July 22nd 2012 | Director

Lee Simmons

As a veterinarian, Dr. Simmons has had a varied career. In 1963 he landed his first zoo job as curator of mammals at the Columbus Ohio Zoo.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:00 - 00:01:56

Actually born in February the 20th, 1938, which makes me kind of one of the old gray backs or whatever. And in Tucson, Arizona, I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona in the desert, then foothills outside of Tucson. Of course, now that’s all part of the city, but you know, when I was there, we were five miles from the city limits and, and which I think, you know, was, was there a great place to grow up. And then when I was about 13, we moved to Oklahoma. My dad transferred into Oklahoma, but because he was Air Force civil service and, but Tucson was a, was a good place to grow up because, you know, people, don’t nothing about, you know, the fact that a kid would, you know, or a couple of kids would take their bikes and head out into the desert, then come back in time for supper. And that kinda was my, you know, early fascination with animals and that I collected everything I could get my hands on and including some things I shouldn’t have, probably, in retrospect, like Gila monsters and stuff. And, and, you know, so that was my first where I really kind of developed an interest in, in mostly in herpetology in those early days. And, and then, you know, we spent a little, a little time in outside of Portland, Oregon up on the Warrington river, or my dad was in the Navy and stationed at the Portland Naval base, which is actually where I saw my first quote unquote, exotic animal other than native North American stuff at a little place called Seaside, Oregon.

00:01:56 - 00:02:55

They had a, they had a little menagerie and, and they had a gorilla and of course we paid our admission and we went in to see the gorillas and the whatever. And it turns out, of course it wasn’t a gorilla, it was a Chimp. And it climbed up on the mesh and peed all over everybody in the front row. (chuckling) That was the first, first exotic animal. We didn’t have a zoo in Tucson in those days and first exotic animal other than native North Americans than I’d ever seen. And that was also where I came as about a six year old, came in with a little water snake, which everybody then pronounced as, you know, cotton mouth water moccasin. And which of course wasn’t the case because no moccasin ever got that far north, but you know, my early interest was really in snakes as a lot of kids are. And that kind of continued on after we moved to Oklahoma.

00:02:57 - 00:04:47

And the, my real start with the zoo world was I walked into the Oklahoma City Zoo and into the reptile gardens with a bag full of snakes, actually a pillowcase full of snakes, that I’d collected and met Bob Jenny, who was curator of reptiles there. And then ultimate Julian, ultimately Julian Frazier, who was the director there. And so then I spent, you know, a number of years working with Bob Jenny volunteering. I couldn’t, you know, couldn’t afford to work at the zoo. They didn’t pay enough money, but, but I spent a number of years working with Bob Jenny and going on collecting trips and, and, you know, in talking with Julian, it was interesting in that, you know, when I finally made the, kind of the switch from herpetology, because that was where I was really headed, was originally thought I’d get a degree in herpetology and, you know, become another Bob Jenny. And, and I made the switch to, from herpetology to veterinarian medicine, primarily because in talking with Julian, I decided that I really would like to have some kind of a say in policy and how the zoo was run, and maybe it’d be fun or, you know, better to be a zoo director somewhere down the line. So I went into veterinary medicine strictly with the intent of becoming a zoo director, which is kind of ironic because Julian hated veterinarians. His philosophy was the only time he called a veterinarian in is when the animal is down and you’re sure he’s going to die ’cause that way you’ve got somebody to blame it on.

00:04:47 - 00:05:19

He, they didn’t have a veterinarian. He only called veterinarians when the, when the animal was, was (mumbles), that was going to die. And, but, but he tolerated me because I don’t think he really believed I was going to go ahead and become a vet. So you wanted to work in a zoo setting, but you somehow felt that being a veterinarian would help in that. Yet in those days, there probably were very– Very few. Very, very few veterinarians who had reached that.

00:05:19 - 00:05:24

Why did you think being a vet would get you to where you want it to go?

00:05:24 - 00:06:42

It seemed like it was a more useful discipline. I mean, it, from a, you know, from a standpoint of doing something useful for the animals, for being able to do something on a zoo wide basis, it was a much more useful discipline because not only the medical aspects, but nutrition, you know, in veterinary, you get nutrition, genetics. You get a whole broad spectrum of, of exposures and skills that seemed like a much more useful discipline. Part of the reason was that I had, was also working with an old time ex cavalry vet, Dr. Carlson, who was a really neat guy. And I was, I was, you know, that raised in pet skunks and deodorizing pet skunks. He taught me how to deodorize pet skunk. Actually I paid my tuition and all expenses for the first year and a half or so, or maybe close to the grad undergraduate school by raising and selling pet skunks. And, and actually, he kind of helped me come to that conclusion that, that the veterinary medicine was, was a good discipline to attack something with.

00:06:42 - 00:07:25

And so basically that’s why I went into veterinary medicine, right. You know, I had a full beard and mustache and the whole bit. Luckily was told just before I went up to interview for vet school that they’d never accepted anybody with a, with a beard. And so I shaved off my beard and went up and interviewed. And when they asked me when they said, what, what do you tend to, tend to do after you graduate. And I said, well, we’re going to the zoo world. And he, and they, they allowed as how they didn’t know anything about giraffes or gorillas. And the interview got real friendly from then on, it was a really easy interview because, you know, I got them onto a subject that they didn’t know anything about.

00:07:27 - 00:08:38

And so I got into vet school and then, you know, four years later, and then of course married Marie. I’d met Marie when we were in undergraduate school at Central State College and met at a life-saving class, chemistry class. And then we got married six days before I went into vet school and she was still finishing up her degree. And, so, when we, you know, when we got ready to graduate, you know, four years later, I was, I was the only, I was the only guy in my class, the only who graduated without a job. Everybody else in the whole class had a job. And, and I had actually been offered a couple of very good jobs, but not in the zoo world. There just simply were no jobs in the zoo world to be had. And actually I had gone to St. Louis, you know.

00:08:38 - 00:09:20

They’re, in your life, there are some interesting things that happen that at the time, you know, look and feel like maybe a failure or something that didn’t work out and actually turn out to be a really good in the long run. Not getting the, you know, not getting the, St. Louis had never had a full-time vet. Actually, when I finally became a full, you know, an honest full-time staff veterinarian, at the Columbus Zoo, there were only 12 of us that had full-time jobs as veterinarians in the, in the zoo world. There were– Let me bring you back. Yeah.

00:09:20 - 00:09:23

When did you graduate from veterinary school?

00:09:23 - 00:09:30

I graduated– Well, I graduated from Oklahoma State in 1963.

00:09:33 - 00:09:34

And with no job?

00:09:34 - 00:09:35

With no job.

00:09:35 - 00:09:39

What did you, what did you, how did you start out after you graduated?

00:09:39 - 00:10:45

Well then, you know, I had gone to St. Louis and St. Louis was thinking about hiring a full-time veterinarian, but it was going to be about eight months down the road before they made the decision. I had a wife and son by then that were addicted to eating. And so there was a, there was a job opening for a mammals curator in Columbus, Ohio. So my first paid zoo job was as curator of mammals at the Columbus Ohio zoo. I drove up to Columbus in a little Nash Rambler. Found a place that I could shower and put on a, you know, put on a, I cleaned some clean clothes, went into the, went into the zoo and met Steve Kelly, who was director there. But, you know, a lot of people have come out of Columbus, you know, Gordy Hebel, Louis Desabato, you know, Warren Thomas, well, Don Farst. I mean, a lot of people have come out of Columbus system.

00:10:48 - 00:12:00

And interviewed with Steve. He took me home at night, which I was happy about because I had filled my car up. And after filling my car up, I had $19 in my pocket to get home. So, that with, you know, with a little Nash rambler, you could have gotten home, even a thousand miles for $19 in those days, if you didn’t eat. And he took me home, and the next morning, which is a Sunday morning, he, you know, I got up early and found a bathroom and showered and shaved, and got, went out, got to the newspaper and was sitting there in the, in the breakfast nook, reading the newspaper when, when Steve’s wife popped in, was a little bit surprised to see me and asked me if I’d like some bacon and eggs, asked me who I was. And I think she was used to Steve dragging strays home. And almost lost that job right then and there, I thought anyway. She put my bacon and eggs down on the table.

00:12:00 - 00:12:49

And all of a sudden there was a cat that came up on the table and went for my bacon and eggs, before I could think what I was doing, I smacked that cat about halfway across the room and heard a big gasp and looked up, and here’s Steve. That he’s just, he’s just part way down the stairs in a pair of red bikini underwear. I’ll never forget that. I didn’t even know men wore bikini underwear in those days. And I thought you better eat these damn eggs quick because it’s over. But he hired me anyway. And I went to Columbus. And then within about six months was zoo veterinarian, staff veterinarian and assistant director after.

00:12:49 - 00:12:51

So he didn’t hire you– No, no.

00:12:51 - 00:12:52

You were hired as a curator?

00:12:52 - 00:14:00

No, he, yeah. He hired me as, he hired me as mammals curator and Columbus was in turmoil in those days. It was very, very political. Steve, you know, the reason I made the move up was that Steve got fired, and it was a very political place, political zoo. And I had made a really good decision when the, when the chance to move up, I had a choice of becoming assistant director, which of course was a political appointment or taking a professional appointment as staff veterinarian, which on some advice, as it turns out, the city attorneys back in the 1800s, it included vets and an MDs in. So they didn’t seem too self-serving. It was a political appointee, I mean, a professional appointment, which from which you couldn’t be fired unless you were convicted of a felony or, or your license revoked. So for three years in Columbus, I pretty much ran rampant.

00:14:00 - 00:14:02

They couldn’t do anything with me.

00:14:02 - 00:14:03

What year was that?

00:14:03 - 00:14:30

Well, in 196, in June of 1963, and so I was there from the June, 1963 until, well, in effect October to December of 66. I actually then went to Omaha the first to December of 1966, excuse me. Now you walked in the door at Columbus as a curator.

00:14:30 - 00:14:32

What kind of zoo did you find?

00:14:32 - 00:15:19

Well, it was, it was basically a, what you would expect is a typical, well, I say not typical. It was, it was actually, for its time, was a pretty good zoo and that, they had, you know, they had a good cat collection. They had, and they had, you know, Colo, the first born gorilla in the world. And so they had a pretty good, a good great ape collection, and a, and a bird collection. They had an aquarium, which was turned out, to have been a good deal. Columbus was a great, in those days, a great training ground. A lot of good people, a lot of people came out of Columbus. It was a good training ground in that there were a lot of things that you saw in Columbus that you said never again, you know, would I be a part of something like that.

00:15:19 - 00:16:23

And so you got, you got a wide experience. At one time, I was mammals curator, staff veterinarian, assistant director, and acting curator of the aquarium all at the same time, because Columbus was kind of in turmoil in those days. Great experience. Great, great, great experience because you got to do a bit of everything, you know. You got exposed to all kinds of things. And the only, you know, the only thing I didn’t, you know, kind of have, have a hand in, except that I did, was reptiles because Lou Pistoia was the reptile curator and Lou, in my opinion, still yet today, was one of the really great reptile guys. I mean, he had a, he had a track record for breeding snakes and for husbandry and managing snakes that I think still yet today, hardly anybody can match. Lou was, you know, totally focused on reptiles.

00:16:23 - 00:17:47

And we had the largest collection of poisonous snakes in the world there. Only about 10% of it on display. We had a huge collection. And because of the fact that I’d started out as a herpetologist and because I knew Bob Jenny and all of that, I think I was the first veterinarian that Lou had ever trusted or, you know, so some interesting stories about some of the stuff that, that we did with Lou, you know, like taking tumors out of a about a nine foot black forest Cobra that was loose in a room with us for about 45 minutes because Lou didn’t want to hurt his snake. And I was begging, you know, gimme a, gimme a snake hook. Cause I was just trying to run around the room, trying to stay out of the way of Lou and that damn snake ’cause a nine foot Cobra is a, you know, forced Cobra, tree Cobras are not slow and they’re aggressive. But yeah, but Lou, you know, Lou was head of reptiles and, but it was a great experience. It was kind, but it was kind of a thing that, you know, you almost had to leave if you’d leave of your own free will ’cause a lot of people didn’t leave at their own free will.

00:17:47 - 00:18:06

You, you know, you had the tools to do, survive just about anywhere. And because I had a professional appointment, the politicians, you know, couldn’t touch me. They made everybody else crazy, but I was kind of a bulletproof. You mentioned you learned some things.

00:18:06 - 00:18:08

What lessons did you walk away with from there?

00:18:08 - 00:19:12

Well, I walked away with a profound dislike. I don’t want to say hatred, but it might’ve been, for politics and politicians and bureaucracy. And I think that’s pretty much stuck with me. So yet to this day, because I mean the big, you know, the amount of energy that’s wasted on bureaucracy and politics and politicians in a lot of institutions around the country, around the world is just, if you could take that same energy and put it to work on something useful, you know, like animal husbandry, animal care conservation, that, that dislike or hatred, if you will, whatever cost me a job. In about 1965, I interviewed for the director’s position in Oklahoma City, which kind of would have been back home. You know, my folks were in Oklahoma. Marie’s folks were in Oklahoma. I’d spent all those early years volunteering at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

00:19:12 - 00:20:04

It was kind of a perfect match. Went in, interviewed pretty much had the job bolted down. In fact, there’s the president of the society was already made arrangements for the moving company to come get our furniture and the whole bit. And at the end of the day, there was one more small group that I needed to meet. And unfortunately, or fortunately, he didn’t, they didn’t tell me who they were. And he just assumed because I was a, you know, an Oklahoma guy, gone to school for 12 years there and all that I would know, and I didn’t. It was an older group, a lot of white hair, you know, after the introductions, why some little blue hair lady down at the end of the table said, you know, well Lee, tell us about your politics.

00:20:04 - 00:20:05

And I said, what do you mean?

00:20:05 - 00:20:12

And she said, well, tell us about your political affiliations and your, you know, and your politics.

00:20:12 - 00:20:14

You know, what’s your, what’s your philosophy?

00:20:14 - 00:21:13

I said, my politics, all the, all the, all the things that I developed about not liking Columbus kicked in. I just kinda got up on my soap box and said, well, my politics are personal. That I don’t think politics and politicians have any place in the zoo unless they pay their admission, stay on the sidewalk and obey the rules. And it was kind of a big silence. And then we went from there to talking about how many children I had and the weather. And, and then, you know, then the interview was over and the, the board president, you know, because what I hadn’t realized was that the, the society selected you, but the city hired you. And I was, and I’d already met the city manager and the mayor, and they had already kind of put their blessing on it. And so I, it was a, it was a done deal.

00:21:13 - 00:22:14

It was home free until I talked to the, to the guys, the real power behind the scenes and told them that I hated politicians (chuckling) and it was over. (chuckling) And if you think about it, it was probably the greatest thing that ever happened to me. If I’d had gotten that job, that was a political job and would have been a political job and was a political job for the other people that ended up at Oklahoma City for years and years to come. Whereas the great thing about Omaha is that, you know, I’ve had probably the best job in the country, if not the world for nearly 40 years or better. I’ve been there 45 years, but was director for nearly 40. And basically we’ve had no policy, no politics period. I mean, other than maybe money politics. Now let me ask you about just, let’s go back almost for a minute.

00:22:14 - 00:22:24

Staff veterinarian. You were the staff veterinarian for the Columbus Zoo. There, as you mentioned, not many veterinarians in the United States doing that job.

00:22:24 - 00:22:31

What were some of the things that in the beginning, as a veterinarian, you had to deal with?

00:22:31 - 00:23:54

Well, I mean, you know, the problem that we had in those days, still do some degree have today, but (muttering), the level, you know, the depth and level of our, of our ignorance of the things that we didn’t know was, was incredible. It was pretty profound. Walked into the door, right into the face of a tuberculosis outbreak in the great apes. They’d had some gibbons that came down with tuberculosis and then it had spread. And so we had a great ape collection of, of gorillas, Colo, you know, Mack and Millie and Colo and Mongo, the gorillas and, and chimpanzees and orangs and gibbons, that the whole collection was basically tested positive for tuberculosis. So that was a, you know, that was a big, a big, immediate, immediate challenge in those days, the, you know, the immobilizing drugs that we’ve got today and the equipment and the techniques that we’ve got today didn’t even exist. Up until, up until about the time I got to the Columbus Zoo. Nicotine sulfate was the, you know, the only immobilizing agent that existed other than if it was an animal that you could use a barbiturate on.

00:23:56 - 00:25:20

And, you know, there are a lot of animals you can’t use, you know, you can’t use barbiturates on any of the, of the big cats because they, you know, they’ll sleep for two weeks. And then Sernylan, phencyclidine came along as an experimental drug just as I got to Columbus. So I was the first, I was the first guy to actually dart a gorilla or an orang with Sernylan, with phencyclidine, because it was still an experimental drug. And in fact, they ended up with some of the guys from, you know, the pharmaceutical company sitting around my office talking about how, you know, three to five milligrams of Sernylan was better than three martinis with the guy who ran my hospital listening in. And he was, you know, he was, he was the, a 56 year old ex circulation manager for the Cincinnati Inquire, a really bright guy. But curious, came back from lunch a couple of days later, and he was doing some funny things and he admitted that he just, his curiosity got the best of him. He just unscrewed this bottle with all this powder in it, licked his finger, ran it around the rim, because I said, how much did you take. He said I don’t know.

00:25:20 - 00:26:22

I just, ran my finger around the rim and stuck it on my tongue. So, you know, the guy was a weightlifter, but he did a little ballet for me, told him, you know, he thought he could bend iron bars, that he was, you know, he could do anything, but he didn’t want to. I mean, it was, it was about five or six hours that we sat with him and he described as, that was damned interesting. And then of course we locked the Sernylan up. Then of course he, you know, he would never have done it again. He was, you know, he was a really incredibly good guy, but he just got curious to listen to these guys talk. But we used, that was the beginning of having a immobilizing agent that you can actually use on zoo animals. And that was the first use, you know, in, in about 19 64, 63 of using Sernylan on a great ape, or any, or any zoo animal.

00:26:22 - 00:26:26

How do zoo veterinarians communicate with each?

00:26:26 - 00:27:34

Well, we did, there were only, as I say, there were only 12 of us that had full time paid jobs. And then there were a lot of guys that were on call. Basically, basically we had a, one of the, one of the guys had a mimeograph machine. And part of the deal was that it cost in those days, $10 for the annual dues to become, to be part of the zoo vet association, if you will. And one, you know, and one paper a year of some kind, you know, one clinical, one clinical report a year. That was the dues. And, and it got, it got mimeographed. If you send it in or a piece of, you know, on a, on a piece of butcher paper, why, you know, that’s the way it kind of came back and it got mimeographed and, and sent around.

00:27:34 - 00:28:34

And that was, that was the extent of, in those days, you know, of our, you know our communications and then, and it really kind of remained that way until about 1968, when we actually broke off and formed the, I think 68, in the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians and had our first meeting in East Lansing, Michigan. But it was, yeah, it was, it was word of mouth, telephone and, and those mimeographed case reports and, you know the things that we didn’t know were profound. I mean, we didn’t know what was normal if you pull blood, it could very well be the first time that you had ever pulled blood on that species or, or anybody had ever pulled blood on that species. So now you’ve got, you know, now you’ve sent it into the lab.

00:28:34 - 00:28:43

You’ve got, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got to report back and you’re looking at it, saying well, you know, is this, you know, do I compare this to a cow?

00:28:43 - 00:28:45

Do I compare it to a horse?

00:28:45 - 00:28:48

Do I compare it to a dog or a cat?

00:28:48 - 00:29:01

Well, in some cases, dog or cat, or you know, but in some cases, you know, with the odd species that were not related to domestic animals, you look at this and had no idea. And.

00:29:03 - 00:29:11

Were you able, while you were a vet, we were able to change the care of animals at the Columbus Zoo while you were there?

00:29:11 - 00:30:22

Well, I think so. Yeah, we did a, we did a lot of, you know, we did a lot of things. I mean, it was advancing the, you know, I mentioned a while ago that the, you know, the, in the course of things, there are certain people that both influence you and also influence, you know, the world you live in, in this case, the zoo world. Clinton Gray was, Dr. Clint Gray, who at the National Zoo. Cause of course, Ted Reed was the director then, and he was a veterinarian, but he wasn’t practicing and hadn’t practiced for years. But Clint Gray, when I first, first time I went to the National Zoo and met Clint, I was kind of awed by this older guy who seemed to know everything and do whatever. And as it turns out, Clint had worked for the government for a long time for 20 years, but he’d been, been all over the world, but he and I started our zoo careers at exactly the same month. But Clint Gray had a really profound effect on veterinary medicine in the zoo world in that he helped organize.

00:30:22 - 00:31:17

And plus because the National Zoo had the resources to communicate. So our first, you know, our first kind of formal communications within zoo vet were because of Clint Gray. And when we started going to East Lansing to Michigan State, Clint helped sponsor a bit at that. And they did, and did the, you know, did the conference reports and all of that. And he had a huge, huge impact on, on the zoo world. And as far as veterinary medicine, and then of course he hired Mitch Bush, which was, who’s been one of our, as far as the diagnostician and the practitioner, one of the great ones. Just jumping back.

00:31:17 - 00:31:28

When you were at Columbus Zoo, the director there that had hired you, did he teach you anything, give you any lessons or was he there just too short a time?

00:31:28 - 00:32:23

He was there a very short period of time. And he, and he taught me to, (chuckling) he taught me to watch out for him because he, he was careless about animals. He nearly got us all eaten by, by very angry female lion with cubs one day, cause he nearly let her out amongst us. But Steve was an interesting good guy. I mean, he was a, he was a good guy and he was an interesting guy. And, you know, without speaking out of turn too much, it was, you know, cause his, he was from a artistic family, but his dad was Bev Kelley who ran the St. Louis Opera and his uncle was Emmett Kelly, the clown. But I wouldn’t say that Steve was, he was only zoo director technically for a year. And actually he was only zoo director for six months.

00:32:23 - 00:33:27

But he had sense to hire you. Well, or bad sense (muttering). Actually, it turned out to be really great because we were a great training ground. And, and because I got to dabble in virtually everything in the whole zoo and, you know, and have a say in, and because I had a professional appointment, which meant that I came out of, I came out of Columbus with a lot of confidence and a really big head of steam and a lot of enthusiasm because nobody could tell me what I could do or what I couldn’t do. And I think, you know, if I’d got that job in St. Louis or the job in Oklahoma City, that things would’ve been different. I want to jump ahead just a little, because you mentioned tranquilizers and starting to work with tranquilizers. You have had the experience and have been a manufacturer of a tranquilizer rifle and darts, based on my knowledge. Pull syringes.

00:33:27 - 00:33:35

Blow pipes, yeah. All those types of implements. And based on my experience with people in the business, they speak very highly of the product.

00:33:35 - 00:33:40

And can you tell us, how did you decide to get into that phase of it?

00:33:40 - 00:33:42

What prompted you to do it?

00:33:42 - 00:33:46

What do you think makes yours better than a lot of others?

00:33:46 - 00:34:45

Well, you know, not only in those days, did we, you know, whether or not a lot of things that we simply didn’t know, right, ’cause the knowledge base, you know, in the database simply wasn’t there. But there were a lot of, a lot of the equipment and things that we use today simply weren’t there. It was out of necessity. The very, the early dart guns, you know, were Palmer’s CO2 guns, and/or they had a powder, you know, I was 22 powered powder gun. The CO2 guns didn’t have much range. They didn’t work in cold weather at all. The powder gun, you never knew exactly what it was going to do. I mean, the dart could hit 15 or 20 feet ahead of you, or it could blow through the animal and make a 50 caliber hole all the way through.

00:34:45 - 00:36:05

You never knew quite what the thing was going to do. And so, you know, my first, you know, quote unquote dart gun was that I picked up a Remington rolling block, 50-70 saddle carbine, an old, you know, an old military, you know, cavalry carbine, and made a, you know, a false chamber for it so I could shoot it, it’d shoot a 22 blank and with some restriction and still had some problem with what velocity you were going to get out of the end. It, we needed, we needed something else. We needed something else. And actually, even though I was using that gun, actually I didn’t go directly in the manufacturing, dart guns. My, the first thing that I made and patented was, was a pole syringe because, you know, you didn’t always need a, a gun that would reach way out. You needed something that would, that would, you know, they would get you an injection at five or six or four feet without getting your arm torn off. And so made a pole syringe out of, again, out of necessity.

00:36:06 - 00:37:33

And then a couple people saw it, came through and saw it and they wanted one. So then I, I had a lathe in my basement in Omaha and, and so, cause I would, I’d been a gun, you know, kind of an amateur gunsmith. And cause it really started out with amateur gunsmithing, not having to do with the zoo world, and a couple of people through, and then it got to be three or four more. And then, you know, I suddenly realized, wait, you know, wait a minute, I’ve made about 10 of these dang things. And so I rethought it, redrew it and talked to a neighbor who was involved with pharmaceutical company about what he thought as far as marketing. And, and he kind of encouraged me and, and patented it and made a pole syringe, which we are still, you know, we’re still selling pole syringes today. We’re still shipping them all over, you know, all over everywhere. And then, then after the pole syringe, why then developed a, modified a couple of other dart guns and then decided that really had a, maybe a better idea and so designed and developed the dart gun and, and actually, you know, the dart, the last dart guns we shipped was in fives, model five.

00:37:33 - 00:39:02

So we’ve, we’ve designed five different models of dart gun. And I’ve got a sixth model on the drawing boards right now and actually have a prototype made that can be made with CNC. And those early days where I, you know, I have dinner, read the newspaper and then about 10 o’clock go downstairs into the basement. And, you know, once I turned on the machine, I was there until about two o’clock in the morning and that’s, you know, that’s all well and good when you’re in your 40s, but when you get into your 70s, going down and turning on that machine. And so I’ve got one design that can be totally made with CNC equipment and I could have made outside. I just ran out of time and, and the willingness to go down and work in the basement until two o’clock in the morning. And, but, you know, we’ve, we’ve made, I don’t know, maybe 250 dart guns that have been, gone all over the world and then got into making blowpipes, blow guns and darts, and, and designed a red plastic tailpiece that makes the, the Palmer dart much, much more effectively. So basically, you know, the gun, that’s what we came up with and designed as a, has a valve on it.

00:39:03 - 00:39:55

So that if you got a 10 pound monkey, six feet away from you, you can shut it down. And you’ve got a muzzle velocity of about 150 feet per second coming out the muzzle. And so you can smack out 10 pound monkey and not blow a hole through him, but if you’ve got an elephant or something, you can reach out 85 yards just by turning the valve up. And, and, you know, maximum muzzle velocity is about 1100 feet a second. And you know, which up close of course blows right through something. But at 85 yards, you get that same terminal velocity of about 150 feet a second terminal velocity, which seems to be the, kind of the magic number for even thin-skinned animals. Most thin-skinned animals will stand about the terminal velocity of about 150 feet a second.

00:39:55 - 00:39:56

What is the name of the company?

00:39:56 - 00:39:59

How many patents do you hold?

00:40:01 - 00:40:24

No, well, I just hold one because we knew that we had a couple that that went awry. We had a patent attorney that, that Christ and burned went into the hospital and we had three patents in the middle then. So I just got one patent actually. So we thought I had submitted three other patents, but it didn’t work out.

00:40:24 - 00:40:26

And the name of the company?

00:40:26 - 00:41:00

Oh, Zoolu Arms. Z-O-O-L-U, yeah. Z-O-O-L-U Arms, yeah. So yeah, no we, we’re just not, you know, we’re not, not right now, cranking out dart guns, but a lot of poles syringes. So, you had been doing this, but you really, your heart was still in the zoo world primary. Oh yeah. I mean, it was the only reason, you did that, we did that is we needed it ourselves. You know, the first, you know, the first poll syringe was for my own use.

00:41:00 - 00:41:42

The first dart gun was for my own use. And then Mitch Bush came along and said, well, wait a minute. So that, you know, the first, you know, the, the first dart gun that actually went out the door and sold to anybody was actually to the National Zoo. They ended up buying two. And, but you know, the guys in Wolong, in Wolong Panda Reserve, they’ve got, you know, they got a Zoolu Simmons dart gun and a poll syringe. And so we them all over, you know, we’ve got them all over. So now, when did you decide, you said you had interviewed in Oklahoma City.

00:41:42 - 00:41:46

When did you decide that you wanted to leave Columbus?

00:41:46 - 00:41:49

And what were the reasons?

00:41:49 - 00:41:51

You said you could go on your own.

00:41:51 - 00:41:53

And how did you get to the Omaha Zoo?

00:41:54 - 00:42:42

Well, it was fairly obvious that Columbus wasn’t going to, because it was directly under the mayor. It was directly under the mayor. It was a very political, and frankly, in those days, a reasonably corrupt operation, as far as the city. The city was kind of a corrupt operation in those days. It’s fairly obvious that the Columbus Zoo was not going to progress for a long time. And that’s exactly what happened. The Columbus Zoo now, of course, because they become a, you know, a 501c3 nonprofit and, you know, have, have really progressed in the, in, in the, in the past 20 or 30 or 25 years or so greatly. But it was obvious that the Columbus Zoo was not going to go anywhere.

00:42:42 - 00:43:28

And it was extremely political. I mean, it was extremely political. And I, as I said, it developed a huge dislike for politics and politicians, even though they couldn’t, they couldn’t really lay a hand on me, but they laid a hand on everybody else in the zoo. They would come around with a little pad and, and at Christmas time or different things and say, well, you know, you’re so and so. We got you down for this much money for the mayor’s Christmas gift or the flower fund or things like that. Not, you know, reminds you maybe a little bit of Chicago. (chuckling) Sorry about that. But, but that basically, that basically was it.

00:43:28 - 00:44:30

I mean the zoo itself was fun. It was great because I got to do just about everything at one time or another, and it was a great training ground, but the politics, the politics were bad in the city of Columbus. And that’s basically why I, and because Omaha, Nebraska was a lot closer to home. It was a brand new zoo starting up. And frankly, Warren Thomas was there and Warren already had developed a bit of a reputation for not staying hooked in any one place very long. So there was, I admit there was a bit of a calculation that, but if I went to Omaha, Warren was likely to move on before too long, which is about, you know, little over three years after I got there. And he moved on. The zoo was, well when we came to, when we, when Marie and I came to Columbus, the zoo had 10 employees, including me.

00:44:30 - 00:44:55

I mean Omaha. Yeah, when we came to Omaha, the zoo had 10 employees, including me, a budget of $100,000. Three years later, when I became acting director in March of 1970, we were up to 14 employees and, and a budget of $350,000 a year.

00:44:55 - 00:44:56

When did you start at Omaha Zoo?

00:44:56 - 00:44:58

Who hired you?

00:44:58 - 00:45:04

Warren Thomas hired me. And I started in December of 1966.

00:45:04 - 00:45:06

And he hired you as a veterinarian?

00:45:06 - 00:45:23

As a veterinarian. And then kind of following us somewhat pattern, I guess, going someplace wasn’t good for people because within about six months, I was also veterinarian assistant director. And within a little, over three years, I was director.

00:45:24 - 00:45:26

What kind of zoo did you find when you first got there?

00:45:26 - 00:46:09

Well, it was brand new. I mean, it had, Riverview Park had had a zoo since 1895. The park had been gazetted in 1894 and they’d had a zoo since 1895. But basically when I got there, you know, the red barn was built. The gorilla house, orang house were under construction. And the, the bear grottoes had been finished. And that was the zoo other than we built for hoofstock. Warren was a big hoofstock fan, as you recall.

00:46:09 - 00:47:29

So we had, you know, over a period of time, we developed a really incredible collection of hoofstock. And, you know, we built, we built plywood barns and, and bought Cottonwood planks from a saw mill, you know, over 30 miles away and built corrals and, and fences and all to have a place to put them. We had, no, we had no real buildings. The office was an old converted picnic pavilion. And which where we put our first reptile collection in a museum room of that old picnic pavilion. And, you know, we built a freestanding reptile exhibit in the middle of that. So it was, you know, it was, it was at the very, very early stages. And so it was, you know, so that, I mean, the good thing is, is that Columbia, I mean, Omaha, basically for the last, you know, fortunately years, we, we basically have had no politics.

00:47:29 - 00:48:24

And even though there was a fair amount of bureaucracy in the fact that the board met every month. And because they’d never had that, when I became director and they’d never had a balanced budget. Ever. Had to go to the bank at the end of every year to borrow money to meet payroll. They were used to looking at and scrutinizing, even at $10 or five, you know, $5 purchase. It was, it was, and they met once a month, which is soaks up a lot of energy to have a monthly board meeting, is a lot of energy. And we had like 14 standing committees, which is horrible. And, but the good thing is, is that I had some really good advice early on.

00:48:26 - 00:49:05

And the advice basically was, you know, look, boy, we want you to be successful. And whatever you do balance the damn budget. If you have balanced the budget, the board’s probably going to let you do anything you want because they’d never had a balanced budget. The board members that had to go down to the bank and actually sign personal notes for, to borrow money, to make payroll the last two or three months of the year. Let me, let me back up a little. You were a veterinarian, but you stayed in that position a short time and then became– Assistant director and veterinarian.

00:49:05 - 00:49:08

And what were your responsibilities as assistant director?

00:49:08 - 00:49:50

Everything. Everything because we had, we had no, when, when I first got there, you know, Saul Kitchener who, you know, ultimately came up and worked in your shop, was primate curator, but then Saul moved on and, and went to Lincoln Park. And so we had, as I said, when I became director, we only had 14 employees. So we had no hierarchy. We had no curators. We had no. So I, as staff veterinarian and assistant director, I was also, ugh, I was also the curatorial staff. (chuckling) So again, a good training ground, you got to do anything and everything.

00:49:50 - 00:51:10

And as I said, early on, you know, the board president who hired me, Ben Morris, who was an old, rough and gruff profane ex Marine, but probably one of the, one of the best guys I’ve ever known, you know, kind of, they took me aside and said, we’re not going to tell you how to run the place. But if at the end of the year, things aren’t right, it’s your ass. And that’s exactly what he said. But if you need help, you holler, you know, any, if you, if you need help, you’ve got a problem, holler, we’ll help you, but we’re not going to tell you how to run the place. And whatever you do balance the budget. And so that first year, and it just turns out one of the things that, you know, that MDs and dentists and veterinarians, and a whole lot of quote unquote professional people don’t get exposed to even yet today, I think, is any kind of financial management. I mean, you know, there was more, more, more zoo directors and more veterinarians, more MDs have failed because they couldn’t balance a budget. They couldn’t, you know, they couldn’t read a P&L, they couldn’t.

00:51:10 - 00:52:03

And I guess I got lucky in that I just kind of could instinctively do numbers. So instinctively, I always knew exactly where we were and I can do numbers. And it was small enough that you could look, you know, you could learn along the way. And so, you know, balance the budget the first year ended up that very first year at the end of the year, with $40,000 in the bank, which was wow. Having a, having a $40,000 surplus at the end of the first year, they’d never had a balanced budget. Johnny Becker, who was the managing partner of Pete Marwick Mitchell, a big accounting firm, had been the previous board president. And, you know, when we made that report at the end of my first year, Johnny got up and said, wait a minute, wait a minute. There’s something wrong.

00:52:03 - 00:53:25

And I said, they can’t be anything wrong, Mr. Becker, your it’s your, you know, your accountants that did our audit. And the good thing about it was was that from that point on, I really didn’t, you know, really didn’t ever have very much problems. I mean, they, the prediction that they’d let me do pretty much anything I wanted to do came pretty much true. There was one other board president that was, you know, every once in a while, you remember things that, because the board has, was kind of used to scrutinizing five and $10 purchases and the board president always co-signed all the checks. And so down, down the road just a few years, during that first part, we got rid of the, we kind of got rid of the monthly board meetings, ended up with four board meetings a year. So that saved a lot of time and energy. And we got rid of all the committees except three. Now when you were under Warren Thomas, he was director, you were assistant director and veterinarian, and curator, was the, the budget wasn’t balanced.

00:53:25 - 00:53:29

No. Now Warren leaves.

00:53:29 - 00:53:30

How do you become director?

00:53:30 - 00:53:33

Did you instantly know this is the job I want?

00:53:33 - 00:53:34

Did they approach you?

00:53:35 - 00:54:44

Well, basically, basically this whole ex Marine came in, said, I’m going to go have a little meeting and talk with Dr. Thomas, could you stick around and have lunch with me afterwards. He came back in about 20 minutes and we went to lunch and he said, well, I actually went into Warren’s office. And he said, Dr. Thomas has decided to go to Brownsville, Texas. And I’d like, you know, I’d like to appoint you, if you’re interested, as acting director. And that does not mean that’s a guarantee that you’ll become director, but you know, as of this moment, if you’re accept it, you’re acting director. And, but basically it’s how it happened. (laughs) We went to lunch and talked about a few other things. And so, you know, on the 3rd of March, I became acting director.

00:54:44 - 00:56:19

And then a little bit later, the board voted for, to make me as director. And, and then a little bit later on. And as I say, after, you know, about the next, well, the next board president, we managed to ease, get rid of the monthly board meetings. I’ll get down to four board meetings a year, which saves a lot of time and effort, and also got rid of all of these committees except for an executive committee, a finance and legal committee and the nominating committee. And then one of the other board presidents that was, you know, kind of always live in my memory forever was a guy named George Miasmic, who was with Northern Natural Gas and he’d come on board because we had made a pitch to his boss to maybe come on board and, and he declined, but gave us our first $50,000. Cause I mentioned that I wanted to start an endowment and he gave us our first $50,000. He says, not much, but at least when you ask somebody, now you’ll be able to say, we’ve got an endowment and, and also gave us George, and George came on for a year as treasurer and then became president. And the morning after he became president, he called me up and said, you have time for lunch.

00:56:19 - 00:57:02

And I said, sure. And he said, at lunch, he said, well, I’ve been of watching this last year about how things have been running. And you know, we’re going to change things. And up til that moment, I thought this is a really good guy. And I’m sitting there thinking, holy smokes, what’s going to happen now. And he said, I’ve decided that if it doesn’t cost more than $10,000 or something that’s going to get us in trouble, I don’t need to know about it. And if I don’t need to know about it, nobody needs to know about it. And that was kind of a moment where you realize there is a God in heaven.

00:57:02 - 00:57:55

So, and we pretty much run the place like that ever since. The board over the years, I’ve never had a, never had, never had the board reject or change or modify, or even attempt to modify a budget. We’ve always balanced the budget, no matter what it took, no matter what took, you know, what you had to do, you know, you make your (muttering) in the first part of June, and then again in July, you make your projection on how the year’s going to come out and whatever it takes, you balance the budget. And, and as I said, the prediction that they’d pretty much let us do whatever we wanted has been pretty true.

00:57:56 - 00:57:59

So you became acting director in 1970?

00:58:01 - 00:58:06

And when, so you were on probation for a little while?

00:58:06 - 00:58:11

Yeah, for a little while. Yeah. And then director, and then.

00:58:11 - 00:58:17

As director now, when you first start, are you continuing to work with animals?

00:58:17 - 00:59:26

Well, as, since I’ve oh, yes. Well, because, you know, in effect I was, yes, I was director of the zoo, but it was also still, I was also still veterinarian and curator because we only had 14 people when I became director. We only had 14 people on the payroll. When I retired three years ago, I think we were up to 284 year round full-time and about 30 year round volunteers. And then summertime with our summer kids, we get over 600, and, you know, an a and a budget of about 28 million a year operating. So, you know, we grew a little bit. But yeah, I mean, it was, I think the reason Omaha has done so well is that we started out so small that everybody had to do anything that they could do to make place survive. So, and we’ve still kept that.

00:59:26 - 01:01:11

I mean, we used to, and they still do today yet. You know, I mean, it became a tradition around the place to do work parties and that you couldn’t afford to hire something done in those early days. So you put together a work crew, a work party if you needed to accomplish something. So I can remember still, even in later years looking out my window, you know, after we were developed a long, long way and with a crew building a fence in the giraffe yard, for instance, which is right outside my window, underneath the aquarium. And in that were maintenance guys, were keepers, were supervisors, was a staff veterinarian out sweating on building a fence, was a veterinarian slash PhD who was head of our genetics department out, you know, digging post holes and you know, and, you know, and even, even, even one of the, even one of those, a couple of ladies from by then, we had, you know, our public relations and marketing department. And we even had, you know, a couple of young ladies from, from the marketing department out sweating and working on a fence. Still yet today, and I think what we’ve never developed, partly because I’d seen that in Columbus and a few other places. We never developed this business that you see in a lot of big institutions, particularly universities, but also big zoos of the kingdom’s syndrome, where you’ve got a mammals department and a reptile department and a bird department.

01:01:11 - 01:02:39

And each one of them builds a fence and a stockade and a moat around their department. Then they defend their department and, huge amounts of energy wasted by defending territory. And, you know, it’s not that there isn’t some of that, we just never have had that developed, never have allowed it to develop like a lot of big institutions and old time institutions where you have, you know, distinct departments that are discrete and, and are kind of at war and contesting with each other because it wastes energy. And I think that’s one of the things that, the reasons that we’ve been able to do. The other thing is that we haven’t, you know, we, we’ve never been good at spelling. We, in the early days, we, we couldn’t spell EPA and we couldn’t spell OSHA. We’d never been able to spell union. (chuckling) And, and we, we did, you know, for a long time, in addition to being, you know, director and veterinarian and curator, when all of this, that, I mean stuff, I was also the chief electrician and I was the only guy that knew in the beginning how to run the rotor rooter.

01:02:40 - 01:04:12

And we still got a lot of that, you know, that character that, you know, that, that philosophy within the, within the organization, a lot of things that we’ve done over the years, building our own buildings, we also had trouble spelling permit. So there was a fair number of things that got built without permits, which I’m sure you couldn’t get away with in Chicago. (chuckling) Do you feel that being a veterinarian when you first started that that, that background helped you to develop changes in animal care– Oh, absolutely, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Because it is, you know, because it is a very broad discipline. And as I said, you know, and not only, not only, you know, not only the medical aspects of it, but you get a good exposure to nutrition, to basic animal husbandry and hygiene and preventative medicine, you know, to, you know, to, to genetics, to a lot of things that if you had a discrete discipline like herpetology or, or a biology degree or something, you wouldn’t be exposed to that. So I think, you know, from the standpoint of a, of a discipline from which to kind of attack the problems of the zoo world, the veterinary medicine was the very best.

01:04:12 - 01:04:19

What, how would you describe your style of director, of directing people when you were director?

01:04:21 - 01:05:12

I’d always had an open door policy. Basically the idea was anybody could walk into my office at any time. Nobody had to make an appointment to walk into my office and talk to me. I made rounds, and certainly in those early days, a long time, I made rounds every morning. So you knew, you know, you knew all the animals personally, and the people. I think one of the things that I learned early on that’s really important and it, and it holds true, not only, you know, you’ve heard any number of people probably over the years say the most important guy in the zoo is the keeper, because he’s the guy who sees that animal every day, he sees the animal morning, noon, and night. He knows the animal’s habits. He knows when the animals are on or off.

01:05:14 - 01:07:17

The problem of course is that if that keeper won’t talk to you, if that keeper doesn’t communicate with you, if that keeper doesn’t say, hey, we got a problem down here. I don’t know what it is, but we got a problem, then having him around is, is kind of useless because you don’t know about it and so you can’t deal with it. So unless it’s something that he can deal with or handle himself, he or she now, since the zoo world has changed considerably since you and I got into this business. And so I think we’ve always had a policy where anybody could say anything and was expected to say anything. It was not, you know, it was not a democracy, but the policy was that, you know, everybody knew that, that there was, if there was something that they agreed with disagreed with or something that should be said, they could say it, no repercussions, no problems and that we listened. And we, you know, that policy we’ve in our, in our building design, and of course, we’ve always, you know, we’ve always managed all of our own construction projects. We were the project managers, primarily Danny and I, and, and that actually, that, you know, that, that philosophy and policy has always carried over into building new exhibits in that some of the very best catches, some of the very best ideas and things that somebody said, hey, that’s not going to work or that’s going to cost you money, or there’s a problem there have come from electricians and carpenters and plumbers that were on the job working because we always had this policy, this philosophy of anybody could walk in and anybody could say anything and you listen and you acknowledge them. And, you know, you may say, okay, I hear you but we’re going to do it the other way.

01:07:20 - 01:08:26

But, you know, I learned that early on from, from our very first hoofstock keeper that I really, when it really sank home and that he was always a very polite guy and he would always preface everything with, well, I, you know, I don’t want to tell you how to do your business, but did you know thus and such, or did you, or did anybody tell you that this is a problem we’ve had or whatever. It was always very polite, but you learned early on that if you didn’t listen to what I Elroy said, you’d damn well regret it. Because you know what he was telling you was pertinent, and pertinent, there was a reason. And so we’ve always had an open door policy and we listened. And you know, you might, you may decide to 180 degrees what you were told, but you listened. So, and never raise your voice. Even if you’re angry. They know you’re angry.

01:08:29 - 01:08:31

You mentioned making rounds.

01:08:31 - 01:08:42

Do you feel that people that are heading institutions today, they can be vets, that can be business people, so do you think they make the rounds as much as you?

01:08:42 - 01:09:55

No. No. And I think that’s a big problem in that if you lose track, I mean, what zoos are about, what zoos are about are animals and animal husbandry and animal care. I mean, that’s what, you know, that’s, that’s what it’s all about. And, and then if you carry that on conservation and protection of habitat, and the spill over into the types of things that we’re doing today, where you’re actually making an impact on the wild, on conservation research and biology and, and having an impact in situ in the wild. But, I think in a lot of instance, people either drift away from making rounds or maybe they never made rounds in the first place. There are unfortunately a lot of zoo people today who are really not biologists, zoologists, are not really animal people. They don’t have any background in animal husbandry.

01:09:55 - 01:11:01

They, they, you know, they, they’re kind of desk bound by the book types who really don’t, you know, who really don’t have that connection, that touch with their, with the animals. And that’s how a lot of mistakes are made because you can’t, you know, you can’t just have a, a by the book, one, two, three, four, this is what you do approach. I had a, I had an old guy once that I hired, and he was Polish. He had been a beef layer in the, in the packing house. I hired him when it was really early on, when I was really desperate for a night man. I needed a night watchman to make sure that the furnaces were all burning. He came in with his son-in-law. His son-in-law did all the talking, and we were desperate.

01:11:01 - 01:11:42

We were desperate for somebody to be there all night and make the rounds and watch the furnaces and whatever. And we’re hired him and found out that number one, he hardly, hardly spoke English. And secondly, he was a raging alcoholic. But by the time we found that out, he was a practicing alcoholic, I should say. By the time we found that out, we also found out that he had the damnedest eye for spotting a problem. And, you know, he would call you up and get you up at two o’clock in the morning. And he’d say, doc, you better come look at this. And half the time he couldn’t pronounce the animal’s name.

01:11:42 - 01:12:05

You better, there’s something wrong. You better come look. You know, he would say, there’s something wrong, you better come look. And you found out really quick, you better go look because this guy had an eye, he had an eye and a touch. And I remember zebra duiker once, he called me up in the middle of the night and said, doc, you better come look. There’s something wrong with a zebra duiker.

01:12:05 - 01:12:07

And I said, what’s wrong?

01:12:07 - 01:12:14

And he said, he hasn’t moved. And he usually moves at least twice by this time of the night.

01:12:14 - 01:12:15

And I said, what’s he doing?

01:12:15 - 01:12:40

And he said, he’s laying in the middle of the floor in the hay curled up. I said, okay. You know, because I’d learned that you better come look. When he said you better come look, you better come look. I went out. And there was, it look perfectly normal to me till I went in to kind of kick him up to see how he was walking or whatever. And he didn’t get up. He had a bite wound on the side of his neck.

01:12:41 - 01:13:29

He died. And underneath him in the straw was a black widow spider that matched the bite wound. It was a zebra duiker, one of the rarest little antelope in the world. You know, I couldn’t do anything about it. How do you treat a black widow spider bite in a, you know, in a seven pound duiker. On the other hand, I got to at least have a go at him while he was still alive, because if it had been any other guy, any other night man, they would simply found the, you know, the animal cold and stiff in the morning. And you know, but you wouldn’t have, you wouldn’t have at least had a shot at him at two o’clock in the morning. So, you know, keepers and people who are, who have a to animal touch.

01:13:29 - 01:14:22

And I think that’s the thing that we’ve lost in the zoo world to a large degree is people with a farm background, with an animal livestock background, with an animal husbandry, you know. And in those, in the early days, there were a lot of people who came to the zoo world with animal husbandry training and backgrounds and degrees, and even a fair number of directors that had degrees in animal husbandry, or in a, or in a biological science. I don’t want to, you know, probably get in trouble here. But, you know, from an animal standpoint, not from a business standpoint, from an animal standpoint, the only thing worse for an animal collection of say having an MBA run the place would be to have a lawyer be the zoo director. (chuckling) I’ll make somebody mad.

01:14:23 - 01:14:26

What was your relationship with the, your zoo staff?

01:14:26 - 01:14:29

Obviously the staff is growing. Yeah.

01:14:29 - 01:14:32

How did you develop the curators and the staff?

01:14:32 - 01:14:34

Are there training or upgrading?

01:14:34 - 01:14:35

What were you thinking about?

01:14:35 - 01:15:51

Well, I was hands on because in the early days you didn’t have any, you know, you didn’t have any choice. You had to participate in, you know, in the, you know, even as director, you know, there were times when, when you had to participate in the care and cleaning and, and I was, and because I was still getting down, really big, important thing, I think, that was really helpful to me. The fact that even as director, I was still getting down on my hands and knees and getting my hands dirty, actually treating animals and working on animals, doing surgery and, and doing all of that. Even though within a reasonably short period of time, you know, I had brought Mike July in as a curator and Tom Weaver and hired, and hired a, you know, another staff veterinarian, then all of that, still because the animals. That was the fun part of it. The fun part of it, the thing that kept your juices flowing, we’re working with the animals, you know, the mechanics, the paperwork and the fundraising and all of that. Well, you do fundraising because you find out early on that if you don’t fundraise, you don’t get to build things. So if you’re gonna build things and develop new exhibits and programs, you gotta fundraise.

01:15:51 - 01:16:48

But you know, the paperwork and the budget and all of that, those were just things that you did in order to be able to do the things that were fun. And the animal part of it was fun. So I always kept my hand in, even, you know, when we got to the point where we had, you know, two or three staff veterinarians, you didn’t go down and necessarily practice, but, but you got in as like, as a consultant for on big, you know, big problems or big cases, at least. You got to sit and listen and, and lend a little advice as a consultant. And that’s, that’s what made it worthwhile and interesting. I think if the minute you become director, they take the animal part of it away, there’d be no reason to become a director.

01:16:49 - 01:16:52

Now, what were you looking for in curators?

01:16:53 - 01:16:56

What kind of skillset?

01:16:56 - 01:17:54

Well, I think, yeah, certainly a work ethic, but some, some animal experience. And I guess probably the most important thing is, is a passion, a fire in the belly for animals. I get really nervous. I get really nervous around people who tell me how much they love animals. Cause a whole lot of those people that talk about loving animals are, are not going to be for good for the, either the animals or the institution. What I like to hear from somebody is that they’re fascinated by, they’re interested in, they’re challenged. Somebody that’s got a fire in their belly to do work, to make a difference, some passion and, and some background in animal experience. And preferably, preferably, you know, who have worked their way up.

01:17:54 - 01:19:17

One of the things that I think, you know, because as we developed and we came along, we’ve taken a lot of students and maybe we touch on that and then a little bit later on, but you know, we’ve taken a lot of over the years, a lot of veterinary interns in, and preceptors and all. One of the things that we have done with every single one, even though you’ve got somebody who’s either about to have a veterinary degree or has a veterinary, you know, has a veterinary degree, is a graduate veterinarian, is that they don’t come in and start practicing medicine right away. We’ve had a policy over the years and we’ve done this with not just veterinary interns, but with a number of interns, where we start them out in the collection. And they work on the crew in every single department in, in hoofstock and elephants, great apes, all the way through. They work shoveling and scrubbing cages. And they work as a, on the crew, work all the way through the whole collection before they then come in and actually start practicing medicine or doing whatever it is that their specialty is. By the time they’ve worked their way through the zoo, number one, they know most of the animals, they know all the keepers, they know all the supervisors and vice versa. They all know them.

01:19:17 - 01:19:47

And you’ve got a pretty good handle whether this individual has a work ethic or not. And whether this individual’s got a passion, you know, a fire in their belly. And I think the passion and the fire in their belly is really important, and a work ethic. Some people have mentioned that, that they feel highly educated curators, that are very familiar with the computer, but don’t have much of an interest in the animal management skills.

01:19:47 - 01:19:49

Have you dealt with this as a zoo director?

01:19:49 - 01:19:56

And how does, how could zoos potentially correct this kind of thing or is there a matter of concern at all?

01:19:56 - 01:21:22

Well, I, no, I would agree with that. It’s not that I’ve got anything against PhDs. I don’t. You know, I mean, along the way I picked up about three of them myself, but you know, honorary. And we’ve got, you know, we’ve got on our, in our, in our conservation research staff now, you know, we’ve got seven PhD level people. But I think you’d have to start out, now Ed Liz is a prime example, who started out working, you know, in a Seaquarium in Texas, worked in the Brownsville Zoo, you know, went through and got a degree in veterinary medicine and had a degree in cellular genetics concurrently, is one of the people that I said, you know, would be out sweating on building a fence or doing whatever was necessary, came up as, as a keeper and the animal, as, you know, as a animal management type first. I think if you’ve never had your hands on and never touched or never, never managed the animals and don’t have that personal connection with the animals, it’s not good, frankly. It’s not good for the institution.

01:21:22 - 01:22:54

It’s not good for the, you know, for the profession. And it’s certainly not good for the individual animals because you don’t know and you make mistakes. That’s how, that’s how a lot of mistakes are made. I, you know, there are, if you look around late in the history, the number of SSPs in the zoo world, is probably maybe not a subject you want to get me off on too much. But although I was, you know, I was coordinator of the gaur SSP from the beginning until, until the end. The number of SSPs that had been total disasters that managed their collections right almost into the ground and into ruin, you know, and we can mention black and white rough lemurs, clouded leopards, lesser pandas, (mumbles), the whole number of them in almost every instance, they were being managed by a quote quote, you know, highly educated or PhD level curator who had never, who had never scrubbed the cage, who didn’t know, who didn’t really know the animals, who really wasn’t a, an animal husbandry type. That’ll probably also get the, I guess that’s the good thing about being old and retired. You don’t have to care.

01:22:54 - 01:24:24

But I, I’ve got some very strong opinions that, that everybody ought to start out getting their hands dirty and working and sweating, and get to know the animals and know the animals personally. It’s not that you can’t, you know, get an advanced degree and do that, or, you know. But in many zoos, for instance, veterinarians are never, never allowed to have a role in animal management. They only treat sick animals. Well, a veterinarian that only treats sick animals is only doing half their job. The big, you know, treating, treating a clinically ill animal in a zoo, statistically is not a terribly successful thing because animals don’t show clinical illness until they’re much, much farther down the road in a disease entity than say a human or something who can complain and, and go to their doctor. And so that, you know, your, the percentage of success after an animal is clinically ill, the most useful function of veterinarian in the zoo is to be a part of the management staff and in, and be involved with animal management and preventive medicine and nutrition upfront before, before the animal gets sick. And so that the animal doesn’t get sick.

01:24:24 - 01:24:37

And there’s a fair number of zoos where that simply isn’t the case, where there’s veterinarians are only allowed to touch clinically ill or injured animals. And that’s wrong. You become director of the Omaha Zoo.

01:24:37 - 01:24:44

What vision, when you became director, did you have for the zoo?

01:24:44 - 01:24:46

What was your vision?

01:24:46 - 01:25:50

Well, I, no, certainly there were things that I wanted to do and it had to start when I became director, I had to start a good collection. We had a lot of, of a really interesting hoofstock, you know, a big duiker collection, a lot of different species of duiker, Lord Darby’s, Eland, giant Eland, you know, sable antelope, and scimitar, we had a lot. And then, and we had by then because, you know, my, the first thing that I got to help design was before I became director, was the pachyderm building. So, you know, we had African elephants and white rhinos and one Indian rhino. The, and then then a great ape collection. And we had a good grape collection and some primates, not so much of a bird collection. But I, there were things that I wanted to do certainly. And a lot of it had to do with, with long-term breeding and genetic management.

01:25:51 - 01:27:07

And so, you know, one of the things that we developed pretty early on was a philosophy of not simply having a postage stamp display collection, that where you had a pair of animals or a trio, or, you know, or four animals or whatever, but to develop breeding groups and herds and, and figure out and manage them long-term. So, you know, the net result of that is that, you know, at one time I looked out and counted. We had 55 gaur. Well, no zoo in their right mind, you know, should be feeding and taking care of 55 gaur, or you know, or, you know, or 35 or 40 stable antelope, things like, you know, things like that. But, but people talk about management and they talk about, and genetics and all of that. And if you’ve got a pair or a trio, or even two pair, you can’t manage anything, all you can do is keep them alive. You’re not managing anything because you don’t have anything to manage. You need numbers, you need to be able to mix things up.

01:27:07 - 01:28:49

You need numbers to actually say you’re, you’re managing, and you’re making decisions because you can’t make a decision with a pair of animals other than do we breed them or don’t we breed them. And the genetics are the genetics. You can’t, you know, so. So I think our philosophy early on evolved into the fact that, that you need not just your display herd, but you need the second herd, preferably the third herd and a place to hold the extra males. And of course that, you know, that we developed kind of in, in house first. And then when we, you know, when we took over the, and finally developed a safari park, you know, which is, you know, 23, 24 miles west of town, you know, out on the Platte river, then that really gave us the place to hold that second herd or the extra males and things like that. That came about as a bit of a fluke in that, you know, cause we got 440 acres out there and we never really intended, never, my goal and the intent was never to develop that as a drive through exhibit, which 200 acres of it is, but it’s all north American animals. My, the intent was to have a conservation farm, a backup breeding farm, holding farm to, so we could hold those extra males so that we could rotate males into the herd so that we could have the second and third herd and then swap, you know, trade out calves, female calves and all.

01:28:49 - 01:29:39

One of our board directors lived on a lake west of Omaha. And the guy who owned the lake was a bit of a gambler. I’ll put that gently as I can. And needed to borrow some money. And he put up the lake as collateral, was wanting to put up the lake as collateral. And he had some other land and Bill drove a couple of us out there one day and said, well, you know, and he wants to borrow quite a bit of money. It’s a really big lake with number of houses around it, but then this other land. And I said, well, you know, we showed us this piece of land right across from Mahoney state park.

01:29:39 - 01:29:51

And he said, you know, this is also some land that he owns. And I said, well, why don’t you, why don’t you make him put that up as collateral too ’cause with his reputation, he’s probably going to default.

01:29:53 - 01:29:56

And if he defaults and he said, well, what would I do with it?

01:29:56 - 01:30:17

I said, it’s easy. If he defaults, you give it to the zoo and we’ll make a breeding farm out of it. And he said, oh, that sounds good. So we made him put that land up as a, as part of the collateral and the guy defaulted. And now Bill owns a lake, a big lake, and we own the safari park. (laughs) Just backing up a little bit.

01:30:17 - 01:30:18

When did this occur?

01:30:20 - 01:30:46

Well, now you’re gonna, you’ll have to go to the, we’ll have to go to see, we’ll have to go to the history which I brought with me. And in the, in the, in the, in the early 90s or in the 90s, you know. So you have a– There’re 440 acres, not all of it from that piece, but we, then we added and bought some more land around it. So you have this land. Yeah.

01:30:46 - 01:30:47

Half of– It was given to you?

01:30:47 - 01:31:05

Yeah. Oh yeah. Half of it is, well, 200 acres is a drive through north American safari park, where elk, bison, you know, white tail deer, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and, and then a few mammals and small stuff, some wolves and bears.

01:31:05 - 01:31:09

How’d that concept of that drive through come about?

01:31:09 - 01:32:45

Part of it because we, you know, we’d had a push to, to display north American hoofstock because, you know, we were all, it was all foreign, you know, hoofstock and you know, the realities of life are, is that native north American hoofstock, particularly the cervids, don’t display well in a typical zoo because they need browse. You know, the deer and elk always looked like the Maus have been at ’em. They looked like ragged death warmed over because as far as the hair coat, because they don’t have the browse, they need the browse. And you know, and a herd of bison will reduce any typical zoo enclosure to mud and bare dirt. So, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got our herds on 90 and 100 pastures and, and we rotate them and, and we’ve got off display holding for the winter time. And so we can manage. So in the summertime when the visitors drive through, ’cause we’ve got five miles of road that winds around through it, they’re on good grass and, and good browse and they look good. Whereas, you know, native, native cervids in the typical zoo, whether you’re talking about, you know, north America or wherever, they don’t display well.

01:32:45 - 01:32:54

So we did that kind of as a part of the justification for all the other things that we wanted to do out there.

01:32:55 - 01:32:57

Has that been a successful endeavor?

01:32:57 - 01:34:23

Well, only from the standpoint that yes, it’s been successful, but only because of the fact that we endowed it. We endowed it right up front, because you’re not going to attract enough visitors in a drive-through park to pay for the maintenance. I mean, it’s just not going to happen. They did that early on in lion country, but then you, but then you were driving in amongst lions, but you know, there have been any number of quote unquote outside hired gun zoo designers that have come in and sold zoos, a packet of goods about, well, you really shouldn’t be displaying lions and tigers and things from overseas, you know. You should do native north Americans. Well, basically, you know, the realities of life is that people won’t pay you to come in and see north American animals because they can see them otherwise. There’s nothing, there’s not as much romance to, or pizzazz or sizzle or whatever you want to call it to, to a white tail deer or an elk or a bison as there, as there is to a giraffe or a sea lion or an elephant or a gorilla, it’s just, it’s not there. So we got about 95,000 to maybe 100,000 people a year through it, which is significant.

01:34:23 - 01:34:45

But, but that won’t, that won’t pay the, that won’t pay all the bills. And then of course, we’ve got a lot of other things that are going. So, you know, we’ve got the other 240 acres that are off display, breeding, holding and conservation. When you became director, you’d had, as you talked about vision, what you wanted to do.

01:34:45 - 01:34:51

What was your vision for the education element of the zoo and how did you start to develop it?

01:34:51 - 01:35:16

Well, I think fairly, fairly early on, I, you know, right after I became director, I went to zoo conference out in California and, and got introduced to a very odd species of critter called a docent. Up until then, I’d never even heard the word docent, you know, but the good thing is that, you know, one of the things found out they were volunteers, so it didn’t cost you anything.

01:35:16 - 01:35:29

And so we came back and talked to one of my board members who was Henry Doorly’s granddaughter and said, how do you, you know, how do you go about rounding up a bunch of ladies?

01:35:29 - 01:36:46

Cause in those days, docents were all women, you know, to, to come in and be volunteers, you know, cause we didn’t have very much staff. And she said, well, it’s real easy to talk to the junior league. They start things. They don’t run things or finish things, but they’re good at starting things. So we rounded up six junior league ladies. Started, did it, you know, some organization and a little bit of training and then put an ad in the paper that we were going to start a docent program, a volunteer program to do education at the zoo and got way more volunteers than we had, you know, even remotely inspected. And you know, I did the first, you know the first two seasons, I taught the docent classes and ended up that second season with a lady down in the front row who just was eating my sack lunch every time I turned around, she was just smacking me with questions right, left and center. And so I figured, you know, after about the second day, I better find out who the heck this was.

01:36:46 - 01:37:39

Turns out that she was a professor of English at UNO. So that’s kind of when we hatched the plan that I was going to quit that. She was, had all kinds of free time. And so I, you know, after the break I went back up and said, all right, guys, listen up because this is the last year I’m going to be anything but a guest lecturer. Next year, we’re going to have a docent coordinator and you guys are going to do your own training. And she turned out to be, and I’ve already selected who. She turned out to be a really tough, tough taskmaster and set rules for the docents that I didn’t think you could ever get away from, with rather, you know. That you had to make a certain percentage on all the tests.

01:37:39 - 01:38:31

You had to do a test every week. You had to do take-home tests. You had to, you had to absolutely be there on time when you were scheduled to take a class around. And you know, and it is evolved from that. Now to the point that we’ve got a, you know, they still have the docents, but a full-time education staff, which we fund with from our sleepovers, our camp outs for all but one of the, all but one person is paid out of sleep out income and staffs. But the other thing that we’ve got, it’s about 18 years ago, we started a, a high school program called the zoo academy. That was five days a week, two hours a day, with one of the high schools. And then it expanded out to a couple more high schools.

01:38:31 - 01:39:14

And we’ve been doing that now for about 18, 19 years. But then three years ago, we went to just about, three years ago, we expanded that. We had another school district come at us and they wanted to do a full-time curriculum. We’ve had on the drawing boards. Actually, we’ve got a design. We want to ultimately have a full-time math and science magnet high school on the grounds at the zoo, and to do a building that would hold maybe 300, 350, 400 students. But we’ve got right now, 90 full-time high school students that do their full curriculum. They’re juniors and seniors.

01:39:14 - 01:40:37

They do their full junior and senior curriculum at the zoo five days a week for a full day. And they’re doing all of the curriculum at the zoo. And we’re exposing those students to, not just the normal curriculum, but because we expose them to a lot of hands-on things, both in medicine and genetics and nutrition and you know, our rare plant lab, we run them through the full spectrum of the conservation research that we’re doing. And also some of the zoo management. And what we’re, the goal is to expand that into a full time magnet high school, which I think we would be overrun with. We wouldn’t have an, even at 400 spaces, we wouldn’t have enough space for all the students, I think that you could attract, and have it be area-wide, district-wide. The other part of the education program, when we did our conservation research building, the first one, one of the things that we did was we had two floors of, of research space, but the third floor, the upper floor was a dormitory. And then we came on, you know, about five years ago, six years ago, and double that.

01:40:39 - 01:41:30

And so now we, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got 34,000 square feet of research space, but we’ve also got an upper floor, two upper floors, because the two buildings are mirror that are connected, that are dormitories for 20 students. And then we’ve got four student houses. So we take, we can hold 40 students at one time. And they’re, you know, both undergraduate and graduate US (mumbles). We’ve had as many as 150 students of either undergraduate and/or graduate or, or post-doctorates that have come through the zoo in a single year. We’ve had as many as 150 in a year. We we’ve had, we can hold 40 students at a time. Some of them are short term.

01:41:30 - 01:42:08

Some of them are two weeks or a month. Some of them stay with us six months or a year, or we’ve had students that stayed with us for as much as two years, about half of them are undergraduate. About half of them are graduate students. About half of them are US. And about half of them are overseas. The overseas students tend to be graduate students generally. And the US students tend to be more undergraduate and graduate. And in both in medicine and genetics and nutrition and reproductive physiology, working with rare plants.

01:42:08 - 01:42:28

And then, you know, we branched out into taking students both undergraduate, they simply want to know about to management and husbandry and you know, and a whole spectrum of zoo activities. Most of it focused on the sciences though.

01:42:28 - 01:42:29

And you provide housing?

01:42:29 - 01:43:57

We provide housing and we provide a stipend so that they can eat. Interestingly, the overseas agent, Asian students, particularly. A lot of students, we’ve had a lot of students from Vietnam, from Thailand, from China, quite a number of Russian students. I think we’ve had students from 40, 41 countries, but it’s interesting thing, The ripple effect, the spin-off. The spin-off from that is I think right now we’re in, we’re involved with conservation research projects in about 27 or 28 countries that are as a result of students that have come through, gotten to know us, gotten to know each other, gone back home, gotten, gotten a job in conservation and, and then gotten us involved in, in their conservation projects. And the only other place that really I think has done that until even bigger is, is course (mumbles) at the National Zoo, you know, they, because they had the facility. Most of these students couldn’t possibly afford to come here if you couldn’t provide housing. And we certainly couldn’t afford to put them up in a hotel or a motel and pay for their meals in a, you know, in a hotel.

01:43:57 - 01:44:37

We give them a stipend, but it’s a fairly small stipend so that they can eat and they get a discount at the zoo and they do their own cooking and we’ve got washers and dryers and then the whole bit. So they get a stipend, but it’s a very small stipend. They, they gotta, the Asian students, you know, the Vietnamese and Thais and all that, they’re frugal, they eat their money and they go home with a laptop computer or whatever at the end of their six months or a year or whatever. You know, the Canadian and German and European students don’t, but then they don’t need to.

01:44:38 - 01:44:41

Does this, how do they find you?

01:44:41 - 01:44:42

Do you find them or?

01:44:43 - 01:44:57

Well, in the beginning, in the beginning we found a few of them. And then, you know, we don’t add the words, it’s word of mouth and they, you know, they, they find us and, and it is word of mouth.

01:44:57 - 01:44:59

Is this part of the education department?

01:44:59 - 01:45:00

Or who runs this program?

01:45:00 - 01:46:11

Part of it is, but mostly it’s part of, part of the, of the, of the research and medical department, yeah. But education manages part of the, as far as the housing and stuff like that. Let me do a little business here. Tell me about the name Henry Doorly Zoo and how it came about. I mean, just– Well, fairly interesting in that the Omaha Zoological Society was actually originally formed in I, and I think maybe 1953 or 1954, I’m not exactly, one of those two years, with the idea that they would build a children’s, who they thought Omaha needed a children’s zoo. We’d had a zoo in the park since 1895. There’s a, in 1898, there’s a city, a city report that also reports on the zoo. You know, we had the two bison calves, a Buffalo Bill Cody had given the zoo, the city, and they, we had, you know, a couple of grizzly bears and some wolves and, and some things like that.

01:46:11 - 01:47:29

And about 120 animals, the big, the big attraction that year was a five legged calf that some farmer had given the zoo. And, and it remained, you know, part of it was built by WPA. Part of it had been built before WPA, it was pretty sad, frankly, as most WPA zoos that haven’t been improved, you know, are, and it was a menagerie. And then the society was formed and they wanted to build a children’s zoo at the park in the zoo. And Henry Doorly was the publisher of the Omaha World Herald, our newspaper. And he owned a hotel and a TV station and a bunch of other things around town. And Henry was, well, I’ll be, I’ll be tactful here. Henry apparently, Henry was, came to, came to town and got a job as a chauffer for Senator Hitchcock, who owned the Omaha World and did a very smart thing.

01:47:29 - 01:48:36

He married the senator’s daughter, but it turns out that Henry was a really good, apparently very astute and aggressive businessman. So he took a small fortune and built it into quite a nice fortune. But we’re fairly sure, at least we’ve never found anybody in the family that would debate it, that old Henry really didn’t like animals. But Henry’s wife, Margaret Doorly was, she was a birder, you know, (mumbles). She liked animals. And when, and when Henry died, she gave the zoo $750,000, plus since Peter Kiewit, who owned the big construction company in town, wanted to buy the World Herald so that it would remain a local newspaper. She made him as part of the deal to buy the Herald and give the zoo another quarter of a million. So they had, they had a million dollars to start with.

01:48:39 - 01:49:13

And, and of course the stipulation was, was that it’d be named after, after Henry. So we have, you know, when I, when I retired three years ago, we had actually more species of animals, actually more animals than San Diego, in a zoo named after a guy that we’re pretty sure didn’t like animals. (chuckling) That’s, that’s not, not an insult to Henry because we wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for Henry and Mrs. Doorly and Margaret Doorly.

01:49:13 - 01:49:25

When you were, as you were progressing as a young director of the Omaha Zoo, and as you continued, what people were in a sense, your mentors from other zoos?

01:49:25 - 01:49:26

who did you talk to?

01:49:26 - 01:49:29

What kind of advice were they giving to you?

01:49:29 - 01:50:38

Well, I think I, well, I, I think about everybody that knew anything that. You know, I mean, one of the things that you learned early on as a veterinarian is the number one, you know, you didn’t know anything. I mean, you didn’t know nearly enough, you didn’t know nearly enough to do the job. So, so, you know, very early on you, you, you know, you figured out and identified who the guys were that had either more experience to you or had, you know, better skills at something. And, you know, one of the things that, that as vets, you know, we, you know, we had our, our little public, you know, first started a little mimeograph sheets and then our little publications, but we also kind of had a good idea there were so few of us about who, who knew what. You know, guys like (mumbles), Emil Dolensek at the Bronx. Emil was a really, really good clinician and, and diagnostician, and Clint Gray and Mitch Bush. And, and so you got on the phone.

01:50:38 - 01:51:32

I mean, when you had a problem, you got on the phone and said, okay, here’s my problem. And, you know, and I think the key to that is not, is not being afraid to tell somebody that you don’t know, that you need help because it, you know, interestingly enough, if you ask for help, almost anybody will help you. But if your ego won’t let you ask for help and say, I don’t know, I’ve got a problem. I don’t, you know, I don’t know. So early on, I think, so there was this, there was this whole group of people around the zoo world that, that we’d simply get on the phone and say, hey, we’ve got a problem. Or we, you know, are, have you ever seen this or have you ever done this or whatever. And, and we got all kinds of help. And then fairly early on, we had no staff to speak of.

01:51:33 - 01:53:08

But the interesting thing was is that the National Zoo, you know, with Clint Gray and well, then Mitch Bush and, and Dave Wilton and that group, and then Ulie Seale. And I want to talk a little bit about Ulie somewhere in this thing, because Ulie bears actually a kind of a full day all to himself, as far as the positive impact that he’s had on the zoo world. They had a research staff, they had all kinds of, you know, they had all kinds of resources and facilities, but the National Zoo at the, in those days had a policy where nobody could touch an animal that wasn’t sick. So, and we didn’t have any committees. We didn’t, we didn’t have any such restrictions. And so, so on a regular, fairly frequent basis before we ever had any, any research staff of our own, we would about twice a year put together a group that usually consists of Mitch Bush and Dave Wilt and Jamil Howard and the troops from the National Zoo, usually Ulie Seale, and some of his people and whoever was interested, we put them, we’d put a group together. We’d come in and tackle a project. Early on, it was as you might expect with Dave involved, a lot of reproductive physiology, a lot of artificial insemination and, and type of projects.

01:53:08 - 01:53:56

And we would spend a week or 10 days, you know, working, you know, 16, 18 hours a day. We had no, you know, we had no, you know, we had no money and resources then. So they all slept at my house. Marie cooked for them. I, really lucky, I should some say somewhere in here that I got extraordinarily lucky a couple of times in my life, early on. You know, I had a dad that was very tolerant about things I did, except for snakes. He wasn’t a snake fan. And I’d had a mother that was an active co-conspirator in most of my animals stuff.

01:53:56 - 01:54:49

But I got really, really lucky in finding a bride who was very tolerant and supportive. So Marie would cook for the mob and cooked breakfast and dinner, and we’d feed them hamburgers or hot dogs at lunch. They slept all over the house. One of our family stories, I remember, Steve O’Brien who was head of, of the genetics department at the National Cancer Institute and was kind of one of the, still is yet today, one of the leading cellular genetics in the world. You know, Steve O’Brien frequently was in on those big work programs. And Steve was a kind of a character and a piece of work, still is yet today. But when he’s thinking he likes to play the piano, he’s got a piano in his lab. So when he’s thinking he plays the piano.

01:54:49 - 01:55:41

He’s actually was quite good. And one morning about, I dunno, two o’clock in the morning or so, it seems like things happen about then. You know, two of the kids came in and ’cause we’d put the kids in sleeping bags in the basement and turn the kids’ rooms over that. And then Joe Gale usually grabbed the couch in the living room when everybody else had to sleep on the living room floor. And, you know, we’d have 10, you know, 10, 11 people in the house. And the kids came in and shook Maria and I awake and said, (muttering). It was, the piano was playing out there. And so we went out in the hallway and looked, and there was Steve O’Brien sitting in his underwear with a big dang cigar in his mouth, banging away on the piano.

01:55:41 - 01:56:32

He was thinking. He’d woken up, had an idea, and he liked to play the piano while he thought. And, you know, I looked over and Joe Gale was peeking out from under the blanket on the couch. But those early, you know, those early work, you know, programs, you know, where you bring in all the outside expertise and help, we could never have afforded that. So a lot of those early publications that you see on, you know, actually that work was all done in Omaha because we didn’t have anybody that, you know, we didn’t have any committees and we didn’t have any restrictions and we didn’t have any animal rights folks that says, oh my gosh, you can’t draw blood from, or collect semen from this animal or that animal. We just didn’t have any rules.

01:56:32 - 01:56:43

Well, during your career, what would you consider to be the major events that affected zoos, in general, and the Omaha Zoo?

01:56:43 - 01:56:47

And how did you deal with negative issues that might’ve come up?

01:56:48 - 01:56:50

Hey, well, major events, I don’t know.

01:56:50 - 01:56:53

How do you, how do you, how do you classify major events?

01:56:53 - 01:58:06

I, I think in the beginning, in the beginning, when I first got into this field, everybody talked about zoos being conservation organizations, but of course it wasn’t true. We weren’t. I mean, you know, basically, basically in those early days, we were basically what we get accused of being of now, we were, you know, we were kind of consumers, although we did breed animals, but, but we really weren’t doing any conservation. We were maintaining, and some places were actually breeding animals and doing well and expanding gene pools. But for the most part, zoos really weren’t conservation organizations. I think the fact that zoos have been, become a major force in conservation, both ex situ, as far as maintaining safety nets and assurance populations and things like that. I mean, something that the Omaha public doesn’t even know about except kind of vaguely because it’s been in the news a little bit. They can’t see it, you know.

01:58:06 - 01:59:26

We’ve got hidden off site and on view, out of sight, we’ve got an assurance population of about 10,000 frogs, small frogs of many, many different species that we’re breeding and maintaining because of the chytrid fungus problem. We’ve got, you know, we’ve got programs that have been running, these conservation programs that have been running in South America for 20 years now. We’ve been in Madagascar. Ed Lewis has been in Madagascar working on lemurs and rare tortoises and primarily lemurs. And now they’re involved in a reforestation project in Madagascar. His goal is to plant in the next, in the next four years, he wants to plant a million and a half trees and he’s working at it pretty hard and doing pretty good. To connect, to make corridors between some of these isolated mountain top habitats that are still left. I think the zoos, the zoo world, many zoos, have really become conservation organizations and a force in, and we’ve got credibility in the conservation world that we never had in the beginning because we really weren’t conservation organizations in the beginning.

01:59:28 - 02:01:17

And I say that, I say we, but that’s that doesn’t include, it doesn’t include all zoos. Not every zoo can politically do that. You know, we’ve always been free to pretty much spend our money however we wanted and do whatever, you know, whatever we thought was, was necessary and what we wanted to do. But there are zoos that are under governmental restraints, the National Zoo, for instance, which is, you know, it’s a great institution, but the National Zoo couldn’t write a check and send money to, you know, some project somewhere. Whereas the, the Bronx Zoo, the Omaha, I mean the New York Zoological Society has historically spent more money in the field in situ with conservation projects than they spent on the zoo because they had freedom of action, because they weren’t a governmental entity. So, and then some zoos are just too small, but what is happening I think, is that quite a number of the zoos, even small zoos, even you know, medium size zoos, and even small zoos have now become, become active in supporting conservation projects. We’ve got several zoos that regularly support our rare plant lab. You know, we’ve got Marge Fromm and her group has got, and it’s a small (mumbles), they’ve got, I don’t know, we’ve got somewhere north of 300,000 baby orchids in culture, and, and you know, the largest collection of two species of ferns in the world.

02:01:17 - 02:03:18

It’s the only species, a collection, and an orchid from China and things, a lot. And we’ve got about three zoos that, and plus the Zoo Horticultural Association or Society that regularly support Marge. You know, Ed gets support from, and they’re, zoo like Columbus, who doesn’t, who decided, made the decision not to try to compete and hire a research scientific staff themselves, but to simply provide annual support for other people that are doing research. So there are a lot of zoos now that are actively contributing to conservation and conservation research in the wild and conservation research programs. That’s a huge major step forward. And I think probably one of the things I’m, you know, if you, if you mark the things that you, you know, your institution has been able to do. The fact that we have got a, you know, a conservation really active conservation research program that we work, you know, in the wild that were involved in 27 or 28 countries, but with our big programs in South Africa and Madagascar and, and cooperating and doing a lot of mentoring of students, bringing students in, I think that’s a big one. Along the way, you know, we’ve been able to do some major exhibits that have changed the attitudes, I think, of people that, you know, are, are the jungle, Lied Jungle in the desert dome and (mumbles) nights and things like that, that have changed peoples, in Omaha anyway that come through, attitude towards conservation, you know, are things that I guess we’re pretty proud of.

02:03:18 - 02:03:27

And, and all, I guess I lost track of what the other part of that question was. Let me follow up here. You mentioned ex situ.

02:03:27 - 02:03:32

Do you feel zoos have done as much as they can or should in in situ work?

02:03:32 - 02:04:53

Well, I think, there’s never enough, on the one hand, There are, there are, there certainly are zoos that have constraints in that if you have a board that pays close attention to and/or, and/or dictates what you can and can’t do, you know, there’s a, there’s an old cliche about all politics are local and all giving is local. And that goes in both directions. That it’s really true, but it goes in both directions. There are zoos that simply could not support spending money and sending staff overseas to an in situ project. Many, some of them get around that by, you know, being collaborative and in spending, you know, in sending money to zoos that don’t have those restraints, as far as actually, you know, we got, we got 19 full-time employees and 32 or 33 graduate students in Madagascar right now today. There was a lot of places that simply couldn’t do that. In fact, if you’d asked half of our board, they’d wrinkle their nose.

02:04:53 - 02:04:57

(chuckling) You’re spending how much money over there?

02:04:57 - 02:05:03

You’re spending how much money in Madagascar, you know. But it’s, you know, it’s productive.

02:05:05 - 02:05:07

Is, are we doing enough?

02:05:07 - 02:06:26

No. Because there’s more that needs to be done than we can possibly do. I guess the thing about zoos is, is that I think we get a lot more bang for our buck that a dollar at that is much more productive is much better spent if it’s being spent by a zoo, as opposed to a governmental grant that goes to another government that is focused or World Bank grant that is focused on, on some in situ conservation problem. You know, we, we were a part of the, of the Sumatran tiger program, you know, in the Southern tip of Sumatra for quite a number of years with Ron Tilson. And the World Bank kicked in $60 million to that program. $60 million that went to the government of Indonesia for conservation. And Ron said, you know, if, if every dollar was a raindrop, you couldn’t even settle the dust. Said the guys on the ground that were actually doing the work never even got a rain coat or a pup tent out of that.

02:06:26 - 02:07:17

That’s $60 million evaporated as it filtered its way through the government of Indonesia. And I think a lot of government projects. So I, you know, actually when you’re spending the money yourself, it’s really effective. You know, it’s, it’s for these trees that Ed and his group are planting. It’s for a tree that is, you know, when it gets to the survival stage of being like two or three years old, so we know it’s going to survive, it’s costing us less than a dollar a tree to plant rainforest trees in Madagascar. You can be very effective and I, I’m not sure I’m answering the question. Well let me, you kind of segue to something. You mentioned a number of times your rare plant lab.

02:07:18 - 02:07:20

What is it?

02:07:20 - 02:07:21

How did it start?

02:07:21 - 02:07:25

And why did you decide it should be at the Omaha Zoo?

02:07:25 - 02:08:58

Well, it’s one of those things that if you’d asked me 30 years ago, if we’d been involved with a rare plant lab, I was said no way. Or if you’d asked, you know, 30 years ago, if we’d ever be involved in reforestation or, or some of these other, you know, we were supporting some schools in Madagascar, which I used to consider social engineering. I would’ve said no way. But we are and it’s effective. Basically when we were, when we were designing and building the Lied Jungle, you know, which is a tropical rainforest, which at the time was the largest of its kind in the world and still is rated as the best total immersion exhibit just about anywhere. We wanted to do orchids, didn’t know anything about orchids, but seemed like orchids, you know, jungles and orchids and all, it was a good thing to do. So we found a volunteer who was kind of a Nebraska orchid specialist who was actually working on a graduate degree at UNL, an atypical student. He’d gone to school, gotten a degree, gotten out of school, gotten married, raised a family, going back to school and, and Marge Fromm agreed to come in and volunteer and help us put together a bit of an orchid program, although her main work was in the Western Prairie fringed orchid, which is an orchid that grows in Nebraska of all places up in the Sandhills.

02:08:58 - 02:09:41

I didn’t even, at that time, I didn’t even know an orchid grew in Nebraska. And actually it turns out we’ve got three species of orchids in Nebraska. (chuckling) Who knew. All terrestrial. And so Marge agreed to volunteer and help us put together our orchid program and talked about, you know, the Prairie fringed orchid program. And then as part of that, the, excuse me. The guys over in Iowa wanted Marge to help them with their Prairie fringed orchid, and the university didn’t have a place for her.

02:09:41 - 02:09:50

And so she kind of said, is there a, possibly a place at the zoo where I could do some work and help the guys in Iowa and they’ll pay for it?

02:09:50 - 02:11:38

And I said, well, if they’re paying for it fine. And so we found a little space that we could kind of cordon off down in the basement of the Mutual building and built her a little bitty lab down there and kinda kept her in a little mushroom hold down in the dark for a few years. And then when we built the second phase of the conservation center, Marge had progressed to the point where we had her on a full-time payroll by then. Well, it wasn’t absolutely full-time, but it was part-time, and plus money we could bring in. And so Marge got a piece of the second phase of the conservation center. And so she’s now got a little greenhouse and a lab and a tissue culture lab, and a growing room and a greenhouse, and an external greenhouse up on the hill. And as I said, she’s, well she’s single-handedly saved about four species of plants from going extinct in the wild, two ferns in Bermuda, and some orchids we got, and I think I said somewhere north, and we don’t really know for sure, of 300,000 baby orchids, plus orchid seeds from Madagascar stored in liquid nitrogen, orchid seeds stored at 86 below zero Fahrenheit in freezers. And this is kind of a case of, I guess it goes along with you know, if you find somebody, if you’re lucky enough to bump into somebody, find somebody who’s got a fire in their belly to do work and do good work, you don’t try to direct them.

02:11:38 - 02:12:08

You’re simply support them and urge them on. And basically, you know, all of this that Marge is doing is not because I, you know, or we or somebody said, hey, you need to go to Madagascar and, and get into preserving orchids. We’re just kind of getting out of the way and trying to find the money. Okay.

02:12:08 - 02:12:28

You’ve said that the conceptualization, design implementation of successful exhibits management facilities or programs for the benefit of animals, visitor staff are among the most challenging, and at the same time, most rewarding, fun things that a zoo director gets to do?

02:12:28 - 02:12:30

Absolutely, I mean.

02:12:30 - 02:12:38

Can you take us kind of through a step-by-step process that you have developed to go through when you first start to consider a project?

02:12:38 - 02:12:43

Do you have 10 projects lined up, or you think of one at a time?

02:12:43 - 02:12:51

And then how do you start going from your vision and how do you get that vision to, you know, people walk through the door?

02:12:51 - 02:14:11

Well, I think in, you know, when you talk about exhibits and exhibit designs and, and what exhibits to build next and all, one of the things that I’m absolutely against other than maybe an a, an overall direction and design is, is the quote unquote traditional master plan, because there’s been millions of master plans done, or at least thousands of them done in zoos around the world. And if you, you go back and look, very few of them are carried through because, you know, master plan, when you hire an outside master planning company, they come in. They basically don’t pay any attention to what the zoo staff wants. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. They’ve got many times grandiose ideas that are impossible. But more often than not, sounds like I’m on my soap box, and I guess I am, but it’s your fault, you asked the question. More often than not, they sell you the same blame project that they’ve sold to 10 other zoos, just kind of remanufactured and the names changed a little bit. And master plan projects that look ahead, you know, that look ahead 20 or 30 years, there’s no chance.

02:14:11 - 02:15:49

There’s absolutely no chance that you’ll ever get it done and fulfill it. We have managed a new project, a major new project. I’m thinking back, you know, in the course of, you know, being director, I think we did about 19 major projects and about 18 smaller projects in, you know, in a four decade period, which is pretty close to one a year, but a major project about every two years. And, but we were, we were rarely looking more than about two projects ahead or three projects ahead, generally. I think if you’re going to have a project, if you, if you’re going to do, you know, if you’re going to do butterflies or you’re going to do an aquarium, you better have somebody on staff and on hand, or be yourself, somebody who’s got a real passion, a real fire in their belly to work with that species or that genera or that family, or, you know, that those, those animals to simply say you’re going to do a whatever, and then go out and find the, the expertise and the staff to run. She really wants somebody that, that has some knowledge or expertise. And then, so we’ve never hired outside conceptual designs, you know, firms. We’ve worked with a local architect.

02:15:49 - 02:16:48

The good thing about a local architect is I got to live in the same town with you and that project forever. So they will listen to you. And we’ve kind of developed a philosophy over the years. And in the early, early time, we did it as a kind of a formalized process where if you decide to do a project, and I’ve actually, I’ve actually written this up and published this about three or four places. If you’re going to do a project, and it doesn’t make any difference if it’s a tropical rainforest building or an aquarium or butterfly house, or, you know, a desert dome or a nocturnal building. First, you kind of decided what it is that you want to do. And then, then if there are any projects similar, and for instance, with the jungle, yes, we, we went to see the Bronx. We went to Wichita.

02:16:48 - 02:17:01

We went to whoever had, whatever zoo had a similar exhibit, but we also went to nearly every major botanical garden in the United States.

02:17:01 - 02:17:18

And I actually even went to Kew Gardens in London and spent about four and a half, five days at Kew Gardens looking at them, not just looking at the place, but asking, you know, I mean, the big thing is what have you done, right, what have you done wrong?

02:17:18 - 02:17:22

And what, what they’ve done wrong is probably more important.

02:17:22 - 02:17:39

So that’s when you, you know, that’s when you take a little money along and take the staff that actually run the place, take them out to dinner, feed them a couple of beers or a couple of stiff drinks and say, you know, what would you sell your soul to do over again and do it right this time?

02:17:39 - 02:18:20

And after a couple of drinks, why, you know, and, and off the zoo grounds, you get the answer. And early on, we did it as a formal thing. I had a thing where we made lists. And you make a list. You make the lists of number one, all of the things that you absolutely must do for the animals, ’cause it’s all about animals. If you bring in a, if you bring it Peter Chimoff. I don’t want to insult Peter, but I will. I’ve done that before.

02:18:21 - 02:19:24

If you bring in an outsider, who’s a designer, an architect, whatever, they’re going to throw up something that’s really grandiose that makes a big grandiose statement, architectural statement, but probably is a functional abortion behind the scenes. And behind the scenes is more important than what the public sees. It’s much more important. So you make a list of all of the things that you absolutely must do for the benefit of the animals. No exceptions accepted. But if you can’t do those things, that list, whether it’s a short list or long list, then you don’t do the project. Then the next list is all of the things that you would like to do for the animals, if you can possibly afford to do them. And then the fourth list is the list of all of the things that you must not do that will impact the animals negatively.

02:19:24 - 02:20:20

Absolutely no exceptions. If you can’t, if you can’t satisfy that list, you don’t do the project. And then, and then a list of all of the things that you would like to avoid if you can possibly afford it. And there’s always compromises. You can’t afford to do everything that you’d like to do, and you can’t afford generally to avoid everything that might happen. So there’s four, there’s kind of four lists, two of which are absolutes that if you can’t satisfy those lists, you don’t do the project for the animals. Then you make those same four lists. The absolutely must do, that you do if you can afford it, that’s you absolutely must not do, you avoid if you can all possibly afford it for the keepers and the, and the staff, the, you know, the veterinarians and the keeper staff and the keepers.

02:20:20 - 02:22:03

And then the third list, and the final list is that same type of list for the general public. And inevitably, if you’ve done the first two, if you’ve satisfied the first two, you end up with a much bigger project. That’s why our buildings tend to be so big. That’s why, for instance, in the aquarium, you only see one half for one fifth of our water. That’s why in the jungle building, we’ve got more animal space off display, behind the scenes than the public, then on display for the public. We’ve got more space for animals behind the scenes than we have exhibit space for the public. You know, in, in the, in the new gorilla valley, we got all kinds of big outdoor exhibits, but, you know, in the, in the new gorilla valley building, we’ve only got two displays and we’ve got the old gorilla building, which we revamped, but down below and behind the scenes, we’ve got more, we’ve got more gorilla space, twice as much gorilla space down below and off display, but with skylights and windows and natural light, then the public will ever see on display. And I, you know, and the result of that is though, is that you always end up building a bigger and more expensive building than if you just simply hire an outside architect to come in and make some big architectural statement that is behind the scenes, as far as animal management, animal husbandry is a functional abortion, and there’s a lot of functional abortions out there.

02:22:06 - 02:22:07

Let’s draw back a bit.

02:22:07 - 02:22:17

You, I understand the concept of what you’re talking about, but how do you come up or how have you come up with the initial vision?

02:22:18 - 02:22:20

You built the jungle.

02:22:20 - 02:22:28

Why did you decide to do that as opposed to any other type of thing that you might have done?

02:22:28 - 02:22:37

What were you thinking in that direction of what it was, what were you trying to convey and how did you come to that particular idea?

02:22:37 - 02:24:04

Well, I think in part, and for instance in the jungle, because of working with, you know, around the world and, you know, and as I think I said, you know, I’ve been lucky enough to, you know, working with Ulie Seale and CBS and GM and on our own, and working, traveling about 42 countries, been to a number of tropical rainforest. And the experience, you know, the experience of a tropical rainforest, particularly if you’re out in the rain, if you’re out in, at dark at night in a rainforest, the experience is a totally different experience. And, you know, as it kind of changes the way you think, the way you feel. You know, a lot of the experience you get in the tropical rainforest, you simply absorb through your skin by osmosis. And, and so that, that basically is what are the idea of doing a tropical rainforest came from. You know, there were a couple of, of rainforest in zoos in the United States, Wichita, Kansas and the Bronx and, and a few other, you know, botanical tropical buildings, but not really. That’s where that came from. And, and the majority of people in Nebraska will never, ever get to a tropical rain forest.

02:24:05 - 02:25:24

The desert dome mostly came about because I grew up at the desert. (chuckling) And so I’d always wanted to do a desert, you know, except that, instead of, because we did in tropical rainforest, we did Asia and Africa and South America, the threes, you know, three zones. We did the same kind of thing in the desert by giving people a little taste of Namibia, of central Australia, you know, the Air’s rock area, area in central, the Red Desert, and then the Sonoran Desert ’cause I grew up in the Sonoran Desert. It’s giving people an experience that they can’t likely get and never will get, unless they, you know, they’re lucky enough to travel there. We don’t have a lot of big red and blue and, and yellow signs around. We got the information is there, if you’re interested. Most people go through and what they’re interested in is the experience. And then you kind of gently give them the conservation message that these are fragile places that need protected.

02:25:24 - 02:26:15

And you know, the idea is that by the time they come through, they’ve got a different attitude on conservation and preserving the natural world and all of that, or they’ve just had a good time. And one of the things that we’ve always tried to do is to make them interesting and exciting, and you know, so that you can’t walk. If you walk into the jungle, for instance, number one, we buried it mostly in the ground or in, down in a deep hole. The hole was already there. We, you can’t walk in and see how big it is. You walk in and you turn a corner and there’s a window and you get a surprise or, you know, a viewing, not a window with glass, but a window. And then you walk around another corner and you get another surprise. And the thing just keeps opening up and opening up more surprises and more new views and more whatever.

02:26:15 - 02:28:01

And, you know, and if you can scare them a couple of times along the way, why are really surprised them, then, then they remember, they remember the conservation message if you surprise them or scare them a little bit. And if they’ve had a good time. And, but the big thing is, is that, you know, if you, you know, when we were going to do the aquarium, that experience, you know, in Columbus, Ohio, because for a period of time, you know, I was acting curator of the Arthur C. Johnson Aquarium. But we went to see and we took the other big part of this is, is that, you know, we put together early on a team of an architect and a contractor, and basically we don’t bid anything, never, we didn’t bid anything. Everything’s negotiated. And we’ve had the same team, although individuals came and went in the team, for 35 years or better. And that, and, and so when we went to look at the jungle in the Bronx, you know, Jungle World, or when we were going to do Gorilla Valley, you know, we went to see Congo. We went to, if there was something good to see around the country, you know, we’d figure out a way to not only go ourselves, but we took the, we took the architect with us and we always took the, whoever our superintendent or, or at least the, the managing engineer for the project from the, the construction company was going to be because we weren’t bidding.

02:28:01 - 02:28:59

There was not a low bid thing. It was a, if we were, everything was negotiated, it’s always been negotiated. So you get a much better price. Plus you can make changes. You know, we did the Lied Jungle, which the Lied Jungle in the education section and the restaurant was $18 1/2 million back when we built it. We did that whole project with three formal change orders, three formal, only three formal change orders that actually went on paper. We made a lot of other changes, you know, because, you know, we went down and looked at that project every day, sometimes two and three and four times a day and waved our arms. But if you take the architect and the, you know, and the, and the engineer from the construction company and the superintendent, if you can, and the whole, and, and you walk them through.

02:28:59 - 02:30:31

And the important thing is to look at what’s really good about this project in the Bronx or in the wherever, and what’s, what’s bad, you know, and particularly if you can go out to dinner someplace and have somebody say my gosh, you know, if we can only do that over again. That really, that really, you know, I, I think I said, you know, when we were doing the Lied Jungle, Kew Gardens had two different departments full of PhDs. I think one at 27 PhDs, one had about nine PhDs. And luckily the last day I managed to spend the last half of the last day with the guy who actually ran their conservatory, who then said, you know, I’ve been listening, a whole lot of what they’ve been telling you is just bull. It didn’t work. And he really, he really saved our rump. The other, the other one that really saved our rump on that building was, and I can say this now, because he’s retired from Disney, but TA Strawser, Terry Strawser, who was curator of birds in Columbus, Ohio, when I was there, then he went to work for Disney and he was in Disney Imagineering. And when we were going to do the jungle, you know, because Disney in Orlando.

02:30:31 - 02:31:45

We went down and saw, and look, went through Disney’s botanical operation in Orlando. And Terry took us around and very quietly behind the scene said, okay, now we don’t know, Disney does not know anything about Legionnaires’ disease, but if I were you and I were going to do a jungle building with foggers, here’s the things I wouldn’t do. And as it turns out, you know, if you’re going to do foggers, you do foggers that, that are fogging with water that’s been run through a filter and it’s generating the fog directly. You don’t pipe it in. You don’t do, you don’t do Venturi type foggers because in that big, long duct and pipe is where Legionnaires’ disease grow. Turns out, Kew Gardens in London knew about a lot more about Legionnaires’ disease. There were a lot of people. And if, if you didn’t know that and if you just looked at the plans, you’d make that mistake all over again.

02:31:45 - 02:32:02

And so having somebody that will, you know, over a drink someplace say, you know, we don’t officially know anything about this, but is huge. Now, let me, we’re going to talk about some specific exhibits that you’ve done in Omaha.

02:32:02 - 02:32:08

But as you’re having this vision, how are you starting to think about the fundraising?

02:32:08 - 02:32:10

What comes first?

02:32:12 - 02:33:21

Well, the idea, the idea has to come first. The vision has to come first. On the Lied Jungle, for instance, that that project got hatched. One of the things that you have to have is a long view, and you have to have a lot of persistence, a lot of persistence, and a lot of, you gotta have a long view and nothing. You know, there’s an old cliche about, you know, nothing is worth doing, can be done in less than four or five years. And that’s absolutely true. The Lied Jungle project was hatched one night when my wife had taken the kids to see her folks and, and a lawyer in Omaha with his wife had taken their kids to see their, you know, her folks and George (muttering), who was president of the board then, who was the guy who said, you know, if it doesn’t cost more than $10,000, I don’t need to know about it. He invited the two of us over for dinner because we were both batching.

02:33:21 - 02:34:40

And over dinner, and a couple of three bottles of wine. As it turns out, Ernie Lied had passed away. There was no money in that foundation, but there was going to be substantial money in that foundation. And Ernie’s, long-time lawyer said, you know, there is a single individual who is going to be the single sole trustee and there no money now, and there won’t be any money now, but you need to contact her and plant the seed. And so I wrote her a letter, painted a word picture, a little bit of a sketch for eight years. I wrote her a letter, once every six months until they actually sold some of the land in Las Vegas and had money and I went to see her. And, but the seed had been planted eight years before. And, you know, the seed was to do a tropical rainforest and, and every six months in a descriptive letter of another part of it.

02:34:42 - 02:35:08

Sometimes it takes that kind of long range persistence. Sometimes with, as with say the aquarium, we were finishing up the, you know, we were finishing up the Lied Jungle and, you know, my board chairman said, well, we’d, we had built a small aquarium and he had helped with that.

02:35:08 - 02:35:14

And he said, well, you know, what would you, what do you think you’d like to do next?

02:35:14 - 02:35:44

And I said, well, I’d like to build a real honest to goodness aquarium now that we’ve done this, and we’ve got experience, and we’ve got a good aquarium staff, and I’d like to build a really honest to good, you know, honest, honest aquarium. (chuckling) And you know, that one was a case of, you know, he, so that sounds like a good idea.

02:35:44 - 02:35:46

Why don’t we do that?

02:35:46 - 02:35:47

You think you can raise the money.

02:35:49 - 02:35:50

And I said, you know, why not?

02:35:50 - 02:37:36

And so, you know, we, we opened, we opened the Lied Jungle in April of 1992, immediately rolled into planning and designing an aquarium. The one good thing about having a long time team and span and all of the architect is that an architect that’s been working with you for a long time (mumbles) will do things on the cuff. So as far as when it came time to put a, you know, to decide how big and what kind of exhibits and what it was kind of gonna look like, you could get that done on the cuff without paying any money. And then that gave you something, cause you need something to show, you need some, you need some graphics, you need a, you know, not only a floor plan, but you need some elevations, some things to show a prospective donor as to what you’re going to do. And so, you know, from the idea about what would you like to do next, which was happened in the first part of April 92, we opened the aquarium in April of 95. You know, that’s three years of, that’s design and construction and raising the funds in three years. One of the other ones was, you know, we, because we’ve gotten to travel a lot and take a lot a lot, and do a lot of tours. You know, we, I’d taken an individual to east Africa with Marie and I on a zoo tour.

02:37:36 - 02:39:46

And, you know, when it came time to do the gorilla valley, about 23 years later, that individual came full circle and, and signed on for gorilla valley and then for the orangs and then for the elevator, and then for the second half of our conservation center to the tune of, from, you know, one contact about over $30 million from one contact. But there was a 23 year span in between the first contact and actually, you know, the first donation. Yeah, so I am, there’s not a single answer, but in every instance, you know, we, we had an idea, we had, you know, and you need, some people can visualize, some people can’t. Some people you simply, one of the lessons we learned early on was unless somebody was an engineer or an architect, you don’t go walk in with a roll of, of architectural drawings. You, you walk in with some elevations and renderings and you put color on them and you put little stick figures and bushes on them. And then you do a whole series of things for the desert dome, for instance, we actually made a geodesic dome that we carved a in-house in the zoo, and at home at night, we carved the styrofoam model of the deserts of Namibia and the mountains and the sand dunes and everything, and of Australia and of Kuiseb Canyon and of the Sonoran desert and painted the styrofoam model. And you gotta have something to show. And particularly if you’re dealing with a potential donor who is not an architect or an engineer who can visualize, and not all engineers can visualize, you know.

02:39:46 - 02:40:04

We had a board president who was an engineer, but as it turns out, we were banging our head against the wall, just struggling. I mean, he was also a donor and we were struggling with him. And finally, you know, Stan Howe, who’s been an architect for years and years said, hey, wait a minute.

02:40:04 - 02:40:06

Why don’t, how about us, we come back tomorrow?

02:40:06 - 02:40:44

You know, Ed, let’s break off right now. We’ll come back tomorrow. And cause I was waving my and arguing and whatever, and it just, we were getting nowhere. You know, and it was gonna be his money we’re going spend. And, and so I said, you know, we went out to the car, what’s up and he said, it just hit me. He doesn’t know what we’re talking about. So we went back to his shop, we took out some elevations, he put color on them. He put in the little stripes that make it window glass, he put little stick figures.

02:40:44 - 02:41:17

He put little green bushes on. It was the same thing we’d shown him the day before, we came back the next day. And he said, gah, that’s great. That’s what, yeah, that’s, that’s great. Let’s go. (dog barking) So it, you know, it’s, but you have to have the idea and you have to, you have to, you know, have to have the concept, the ideas first, and then cause you gotta to have something to sell. People don’t just give you money to give you money out of the goodness of their heart. You gotta have a project to tie the money to.

02:41:18 - 02:41:21

Let me ask a couple of very specific questions.

02:41:21 - 02:41:22

How’d you get all that sand?

02:41:22 - 02:42:33

Well, (chuckling) two things, number one, that huge sand dune, you know, which is like, you know, is really not all sand. It’s on top of, of a, of an egg shape, concrete dome because down below is Kingdom of the Night, and that’s the night sky of the Louisiana swamp. So that sand that you see there is only two to four feet deep. And, and to get red sand that looked like Namibia, we had to go to Arizona. And one of the lessons we learned with some other things early on is that archaic sand, you know, sand that’s been buried and is quarried, you know, fine red sand, Namibian, colored red sand. And we ended up sampling four different quarries in Arizona. The first three had arsenic, cadmium, zinc, all kinds of horrible, heavy metals in them. And, and we, and we, ’cause we tested them and then we bio tested them, you know, bio test them with, well, the easy way is with tomato seeds.

02:42:33 - 02:43:30

You know, you spread out a bed of sand and plant tomato seeds and wet it down and put a plastic cover over. If the tomato seeds sprout and grow good, well, that’s good sand. But we also send it to the lab. We finally found a quarry that didn’t have any arsenic or any heavy metals. It did have borates in it, but borates are very soluble. You can wash the borates out of it, although it nearly bit us in the rump because we had, we ordered two, 100 ton gondola cars full of red sand out of Arizona and specified specifically that it had to be washed and washed, and washed well to get all the borates out of it. And they did exactly what we wanted. What we weren’t thinking about was that they, they shipped it to us the first part of February and got put on a siting at about 7,000 feet in Wyoming.

02:43:31 - 02:43:58

And it’s set there and froze. It was wet sand and it froze. So in the first part of March, they rolled in 200, 200 ton each gondola cars full of, just two big ice, to be ice cubes frozen sand. We had one heck of a time getting those damn things thawed out so we could spread the sand.

02:43:58 - 02:44:04

(chuckling) What was the, who had the concept of the glaze geodesic dome, and why that?

02:44:05 - 02:44:57

I did from the standpoint that with the jungle, with the jungle, one of the things that, that by going to other places and you know, and as I said, I believe it really, really believe in going and doing your homework, then go into anything that’s got either anything remotely like it. With a jungle, because you can grow trees and you can get a canopy up. The roof disappears. The ceiling disappears. You know, even though it is a, you know, it is Kalwall ceiling, it’s a transmit 63% of light and all of that. The roof disappears because number one, it’s high. But number two, you got trees up above that make it. With a desert, with a desert, you can’t make the roof disappear.

02:44:57 - 02:45:54

So you need a geodesic dome. And it needs to be really high. The reason we’ve got a hemisphere and not, there’s a couple of other smaller, smaller ones that are only like a one-third where they come like this, but then the roof never gets high enough that you can’t see it. It never disappears. Visually, you need the roof to disappear. The other thing that that happens that we worked out in the jungle is in summertime, if you try to, if you try to maintain temperature control and air condition that much space, nobody can afford that. So you, you air condition and cool the bottom, you know, the 12 over 15 feet above the public’s head, let that hot air bubble go to the top and then blow, in the summertime, you just blow the hot air bubble off. In a desert, it’s even worse because you get no shading.

02:45:54 - 02:46:36

You can’t do shading in a desert. Well, we did do shading actually. There’s a big center portion of that that’s, that’s 50% shade and then 40% and 30%, 10%. So that in December, January, February, when the sun’s coming through, it comes through clear acrylic. In the, in June, in July, it’s coming through primarily shaded acrylic. And it’s just that the shading is gradual and you don’t really, people don’t notice it and don’t spot it. But we got 50% shade tinted acrylic at the top. And then we blow the hot air bubble.

02:46:36 - 02:47:15

That hot air bubble in the desert dome gets to be 140, 150 degrees at the top. And we just blow it off. And the idea was to do a big enough hemisphere that it got, you know, that you looked up once and said, wow. And then you’ve concentrated on the sand dunes and the exhibits and the rocks and the plants. And you never look at the, you never looked at the ceiling again. Psychologically the ceiling disappears. You put it in an exhibit called Garden of the Senses. Yeah.

02:47:15 - 02:47:17

Why was the exhibit important?

02:47:17 - 02:47:19

And what did you hope to accomplish?

02:47:19 - 02:48:26

It was kind of one of those things where we had the, we had an old barn down there and we had an old area that had been part of the old park. And it was, it was kind of one of those things where it was, it was the worst eyesore in the whole zoo. I mean, it was, and we couldn’t, that year, we couldn’t afford to build anything new. And so sometimes, sometimes it’s a lot better to tear down something that’s bad if you can’t afford to build something new that is attracting, you a tear down, you tear down, pick out the worst thing you’ve got and get rid of it. And this was a terrible old area, an eyesore, held over from the old park, an old picnic pavilion. And so I said, well, you know, the only thing we do is tear down and we’ll plant it, maybe make a garden out of it. And actually it wasn’t my idea. Yeah, we had for the Lied Jungle hired a horticulturist, which, you know, foolishly we had, should have done that 10 or 15 years before we did the Lied Jungle.

02:48:26 - 02:49:29

But we didn’t, you know if you’d asked me 50 years ago, if we’d ever hired a horticulturist, I said, you know, whatever. No, but, but, but actually, you know, horticulture should be one of the first people that you hire because that makes, you know, that makes the whole zoo look good. But, but I was down there with Terri and she, and I told her, you know, we need to, we need to figure out how to plant this and make it look good. We just going to tear everything down, pull out all this’ll concrete, tear everything down, and we just need to make it look good ’cause it looks horrible. And Terri had been somewhere and seen a garden at the senses. And so that was her idea. And then frankly, when she first mentioned garden that the senses and the touch and feel and smell, I kind of looked at her and said, you know, that’s, but then you thought about it a little bit. And it was kind of, again, one of those things where we needed to clean up an area and she was kind of passionate about that.

02:49:29 - 02:50:27

And so you say, okay. And so I really liked to take all the credit for that, but I can’t because it was her idea. You opened up– Part of the idea that was mine though in the Garden of the Senses were the sculpture, because, you know, early on, you know, early on in my, you know, my career, I get to go and do the grand tour of European zoos because I was bringing back a load of animals from Vandenbrink’s place in Holland. And they, well, he had them up in the actually Bremen, up by Hamburg, and I made the grand tour. You know, one of the things that I’d never seen up until that time was animal sculpture. And, you know, by going around all the European zoos, they got animal sculpture all over the place, And particularly east Berlin, that was like 1968. And I don’t know if you’ve been and seen the bronzes at the east Berlin zoo. They’re incredible.

02:50:27 - 02:50:52

They’re absolutely. They, they belong to the, they blogged Kaiser Wilhelm. And after, you know, after Germany fell, why they moved them to the zoo. And so that’s one of the things, you know, we’ve got about 40 bronzes now and are working on more. You opened the Eugene Mahoney. Kingdoms of the Night. Yeah.

02:50:52 - 02:50:53

Who was Eugene?

02:50:53 - 02:50:56

What was his significant at the Omaha Zoo?

02:50:57 - 02:50:59

What’s its outstanding features?

02:50:59 - 02:51:05

Why did you choose this exhibit over, let’s say more popular animals?

02:51:06 - 02:52:24

Well, a couple of things. And again, it comes back to personal experiences as far as doing a nocturnal exhibit. Some of the, some of the most interesting experiences that I’ve had, you know, and we’ve had in all of the is, is bumping around in a, in a rain forest or bumping around at night, you know, either on the Amazon or, or, you know, in Africa or Asia or whatever at night, you know, in, in rainforest, in the, in the, whatever. I mean, some of the nocturnal exhibits, there were no really good nocturnal exhibits in the United States at that time. You know, the best one was Grzimek’s House of Darkness in Frankfurt, which I had seen. But I’d also seen like the spring hollows in London. You know, London had a nocturnal exhibit when you turned on the light, or if you turn on the light at the Bronx nocturnal exhibits, you said, holy smokes because when the lights were on, it was, you know. But, and basically when we were doing the desert dome, you know, which is a one acre footprint, there’s no use wasting that space.

02:52:24 - 02:52:55

I hadn’t the idea of doing Nocturnals. The interesting thing was that, you know, when I said we’d like to do a desert, you know, the board chairman and whatever said, hey, that’s neat. I liked deserts. And lots of people have been to Tucson or Phoenix and played golf in the desert and winter in the desert. And so everybody knew about deserts and that was an easy sell. When I said, yeah, below that underneath the desert, we’d like to do a nocturnal exhibit. Everybody just said what’s that. They had no concept or idea.

02:52:57 - 02:54:00

The nocturnal exhibit is if you do a, an exit survey, particularly of kids of the, of the, you know, of the number one top thing that we’ve done, the kids particularly will overwhelmingly tell you the nocturnal and particularly the swamp. And we got three quarters of an acre of exhibits underground. Yeah. And Gene Mahoney was a former state Senator who then took over game and parks. And after he retired from game and parks came on board as, in the foundation when the foundation was really Gene and I, you know, I mean, I was also director. And so for a long time, you know, it was when it came to fundraising, it was Gene and I. Gene make the telephone calls to get the, to get the lunch engagement. And then I’d go wave my arms and make the kill.

02:54:00 - 02:55:01

I mean, that was kind of the way, cause everybody answered Gene’s phone calls. Cause he’d been a state Senator for about 14, 15 years and head a game and parks. And anyway, bottom line, and we had, we had a, a donation for the desert dome from a single source. Then that was one of the good ones because we, you know, we invited an individual and his wife to dinner, just the four of us. Showed him the, showed him the styrofoam model of the desert, the model of the geodesic dome, what we were trying to accomplish. He was an engineer. He liked the concept and the idea of a geodesic dome and the desert. And he said, basically, okay, we’ll think about this.

02:55:01 - 02:55:02

And I’ll call you back call.

02:55:02 - 02:55:10

Called back the next morning, less than 24 hours later, and he said, you know, what does it take to name something like that?

02:55:10 - 02:55:49

And I said half, and he said, I might want to name it after my dad. And as it turns out, he didn’t. So it doesn’t have a name on it yet, but it will have one day. And so he gave a $16 1/2 million in less than 24 hours. But then we had to raise the rest of it. Gene Mahoney, we needed to, we needed to honor Gene Mahoney because of what he’d done in the state. And you know what he’d done for us and all. Gene Mahoney wasn’t really a fan of nocturnal nighttime things, but we named it after him anyway.

02:55:51 - 02:56:49

Nocturnal animals are, you know, some of the most interesting animals in the whole world. And nobody does, hardly anybody does nocturnal exhibits and animals well. the Grzimek House of Darkness in Frankfurt, you know, was kind of the leading nocturnal exhibit anywhere, but their doctor, Dr. Professor Grzimek had gone out in the middle of the night in Tanzania, on a moonless starless night, taking a light meter reading and came back and said, this is how many footcandles it will be period. And I think they’ve changed it now, but for years they adhered to that and you couldn’t see anything. You were three quarters of the way through. Now, the whole idea is the illusion is balancing the light. So we’ve got three quarters of an acre. It takes you a long time to go through.

02:56:49 - 02:57:51

We start out with light that’s fairly high and get progressively darker as you go through so that your eyes adjust. You know, a seven year old, his eyes, their eyes adjust real quick. Some of us old guys, it takes a little bit longer. So you start out with light that’s, that’s fairly high and get progressively darker. And then, you know, things that I’d lived my whole life, you know, not the whole life, you know, I’d lived in my early life in the, you know, in the desert, you know, we had ringtail, you know, we had cacomistle, ringtail cats. You know, I’d seen a glimpse of, you know, about twice, you know, when we were out fishing or, or doing something. People never see, people never see nocturnal animals, or if they do see them, they’re a little round ball of fur that doesn’t do anything but wiggle now and then while they breathe. So some of the neatest animals in the world and, you know, we did the wet cave and the, and the dry cave.

02:57:51 - 02:58:31

And, you know, we got a 70 foot tall cave in there. That’s because, you know, you’re 15 feet below ground. And then we use the, you know, we used 55 feet of the mountain to get 70 feet. So you look up and 70 feet to the top of that, where there’s a crack in it. And, and most of it is things that we saw, I’d seen and experienced. And so, you know, it’s, it’s bringing your experience, your, you know, the things that you remember that are significant, so the general public can see them. Okay, okay. Majority of zoo veterinarians have not been as successful as you were as a zoo director.

02:58:32 - 02:58:36

What worked for you and what would you tell zoo vets who want to be directors?

02:58:37 - 03:00:05

Yeah, well, in part, I think that is because as I say, you know, if I had say been lucky enough to get the job in St. Louis, it was very little chance I would have ever risen to the point of being a, you know, being a director of the zoo. If you look, if you look at the history of St. Louis, because it’s bureaucratic departmentalized. I mean it’s nothing against St. Louis. That’s just the way it is. I think, I think that helped me. The thing that helped me is, is number one, I started out, you know, by happenstance and because I had no other choice as far as finding a job in the zoo world as a, as a, you know, as a mammals curator and then kind of worked my in the, in the process of both being a veterinarian and an assistant director worked in every department in the zoo. But then I also started out as a, you know, in a very small zoo and, and worked my way up. Whereas I think a lot of, you know, a lot of guys coming out of school, or gals and, you know, coming out of school who get a job as a quote unquote zoo veterinarian are, are basically departmentalized and never get to have, you know, get the experience to actually see or do the whole thing.

03:00:06 - 03:00:30

You know, and basically I got to, you know, I got to start out small and grow, you know, did everything in Columbus and then started in Omaha and grew up with the place. And so, you know, I was director by the time I was 32. (chuckling) And grew up with the job. I don’t know if that’s an answer or not. No.

03:00:30 - 03:00:36

What skillset or qualities do you think a zoo director needs today as compared to when you started?

03:00:38 - 03:01:53

Well, certainly, certainly management and budgetary skills. I think you need people skills. I think, you know, and I, and that’s probably true, no matter what your, you know, your, your discipline is. I’ve come to the conclusion that, that probably people skills are the most important skills that you can have from the standpoint that you can be, you know, the very best veterinarian or the, you know, or the, or the very best herpetologist or the very best in whatever that there is. I mean, you can be the very smartest, the very best. And if you don’t have people skills, you’re going to end up basically being dependent on what you yourself can do and accomplish by yourself. I mean, the people skills are hugely, hugely important. I mean, that, you know, we’re going to talk a little bit later, but, you know, from the standpoint of guys like Ulie Seale, you know, Ulie’s as I’ve said, Ulie was a, a really good scientist, a biochemist, hematologist, a great, you know, conservation biologists, a good, a good scientist.

03:01:53 - 03:02:09

That’s not what made him have the influence he did. His people skills were what, you know, what caused him to have the influence or enabled him to have the influence that he’s had over the zoo world, people skills.

03:02:11 - 03:02:16

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

03:02:16 - 03:02:24

And if you identify what you considered to be, what might zoos be doing to correct the problem, if there is one?

03:02:26 - 03:03:53

Well, I think, I think there, there are a couple problems. Part of it is the, the US government, government bureaucracy and the government encroachment and government, you know, mandates and controls and regulations that are, you know, slowly but surely, you know, strangling zoos and causing more and more problems with zoos, you know, so that things that we didn’t even worry about or think about, you know, back in the, in the beginning, you know, are now major, you know, can be major problems. The other, the other part is similar. I’ll make a lot of friends with this one, but I think the, the bureaucracy and the, this little tin bed syndrome to control everything kind of like Obamacare and all of the AZA, I mean, the AZA has kind of become a, a quasi police organization that wants to micromanage and control everything in every zoo in the whole world with a small group. And I, and that’s, I think, I think that’s a big problem. It’s detrimental. Well, let’s just stick on that for a minute.

03:03:53 - 03:03:58

What were some of AZA strengths and weaknesses when you started?

03:03:58 - 03:04:58

Well, I think initially, you know, they were a service organization. They supported zoos. Initially. They were a way, they provided the zoos a forum to get together to exchange information, ideas, technology. That was good. And then, you know, then we saw, then we saw the, the, you know, the, the encroachment of the federal government and, and all of the pressure from certainly the, the civil, you know, the, or the animal rights groups, but mostly the federal government and department of interior. And you threw in US Fish and Wildlife and, and all of that. But at other state to, to encroach and control the zoo world and, and recognize that sooner or later somebody was going to want to, you know, license and accredited zoos other than Department of Agriculture.

03:04:58 - 03:06:04

Department of Agriculture has always been, as a federal agency, has been pretty benign and, and pretty helpful to zoos. I mean, I don’t really consider Department of Agriculture and their activities to be necessarily detrimental, but, but certainly, certainly interior has been. And, and the fact that sooner or later, somebody was gonna try to accredit. And so to the AZA’s credit, to AZA’s credit, they . stepped up, you know, developed and instituted an accreditation program, which I think is by and large taken a lot, you know, a huge amount of heat off of the zoo world. So that’s a good thing, even though it is, you know, very rigorous. I think, you know, meeting accreditation standards is good, necessary for zoos, is good. It also sets some standards that that gives zoos and zoo directors the, you know, the leverage to improve.

03:06:04 - 03:08:08

I mean, and so meeting the accreditation standards is, if a guy wants to use it and use it in the right way is good leverage and people, lots of people have used it very beneficially. The downside, the bad side of that is not all, but certainly some, a significant number of the SSP committees, and, you know, particularly when you get a very strong individual who frequently is not a animal person, who’s a psychologist or whatever, who wants to control, you know, everything that’s happening with a species or with a family, those things have been, there’ve been, you know, there’s some been some spectacular disasters and that’s been highly and caused a lot of resentment. You know, wanting to put way too much, way too much power in the hands of a very small groups and small committees that are controlled by the central office. That shouldn’t be the role, you know, being policemen and control freaks should not be the role of a service organization, like AZA, you know, even though we are also an accreditation program. And the other thing is, is they’ve become highly bureaucratic and a process. You know, they early on in our, you could go in and sit down with the AZA board and, and express a need or express a problem or whatever, you know, and, and you had decision makers that that would say, yay, nay, whatever, you know, and now it’s a, now it’s a, now it’s a bureaucratic process. And unless you’re really good at, you know, at managing and, and bureaucracy, why it’s not going to work. Continue.

03:08:08 - 03:08:17

What was, you were around when AZA was part of the parks system, or those, that group, and then when it broke away.

03:08:17 - 03:08:25

Can you give us a little part of what your recollections are of that evolution of breaking away and how it came about?

03:08:25 - 03:09:43

Well, I, you know, I wasn’t really deeply involved with, you know, with AZA. Was a member, but not really deeply involved with AZA, you know, at the time. And of course it was as a member of the parks. (muttering) It was a fairly ineffective organization and, and by breaking away and, you know, they, I mean the other, you know, the other thing that, that AZA can and should do, and I think we’re at times doing much better than we were in the past, but I mean, to be a, you know, an advocate, a spokesman to the outside world. And I think we’re, you know, I think AZA is doing a, a better job as far as being a spokesman and an advocate and representing the zoo world to the, to the Washington, you know, legislature and all. that of course is, you know, that of course should be the, should be the function. Because as you know, back in the beginning, they really weren’t doing it. It was basically an organization which allowed people to get together and, you know, and exchange ideas and have a forum and get together.

03:09:43 - 03:10:27

But it really didn’t, you know, really didn’t serve as an advocate to the outside world or to market to the outside world. And so in that respect, AZA is doing a lot better. I, you know, the big problem I see is the, is the bureaucracy and this, this inevitable, I call it the little bit, tin badge syndrome of power, you know, it’s kind of like, ah, what’s the use I have in this little tin badge if I can’t use it to kick somebody’s butt now and then, and show, you know, show somebody I can control. Control freaks. Well, let me– Not that I have any strong opinions. That’s good. Talk about zoos.

03:10:27 - 03:10:32

How would you describe zoos now, but what would you like to see them become in the future?

03:10:35 - 03:12:15

Well, I think, yeah, I think, you know, I, I think a lot of zoos are, are really. Number one, if it weren’t for zoos, you know, because there are all kinds of people that will say, hey, if you’d spend this same amount of money on preserving habitat in the wild, you know, think how much better, you know, how much more goods you do. And there’s a, there’s a couple of answers there. Number one, very few zoos and societies, and certainly no governmental zoo could ever spend that same amount of money in the wild. The animals in captivity in the zoo, in addition to, you know, serving as a kind of a safety net are really ambassadors for the animals in the wild. Absolutely. I absolutely believe that if it wasn’t for the fact that you’ve got elephants in zoos and elephants in circuses that people get up close and personal to and bond with, you know, they make that click, that connection, that we wouldn’t have been able, we the world, wouldn’t have been able to pass a ban on ivory. And even though it’s ineffective as far as Asia, because there’s still lots of ivory poaching going on and ivory smuggling in Asia, or rhinos, but elephants in captivity are the ambassadors that have helped save elephants in the wild.

03:12:15 - 03:13:39

The same thing holds true for dolphins and killer whales and aquariums a whole lot of things. I mean, you know, if, if it wasn’t for dolphins in captivity and killer whales and Shamu, I don’t, I really don’t believe people would show the same concern and support. And so I think, you know, the, the zoo animals are really ambassadors that have helped save the wild. And in addition to that, with Maymay species, we’re doing a good job of at least preserving part of the gene pool, you know, from the wild, I mean, there are, you know, there are species of animals that are simply going to go extinct in the wild. They only place they’re going to continue to exist is in captivity. And it’s a sad thing ’cause you you’d rather have them, if you had your choice of in captivity or in the wild, all of us would choose survive in the wild, but since none of us can control that, we can only control what we can control, and we can control what happens in this country. We can control what happens in Europe, influence it. We, for the most part, we meaning the Western world, can’t control what’s going to happen in a lot of these wild spaces.

03:13:39 - 03:13:42

And so a lot of animals are going to go extinct.

03:13:42 - 03:13:47

Is this one of the reasons why you felt field work was important in Omaha Zoo?

03:13:47 - 03:15:13

Absolutely, yeah. Absolutely. Though the work that Ed and his group have done in Madagascar have directly helped and influence the gazetting of, I think, 17 or 18 new protected areas for lemurs, because every time they did identify a new species and, you know, the, you know, there are 27, 27 new species of lemur that have been identified and named, you know, by Ed Lewis and, you know, and, and the Omaha team. Now that’s the good side. The bad side is that gazetting a protected area doesn’t really help hugely, unless you also provide money to put boots on the ground. But one of the things that we found out is that, you know, because in Madagascar, for instance, eating lemurs was always taboo because they were considered to be ancestors. And then all of the other cultures begin to encroach on Madagascar. Madagascar’s incredibly poor country, incredibly protein starved by and large.

03:15:13 - 03:16:26

And so poaching lemurs kinda, you know, became something that was happening. And by going into the schools and, you know, we’d been shipping school supplies to Madagascar for the schools and the areas where we’re working in container, you know, a big 20 foot container lots. And, you know, you buy a cow, you buy a bunch of rice, you throw a big party, explained to the kids how the lemurs are their heritage, important to Madagascar, why they shouldn’t. And in the meantime, mom and dad are in the background, eating roast cow and rice and food, and in two areas where there were serious poaching problems, the poaching, they hadn’t been any poaching in about eight or nine years now. I mean, or more of that. So you can influence how things are going. Back to the CBSG thing and where they went into Papua New Guinea with the tree kangaroos. Got all of the indigenous groups and tribes together.

03:16:26 - 03:17:27

You know, explained to everybody that we’re not going to come in here as a bunch of gringos and tell you that you cannot or should not, or that’s a sin to eat a tree kangaroo for some ceremonial occasion, but that if you don’t manage them, there’s not going to be any more tree kangaroos. It totally turned the tree kangaroo population into, in Papua New Guinea around. And the tree kangaroo population has been on the upswing ever since, because, you know, you influenced the local population and, you know, as a bunch of gringos, you can’t come in and tell anybody what to do, but you can influence. And, you know, you can, you can educate and then let it be their project. The Omaha Zoo has had the good fortune to have the kind of funding to be able, and vision, to be able to try and do some of these projects.

03:17:27 - 03:17:40

But what would you say, how does a smaller or medium size municipal zoo today, how can they be involved with wildlife conservation, either on a national or international level?

03:17:40 - 03:19:08

Well, I think if, you know, in a smaller zoo, can’t, you know, as, as we couldn’t in the early days, we couldn’t afford a, you know, a big research staff and a big field staff, you know, in those early days, you know, only got only guy, you know, people like the Bronx could afford to have a, you know, a field staff and research staff. But you can, you can partner with somebody who can, and who does and support, you support somebody else’s project. There are a number of small zoos, actually, some quite like Boise, that give out grants every year. And the interesting thing about it is, is that because their staff and their society and their people get to evaluate and, and vote on the projects that they will support and give money to, that automatically, that gives them a tie in to, to what they’re doing and it, and it helps, you know, it helps the project that they adopt in any given year. In Columbus, Ohio, there’s a number of zoos that are, that are not fielding staff of their own, but are supporting other projects and other staff, the other zoo staff.

03:19:09 - 03:19:18

What kind of recommendations would you make to small and medium sized zoos if they’re thinking about future exhibits or conservation projects?

03:19:18 - 03:19:20

What would you be recommending to them?

03:19:20 - 03:21:05

Well, from an exhibit standpoint, I think, you know, one of the mistakes is, you know, is, is necessarily, is one size doesn’t fit all, you know, you shouldn’t have the same collection everybody else does. You need, you would like to have collections that, that fit in so that you’re not isolated and all on your own. But I think I touched on it a little bit earlier. You really, you really have to choose an exhibit or a, an ecosystem or a, you know, or a habitat that somebody in your organization, whether it’s the director, or the curator, or the (mumbles) that really has an interest in, and really has some expertise or the willingness to develop the expertise. You know, we did a butterfly and insect thing. We, and we had one person that I thought when we first conceived of the idea and begin to sell it that had the meticulous attention to detail to do butterflies and insects right. And then when we looked around, you know, we had, we had two entomologist who were working in other areas in the zoo because there wasn’t, you know, there wasn’t an opening for an entomologist and they had taken other jobs in the zoo, but really had a fire in their belly to do insects and, and butterflies. And so we had the expertise, we had the fire in the belly to do it and do it right.

03:21:05 - 03:21:38

I think I’m fairly convinced that you can’t just say, alright, you, you know, you’ve got a college degree I want you to do this. Cause it probably, unless that individual already has an interest and a fire in their belly to do it, it’s not going to work. It’s kind of just like saying, you know, you now are in charge of the king Cobra when you’re scared to death of snakes. In many cases today, zoos are afraid to confront animal welfare rights groups that are anti-zoo.

03:21:38 - 03:21:43

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

03:21:43 - 03:21:45

And did you have experience with this?

03:21:45 - 03:23:06

We’ve had some experience. I guess I’m, you know, I flunked diplomacy and tact. I think you hit them head on and you hit them right straight head on. Absolutely no, none of this being a nice guy or appeasement. You hit them head on and you tell the story right up front and loudly and clearly in your press and your newspaper and your TV station that these number one are not humane, they’re not humane groups. They’re by and large, not, they’re not interested in, in animal welfare. They’re interested in animal rights and they’re mostly interested in, in social engineering and altering the way human beings live so that we’ve all got to be, you know, vegetarians and wear plastic shoes. And that the other thing that’s been really effective is you do your homework and look into their finances because one of the things that you’ll find out, if you look at most of these groups, is these people live very, very well.

03:23:06 - 03:24:04

They travel well. They live well. Those guys generally don’t fly first class. Early on from a guy that I knew that went to work for one of these groups, and I was a lot younger and a bit naive then. And he asked me if I do some consulting. And I find out, I found out very quickly that, that if you were consulting for one of these groups, you could fly first class and stay in a five star hotel. They live well. I mean, they, they live well and they are really, in my opinion, you know, they’re more, they’re, you know, they’re more interested in altering the way you and I live and the rest of the world lives and, and living in luxury while they’re doing it, than they are in doing something useful for the individual animals.

03:24:04 - 03:24:34

And that’s the story you want to tell your press right up front. And I think trying to, I think trying to be nice and accommodate and sit down and invite these guys into the table and negotiate and all is a waste of time because, you know, they will, they will take whatever concessions that you give. And then, you know, then after you think you’ve reached an accommodation, you find out they’re still your enemy.

03:24:36 - 03:24:44

Did you have any specific instances when you were director at Omaha where you had to take on this posture?

03:24:44 - 03:26:13

Sure. Can you give us– The good thing, the good thing is is that in, in Nebraska and Iowa, right across the river, you know, a bunch of people who, you know, come dressed in carrot suits and talk about not eating meat and things like that, and not raising, not raising animals, farm animals, and doesn’t, you know, they don’t get very much traction. The thing is that, you know, they always come in, they’ve got a cause like elephants or something like that, or elephants or sea lions or, or whales or dolphins, you know, and what’s have to do is you have to go back and do your homework and show that that that’s there because right now when they’re in front of your particular audience, but they’re cause you know, nationwide is that, you know, you can’t raise pigs. You can’t really raise cattle. You can’t raise chickens. You know that you, you know, that you are a, an inhumane sinner if you eat bacon and eggs for breakfast. That puts it, that puts it on the level that the, the voting public can understand, that these guys aren’t simply trying to help old Judy, the elephant, who’s maybe got a little arthritis in one foot. That their real goal is to shut down all zoos, all farms, all ranches.

03:26:16 - 03:26:26

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

03:26:27 - 03:28:47

Well, I mean, the good thing is, you know, I’ve managed to live for 40 some odd years in an environment that was pretty well free of politics and bureaucracy and all of that. And so in that respect, you know, I’ve had the best job in the whole country. The issues that, you know, that you always worry about is, is the, you know, is the, the fundraising, monetary things for the next project that you’re going to do. I don’t, you know, I don’t see a real, I don’t see a real problem going forward into the future. Certainly right now, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got economic, we’ve got economic problems, but unless, unless the government manages to, to radically change our tax structure and, you know, the thing that sets the United States off and makes us different as far as our zoos and museums and the aquariums and all of that, as far as getting support and funding from European zoos and all, which are virtually all governmentally operated, controlled and supported by tax dollars is the fact that you can deduct, you can deduct a donation made to a, an eleemosynary, a 501c3 eleemosynary, like a zoo or a museum or an aquarium or whatever. And, you know, Americans are used to supporting and donating. And there is a, you know, there is an advantage in that, you know, if you give, for the average, you know, for the average donor, if the, you know, if they give you $4 million, it really isn’t $4 million out of their pocket because they get a big tax break. And therefore, you know, it’s kind of like matching, matching money.

03:28:47 - 03:29:59

You know, if you, if you’re fundraising, if you can get to the halfway mark, getting the second half is a lot easier than getting the first half, because you can use the first half as matching money. And that, you know, I don’t see, I don’t see zoos and museums and aquariums and all having difficulties, even though we’re in an economic recession or downturn, or simply because I, you know, the, the donating, you know, the, the people who have the wealth and who are capable of donating it, there’s still an advantage. If there is, if we get to the point where there’s no longer at tax advantage, then I think we’ve become like Europe. And, you know, basically nobody donates to a European zoo simply because there’s, unless you’re really, really interested in that zoo or that animal or that exhibit, there’s no real reason to. Well, let’s say you’re, let’s say you’re the keynote speaker before all these thousands of zoo professionals.

03:30:00 - 03:30:05

What issue would you tell them that zoos should be addressing in the future?

03:30:08 - 03:31:56

Well, I think you’re back to, I think you back to, to conservation research and, and in situ conservation, you know, I mean our, of all of the things that we’re doing, I mean, part of it is, you know, is, is influencing public perception and the way the public thinks. So therefore that influences hopefully the way, you know, politicians think and behave is really important. So public education and edu, starting with kids when they’re small and educating them. But then you know, of all of the things we’re doing right now, in addition to our exhibits, I think, you know, our research programs, our conservation research programs, we, I just learned here the other day that, that our group has made a, a rather significant breakthrough in, in getting frogs to breed in that, you know, we’ve been inducing ovulation in frogs by injecting them, you know, with, with hormones and, and it work sometimes it doesn’t work sometimes. And, and the, and the troops came up with a, with a concoction of hormones that you don’t have to touch the frog. You put them in a shallow pan with just a little bit of solution in it, of this cocktail. Then it’s, you know, primarily the sex hormone, put the frog in it, let him sit there for an hour. And, you know, with our injection process, which we had thought, well, we’re doing pretty good cause it is working, but it was only working at about 10% of the time.

03:31:56 - 03:33:15

And all of a sudden, you know, we’re getting an 80%, 80% success rate, both on males and females, which is, you know, that’s a huge, huge jump forward from 10% to 80%. And it’s something that you can, that you can do easy. And, you know, it could be, you know, could, could be done both in captivity, but it could be not in the wild. It could be used in the wild and enhance and increase the frog population. But for these assurance quality, you know, populations, you know, in, with frogs that are susceptible to chytrid, you know, the, you know, the nutritional things. I think the conservation research is, is really a huge thing that everybody, every zoo should be supporting in some way. And then the, you know, the in situ thing, I’m really pleased about this reforestation project that is actually working really well for very few dollars. You have seen in your career as a director, over many decades, that zoos have made changes in their operational model.

03:33:15 - 03:33:17

That’s kind of shifted.

03:33:17 - 03:33:22

What do you think about these changes, the pros and the cons?

03:33:22 - 03:33:31

All right, define the changes, I guess. You know, I. Yeah.

03:33:31 - 03:33:51

Well, let me, let me just kind of say, do you believe in the last 30 years that zoos have made changes in their way they operate as the zoo, and if they have, maybe it’s as Omaha Zoo is transitioned and represents other zoos or not, have there been some positives and negatives to that?

03:33:51 - 03:35:53

Well, yeah, no, I think, there’s no question zoos have become much more professional at exhibiting animals. You know, our animal exhibits are a much more naturalistic, much more professional. Then, you know, then 40 or 50 years ago, when I first got into this business. From the, you know, from the standpoint, I think most zoos then were governmentally operated and governmentally supported. I mean, the, the biggest, you know, the biggest problems today is budgeting and financing. And because I think fewer and fewer cities are picking up the whole tab, you know, or governments are picking up the whole tab on the zoo. One of the things, and I think I’ve touched on this a little bit before, but one of the, you know, one of the things that I really think that somewhere, you know, whether it’s in an undergraduate school or graduate school or whatever, and whether for a veterinarian or a, a curator or director of whatever, budgeting and handling finances is probably the area where most places fall down and get in trouble, as opposed to, you know, some of the, some of the more technical professional side of things. The ideal world is a as a good animal person who also has the training or the innate ability to handle budgets and management, because he can learn that, he or she.

03:35:54 - 03:36:55

I guess I’m a dinosaur. And I think that’s a lot easier transition then than to bring in a CPA or a lawyer or something who then has to learn the animal side of things. I think you’re more apt to get in trouble if you start out with a quote unquote good businessman who then has to learn, who has to, because that’s not what zoos are about. The business side of things, the nuts and bolts and numbers and budgeting actually could almost be farmed out to an outsider to do that busy business and all, whereas the animal management and the conservation management is really the core of the zoo world and should be. You’ve made many, you have made many contributions to the Omaha Zoo and to the zoo world in general.

03:36:56 - 03:37:01

If I asked you today in three that you’re proudest of, what would those be?

03:37:03 - 03:37:05

What would the top be?

03:37:05 - 03:38:36

The top ones. Well, I, you know, I, I think are, you know, I mean one of them, I mean, the, the, you know, the fact that we’ve done a number of world-class exhibits that have really changed the perception of Omaha and changed the public perception of not just Omaha, but of conservation and all the, you know, like the Lied Jungle and the desert dome and Gorilla valley and nocturnal building. And those, you know, those are one. I think the other, we’ve made some really, some really good advances in veterinary medicine over the years. And we’ve participated in that. We’ve got big cat and tiger hearing project going on right now with the Boystown Institute on a hearing that’s yielding some really incredible in, you know, the things that results that, you know, we, we didn’t know anything about that I think we’re, you know, as far as the research side, for instance, we’ve got, we’re finding out the tigers can probably communicate at five or six miles. Kind of like elephants, ultra low frequency communications. And then our, you know, our conservation research, the research things that we have done is in, you know, in the reproductive physiology and nutrition and genetics, particularly in rare plants.

03:38:36 - 03:40:02

And probably the last one is, you know, as in all the students we’ve handled the education, you know, not. The ripple effect from all of these students that have come through the place is really, you know, really turning out to be really big. And it’s not, you know, it’s just, and I think that holds true for every place that’s doing, that’s bringing in students and, and influencing students. And certainly I know it’s from the National Zoo because they’ve had the biggest program over the years for bringing in students. And again, because they could house them. The students that we’re influencing who then go out, and because of the fact that, you know, we give them a certificate that said that they spent six months or a year there and did this and that, maybe they, you know, maybe they ended up as director of game and parks and their respective country, and then make better decisions because of our influence. And that, you know, that I would, that’s something that I think every zoo should participate in. And, and could, the problem of course, is that I think, as I mentioned before, most of these students, particularly the foreign students, if it wasn’t for the fact that we built housing, both in our dormitories and in our student housing.

03:40:02 - 03:40:35

Although, you know, the dormitory we had to go in and, and for our Asian students, we had to put in special hoods and fire extinguishers over the stoves because of the way they cook. (chuckling) Cause the fire alarms kept going off and the fire department kept showing up. So we’ve got, we’ve got two dormitories, one side is, is especially equipped so, you know, our Asian students can put a big wok underneath it.

03:40:35 - 03:40:52

(chuckling) I know you’ve had some experience with this, but what would you say is the most efficient way to deal with elected officials, which I’m sure you’ve had to deal with, and municipal bureaucrats to develop and manage a zoo today?

03:40:53 - 03:42:43

Well, I think public pressure. There’s a couple of, you know, we, there’s a couple of ways to do that. One of the things that’s been pretty effective for us is to point out to them that the, the zoo has a pretty profound economic impact on the, on the city and on the state. You know, we have our economic impact, annual economic impact, from beyond the a hundred mile mark, not from the people that live in the Omaha and Douglas and Sarpy and Pottawatomie counties, but from beyond the hundred mile mark, has been pretty accurately measured at about 100 to $110,000, a million dollars a year, a 100 to $110 million a year impact. That helps make your point, get your story across. The fact that, that we got 75,000 families on our membership role, that we publish a newsletter and also have them on our email list, and, you know, you don’t want to be too, too overt on this, but the fact that if you, you know, if you look like you’re going to be the zoo’s enemy, all of these people in these families are going to know about this in no uncertain terms. And then when you have to go before a city council, you know, it helps if you’ve got 75 or 150 people who show up at that council meeting in zoo t-shirts. And we used to do that on a regular basis, you know.

03:42:43 - 03:43:27

And then we’d put everybody in zoo t-shirts and we’d, you know, we’d fill the gallery with zoo supporters, which is a subtle way of telling them that there’s a lot of support out there. And then, you know, for a couple of mayors who were kind of obstinate, if you had to go into a meeting with them, you figure out who their, who their big donors are, who are very likely your big donors. And you walk into the room with two or three of their biggest donors who sat there and nod yes while you’re making your argument. That helps. That’s called coercion.

03:43:32 - 03:43:46

Talking about that, but switching a little to a more formal education, do you think that education is helping to boost the image of zoos among the public in face of some of these anti-zoo groups?

03:43:46 - 03:44:44

Is education– Well, I, I think it does, but I don’t think we’re doing nearly as good. I think, I think, I think PETA and HSUS and some of the humane groups have been much more effective and they’ve had a plan at, at getting into the school groups. I mean, the schools and influencing teachers than we have. I think we need to do a much better job of that. I think we can. I mean, you know, everybody, the zoo, the zoo world, whether it’s Omaha or Chicago or New York, whatever, you know, they basically, it crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. And I think people that come to the zoo, you can automatically deliver the message. I think we have to go in and do, and be much, much more aggressive at going into the zoo, in the schools.

03:44:44 - 03:45:05

I said zoos. Into the schools and, and presenting our side of the story and the message, because I think, you know, I think frankly, PETA and HSUS, and some of these, these animal rights groups have done a much better job at beating us to death in the schools.

03:45:07 - 03:45:17

Once you get the people to your zoo, the visitor, what should or can be done to make that visitor connection more meaningful?

03:45:18 - 03:46:19

I think you get them up close and personal. There’s nothing in the world like getting nose to nose with a tiger or a gorilla or whatever, through you know, with nothing between you and that animal but a pane of glass. What would be even better is if you could touch him and smell him, you know. I mean you can’t really know an elephant unless you can touch his hide and hear his belly rumble and, and maybe smell the elephant. Now in today’s world, I mean, the old days we used to do that. I mean, we used to, we used to routinely take a, you can’t say blind kids anymore. It’s gotta be visually impaired, I guess, but. But, you know, we used to, we used to take the, the kids who couldn’t see, and we would, we would just routinely take a class of 30 or 40 kids and put them in with an elephant because we had an elephant that we could do that with, with a couple of keepers.

03:46:19 - 03:47:35

And they’d walk around and they’d feel the elephant, you know, hold them up and let them stick their hand in the elephant’s mouth and feel elephants trunk, put them up on the back of the elephant. You know, there’s zoos that no longer let the kids touch a Python because he might get salmonella. I mean the ideal thing would be to be able to touch and feel a really live, a real live animal because when you do, there’s a click, there’s a, you know, there’s a connection that’s made and barring that, the closer you can get. Some of the zoo exhibits around the world where, you know, you’re here and way out there, you know, as a troupe of gorillas, but there are little black spots about that big around that you really can’t tell anything about, you know. Exhibits should not be, you know, narrow and deep, they should be long and wide. So that the farthest away that you’re ever from an animal is, you know, is maybe 10 to 20 yards away. But the animals still got lots of room and able to run, but you’re always up close and personal and lots of glass. And up close and personal is, you know, when you have to look and look and look to find them animal.

03:47:35 - 03:48:19

That, you know, that really doesn’t work. We do, I think, you know, I think both Disney and, and SeaWorld all, the animal ambassador, I think we’re doing more and, and a lot of people doing the animal ambassadors where you take the animal that you can let them touch and feel and get them out on the grounds and let them make the connection. You know, if they can hear, we’ve got microphones and with our penguins so that they can hear the penguins. To let them, you know, let them get up close and personal and make the connection with the animal. You’ve been a excellent marketer of the zoo.

03:48:20 - 03:48:28

Is there any advice you’d give to the neophyte zoo director about the importance of marketing zoos, and what would you say are the most important aspects of marketing?

03:48:29 - 03:49:53

Well, I think, you know, keeping, you know, keeping, keeping the, you know, keeping the zoo story in front of the public as much as you can. You know, even, even little things people are interested in, you know, even even a birth or animal activities or, you know, anything that, anything that has to do with an unusual activity by an animal will, you know, will frequently make a good story. Particularly years and years and years ago, and an old reporter said, you know, if you want to get the front page of a newspaper, you know, there’s three things that’ll get you the front page of a newspaper. Kids, you know, animals or a good fire. (chuckling) And, and if you can mix kids and animals together, you’re absolutely almost guaranteed to get the front page or a, or a, or a good, a good picture. And, you know, even if you, even if you have to kind of manufacture it. There is a very infamous zoo director who’s no longer a zoo director who used to, when things got dull, it was rumored, you know, go dig up an old crate and put an animal in it and announce a new animal being shipped in. (chuckling) But anything that gets you in front of the public, you know, regularly.

03:49:53 - 03:50:37

And that’s why zoos that have got regular bits on, you know, on a TV show or on TV shows and/or, and/or a good reporter that, you know, is that once a week, you can, you can get it in the newspaper, you know, that’s. Well, and of course the other thing that I believe in really strongly, which a lot of people don’t, but it’s, if you’re going to spend money on marketing, the most effective money you can spend as billboards, all those big ugly signs on the side of the road. Billboards gets you more return on your dollar than anything else going.

03:50:40 - 03:50:44

Has that been proven?

03:50:44 - 03:51:08

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Much more effective dollars in TV or whatever. Billboards because you get the number of exposures that you get and it’s big and it’s on the way, you know, and you do it as they’re coming into the zoo. Billboards are really effective. They may be ugly, but they’re effective. We had talked a little about AZA.

03:51:08 - 03:51:15

If you could, what would you tell AZA about the issues that they should be addressing now for zoos?

03:51:17 - 03:52:56

Well, the one of them was one we just touched on a little bit. I think AZA should take a more active role in representing zoos and defending zoos to both the animal rights people, the PETAs, the HSUSs, and, and to US Fish and Wildlife and, and to the government agencies that, that have made life miserable for a lot of zoos. I think AZA has, because it’s easier to do, to be accommodating and, and, you know, try to be peacemakers, you know, to try to set, to say, well, you know, we’ll, we’ll get everybody down at the table and, and it’ll be kind of kumbaya and, and Walt Disney, you know, everybody will end up as, as friends and buddies. And that’s just not going to happen. I mean, you might be willing to be friends and buddies with them, but they’re not going to ever be your friends or your buddy. So you might as well fight them because, you know, either they’ll, either they cut your tail off an inch at a time until you bleed to death, or you can just go for broke. And I, you know, I think AZA has been much too accommodating as far as defending zoos and representing zoos to and against these other entities, whether they be an animal rights organization or the US government. Another little topic, elephants.

03:52:56 - 03:52:57


03:52:57 - 03:53:06

What’s your view regarding zoos and elephants, maintaining elephants, and how should it be done correctly, if possible?

03:53:06 - 03:54:29

Well, if possible. For one thing, I would say right up front, you know, I recognize that the, that the world is changing, that the demographic of our keepers is changing, that we don’t have the, you know, the, the six foot two, six foot three rough and tumble farm boys that we used to have, or as many, that people are adverse to risk. But having said that, and the insurance companies are on people’s backs. But having said that, I, I don’t completely totally agree with this hands-off remote management of many, many species. I think that, you know, that you can, that you can have contact with elephants and with many other species. We not only always worked with in with our elephants, but we also worked in with gorillas and orangs. I mean, you can work, you can’t work in with an adult male gorilla, but you can work in all the rest of them and you can work in with female gorillas. And the same way with orangs.

03:54:29 - 03:55:47

Again, if you’ve got a big, tough male, you don’t go in with him, but female orangs can be worked in with. (mumbles) I think you can do, you can, you can accommodate the orangs. You can, you it’s beneficial to the, to the animals, if you can work in with them so that you don’t have to immobilize them, certainly operative conditioning. And for those that have the facilities and those that spend the time to do hands-free, it can be done. I will admit that it can be done. But I guess I disagree with the mandate that, that all, that all animal should be managed contact free, whether that’s elephants or orangs or gorillas, or, you know, there’s, there’s some things that you don’t have contact with, but I disagree with this totally hands off, you know, contact free concept. Cause I don’t think it’s, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the animals. And the bottom line is, you know, what we’re really here for is the best interest of the animals.

03:55:47 - 03:55:55

And granted, if you’re working, you know, in close contact, you will occasionally bleed.

03:55:58 - 03:56:06

Because of your ability to have vision of exhibits, what kind of exhibitry should zoos be thinking about with elephants?

03:56:08 - 03:57:10

Space wise. Well, I think there’s a, I think there’s another case, you need to give them, number one, elephants don’t need 40 or 50 acres, because if you look at elephants in the wild, in places where there’s good water and good forage. If there’s good water available and good forage available, elephants don’t move very far in 24 hours. If there’s not, then they, you know, they move, they move whatever distance it takes to stay alive in the wild. So you don’t need, you know, you don’t need 40 or 50 acres per elephant. I think you do need, you know, you do need space. Again, I go back to, you can have a lot of space and it can be long and narrow so that the visiting public gets up close and personal with the elephant so that you can actually see the elephant. But you exhibit the elephant on his level or looking up because an elephant is a big animal.

03:57:10 - 03:58:36

He’s a big, impressive animal. These exhibits where you’re up on top, looking down at an elephant, diminishes the elephant. I don’t think the elephant gives a hoot, (chuckling) but if you’re going to look at, you know, if you’re going to look at the biggest land animal in the world, he has to look and feel like the biggest land mammal in the world. And of course, giving them things to do and places, and places to rub and, and a lot of things, you know, where they can. In Leipzig, they’ve got, and, and they’ve got an elephant building there, that new elephant building there in Leipzig Germany. You know, I don’t know if you’ve seen that or not where they, where they, on a wall from one side, it looks like it’s just a big rock wall with some holes in it. On the other side, those holes communicate to a back area where they hang big, heavy polyethylene tubs and barrels so the elephant can stick his trunk through and manipulate the barrel and get treats and goodies, you know, and there’s trunks going through there all the time. And the public can see that side too.

03:58:36 - 03:59:06

Those, you know, those, those enrichment kind of things. And given, given the animal, whether it’s an elephant or an orang or a gorilla or whatever, something to do I think is important. It’s important both for the, you know, for the animal and for the public, unless of course it’s given them toilet paper or white paper towels, which I think is horrible.

03:59:06 - 03:59:13

(chuckling) To what extent do you continue to be active in the zoo field or the conservation field?

03:59:14 - 04:00:19

Well, in the conservation area, I think fairly active, from the standpoint of I’ve been involved since day one, you know, with CBSG. And so, you know, I’m making the, the CBSG meetings and participating in CBSG activities and fundraising for them. Unfortunately, as you know, as a retired zoo director, I don’t get to have the same level of hands-on touch and feel with the zoo animals in Omaha that I used to have. And then frankly, I missed that. But from the standpoint of fundraising, both for, you know, new exhibits and improvements at the zoo and particularly fundraising for our conservation programs and, and all, that’s a, you know, it’s a great deal of satisfaction to be able to continue to support the conservation effort.

04:00:20 - 04:00:25

And is the zoo continuing to move forward from when you left it?

04:00:25 - 04:00:27

Yes. I think so.

04:00:29 - 04:00:37

Are there any programs or exhibits that you would have wanted to implement during your tenure that you just didn’t get to do?

04:00:38 - 04:01:20

Oh yeah, undoubtedly so. (laughs) The good thing, I mean, as I said, yeah, I, I was never one for, you know, for trying to figure out what you’re going to be doing 20 years from now. You know, I think if you’ve, if you think five years ahead, 10 years ahead, it’s, that’s, that’s more than, you know, that’s, that’s more than enough. Yeah, there, you know, there, there were things that unquestioningly, you know, that we’d have done down the road and, you know, we may still do down the road.

04:01:21 - 04:01:23

Do you wanna share one with me or not?

04:01:24 - 04:02:10

I guess, I don’t know. A new cat area for one. Yeah, a new cat area. An elephant, we gotta, we gotta new elephant. We got a new elephant. A new elephant facility is probably, and a new elephant collection is probably our next major project. And, you know, and that’s going to be a very, very expensive to do it right, do it well, do it so that you could hold in an eight or 10 or more elephants. And also, you know, the big problem with elephants in the past has been that the majority of elephants that have been brought into captivity had been brought in as babies, and they’ve never understood that they really were elephants.

04:02:10 - 04:02:57

They were never socialized, and they don’t understand that the mechanics of, of breeding and/or raising offspring. And so, you know, the only, the only way to do that effectively is to do like San Diego and Lowery teamed up to do together and go bring in a, you know, a plane load of horny teenagers. And, you know, that’s been incredibly successful. You know, the, both, both zoos have had babies born and, and San Diego particularly is, you know, has turned into a little elephant factory or a big elephant factory. And so that’s kind of our next project down the line is to, is to do, is to do a new elephant facility.

04:02:57 - 04:02:59

Do you have a proudest accomplishment?

04:03:01 - 04:03:19

Well, I don’t know. I think we kind of touched on it. I think, you know, I think you know, our, our, you know, our, our big significant buildings and the, and the conservation, conservation research.

04:03:21 - 04:03:25

Any suggestions to those aspiring to make a difference in zoo world?

04:03:28 - 04:04:27

Well, I think, you know, pick an area that you’ve got some passion for, you know, it’s, if you, you know, if you’ve, if you’ve really got a passion for something, then it’s easy to work the, you know, the 15, 16, 17 hour day that it takes to get something done if you’re just punching a clock and putting in time. So if you, I mean, that’s, and as I said, I, you know, I worry about people that tell me they love animals. And I’d really want to hear somebody tell me, you know, how fascinated they are or what you know, or, or what a neat animal or the problems that need to be solved. But somebody has got a passion for, in a specific area, and is willing to work and put in the time, because I don’t think you can punch a clock and work an eight hour day and ever really accomplish very much. You’ve traveled all over the world. We’ll talk about it later.

04:04:27 - 04:04:31

But what have you learned about zoos and how people feel about animals?

04:04:32 - 04:05:36

Well, I think, (mumbles) animals are I think the universal common denominator, right. I don’t, no matter where you, where you’re at, whether you’re talking about, you know, North America, South America, Asia, Europe, whatever, people like animals. They’re fascinated by animal. You’re fascinated by the things that you know are mysterious and you don’t know about that are different. You know, animals are, I think in, I’m not sure that there is a continent or an area where animals aren’t popular and people aren’t fascinated by them. Maybe there is, I just don’t know exactly where that’d be. It’s just that in a lot of parts of the world, the animal care on the conditions under which they’re kept is not horribly conducive. But in those parts of the world, the people care and conditions frequently aren’t very good.

04:05:37 - 04:05:39

Do we still need zoos?

04:05:39 - 04:06:15

Or absolutely. I mean, without zoos, without zoos, I think people cease, without zoos and animals and the personal contact, I think people would cease to support conservation and habitat preservation in the wild. I think if you’re, you know, if the only, if the only thing you knew about an elephant or a, or a killer whale or a sea lion or a dolphin or a giraffe was, was what you saw in a book or even in a video, I think you’d have real difficulty getting the support that they really need.

04:06:16 - 04:06:21

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

04:06:22 - 04:06:48

Well, it’s never dull. (laughs) Yeah, yeah. It’s, it’s kind of one of the few professions where you can learn something new every day and almost every day, you know, have it brought home to you, just how dumb you are and how much you don’t know. So yeah, you can constantly learn and it also kind of brings you down to earth because there’s, there’s still more that we don’t know than we do know.

04:06:49 - 04:06:50

How would you like to be remembered?

04:06:52 - 04:07:53

As somebody who made a difference. You know, I think as somebody who made a difference, who wasn’t afraid to take chances and take risks. I think one of the, one of the really great things about working in Omaha is that we’ve always been able to operate, not like a governmental entity or a nonprofit, but more like a for-profit risk-taking organization. We’ve always been able to take risk. So it’s, you know, fairly, fairly frequently, you know, we’ve gotten to the, well, we’ve kind of had over the years, had a policy, if on a fundraising project, if we could get to the halfway mark, you just take a deep breath and jump off the end of the pier and start, start digging and start building. And you raise the other, the last half of the money while you’re building the blooming thing. And you, you know, governmental entities don’t do that.

04:07:53 - 04:07:58

What was it like working with the Dr. Ulie Seale?

04:07:58 - 04:08:07

And can you tell us a little bit about how he got into the profession, so to speak, what his impact was, and what kind of projects did you work on?

04:08:07 - 04:08:09

How did they affect zoos?

04:08:09 - 04:09:37

Well, I think, you know, I think, you know, of all of the, you know, of all the people that I’ve had contact with and we’ve worked with over the years, and that I’ve known in zoos, Ulie probably had the most profound positive impact on not only on Omaha and the US Zoo field, the zoo world and profession, but you know, both from a zoo management standpoint, from a medical reproductive standpoint, but for the zoo world as a whole. I mean, Ulie basically ended up affecting the whole zoo world. Ulie. I met Ulie in 1969 when he came to one of our first zoo vet meetings, right after we had broken off and formed our own zoo vet association. And we were meeting in East Lansing, Michigan at Michigan State and staying at the Kellogg Center, primarily because, you know, they’d give us the space free. And for $7 a night, you got a room and breakfast. So it was a great deal. And there was a, you know, I think I’ve kind of touched on the fact that particularly in those early days, it was so much that we didn’t know, cause we didn’t have a database.

04:09:37 - 04:10:44

You know, we didn’t have a knowledge base of, of what was normal and not normal in exotic animals. And frequently when you pulled a blood sample, it was the very first time for you or maybe the very first time anybody ever had pulled blood on that particular species. And unless you could equate it to, and compare it to, you know, a horse or a cow or pig or a dog or a cat, why then you really didn’t have a benchmark for what was normal, what was not normal. And Ulie wasn’t, you know, wasn’t, Ulie was a biochemist and a hematologist. Ran the laboratories for the veterans hospital in Minneapolis and was on the faculty of, of the University of Minnesota there. And none of us knew him. He, you know, he was a total unknown. He had been working with Dave Mech, as it turns out on wolves, on the Wolf project with Dave Mech.

04:10:45 - 04:12:02

And also on a, on a bear project and on some, and on some white tail deer projects. And so he came to the meeting and gave a couple of papers, one on pineal glands in wolves, which is, you know, kind of a primitive gland that probably doesn’t really function anymore in the wolf, and on thyroid function and white tail deer. And as would happen at these meetings, after the formal papers, then we would usually all gather in Clint Grey’s room, who was, you know, director of medicine at the Smithsonian and reasonably gather there. The Smithsonian had enough money, he could rent a suite. We’d all bring our bottle, everybody to have a couple of drinks. Then people would start reaching in their pocket and pull out these pieces of paper and start handing them around and, you know, give us a little clinical data on it on a problem they had, you know, a little clinical case. And you know, the paper go around the room and they’d say, you know, does anybody have any idea what, what this is, what I’m dealing about, whether it’s normal, what. ‘Cause we didn’t know.

04:12:02 - 04:12:50

I mean, you could do, you know, you could do lab work, you could send, you could send in your blood. You could get a, you know, an SMA8 or a SMA 12 or a whatever you get. And then you look at it and you’ve got numbers, but you know what the numbers mean. And in those days, Fred Soifer, who was down in Houston was the only guy who kind of halfway billed himself as a hematologist. And so we, you know, those, those things happen frequently. After every meeting, everybody, you know, everybody and express an opinion and then have another drink. And then there’d be another piece of paper that went around the room. And all of a sudden this guy, red hair, beards, clod hopper boots, you know, stepped out of the back of the crowd and it was Ulie Seale.

04:12:50 - 04:13:44

And he said, you know, it looks to me like what you guys need is a, is a good physiological norms database. You know, at which time Clint Gray said, you know, don’t you blankity, blank, blank, blank think we know that. (laughs) Clint was, he failed tact and could put a sailor to shame for profanity, and wasn’t shy. Anyway. So the discussion went around, and Ulie introduced himself. He’d given the two papers that day, but nobody knew him. And he introduced himself. And the fact that he was head of labs at, and ran all the labs at the VA and that he could and would, if we’d collect the blood, that he would do all the lab work for free.

04:13:45 - 04:14:11

And so, you know, basically you’re kind of right on the spot. I invited him to Omaha, two weeks later, he was in Omaha. We bled every single animal in the Omaha Zoo. Well, almost, virtually every animal in the whole zoo. We bled everything. And over the next couple of years, we collected, we meaning ’cause I did a bunch of it. He did a bunch of it. I introduced him because he was a complete unknown.

04:14:11 - 04:14:38

We collected 5,000 blood samples, which he then analyzed. And then in, at the Houston meeting two years later, we had enough statistical normal, normal data that Ulie presented statistical norms on 12 species of animals. We had never in our lives had that. And that was kind of the beginning. And that’s how ISIS got started.

04:14:38 - 04:14:54

The interesting thing was is that after Ulie, after Ulie left, somebody said, who is that guy?

04:14:54 - 04:15:10

(laughs) And Clint Gray said, he said, first, you know, do you think he’s for real, and second, who the hell invited him?

04:15:10 - 04:16:26

(laughs) And considering what you know about Ulie Seale today, ISIS, CBSG all the things he’s developed. That’s kind of an interesting start. That’s how Ulie got started. And then of course, in addition to presenting normal values on 12 species in Houston, Ulie presented an outline for a computer data program for physiological norms and, and for a database called the Seamac Zogad system for Ulie Seale and Dale Mackie. And zogad, you know, well, anyway, bottom line, because, you know, we had collected 5,000 samples. We had normals for the first time ever on 12 species of animals at which time Ulie then said, well, okay, now that everybody’s through, you know, saying whoopee and patting themselves on the back, this is all useless. This is a total waste of time and it’s all useless. And everybody just kind of said, holy smokes, you know, wait a minute.

04:16:26 - 04:17:24

You know, first time we’ve got normals. And he said, because it’s not tied to a census, to a database, the census, you can’t identify individual animals. We don’t know for sure how old these animals were, what sex they were only on some of them. It is not tied to a, to a database in the census system. And the only way that you’re ever going to have useful information and data is to have it tied to a census database. And everybody said, well, you know, that’s impossible because to do that, to put a database on all zoo animals, you would have to get the curators and the directors to agree. And since I was the only veterinarian slash zoo director in the room, I had to agree with them that you’d never get the curators and the directors to agree to something like that. But we decided that it’d be worth the try.

04:17:26 - 04:18:16

We went to the board and I was on the board of the, of the zoo vets then. And so we took it to the board of the zoo vets and they immediately anted up and wrote us a check. And then, then we got Don Farst, director of veterinary, and then also director of Brownsville Zoo. Oh, he wasn’t director of Brownsville. He was a veterinarian to Brownsville. Warren Thomas was still director. To get Gladys Porter, you know, who was the patron of the Brownsville Zoo to come out and meet with Ulie and myself and Don and Gladys and her husband, Dean Porter. And Gladys listened to our story.

04:18:17 - 04:18:32

Don nodded his head yes. I knew Gladys from about, had known Gladys for about five years or so at that time. And she gave us, she wrote us a check for $10,000 on the spot. And that’s how ISIS got started.

04:18:32 - 04:18:33

What does ISIS stand for?

04:18:33 - 04:19:30

Well, international species inventory system. ISIS is now in, I think, 900, maybe it’s closer now to a thousand zoos around the world. It’s an international database that also has gone well beyond just a census. You know, we’ve got all kinds of computerized data management and censusing and, and genetic, population genetic management tools in ISIS. And it has become the standard of the zoo world worldwide. And I think we’re probably over, probably over a thousand zoos around the world are in, are participants in ISIS right now. And while the new ZIMS system is the follow on offshoot from ISIS. And now it is web based.

04:19:30 - 04:20:35

So, and so I was, you know, involved with part of that. Then after Houston became the chairman of the committee and the committee was Ulie Seale and myself, we spent a couple of years of not telling anybody what we were doing. And then ultimately brought it to the AZA board, by which time we had spent, I don’t know, we’d spent 90 or $100,000 on developing it when we brought it and tried to get the zoo vet, I mean, the zoo, not zoo vet, but the AZA, the zoo and aquarium board to. It wasn’t AZA then. To put their blessing on it. And that proved to be somewhat difficult. And ultimately we got that done, and, you know, and the. There had been, there had been, well, the Brits, the Brits had tried that once way back and the Germans had tried it.

04:20:35 - 04:22:07

San Diego had spent quite a little bit of money doing, trying to do the same thing. The thing that made it work though, is that it, ISIS was, did not belong to any one organization. You know, if ISIS, or when ISIS was going to be a British, you know, project program or a German project, or (mumbles), you would never have gotten anybody else to sign on. The fact that we fairly quickly realized that it had to be standalone, independent, that everybody could sign on to, that we would have a, an independent board of directors, and that all we really wanted from each, from AZA and from, you know, the British Zoo association, the German, because in those days there wasn’t a European zoo association yet. And the Germans and everybody was to sign on and, and tell our members that they needed to participate in this. And that’s a big thing that made it work. The other, the other big thing of course, is that, is that Ulie, along with being a first rate scientist, had incredible people skills. So there were many, many times when we had projects that needed funding and going where, you know, you would go and talk to somebody, a zoo or whatever.

04:22:07 - 04:23:47

And once they got to know Ulie, and Ulie went and did a lot of work in reproduction in a lot of areas, in a lot of zoos, Ulie had people’s skills such that, you know, that that people would say, okay, I don’t really understand exactly what it is that you’re trying to do or what you’re trying to say, but if you need it done, if you need it done, and this is what it’s gonna cost me, I’ll do it, which is, I think pretty remarkable. Ulie, probably in my opinion, between ISIS, starting ISIS, ’cause he’s, he’s really the guy to responsible. I just kind of was the front man and the, and the fundraiser in the, in the very beginning and, and CBSG, which is, well, it’s now stands for conservation breeding specialist group, used to be captive breeding specialist group. We changed the name, hacked everybody off, but, and what we really want to do is change the name, the conservation biology specialist group. Cause it really doesn’t have a lot to do with, you know, specific captive breeding any anymore. It started out that way. And Ulie basically has had more positive, profound impact on the zoo world, on conservation, on the way we do conservation and zoo management than any other single human being, living or dead. And that includes, that includes all the big guys and both living and dead.

04:23:47 - 04:25:26

I there’s, there’s nobody, there’s nobody, in my opinion, in the zoo world, living or dead, that had even remotely the same impact on the way we do, you know, zoo business and the way we do conservation. And it’s not just the zoo world. I mean, you know, he’s had huge impact on the way fish and game does conservation. You know, I was having a discussion with some guys up in Minnesota the other day on, on walleye, you know, and we were kind of butting heads until the minute I mentioned working with Ulie, and now he’s had impact on the Florida Panther, and CBSG has had huge impact around the world. And again, because nobody owns it. I mean, technically it’s a specialist group under the auspices of IUCN, the international union for the conservation of nature, but it is the most active and effective specialist group in the IUCM, and you know, Bob Lacy after Ulie, well, as when Ulie became ill. And then I took over as chairman of CBSG for a period of time. And then before Ulie passed on, we got Bob Lacey to agree and, and George Rab to support him in Brookfield.

04:25:26 - 04:27:15

And so Bob Lacy was director of CBSG for about eight years now, Andy Byers is. I think we’ve got about 600 zoos that are supporting CBSG. But CBSG has worked in all kinds of things, like for the Florida panther, New Guinea, Papua New Guinea tree kangaroos, all over, you know, monkey eating Eagles, Tamar owl, Philippine crocks. I mean, they’ve, there’s, and all kinds of frog things. And actually the genesis and early in support for ARKS, you know, the amphibian resource and frog program started with CBSG and was supported by CBSG. And I, you know, if you, a while ago you asked if, if there was one thing I was really, you know, really, really proud of, I guess the other, the other thing would be having the opportunity to participate in the founding of ISIS and the founding of CBSG. That, I guess if you had to be remembered for one thing, you know, maybe other than the big dome or a big jungle building, that’d be the thing because. And it, and, and mostly it had to do not with necessarily just the fact that Ulie was a first-class scientist, but he had the ability to, you know, to, to bring 30, 45, 50, 60 people in a room together, not necessarily get to consensus, but have everybody agree to work together and come out with a product, whether you totally agreed with it or not.

04:27:15 - 04:27:44

And he could do that with a, you know, he could do that with a group in Indonesia where you had standing generals that on the one hand that were head of a department and down clear down to the line to the, you know, to the, to the ranger who didn’t even have a pair of shoes. Kind of equal everybody out and get everybody to speak their piece and have a say, and he had incredible people skills.

04:27:45 - 04:27:50

And didn’t you you have to work with him on a project in New Orleans where you did a lot of tranquilizations?

04:27:50 - 04:27:51

Yeah, yeah.

04:27:51 - 04:27:52

What was that about?

04:27:52 - 04:28:28

Well, that was back. That was back when we were, we were trying to get enough information, enough blood samples to, to get some physiological norms and blood norms. And New Orleans Zoo was in real flux then. They lost their, their old director died. They were in real flux. We thought we were being invited down by the city of, of New Orleans. It turns out we really weren’t. And so Ulie and I, and in 1971 went to New Orleans.

04:28:28 - 04:30:00

I put a team together from my shop. Luckily they were good strong Nebraska country boys and, and Ulie put a team together from graduate students and his techs from Minnesota. And we went down and in four days we immobilized, bled, TB tested, took blood samples from, hair samples, skin biopsies, and fecals from 384 animals. And including, including one night about 11 o’clock when we were all a little bit punch drunk, we went out and grabbed all of their whooping cranes and bled all their whooping cranes. (laughs) And basically we did a medical workup on virtually every animal in the whole New Orleans Zoo. We got criticized somewhat for that because we went in there and did all of that work at their invitation, but not quite the city’s invitation, as it turns out, when there was no zoo director. So we had a few people say, oh my gosh, you guys, and a bunch of vampires went in there and, and bled everything when there was nobody to defend them. But, but the net result was the, a complete reorganization of the New Orleans Zoo, of the Ottoman Park in New Orleans Zoo and their first professional zoo director.

04:30:00 - 04:30:56

And then ultimately, which ultimately led down the road to improvements. And Ron Foreman came in and, you know, the New Orleans Zoo went from being the absolute worst major zoo in the United States, if maybe not in the world. It was absolutely the worst thing I’d ever seen. To being one of the, you know, one of the premier prime zoos in North America. (mumbles) And but we did, we did four. And then I stayed on an extra day to read the TB sample, the TB test. In four days, we immobilized, we, you know, we basically, I got pictures of, of four wheel farm wagons, totally loaded with tigers and jaguars and lions and pumas and stuff. We just had everything scattered down on the grass.

04:30:56 - 04:31:16

You know, we’d have tigers that we’d get up and try to wander off. It was in the days when we were using phencyclidine or Sernylan on everything, angel dust, if you will. And so the good thing about that drug is that they might get up and try to walk off, but they weren’t aggressive. (laughs) Now a little closer to home.

04:31:16 - 04:31:22

What role did your family play in the care of animals and their connection to the zoo?

04:31:22 - 04:31:24

Did you bring animals home?

04:31:24 - 04:32:34

Oh yeah. Well, luckily I think, as I said, I got really lucky, you know, with a, with a mom who helped me with a lot of that early stuff. But, Marie, you know, I met when we were undergraduate, married just before we got into vet school, was extremely tolerant and hugely supportive. And so in the early days before we had a hospital or nursery, all the babies came home. So we had, we had hyenas that we raised and tigers and bears and, you know, pair of giant otter pups in the bathtub. And when, you know, when our daughter, Heather was about eight months old, I brought home a baby orang. So then we had two babies in diapers and on bottles. And when the orang was about eight months old, I brought home a gorilla, babe.

04:32:34 - 04:33:48

So now we had three kids at home and all taking a bottle, all in diapers. And Marie took care of them. You know, we just, we would take the dining room table out and set up incubators in the dining room and put the house in quarantine when like an orang or a gorilla baby was really young. And you know, when Marie was pregnant with Heather, and she was about eight and a half months pregnant, she said, well, you know, maybe we better send the animals back to the zoo because we had a leopard that was, oh, I dunno, somewhere 25, 30 pounds, an amur leopard living in the house with us. (chuckling) And an 11 foot African rock python with a bad attitude and a big aquarium. And so, and a new baby on the way, so. But, you know, without, without an extremely supportive and tolerant wife, you know, who happily is, likes to travel and has been with me in about 26 countries and the Antarctic, a whole lot of this wouldn’t have happened.

04:33:48 - 04:33:51

Would this be possible in today’s world?

04:33:51 - 04:34:45

I don’t see why not. (laughs) Although most zoos have facilities. We did this, not because it was necessarily, it was, you know, something fun and interesting to do. We did it because it was necessary. We didn’t have, we didn’t have any facilities in those days. But on the other hand, you know, when we’ve had animals that later on in later years, even when we had facilities and you had a baby gorilla or a baby orang that needed special care. One of the things that I think I touched on a little earlier is, you know, as being willing to say, ask for help, you know. We’ve had, you know, Omaha has been remarkable from the standpoint that we’ve had a very supportive community and in terms of donating and funding and supporting our projects and buildings and all.

04:34:45 - 04:36:01

But the allied medical community in Omaha is, has been really, really remarkable because we had no facilities, no equipment, nothing in the, in the beginning. And so I kind of went around and made the rounds to the hospitals and the med center and all of that, and all kinds of people stepped forward to help us. And that’s kind of really, you know, really been the case. We have kind of quietly eased animals in the doors of any number of hospitals around Omaha. Only a couple of times, did we have problems. I mean, we had a gorilla in the cath lab at the VA. We, you know, we put a pin in a polar bear’s leg in the, in the necropsies at Clarkson Hospital. I managed to get the head operating room nurse at a children’s hospital fired once because we needed, I need to do a cutdown on a baby gorilla to get a, to put a permanent catheter in because we had a gastrointestinal problem, and our old hospital and nursery had burned down.

04:36:01 - 04:36:56

And so on a Sunday morning, we just kind of whizzed into the OR in Children’s and did a cut down, got a catheter in place. For some odd reason, the hospital administrator got bent out of shape over that. And they couldn’t fire me because I didn’t work for him. He was smart enough not to fire their head surgeon because you don’t fire your head surgeon, if you’re smart. So he fired the head operating room nurse, and she was on our payroll for about three months until a group of the doctors all went in and shut the door and had a come to Jesus talk with him. We had huge, you know, huge, just incredible. We never asked for help that we didn’t get it. You know, we’ve had, you know, ophthalmologists, and ophthalmic surgeons and all kinds of people, you know, and cardiologists.

04:36:56 - 04:37:32

We’re doing in our cardiology study gorillas, you know, with this diffuse myocardial fibrosis that really kind of started in Omaha. And we’d just, we’d never, if you’re willing to ask for help, you’re almost guaranteed to get it. Will you have told us that you, at one time had 45 gaurs. 55. 55, excuse me. And you also had a lot of Amur tigers in your facility.

04:37:33 - 04:37:41

Can you tell me why you had those, that that size of a collection of those type of animals?

04:37:41 - 04:38:44

It was (mumbles). If you’ve got, if you’ve got to do genetic management, if you’re going to have, I mean, I, I think I’d maybe just said it, and thought I’d said it earlier. Again, you know, if you’re gonna talk about genetic management, genetic diversity, managing your heterozygosity and preserving heterozygosity, you can’t really manage a pair or two pair of whatever, you need, you need to have numbers. You need to have numbers to actually manage a collection. And nobody really needs 55 gaur, or you know, 13 or 14, you know, Amur tigers. I mean, it just, from a, from a display standpoint, you really don’t need that. But from a management standpoint, from a genetic standpoint, to manage you do. And so, yeah, very early on, we, we really looked at needing to manage and preserve genetic diversity.

04:38:44 - 04:38:47

Now you did some work with embryo transplant?

04:38:47 - 04:38:49

Embryo transfers, yeah.

04:38:49 - 04:38:50

Can you tell us something about that?

04:38:50 - 04:40:43

And how they– Well, you know, well part of that, part of that has to do again, we’re going back to a lot of the work that Ulie came down and did, we used to put together these work groups where we’d bring in Dave Wilt and Joelle Howard and Mitch Bush and Ulie Seal and a whole team from national and Minnesota and whatever, and work. And of course, Dave Wilt, you know, his focus, that was before we could afford a research staff of our own. So we did a lot of work on artificial insemination and, and embryo transfer and, and in vitro fertilization. And, and then, you know, as we progressed and we got our research and conservation research center up and building and running and began to build our own staff, we were, you know, the first, the first artificial inseminated tiger was born in Omaha. The first embryo transfer tiger was born in Omaha. We were part of the half of the team to, to do the first in vitro fertilized gorilla, Teemu, who was actually born in Cincinnati. It was a collaborative effort between Omaha and Cincinnati. I guess, one of the things that we probably haven’t touched on, and we were talking about conservation earlier, but, and that we’ve always been big believers, absolute believers in collaborative or cooperative efforts, whether it’s between two different zoos or, or a group of two or three or four or five different zoos that are collaborating and cooperating on a, a single project because no one zoo is big enough to do everything.

04:40:45 - 04:42:15

So a lot of those early successes were collaborative things that had to do with the National Zoo and, you know, and Ulie Seale and, and, you know, not necessarily the, you know, the zoos in Minnesota, although we’ve always collaborated with, you know, everybody. So a lot of these, you know, first time things, the problem that we’ve got, we mean the whole zoo world, is that we’ve had some really, really good first time that, you know, the, you know, the first, first time this, first time that, whatever, you know, first wild cattle that were artificially inseminated and the first embryo transfers took place in Omaha. The difficulty is that you can’t really say you’ve accomplished a great deal until you can do it over and over and over again with predictable repeatability so that you can have a 40 or 50% success rates, or, you know, let alone, even in cattle, you know, you get it with embryo transfers, you can get a 80% success rate. And we’re not even close to that yet in the zoo world. So there’s still a lot of work to be done. You know, some of the big successes of courses are happening with amphibians and frogs right now, but that’s a lot, in some ways it’s easier.

04:42:16 - 04:42:21

Is that work with cattle and the work that you mentioned, is that still going on in Omaha?

04:42:21 - 04:42:22

Which is that?

04:42:22 - 04:42:25

The work on the cattle, the embryo transfers?

04:42:25 - 04:43:51

Not right now, because we’ve done it. We got, we got a big semen bank and embryo bank with, I don’t know, there is probably 25,000 specimens in, in liquid nitrogen that right now the gaur project has been put to bed, but we have got for a period of time, we’ve got, we’ve got a very large sperm bank and embryos, and the same with tigers and the same with, well, we’ve got the biggest gorilla sperm bank in the world. You know, in addition to, you know, frozen orchid seeds and fern spores, and elephant. Elephant semen turns out to be just about indestructible. We’ve got elephant semen that actually was collected in South Africa that’s in our, you know, in our, in our sperm bank in Omaha. So we’re still working. A lot of the effort right now because of the need and the kind of the urgency on is going into frogs and amphibians, and as far as reproduction. Now, you mentioned the gaur.

04:43:51 - 04:43:53

You were involved with some work with the Kouprey?

04:43:53 - 04:43:54

Yeah, yeah.

04:43:54 - 04:43:58

Could you explain what a Kouprey is, and how did Omaha Zoo get involved?

04:43:58 - 04:45:06

Well, the Kouprey, well, the Kouprey is, is another CBSG project in a way. Kouprey is a wild cow from Cambodia with kind of lear shaped horns, very unusual. Big dewlap, obviously acclimated for warm weather and, and humid jungle environments. And the, you know, they’ve always been rare. We now are beginning to think just recently in the past few years, that Kouprey may not be a, a pure bonafide wild species. But the problem of course is we’re gonna, we’re still gonna have to catch some to get some DNA to really determine that. But the Thais we’re really interested in them, a number of people interested in Kouprey because it was so rare. You know, it had been filmed way back.

04:45:08 - 04:47:08

And actually the Bronx zoo has, has a piece of footage of film that shows gaur and Kouprey and Banteng all in, you know, all in Cambodia and parts of Thailand and Laos. And so we put together a symposium that met in Hanoi in about 1978 with all of the interested parties, both from, brought in people from Cambodia, from Vietnam, obviously, from Thailand, Malaysia, because Malaysia is a big gaur, you know, is a big gaur country. Well, actually seladang as opposed to the regular gaur. And England and, and the US, and we put together a big symposium, met in Hanoi, looked at most of the Kouprey actually are in Cambodia, but at that time you couldn’t really go into Cambodia because it was before, you know, peace had really settled in. And so then, you know, I ended up as chairman of the Kouprey group. We had two meetings in, in Hanoi. Then we actually built a, we actually built a Kouprey barn in Da Nang and we, and we did three, three field programs in, in Vietnam along the Cambodian border, close to, you know, east of, west of Ban Me Thuot, if you go in from Da Nang straight into the Cambodian border, you pass through Ban Me Thuot and to the Cambodian border, we kind of put it to bed after we got one of our field team shot up. We got three people shot, and two elephants shot.

04:47:09 - 04:48:18

Nobody, nobody killed thankfully. But the Kouprey really exists up in that Northeastern corner of Cambodia. And then they, then they seasonally migrate over into Vietnam and into Laos and sometimes into Thailand. The Thais found what they were sure were Kouprey tracks that had come into Thailand and turned around and go back into Cambodia and sent a team into follow them. And unfortunately, the two lead guys in that team didn’t do too well. They land in, they ran into some landmines, which is pretty much discouraged that project from continuing. So the, the question of Kouprey still is yet to be answered. But between the Thais getting blown up and we get, we got a team shot up, I had to bribe my way into Vietnam to see about that, and sort that out, along with Simon Stewart, from IUCN.

04:48:19 - 04:49:01

And we went over to Hang Kong Air because Thai Air, and they wouldn’t give us visas. So we couldn’t get on Air France or Thai Air, so we went on over to Hang Kong Air and pass some hundred dollar bills over the counter. And suddenly we could get a ticket, went into Saigon and argued with them. And we ultimately got up to, to the area and to see what had happened and kind of sort that out. And then we put the project to bed. You talked about Madagascar. In 2005, Dr. Lewis from the Center of Conservation and Research discovered a new species of lemur.

04:49:01 - 04:49:06

What did the discovering mean and how did it work to help the Omaha Zoo?

04:49:07 - 04:50:40

Well, I don’t. Basically actually, you know, Ed and Dr. Lewis has actually published 21 new species of lemurs. He’s renamed another dozen that were misnamed, whatever. And, and he just submitted for publication, which should be coming out any time now, another six species. So, I mean, probably by mid summer, he will have named 27 new species of lemur. From a scientific standpoint, that’s considerable prestige for, you know, a zoo project or program to, to have done this. It comes back to, I think, you know, what I kind of said a little bit before. You know, Ed, when Ed came on board, you know, Ed was, Ed was a new grad, had just received his DVM from Texas A&M, you know, and was waiting, you know, waiting on his PhD because he had done a DVM and a, and a PhD in cellular genetics concurrently, which means he’s a little bit wound tight, and a bit driven, and very smart.

04:50:42 - 04:51:49

Ed, when I first hired Ed, Ed came aboard, it was not to work with lemurs or tortoises. It was to work with wild cattle, and wild cattle and an antelope and giraffe. That was kind of my focus and interest though, because, you know, I’ve always been interested and fascinated with wild cattle. And Ed was in, in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania working on, on giraffe and antelope and doing the genetics there and looking at some of these enclosed, isolated populations and called up and said, hey, you know, as long as I’m here in Tanzania, you got any objection if I’d slipped over to Madagascar that look at the radiated tortoises and the Ploughshare tortoises, and the graveyard tortoise. And I said, well, why not, sure. Well, he did. And he came back with a fire in his belly. He came back with a passion for what was happening in, in Madagascar, in for the lemurs.

04:51:49 - 04:52:48

And so basically, you know, the project that we hired Ed for went down the drain. (laughs) So we never, never did finish, we never finished up our wild cattle. We did publish the giraffe project and the antelope project and wild cattle project went by the way. But Ed has become pretty much the world’s expert on, on lemurs in Madagascar. And, you know, has now branched and into conservation, reforestation, education, a whole lot of things in Madagascar. We’ve been in Madagascar for 17 years now. We’ve got 19 full-time Malagasy employees. We bring 12 or 13 or 14 Malagasy graduate students to Omaha every year.

04:52:48 - 04:53:36

I think we got 31 or 32 Malagasy graduate students that we’re supporting right now. The first, you know, the, the first geneticist, you know, the first cellular geneticist in, that graduated from the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, and every one since, have all been Omaha students. So, you know, we’ve had a fairly big impact on Madagascar working a lot with CI, and actually worked with about everybody in Madagascar. We got three field stations in Madagascar, which means, which means that I’ll never run out of a job because supporting Ed is a full time job.

04:53:36 - 04:53:39

(laughs) Is there a lemur named after you?

04:53:39 - 04:53:41

Yeah, there it is.

04:53:41 - 04:53:42

What’s the name?

04:53:42 - 04:54:10

It’s Microcebus simmonsi. It’s the largest of the mouse lemurs. That’s why he wants to, help, you know, keep helping the project. Yeah, well, I mean, Ed, Ed, in addition to being a first rate scientist is a fairly good politician. (chuckling) And the fact is there’s several lemurs named after supporters of Ed’s projects. (chuckling) What a wonderful segue into fundraising.

04:54:13 - 04:54:18

You had talked about a little, but what’s your philosophy for selling a project?

04:54:22 - 04:55:51

Well, first you got to have, you gotta have a product to sell, and you got to have a product that you believe in. I think, you know, it’s kinda like, well, I don’t want to be too, too crass and commercial, but, you know, it’s, if you’re going to sell sewing machines, it’s gotta be a sewing machine that’s really good that you can believe in that works. So you gotta have a product, you gotta have a project that you really believe in, and that you’ve got some passion and fire for. And it has to be a project that people can understand. There are, there are people in this, in donors out there. And, you know, we had one of them who unfortunately passed away, not too long ago, who, you know, we first started out, you know, who would, would always pretty much guaranteed that if we had a project and we went to him and said, hey, here’s the project, and here’s what we’re going to do and all of that, would, you know, would make a donation of a million dollars or so. And then after awhile, he got to the point where you’d call him up and he would say, all right, just, you know, come to lunch and tell me what you wanna do, but don’t bring, don’t bring the plans. Don’t bring them, don’t bring the blueprints, just tell me what you want to do.

04:55:51 - 04:56:26

And then, and then it was later on after a while, he’d just say, oh, all right, we don’t need to go to lunch. Just tell me how much do you need. You know, and that’s, you know, that’s a, that’s a, that’s a credibility and a trust that you build over years. Most donors are, never get to that point. They want to see what you’re doing, and they have to be able to see it and understand it. So there are donors that are engineers or architects, or, or who can read a blueprint, and who can visualize, and you can. But most donors can’t visualize. The vast majority of donors can’t visualize.

04:56:26 - 04:58:26

So you really need to take in something that you can, so that they understand. You know, and we’ve actually, we’ve actually resorted to, not resorted to, what we’ve actually evolved into being able to do computer animations with, with AutoCAD and, and Studio Max, you know, which is an AutoCAD product, which is the same program that they did “Jurassic Park” in. And so that you can do an animation, which for instance, with the dome, you know, we had a five foot diameter carved model of the deserts, of the three different deserts of the world. And then we digitize that, and then we use that digitization to then take it so that we can take a, you know, a computer animation, lift the geodesic dome off of the top, do a circle, go down and do a fly through of the thing, you know. And that, that basically got us half the project in less than 24 hours, basically being able to have that kind of realism that made it real, basically got us one check for half the project in less than 24 hours. But you gotta be able to, you gotta be able to, you know, sell a project and. And it, every project that you do, one of the things that we’ve done, we’ve always balanced our budget, our operating budget. But the other thing that we’ve managed to do over the years as we’ve brought every single project that we, that we did, we brought it in on time and on budget or under budget.

04:58:27 - 04:59:26

And so with a track record like that, pretty soon you get, you get credibility, you get a reputation and credibility. So that the next project is easier. Chris Hickson, who was the trustee for the Lied Jungle when we did the Lied Jungle. And when we got up to do the dedication, the mayor of the town, you know, of Omaha got up and made his speech and about this cooperation and this great donation to the city of Omaha and, and all of that. And Chris got up, she’s a very down to earth, very plain spoken, short sentences. And she said, I’m sorry to tell you this mayor, but I didn’t give this money to the city of Omaha. And I didn’t give it to the Omaha Zoo. I gave it to Lee Simmons because I know he’ll spend the money like I want him to.

04:59:26 - 04:59:58

End of discussion. She sat down. (chuckling) But that’s kind of, you know, you can’t buy that kind of credibility. You gotta earn it. It’s gotta be, and we brought, we’d never had a project that went over budget. We’ve never had a project that came in, that didn’t come in on time. And it takes, you know, it takes, it takes management and effort and the ability to compromise and do, and do whatever it takes to make that happen. But the, but the second one is easier than the first one.

04:59:58 - 05:00:02

And the third one’s easier than the second one once you’ve done that.

05:00:02 - 05:00:06

So you would say those are your major strengths in that area?

05:00:06 - 05:00:23

I think so, yeah. hat we, that we, that we were able to number one, get somebody to visualize and buy onto the project because they can see what we’re doing. And because we’ve got a reputation for bringing projects in on time and under budget.

05:00:23 - 05:00:27

How’d you identify the major fundraisers for these projects?

05:00:27 - 05:00:28

is it because you knew them?

05:00:28 - 05:00:29

They came to you?

05:00:29 - 05:01:33

Send you knew, some you met with through the board of directors. You know, basically, basically we, we go to to let’s sit down, sit down with pad and pencil and, and put together a hit list. And the hit list basically included, you know, everybody in Omaha, Nebraska, that had money. And then whether they were approachable, who could approach them, whatever. And then you find somebody that would, that, that they would take their call to get them to come to lunch. And then you show up at lunch with, you know, all of your, all of your project and your visuals and wave your arms and do whatever. The getting them to take the call, getting them to take the call and agree to lunch is the big first hurdle. Cause they know they automatically knew that you were going to put the hit on them.

05:01:33 - 05:01:48

Originally we call it the Omaha 11. It’s expanded out some since then. It’s more than 11 big guys, but you know, initially it was the Omaha 11, you know, which included guys like Mutual of Omaha.

05:01:51 - 05:01:59

You, hold on, how do I say this here?

05:02:05 - 05:02:14

You obviously did well. I mean, you obviously did well at fundraising, you. Yeah, well. Because I got to spend the money. Did you, okay.

05:02:14 - 05:02:22

Did you enjoy it or was it a necessary evil of what you had to do to do the building you wanted to do?

05:02:22 - 05:03:34

One of the things, you know, and early on, I remember in the AZA you know, which, you know, before that was the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZPA, I guess. Somebody came up with the idea and actually it was written into kind of the bylaws. It was written in as you know, one of the, kind of one of the precepts of zoo directors is that zoo directors shouldn’t and shouldn’t have to fundraise. And that actually was written in as one of the, one of the guidelines. And the realities of life are, is, the zoo directors who don’t fundraise, don’t get to build anything. And, you know, I said early on, you know, the board said, you know, or at least the three main guys on the board said, you know, balance the budget and the board’s probably going to let you do anything you want. And of course, there’s just one other thing. You got to raise the money for it.

05:03:34 - 05:04:13

If you don’t fundraise, we’ll help you. But, you know, because we didn’t have a development, we’ve got to, you know, we’ve got a foundation now and we’ve got a development, you know, development staff and all that. But if, but in those days we didn’t, that’s fairly recent thing. You know, that’s only in the last seven years. If you didn’t fundraise, you didn’t get to do anything. You didn’t get to build anything. You couldn’t, you didn’t get to develop anything. And basically we kind of had this unwritten understanding that we were, you know, we, we were allowed to do anything we could raise the funds for.

05:04:13 - 05:05:23

So if you had a project and, you know, and it usually required just kind of a cursory head nod from the president or the chairman of the board, that sounds like this was a good idea if you can raise the money. And then you, you know, then you went for it. As I think I said earlier, very early on, we kind of developed the, the policy that if you could get to the halfway mark, you know, and you thought you were in pretty good shape, you could just take a deep breath and jump off the end of the pier and start digging foundations and figuring you’d raise the rest of the money while you were building the bloomin’ thing. And I pretty much has worked out that way. We’ve started a lot of projects when we were only halfway there on the fundraising and, and we’ve been able to fund them and finish them on time. If you don’t fundraise, you don’t get to do anything. And so I wouldn’t call it a necessary evil, but it absolutely was necessary. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily fun.

05:05:23 - 05:06:42

(laughs) They, on the Lied Jungle, you know, that was eight, 8 1/2 year project to get to that first point where we could actually make the pitch. I can, one of the things that, there are things that you remember all your life. And we had been building up to this and we had done all the conceptual design, really in-house, with a little help from the architect who was doing it on the cuff for free, until we could actually get to raise the funds and whatever. And we did, you know, all of our elevations and renditions, and we had overlays that we had done kind of in-house, rather crude, but as it turns out the, you know, the Lied trustee, if we’d have gone out and hired, you know, a Bozell and Jacobs type firm to do a slick, smooth thing, it would’ve probably turned her off because she would have thought we were spending too much money and unnecessarily. So, and so that, you know, so the net result was, was that we had, we had done everything in house. We finally got to the point that she would give me an audience. So I flew out to Los Vegas, made the pitch. She agreed to come to Omaha to look at the site.

05:06:44 - 05:07:52

We staked out the outline of the building and the site, and put up some big tall poles so that she could visualize where it was going to be, how tall it was going to be. We, you know, we put a bunch of two bys in the ground that were, you know, that spiked, slapped together that were, you know, so that we could get 30 feet of height on the outside walls and put a big telephone pole in the middle so we could show her, it was going to be 80 feet tall in the middle and all of that. And then, took her to dinner at the Omaha country club, because Stan Howe, who was our architect, was a member of the country club and live next door to the country club. We took her to dinner there and, and we were waving our arms and pitching the, pitching the project. And finally, she kind of looked at me and said, all right, all right, enough, enough of this. She said, I like what I see, but this thing looks expensive. So just cut to the chase. What’s the bottom line.

05:07:53 - 05:08:32

And I can remember, and will always remember, trying to get up enough saliva in my mouth. And I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it for a minute to say $25 million. And, and to say $25 million for the first time in your life. That was, you know, I didn’t think I was going to be able to get that out. And she visibly flinched. She visibly flinched and blinked when I said $25 million. And she said that, that’s a lot of money. I wasn’t, wasn’t expecting anything like that.

05:08:32 - 05:09:10

She said, I’m going to to think about that. She said, why don’t we have breakfast in the morning, and I’ll think about it overnight. And I figured that this whole dang, this whole thing, you know, it was whole 8 1/2 years, it just went down the tube right now. And so the next morning we met for breakfast. Stan Howe, you know, myself and Chris, and she said all right, she said, I didn’t sleep a wink all night. She said, I came to town with my mind made up on what I was going to give you. I liked the project. I was going to give you money for it.

05:09:10 - 05:09:40

I had my mind made up about what I was going to give. And you asked me for $25 million and I’m just, I didn’t sleep a wink and I’m not going to do it. And I’m thinking, oh, you know, it’s, it’s done, it’s over. It’s down the tube. But then she said, but I am willing to compromise. She said, I was going to give you 5 million. I’m going to, I will, I will give you 15 million. And, but there are some conditions.

05:09:41 - 05:10:12

Number one, cause I had a restaurant on it. She said, I’m not interested in selling hotdogs. Let somebody else build a restaurant. Let somebody else build your greenhouses. You know, she kinda went down down the line. She said, I don’t, you’ve got that big orientation building on the outside. Let somebody else do that. She said, but the main jungle, she said, I’ll give you the $15 million, but I want everything you shown me for $15 million.

05:10:13 - 05:10:16

And she said, so do you think you can do that boy?

05:10:16 - 05:11:08

(laughs) I said, yes ma’am. And she gave us $15 million. And we got somebody else to build the restaurant. And you know, we never did build the orientation building and we, and we built the greenhouse ourselves and, and we brought the project, and Stan Howe did his part. He, ultimately the whole thing with the restaurant and education area and all of that ended up at 18 1/2 million. And Stan Howe, our architect, did the whole architectural and engineering package for a half a million dollars, for $500,000 for an $18 million project. So there’s a guy that gave back in a huge way.

05:11:11 - 05:11:18

Did you ever use the political process to raise money from the state or anything?

05:11:18 - 05:12:15

We tried with the state a number of things. I mean, when we first came in, the state was not charging us sales tax on our admissions, memberships and all that. And somewhere down the line, somebody said, hey, there’s nothing that prohibits us from doing that. We’ve tried. And then once, once a government, state, county, city, federal, whatever puts a tax on you, you’ll never get it off. We’ve tried using the political process several times to get them to take the sales tax off because it would save us a huge amount of money. We did manage, and we were never successful. We did manage to get the state by simply taking every single state Senator, bringing them to the zoo in small groups so the Sunshine Act didn’t kick in.

05:12:17 - 05:13:10

And pitching them on a hotel motel tax, which we’ve used for marketing and, you know, a number of things that way. And you know, that, that brings in about $300,000 a year. At one time it was bringing in a half a million a year, pretty regularly. But that really is the only, you know, and of course then, you know, the, the contract with the city, which now we’ve used to be a one-year thing, and then we got it to three years and then to five years, and now we do 10 year contracts for a little bit of city support, out of $28 million or city, the city kicks in a million and a half dollars. Not very much. I shouldn’t say that. It’s a million and a half we wouldn’t have otherwise.

05:13:10 - 05:13:14

Were there any surprise donations that just came out of nowhere?

05:13:14 - 05:13:17

Somebody leave you a 40 million in a will?

05:13:17 - 05:13:19

Something you didn’t expect?

05:13:19 - 05:14:37

Well, Pete, Pete Kiewit, you know, who contributed that quarter of a million when he, in his will, he left us $1 million. We’ve had some other behest in wills. The one thing, you know, the, the Hubbard family donation, as I said, circled around after, after 23 years and came back and they wanted to do something in honor of Ted Hubbard and was thinking about $1 million for a butterfly facility, which we ultimately built a butterfly facility, but it wasn’t first step on the board right then. We were looking at gorillas. And in about 45, 50 minutes, you know, that $1 million donation escalated from $1 million for butterflies to about $8 million for gorillas, and then actually on upwards of that. And you know, that family, that family contribution now is up over $30 million. And that one know that one kind of walked in, that first one walked in the door after 23 years that I wasn’t expecting that. You mentioned that you started with any $50,000 endowment.

05:14:37 - 05:14:49

Yeah. And over the years, obviously, I would say endowments are the gift that keeps on giving. Yep. You’ve been able to increase the endowment. Yeah, substantially, yeah.

05:14:49 - 05:14:52

Has it been difficult to do?

05:14:52 - 05:16:16

Endowment dollars, endowment dollars are the toughest hardest dollars to raise. What we’ve, what we’ve ultimately figured out and, and have done is that we put an endowment on every new project that’s not going to be a profit center, like, you know, a new gift shop or a new concession stand or a new restaurant or something like that as a profit center. So, but every, every new, every new capital project that we do, we put an endowment number as part of our, as part of our fundraiser. So that if we say, well, this project is going to cost, you know, it’s going to cost X to build, like we did the Madagascar exhibit. You know, we automatically, we automatically added on a $5 million endowment that was part of the fundraising for the project, because it’s a lot easier to raise endowment that way than just pure endowment, because it’s tied to a project. You got a product to sell. It’s tied to a project. You don’t, you can tell them that includes, you know, capital and endowment, but you don’t have to break it down.

05:16:16 - 05:16:26

And it’s a lot easier when you’ve got a product and a specific project to sell other than just raising pure endowment dollars is really tough to do.

05:16:28 - 05:16:31

What makes a Nebraska such a giving community?

05:16:32 - 05:17:24

It just is. I think, you know, Nebraskans are kind of unique in, you know, I mean, they’re, you know, they’re kind of rabid football fans. If you’re going to do something like the jungle or the desert gnome or the (mumbles), that is kind of the biggest and best anywhere, it it’s a much easier sell. I don’t think you could say I’m going to do the fifth best or six best or 10 best. I don’t think you’d get takers. If you’re talking about the, you know, the biggest or best in the world, or at least at the very least the second best in the world, it’s a much easier sell. But Omahaians are very supportive if they believe in what you’re doing. They’re very black and white.

05:17:27 - 05:17:50

They don’t simply support projects that they don’t really believe in. They got to, they’ve got to really buy on to the project. And so there’s not a, there’s not a lot of gray in Nebraskans. They either like you, or they don’t like you. Now with like you and don’t like you, you seem to really have a good relationship with the media.

05:17:50 - 05:17:52

How’d you nurture that relationship?

05:17:52 - 05:18:54

Well, I think, yeah, basically by being pretty honest and straightforward. You know, you never want to get, you never want to get absolutely caught in a lie with the media, or, or, you know, and, and it hasn’t always been, you know. I’ve on two different occasions in my career, you know, I banned the World Herald from the zoo, which is our only daily newspaper. And, you know, the zoo is named after Henry Doorly, who was the former publisher of the World Herald. And I didn’t ban the Herald, I just banned an individual reporter who got out of line and he wasn’t honest. And, but, you know, I think you gotta, number one, you gotta cultivate ’em. You gotta, you gotta be honest and straightforward. You don’t necessarily have to volunteer anything you don’t want them to know, but if they ask you a question, you gotta answer it.

05:18:59 - 05:19:20

You know, and, and certainly we work at finding things that are interesting for them to publish. And the old, that old cliche I mentioned earlier about, you know, kids, animals, and a good fire. Why, you know, if you can team kids and animals up, it makes for a good picture. If you’ve got a good picture, you automatically got a story to go with it.

05:19:20 - 05:19:22

So did you special events for them to come?

05:19:22 - 05:19:26

Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

05:19:26 - 05:19:32

(chuckling) How did you view the media?

05:19:32 - 05:19:33

Necessary evil?

05:19:33 - 05:20:51

Some were, you know, really active pro-zoo supporters that, you know, that we’ve had over the years. Over the years, we’ve had, we’ve had a lot of reporters that we could sit down and let our hair down with and say, okay, I want to go off the record here and, you know, whatever. And then, then there are, then there have been reporters where you had to keep your sentences to three words and be very, very careful with, you know, because there are, there are reporters that, you know, that, that have illusions of being, you know, Watergate, investigative types. I actually had a reporter leave a running tape recorder running under my desk once. And that was one of the occasions when I banned a reporter from the zoo and, and the, you know, the publisher of the World Herald called up and said, you can’t do that. And I said, well, it’s done. He happened to have been a former board president of the zoo. So he and I, it took us several years to get back on really friendly relations, but I made it stick.

05:20:52 - 05:20:54

You board supported you?

05:20:55 - 05:21:32

Several of the board said, you can’t do a thing like that. And, but the ones that counted said, okay, good. Stick to it. And yeah, several of them were fairly aghast and said, you just can’t do things like that. And, but we did it. And the guys that counted were in agreement. And it had a, it helped our reputation in the long run because it kind of established that, that we were honest and fair. And we were, we demanded the same thing out of the media.

05:21:32 - 05:21:36

Not all media is honest, as you well know.

05:21:37 - 05:21:40

Was it your idea of the weather predicting Siberian tiger?

05:21:40 - 05:21:45

No. I can’t remember who’s idea that was.

05:21:45 - 05:21:50

(laughs) Not taking credit for that?

05:21:50 - 05:21:53

No. That it made a really good story.

05:21:53 - 05:22:05

(chuckling) How’d you go about getting people to want to come to the zoo?

05:22:06 - 05:22:08

I mean, was it just public relations?

05:22:09 - 05:23:56

Well, I think that, you know, the thing, the thing that, that we, unlike a number of places where, you know, particularly in a Nebraska summer, and, you know, there, there are zoos that you can go in the summer and, you know, you better have your hiking. You better be in good shape and have your hiking boots on. What we’ve done was cluster all of our heavyweight projects, the jungle, the desert dome, kingdoms of the night, the aquarium, now butterflies, cats pretty close, giraffes pretty close, at the top of the hill, and really fairly close to the main gate so that you could come in. You know, because in the very beginning, when I first went there, we were only open in 67, we opened five months and then we got to finally, we got to seven months. And for a long time, we were only open seven months out of the year. And it was only after we, we built the Wild Kingdom building, the Mutual building did we actually open year round because we had no place for people to get in out of the rain. It was simply an outdoor, it was an outdoor zoo. But what we’ve done is clustered the, the really heavyweight buildings where you can get in out of the heat or out of the snow or out of the rain close to the main gate so that you can come in and without getting too wet or too cold or too hot, you can go to those main buildings and spend a half a day or two thirds of the day and never be out in the elements except from going from building to building.

05:23:56 - 05:25:18

Then that left the main part of the zoo as a, as an open park with hoofstock and, and, you know, pachyderm, elephants rhinos and things that, and in our big walkthrough aviary, cause we’ve got a four acre walkthrough aviary that really aren’t good exhibits in the wintertime anyway. So that in the winter time, when things were really cold, and it made a huge, huge difference as far as our demographic, as far as attendance during the wintertime. Once we got to the point that you could come in and go into the jungle and go into the desert, go into the, in, you know, into the, the wild kingdom building so that you could come in and spend significant time and be out of the elements, it made a huge difference on our wintertime attendance. Cause we, before we had no winter time attendance. You know, Nebraska is not necessarily a wintertime users friendly state. And it made it, it made a huge, huge difference. You know, on the other hand, you know, Lincoln Park doesn’t really have that because the distance between exhibits and buildings is, is just simply not that great. But we’ve got 130 acres.

05:25:18 - 05:26:09

And plus now we expanded that by acquiring more land, and recently the, you know, the Rosenblatt stadium, the ballpark, we just acquired that and are in the process right now of tearing down the stadium. So we picked up another 37 acres of prime parking land, you know, right, you know, right on our Western boundary, which we were using anyway, but. But I think that made a huge difference. You can come in. You can go to the zoo. do one building, two buildings, three buildings, go home, particularly if you’ve got a membership. And so it may take you, it may take you three visits to do the whole zoo during the summer, or four visits. Or you can come in and out and do your favorite building.

05:26:09 - 05:26:12

And plus you can do it even if it’s raining or cold or really hot.

05:26:14 - 05:26:19

What role did their participation play in developing Omaha Zoo?

05:26:19 - 05:26:19

Say again?

05:26:22 - 05:26:32

Sorry. Thank you. They say that the, it’s easy to say the zoo is for the families, for the kids, families.

05:26:32 - 05:26:37

How do you get teenagers to want to come to the zoo?

05:26:37 - 05:27:15

I don’t know. Yeah, we, well, I think we get, we, we do well. I mean, statistically speaking, we say it’s for the kids, but statistically speaking, you know, we’re assuming that anybody 12 and over as an adult, we have a lot more adults come than kids. And I think you make it fun. I mean, it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be an interesting, exciting fun. One of the things that we’ve just done is we’ve put in a, a ski lift, ski chairlift, bought a used one out of state fairgrounds. Put it in. It goes clear across the zoo.

05:27:15 - 05:27:47

Turns out it was since it was used, it was relatively inexpensive and it’s made a huge amount of money for us because we get really great ridership. Plus it’s fun. It goes right across the top of the giraffe, across the ostriches, cheetahs, rhinos, across the, it crosses the lagoon. We’ve got an underwater road underwater so that in case it stops in the middle of the lagoon, why you could take a chair, you know, you can take a cherry pick out there and get them off the chairs.

05:27:47 - 05:27:51

(chuckling) Am I correct that you have an IMAX at the zoo?

05:27:51 - 05:27:52

We do.

05:27:52 - 05:27:53

How did you decide to develop that?

05:27:53 - 05:28:49

Well, that one was, that was one of them that, that actually, you know, that wasn’t one of my ideas. That was a chairman of the board saw an IMAX, liked it, got a, you know. We went to see the IMAX in, at the Sony Center in New York. We were, we were talking about a, we had gotten to know the, talking about doing the IMAX film “Kilimanjaro”. We’d done two IMEX films, one, “Kilimanjaro” and “Lewis and Clark” that we actually own. And, you know, he was willing to put up, he was willing to put up money. His company was willing to put up money and we found another donor that was willing to put up money. And so it was kind of a no brainer, at the time.

05:28:49 - 05:29:57

The timing was, the timing was right at the point where IMAX, where IMAX theaters were really at their peak in their cusp. And, you know, they, they were really, really, really generating a lot of, a lot of income and a lot of excitement. Actually, you know, we put it in right at the top and it steadily went down the hill, you know, and until this last year, when we actually made the price of the IMAX. It tapered off because a number of zoos that had IMAXs took them out. We’ve made IMAX now a part of the zoo admission, a part of the members, not the zoo admission, but a part of the membership, and actually cut the price of the IMAX for regular admission in half. And so we’ve got a full box most of the time now. So it’s hugely popular. And the fact that if you had a zoo membership, you automatically can come to the IMAX as many times as you want.

05:29:57 - 05:30:59

But it made us a fair amount of money in the beginning. And then as IMAX have done all over the world, they, you know, the attendance tapered off, partly because the, the guys that were producing the IMAX film and the IMAX corporation were not terribly user-friendly and they kept raising their prices, raising their prices and got a little bit exorbitant. We had some insight information that IMAX, because you didn’t own the projector and you didn’t own the screen, didn’t own the, the sound system. We had some inside information that IMAX was about to default on a bond payment. And so I called them up and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse because they only had about a week to meet the bond payment. And so we bought, we bought the projector, we bought the system. So we don’t pay IMAX a royalty anymore. And that made a huge difference not having to pay them a royalty.

05:31:01 - 05:31:04

I don’t have any other questions.

05:31:05 - 05:31:06

Did you ask about the Royal Zoo?

05:31:06 - 05:31:23

No. (laughs) Sorry about that. One other question. (laughs) And then if there’s anything we haven’t covered, you’ll say something. No, I think we’ve (mumbles). What was your, you talked about relationships and so forth.

05:31:23 - 05:31:26

What was your relationship to the Royal Zoo?

05:31:26 - 05:31:28

What happened to the relationship?

05:31:28 - 05:33:46

(laughs) Well, the, you know, the, the Royal Zoo saga, I guess, or whatever you want to call it. We were always big believers in actually, if, if you might recall, I got up in front of, and kind of rather pointedly and loudly argued in favor of, you know, all zoos having reciprocal, reciprocity with all other zoos in North America at one time in front of AZA, when people were talking about and only given half price reciprocity, or of course, a number of zoos like San Diego and Denver had, didn’t give any reciprocity. But we always believed in full reciprocity for the membership, from any other zoo. And I think, you know, for a long time, that was a good policy, but it came back and bot us in the rump severely in that we were changing, we were changing computer systems. And so we had a kind of a lapse in being able to track our demographics as well as we should have and were. And when we got the new computer system up and running, we found out that there were some zoos that had figured this out and, and were actively selling entrance into the Omaha Zoo, into the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, as part of their membership package. And Lincoln, Nebraska was one. You know, we were, we were getting about 60 some odd thousand people a year from, you know, from Lincoln, Nebraska that were buying a Lincoln, Nebraska Zoo membership at, at half the price.

05:33:46 - 05:35:06

And when we got, when we got a computer system backed up and running, so we could actually, and started taking zip codes again, we found out that an awful lot of those people that were buying that membership actually lived in Omaha. And the Royals Zoo, you know, which is Royal, there’s a town of, I don’t know, maybe 150 people in the whole town. They had about two little buildings and a couple of outside pins. And they had gotten a, a new director from Canada, not casting any dispersions on Canadians, but who had figured this thing out. And they, they were selling, they were selling a membership, very cheap membership in the Royal Zoo on the basis that it would get you into the Henry Doorly Zoo. And we didn’t know it, and we couldn’t track it until we got our, till we got our new system up and we had already signed an agreement. So we knew what was happening to us. I mean, we, you know, but we had a signed agreement that was a legal signed agreement.

05:35:06 - 05:36:00

And we, all we could do is get our teeth for a year. And yeah, this is a town that is say 150,000, 150 people in the whole town. You know, you put the whole zoo in this room and they skinned us alive. The guy also skinned the town and the zoo alive. It turns out they had two, two websites in which you could buy a Royal zoo membership. We had people with South Carolina, and we actually, we had, we had, because, you know, because the Riverbank Zoo also was offering reciprocity.

05:36:00 - 05:36:05

I got a call from Riverbanks that said, where is this Royal Zoo?

05:36:05 - 05:37:17

Because they had people showing up in Riverbank, South Carolina with Royal Zoo memberships, getting in reciprocal, getting in free. And there were actually two websites, one of which the town knew about that was selling Royal Zoo memberships and another, which the town didn’t know about, that looked the same in which their zoo director was selling memberships. They skinned us out of about $300,000 that summer. He then took all the cash and the new van and the typewriters and everything, and went north into Canada, and the Royal Zoo closed up. (chuckling) And I was, I was angry for most of the whole summer. And there wasn’t anything I could do about it. (chuckling) (interviewer speaking off mic) Tell me some stories about transporting animals. Well, early on, early on, there was some really interesting things that I get to do because, you know, as number one, I developed a substantial circus practice while I was in Ohio.

05:37:17 - 05:38:26

So I treated a lot of circus animals, worked on, you know, the, the Clauser bears and Willie Kugler’s chimps and Kirby chimps, and even did some work with Gunther Gable Williams, a lot of his animals, but I also did a fair amount of work in transporting animals, both for the zoo. An interesting story was when I first met Clayton Freiheit, everybody in the zoo were all those Clayton Freiheit, Claus Van Heisinger up at Wasaga beach, you know, who was, had bought some animals that are, at, at well, what was now AZA, but it is a zoo meeting. And, and he bought a lion from us. And, and somewhere along the line, we agreed that transported up there to Wasaga Beach, which is up on Georgian bay, off of Hudson Bay in Canada, in February. And he, and he called up just before we were getting ready to bring the lions some and some Macaques up and said, oh yeah, by the way, I got a aoudad in Cleveland, Ohio.

05:38:26 - 05:38:27

Could you stop by and pick it up and bring it with you?

05:38:27 - 05:38:29

And I said, sure, why not?

05:38:29 - 05:39:04

You know, it was kind of not too far out of the way, and we’re going to go through Buffalo, New York. So we picked up the aoudad at midnight in the parking lot of the Cleveland Zoo. Went on up. I’d never been to Buffalo. I’d never met Clayton. Clayton came out and showed us around the zoo, showed us as big Gaboon Vipers and fed us lunch. And, you know, and then as first time I’d ever met Clayton. We went off to the, to the border on a Friday after lunch to go across into Canada.

05:39:04 - 05:39:14

And I was doing pretty good until some Canadian border guy said, aoudad, I had scientific name. I don’t know what that is.

05:39:14 - 05:39:17

Any other, any other names for those?

05:39:17 - 05:40:12

And if I’d have just shut up and stuck to the scientific name, we’d have been all right. But foolishly, I said, well, I know some people call them Barbary sheep. Well, that was a dumb thing to do because they just had a big scabies scare in Canada with sheep. And the minute I said sheep, why, things got really difficult. So we ended up going back to the, to the Buffalo’s Zoo. Clayton called his Department of Agriculture vet, who then came in with a, with a gallon of chlordane sheep dip and some, you know, and the certificates. And we ended up pulling that bloomin’ aoudad out of a crate. It’s about a 300 pound male aoudad, stuffed him backwards into a 55 gallon barrel, filled the barrels full of chlordane sheep dip and poured it over his horns and scrubbed his horns and the head down.

05:40:12 - 05:41:19

And then we had to pull him out of the barrel, gripping with sheep dip, put him back in his crate, jump in the thing, because if we didn’t get to the border before they closed, then we’d have to spend the weekend in Buffalo. And so they, we got there, they let us through and we had to drive 450 miles all the way up to Wasaga Beach. We were totally covered, two of us totally covered with sheep dip. And the whole time, Clayton was very encouraging and he stood there with his cigarette, like Clayton has done all these years, and he stayed well out of splash range. He never lifted a hand to help us, but he was encouraging. I guess, the other, you know, the other transport story, without getting too much. I was loading some gorillas onto, onto a flight once and they’d come in out of the French Cameroons. We picked them up.

05:41:19 - 05:42:15

I mean, at some, some difficulty getting them to ASPCA to clear them. This crazy Frenchman that had shipped them into the huts had put them in two by two, you know, tropical hardwood crates. They were two by two frames with storm screen, heavy storm screen over them, a plywood top and a plywood bottom. And then, and then windows screen over that. And they had obviously put them in immobilized, unconscious, and he just filled the whole bottom of the crate full of bananas and mangoes and papayas and grenadine, everything. It was just all kinds of fruit in there. And of course, APHIS, the Department of Agriculture APHIS. They just, that was a horror story for them, all of those plant seeds and all of that.

05:42:15 - 05:43:26

And I had managed, you know, didn’t get thrown in jail for it, to get them to, ASPCA outside of Kennedy. And then the next morning, you know, cause they came in at like 3:30 in the morning. The next morning why, APHIS came over and you know, there was no, there was no doors on these crates. There was no way to get them off. So what we ended up doing is we turned the crates upside down, and the bottoms were three quarter inch plywood screwed to the, to this two by two frame, unscrewed the bottom. And these were, you know, these were adult gorillas. They’re not adult males, but adult females and a juvenile male. Then a bunch of us got ahold of it, turned the crate back over, all the time with all of this garbage rolling around inside the crate, you know, holding the crate with the, with the bottom unscrewed, tipped it back over, pick the crate up far enough to clear the garbage, walk the gorilla off of the crate.

05:43:26 - 05:44:14

I mean, off of the bottom, cleaned up the bottom, hosed out the, hosed the grill off, hosed the crate off, you know, got everything all cleaned up, walk the up, picked it up, walk the gorilla back onto the bottom, turned it back over and screwed the bottoms down. We did that with all five of them. And you know, we were feeling pretty dang proud of that. And I was a little bit antsy about, you know, the whole crate. We got on the plane. It was a combi, you know, one of these combination jobs where they could take the seats out, flying into Chicago. I got there early, got them on pallets, got them strapped down and tarped down so that, you know, it was dark and they couldn’t see anything. They wouldn’t cause any problems.

05:44:14 - 05:44:41

And the pilot came on board and we had them already loaded. And the pilot came on board and said, I want to see them. I said, well, they’re all strapped down. They’re all, you know, they’re all quiet, they’re all asleep. And he said, no, I want to see them. He was the pilot. You couldn’t not show them to him. So we took the tarp off and he looked at those crates and he said, boy, those, those are awfully flimsy crates.

05:44:41 - 05:44:44

He said, are you sure those are strong enough for gorillas?

05:44:46 - 05:45:35

Now I looked him straight in the eye and said, every gorilla I’ve ever hauled has been in a crate just like that. I just didn’t tell him it was the first time in my whole life I’d ever transported a gorilla. Didn’t lie. We’d put the tarp back down, flew into Chicago and loaded them onto a truck. You know, another good story was for baby, you know, gorillas or orangs, because we did a bit of transporting, like taking one to Jacksonville, Florida once. The easy way to transport a baby is, is to not run through air freight. Anyway, you just buy, you know, you just take a big carry on bag, punch holes in it. And that was before x-ray.

05:45:36 - 05:45:42

Buy a first class ticket so you were setting up in first class. Wait til the planes off the ground, unzip the bag.

05:45:42 - 05:45:49

The baby’s head pops out and you take a bottle out and say to a stewardess, you know, can you warm this bottle for me?

05:45:49 - 05:46:11

And from that time on, nobody in the whole airplane could get a drink because you had all the stewardesses up there. And it worked every time. And never had, never had a single kickback, even though we never declared, we never declared a baby, but I don’t think you could try it with a, you know, a tiger or something like that. But for a gorilla and orang babies, it worked good.

About Lee Simmons, DVM

Lee Simmons, DVM
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Henry Doorly Zoo: Omaha, Nebraska

Director Emeritus

As a veterinarian, Dr. Simmons has had a varied career. In 1963 he landed his first zoo job as curator of mammals at the Columbus Ohio Zoo. He quickly moved to other positions as staff veterinarian and assistant director.

His next appointment, in 1966, as a veterinarian was at the Omaha Zoo. Soon after he became assistant director and in 1970 zoo director. After retirement as director he took on the responsibilities as chairman of the board for the Omaha Zoo Foundation.

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