, for one, fun thing. And some Africans in a few remote regions. That’s been fun. I have never been to Japan. I haven’t seen the Japanese zoos. I did get to Seoul. See the Seoul, Korean Zoo. I’ve not been to Australia, but most of the others.

04:18:33 - 04:18:35

Kind of a what do you know.

04:18:35 - 04:18:42

So after all of this, what do you know about the profession that you’ve devoted so many years of your life?

04:18:45 - 04:18:48

What do I know that the profession I’ve devoted so many years of my life?

04:18:48 - 04:19:55

I know that it’s, well, for me, it was exhilarating and rewarding, and literally a dream come true. But I know that the people involved, by and large are there because they wanna be there. Not because they’re making a bunch of money or whatever. They have a passion for what they’re doing. I love that. And I don’t care what it is. If somebody has a passion for what they’re doing, I think that’s terribly important. And I love all these zoo people because they relate to animals and they’re in a special category. And the zoos have done, there’s a lot of things I haven’t done, and maybe a lot of things that need to be done, but they have impacted the public in a very positive way and provided recreation, provided education, but provided memories.

04:19:55 - 04:20:17

Like I said, everybody has a zoo story. I think sometimes it gets a little political. (door squeaks) I think that’s the mailman, do you wanna. So we’ll just stop tape. Yeah, we better stop. No, it’s. Okay.

04:20:17 - 04:20:22

So what do you know about the profession that you’ve devoted so many years of your life?

04:20:23 - 04:20:26

What do I know about the profession I devoted so many years of life to?

04:20:27 - 04:21:34

It’s a great profession. It was exhilarating and rewarding for me personally. One of the greatest things was the association with all my colleagues, all the zoo people, who I think are very special people, because they’re passionate and they’re dedicated. I think the zoos and our profession have had a major cultural impact on our society, on people, well, even worldwide, but especially in our country. Zoos have become part of people’s lives and zoos have touched people’s lives in very special ways. And even, well, ways that I never dreamed possible. One day in our rainforest as I’d make the rounds, I saw a fella in a wheelchair, and a woman with him and figured they were husband and wife, but I didn’t know exactly what the deal, I’d see ’em there every day. And one day my curiosity got the best of me, and I went up and I said, I see you folks here regularly, and it’s nice to see you here.

04:21:34 - 04:22:15

And she volunteered, she said, “My husband is a terminal cancer patient. And he wants to come out to the zoo every day, and particularly here in the rainforest and just sit here because this place exudes life. And it just lifts his spirit.” Well, when we built the rainforest, even I couldn’t have conceived of somebody getting that from it. So I think we touched people in all the ways we don’t even know, zoos. But zoos have become, most zoos are strong cultural institutions and educational institutions and become a part of the community and part of people’s lives, and I think that’s important.

04:22:17 - 04:22:22

How would you like to be remembered?

04:22:22 - 04:22:24

How would I like to be remembered?

04:22:24 - 04:23:28

I would not like to be remembered as a generic Gary Clarke. By that I mean, and my family knows this, whatever, I don’t want a funeral as such, ’cause I’m gonna be already, my wife has even agreed I’d be cremated. And some of my buddies are gonna take my ashes back to Africa and have parties everywhere where they scatter ’em. (chuckles) But I don’t want a memorial service where there’s, I see this when I go, a lot of my friends are passing away, so I go to their funerals or memorial services. And there’s a table and there’s a picture of them as a young person. And there’s a picture in their career. And then there’s, and their kids get up and say what a great father or parent this person was, and all that, I don’t want any of that stuff. Everybody that I’ve met or I’ve known has their own individual perception of me. I’d just like to leave it at that.

04:23:28 - 04:23:53

However it is. Some people know me as the zoo guy. Some people know me as a safari guy. Some people just know me as a crazy guy with stupid jokes. My family knows me as a husband or father, or whatever. And I would just like to leave it at that. It’s not how I want to be remembered. It’s how people decide to remember me.

04:23:55 - 04:23:56

Gary, I see you have a warthog there.

04:23:56 - 04:23:58

Can you tell me something about it?

04:24:00 - 04:24:36

I love warthogs. Most people who go on safaris love warthogs. Of course, Disney in the “Lion King” made the warthog a real character, with Pumbaa and everything. This is a little sculpture of a warthog from a friend of mine in Africa, but there’s a fabulous little poem about warthogs that I’ll share with you. The warthog’s always running for a most important date. He’s not sure just where it is, but he knows he can’t be late. His family follows after the females and the males, horizontal are their snouts and vertical their tails. They run and stop and run and stop and then they look around.

04:24:36 - 04:24:48

Whatever they are seeking, you can be sure it won’t be found. But if you want to reach them, I suggest that you leave word with the message-taking service of the secretary bird.

About Gary K. Clarke

Gary K. Clarke
In Memoriam
Jan 19, 1939 - Jan 11, 2019
Download Curricula Vitae


Topeka Zoological Park: Topeka, Kansas

Director Emeritus

Gary’s first zoo job, in 1957, was as a zoo attendant at the Kansas City Zoo. Later he moved into the position of animal keeper. His experience with reptiles was advanced when he took a job with the Midwest Research Institute. In 1962 he moved to the Fort Worth Zoo where as curator he had the opportunity to meet Emily Hahn who was writing her book Animal Gardens. The zoo had some unique animals some like the pangolin were featured in Life Magazine. Topeka Zoo came calling and Gary became the director of the zoo in 1963 at the tender age of 24.

When the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA) broke away from the National Recreation & Park Association (NRPA) in 1971, Gary became the first president of the new association. When he retired from the zoo profession he turned to his second passion Africa. Gary has led over 100 safaris.

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