September 28th 2010 | Director

George Rabb

Despite running Brookfield Zoo, one of the Chicago area's top tourist attractions, for decades and even living in a house on zoo grounds, George Rabb was probably better known in the international zoo and conservation communities than he was locally.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:00 - 00:00:08

I’m George Rabb. I was born in Charleston, South Carolina on January 2, 1930.

00:00:11 - 00:00:17

And when you were growing up, what zoos, if any, were you exposed to?

00:00:17 - 00:00:53

Well, there really was not a zoo in Charleston, South Carolina. There was a park in Midtown, so to speak, that had mainly birds of different varieties and species, but there was no zoo as such in Charleston when I was growing up. Instead there was the Charleston Museum, which had an outstanding live amphibian and reptile collection. And I became associated with that early on.

00:00:55 - 00:01:00

Were you interested in zoos or working at zoos as a young age?

00:01:00 - 00:02:21

No, I wasn’t interested in zoos at a young age. I was interested in the outdoors and the creatures around. My turn on really came when the family moved for a year up to Lumberton, North Carolina. And in that circumstance, I was in the seventh grade when I left Charleston and somehow got booted up into high school in Lumberton. And there was a wonderful teacher Ms. Petri who had a master’s degree in marine biology and don’t ask me why but (George chuckles) she gave me the key to the lab. And it was quite a lab, chemistry and biology. It had a dark room attached, and so on, and so forth, but microscopes all over, and so on. But she was a very trusting person, I must say, because among other things, we made white lightning in the dark room and stored it there.

00:02:21 - 00:03:46

We tested the white lightning on the lab rats, and so forth. We also manufactured explosives. And one of the incidents in that time was that there was a county agent meeting at the high school and they asked us to vacate the lab. And we warned them that in this big galvanized tub, there were explosive materials, and they shouldn’t touch it. And of course some idiot did touch it. It went up to the ceiling, came down on this camel’s hair coat and I got called to the principal’s office. But that was sort of incidental to the freedom and to explore in terms of the creatures that we had for the biology class, and so forth. But what I remember most about Ms. Petri and her introduction of us to the world around us was a trip not very far out of the town where we were in a small bus and we just pulled off the highway onto a side road.

00:03:49 - 00:04:38

And she said, “Get out and sit down.” And we got out and sat down in what looked like just a vacant field, a little grassy vacant field. But it was really a turn on. It was a field of Venus flytraps. That’s the very age of the range, about 70 miles out of Wilmington, North Carolina. So this was the inland extent of the Venus flytrap in its natural range. And (chuckles) I didn’t sit. I laid on my belly for most of the afternoon watching the Venus flytraps at work. It was a marvelous experience.

00:04:40 - 00:06:04

So when I went back to Charleston, I was really already turned on by the experiences that she’d given us and allowed us in terms of our experiments and so forth. So that was quite a turn on. And then when I got back, fortunately the Curator at the museum Burnham Chamberlain was a very tolerant person too. And he put up with us on the bird walks and things of that sort. He was basically into ornithology himself. And down the road, I would have some further association in terms of his book with Alexander Sprunt on the birds of South Carolina. But to begin, he tolerated us in terms of us bringing in the specimens from the beaches, the shells, et cetera, and then graduating up into herp things, salamanders and frogs, and whatnot, and an occasional snake. But he, again, was a very tolerant person.

00:06:05 - 00:06:56

And it was fortunate in terms of the mischiefs we got into with some of the bird walks with adults comprising the majority, but with us right alongside. So that’s my beginning. It wasn’t in a zoo or zoo circumstances. It was in the natural world in the low country. And as I said, that beginning year in high school in Lumberton, North Carolina was a very, (chuckles) very understanding, very inquiring, very stimulating teacher Ms. Petri.

00:06:56 - 00:07:03

Did you know then that nature or science was a direction you wanted to go into?

00:07:04 - 00:09:29

Well, I’d… (chuckling) I’d grown up being curious about the creatures around and in Charleston, for instance, we used to try to bring the bats down by throwing objects in the air and then waving branches, et cetera, when they did swoop down after the objects. And we collected creatures from the nearby marshes, et cetera in the city itself. And there were creatures of all kinds, but particularly the anolis lizard that was all about the city. But there were also circumstances where you had to appreciate the natural world and the creatures therein. But I do remember, for instance, seeing my first bald eagle robbing an osprey over what was called Colonial Lake, which was far down on the peninsula in Charleston. You don’t forget things like that, nor do you forget pulling a toad fish from that same little lake, which was a very artificial lake that was connected to the Ashley River. But things of that sort stick with you from childhood on, you remember the ugliness of the toad fish, but you also remember the spectacular flight dynamics of the eagle and osprey and their encounters. So we had that sort of thing all about us and the beaches around the city provided other entertainment such as crabbing and shrimping and the waterways behind the Islands, et cetera.

00:09:30 - 00:11:02

So there were all kinds of growing up adventures of that kind. But I do remember too in front of my grand parental home in Lumberton, North Carolina, there was a giant live oak that extended out into the highway. And I remember that, because I tracked the carpenter ants that made their way into the oak and up its trunk, and so forth. But I had my ear pressed to the ground, listening for what the ants were saying to one another. And of course I had to then experiment by bringing them into the house and liberating them there (chuckles) to the annoyance of my uncles, aunts, and grandparents. (George chuckles) So that affiliation, that bonding with the natural world in my case, occurred very early. And it wasn’t, as I say, there was no one in the family who particularly had any interest of that sort, but they were tolerant, thank God.

00:11:03 - 00:11:05

What was your formal schooling?

00:11:05 - 00:11:07

What are your degrees?

00:11:07 - 00:13:25

Well, I went to the College of Charleston after my high school in Charleston and at the College of Charleston, a very small faculty, a very small institution at the time, but it had been around for a couple of hundred years. So it was quite a delight in terms of the people in biology, for instance, the one of them departed for Woods Hole in the summer. And one off to Emory, as I remember. But at any rate, they kept in touch with their professional domains and were again very challenging and very trusting in terms of my education. But the unusual was also there in terms of the College of Charleston and that the math professor, Coleman, he was an amateur mammalogist and he had his own collection. And so when the first text on American mammals came out of Cornell, (George chuckles) he offered a course, a college course in mammalogy. And (chuckles) so I took that of course and got pretty well acquainted with the mammal domain in terms of variety of mammals, both in this country and elsewhere. And so Coleman’s interest, and eventually his collection came to the Charleston Museum, but he encouraged us indeed.

00:13:26 - 00:15:06

He offered an additional semester long course on advanced mammalogy in which we could do whatever we wanted. And I studied the Peromyscus, the wood mice and a friend who was in a class ahead of me Arthur Ravenel Jr., and Ravenel, by the way, is honored by the bridge across the Cooper River, a spectacular bridge that, if you haven’t seen, there are pictures in the American Scientist of the bridge because of the engineering. But at that time, Arthur Ravenel was not a Congressman yet. He was still a college student and he had an old Model T Ford that we went out in the countryside with to collect the cotton rats and Peromyscus, and other creatures. So he was quite a character even then though. And I remember him slamming on breaks as we were crossing out of the actually, out of Charleston. And he slammed on breaks behind a guy who just hit a fox. A beautiful fox.

00:15:08 - 00:16:19

And he ran out to the guy, “You’ve killed my fox!” (George laughing) And the guy of course was extremely apologetic, et cetera, et cetera. And (chuckles) so Arthur comes back to the Model T with the fox in his arms. And so that was a pretty good specimen collection to the start of our journey that morning. But he was quite a character to be with. Not that my studies on the Peromyscus amounted to anything I tried to track the molting patterns in terms of their seasonal changes, et cetera, but it didn’t amount to a hill of beans, but I got a lot of exposure to, how to set up trap lines, and so forth. And the natural circumstances of the varied situations in which you found the wood mice.

00:16:20 - 00:16:24

Now your advanced degrees were where?

00:16:25 - 00:17:58

Both masters and doctorate were at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I only applied to three places. And because of my interest at that time in terms of going on in herpetological studies, I applied to Florida, Harvard and Michigan. Florida wanted some 200 bucks at that time. This was just the 50s. Florida wanted 200 bucks to look at my application and Harvard and Michigan offered me fellowships. So because a friend of mine Jim Moseman was already at Ann Arbor and assured me that that was a very comfortable place to continue my education, I went to Michigan and as I think I indicated that, and I’d been turned off on the bird side because my mentor at the museum had a nervous breakdown trying to complete the birds of South Carolina with Alexander Sprunt Jr. And a lot of it was in relation to the references in the book.

00:17:59 - 00:19:31

And so I spent a summer, sort of final summer in my college time checking all of the references in their book. And this involved, among other things, going through the Audubon Folio and the museum had original Audubons. It had Catesby, et cetera. So I had a wonderful experience documenting, species by species, the original references, et cetera, on those species. So it was a delightful occasion on the one hand, but sort of a sad one, knowing that my mentor was in pretty ill health. One of his brothers was teaching at the College of Charleston in Greek and Latin. The other was a neurosurgeon, but would not touch his brother in respect to his ailment. He later recovered fully and became even more ardent conservationist than he was.

00:19:32 - 00:21:45

But he’d introduced me to so many things that, before I went to Michigan, my final summer was at the Emory University Field Station in Southwest in Georgia, in Baker County, Georgia. The Emory University Field Station was not populated by Emory University students. It was University of Georgia students under Eugene Odum. It was also the last US Public Health Service Station for endemic malaria in the United States. So it was quite an occasion and so that was my final summer. But before going off to grad school, but I must say that because my mentor Burnham Chamberlain had challenged me with papers that were coming out at the time in ecology and herpetology and mammalogy, and whatever else, but he would just casually say, “You might be interested in this and you might find this a value,” et cetera. So when I went down to the field station and Odum visited a couple of times during the summer to make sure his grad students were on track with their projects, et cetera, there was nothing the graduate student said that I was not already familiar with. So it was quite a valuable experience to have the kind of mentoring that I received from Burnham Chamberlain.

00:21:48 - 00:24:31

But I turned off in terms of ornithology as a result, especially because the replacement curator at the museum came down from Cleveland, Cleveland Museum. And all he was interested in were the lengths of the primary feathers on the wings of the local birds. And I felt this was not very attractive subject in terms of my interest at all. I was already into salamanders and creatures of that kind, but I was turned off in terms of the field of ornithology as a result of Burnham’s illness. And this replacement curator from Cleveland, whom I will not name. So going to Michigan, and as I say, with a friend already in place and valuing the faculty and the circumstances highly, it was quite a good situation for me to enter into. So that’s where I started and after the first year a master’s degree, and all of that, and then I jumped out to Montana to dig Indian remains from the side of the Tiber Reservoir, which was sort of the first highest up the Missouri River that they put any such endowment of the waters and so it was, again, an interesting experience with a bunch of people of similar interest and backgrounds out there in the field. And my friend Moseman and I actually collected sufficient reptiles and amphibians to publish a paper on the herptile front of that part of the country.

00:24:31 - 00:26:44

So it was a worthwhile first summer in grad school. But then came a real opportunity in terms of the… An offer that came to not go back to Mexico, which I’d visited with a couple of my Charleston friends, Moseman and Azel. And where we’d collected salamanders and other things. But it was a different experience in terms of what was going on in the world. So I did have that kind of experience behind me and also another summertime experience before grad school was fighting forest fires in California. An interesting time, but didn’t collect many herps in the process, but got to see California in a different fashion. Again with college mates, some of whom got, were in the parachute crew, et cetera, but I felt that was a little too risky and so on, but in terms of the graduate school, so instead of going on to do a thesis work on the salamanders, I instead had took up an offer of a position on a little expedition to The Bahama Islands.

00:26:46 - 00:28:41

And (chuckles) it’s a wonder I’m here today, because this was a American Museum, Natural History expedition. The co-owner of the little schooner, a 45-foot schooner had been a Navy destroyer commander. So I felt he must know the business but (sighs) he didn’t, and he couldn’t read the water, which in The Bahamas is essential. But at any rate I spent, we spent five and a half months from late December to May in The Bahamas, sailing down the whole length. And that includes the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as what’s officially The Bahama islands and the other members of the crew included a man who worked with Archie Carr, and who’d sailed his own little sloop down from Canada down the East Coast. And I felt he had the capacity if we got into difficulty. So fortunately he did. The other member of the crew was a grad student in entomology Out of the University of Kansas.

00:28:45 - 00:29:07

But it was quite an adventurous time in terms of collecting creatures. And particularly I concentrated on the Leiocephalus, the curly-tailed lizards that were so abundant right through the islands, on the beaches for the most part.

00:29:08 - 00:29:24

Well, now, after moving on and getting your degree from the University of Michigan, did you see yourself going into academia or were you thinking of different directions?

00:29:25 - 00:32:13

In terms of whether I saw myself going on to academia or not, what I saw when I concluded, or was near concluding my studies on the variation in these lizards that was the basis of my thesis, the documenting the divisions of this species on the islands basically corresponded to the place, to seein’ larger islands that united the, say the creatures on the great banks and the northern part and so forth. Any rate, and considering academic positions, there was one here at Northwestern, there was one at Brown University, and one elsewhere in terms of my background and I’d had, by that time, considerable teaching fellowship experience. So I’d been teaching in grad school. Again with very trusting professors (George chuckling) who left the class to me. And this included advanced anatomy, comparative anatomy, and so on. So I did consider academic positions, but frankly, I was also a bit tired of that and looking for other adventures, shall we say, intellectual and otherwise. And there were two gentleman who came over to Ann Arbor in the last year or so of my time there who made a difference in terms of an opportunity, a different opportunity. There were no museum positions in the country at the time, but the two gentlemen from Chicagoland, one was K.P. Schmidt who was a chief curator of zoology at the Field Museum and who’d himself studied and collected salamanders in Guatemala in particular.

00:32:13 - 00:34:09

And whom I made acquaintance with before. K.P. came over to Michigan and gave an absolutely outstanding lecture on the Humboldt Current. And there were no slides, nothing, but he created the Humboldt Current and all of the birds, the fishes, et cetera, so that felt the surf, you felt the fog, et cetera. It was a marvelous, marvelous lecture to Sigma side. And the other gentleman who came over and gave a lecture was Alfred Emerson. Well known for his studies on termites and whatnot, and was professor at University of Chicago and both Emerson and Schmidt were part of the great apes that authored the first text on animal ecology in America. Allee, Emerson, Park, Park, and Schmidt. And it happened that Emerson and Schmidt were part of a three, or four-person team of the Chicago Zoological Society trustees that was looking to employ a person to fulfill an unfilled part of the agenda, the mission of the Chicago Zoological Society.

00:34:09 - 00:35:01

And that was in terms of research and why they favored me in the, (George chuckles) why they even considered me in terms of this position, God knows, but as I say, I had previous acquaintance with K. P. Schmidt and that’s how I came to Brookfield, because of them. And it was certainly an unusual position at the time. The only other research position in American zoos and aquariums was actually at the New York Aquarium. It was quite an unusual situation.

00:35:01 - 00:35:04

And I felt, well, what the heck?

00:35:05 - 00:36:36

It’s worth Fling, so to speak. But it was a very, very interesting engaging time to come to such an institution and help develop a program that had been committed to back in the 20s when the Chicago Zoological Society was formed. So that’s how I came to be at Brookfield Zoo. And I came in November 1, 1956, to Brookfield after a haring Halloween night, getting here through various, there were no super highways or anything of that sort. And I had four flat tires in the morning as a result of Halloween pranks at Sarah. But November 1 at Brookfield Zoo in 1956 was also the arrival of their first female okapi. And so I wasn’t noticed for a month. Now you had mentioned this lecture on the Humboldt Current.

00:36:37 - 00:36:42

Can you kind of talk to me in descriptive terms what was the zoo like when you first arrived?

00:36:42 - 00:36:44

Who was the director?

00:36:45 - 00:36:46

What did you come to?

00:36:47 - 00:36:49

What had you gotten yourself into?

00:36:49 - 00:38:45

(George laughing) Well, in terms of what I found when I came to Brookfield and explored on my own for the first month was that the director at the time was Robert Bean, the son of the original director. And he was absolutely entranced by, as I say, the arrival of the first female okapi. They already had a male okapi from Ringling Brothers, the circus that had been impounded, so to speak, by the Fish and Wildlife Service. And Bean was so frequently in the giraffe house where the okapis were that I hardly saw him for the first month. He did not give me any direction. Indeed he entrusted me to the mentorships of the existing staff and K.P. Schmidt and Emerson, and also Smith Freeman, who was an MD at Northwest who was another part of the team. And I was courted in the animal hospital, which Smith Freeman had gotten built. And it was at the time the only, clearly separate facility for animal medicine and health in the country.

00:38:46 - 00:40:37

So it was a quite good facility. And so I established quotas in the animal hospital and began dallying about in terms of what kinds of studies I might carry on. And in the process, of course, I got to know Robert Snedigar, the curator of the reptile house. And also it happened he had some very fine creatures in the form of the Surinam toad and he had experience. He himself had come out of the American Museum of Natural History where he’d assisted G.K. Noble who’d done the original substantial work on the behavior and biology of the amphibians. And Snedigar had had his own field experience quite similar to my adventures in The Bahamas. And indeed there was a book written about the expedition he was on down in Guyana and other parts of South America. And it was so much like what I had experienced, I felt that there was no use putting out another book on the same tribulations in terms of field experiences, but Snedigar was pretty comfortable with a colleague, especially from the museum field.

00:40:38 - 00:41:48

And he was a gifted person himself in terms of being able to articulate and craft words. And, for instance, Encyclopedia Britannica was producing a little children’s book. And it really was atrociously written. And at the last moment, they had photos, et cetera, they were all set to print. Except when someone read the text, it was just unacceptable for publication. And so Snedigar, in the course of a month, rewrote the text. And I helped him a little on that, but he himself was purely gifted in terms of writing, in terms of expression about the natural world, and so forth. And it’s unfortunate that he did not produce more.

00:41:49 - 00:42:25

At any rate, so I did find some colleagues in respect to getting oriented and whatnot, but it wasn’t from the head of the zoo at the time, because he was preoccupied with the welfare and the behavior of the new newly acquired okapi. Now you gave yourself a title, you bestowed yourself a title, the curator and coordinator of research. Right. This is a title you made up. Yes.

00:42:25 - 00:42:29

And what did you see your responsibilities as?

00:42:29 - 00:44:14

Well, in terms of my making up the title on curator and coordinator of research, what I wanted to do was try to involve, especially, other people in studies of the animals and it didn’t matter what it was, whether it was in terms of the medical side of the scene. And they did have Dr. Evelyn Tilden who’d come from Northwest and studying the fungal infections of creatures ranging from penguins on. But in terms of the notion of coordinating, I wanted to attract people from the universities who might carry out some substantial studies. And in particular, of course, I was looking to grad students. And since I had already had the link with Emerson at the University of Chicago, that was a natural source. And so I became associated with the university. And in particular in the, shortly after I came, there was a great occasion here in Chicago. And that was the centennial of Darwin’s book, 1859.

00:44:16 - 00:46:23

So it was quite an occasion at the University of Chicago when people from all over the world came to testify to the importance of that singular work in terms of how we had come to be, how we had evolved, and so on, and so forth. So that reinforced my contacts with people at the university and enabled us to attract some students in different enterprises and subsequent years. But I became acquainted with several people at the university that steered students our way. But some came from elsewhere and students on sort of assigned enterprises in terms of looking at different situations to do their research in. And one of them came from Antioch College early on and did a summer study, et cetera, with me. But as I say, I mean, the range of investigations was substantial and through the course of the years, we took different kinds of little investigations. So for instance, on the toxic salivary glands of that strange creature solenodon from Cuba, that I published that in the Chicago Academy of Science Bulletin. So interesting and strange things.

00:46:23 - 00:46:29

So this university connection was a very positive one for the zoo.

00:46:29 - 00:46:36

Was it, any other zoo ever at the time have anything like this?

00:46:36 - 00:48:00

Not really, not really, Mark, in terms of the field as a whole. There simply wasn’t the consistent application. I was proceeded in terms of my position by an investigator at New York at Bronx Zoo in the middle 30s. They had hired a man who was into animal behavior, but he came and he could not give up his domestic ducks. And after a year, the trustees of the New York Zoological Society fired him, because they couldn’t understand why he couldn’t turn his attention to the tigers or something else that the zoo featured rather than ducks, domestic ducks, especially. So there was a 20-year gap before I came along. As I noted, there was a position at the New York Aquarium, but in terms of zoos, it just wasn’t part of the tradition when I came.

00:48:01 - 00:48:03

Were you embraced by the staff?

00:48:04 - 00:50:03

Well, the staff was, they were accepting and as I say with Snedigar, the curator of reptiles and amphibians, so he was certainly embracing, especially with my museum background. And the other principal curator was Karl Plath, who was curator birds. And Karl had an artist background. Indeed was still a practicing artist while he was a curator of birds. So in terms of the, shall we say the professional administrative staff, there certainly wasn’t resistance, et cetera. I mean, they were all curious about what I might get into and what I might foster. And among the keepers of the time, there wasn’t real embracement of such a position as I occupied. And then indeed, early on one of the first grad students I assisted was studying the products in the urine of primates, trying to get a handle on the, so to speak indirectly on the genetics of the creatures.

00:50:03 - 00:51:06

And then the process, we were sampling the urine from all of the primates. And there was considerable resistance to sampling all of the primates, especially when you’re cramming them into steel cages to get uncontaminated urine. But eventually some came around, Jim Raul, for instance, in the small mammal house, he embraced my presence and my curiosity about the creatures, et cetera. So that went okay. But as you’re indicating, I mean, yes, there’s novelty to such a position and an institution. And you have to put up with some of the outcomes as a result of that novelty of the position itself.

00:51:06 - 00:51:09

Did you have a thought process of where you wanted to take this?

00:51:16 - 00:53:55

In terms of where I thought it might be, the program that I might foster might go clearly, I saw more than one challenge in terms of the future. And For instance, one of the things I appreciated early on is that there wasn’t a formal education program at Brookfield. Snedigar, in an adjacent building at the zoo, adjacent to the reptile house, it was a small building that actually was devoted mainly to insects at the beginning, but Snedigar used that building to give public lectures and with some very primitive apparatus in terms of projecting images on a screen, and so on. But there was no formal program in relation to the school systems. And I saw that as a considerable deficiency, knowing from my own background in the museum business how important that was in terms of educating the surrounding population, and especially the kids in schools. So I was, in part, diverted from simply focusing on research avenues by the need also to develop an educational program at Brookfield. In the meantime, early on, I’d gotten into, really, the animal behavior field, which was being reborn at the University of Chicago. And as I recall, at least five different departments at the University of Chicago were rediscovering animal behavior as a field.

00:53:57 - 00:56:35

And it happened that with our, so to speak, accidental discovery of the complex mating ritual of the Surinam toad, that I got into studying the behavior of those creatures, the reproductive behavior. But at the same time, because of the interest of people at the University of Chicago, I got into studying the social behavior of the wolves that had been installed in a new, fairly ample enclosure, at least ample enclosure for that time in the zoo business. So this was the early 60s. And so it was the professor and students from the University of Chicago, including such people as Devra Kleiman when she was an undergrad, but she came along to watch the wolves, especially in the mating season, and so on and so forth. And Devra Kleiman, as I’m sure you’re well aware, and probably have had others site, became really an outstanding person in relation to animal behavior in general, but also in terms of the simple, shall we say, biological features of the mammals in zoo collections. And Devra just died this summer. And on the occasion of the third edition of the volume on the mammals that the University of Chicago has published. So at the time, at the time, Mark, I did not have a general conception, but animal behavior was clearly something where there could be major contributions, especially in terms of the diversity of creatures that one had available and had available around the clock, which was an advantage, say, over trying to observe them in the field where your chances, especially with many, many species, your chances of continuous observation are simply not there.

00:56:36 - 00:56:46

George, what type of relationships were you able to develop in the research field when you were at the zoo, both nationally and internationally?

00:56:52 - 00:58:35

In terms of relationships nationally and internationally, and in respect to research, it was largely in regard to animal behavior. I was quite active in getting the animal behavior effort going in this country. And indeed one of my students whom I was co-chair on her committee, Anne Clark, who later became the, much later, became president of the Animal Behavior Society. There were people like that that were involved early on. Anne did her doctoral work over in Africa, looking at galagos and things. So early on, I was into the animal behavior side in respect to research and also participating in some of the meetings of other groups that I presume you’ll ask about later. And in relation to conservation. But early on in terms of research, it was basically in respect to animal behavior.

00:58:35 - 01:00:15

I mean, I continued my herpetological involvement by being the editor of Copeia, the main journal in the herpetological field, the main professional journal. And I got into that because of my friend Bob Inger at the Field Museum. He was editor of Copeia and he took off for the National Science Foundation for a couple of years, worked there in Washington. And so he sort of handed off the journal to me. And I was familiar with the journal from the involvement of editors at University of Michigan who’d edited the journal, both in the herpetological and ichthyological areas. And one of the things they did, which was very educational at the time as a grad student, was that they would hand an incoming paper to a grad student and said, review this. And then they would allow you to see the reviews that came back from the professional outside reviewers of a paper submitted to the journal. So I was not uncomfortable at all when Bob Inger handed off the journal to me.

01:00:17 - 01:01:13

But as a result of my editing Copeia for several years and other work with the herpetological community, I became president of the American Society of Ichthyology and Herpetology, So that, again, gave additional exposure in terms of both the international field, because it was the principal journal in the area. So in addition to animal behavior, I mean, my herpetological interest was continued. So I had a lot of exposure on that front, but those are the principal avenues in which I was engaged.

01:01:13 - 01:01:21

Were you able to expand internationally with people in Europe that were doing research?

01:01:25 - 01:03:14

In terms of international endeavors and linkages, et cetera, there were really, really this country, in terms of zoos and aquariums, was hardly in the game compared to the established tradition in Europe. But early on, remarkably enough, I made the acquaintance on one of their visits was the Hedigers. (George chuckles) And this was really a, quite a pleasure for me because I had become acquainted with his works, his seminal works. Again, I’m basically in animal behavior, but Hediger certainly established that tradition and reinforced it in Europe in terms of the research in zoos and studies of the creatures. So early on, I made the acquaintance of Hediger at Brookfield Zoo. So I had a ready-made link for the future. And that was greatly appreciated by me. And later by him when I gave a major presentation at his 80th birthday celebration many years later in Zurich.

01:03:16 - 01:03:19

For the record, can you mention his works?

01:03:19 - 01:03:20

I’m sorry?

01:03:20 - 01:03:21

Can you mention Hediger’s works?

01:03:21 - 01:04:47

Yeah. That his major publications that zoo people hopefully will continue to read. Well, indeed, I hope, Hediger is still an inspiration in terms of the diversity of interest that he exhibited in respect to animal behavior. And he, not only inspired people in terms of further studies in animal behavior, but also in human behavior. Ed Hall who was actually a trustee at one point of the Chicago Zoological Society. Hall’s two cardinal books in terms of human behavior were partly inspired by Hediger’s work. And so it wasn’t just limited to revelations in respect to animal behavior, but also in terms of behavior of other creatures such as ourselves. So, no, it’s cardinally important that people pick up his several works that go back to the 30s.

01:04:48 - 01:05:26

And people often, unless it’s 2009 or 2010, they don’t pay attention, but there are seminal works of that sort. And in my article in Zoological Garden about the talk I gave on the 80th anniversary, I did illustrate the people that he’d affected outside of the zoo field.

01:05:29 - 01:05:39

Now when you talk about, we’re talking about Hediger a bit, but what would you say were some of, in research, some of your major accomplishments at the zoo?

01:05:41 - 01:07:36

Well, clearly the investigations on the reproductive behavior of the amphibians, the Hymenochirus and other Pipid frogs, I mean, that was revelatory at the time and extended far beyond what was in G.K. Noble, and so on, beforehand. So that stimulated a lot of people. And in terms of investigations of that kind. The cardinal publication on the behavior of the wolves, social behavior of the wolves at Brookfield that stimulated, again, a lot of interest outside, was published in the American Zoologist, and so on. And in terms of the, (chuckles) you should know that I kept up my museum affiliation at the Field Museum. And it’s very interesting how things can contribute in the parallel fashion. So, Snedigar, for one reason or another, had acquired, for the reptile collection, on exhibited at Brookfield, was a strange creature called Azemiops. And that’s, not an overly large snake from Southeastern Asia.

01:07:39 - 01:09:55

An it didn’t conform to any normal habits of the creatures, either burrowing, or climbing, or whatever. I mean, it did all sorts of things in its enclosure, which wasn’t overly furnished in terms of apparatus like tree branches and so on. But at any rate, this colorful creature died, and I took it down to the museum, and that led to some investigations that I was already attracted to with the associate curator Hymen Marx who worked alongside Bob Inger at Field Museum. So this led to an enormous investigation in terms of the characteristics that we used to define species, the morphological characteristics. At the time, we didn’t have the capacity to do any of the genetical work, but this led to a truly major publication on the morphological characteristics of snakes. But the Azemiops led to a particular revelation with Carl Liam who went from Field Museum to Harvard. He died a couple of years ago, but Carl and Hy Marx and I really worked on the relationships of Azemiops. And it turns out that this creature sort of speaks straddley the phylogenetic position between the viperine snakes of the old world and the crotaline, the rattle snakes, and relatives, in the new world.

01:09:58 - 01:11:33

So we published a paper essentially bringing those, what were considered two separate families under an even larger umbrella of the viperine. But that was a singularly interesting piece of work. And by the way, I checked all of the dissecting work that Carl did on Saturdays and I was at the zoo during the week and went down on Saturdays and checked the dissections, et cetera. But that was a major contribution in terms of looking at the evolutionary background of the snakes in general. And we published in the journal Evolution on the singular position of the snakes of South American terms of a whole development of the advanced snakes of the world. So that was, as I say, I mean, it sort of got stimulated by some findings at Brookfield Zoo. There was another creature before the Azemiops. It was a sand-dwelling creature, Eristicophis from Central Asia, a viper.

01:11:33 - 01:12:21

And that’s what got Hy and I on that track to begin with. So the creatures that came into the zoo and unfortunately perished not too long after, and we didn’t have the protocols in terms of screening for infections and diseases, et cetera that’s commonplace now, although we had the animal hospital and had the capacity, the techniques simply weren’t there. I mean, for the mammals, yes, but for the reptiles, no. You mentioned the hospital and the zoo.

01:12:21 - 01:12:26

When you first came to the zoo, what kind of physical plant did you find?

01:12:26 - 01:13:50

State of the art, needed help. You were the new guy, so you looked at it with fresh eyes. Well, (George chuckling) with fresh eyes, you saw a pretty traditional setup, except for a couple of instances. For instance, the Australia House, which was novel in the American zoo scene for many years, It was there at the start because of Robert Bean’s expedition as a director of the San Diego Zoo, his expedition over to Australia. So when he joined his father at Brookfield, he established the Australia House. And in the Australia House, there was very large arena, indoor arena for kangaroos and other species of marsupials from Australia. But for the most part, while there were barless enclosures in, say the pachyderm house, which had large moats in front of the spaces inside, the spaces weren’t furnished. They were bare.

01:13:50 - 01:16:13

And then there were traditional setups in terms of the barred cages for the primates, glass cages for the great apes. But for the most part, it was rather primitive in my view and animals like the small mammals were simply not accommodated in any substantial fashion in respect to their behavioral needs. They were put in, what was literally a steel box, a windowed steel box, and that was it. But the outdoor enclosures of course were the feature of Brookfield in emulating what was done originally at Hagenbeck’s Tierpark, but earlier than that at Basel in Switzerland, as I later saw. The gunite enclosures were certainly a dramatic facilitation in terms of the view of the animals that were no longer in stockades, et cetera. And so those features of Brookfield certainly were appreciated by even a novice in the field. But for the most part, the indoor enclosures were certainly not of the quality that we later came to recognize would be valuable for people to enjoy and witness, et cetera. And I had an early part in this development of more naturalistic settings for the animals and that Hediger allowed us to start experimenting in the special invertebrate building, adjacent to the bird house and the reptile house on the main plaza at Brookfield.

01:16:14 - 01:16:43

And so we got some things started there that, I mean, they were small inclusions, but we did experiment in terms of furnishings, et cetera, that brought out different behaviors in the creatures. You talked about when you first came there, Robert Bean was director. Right. And you’ve worked for a number of directors before becoming director at Brookfield.

01:16:43 - 01:16:48

What was your relationship with these various individuals?

01:16:48 - 01:16:51

What was your relationship with Robert Bean?

01:16:52 - 01:19:24

Well, with Robert Bean, we had, after I came, the society officially formed a science committee of the board of trustees. And it was usually headed by someone down at the University of Chicago. Emerson first and then some of the chairs of zoology, but also in the biomedical arena. But I tried to get Robert Bean to understand that the future of these institutions was going to relate to knowing more about their animals, knowing more, and not only about say what animal health requirements there were, but also about their behavioral needs and the desire of some of the trustees to put them in more natural circumstances for the public to view. And I remember encouraging him in terms of fostering further development of the institution in this fashion, but Robert Bean had his own, so to speak, mantra. (George chuckles) And among other things, that did not include records of the animals, simple data in terms of the, say, mating of the animals or the results of the rearing of animals, et cetera, nothing of that sort. While the zoo started with big catalogs of the creatures in the collection and where they came from, Robert was adverse. Despite his acquaintance with the Europeans and their systems, et cetera, I mean, he made several trips abroad.

01:19:26 - 01:21:28

Even while I was there, Robert was frequently on the road to Europe and visiting the institutions there. So it was a curious, curious circumstance, a sort of paradox in terms of his non-interest in keeping adequate records, et cetera, that one could then analyze. I mean, when the animals came into the hospital, we detailed data on their condition, and so on, and so forth, their background, but other than that, there weren’t records on the collection as a whole. So that was pretty curious. At Brookfield, in terms of the leadership, I mean, we went through a little period of joint directorship with Blake Lee and others, but that didn’t last long. And so the trustees began a search, while they were also searching for money of considerable dimensions, they began a search for a new director. I didn’t put my hat in the ring at that time, because I knew there were substantial needs, but in terms of administering, leading the institution, but I felt there were also great needs in terms of continuing to foster the studies in animal behavior and development of the education programs, et cetera. And so I didn’t put my hat in the ring and we ended up with Peter Crowcroft, my predecessor.

01:21:30 - 01:23:07

Peter Crowcroft, Australian, tap dancing champion of Tasmania, but he done his degree work in England under Elton. And he also was associated for a brief time, British Museum. He went back to Australia, was director of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, but he continued his studies. He’d done studies on, among other things, mice, published a couple of small books on the behavior of mice and shrews and other creatures. But when he went back to Australia, he was determined to look out for some of the endangered species there and a particular one that was his favorite was the hairy-nosed wombat. And early on in his time at Brookfield, he attracted the interest of Bill Rutherford. Rutherford, you may remember, was a lawyer who became the director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He couldn’t stand it long, that position, but he’d already attracted a lot of interest from rural people in terms of their legacies and estates, and so on.

01:23:07 - 01:25:02

So he had established a little foundation and he became associated with the, he was on the board of trustees of Chicago Zoological Society. So Peter Crowcroft approached Bill Rutherford in terms of perhaps acquiring a bit of territory in Australia for the hairy-nosed wombat. And so that led to what is now still the Brookfield Conservation Park about 70 miles north of Adelaide. And it’s quite a contrast in terms of what happened there, but that got us into Australia in terms of conservation for a long time, especially in the state of South Australia. So Peter set a good example in that respect, reaching out in terms of conservation endeavors in the fashion that we had not previously done. I mean, while we’d been involved with efforts, especially collective efforts in terms of managing populations of threatened and endangered species in zoos. And I was particularly involved with the development of the ISIS, the International Species Information System, but we hadn’t any external efforts such as Peter fostered in Australia. So that was a new game.

01:25:06 - 01:25:59

But in terms of the previous circumstances, as they say, we went from an almost undocumented collection to one that had science as the basic in terms of the records, in terms of the maintenance of the collection and reasonable terms for the future that, and certainly the development of ISIS, that common record keeping system made a great deal of difference too. Let’s pause just for a moment. Okay. Okay. We’re all set.

01:26:04 - 01:26:11

What were some of the strengths or weaknesses you learned from people, especially your predecessor, Peter Crowcroft?

01:26:11 - 01:28:59

Well, one thing of course that Peter brought was interest in the, shall we say, technical scientific sides of the business. And so we, for instance, hired a man with a master’s in nutrition Bruce Brewer to head our commissary, our animal supply division, animal food supply division. And it was steps like that that certainly made a difference. And in that particular case, it led to, I would say, a signal advance in terms of our understanding of the maintenance of animal populations over a long time in limited situations. Bruce Brewer, he got a little bored with the animal food supply business and really assuring that it had adequate nutrients bases in the supplies that were offered to the various creatures. So Bruce, I actually then moved into a keeper position in our lion house, which was still in fairly primitive, traditional barred cages inside with the big, big inclusions outside. But one day I was walking through the lion house as Peter Crowcroft’s deputy or associate curator for research and education, I was walking through the lion house and Bruce signaled me and indicated that he felt he could contribute more in terms of the welfare of the animals and the longterm welfare of the species that we were keeping. And so I encouraged him to go back to school and he took off for Cornell to do his graduate work on animal population studies and in particular, researching the investigation of inbreeding.

01:29:01 - 01:31:47

And this… (George chuckles) This relates back to one of the first things that I’d gotten a geneticist out at Argonne to look at, got shortly after I arrived at Brookfield back in the 50s, this man who had been studying twining in humans wondered if there were any records in terms of animals in the collection. And I indicated that we did not have any such at Brookfield because of Robert Bean’s inclinations or disinclinations to keep records, but that there were studies on a couple of the creatures that had been kept in captivity where we knew the basis for the population and in particular, the European bison or wisent. And so I turned over to him the studbook, a published studbook that happened to be sitting up in the library room in the administration building and one of the acquisitions that Bean had simply acquired, I mean, not studied or reflected on. So a publication resulted in the journal Genetics about the inbreeding effects and in the case of the wisent. And it was pretty amazing at first generation, there was sort of hybrid vigor because of the circumstances with the very small population, the 13 animals that established the species in captivity. And so the first generation hybrid vigor, so to speak, in terms of the stature and the health of the animals, et cetera, and then second and third generations, there were evidences of inbreeding depression of various kinds. And so I challenged Bruce Brewer in his return to Cornell to take up such studies.

01:31:47 - 01:33:24

And he did to a remarkable effect in terms of studying, again, the Peromyscus, the wood and beach mice from mainly the Southeastern United States. And as a result of Bruce’s work, doctoral work, we also acquired Robert Lacy and this led, shortly, to then the first population viability analysis model that has been subsequently widely used in zoos around the world, the VORTEX model. So that was the kind of thing, as I say, it started with Peter Crowcroft’s feeling that we had to have staff in addition to the curators with direct responsibilities for the collections. We had to have people responsible for the future of the collections in terms of our knowledge thereof. And that led to the genetics program as a whole. Well, you had indicated that there was one point in the zoo’s history of co-directorship. Yep.

01:33:24 - 01:33:27

What were the goods and bads of that?

01:33:28 - 01:35:36

(George chuckling) Well, the person on the, Blakely was on the animal side, responsible for the collections, et cetera. And the other gentleman who occupied that post was responsible for for the public accommodations and the restaurants and so on, and so forth. And there was sort of constant tension in respect to, what received the most attention and the trustees decided that it simply wasn’t workable, the conflicts in terms of the demands for greater investment on the public services side versus the welfare of the animal collection. So that’s why they decided to discontinue that arrangement. And at the beginning, there were actually four of us involved at the directorial level, but that was soon abolished within a year, but it certainly wasn’t workable in the circumstance. Nowadays I think that it’s more apt to result in say a CEO, COO situation where there’s a chief operating officer, but then a chief executive officer is looking for the outside world and the relationships they’re in. So that’s something we might take up later. But at the time, the co-director simply was a matter of the divergent interest of the two parties.

01:35:41 - 01:35:47

And it just, as I say, the trustees determined that this was unworkable.

01:35:49 - 01:35:59

Speaking of relationships, what was the relationship between Lincoln Park Zoo, the other zoo in Chicago and Brookfield Zoo?

01:35:59 - 01:38:05

(George chuckles) As you were moving through the process- Well, the relationship when I first came was really, between Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo, was really a strained one. The board of governors that elects the trustees had an annual meeting at Brookfield in which others were invited, including the director of Lincoln Park Zoo. And Robert Bean hardly resented Marlon Perkins being paged in the middle of our meeting for some of his television doings. And this happened repeat, I witnessed it, I mean. Marlon arranged to be called (George chuckles) so that he became prominent (chuckles) in the circumstances of this annual meeting of the governing members of the Chicago Zoological Society. So it was entertaining, but truly it was distant relationship during that time. When Les Fisher became director, it was quite a different circumstance because both his veterinary background and which included his operations out of nearby suburb, Berwyn, to Brookfield. And so when Les came along, there was quite a different set of relationships and quite cordial and quite cooperative.

01:38:06 - 01:38:15

Now what was the relationship between the board at Brookfield Zoo and the directors that were in place as they moved along?

01:38:25 - 01:40:00

In terms of the relationship of the board of the Chicago Zoological Society and the directors, I’d say there was modest involvement during Crowcroft’s time. I mean, they basically left it to him. They were not engaged except towards the latter part of his time when there was a significant initiative taken by a person who’s still on the board, Edie Duckworth. She had become associated with efforts to establish a volunteer group. And she essentially got the docents established at Brookfield Zoo. I mean, it was a sort of command performance. Edie as a trustee was able to command his attention and get it launched. So that’s when the education program began to flourish at Brookfield.

01:40:00 - 01:41:27

And I became involved in terms of teaching, instructing, coaching the docents. So that made a difference in terms of the board involvement. And we also established, in that time, a scientific research advisory committee that handle a little money in terms of awarding grants and things of that sort. But on the overall, the trustees were mainly concerned about the financial prudence that was being exhibited or not exhibited. And that’s where their main concerns were not in terms of the way the institution was being administered and led. But, again, I mean, people arose like Penny Korhummel that made a difference. They arose, but in terms of the previous directors, it just wasn’t significant.

01:41:28 - 01:41:32

Can you give me a bit of the evolution of Tropic World?

01:41:32 - 01:41:35

Did that start with what director?

01:41:36 - 01:44:07

That started under Crowcroft and it was a result of our external parties, architects, indicating that we needed to improve facilities around the zoo and one of the primary ones was obviously the primate house with the great ape collection. And so one of the things that Crowcroft did do was he had me and Ben Beck who’d come in as curator of primates, who’d been a grad student at the University of Chicago. Beck and the man who was in our design and arts department go to Africa to find out what would really be requisite in terms of duplicating such environments in in a very spacious setting that we might provide for the creatures. So we went off to Africa and looked at creatures in Uganda and Tanzania and elsewhere. And we took measurements of the limbs of trees and et cetera. While observing the colobus and other monkeys in the forest, we were very determined to bring back a picture of what could be simulate, and so on. We missed seeing mountain gorillas because of a circumstance over which we had no control in on the edge of Uganda at the time. But any rate, Crowcroft did facilitate that and got the approval of the trustees if they were to foster such a development that it needed to be informed in a different way.

01:44:07 - 01:46:08

So that was how we started on Tropic World. And unfortunately the challenges in terms of construction with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill involved and they were simultaneously involved in what became the serious building, the same team, and the chief architect on our side died in the middle of the process. But it was an interesting time, because they were insisting, I mean, as they had to, it was a serious building, whatever it’s known by now, on structural strength. And so that’s why Tropic World has such massive girders and deep bases for those girders, et cetera, et cetera, and reinforced at the ends in terms of winds and such forces. (George chuckling) So it was overdone on that side, but underdone in terms of the thinking about the actual settings and the actual space that came to be Tropic World was just not sufficient for us to do the kinds of winding pathways that we had anticipated for the public. Originally our construct was going to be with the kind of open plastic roofing. We had another firm involved on the architecture. We had a grand plan, but there would be no guarantee from the manufacturer.

01:46:11 - 01:46:50

Boston went ahead with such a facility and it didn’t turn out so well, but they would not guarantee, in Chicago weather, the stability and the survivability of the plastic roof. So we gave that up and went to Skidmore, which, as I say, resulted in a pretty confined space that created difficulties in arranging the exhibits, the spaces for the animals, and so on.

01:46:51 - 01:46:55

Is it true it’s the largest zoo building in the world?

01:46:56 - 01:48:05

It’s certainly expensive. I’m trying to think. It may still be. It may still be. I was thinking of the Frankfurt facility and the Frankfurt thing is stitched together. It may well be still. Tell me more about the involvement of the board and directors. (George chuckling) I just recalled that in terms of the involvement of the board and the directors at Brookfield, that there was a really cardinal figure early on when I came to Brookfield on the board of trustees and a rather unusual person by the name of Tappan Gregory.

01:48:06 - 01:50:25

And Tappan Gregory actually caused the building of the Wolf Woods, the large outdoor exhibit for the wolves where I did my studies on their social behavior and had students and others with me, but it was Tappan Gregory who, as I say, caused that to be built. And he’d also brought his other interest in terms of the carnivores to Brookfield and among others, he brought fishes from a retreat in Maine to Brookfield, and we weren’t able to keep fishes’ disease problems and other things. But Tappan Gregory, it happens, was a pioneer in terms of night photography of animals. Now (chuckles) he was also quite a well to do lawyer among other things, but he had this animal fascination and attraction, but also serious interest as reflected. He actually published a book on the night photography of animals. This was back in the 1930s that he did his work. And so in terms of a person on the board of trustees of the Chicago Zoological Society who had a substantial background in terms of familiarity with animals in the wild and what perhaps they needed in captive circumstances, Tappan Gregory was an outstanding exception. I mean, most of our people, lawyers or others, just simply have no intimate familiarity, whereas Tappan Gregory definitely did.

01:50:25 - 01:52:03

So just a footnote in terms of that background. So people like Robert Bean, I mean, he simply went along with whatever Tappan Gregory suggested, et cetera, and he had to have Tappan Gregory’s backing in terms of things like proceeding with the first inland dolphinarium that was built at Brookfield. Let’s just take a quick look at that, the evolution of the first inland aquarium for dolphins, his vision and the difficulties. Well, where Robert Bean’s inspiration came from, I cannot say. I mean, there were only minor facilities in Florida of this kind at the time. There were a couple of traveling exhibits in summertime, in the Northern US with dolphins, but there was no substantial facility, no aquarium, certainly housing anything like the dolphins, much less in future years, the whales. So it was really a stride forward that that Bean took, but I have no conception, and there was no mention that I ever heard of an inspirational moment. There was simply nothing of that sort.

01:52:08 - 01:52:21

But that was Robert Bean’s principle contribution to the improvement or the development of exhibits at Brookfield.

01:52:22 - 01:52:29

Well, let’s talk then about the moment you become director, when is that and why did you want that position?

01:52:30 - 01:54:31

Oh. (sighs) (George chuckles) In terms of why I became director and why did I want that position, it was in effect that I’d been serving in that position for the previous year under Crowcroft. Crowcroft was, shall we say, rarely available in the preceding year. And I had served as his deputy. And I felt that in the circumstances of the time that I could facilitate the development of the institution much more forcefully as a conservation organization. So that was my motivation. And that would include of course the education of the public in terms of exhibitry that was more engaging, more facilitating of bonding of people with the animals for the welfare of the animals’ future. So that’s why I took it on. There were potentials for going elsewhere in the museum and other fields, maybe even back to academia but they weren’t attractive as carving my own rule in terms of these institutions in a more substantial way.

01:54:31 - 01:56:13

Of course I knew I had a burden in terms of the half developed Tropic World building. And yet there were other opportunities that were to come, that I could facilitate in terms of the improvement, development of the institution. And one of the things that we had gotten started in that direction was during Crowcroft’s time was the, so to speak, the predatory ecology exhibits added to the outside of the existing lion house where we perfected some of the techniques using, not gunite, but plastics in terms of simulation of natural environments. And I’d been very encouraged by that development in terms of having, say, Hagenbach’s grandson stand on little bridge between one section of those exhibits and say, “If grandfather had only seen this.” So I knew what could be done, although limited by finances, and so forth, and was the challenge of making Tropic World complete and respectable.

01:56:14 - 01:56:22

Did Peter Crowcroft give you any advice on you becoming the director?

01:56:23 - 01:56:24

Was he aware of it?

01:56:24 - 01:56:29

Had he already left or did you learn lessons from any of those other directors that you had worked for?

01:56:39 - 01:58:45

In terms of advice and counsel from previous directors such as Peter Crowcroft, my immediate predecessor, I really did not receive any substantial counsel from them. There was no true mentoring, shall we say. In part, because I was developing, especially the research potentials of zoos, generally, as I indicated, I’d been involved with the ISIS movement. But had also, in relation to that, I’d assembled a first session at an American student aquarium conference on research down in Texas. And I can remember, I thought that this was going to be an odd occasion as I got off the plane and came down the stairway in the airport, and there was a guy with green hair. And I felt this, is an omen. (chuckles) I don’t know which way it’s going to work out. So I distinctly remember that, but it was the launch in terms of zoos in research and there was a little conflict with some federal agencies with such interest and who sadly served us in publishing the proceedings. And I had my little encounters there.

01:58:45 - 02:00:46

So I’d already had a place in terms of forwarding those developments within the zoo business. And I wanted to obviously continue in that fashion and I didn’t really have any substantial input from the likes of Peter Crowcroft, although, with his substantial background, in terms of being an Elton student, and I don’t know whether you are aware that he actually had University of Chicago press a number of years later published his little book on Elton, the Elton ecologist crew that he was part of. But it’s an interesting little volume with all of their personas really illustrated in terms of what they did and what they accomplished and the foibles on the side. But Peter, despite that background, and his museum background, his obvious special interest in conservation of creatures he cared about, didn’t pass on any insights in terms of how to foster further developments of that kind by me. So I didn’t have any real advice in respect to how to proceed. As I say, I’d had to experience some of, so to speak, taking the slack when he was absent much of the year before I became director.

02:00:46 - 02:00:50

The year was, when you became director?

02:00:50 - 02:00:51


02:00:52 - 02:00:58

And- When you became director, did you have a vision?

02:00:59 - 02:01:00

Oh yeah.

02:01:00 - 02:01:01

What was it?

02:01:01 - 02:03:14

(George chuckling) You’re now in charge. Well, in terms of my vision, now that I was in charge, clearly, as I mentioned, I had an existing challenge in respect to completing this larger zoo building with respectable exhibits. And that was Tropic World. But beyond that, I felt that there needed to be further developments of that kind to engage the public that is some better simulations of the natural environments in which these creatures existed in the wild, what was left of the wild. And with a museum background in which you can simulate all aspects of the environment, I knew the limitations in terms of dealing with live animals in such settings. So it was a challenge, but I also recognized that we had the potential and already underway in terms of education that could assist in the process and that there were other things that we might do in terms of stimulating a crop of, perhaps future curators and researchers who would be engaged in zoos. And so I came aboard, so to speak, in terms of the responsibility with ambitions of that sort, but more especially in terms of reaching out beyond my own institution to collaborations with others around the country, but around the world so.

02:03:16 - 02:03:24

What type of staff did you inherit and did you have a vision, you kinda mentioned it, for those type of positions?

02:03:25 - 02:05:25

Well, we’d already started, as I mentioned, Crowcroft did look for professionally skilled people in areas such as nutrition, but also in terms of the animal collection itself. And one of the earliest hires, under Crowcroft, was Chris Wemmer, who had gotten his degree, sort of grew up under the ages a National Zoo, but National Zoo had no position to offer him. So Crowcroft brilliantly acquired Chris Wemmer for the better part of a year and a half. And in the course of that brief time, Chris, among other things, established the practice of providing denning areas for the polar bears, which resulted in the successful births, in subsequent years, of polar bears at Brookfield Zoo. It hadn’t been possible before. And as I mentioned, Ben Beck was employed by us. He’d been a graduate student at the University of Chicago and we’d worked with him previously and he was engaged to be curator of primates, then came along. He was on the original expedition to Africa to design Tropic World settings for the animals.

02:05:25 - 02:06:16

So and we’d taken a new path. And I think it was already productive and it was my job to keep employing people of that kind. And I certainly took advantage of that in terms of retaining people like Pam Parker, who made a real, and has made a real difference in Australian conservation/ And others, Patty McGill, and so on, and so forth, Anne Baker. You’d mentioned education before, this was important.

02:06:18 - 02:06:25

How did you start to think about changing the way education was accomplished at Brookfield Zoo?

02:06:27 - 02:08:37

Well, in terms of the outreach that we were doing, it was simply not sufficient in respect to any major impact in the Chicago region. We started out with a group of high school teachers (George chuckles) in what was formally the director’s residents, Bean’s residents, on the grounds within the zoo. And it was a charming, mini windowed facility that where we did, so to speak, Socratic dialogues with the teachers and found out what they knew and what they wanted to know. So we got a feel for what they were transmitting to their students in the high schools in particular. And we clearly felt we could bolster that considerably. But in terms of the, as I indicated, the initiative taken by trustee Edie Duckworth to foster the development of the docent, the volunteer teacher’s program, I saw great potential for that. And we certainly, we certainly later developed that considerably. It was evident too that we did not have a sufficient facility for instructional space.

02:08:41 - 02:10:29

And that led to the eventual development of the Discovery Center. But in terms of the kinds of information that clearly the teachers had, it just wasn’t really, really, shall we say, sufficient in respect to our interest in facilitating the learning of kids about the animals and their eventual welfare. So we employed various people in the process of developing the whole system. Cynthia Vernon who’s now out in California at that substantial facility on the coast for the aquarium. So Cynthia was certainly quite an addition on that side. So there were people that we brought along that whose real subject was education. We didn’t have such people before. You mentioned education and zoos have had children zoos for many years, you’ve kind of took it in a new direction.

02:10:29 - 02:10:32

And what was the genesis of that?

02:10:32 - 02:11:59

Well, one of the things that, while I was very close to the children’s zoo curator for many years, Gail Snyder, and we’d considered several developments, improvements, extensions of the children zoo during her time. I was never satisfied. And Brookfield had one of, I think it was the third childrens’ zoo. And as part of it’s exhibit program, had about the third in the country. I think Philly was one of the first two, but at any rate. In terms of the direction we eventually took, I was dissatisfied with the engagement that was possible in the children zoo settings. I mean, yes, they became acquainted very closely with the pigs and the cows, et cetera. But in terms of what I regarded as more essential, that is bonding with other creatures, I didn’t see that occurring.

02:12:01 - 02:13:48

I saw the animals being regarded as play things, as tools for our own interest, but I didn’t see the real facilitation of bonding with other living beings. And so much later in my time, I saw to the development of the Hamill Family Play Zoo in which I think we set the pattern and we were going to then, the further developments would’ve been a modern family farm adjacent and then a more naturalistic setting in the woods on the east side of the zoo for the kids to have different experiences that help them bond with the natural world. So, yeah, early on, as I say, we had three proposals, architectural sketches and all of that for an enlargement or an extension of the children zoo, but I never felt comfortable with them in terms of the basic purpose of getting people to experience, and especially kids, to experience a different relationship with the natural world.

02:13:51 - 02:14:00

Now what evolution did you want exhibits to take at Brookfield Zoo when you took over?

02:14:01 - 02:15:54

Well, further development in the naturalistic vein, including those outdoor exhibits as well as the interior, but I felt the interior exhibits could substantially be improved. And sort of a first illustration of that was in terms of the swamp exhibit, which was essentially reusing the existing structure of the old primate house once all the primates were in Tropic World. Now Crowcroft had redeveloped the Australia House in a walk through a naturalistic setting for the Australian animals. And I felt that we could well do with an illustration of a neglected part of our own biota here in this country. And that that was my background in the Southeast, in the low country of South Carolina and the time in Southwest in Georgia, et cetera. So I challenged our curators and design crew, et cetera, to get their butts down to Louisiana and South Carolina. And they did. And by that time, we were also into the international scene and more consciousness of the Greater Illinois scene in terms of conservation.

02:15:55 - 02:16:17

So those are all reflected in the swamp. And that was a first major illustration of my own commitment to the naturalistic environments that I felt the animals deserved. You talked about different things, the exhibits, et cetera.

02:16:17 - 02:16:22

Can you describe the visitor services when you first arrived at the zoo?

02:16:22 - 02:16:29

And then what did you think about making changes when you now had the opportunity?

02:16:31 - 02:18:29

In terms of making changes to visitor services, it was evident that there needed to be great improvements and the zoo had one major food service facility in a prime position at the end of the East Mall. It was called the Refectory. And the Refectory had some wonderful painted walls of animals from around the world by Ralph Graham, the assistant director who was, like Plath, basically an artist, but he got sent by Robert Bean on different missions abroad, including in respect to the okapi and other, such Indian rhinos, et cetera. Ralph Graham brought those back to Brookfield. But as I say, he did this marvelous set of illustrations on the walls of the Refectory, which was the main public facility serving the public. There were also sort of makeshift facilities at the other end of the East West Mall. And bearing very small facilities elsewhere. There was no major, shall we say, souvenir or a little trinket shop or anything of that sort.

02:18:29 - 02:21:20

So it was pretty primitive and was until Crowcroft’s day and his facilitation of the improvement of such facilities that any change took place on that front. Partly, that was, again, facilitated by volunteers and Edie Duckworth, trustee, helped in that respect with a gift shop, so it was basically volunteer-run. And that then led to, in further the years, a major gift shop at the South Gate rather than the North Gate. So in my time, I mean, it was simply a matter of providing sufficient facilities of that nature, including the establishment of a gift shop near the North Gate, because people wanted to have souvenirs of their visits and other things of that nature but in terms of the food services during my time, a major improvement was in connection with the penguin and aquarium facility that occupied the site of the original Seven Seas Panorama. And in that case, we adopted a South American theme and illustrated that both in a general service and a sitdown service facility in the same building. So there were gradual improvements of this kind, but you have to balance that effort to accommodate the public with what you’re doing and accommodating the animals in a better fashion, but certainly with the extension of the visiting hours, that is the length of visits, because of the improvements in exhibits, people stayed longer. They were then expecting more in terms of accommodations for them, whether it’s toilets or whether it’s in terms of food service or gift shop service, they expect more when they stay longer. And we certainly facilitated all of that during my time.

02:21:23 - 02:21:33

Well, when you speak about your tenure at the zoo, what major events affected zoos in general and specifically Brookfield Zoo during your tenure?

02:21:41 - 02:23:25

Well, among other things that affected my administration of affairs at Brookfield, one of the obvious ones was the Endangered Species Act, which prior to the 1970s, that didn’t exist. I mean, those restrictions were very sporadic, as I say, in terms of the okapi, Ringling Brothers was prohibited from exhibiting the animal they owned. And so we came to possess that animal. But really prior to that time, there weren’t the necessary standards in terms of the maintenance of the collections and the records thereon, and so on, and so forth. So that was a significant development, I feel because many of the creatures kept in zoos were rare, were apt to be considered, if not on the United States endangered species list, they were certainly considered under pressure by international bodies such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which I became associated with pretty early on in my tenure as the director.

02:23:27 - 02:23:30

Were there frustrating times at the zoo for you?

02:23:31 - 02:25:03

Oh, there were some frustrating times. There were also some (chuckles) adventurous times. In that last year of Crowcroft’s directorship, he was away when our polar bears swam out of their outdoor exhibits. And that was certainly an adventurous day in which I commandeered a rifle, among other things. And I was called early on that morning when we had about five and a half inches of rain in half an hour that the drainage system simply couldn’t take. And so the walkways and the moats flooded and the polar bears swam out. They first raided a marshmallow stand opposite their enclosure, and then they began exploring beyond that realm. And I sort of wrecked my Volvo going up and down the steps of the East Mall, herding them back to the appropriate quarters before we were able to do much in terms of drainage.

02:25:04 - 02:26:43

So that was an adventure sometime. And I might mention in that respect much earlier, I’d been involved with a fire at the original Seven Seas Panorama. It was considered that the building was fireproof, but a little fan, a little electric fan ignited the surrounding packing material on the pipes. And the smoke went up to the dolphinarium. And it just happened my wife and I were bicycling around and spotted it and got the fire department in and all of that. So there were adventures of that kind. In terms of other major frustrations and challenges, it was mostly with regard to not having the resources, the financial resources to do what I felt we should do in timely fashion. We got started, for instance, during my time with revisions for the hoofstock, the ungulates, starting with the giraffes, and then the okapis.

02:26:43 - 02:28:21

But in terms of major improvements for many of the ungulates, time and money simply were not there. That was a frustration, because we did have a plan. And other things that didn’t come to be. We planned what might’ve been the first substantial lead building in the Chicago region for education. But we had plans involving using such things as hay bales for insulation, and so on, and so forth. But there were frustrations of that kind, yes, and in terms of the overall development, however, I was pretty pleased, especially with the development of capacities amongst the keepers, among other things, came to sponsor the first conference on the great apes and, not just great apes though, but also the gibbons in captivity. We had a major international meeting, things of that sort. So there were there were more proud moments than disappointments and frustrations.

02:28:21 - 02:28:28

You talked about resources. Brookfield sits on county land.

02:28:29 - 02:28:35

What was the relationship, how did politics of the county affect, or not affect the operation of the zoo?

02:28:35 - 02:28:37

And did politicians play a role?

02:28:40 - 02:31:08

(George chuckles) You bring up an interesting aspect of the institutional setting of Brookfield It is, in effect, a governmental institution, in that it is part of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County where the Forest Preserve District of Cook County is really an extraordinary development in terms of the interest of both the natural world and people in sharing the natural world. But Brookfield Zoo came to be because of a specific sort of challenge gift by Edith Rockefeller McCormick of land in Riverside and Brookfield to the Forest Preserve District on the provision that a major zoological park would be built on the site. So in essence, the institution is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, which has supported its operations from the start, but in varying quantity, shall we say. But it made the initial investment in the facility and by bond issues that the first president of the society had to campaign for. And that happened to be McCutcheon, the cartoonist of the Chicago Tribune, but the first bond issue for the building of Brookfield Zoo was turned down. And it wasn’t until 1926, that the public vote was such to warrant proceeding with the bond issue, and so on. And then of course came the Great Crash, the Great Crash in ’29. And that halted construction for a year.

02:31:10 - 02:33:19

So the aim in terms of opening for the major world exhibition in ’33, ’34, was only the end of ’34 that, the end of that time that Brookfield opened. But in terms of what I’ve witnessed and encountered in general, there’s been substantial support for the institution such that at one time, more than 40% of the operational funding came from the Forest Preserve District Appropriation. In my time that decreased substantially to less than a third and then a quarter of the operational funding, that’s for basic operations of the animal collection. Nothing to do with the public services, and so on, which the society always felt obligated. That was its responsibility. But in terms of the political domain, generally speaking, the zoological park operations were left to the, shall we say, the administrative relations that the zoo’s director and board had with the superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Not with the commissioner sitting on the county board, who also sat on the board of the Forest Preserve District. So in general, whatever arrangements one made with the superintendent in terms of budget, and so on, that’s what prevailed.

02:33:19 - 02:33:47

And so it was very important to have good relations, personal relations with the superintendents. And we had long-standing good relations with people like Arthur Janura, who was so long superintendent during my time.

02:33:51 - 02:33:55

How would you describe yourself as director?

02:33:55 - 02:33:57

What was your management style?

02:34:00 - 02:36:03

(George chuckles) My management style was to keep my hands off as much as possible, but shout when necessary in terms of when I felt programs and strategies, et cetera, were off the mark. And so I uttered a few curse words in my time, but mainly it was to encourage people to pursue endeavors that were going to be promoting the welfare of the animals in the collection, but also the welfare of the species in the wild. And so I pushed my people on those fronts, but encouraged ’em, for instance, Patty McGill had a man down in Chile doing his doctoral work out of a German university. Well, we supported most of his education, so I encouraged that kind of outreach in my time and tried to look for other avenues to express myself in and that included the international arena where, as I say, I’d become early on associated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

02:36:06 - 02:36:10

What was your relationship with the Zoo Society?

02:36:10 - 02:36:12

With the?

02:36:12 - 02:36:14

The Brookfield Zoo Society.

02:36:14 - 02:36:17

And did it change over the years from when you first started?

02:36:19 - 02:38:09

Well, in terms of the Chicago Zoological Society and my relationships there, I mean, what we did basically was build a general membership. When I came, there was only a group of prominent citizens constituted the governing membership and who elected amongst themselves trustees who governed the institution. and its director. But in my time, we very consciously built a general membership and it’s still a prominent force, and contributing, in the process, to the resources available through their annual membership. So that became a substantial sum, especially when you built up the membership to 80,000 or so. That was a significant figure. So in terms of the society, I mean, it changed in respect to having that general membership component. But in regard to the people in the governing membership, I’d already established good relationships with many of those folks.

02:38:13 - 02:38:28

And they were very supportive. They let me do my thing. You spoke before about the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and it has a varied hierarchy.

02:38:28 - 02:38:40

How did you see your relationship with it moving, not only Brookfield, but zoos nationally to be more involved with conservation?

02:38:42 - 02:40:34

Well, in terms of the IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, I early on became associated when Peter Scott was the chair of that commission, and the Species Survival Commission, which is devoted to promoting the conservation of individual species, especially the more charismatic, and so on, and so forth. But Peter Scott was the chair of the, the commission when I became associated. And I helped early on in terms of strategies for building this commission of volunteers. Most of them professional biologists, are people associated with institutions like zoos, and so on. (George chuckles) And I can remember some, (George chuckles) some engaging arguments with Sir Peter Scott on whether blue whales could be kept in the contained part of the ocean that we’d fenced off, and so on, and so forth. So we had some interesting exchanges along that line. But he was a fine, fine man. And with his work, mainly with waterfowl of course, in England.

02:40:37 - 02:42:15

But his outreach to places around the world. And as you may know, he etched the little panda symbol of the World Wildlife Fund. That was his work. But he also sketched when he went around the world and one of the places was in Oman. And then in that case, his little sketches charmed the sultan of Oman so that the sultan awarded a million dollars to the Species Survival Commission, which benefited me greatly when I eventually succeeded Sir Peter Scott as chair of the commission. But what I saw in terms of the zoos was a connection with actual promotion of conservation actions on the ground where the creatures that the zoos were holding and maintaining in their collections were coming from. And so I felt it was important to be so engaged. And when I became chair of the commission in late 1989, I really pushed on this front in terms of the Association of Zoos nationally and internationally.

02:42:18 - 02:44:02

Unfortunately the followup was getting zoos to maintain, become members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The followup wasn’t there on the part of the IUCN at the time. And while I had considerable influence in the council of the IUCN, I also had a very odd perspective. I wasn’t on the program committee. I was on the administration committee for the IUCN. And there were some tough ethical questions, because my institution had a larger budget than the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which consists of government members from around the world as well as non-governmental members. So getting the zoos to take advantage of the, especially the volunteer commissions on national parks and protected areas, and on the species survival front, was a bit challenging, a bit difficult. But one of my real accomplishments was challenging the International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens to come aboard in a substantial way.

02:44:04 - 02:45:53

There were people like Uly Seal already in the setting of the Species Survival Commission, but in terms of the involvement of the institutions and commitments on this front, it simply wasn’t there. So at the Singapore conference many years ago, I challenged the directors of the Zoological Gardens and Aquariums to come aboard and fortunately they did. Brookfield actually published the resulting zoo conservation strategy for the IUCN, but it was quite a go getting it going. And this has been replaced by a much more up to date edition since that first came out. But it was a challenge, Mark, in terms of getting the interest, because many institutions were simply in their own survival game in terms of generating enough revenue to operate in a decent fashion for the welfare of their animals and public. So taking on this additional responsibility, that took some urging, but people like Conway and a few others, they were right there and pushing from the start.

02:45:53 - 02:45:54

Do you think zoos get it today?

02:45:54 - 02:47:00

No, I think there’s been a sort of in terms of whether zoos today get it. I think they get it in terms of the responsibility, but in terms of measuring up to that responsibility, no, I don’t. I think they’ve actually backtracked, despite some real leaders stepping forward in terms of individual institutions, but say in terms of the collective of American zoos, the association, I don’t think it’s there. But we can delve further into that. But as I say, with backing, especially from the European zoos and the likes of Bill Conway, we promoted the consciousness of the conservation responsibility in a very substantial way.

02:47:02 - 02:47:10

Can the American Zoo Association take a more leadership role in that?

02:47:10 - 02:47:15

Can the American Zoo Association take a more leadership position?

02:47:15 - 02:47:58

Absolutely, but they have been, I think, so to speak, misled on this front. And as you know, people in leadership positions in the association who have had the commitment in terms of the personal commitment, in terms of conservation, have departed. And right now, I just don’t see that that leadership is in place. We’re talking about the Americans Zoo Association, it has evolved over a period of time.

02:47:58 - 02:48:06

Has it, in your opinion, as the director of Brookfield Zoo, fulfilled its mission?

02:48:12 - 02:49:22

In terms of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums fulfilling a mission, I think it’s only partway there. But one of the signal advances was the establishment of an accreditation system. And you might be interested that before, there was actually official Les Fisher. And I played a little game on the Denver Zoo. (George chuckling) We pretended we were the inspectors for their accreditation and (George chuckling) we had them terrified. I was rubbing my hand across sills of the doors, et cetera. Pick up dust, et cetera. And on the occasion, they actually had a giraffe that escaped its enclosure.

02:49:23 - 02:50:31

It was a young giraffe, so it was going to go back to mom. We knew that, but we really chided them about their inadequate security, and so on, and so forth. So that was a wonderful day that Les Fisher, my colleague, of course, at Lincoln Park Zoo, and I had with the first inspection in the accreditation program of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. (George chuckles) I don’t think we were ever forgiven (chuckles) for that little prank. But no, I regard that as the signal advancement in terms of the Zoo Association. And I think it has made a difference in the standards practiced in practically all of the activities of zoos relating especially to the animal collections themselves.

02:50:34 - 02:50:38

Dr. Rabb, do you have a favorite animal, favorite animals?

02:50:39 - 02:50:44

(George chuckles) Do I have a favorite animal?

02:50:46 - 02:51:45

Well, I avoided that choice, although I’m associated with particular creatures like the wolf, the okapi, and of course the Surinam toad. But I tried to keep my feelings and associations very, very private indeed. While I became attached to individual animals, such as some of the okapis, and some of the wolves, I tried to, even there, keep my distance, so to speak, so it’s not to prejudice the other animals. (chuckles) Well, let me ask you about at least one specific animal.

02:51:45 - 02:51:50

Can you tell us the story of Ziggy the elephant and your involvement?

02:51:52 - 02:53:52

Well, my involvement came pretty late with Ziggy the elephant who had quite a following. And Peter Crowcroft had liberated him from his confined condition inside the elephant house at Brookfield Zoo. And Ziggy certainly enjoyed the outdoors for the first time in many years and unfortunately I had to relay to Peter that, and others that I witnessed Ziggy and his declining days taking advantage of the pool in his yard to support his weight, et cetera, and things of that sort, that certainly indicated that he was on the way out. But as you know, I mean, in his earlier days, Ziggy had created quite a stir with destroying various facilities and enterprises. And he certainly attracted a lot of attention, because for many years, he was the largest elephant in captivity. And, yep, Ziggy, the Ziegfeld Follies, (chuckles) he really deserved the reputation. But as I say, Peter Crowcroft tried to accommodate him in his declining years, but shortly thereafter, he did die. Yep, quite a creature.

02:53:53 - 02:54:04

You talked about changing the direction and the caliber of the curatorial staff that would come and work at Brookfield Zoo.

02:54:04 - 02:54:10

I know at one time you initiated a rotating head of the department, did that model work?

02:54:14 - 02:54:36

Not really, I think the specialization that was needed in terms of the, information on a particular group of animals was too substantial, it was too large a job.

02:54:41 - 02:54:47

What type of significant changes did you try and make in the care of the animals under your tenure?

02:54:48 - 02:57:25

Well, among other things, among other things, we tried to determine what was going on inside, so to speak, and this work is still being carried on at Brookfield by Nadja Wielebnowski, but we’d gotten into it before we retained her. And what she’s doing and we’d already gotten into was trying to get some measure of how the animals were really responding in terms of their bodily condition. Specifically we were looking at the, and she’s looking at the stress hormones excreted in both the feces and the urine. And this technique is applicable in the wild so that you can gauge whether a particular animal in a group, et cetera, is on distress. And it seems to me that this is an indication that you then have to adjust either in terms of the diet, in terms of the companionship in a group of animals or something in the physical circumstances. And for instance, in terms of the clouded leopard, we early on determined that because of the condition as measured, as well as we could measure it, they needed security concealment. And if they didn’t have that available, then their longevity, their health in general would be affected. So there are things of that kind in addition to simply making sure that the foods and nutrients are sufficient for particular animals, so that we’re concerned about, but especially in terms of the behavioral dimensions and of either the grouping the animals are in or the setting that the animal is in.

02:57:25 - 02:57:56

So those were important considerations that we tried to get all of the curators and the keepers to investigate, to look into, to determine whether they had adequate facilities for the creatures. And as I say, including the accompanying animals of whatever sort, whether they were con specifics or not.

02:58:01 - 02:58:14

Would you say Brookfield Zoo, when you talk about the animals in relation, was Brookfield Zoo ahead of its time in hiring paid staff to do scientific research or even using docents for observations?

02:58:16 - 02:59:05

Well, in terms of whether we were ahead of the game in respect to hiring scientific staff to do appropriate investigations of behavior and other aspects of the biology of the creatures, to some degree. But I must say that many other institutions came along quite rapidly in that respect. It was evidently, it was overdue. (George chuckles) So a lot of people have responded and are still responding in that fashion but…

02:59:09 - 02:59:12

Do you have a favorite exhibit at the zoom?

02:59:17 - 03:00:53

Well, it’s not a favorite exhibit. It’s the facility, the Hamill Family Play Zoo, which came about after we’d consulted with people who were in the educational game in respect to conservation. We assembled a panel of 17 people from around the country. And we also had, at the original table, we had people from the Minnesota State Zoo, were going to revamp their children’s zoo. But the notion, as I’d indicated earlier was to try to really establish a circumstance where the kids could more effectively bond with the animals, with a natural situation, with the world about them. And to begin, we felt that they should have experiences in a play zoo. And so we set it up where the kids could be a director of the zoo. They could be a vet, they could be a horticulturist, they could be a craftsman, they could be an artist, they could run their, so to speak, own zoo.

03:00:55 - 03:01:58

And they could pretend they were some of the creatures about them, for instance, the bird costumes where they get to flap and all of that. Things of that sort, where they can pretend to be the animals themselves and look at the world from the animal’s standpoint. And outdoor experiences, like getting in the mud, et cetera, et cetera. So in terms of a facility development, that has to take the prime spot in my view. Although I was pretty proud of the accomplishment at the swamp, especially since it was confined to an existing building skeleton. We’ve talked about that as a unique, both of those as unique exhibits.

03:01:59 - 03:02:02

What other things make Brookfield Zoo unique?

03:02:03 - 03:04:51

(George chuckles) In terms of what other things make Brookfield Zoo distinctive, unique, it seems to me the development such as the, Such as the okapi building, which I do not, architecturally, it is extremely flawed, but in terms of the integration of our simulation of the natural world and the people who have been concerned about the preservation, the survival of this particular wonderful creature, it seems to me that sets a tone and gives engagement in terms of looking at the creatures in the fashion that you would have to in the wild. The little device at the, and sort of simulating the circumstances in which you would encounter the animal in the wild. And then the additional little set of puzzles for the kids to find, explore along the trail outside the building. But just the idea of the full engagement, not just with the creature but with the circumstances of this creature in the wild, I mean, that’s a pretty full engagement. And it seems to me that more and more, we’re going to have to immerse kid, not just kids, but immerse the public into such experiences. Otherwise they don’t get it. And one of the things on that little kid’s puzzle trail, of course, is radio tracking. I mean, it’s not, (giggles) not quite what you would do in the wild, but at any rate, it gives people the feeling of what it takes to be engaged and be involved with a creature in the wild.

03:04:51 - 03:05:24

So I think that kind of example has to be taken up by more institutions. Not just parading and having the visitor through a very naturalistic environment, but to be engaged in terms of a relationship with the animal as with the case with the okapi, I mean, as a researcher would be in tracking the animal in the wiLd.

03:05:27 - 03:05:38

What was your, do you consider some of your top accomplishments or your proudest moments?

03:05:38 - 03:05:39


03:05:41 - 03:05:42

With the animals.

03:05:42 - 03:05:44

My accomplishments?

03:05:44 - 03:07:55

With the animals or proud moment with revolved around the management of animals. (George chuckling) I’m not sure how to respond to this question in terms of my accomplishments with the animals, was mainly providing for their welfare, their longevity in the circumstances we provided. I mean, there are always going to be limitations, but those limitations, as Hediger many years ago illustrated, allows expressions of behaviors that must be exceedingly rare in the wild, but they have the capacity. And that capacity for expression of other behaviors, that capacity also is clearly important in terms of adaptation to changing circumstances. And so in terms of helping develop facilities that allowed animals to express themselves, shall we say, in sometimes unusual rare behavioral fashions. It seems to me that was something that we did attempt and did succeed, I think, in some circumstances in providing. And some of it might seem (chuckles) a bit odd, but I think the animals benefited as a result. Brookfield zoo was the first zoo ever in the United States to exhibit pandas, the giant pandas.

03:07:55 - 03:08:04

Did you consider trying to bring pandas to Brookfield Zoo when the opportunity presented itself?

03:08:07 - 03:10:24

It was a momentary interest on the part of the board of trustees in replicating the panda exhibitry at Brookfield Zoo. And as you noted, Brookfield was the first, back in the 30s, to exhibit giant pandas. And so when the opportunity came when China was relaxing on that front, several members of the board of trustees were quite interested, but we turned away from that in respect to that we didn’t feel we had an appropriate facility. Although we’d maintained one of the original three panders for some 15 years, we did not feel we had adequate setting. We would have to build a considerable facility to accommodate them appropriately. And I’m quite glad that they went to the National Zoo instead. And I, and, among others, Bill Conway then benefited when the Chinese authorities invited us over to view the Chinese zoos and their pandas within the Chinese zoo circumstance. But I’m just as pleased that we did not prevail in terms of seeking the additional pandas after the originals, because it seems to me those institutions that have found themselves in a very peculiar relationship, both with the Chinese governmental authorities and with their publics in terms of expectations, that can’t really be realized in an ordinary zoo circumstance.

03:10:24 - 03:10:37

I mean, people think they’re going to gamble with the pandas and that’s just not on. We talked about research of various animals, and you’ve mentioned some of them.

03:10:37 - 03:10:46

Were your studies and your wife Mary’s studies of the wolves, the okapis, and other animals, were they published?

03:10:53 - 03:12:27

A sort of summary study on the wolves was published And major work on the okapis was published in the Antwerp celebratory volume called “Zoom op Zoo.” It’s not widely distributed and it’s more comprehensive, I feel, than the subsequent books that have been published by other zoos on the okapi. We also published with, and I forwarded the interest of upcoming students in the process and in relation to the okapi, Richard Bodmer, who’s really made quite a considerable contribution to conservation in South America. He’s teaching in the UK now, but I sort of mentored him and I put him as senior author on both the general account of the development of the okapi and Zoom op Zoo, but also in the account of the species for the American Society of Mammalogists and which required considerable digging in terms of the background in the systematics literature.

03:12:27 - 03:12:36

So I’ve tried to put people forward, I’m director of the zoo, who are they yet?

03:12:36 - 03:12:53

And so you offer them opportunities to co-author and advancements of that kind to get their name out there. And Bodmer is one of my proudest achievements.

03:12:56 - 03:13:03

To what extent was your wife Mary’s involvement instrumental in your research and other programs at the zoo?

03:13:04 - 03:14:35

(George chuckles) Well in addition to her own direct involvement, say in the wolf and frog studies, God, she was very tolerant. I’ve used that word a lot, but it means a lot in terms of simply putting up with my goings and comings and the time I spent with on my own studies. So Mary was deeply involved. And one of the things that she did that benefited most of my senior staff and others as a zoo librarian, Mary would circulate recent journal articles to the attention of different curators. And so she would note a particular article of interest and direct it to their attention. Otherwise they probably would not have seen even half of the literature that they did see, the scientific publications, the research observations, and so on, so Mary was a mentor in a different fashion.

03:14:36 - 03:14:44

Speaking of libraries, how important would you say a zoo library is to the professional staff?

03:14:45 - 03:16:31

(George chuckles) Well, if they’re professionals, it should be one of the invaluable assets of a respectable institution. And we recognized that very early on and tried to build up the holdings. New York, of course, is absolutely superb in that regard, but many other institutions of note, in terms of their zoological facilities simply are not where they should be, I feel, and especially with the burgeoning literature, the multiple long in terms of publications where materials that are pertinent to the zoo business can be found, and these range from population genetic analyses to what’s going on the endocrinological front to what’s going on in respect to actual conservation measures in distant lands. So it seems to me that that asset should be really more cared for, more respected in terms of the allocations of resources in institutions. You mentioned that Brookfield Zoo was instrumental in pioneering, championing the aspect of population genetics.

03:16:32 - 03:16:38

Can you tell me more about that and how it has helped zoos?

03:16:42 - 03:20:28

In terms of the population genetics developments in zoos and the, especially the development of population viability analysis in regard to the species survival plans that zoos, combining both their animal collection holdings and their knowhow, it seems to me that that has been extremely important. And one of the interesting aspects that I’ve been encouraging, Robert Lacy, population geneticist who is still in the employee of Brookfield Zoo, although he’s resident elsewhere, but he succeeded Uly Seal as the chair of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission. And what Bob has done over the last year and a half, and I’ve been sitting in on sessions that were held at Brookfield, he’s gotten a group of people from around the world to contribute in terms of an exercise they call metamodeling where they’re trying to use programs that are focused on different aspects of an animal species population’s biology, whether it’s in terms of the habitat and the actual geographic range over which the genetic resources are distributing in the population, or whether it’s in terms of the social behavior of that particular species and how it controls the distribution of the genetic elements or whether it’s on the disease side. So what they’re doing is getting these models to talk to one another so that you have a combined assessment of what the real viability prospects are for the populations. So for instance, on the social side, they’re using a model developed in South Africa, the SimBA program, or whatever it is. It’s related to the social relationships within lion prides. And so models like that, as I say, will now be able to talk to one another and they’ll be shortly publishing a manual on the metamodeling, putting the models together. So we’re coming a long way and it’s been a long time coming, but it seems to me in terms of the long-range future of zoos, and in terms of the quality of their animals, it seems to me you want to have, in your collections, representatives of as healthy, viable representatives of the species you’re exhibiting as you can.

03:20:28 - 03:21:33

And if you continued in the vein that zoos were on before and before the real restrictions on the movement of animals imposed by governmental and other factors and other forces, it seems to me that you’ve got to pay attention on this front. And so Bob and company, and as I say, it’s an international group. The last group that met included three people from Australia. They’re concerned about their own creatures in terms of both the wild and in captivity, but to have them participating and fully knowledgeable in terms of the mathematics involved in the modeling process, that’s absolutely great. And I’m very pleased by that continuing development, because we need it, the animals need it. You mentioned Australia.

03:21:33 - 03:21:37

Is Brookfield still have presence in Australia?

03:21:38 - 03:23:15

No, no, in terms of Brookfield’s presence in Australia, that officially ended in 2006. But if you don’t mind, I’ll tell you what effects our presence has had there. And it’s involved, not just staff, and visiting staff from Brookfield, but also volunteers, also trustees. And we have had a significant effect. I mentioned before that Peter Crowcroft got Bill Rutherford to supply the funding to buy up about, was about 5,000 hectares of land for the hairy-nosed wombat’s survival. And what was done there was simply to exclude the sheep. This had been used as pastoral land. But once the park was fenced, wire fencing, to keep the sheep out, it recovered with no particular endeavor on the part of the staff and those who visited in the local community that got involved, but it recovered.

03:23:15 - 03:25:14

And one of the doctoral study was actually done on the cryptogams on the soil that recovered. These are fungi and other lichens that with the very slight rain that they have in such a place, very slightest rain, they dumped the nitrogen into the soil. With the sheep around, unlike kangaroos, et cetera, sheep feet, sheep hooves cut the lichen crust. It blows away. So you get a denuded landscape like the floor beneath us. So once the sheep were off, that cryptogamic crust returned and with it, the other vegetation, the mallee, very dry eucalyptus species, dryland eucalyptus species. And so it came to be after the recovery at the Brookfield Conservation Park of the native vegetation, that in the nearby state of Victoria, there were seven pastoral leases that were coming up for renewal or for giveaway to the people who were leasing it for pastoral purposes. And Pat Feilman of the Potter Foundation, the largest foundation in Australia suggested that the people considering these leases in the Sunset Country, the governmental unit, go visit the Brookfield conservation park, they did.

03:25:16 - 03:26:51

And as a result, they abolished the leases and the Murray-Sunset National Park was declared, one million hectares. And we assisted in terms of their early monitoring of the both the fauna and the recovery of the vegetation. We assisted with, again, volunteers as well as staff assistance. But then this stimulated Mr. Rutherford again to consider, having a similar sized property and where we could find it, especially of the mallee, this very dry land eucalyptus vegetation. And a lease was coming up in across the border in South Australia, across the Victorian border in South Australia called the Calperum Station. And it’s about 400,000 hectares. That’s roughly a million acres. And so with the challenge grant from Brooks McCormick of Chicago, we embarrassed the government in coming up with the rest of the money.

03:26:51 - 03:28:36

This is the Commonwealth Government of Australia. One of our staff lobbied them and did some work on their biosphere reserve management, et cetera. And she effectively persuaded them along with members of the community to come up with the money. And the Chicago Zoological Society actually purchased the station of 400,000 hectares and then turned it over to the government. But what we did there, I think, needs to be duplicated, replicated around the world. We involved the local community. We had, at the Brookfield Conservation Park, there was only a settlement of maybe a few hundred people down at Blanchetown in South Australia. But at the Calperum Station, there are many people in the community around Renmark who became involved in terms of the future management of that landscape and what Dr. Pam Parker did was put articles in their little library on restoration programs for degraded, abused vegetation, and the community responded.

03:28:37 - 03:29:57

You could not keep these papers in the library. (George chuckles) They were snatched away as soon as you put something in the slot. And these people included the town drunkard guy who was illegally cutting mallee and several others of that sort. They became absolutely marvelous stewards of the land. So we manufactured this paddock adoption scheme where they individually were responsible for the regrowth or restoration of the land that included, of course, removing feral goats and trying to control the rabbit populations and all of that jazz. But these people became involved. They, in essence, became the owners of the landscape. Not just stewards. (chuckles) And they promoted amongst themselves some initiatives, for instance, return of some of the small marsupials to an island in the Murray River.

03:29:59 - 03:31:50

Animals that couldn’t survive because of dogs and cats and whatnot on the mainland itself. So in that case, an auto mechanic became the expert on rehabilitating a natural little island in the Murray River sufficient to support these small marsupial mammals. I mean, he was the expert. And so in general, until 2006 when Dr. Parker became employed by the Australian Landscape Trust, and that’s a board I sit on, the Australian Landscape Trust was formed to help, in terms of the community relationships at Calperum with the government. And it holds an ongoing set of contracts with the government, for the management of this substantial part of what is now the Riverland Biosphere Reserve. So Australia was a real plus. And partly I continued the Australian program, because we did not have people who were really facile in terms of the Spanish language communications that would be appropriate in South America, in Central America. Although obviously a great part of a world’s remaining biodiversity is in such places.

03:31:51 - 03:32:25

So the Australia program, I think, is a signal accomplishment of the society. And at the time, there were very few outside interest. New York sort of deferred to us in terms of our efforts there, which are not large, were not on continent-wide scale, but set examples. And as I say, in terms of this community involvement, for others to practice elsewhere.

03:32:25 - 03:32:35

So with your presence in Australia, did you consider, from the zoological point of view, bringing koalas or even potentially a platypus to Brookfield Zoo?

03:32:35 - 03:33:42

Well, we actually sponsored a young woman Melody Serena on the platypus studies and she worked with the Zoological Board of Victoria and with the governmental agencies and, so to speak, assuring us that the platypus was okay in terms of the river systems and all of that in that part of Australia. But in terms of, and we did entertain the notion of bringing koalas in, but we soon discarded that, especially when I saw the koalas starving on the roadsides in South Australia. But, no, we did not, shall we say, manipulate or leverage our conservation activities in terms of the collection at Brookfield. Different subject, the press.

03:33:44 - 03:33:50

What kind of presence did you want Brookfield to have in the media?

03:33:51 - 03:34:04

(George chuckles) In terms of what kind of presence I would like to have had for Brookfield in the media?

03:34:06 - 03:35:35

It was certainly more than what we did have. We did a sponsor early on, in the Robert Bean days in an educational series before Marlon Perkins that, I think it was a 12 or 13-part series on early television here in Chicagoland. But quite frankly, it was conducted by a woman who really wasn’t associated with the zoo, who didn’t understand the attractions in terms of the species that we were holding and their behaviors, et cetera. I mean, she concentrated basically on what you might call their appearance, their morphology. She used more museum specimens than zoo shots. I mean, that was, in my view, terrible. But it was an early venture in that respect that the board of trustees funded. And so it was a considerable investment.

03:35:37 - 03:37:23

But in terms of what we should’ve aimed for, much more regular communication. But, I’ll tell you, to get people out from the press bureaus and TV studios downtown out to Brookfield was quite a job. So we had to have unusual circumstances to attract their attention. And probably the, we had one of McCutcheon’s sons on the board of trustees, but it didn’t make a bloody bit of difference in terms of the tribune coverage of events at Brookfield. And I’ll give you an example of how irritating it had got at one point. The book, the “Let the Lions Roar!” The history that my assistant Andrea Ross put together, wrote, when it came out, the Chicago Tribune book review editor refused to have it reviewed. And the reason was that they were only interested in nationally important publications, fictional or nonfictional, that this was too provincial. And I’ll tell you that really burned me.

03:37:25 - 03:38:57

But despite as I say, even presence on our board of one of McCutcheon’s sons, that didn’t make a bloody bit of difference in those relations, but you should know, again, that we reached out to, indeed we brought aboard our board of trustees Bill Curtis. That required a board decision in New York of his company at the time, that required a board decision for him to be able to serve on a nonprofit board. So we gave him some leverage in the system, but it didn’t result in any immediate or subsequent coverage. While I appeared on a couple of shows, and so forth, With bill, it didn’t have a lasting impact. And it seems to me that zoos in general need to have a lasting relationship. And that takes careful cultivation. And as far as I’m concerned, Brookfield still doesn’t have it. You mentioned unusual circumstances with the press.

03:38:57 - 03:39:06

In 1996, what were the circumstances around the incident when the child unfortunately fell into the gorilla exhibit and how did the press treat it?

03:39:12 - 03:41:17

(George chuckles) Well, as you know, in terms of the child falling in the gorilla exhibit at Tropic World, the kid recovered. We spirited him away to Loyola Hospital, a couple of miles up the road. And in terms of the media coverage, they were absolutely entranced by the story, but they wanted to get to the kid and so indeed they were, some of the reporters were actually cloaking themselves in medical white jackets, et cetera, trying to get on the floor and into his room and we arranged to sort all of that. And we, again, spirited him away from the hospital to his home without a reporter getting to the kid. And the family now lives in North Carolina. I exchange Christmas cards with them every year. They’ve done wonderfully well and so all came out well. Probably the most dramatic incident I ever had with the press was when Ziggy was in the boat, the inside boat in the elephant house.

03:41:18 - 03:42:24

He’d apparently lunged at a keeper and was in the boat and coaxing him out was quite a job but (George chuckles) Crowcroft had allowed the press to be in the building. There were about 500 people in the building. And if Ziggy had turned the wrong way, then it would’ve been a disaster. And I was in charge. That was a tense moment, I must say, until a keeper came up with the solution of making an appropriate noise such as the female elephants make and inducing Ziggy to turn the right way. Let’s talk about how zoos exist. They exist through fundraising, in many instances.

03:42:24 - 03:42:30

How did Brookfield zoo get its money in the beginning when you were first starting?

03:42:33 - 03:43:45

Well, as I indicated earlier, in terms of funding for the zoo, the basic operational funding came through the Forest Preserve District of Cook County that is from the county taxpayers. And the rest was raised through admissions at the time that I came aboard and it was later that we developed my general membership and its contributions and sought additional funding in terms of grants of various sorts for different programs. And as I indicated, the basic operational funding was roughly a third of the overall funding cost manually that that came from the Forest Reserve District. Zoo directors now are responsible, in many instances, for raising, or helping to raise funds.

03:43:45 - 03:43:47

How did you adjust to fundraising?

03:43:47 - 03:43:49

How did I adjust to fundraising?

03:43:56 - 03:45:28

Well, (George chuckling) let’s say it didn’t preoccupy me. (George chuckles) But with some substantial continuing support from people who’d been, whose families had been associated with the zoo from the very start, like the Hamills. And Corwith Hamill was chair when I became director. But with ongoing contributions from families like the Hamills, like the Simpsons, there were no difficulties on that score. Going out to new parties and making pitches, shall we say, that did require some doing. And in terms of our first real major private campaign, I remember calling upon a member of the board of trustees of the MacArthur Foundation in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. to seek a million dollars. And fortunately he was of the right mind or influenced by Watergate.

03:45:28 - 03:45:57

I don’t know, but he came through for us. (George chuckles) So some of my experiences in this regard were quite quite fortunate, but others, you were disappointed in terms of the, not just the depth of support, but the continuance of support, because then you have to keep doing it.

03:45:58 - 03:46:02

Were there any surprise donations in your career?

03:46:02 - 03:46:06

Anybody stepped forward with things that you just didn’t expect?

03:46:07 - 03:48:03

(chuckles) Not enough. Okay, zoos, in many cases, are afraid to confront animal welfare or animal rights groups that are anti-zoo or anti-aquarium. Sadly we even have people in top positions in our field who seem in line with that. In many cases, these non-biologists have to say, please give us your thoughts of how best to deal with these type of groups that you may have had to have experience with in your tenure as director. Indeed, I think most zoo directors do have encounters with people who come from the animal rights and animal welfare organizations that have a perhaps misguided intent in respect to their effects on zoos and aquariums as institutions. What my earliest encounter in respect to such a group, which was criticizing from outside, was to invite them in and give them a thorough going tour of the institution, including the animal hospital and what we did in respect to the health of the animals, and so on, and give them a picture of the concern of the keepers in respect to their individual animal charges, and so on, and so forth. (George chuckles) And we turned the group around. It was really a pretty remarkable circumstance.

03:48:05 - 03:49:46

There was one unfortunate incident where one of the group, when they were leaving, came back into a building where a live mouse was being fed to a certain reptile. And she was visibly upset by this notion that we would feed a live animal to another creature. And so we spent a additional time on that. But what I’m saying is I think, while those pressures are always going to be there, it seems to me that it’s best to directly engage folks, presuming that they can be persuaded by the evidence, by the actual facts of the conditions of the creatures and the provisions for their welfare made both in terms of just the kinds of people selected as zoo staff, zookeepers, et cetera, right on to the physical accommodations and of course the food, and all of that. So many of these people are persuadable, but you have to engage them and sometimes that takes a little doing, given the leadership of those organizations. You talked about staff.

03:49:48 - 03:49:55

Sometimes there’s been a complaint about where are the good curators, the curatorial professional staff coming from?

03:49:56 - 03:49:58

How should curators be trained today?

03:49:58 - 03:50:03

And what do you think is expected or what should be expected of them?

03:50:03 - 03:50:08

(George chuckles) What should be expected of curatorial staff these days?

03:50:08 - 03:51:51

Yes. But certainly training in their special interest fields, whether they’re mammal experts or birds or invertebrates, insects, or fish, or whatever. You would expect them to have experience in training in terms of the elements that would be important in the management of captive individuals. So you would expect them to come with that, but I think you would also expect them to come with general familiarity with the concerns in conservation biology. And you should know by the way that it was Bill Conway and I who put up the seed money for the Society for Conservation Biology. Our institutions were basically the founding parties for the society for conservation biology in this country, which is now an international domain, holding meetings in Beijing, and God knows where else. So I would expect curators to come with at least some background in conservation biology and appropriate training in terms of real field-oriented ecology. Not just desktop modeling and manipulations.

03:51:54 - 03:52:53

But I would also hope that they would come with some familiarity with some human behavior. And as you may know, we got started at Brookfield in connection with the Hamill Family Play Zoo. We got the field of conservation psychology started with Carol Saunders at the lead. Carol is now living in New England, but she’s still trying to help the field grow. There’s been a text published by Susan Clayton and Gene Myers. Gene Meyers worked for several summers at Brookfield. He was a psychologist and originally trained at the University of Chicago. But he teaches out in Washington State.

03:52:54 - 03:53:35

But the whole notion of how to get people to care and express that caring in their behaviors, it seems to me that it would be beneficial if curators came with some familiarity with both for, shall we say, management purposes in terms of human relations with their keepers and superiors and others, if they came with some background in the psychological sciences. We’ve talked about this unique thing of co-directors at one time in the history of Brookfield Zoo.

03:53:35 - 03:53:49

With the responsibility that directors have for a living collection, related facilities, guests, how does one balance these concerns with those related to international conservation and research?

03:53:49 - 03:53:51

Are there priorities? And then why?

03:53:52 - 03:56:35

(George chuckles) You’re asking about the balance of allocations in terms of energy and funding and facilities, et cetera, in respect to conservation, especially on an international scale, versus visitor services, versus maintenance of an animal collection. And that is, should we say an eternal challenge in terms of the balance, because as you know, when you invest in a physical facility, whether it’s a new restaurant, a gift shop, or whether it’s an additional or expanded exhibit for the animals, that’s going to pre-occupy a certain amount of the annual funding and operational support for the institution. But it seems to me that there should be a sort of core allocation in respect to the fundamental maintenance of programs that you may already have established in terms of research, in terms of conservation, including conservation extending to field work outside of the institution. Not just managing populations within. So I’d say there has to be core allocations to the different segments of activities that these institutions comprise. And then the additional launch of new program, launch of new facility, et cetera, those can absorb, shall we say the other parts of the budgeting. They may require special efforts in terms of fundraising, as you well know, but it seems to me that there should be a core allocation agreed on to start in terms of conservation research, education, and public service, and animal collection. Otherwise you’re not going to run a rounded institution.

03:56:36 - 03:56:46

Today in today’s zoos, we see zoos spending 10, 20, $30 million on exhibits for elephants or great apes.

03:56:46 - 03:56:53

Would that money be better spent internationally for conservation efforts in the wild?

03:56:55 - 03:58:24

In terms of the major allocations to funding facilities to accommodate say big animals like elephants, and so on, versus expending such funds in respect to international conservation efforts. I’d say that’s a challenging question. But what I would say is that, and referring to the conservation question in general, that unless we have the urban publics behind us for the long term, conservation is simply not going to be supported or funded in a substantial way in the future. And let’s face it, the majority of the world’s population, the 6.8 billion people, are now in urban locations. Urban locations are where the zoos are. They need to influence people in a much more substantial way. And we touched earlier on the questions of media relationships, et cetera. Those need to be built to communicate with these urban publics on they need to be really, that needs a core allocation in itself in terms of the fundamental budget of the institution.

03:58:24 - 04:00:00

So I would say that then it’s justifiable to expend large sums in the tens of million. So for facilities in these urban institutions, if they can and do devote themselves to changing the, shall we say, the attitude, the behavior of these urban publics to the rest of the living world. So that’s a sort of double commitment. You just don’t build this for entertainment. You build it to communicate with your publics. And it’s important to communicate with those publics, because whatever form of governments there are around the world, those urban publics are what they’re catering to, and must, I mean, if they’re going to survive in any governmental form we know about. So it’s truly a challenging question you pose, but I think the institutions really have to reflect on what is this going to accomplish to put monies here rather than funding a particular effort in the wild. But there’s another problem is that the efforts in the wild are not so well organized and coordinated that they can be productive.

04:00:00 - 04:01:43

And I’m speaking here in reference to a recent initiative that I’ve become involved with. The Big Cats Initiative that the National Geographic Society is supporting and funding. Finding projects that are doable, that will enroll peoples in different parts of the world in caring about, and caring for their, even charismatic animals like the big cats, that’s a tough call. It doesn’t need millions, but it needs people that are engaged with the local circumstances as well as knowing something about the biology, the creatures, and their needs, et cetera. So there’s a different dimension there, a zoo that might, say, debate, the benefits of investing in a major facility versus investing in conservation. The investments in conservation would have to be much more, it seems to me, detailed and focused than they are now. You can’t just give to a single organization. You can’t, in most cases, you don’t have the simple equivalent of a contract to execute the architectural design you have for a facility.

04:01:44 - 04:01:53

It doesn’t work that way. We’ve mentioned the big cats. Estimates today are the tiger population is dwindling greatly.

04:01:55 - 04:02:00

Are zoos doing enough with this one charismatic mega vertebrate?

04:02:00 - 04:02:07

Are zoos doing enough to influence conservation in the wild?

04:02:08 - 04:03:45

In terms of zoos doing enough to influence conservation of such creatures as the tiger, the lion, and so forth, no. And there are some substantial individual efforts out there. I mentioned Bruce Brewer before he went off and got us started on the population genetics front. Bruce is now, he came back as curator of mammals, but he left to join the cheetah conservation effort that Laurie Marker started in Namibia. And there’s a solid project and program that zoos could more accountably support and afford. There’s similar efforts in terms of snow leopards and tigers and whatnot, but are zoos doing enough in that respect, no. And I think one of the things that we pioneered back in Crowcroft’s day with, we had plastic wombat banks in which people could contribute. Visitors could contribute to the conservation of the wombats.

04:03:45 - 04:04:40

And were used in our staff efforts in Australia. But you don’t see… you see a few such appeals in zoos and aquariums, but not on the level that I think that could be. That is trying to enroll the public in concern for the particular species, especially the charismatic creatures that attract them to the institution in the first place. I don’t think most institutions are doing nearly enough. And they could, relatively inexpensively, it seems to me. Let’s bring it down to a smaller animal. I notice a pin that you’re wearing of a frog.

04:04:40 - 04:04:55

What’s the significance of that pin and what are zoos doing or could be doing to influence the range, the conservation, the longevity of amphibian populations?

04:04:57 - 04:06:57

In terms of amphibian conservation, and this is one of the major challenges in what we foresee is mass extinction episode where we’re embarked upon now. I’ve been involved from the very start, when it was noticed that populations of creatures that biologists were studying in the wild were disappearing around the world. And this was, this was corridor talk, this was pub talk at the first International Congress of Herpetologist over in England back in 1989. And it wasn’t part of the official program. No papers were given on the subject but I became concerned as I heard this corridor talk as did fortunately David Wake who’s at the University of California at Berkeley, and who was here at the University of Chicago for quite a while in this career. But David is a amphibian expert, especially on the salamander side of the equation. But he assembled an international panel at the University of California at Irvine to really assess whether there was a major problem at the beginning of 1990. And it was evident from the reports from Australia, from South America, Central America, elsewhere that indeed populations of amphibians were diminishing and sometimes completely disappearing, including such creatures as the golden toad in Costa Rica.

04:06:59 - 04:09:08

So as a result, I had just become the chair of the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union. So I established a special task force on the declining amphibian populations and we set out to determine what was going on around the world. And the reports kept coming in confirming the disappearance of species and diminishment of populations everywhere. And it wasn’t in terms of a specific cause in addition to habitat destruction of, especially creatures in very restricted ranges a couple of acres on the mountain side, in addition to the degradation, destruction of habitats, there was evidently some other factor, and we determined that factor to be disease in the form of an unusual fungus, a chytrid fungus. And we, with the help of the Chicago Zoological Society, which funded the staffing of this declining amphibian population task force. We met down in Urbana, University of Illinois, had people from Australia, UK, and elsewhere around a common electron microscope so they could not disagree about what was under the scope. And from that came the identification of this fungus, which was not named until two years later in the literature. But it clearly, almost overnight, can wipe out a species and certainly populations of creatures that are rare to begin with.

04:09:09 - 04:10:48

But also common species. And this has been demonstrated from the Sierras in California, to the Mountains in Wyoming, to Central America cordillera, et cetera, et cetera. And in Australian in particular it’s been devastating. One of the particular species I had a fondness for, there were two species of gastric-brooding frogs in which the mother took in the fertilized eggs into her stomach. And there they developed into little froglets and hopped out of her mouth. And just as the human gastroenterologist were becoming more fascinated by how this creature controlled its gastric acids, et cetera, and facilitated the growth of its young in its stomach, they’re gone from this planet, both species. And this is sort of a little symbol here that sort of resembles one of the Australian tree frogs that it’s skin peptides are 100% effective against HIV. Even when HIV is already in human dendritic cells, you would think that this would get notice.

04:10:49 - 04:12:11

It was published in the Journal of Virology. It’s gotten no notice whatsoever. Not even from the scholars documenting the contributions of animal substances and compounds to human medicine. It’s pretty, pretty sad. At any rate, I’ve been involved from the start. In 2005, we held a international meeting in Washington and developed the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan, dealing with all dimensions from pollution to habitat destruction and degradation to disease, et cetera. The only part of the plan that has really been implemented is the sort of salvage operation called the Amphibian Ark in which zoos can play an extremely large role. Right now there are about 100 species in these salvage operations of the Amphibian ArK, which essentially take the creatures in before they’re wiped out in the wild and try to maintain them in ongoing breeding populations.

04:12:11 - 04:13:50

And it’s been supported by the Chicago Zoological Society through the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. And, as I say, about a hundred species in such circumstances now, but 400 more at least need to be. And of the some 6,000 plus species of salamanders, caecilians, and frogs and toads, at least a third are right now endangered. And perhaps if we knew enough, we’d consider half of that class is in danger of extinction right now. So it’s a major problem. It’s one where zoos can devote resources and should, and several zoos have done so, and also other facilities such as the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Universidad Catolica in Quito, Ecuador. There’s several biosecure facilities, because you have to have standards that are sufficient to keep out the disease organisms, especially this chytrid fungus, which has certainly devastated amphibians as we know it and especially in the last a couple of decades, a hundred species have gone. There’s so many issues to be considered.

04:13:50 - 04:14:00

What are some of the other issues that you’d like to see Brookfield Zoo and other zoos in the future address and more broadly the AZA address?

04:14:02 - 04:14:18

(George chuckles) In terms of issues to address in the future or from now on that zoos and the Zoo Association should really devote attention to?

04:14:18 - 04:16:35

Well, as I indicated earlier, I feel that they need real comprehension of how to communicate effectively with their publics and, not only their local publics, but with other parties, including governments and populations around the world. And in the process, really, in my regard, the fundamental is getting people to care for. When you can care about things, but unless you then take the next step to care for, the other creatures aren’t going to make it. And so it’s not just the rational engagement and it’s not just the emotional engagement. It’s then the subsequent behavior and doing something about it, whether that’s supporting the institution or supporting a conservation project in the wild or whatever, but getting people to care in that fashion, it seems to me, is the major challenge. And I don’t think that zoos are being capacitated to really do the jobs that they should. Monterey Bay Aquarium they, in terms of communications and labels, graphics, and certain of the exhibit setups, they are reaching out in this fashion. But for the most part, our institutions are just not availing themselves of what I previously spoke about, what is already known in terms of conservation psychology.

04:16:38 - 04:17:24

How to increase the likelihood that you’re gonna communicate effectively so that it’s not just caring in terms of thinking about this problem, caring in terms of being emotionally involved from seeing the animal or whatever, but caring for in terms of doing something about it. So it seems to me that these zoos in general, need real, shall we say a jab, a kick in the butt. And the Zoo Association certainly needs that in terms of its attention to both the ultimate welfare of the animal species.

04:17:24 - 04:17:31

What issues would you like to see Brookfield Zoo and other zoos address in the future and more broadly the AZA?

04:17:33 - 04:19:41

In terms of issues to address in the future for Brookfield and all other zoos and the Zoo Association, Zoo and Aquarium Association. It seems to me that they must attend to both the opportunity and challenge of communicating more effectively with their publics. And I do not mean just their local publics, but people in general and governmental agencies and entities also. They must communicate more effectively on behalf of the creatures that they have in their care. And that brings up my fundamental concern that the zoos and Zoo Association certainly are not aware of what we do know in terms of effective communications for that purpose. And what I’m talking about is moving people from caring in the sense of that they think that this is an appropriate conservation measure to take or they care about in terms of feeling for the individual animal or the species or the habitat they inhabit, caring about. But moving to doing something about it, caring for, the action. And we have guidelines, as I mentioned, in terms of the beginning field of conservation psychology that could be taken advantage of in terms of addressing these issues, but really, by and large, haven’t.

04:19:41 - 04:21:53

And while certain institutions like Monterey Bay Aquarium and their exhibit graphics, and in some of their interactive devices, certainly engage the public in tremendous questions as you’re well aware in terms of fisheries, the enormous conservation challenge for the world. While they’re utilizing some of this kind of incentivizing of the public, it’s not nearly enough. You have to get people engaged in a much more substantial way. And I think the zoos in general have not stepped up to the plate and certainly the Zoo Association at this time is just not there. And the way it was a few years back when we established the programs in terms of, so to speak, common old management of animal species, populations, was the species survival plans, and so on. Which we and others at National Zoo and elsewhere were involved in formulating the strategies and the plans and the devices, the ISIS program, and all of that. We need a similar program, a similar sort of initiative in terms of this job of convincing and persuading and enabling our urban publics to support the efforts for the conservation of the biota of even the charismatic animals that many people especially care for, care about, not care for. So I see that as a major undertaking that needs to be undertaken right now.

04:21:54 - 04:21:58

Well, to do this, a zoo director needs skills.

04:21:58 - 04:22:03

What skills does a zoo director need today as compared to when you started as zoo director?

04:22:03 - 04:22:04

Has it changed?

04:22:10 - 04:24:38

In terms of what skills a zoo director needs to amount such an institutional commitment by its governing board, whatever that might be, whether governmental or private, it seems to me that the director needs to come, not with just some familiarity with the biology of the world, but with some training capacity in terms of engaging people in a progressive manner. And this may come from training in business administration. It may come from other sectors, maybe in psychology itself, but most of our people in directors positions don’t come with any background training in public speaking, or much less in terms of the negotiation of contracts with employees, and so on, and so forth. So it’s gonna take a different level of backgrounds, it seemed to me, to forward the agenda I was just speaking of in terms of changing the urban publics and their behaviors fundamentally. So what I would say is we probably need to encourage multidisciplinary training of people aspiring to lead these institutions. And I think this applies to other kinds of institutions too. Put on your hat, think about the future 50 years down the road.

04:24:38 - 04:24:48

How do you see American zoos in terms of programs for the public, how they affect the public, animal collections, other activities?

04:24:50 - 04:26:38

Well, if they don’t, in terms of zoos 50 years in the future, that is very difficult to contemplate. No doubt some institutions will exist, that is be still in the business of keeping some species in captive circumstances for the education, the entertainment of their visitors, their visiting public. But I see that unless they fully embrace the conservation charges, they’re not going to have anything to offer. There simply will not be the diversity of species erate in our zoos now, certainly not the so-called charismatic big creatures. So they won’t be there. They won’t be on this planet. And that’s a general observation. I mean, it’s not just that a third of all the 6,000 or so species of amphibians are threatened with extinction, I mean, so 10% of the birds, 25% of the mammals, probably on the order of 25, 30% of all the reptile species, the diversity of these creatures. And the freshwater fishes too, at least at that level.

04:26:38 - 04:26:58

So in terms of the availability of animals to exhibit in the circumstances of these urban institutions, they simply won’t be there unless there is a much, much greater commitment to the conservation efforts in the zoos.

04:26:59 - 04:27:03

Have you seen a change in the public’s perception of zoos?

04:27:05 - 04:27:09

Have I seen a change in the public perception of zoos?

04:27:09 - 04:28:43

I think there is more expectation by the public, that there will be reflection of some conservation consciousness in the presentations of the zoos. In terms of the actual operations, I don’t think there’s been that much of a change because people are not informed. And I don’t think in that respect, we in the zoos could do various things, like truly celebrate local people who may be engaged in restoration of a prairie or whatnot, Much less the people around the world who are giving of themselves and caring for the wildlife, Like Jane Goodall is celebrated. We should have the equivalent of the local high school football team hero of the moment celebrated in our institutions for contributions in respect to conservation, whether, as I say, of local considerations, like prairie restoration in Chicagoland, or whether a distant person helping to hang on to the cheetah in Namibia. You’ve traveled the world. You’ve seen zoos in many countries.

04:28:43 - 04:28:50

Are there any zoos that you particularly admire and why would that be?

04:28:52 - 04:30:18

One that I visited earlier this year upon the retirement of their, basically their original director, was out in Palm Desert, California. And that’s the establishment that Karen Sausman put together, the Living Desert. And what she had done was not just work in respect to the exhibits, portraying the, and housing, the animals of the American Southwest Deserts, but also extending to considerations around the world. And she traveled around the world to sample the environments and the fauna and flora, and so forth, and so on. But she has built a remarkable institution and presence there. And I was pleased to see that she’s leaving her own version of the Hamill Family Play Zoo. It was under construction while I was there earlier this year. So I admire that dedication.

04:30:18 - 04:32:02

She basically built it from scratch, extended the area, provided for native animals and their illustration of their conservation needs. She’s engaged the community, which consists, in many parts of that region, of people from elsewhere, including here in Chicagoland, but people now from Alaska, and so forth are part of her visiting population and supporting her board and membership. So in terms of taking a theme, in that case, a particular set of ecosystems around the world and illustrating it, and illustrating its needs and the needs of the animals therein, I mean, that’s an exceptional institution. And I remarked earlier on, I think, again, in it’s particular situation, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is exceptional. There are large institutions larger, such as the Bronx Zoo facility of the Wildlife Conservation Society. And there’s an admirable example in terms of, they changed their name. It used to be the New York Zoological Society. It is now the Wildlife Conservation Society.

04:32:02 - 04:33:57

That’s the aim that all institutions should have. And there are individual exhibits in many places that are admirable in terms of the obvious improved welfare of the animals, and so forth. And last year I was in Frankfurt to see their great ape facilities in which they’re really planting (chuckles) tropical forests for the great apes to inhabit and mall and play in, and whatnot. But as I say, there are individual exhibits all over the place that set high standards and examples. But in terms of institutions, there’s ones that stick to it and improve themselves substantially in the process. And certainly the Karen Sausman’s facility, the animal hospital, for instance, which I think they ended up two years ago. It has cameras for the visitor to zoom in as you might in the hospital next door here, zoom in on the, whatever the veterinarian and assistants are doing in terms of treating an animal, whether surgery, or whatnot. The visitor, all of the rooms are glass walled.

04:33:57 - 04:34:36

So the visitor can zoom in on what’s happening to the creature, and it’s pretty engaging. And furthermore, she’s paid a salute, although there are not many amphibians in the desert regions of the world, there’s some interesting ones. But she’s even got a little segment identifying that this is a major conservation problem that zoos should address. So there are notable institution, individual institutions on that front. The wildlife Conservation Society of Brookfield Zoo, other zoos have larger budgets.

04:34:36 - 04:34:43

What can medium and small-size zoos do to assist conservation?

04:34:44 - 04:36:10

Well, there’s so many grounds to stake out. I mentioned, for instance, a hundred species and some security in terms of surviving populations now in captive circumstances. And Houston Zoo has been engaged in that. Almost certainly any medium sized zoo could provide facilities of the standards necessary for that group of animals. They’ll undoubtedly be, as the assessment of the reptiles proceeds, almost surely equivalence, smaller animals that you can maintain reasonable sized populations. And sometimes that gets to be a stretch. For instance, Toledo Zoo has the major living population of the Kihansi spray toad. This was a little creature endangered, because World Bank financed a dam above its gorge in Tanzania.

04:36:12 - 04:36:57

And then the chytrid fungus arrived too. But we got the World Bank embarrassed enough to cough up funding to get animals out to Bronx Zoo. And originally Detroit, now the population’s at Toledo. But they’re maintaining ’em and it’s too large for one facility, but they’ve got on the order of 6,000 animals. You can’t have 6,000 elephants, but you can have 6,000 Kihansi spray toads in a single facility and not much larger in total area than the room we’re sitting in.

04:36:58 - 04:37:09

When you talk about populations like this, where do you see zoos going in the not too distant future regarding their limited efforts in maintaining longterm captive populations?

04:37:09 - 04:37:17

And how are the efforts of the SSP programs in the sky high cost of maintaining and expanding zoo parks?

04:37:24 - 04:38:35

You’re asking about the commitment in terms of longterm maintenance of endangered species and reasonably size populations, it’s gonna assure the viability of the species for the long term. And it seems to me that this should again be considered a part of that core allocation in the budget. I mean, if you’re going to commit to being part of the Amphibian Ark and maintaining three or four species of amphibians or reptiles or fishes or whatever, it seems to me that in terms of the conservation commitment of the institution, that that should be part of that core fundamental allocation of resources. And so it will be there as long as the institution. And if that’s not there, then that’s not a true commitment in my view.

04:38:37 - 04:38:46

Is there a danger that with the emphasis that zoo and aquariums have on marketing and revenue, that there may be a drift away from conservation science?

04:38:48 - 04:40:27

Well, in terms of the emphasis on marketing and such in our institutions in a world competing for attention for all kinds of services and facilities and pleasures, it seems to me that that’s a real task for leadership that you’ve got to have informed and committed leadership in terms of the conservation mission of our institutions. And as you know, that is changed through the evolution of zoos, from simple menageries or oddities from the biota of the world that you can see to zoological parks in their commitment to maintaining these creatures for the rest of their normal individual lives to the Conservation Center concept. And it seems to me that that’s the reason for these institutions to be. And if the leadership in that institution doesn’t have that commitment, then they shouldn’t be marketing anything. You mentioned the evolution of zoos. You developed this diagram that graphically illustrates the evolution of the zoological park.

04:40:27 - 04:40:34

And is there another rung after the last thing or has it reached ts pinnacle?

04:40:36 - 04:41:14

Well, my successor at Brookfield has posited an additional rung on the latter of the “Evolution of Zoos.” And that’s really more in terms of inspiring conservation leadership in the generations to come. And I think that’s an extension of the Conservation Center concept, but it’s being placed as an additional rung to strive for so.

04:41:16 - 04:41:19

George, how would you like to be remembered?

04:41:19 - 04:42:51

(George chuckles) Fondly, I would like to be remembered but I indicated earlier that one of the functions I tried to perform was true mentoring and facilitating as my career developed. I remember very much my mentor at the Charleston Museum and my stimulation early in the Lumberton High School. Those people mentored. And I tried to do the same with staff and some of whom are in far places now and doing excellent things. And I mentioned a couple like Richard Bodmer who’s really made a remarkable effort in South America. in I think for the benefit of both the citizenry of South America and the wildlife. But that kind of mentoring is what I would like to be remembered for. You’ve devoted so many years to this profession.

04:42:53 - 04:42:55

Ultimately, what do you know about it?

04:42:55 - 04:42:57

What do you know about it?

04:43:00 - 04:45:07

(George chuckling) In terms what do I know about the zoological part field as a profession at this juncture, I don’t feel I’m as closely attuned to the thinking of various leaders as they should be. I’m devoting more efforts to the external reach to conservation efforts at all levels locally in terms of the Chicago Wilderness Initiative that we got launched. And there is now an exemplar for the country and the world, and it’s being emulated in Houston and Cleveland and elsewhere, Chicago Wilderness, 250 plus organizations, institutions, governmental agencies, et cetera, committed to the conservation of what is left of the natural areas in this region of the country. I mean, that’s pretty bloody remarkable. So as I say, I’m more engaged now with the external journal reaches, the relationships that these institutions should, all of them should have in terms of both local community, such as Chicago Wilderness Alliance, but then nationally and internationally in terms of the efforts of different organizations and institutions. And right now I’m trying to form the Amphibian Survival Alliance to make sure that all aspects of the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan are attended to. And I challenged some zoos in Chester Zoo and Frankfurt Zoo came through. Now New York and Detroit have also come through.

04:45:10 - 04:45:43

But these should be natural parts of the operations of these institutions in my view, but my own personal time is a bit divided at the moment between the global effort for the amphibians, the local efforts, and a think tank thinking about humanity’s relationships with the rest of the living world. Thank you very much, Dr. Rabb.

About George Rabb, PhD

George Rabb, PhD
In Memoriam
Mar 23, 1930 - Jul 27, 2017
Download Curricula Vitae


Chicago Zoological Park: Brookfield, Illinois

Director Emeritus

George Rabb joined Brookfield Zoo in 1956 on a research project commissioned by the Chicago Zoological Society. He worked under Director Robert Bean, son of the first Director of Brookfield Zoo. Since Rabb had no title he gave himself one, curator and coordinator of research. This was a unique position, he helped redevelop the field of animal behavior with colleagues at the University of Chicago. Dr. Rabb created the Zoo’s Education Department, and he innovated in the use of naturalistic exhibitory to provide visitors with environmental immersion experiences throughout the Zoo.

George Rabb served as Brookfield Zoo’s Director from 1976 until 2003. Under his direction, the Zoo pioneered a new approach to help children develop caring attitudes towards nature as part of the Zoo’s conservation ethos and operations. In 1985, he and the Chicago Zoological Society helped found the Society for Conservation Biology and he served on its original board of governors. From 1989 to 1996 he was Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, and he helped build it into the largest scientific network for species conservation in the world.

A unique honor bestowed upon him was the naming of Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog.

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