June 10th 2010 | Director

Lester E. Fisher

Dr. Lester E. Fisher was hired as Lincoln Park zoo’s first veterinarian in 1947 working under the directorship of the famous Marlin Perkins. Perkins became a friend and the two worked well together. Each respecting the others talents and role.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:00 - 00:00:03

Les Fisher, what was your earliest experience with zoos?

00:00:04 - 00:00:39

My earliest experience started when I was a kid. I’m a Chicago person born in the city, spent my life in Chicago, in Chicago area. And dad told me that when we were little kids, four of us, two sisters and a brother, I’m the baby of the family. And we would go to Lincoln Park for outing. And that’s as far as I know the earliest context, but the recollections are zero. I don’t recall any of those trips as a kid.

00:00:41 - 00:00:44

Why did working with animals interest you?

00:00:46 - 00:01:19

Well, first of all, we always had a dog. So that I kind of, I guess, related to an animal. My dad had a Meat Market in the Bridgeport area of Chicago, and somehow I got into the animal bit, I guess. I just not being a farm kid, and not being comfortable around big animals, I just somehow felt that dogs and cats were pretty nice.

00:01:20 - 00:01:25

So when did the idea of becoming a veterinarian happen?

00:01:26 - 00:03:13

Well, it’s kind of a circuitous story. One of my very best friends in grade school and high school, Dick Reed, his dad worked for one of the packing houses, was either Swift and company or Wilson and Company, I don’t recall which of those two. And also I would go to the yards occasionally with my dad, and there I met the veterinary inspectors who worked in the yards and developed an acquaintance with one especially, and thought that, that kind of work was interesting. And when it came time to go to college, I looked at various places around the country and Dick fortunately, or unfortunately said, “Well, I’m going to Iowa State.” And I said, “Why are you going there, tell me about it.” And he said, “Well, that’s where my dad went.” And he said, since he got his degree there in agriculture, animal science. He said, “I think I’m gonna take some courses there.” And I said, “Dick, we’ve been together all these years, “why don’t I go out there “and see what the school is like?” So my older sister said, “I’ll drive you out there for a couple of days, “and we’ll go look the campus over.” Ames Iowa was an alien name and an alien territory for me. I don’t recall being west of the Mississippi at that point. And I found out that I might enjoy going to Ames, so that’s how I ended up doing a pre-vet course there. And I felt it might be of interest, I’ll see what develops.

00:03:13 - 00:04:24

And fortunately for me it worked out. A lot of stuff in life, I guess, are circumstantial. And in my case, again, it was a happy circumstance. My sister helped me find a room in a big old wooden house on the edge of campus that a widower of a college professor had. And she had four rooms there that she rented out, and we decided that I would rent one of those rooms. And so I got into her place and found out that the ambulatory clinician, a vet named Walter Anderson from the vet college was also living there, that was his home, his room. And so it was kind of natural that once he became aware that I was a pre-vet and had some interests in things. And he would knock on my door and say, “I’m going out in the night call or on a weekend.” He’d knocked on the door and say, “I’m heading out, if you’re free, “do you wanna come along?” And a boy for me, it was wonderful.

00:04:24 - 00:05:37

He always had senior students riding with him that was part of their curriculum, and so I got to get exposed to veterinary medicine. And I’m sure in my mind, although nothing was ever said or proven, that it was only because of his interest in helping me that I got into vet school. First of all, there were only 10 vet schools Pre-World War II in the country. And that’s how I ended up there at Iowa, Illinois didn’t have a school at that time. And the rules, as I recall it, according to the state rules there, all eligible Iowa students had to be admitted first. And then what was left of the class could be distributed to other states, outer of state kids. And it turned out that there were two of us from Illinois, a kid from Southern Illinois and me, we’re the only ones that got into that particular class of the vet school. And I worked hard, got good grades, but I certainly was not any outstanding person to be the guy to go to vet school.

00:05:37 - 00:05:54

So thanks to Dr. Anderson, I got in. Well now, in 1943 you’re called to active duty in the Veterinary Corps of the United States Army.

00:05:54 - 00:05:57

What work did you do as a veterinarian for the army?

00:05:58 - 00:07:03

Well, again, circumstances workout and they’re kind of fun. And looking back on it all during the war years, World War II years, a lot of people on campus were drafted. And I always thought it was just horrendous that a lot of kids that were just committed, and were there, and all of a sudden they got their call. And those of us in the veterinary school were blessed because they decided that they needed us to stay in school. And I think they did the same with the medics, and probably the dental students too, I don’t know. But we were asked if we want to, voluntarily, we could get a Medical Administrative Corps commission. And so if we pass the physical and did the other stuff, we were granted a Second Lieutenancy as a Medical Corps Administrative person, and that allowed us to stay in school. Therefore it worked out that we went straight through, we had no vacation times.

00:07:03 - 00:08:13

And when we graduated, we were told we’d be called to active duty. And so I spent about six weeks, I think, between graduation and getting my orders to report. And the first part of my military service was hilarious, we were sent to Pennsylvania to a place where they were training the Medical Corps, Medical Department people to be soldiers. And the great majority of people there, it was called Carlisle Barracks, were medics. And they didn’t wanna play soldier, they wanted to treat sick people. And so they drove the poor regular army guys that were there trying to teach us how to make a bed, and how to march, and how to put on a gas mask, and you name it, crazy stuff. And so I spent, I can’t recall for sure, I think about 8 or 10 weeks there, so that was our first duty place. And after that, I got my first orders to report to Erie, Pennsylvania.

00:08:13 - 00:09:26

There was a packing house there that was making food for the troops, and I was doing what most of the veterinary people do, both in civilian life and in the military. And that’s looking after the safety of the food that feeds the people, the troops. And so I would turn out probably a carload of sausage and other meats and things on requisitions for the military. And one night I went to a movie, and it was, I can’t recall the title, but it was a fun movie. And for some reason they were singing the song as part of it about slice it thick, or slice it thin it’s still salami. And I burst out laughing because I had shipped (chuckles) about 10,000 pounds of salami to some places throughout the world, and I thought that was sorta crazy. Then I got orders to go to Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh, of course, was the home of Heinz and Company, and they were a major suppliers of food for the troops.

00:09:26 - 00:10:47

And there were about, I think, 8 or 10 of us veterinarians all assigned there to Heinz, and we lived in the Webster Hotel, I recall that name somewhere in downtown Pittsburgh, I have no idea where exactly it would be. And there we were turning out just carloads of food for the troops. One of the silliness there was that the people that were working in some of the sections there, as I recall it, were primarily Polish ethnic people. And I happen to be Czech ethnic person, and so the languages were close enough that I could understand a lot of what they were saying. And when they tried to beat the system, there’d be specifications, the beef should be 70% lean, and 10% this, and 5% that and whatever. Well, when you’re looking at big kettles of stuff, there’s no practical way you could tell. But they were dumb enough to talk about what they thought they were gonna do, and occasionally when they tried putting something over on me, I could challenge them and make them do stuff over. And that was kinda a game that I look back on and thought it was fun for them and for me.

00:10:48 - 00:12:46

Then one day the Colonel calls me in his office and he says, “Fisher, who you’ve been talking to?” And I said, “Nobody, sir, why?” He said, “Well, I’ve got your orders here “and you’re going overseas.” And he said, “I’ve looked over your 201 file,” that’s a personnel file in the army. And he said, “I don’t see one thing different about you “than anyone else around here for except one thing.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “You speak Czech.” And I said, “Well, sort of.” And he said, “Well,” he said, “here’s your orders, “good luck, you’re on your way to Europe.” And I walked out of there thinking, “Oh my God, what’s gonna happen?” I had visions, they’re gonna drop me behind the line somewhere, and I’d be doing something crazy. Happily, when I got to England and reported in, they, of course, said, “Welcome, and why are you here?” And so I relaxed and realize I wasn’t gonna be doing anything crazy behind the lines. And when we were there, our primary duty at that time was to feed The Eighth Air Force, that was what we call Eastern Bay Section outside of London. And I spent about four or five months there doing that type of work. And then one day got orders to cross the channel, this was well after D-Day, and I joined a third army in Brittany. And there again, we were doing primarily food inspection work. I recall going down to the sub basis and brest, and one of the souvenirs, probably still somewhere in the closet at home, are a box of cigars that I liberated from the stack that were there for no reason other than they were there.

00:12:46 - 00:14:18

And so I started doing regular routine food work between the quartermaster Corps and the veterinary inspection work until one day, again, the Colonel calls me in and I was very blessed. I had a Colonel Sperry who was my chief in Europe. And it turned out that he was a good friend of General Patton’s. They were both in Fort Riley, Patton was a Cavalry officer, and Sperry was a true horse doctor. He was one of the best horse doctors that I ever had the privilege to know, he could look at horses and tell you what leg was lame, and where, and how, and why without ever putting a hand on it. Anyway, he said, “What do you know about pigeons?” And I said, “Nothing, sir, why?” He said, “Well, here’s another “special duty assignment for you.” He said, “Go, here’s a Signal Pigeon Company “sitting in a field in France,” and he said, “I think they need their veterinary officer, and your it.” So I said, “Of course, yes, sir.” And took off and ended up at this Signal Pigeon Company. To my surprise, I knew nothing about pigeons, these were homing pigeons. And I’d say at least a third of them were sick, they had pox, and they had respiratory disease, and you name it, and I was a classic city kid.

00:14:18 - 00:16:08

I didn’t even know how to reach into the creek to take the bird out without hurting its feathers, I thought, “Gee, I’m gonna create a problem here.” Anyway, I became an instant authority on birds diseases there of, and so forth. And there probably were about 6,000 birds in this Signal Pigeon Company. Patton was the only officer in Europe that I knew of that insisted on this, this was his backup for communication. And I learned a lot about homing pigeons about the guys that care for them, and really a bunch of good guys, mostly Eastern kids from, I’d say the state of Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, were the ones that were in this particular group of pigeon people. And then I’d occasionally do some food inspection work too, but the silliness that went on trying to train these birds to work when the lines were moving so quickly was beyond belief because homing pigeons are very reliable when they have a permanent base. And the Brits, for example, used them in the early start of the war when the bombers would leave England to go across the channel, they all had pigeons with them. And if a plane was going down, they’d release the birds with where they were, best they knew where they were, and the people back home knew how to go look for them. The birds probably have an average flight time for a daytime flight of about 3 to 400 miles.

00:16:08 - 00:17:24

And it’s incredible, the accuracy. The Germans had their own permanent lofts during the war too, but we, of course, were mobile, we kept moving along. And we tried for fun and for serious thinking, maybe if we fed them in one loft and had the meat and the other loft, they might tend to go back and forth. Well, some of them did and some of them never made it. So we left an awful lot of pigeons in France in the early days. And a lot of the troops (chuckles) when they see a bird flying over there for fun, they’d take a shout at them. So an awful lot of troops had some squab that was unexpected delight for them. Anyway, the thing that was kind of silly for me, and fun, and dangerous was the fact that occasionally not often but occasionally, Colonel Sperry would called up and say, “Fisher, I’m taking a two-day break, “I’m going to so-and-so.” And he’d say, “Look after Willie.” And of course, anything the Colonel said, my response was, “Yes Sir.” And so there I was at headquarters at times, looking after Willie and that was Patton’s pet dog.

00:17:25 - 00:18:50

And I was convinced that if something happened to Willie, Patton would shoot me dead right on the spot. And so every time I was there, I was terribly concerned. Happily, Willie made it and I made it, and that’s why I’m here sharing these stories with you. But I think I’m probably one of the few people in the world that was more scared of the general, than I was of the German Army. Only twice during my time in Europe, was I ever shot at by the enemy, and both times, fortunately, nothing bad happened, turned around and went the other way. I recall once when we came to the Remagen Bridge, that was the time the troops crossed the Rhine. And this was about a week after the initial crossings that were recorded and famous, and so on, and allowed the war to move ahead. And I drove up my Jeep with a crate of pigeons, and the guy that was directing traffic there took one look and said, “Out,” he said, “You can’t cross with that.” He said, “We’re priority.” And I said, “Okay.” So I would think back on many times that I’d be driving around Europe in the battlefields, and I’d had, always had to crate a pigeons in the back because I’d take them out on training flights.

00:18:50 - 00:20:19

And every once in a while, I’d stop somewhere and start throwing my birds in the air, and the whole thing got silly fun. And then, of course, the war ended and by sheer coincidence, Patton ended up outside of Pilsen in Czechoslovakia, that was one of the deals, I think, that Churchill, and Roosevelt, and Stalin made that the American troops would not go into Czecho, that, that would be the Russian province. And so again, there I was with a Jeep able to drive around the countryside a little bit, ’cause I could speak the language and had trouble reading signs, but somehow managed to get along. And during the months after the war ended, we were stationed in Germany in Southern Bavaria, place called Bad Tolz was third army headquarters. And there we did food inspection basic, we inspected bakeries, and packing houses, and breweries, and drove all around. I was attached to a medical laboratory unit and finally got to go home. So that’s the story of Fisher’s time in Europe in World War II. When we were talking about horses here briefly, I recalled the silliness that I experienced.

00:20:20 - 00:22:15

I was the classic city kid in a rural area. Iowa State College is literally in a corn field, and our ROTC there were the old French horse-drawn 75 millimeter artillery pieces. And there were six horse hitches to pull them, and so as ROTC students we had to take turns hitching up the horses and going out in a parade ground and stuff like that. And of course, the challenge was to be the first out on the parade ground. Well, there were, I don’t remember how many of us, per unit per artillery piece maybe there were four of us or eight of us, whatever it was, when he came my turn to hitch up the horses and get ready to go out in the parade ground. You can imagine that I was totally lost, I’d have trouble putting a saddle on a horse to ride it, and make sure that it didn’t turn around and slip off the side of the horse, much less figure out how to hitch up six horses to a hitch and get them out. The result was we were not only not first, we were always last when it was Fisher’s turn the hitch the team up. And I recall that after being in ROTC for one semester, I decided, “This is ridiculous, “I’m not gonna have anything to do “with the artillery and horses.” And I signed up for the trumpet and drum Corps, and I’m not a musician, but I thought, “Hell, I can beat a drum.” And I proceeded to march in the trumpet and drum Corps instead of the six horse hitches on the artillery field.

00:22:15 - 00:22:33

So that’s kind of a fun story to think back at Ames that I can look back on. We were talking about your time during the war. The war is over, you leave, you set up your clinic when you get home.

00:22:34 - 00:22:39

How did you begin then to work at a zoo from being a private veterinarian?

00:22:42 - 00:24:29

I never came home with any plans of what I would do as far as what to do, where to go. I surveyed the kind of local and national picture, and one of the places that I remember looked challenging and fun was at the university in New Hampshire. They were establishing a Veterinary Department at the school, not a veterinary college. And they wanted someone to come and help start that up, and I thought that was of interest. But I decided to just stop and visit with a guy named Dr. Wesley Young. Wes was head of the Anti-Cruelty Society at that time, he was a veterinarian, came from the east, he’d worked in Boston in the Humane Movement. And Wes also had been of help to me because when I was in veterinary college, my sophomore and junior year during the so-called vacation time, before we stopped having vacation time, the stay in our military province at school, I would work in the clinic there, and so I got to a know Wes. And he said, “You know there’s a real need “for someone here in Chicago.” And I said, “What’s that about, Wes?” And he said, “Well, Northwestern Medical School “are having incredible battles raging now “between the humaniac element.” The Anti-Vivisection Group, vivisection and so forth.

00:24:29 - 00:26:00

And there was a woman named Irene Castle McLaughlin, a famous dancer of some era back in those days. And she was a strong anti-vivisectionist, and she was battling a man named Andrew Ivey, I believe was the head of physiology at Northwestern Medical School. And Dr. Ivey was her nemesis, and he was a famous researcher. And a Wes said, “Why don’t you go down “and talk to Dr. Ivey?” And I did, and he talked me into coming to the medical school for a year to look after all of the animals there. And I lived at Abbott Hall, which is right there on Chicago Avenue or Superior Avenue, I guess it is in the inner drive. And so I spent a year at Northwestern, and a Wes in turn somehow had gotten acquainted with Marlin Perkins who had just come from Buffalo, I think the year before. And Wes would get on the phone and say, Les, I’m going to the zoo tomorrow at such and such a time, or gonna go this afternoon, whatever the time period might be. “And if you’re free, would you ride along?” And so occasionally I’d end up going with Wes to see some animals at Lincoln Park.

00:26:01 - 00:27:31

Wes proceeded to get probably the best job that a animal doctor could ever have, he ended up being humane officer for all Hollywood films. And so every time a dog, a horse, a cat, any animal was in a film in Hollywood, a veterinarian had to be on site. And Wes took that job. And so lo and behold Marlin, who I’d met with Wes, would call me up and say, “Well, Wes is gone, “are you able to come and look at such and such an animal?” And I’d say, “Well, I’ll check my schedule here “and see what I can do.” And I started going to the zoo at times to make a house call. And after my year at Northwestern, I decided I wasn’t fit to be a people doctor. I thought about it ’cause I took classes with some of the medical students while I was there. And I decided I wasn’t an academic person as far as a commitment to that goes. And so I said, “I’m gonna start a practice.” And I looked around the city of Chicago area, and found a interesting big gap between Midway Airport, and the town of Oak Park or River Forest, there is just nothing there in the way of veterinary hospital.

00:27:32 - 00:28:57

So I looked around and found on Harlem Avenue, a sheet metal shop that was going out of business and looked at the place, and looked like it could be adapted to a small animal hospital, and so I decided to buy it. And went and saw Marlin, and said, “Marlin, just wanna say goodbye. “And thanks for the time I’ve spent here with you “and the animals, and I’m gonna start my practice.” And he said, “Well, I don’t have anybody here, “I could use some help. “Would you consider being a part-time zoo doctor?” And I said, “I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it. “I don’t have any clients, I’m starting from zero.” I said, “So I could put some time.” And we agreed that half a day a week and emergencies, I would go down to Lincoln Park and look at the animal health issues. So that’s how I got started at a Lincoln Park Zoo, is just, again, a bunch of coincidences, the geographic proximity of Northwestern and the zoo, and through Wes Young and Marlin being there. And so I started my practice out in the town there, Berwyn Riverside area. And took care of the zoo, that went on for probably 15 years.

00:28:57 - 00:28:59

Did the pay you for your services?

00:28:59 - 00:30:11

At first, I didn’t get any money because I didn’t ask for any, I was doing it more or less out of interest. And finally, I think I got some, probably a stipend or something like $75 a month, a retainer fee. And I’m sure that I spent more of my money bringing drugs and supplies and things to the zoo because the zoo had no medical facility. There was no hospital, no doctor, no nothing. And Marlin had limited interest in spending money in that area, so I could afford to do it. And before I’d make my weekly trip down to the zoo, I’d check my black bag and a box of bandages, tape, whatever thought I might need, bring along the few things that I felt I needed in a way of intravenous fluids, the old stethoscope and you name it. And so all those years, the zoo really was a medical hobby. And financially zero, as far as helping me.

00:30:11 - 00:31:31

In hindsight, I look back at times and thought, Well, that’s unfortunate because in no way, did it help me with my pension fund after I went to the zoo. So that was just a services rendered and something that was fun for me to do. My wild animal experience was pretty limited, as I mentioned, I’m a city kid, born and live in the urban area. Going down to the zoo for me, was stimulating and exciting. I didn’t know what most of those animals really were, they were alien names to me. I was concerned, of course, from a safety standpoint of how to work with them and around them. You have to remember that in my early years at Lincoln Park Zoo, which would have been in the late 40s and 50s as the doctor that we had no easy way to handle wild animals. There were no such things as captured guns, and darts, and stuff like that.

00:31:32 - 00:33:08

We went back to what Walter Anderson taught me a little bit in his ambulatory work at Ames with ropes. We literally had to drop some lariats around the heads of some of the hoofed animals. In the Lion Hose, the only way we could get to a cat was to have a long pole, and we’d put the lariat on the end of the pole and try to maneuver it so that we could drop it over the head and shoulder of the cat, and bring it to the front of the bars where we could then get to it more safely. But I’m sure I had a lot of strange and a bit dangerous moments trying to learn to work around, and with the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo. I certainly had a total phobia about poisonous reptiles, I wasn’t about to try to reach into a cage and get a rattlesnake. Fortunately for me, there were a great group of people in the herb section. And we had one special man named Eddie Armandarez, who was a keeper there, and then became our curator of reptiles. And he had a group of people that did and could safely handle all of the different venomous creatures that we had in the old Reptile House at Lincoln Park.

00:33:08 - 00:33:21

So it was very much a learning experience. First of all, learning about the wild animals and secondly, how to try to handle them, how to work with them.

00:33:21 - 00:33:26

Well, you mentioned Marlin that you started working with, what was your first impression of Marlin Perkins?

00:33:29 - 00:35:04

Marlin Perkins was a very interesting man for me to get to know, he was certainly a showman in personality. Marlin was a very dapper, well-dressed, very articulate person. He and I hit it off fairly well because he didn’t try to interfere with my medical decisions, he didn’t try to play zoo doctor. And I in turn, didn’t try to interfere with any of his administrative issues as far as handling the personnel that were at the zoo. So somehow as I reflect back, Marlin and I never had a bad word with each other. He would let me know what he thought about certain kinds of animals. And I became a friend of Marlin’s because he was very kind, and he invited me socially to interact with his friends and peers. You have to remember that back in the late 1940s and 50s Chicago was really home to television, that was unlike New York, and Hollywood, and so on.

00:35:04 - 00:37:04

All the big early shows, I think, originated here. And thanks to Marlin, I got to meet all the different personalities in the Chicago TV scene. And of course, that’s how Marlin became Mr. Television himself. The story is that WBKB, the old ABC Channel I think it is, that were starting up and they wanted some filler, and they’d call the zoo and ask Marlin to bring some animals down. And Marlin started to do that, and had the wonderful ability to sort of interact with the TV camera of those days. And that’s how Lincoln Park became known and a nationally recognized because Marlin started the first National Zoo TV show called “Zoo Parade.” And it was an NBC show, it was based in the basement of the old Reptile House at Lincoln Park Zoo, that was kind of the quote “studio.” And there was a sidekick that was with Marlin, a man named Jim Hurlbut, who was a very much a media person. And so Jim was the sorta of commercial, in party he would introduce these segments and things. And I can’t remember when, but probably after “Zoo Parade” was on the air for the first year or two, Marlin and Jim decided that we ought to do an animal health show, and asked me if I’d be willing to do it.

00:37:04 - 00:38:17

And I said, “Sure.” And so then I think two or three times a year, we would do an animal health show on “Zoo Parade.” And that’s how I got into television, I guess, and looking back. And so Marlin he was full of himself. After all, he became a real legendary person in Chicago and the country, and everybody knew Marlin. And if I went to a dinner with him and his wife, everybody in the restaurant recognized Marlin, the big man. And so my impression of Marlin has always been a very comfortable, good one. He was not an academic, Marlin never finished college. He started working in St. Louis in the Reptile House, I think his first or second year in school, and decided to quit college. And he was a reptile person or herp man, and decided to do his career in the reptile area of zoological stuff, he was committed.

00:38:21 - 00:39:45

And he knew the area that he was very interested in, so Marlin and I had nothing but a comfortable working relationship. And as I say, I’ve been grateful to him for that opportunity to meet many, many wonderful people in the TV industry. And to this day, I felt very close to his widow. Unfortunately, I think in the last two years now, she’s had Alzheimer’s, and I’ve stopped calling her. But every two, three months I used to call Carol up and we would chat on the phone, and I always thought it was a wonderful relationship. I say this, not with any malice, but with just a personal feeling, I always thought she was twice the man Marlin was, she had an incredible marketing, public relations manner about her. She is a wonderful solid lady, and I even remember once she told me proudly that Marlin on safari would have two, three, four cameras dangling all over his shoulders and arms. And she had her little brownie, and she said, “Les, my brownie pictures “are just as good as Marlin’s.” And whether they were or not, that was beside the point.

00:39:46 - 00:40:06

So the Perkins family have been very important in my life, and I was saddened when Marlin died of cancer. And as I say, I’m sorry to know that she is now potentially, medically in big trouble.

00:40:07 - 00:40:10

What was the zoo like during this time?

00:40:10 - 00:40:19

The people, the exhibits when you started working there, the size of the zoo, what were those impressions as you were the veterinarian?

00:40:21 - 00:41:26

Well, at the time I thought the zoo was a very exciting kind of place, it was full of strange and wondrous creatures. It was staffed by a group of personalities. The people that worked at Lincoln Park Zoo were a cross section of animal lovers. There were some people there that had academic background. There were some people that had no academic background. I vaguely recall there were probably some keepers that couldn’t sign their name on a payroll, they would use the literal X. They were people that knew and cared about animals, and they could wield the shovel and a broom, and do whatever was basic cleaning that was needed, cared about their animals, but didn’t go very far in the professional area. The animal collection was diverse.

00:41:28 - 00:42:43

Early on during my years we, of course, were fortunate to have an incredible creature, a lowland gorilla named Bushman at Lincoln Park Zoo in the Old Monkey House. And Bushman was one of two gorillas of his era back in the 30s and 40s that were in America. Ringling brothers had one named Gargantua and Bushman, and they were the two best known. At that time there were very few gorillas in captivity in the states. Bushman happened to be an unusual, fine specimen, 550 pounds give or take of big wondrous animal. And that was one of the, I guess, difficult medical issues we had, Wes Young was still there originally when Bushman got sick, how to treat Bushman. We had no way to get to him, no way to restrain him. We would have to figure out what we thought were clinical problems that Wes and I would discuss and agree on.

00:42:43 - 00:44:11

And then we try to give some medicine and food or threw some liquid and hope that he would come to the front of the cage and take the food and the medicine. I think that at the north end of the zoo, we had an old barn that was filled with a wonderful antelope. And we had the Buffalo herd, the old bison herd was there at the north end. I can’t recall numbers, but I would guess probably had at that time, maybe six to nine bison in the barn. And they were, of course, special critters to be around as a kid. We all knew the story of the Buffalo out west, and here, all of a sudden I had a bunch to look after. The animals, the Bird House was full of wonderful birds, the Reptile House full of specimens, down in the basement of the Reptile House is where we had the alligators and the crocodiles, as I recall it. The Cat House was always special, it was a wonderful architectural building, was then and still is today, and of course, there we had the big cats.

00:44:13 - 00:45:42

At the time that I was first involved with the zoo, I never thought too much about the fact that they were in barred cages, the Monkey House, the Lion Hose, it was just accepted, I guess, that was the way it was. And the buildings looked architecturally sound. I can reflect now and say that it was literally a jail for animals. The cages were constructed so that they’d be easy to clean, and so you had just cement floors and very little things that would retain dirt and artifacts. The bars were there, and the zoo is just a kind of a unique place. Of course, its location is what makes the zoo kind of unique and special, sits on the lake front of Chicago in a small park. Originally, I think the boundaries were about 29 acres and the city rapidly grew around the collection that started at Lincoln Park. History has it that some swans came from Central Park, New York to Lincoln Park back in 1864, maybe.

00:45:44 - 00:46:56

And therefore, if they had some animals and the swans are animals, they might’ve been considered a zoo before we were, I don’t know what the collection was at Central Park at that moment, and maybe it was just the birds. But that’s at least when we say our collection started and quickly we’re limited in scope and size of facility compared to most zoos today. So my impression of Lincoln Park was a comfortable one when I was there, it was exciting, it was a fun place. People came and they enjoyed, it was totally open. There were different walks going through it. I certainly didn’t know anything about the neighborhood because I’d spent my time out in the West Suburban Area and had my practice there in Harlem Avenue, and I lived in Riverside the years that I was involved with my part-time medical work at the zoo.

00:46:56 - 00:47:02

You mentioned Bushman, was he your most important patient, your biggest challenge?

00:47:06 - 00:49:01

I think Bushman was certainly, early on in my zoo career, the number one patient that I got involved with because of his fame and his stature, he was physically an exciting animal. If he wanted to come and move in his cage from the back toward the front, and you were standing there at the bars, you instinctively stepped back, there’s just something scary about the big guy. And he, as far as I was concerned, never did anything to me because I never gave him the opportunity to do anything to me. I can reflect back in my years of practice, I was bitten and scratched by an awful lot of dogs and cats over the years, and nothing major, but just part of the work. But at Lincoln Park, somehow I either was scared, or doubly careful, I just look back and I don’t think I ever was hurt during my years as a vet or administratively at Lincoln Park. And Bushman surely would have physically done me in if he’d had an opportunity. And so whenever we worked around him or with him, it was with an understanding that he wasn’t a guy to fool around with. The media enjoyed him because he at times somehow picked up the habit of taking some feces and throwing it at the photographers or people who would be in the back run area behind his cage, and they just made him a media star.

00:49:01 - 00:50:19

So I guess I would have to say that Bushman was a animal that was an important part of my early life. I can look back on night calls to the Old Monkey House two, three in the morning that I’d have to go there to look at some sick creature. And invariably, when I unlocked the doors to the building and walked in, I was always thinking of it, Bushman’s out there somewhere waiting for me. Happily, it never happened, but it was part of my imaginary makeup, I thought, “You know, he’s just big enough and strong enough, “and the place is old enough “that someday he’ll just walk out of there.” And so he was very much on my mind in various ways and various times. I think I’ve even mentioned to people that he’s one of the few animals, if not the only animal that I can recall that I ever dreamed about of the collection at Lincoln Park. And so that’s kind of my recollection of Bushman. Did you have any dangerous situations, you mentioned, you thought one day he might get out.

00:50:19 - 00:50:25

Did you have any dangerous situations that you would Marlin, as a part-time vet had to deal with in that kind of respect?

00:50:27 - 00:52:34

I don’t think I ever had a dangerous situation that I can recall in the years that Marlin was there, and I worked around the collection. We had dangerous animals to work with, but I was never in a position, in the Old Cat House and the Lion Hose, when we’d be roping the animals and bringing them to the front. We had an assistant director there for a while named Lear Grimmer, who was a character, both as a person, but also a good animal person. And I was comfortable that the various curatorial staff people and Lear and Marlin that they would handle whatever needed handling. As I mentioned, I had this phobia about snakes as a city kid and certainty, I was doubly concerned about the dangerous venomous reptiles, and never had reason to have to get them, that was Marlin’s job, or Lear, or some of the people in the Reptile House. I think I can recall vaguely only one time that I had a, what I considered a really close call and the timeframe, I’m not sure, it probably was either when I still was part-time or when I was at the zoo, I don’t know. But I was horsing around with one of the chimps and we would, of course, enjoy the game of they’d come to the front of the cage and you’d like to scratch their back just like you do with some of the big cats in the Lion Hose through the bars. And this one chimp that I thought I’d had a rapport with and could get away doing that, all of a sudden grabbed my finger and then grabbed my hand and pulled my arm in through the bars, it was in the outside cage there at the Old Monkey House.

00:52:34 - 00:53:56

And momentarily I was in trouble, I was able to brace my foot against the front of the cage. And as I recall it, I think I yelled and one of the keepers was within shouting distance, and he came and somehow helped distract the animal and it let go, but I could have ended up with a mangled hand or arm. That was one of the few times that I can recall that I had what I would consider a close call of working around with various dangerous critters. But so I’ve been lucky, very lucky in that sense. I had a lot of fun experiences going to the zoo on my emergency calls and part-time late calls. There’s street in Chicago called Ogden Avenue, which is a big wide street. And I recall one time doing a so-called emergency call to the zoo, and I was going across Ogden avenue on my way from Riverside, and I don’t know, the speed limit may be was 30 miles an hour, and I probably was doing 40 or 50. And a policeman pulled me over, and started to give me a hassle about why I was speeding and gonna give me a ticket.

00:53:56 - 00:54:59

And somehow I told him that I was on my way to the zoo on an emergency. And he thought that was a good story and started to give me a hard time, and I convinced him it was for real. So he followed me from that point on, on Ogden Avenue avenue to the zoo gate where I unlocked the gate. And when he saw that it was for real, he waved and I waved to him. And that was the kind of thing that at times would happen between going from one place to another. But one night I did get a call, and packed my bag and went down, that one of the animals was in labor and it was a zebu cows. A zebu is an Asian or Indian cow, not necessarily what one would think of as a dangerous animal, but still a formidable hoofed animal. And when I got there, the keeper, Dan Bostrom was his name, who was a true character as a person and as a keeper.

00:54:59 - 00:56:18

And Dan proceeded to give me the story that she was trying to have her baby and couldn’t. And I proceeded to assess the situation, and finally Dan and I were able to rope her, and he was able to confine her to one part of the stall. And I soaped up my arm, and realize that we had a difficult delivery. It was a breech type delivery and was able to get things sorted out inside the uterus and got ropes attached to the fetus. And then finally, Dan and I were able to deliver a live calf. And that night was a stormy night, lightning, thunder, rain, you name it. And I can’t remember if Dan or I, my guess would be maybe he decided to call her Thunder. And so that was kind of a plus for me, because I felt good being able to save the mother and the calf medically, but also it helped, word quickly spread among the keepers.

00:56:18 - 00:57:42

Dan of course, must have painted some wondrous stories about that night. And the, so the keepers thought, well, maybe I’m not such a bad guy after all as a doctor. And I think it helped my rapport with the future interactions in dealing with medical issues during that period of my career there at the zoo. So that was an exciting, meaningful moment for me to reflect on, and Thunder, of course, is special to me. My transition from small animal doctor to zoo man, I guess was just almost again, a coincidental natural progression. Having spent roughly 15 years at the zoo, as the part-time doctor. And even though my original understanding was a half a day a week and emergencies, I’m sure that over the years I’ve put in an awful lot of more of my time, both my free time and my time that I made for medical purposes caring for the animals. And lo and behold, just as I told Marlin once that I’m gonna say goodbye, I’m gonna start a practice, and won’t be here in the near north side anymore.

00:57:42 - 00:59:08

One day when I was doing my visit to the zoo, Marlin proceeded to tell me goodbye, and told me he’s going back to St. Louis. Marlin had started his career there, went from St. Louis to Buffalo, Buffalo, Chicago, and now back to St. Louis. And he was going to be the director there. And I thought, “Oh, that’s unfortunate.” Because I mentioned earlier, we’d become good friends. And we talked about it and I went home and sort of felt badly that probably that might end my relationship at Lincoln Park. On the other hand, the zoo bug had bitten me somewhere, somehow in my body. And I sort of was losing interest in my veterinary practice, I say this not in a personal bragging way, but just I worked hard and built up a heck of a good practice. I had five doctors working with me at that time in history, and I became more valuable to the operation as the front man rather than the front and back man.

00:59:08 - 00:59:48

Back man meaning surgery, I love surgery and enjoyed it. And it made more sense that I was interacting with clients out in front and the animal, the patients. And so some of those zest of, or the challenge, I guess, of practice diminished. And I got to thinking, “You know, “maybe I should think about applying for the zoo job.” And for, I’d say roughly two months maybe, I gave this some thought, and finally one day said to my wife and daughters, I had two girls.

00:59:48 - 01:00:24

I said, “You know, I think I’m gonna apply for that job “that Marlin Perkins had, and just see what happens.” And so I went down and talked to people at the Park District, and said, “I think I’d like to apply for Marlin’s position.” And when I told him Marlin about it, he looked at me incredulously and said, “You’re crazy.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, don’t you know “what a miserable bureaucracy, “a city department like this can be?

01:00:24 - 01:01:55

“And you’ve got a good practice, “and why would you wanna change?” And I said, “Marlin, same reason you’re in it. “I just think the concept of being full-time with a zoo, “and the zoo collection would be something “that I think I’d like to try to do.” So I guess again, circumstances somehow worked. I have no idea or recollection at this moment in time, how the Park District went about applying for candidates, how they went about their search. I just know that they asked me to send in a written piece of paper saying that I’d be interested in a job, and I did. And then waited weeks and heard nothing. And one time I was at the zoo, historically, I think it was Wednesday mornings, I would make my rounds at the zoo. And I was in the process of being at the zoo making rounds, and I got a message that the Mr McFetridge, who was in head of the Park District, wanted me to come down to headquarters, which were at Soldier Field, and talk to me. And so I proceeded to finish up whatever the medical issue was, and decided I better hop in the car and get down there.

01:01:55 - 01:03:36

Mr. McFetridge was a very well-known and well-regarded labor leader in Chicago. He is good friend of mayor Daley’s, and he was not a man that you’d keep waiting if he wanted to see you. So I didn’t know for sure why he wanted to see me, and got down there, and lo and behold, he sits me down and says, “You’re the new zoo director.” And I gulped and thought, Wow.” And then he said, “And we’re gonna have a news conference in 30 minutes.” And again, I thought gulp then, wow. And lo and behold, there I was in my working clothes and nothing fancy set up, I’m not even sure if I needed a hair cut. And my first introduction to Chicago media, all of a sudden there we were in the Soldier Field headquarters of the Park District, in Mr. McFetridge’s place, and the media came in, and he announced that I would be the new zoo director. And I think this was in spring of 1962, and he said that I would be taking over October 1st of that time, and that in the interim, Marlin would be there to kind of work with me and help me make the transition. And I proceeded to walk out of there sort of slightly dazed, I guess, by it all the way it evolved. And went home and told my family that we’re gonna be doing something different, leaving our lovely place in Riverside at some point.

01:03:36 - 01:05:16

And the practice, sat down with the people at the practice and told them that I’d like to kind of take a leave of absence if you will, to try this zoo job. And hopefully if it didn’t work out that I could come back to the practice. So that’s what developed there. And come October 1st, there I was the new zoo director at Lincoln Park Zoo. And for me, a total major change in work and life. And lifestyle took a major hit in the salary because as I remember it vaguely, the salary at that moment in time in history was $12,500 a year. And I was making many, many times that in practice, my wife was not thrilled about this concept of the economic situation, but I was able to get some further ongoing income from the practice, and decided that the money wasn’t the main motivation at that moment in my life, and I wanted to do something almost you might say a public service. So I proceeded to end up at Lincoln Park as a zoo director at that moment in time and never had a regret in looking back.

01:05:17 - 01:05:24

During that time that you were with Marlin in this transition, did he give you any other advice?

01:05:27 - 01:06:59

I’m trying to recall how our interaction was during that time with Marlin. I’m sure that he helped me know a little bit about how the Park District operated and how the zoo fitted into the operation, but Marlin was not there much. Marlin was almost a person non-grata or whatever the expression is. Marlin’s leaving was not a happy situation for him or the parks system. In fact, historically, and I can’t remember exactly the time, but one year maybe give or take before this time period, Marlin was fired. And what happened was he was on safari in Africa, and as part of his ongoing “Zoo Parade” work, Marlin became Mr. Television. And the commissioners felt strongly that it was sort of a full-time job for him, and he no longer was a zoo director. And I have vague recollections at that time, I think that Lear Grimmer was maybe gonna be the acting zoo director at the moment, at the time that Marlin, and there were headlines in the paper, Mr. Perkins fired, and then somehow some other factors came into play and Marlin was rehired.

01:06:59 - 01:08:35

But there was no question that there was no strong friendly rapport from that moment on between him and the park commissioners. And I think part of his going to St. Louis was that they in a sense were aware of this history and bought the package, he was going down there, not only as the new zoo director for St. Louis Zoo, but he was going down there as Mr. Television. And so they were comfortable with the fact that he’d be a television person and a zoo director, whereas in Chicago pretty much, I think the people that Marlin worked with and worked for at the Park District were in a sense comfortable that he was leaving, it was not a happy camper situation. So I don’t really recall clearly the amount of interaction we had, how much help Marlin gave me with the bureaucratic ways of the district. I’m assuming they were pretty minimal, and I had to kinda sorted out myself. Either the zoo at the time I took over was from my perspective, all good and positive. Lovely park, had my office in the Old Monkey House. I thought that the buildings were in reasonable condition, the grounds looked reasonable, the animal collection was great.

01:08:36 - 01:10:15

And I kind of, I guess, reflect back now and see where all the deficiencies and issues maybe were there, but I surely didn’t know them or wasn’t aware of them at the time. The one thing that I guess, again, benefited by more than most people might or could, was the fact that I realized during these early days and months at the zoo, that if this didn’t work out, I could always just say the heck with it, and go back to my practice, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And so I had a sort of safety valve with all the stuff that did get thrown at me in the early months at the district’s bureaucracy. But I also was able to sit down and there was a man who was general superintendent then, I think his name was Dan Flaherty. And he and I just kind of agreed that I would try to run the zoo as best I could, and that I would appreciate being left alone, that I didn’t want the park people telling me how to run Lincoln Park Zoo. And in turn, I would make a full, honest, honorable commitment to do the best I could. There never was any civil service type thing for the zoo director spot. There never was any contract signed from that day that I started till the day I left.

01:10:15 - 01:11:19

I had the understanding that if at any time I wanted to leave, I could. And if they wanted me to leave at anytime they could. So I had kind of, I think a good, in my mind anyway, comfort level that this was something I would try, do the best I could, and if it worked great. And if it didn’t, it was just something that I did and would change. So that’s kind of my recollection of that transition period and my starting at the zoo. And I think in reflecting all the years that I was there, I don’t think ever once did the district try to tell me professionally, how to handle things at the zoo. And in turn, I tried hard to respect their positions and be mindful of the city bureaucracy. And I never felt that I was bigger than City Hall per se, that I would just try to do my job, and it worked.

01:11:20 - 01:11:25

You were the director, but you didn’t have a part-time veterinarian.

01:11:25 - 01:11:28

Were you the director part-time veterinarian?

01:11:29 - 01:13:04

At the time I took over the zoo, Marlin, certainly, had never budgeted anything for the medical department, as I mentioned earlier. Whatever that $75 a month stipend may have been and no hospital and no facility, so I, of course, proceeded logically. I was there and I would look after the health of the animals as best I could in addition to doing the administrative work. And by again, happy coincidence, a man that I’d met at the Anti-Cruelty Society who had been in the clinic, a veterinarian named Dr. Eric Maskin. Eric had an interesting little practice on the near north side of Chicago, he had a place on north Dearborn Street, lived in a wonderful three-story brownstone there, had his clinic on the first floor, lived down the second floor with his wife, Edna, and she was a professional painter and she had her studio on the third floor. And Eric didn’t have a hospital per se, people just came from mostly that neighborhood area, and he took care of things as a clinician. And so I said to Eric, “Eric, you live right near the zoo. “Would you mind becoming a part-time zoo doctor “just as I was, and look after the kids the way I did.” And he happily agreed, for him it was a fun thing to think about.

01:13:04 - 01:13:55

And of course, I was able to fill in, in between. So he had a lot less emergency calls than I ever did in that same spot. And so I continued to be able to indulge and do some medical work. And Eric was able to kind of take care of the things as he could and as his time permitted. Eric and I medically got along extremely well with one exception, and that is that Eric was a perfectionist. If I ever met a man that was that, it was Eric Maskin. He could spend literally weeks deciding where to put a shelf in a library bookcase. And in his practice, he was the same way, there was only one way to do anything, and that was do it totally right.

01:13:56 - 01:14:56

Well, I learned the hard way that working around zoo animals, you had stress factors involved. And my goal was to get in and get out of any situation that you were in, including surgery with the collection. And so there Eric and I’d be scrubbing up together doing an operation, and he of course, wanted to make sure that every last iota of perfection was done in the surgery, and I wanted to get the heck out of there, accomplishing the goal and getting the animal back on its feet. And I had a few frustrating hours that way. I loved Eric in spite of it and maybe because of it, that he was so perfectionist. But he definitely stepped in and did his bit, and I continued to fill in as the doctor. And then finally was able to build the hospital and bring Eric on full-time.

01:14:57 - 01:15:05

In the beginning, what were your top items that you wanted to address or enhanced when you first came in?

01:15:07 - 01:16:16

When I first came to the zoo, I guess for me, I had to figure out how to handle a large group of people. Administratively, I’d had no professional exposure to any classes or anything about running an organization. My animal hospital was kind of self-contained unit, and I had a very special historical perspective there because I started a one-man operation. I was the janitor, the floor cleaner, the cage scrubber, the doctor, the you name it. And I knew every iota of work in that animal hospital, from that moment on. I can even recall one day I was washing the window of the place out in front, and the sidewalk there in Harlem Avenue. And a woman came along with her dog, and asked me if the doctor was in. And I smiled to her and said, “Yes, I’ll go see.” And we both had a good laugh about it, when she came in, I’d washed my hands and took care of the patient.

01:16:16 - 01:17:25

But at the zoo was totally different, I had absolutely zero idea of what the work ethic, what the work load would be to accomplish different goals. How long it took a keeper in the Bird House to clean a cage. How long it took the barn people to clean the stall. And so I to had learned to rely on my staff, and I was fortunate to have a zoologist at that time, Jean Harts was his name. And I made Jean my assistant director. And Jean, of course, being a zoo person, brought a lot of historical knowledge to the work that I had very little of. And so my mission was over a period of time to learn how to make the zoo operate, hopefully efficiently and safely. I also had to learn to work with a Citizens Support Group.

01:17:25 - 01:18:55

About three years before I took over, Marlin had started a Friends of the Zoo organization called the Lincoln Park Zoological Society. And here were a group of people that were committed to help the Chicago Park District, which owned and operated the Lincoln Park Zoo, to raise a few dollars and help run the zoo. So I was immersed in that, became aware of working with a support group and learning how to make the district bureaucracy work for me. One of the things I made a point to do was once or twice a week, I’d hop in the car and go down to headquarters and interact with some of the other department heads and their staffs because I was totally reliant on that support that they had to give me. If I needed a tree trimmed, I had to work with the landscape people to get the tree trimmed. If I needed the toilets fixed, I had to learn to work with the plumbers to come out and fix the toilet. And I made it a point to, since Marlin had, had the opposite kind of situation, where he was almost removed from the operation with his television work. I made it a point to let people know that I was a team player.

01:18:55 - 01:21:03

And as a result, I benefited by that because over the years, if I needed support at the zoo, even though there were times there were bureaucracy bottlenecks that came up, usually the various support forces would respond whether it’s an electrician, the plumber, the painter, somebody would be there because we needed them, and that paid off for me. so that was all a learning experience. Well, when I first came to the zoo, I had kinda crazy thoughts, after all the zoo was Park District, and Lincoln Park was Park District. And I thought to myself, “You know, this little 29 acre nugget here, “guys, we can expand north, we can go south, “we can go a little bit east or west.” I had thoughts that may be with time and help and money, we could make the zoo a bigger, better place than it was. And that to me was kind of an initial challenge, and then I quickly realized that, that was totally foolish, there’s no practical way that a Lincoln Park Zoo could expand in Lincoln Park because Chicago has been blessed with its park system, and every spring, summer, and fall, the city of Chicago would move down to the lakefront. And I assume that it was equally too on the south side, I was just involved at the north side. But I realized that every sort of square inch of space in Lincoln Park was needed by other facilities, people’s operation, functions. And so I came to a tough conclusion that I better learn to live with my 29 acres and not have dreams of 1,000 acre big zoo living in a park.

01:21:04 - 01:22:12

I also realize that a weakness, the small size of Lincoln Park was a strength. When I lived in Riverside, that was right next door to the other zoo in town, the Brookfield Zoo. And at that time they didn’t have a full-time doctor either, and so there were times I’d get called to go look at a sick animal at Brookfield. And in turn, when my daughters were little, it was a five-minute drive from our house in Riverside to go to the Brookfield Zoo. And we would take the kids there at times, go to the Children’s Zoo and things. And that was, as I recall it, probably 160, 180 acres compared to my 29. And I could get tired out just spending a few hours there with the kids, and only see a part of the zoo. At Lincoln Park you could come there for 30 minutes, or two hours, or a day and just walk around and enjoy as much or as little as you wanted to, and it was doable.

01:22:12 - 01:22:33

So I quickly lost all my visions of a great, big, fabulous major expansion at Lincoln Park, and realized that we better just to do the best we could within that little space. And that, that was a good thing. So that was how I kinda got over that hurdle.

01:22:34 - 01:22:42

When you look back at your tenure as director from your predecessor, how would you compare your directorship with that of your predecessor?

01:22:45 - 01:24:08

It’s a little hard for me to reflect at this moment on how my time at the zoo compared to Marlins because things change and my memory changes. With Marlin it seemed to be that things ran well, but then again, I became aware at the end there of his stresses with his television work, and the stresses between him and the park people. The support forces certainly, did not help Marlin in any way, shape, or form because Marlin had one bad habit, and that was that he knew a little bit about everything. And I realized that Marlin would tell a plumber how to fix a pipe. And Marlin would tell the painter where to put the brush. And Marlin would tell the carpenter how to cut the wood. And as a result, the support forces said the heck with that business, when Marlin would call and say, “I need such and such as something to be done.” They conveniently had other priority issues to do and the zoo got neglected. I found that out, of course, even more so when I first took over, because I would call some of these support forces, and that image of Marlin’s interaction still was there.

01:24:08 - 01:25:21

And so they weren’t about to give me an inch either until they realized that I wasn’t gonna tell the trades how to do their job, and finally developed a solid, meaningful rapport with them. But I think that Marlin was able to accomplish one expansive physical part there before he left, and that was, he built the Children’s Zoo. I think he started that in 1959 or 60, and it opened before he left. So that, that was the one positive, nice thing that he did. And when he went to St. Louis, he proceeded to build another Children’s Zoo similar to the one in Chicago. So I think that my time was something that I just had to start from ground zero, and go from there, there wasn’t any good way that I can recall that I kind of built upon whatever Marlin had going for him. Certainly the TV thing was not something that I touched the day I got there.

01:25:21 - 01:25:26

When you started as zoo director, was there communications between zoos?

01:25:27 - 01:26:33

In the early years, first of all, my zoo experience with other zoos was pretty much limited to the other zoo doctors. And at that time, I think there were perhaps three, maybe four full-time zoo vets in the country, one at the Bronx Zoo, on a San Diego, and I think one at Cleveland, I think Len Goss was at Cleveland. And so my contacts around the country were with the other zoo vets, and also there were a smattering of people doing exactly what I was doing. And in a community that had a zoo, some local practitioner would also be a part-time zoo doctor. And so I’d be on the phone with these people sharing some questions and problems. My interaction with other zoo administrative people or curatorial people around the country was probably almost nil.

01:26:34 - 01:26:38

Did anything make communication between zoos better or worse?

01:26:40 - 01:28:08

Well, the zoo had a organization called the AAZPA, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, and they had conventions, they had meetings. And certainly when I became director, I got into this organization, became a member, a zoo director member. And that was my initial sort of interlink with other colleagues. I certainly knew closely what was going on across town, because Brookfield at the time had an interesting history with Lincoln Park. There was a director at Brookfield called Robert Bean, and Robert Bean and Marlin Perkins at the time of my being involved there as a part-time zoo doctor was sad because Bob Bean resented Marlin’s notoriety. Marlin was a national figure, “Zoo Parade” put him, in fact, he made, I think Time Magazine once on the cover. And Bob in turn was a very respected biology person, he was a zoologist and the colleagues knew that, respected it. And so the day I think that Marlin made Time Magazine probably literally the Berlin Wall went up in Chicago.

01:28:08 - 01:29:26

I don’t think that Bob Bean and Marlin Perkins talked to each other about anything professionally, I don’t know about socially. And in fact, there were a few times in reflecting that I was probably one of the few linkages between those two zoos. I was at that time practicing out there in the suburbs, going to Brookfield, look at a sick animal, go to Lincoln Park, look at a sick animal. And that was sad, professionally it was just nil. And one of my challenges when I took over at the zoo, was certainty to try and right that wrong. And I just don’t recall clearly when Bob Bean left, as I remember it, Brookfield went through some administrative strange things which hopefully someday George Rabb can sort out for the history book. I think at first they ended up with two co-zoo directors, then they ended up with four co-zoo directors, and finally settled on one zoo director. And I think that’s when probably, Dr. George Rabb filled that niche.

01:29:26 - 01:30:28

But Ron Blakely, who had been at Lincoln Park Zoo as a curator with Marlin, went to Brookfield and he was one of the co-directors. I can’t recall the names at the moment of the other people, so there wasn’t, that I can recall, clearly a good linkage between Brookfield and Lincoln Park in the earliest time. But eventually when George was there and I was at Lincoln Park, we agreed that personally, this was all history. Let’s forget about the Bob Bean, Perkins feud and fussing, and professionally we worked together from that point on, we set up staff gatherings at both institutions. We started exchanging animals as needed, where needed. And from then on the relationship had been a very solid one.

01:30:28 - 01:30:29

How did it grow?

01:30:29 - 01:30:31

How did you grow it and develop it?

01:30:31 - 01:30:35

And why would you say the Traveling Zoo was important?

01:30:36 - 01:32:37

Marlin Perkins was a man of vision, and one of his early positive, nice things in addition to the fact that he was able to build the Children’s Zoo at Lincoln Park, he started something called the Traveling Zoo. And Marlin was able to get, and I don’t remember if the Park District bought it, if it may have been donated by some trucking company, but he got a big trailer and a tractor to pull it, and created this first wonderful Traveling Zoo. And it was a unit filled with little cages, and Marlin decided to send it out into the community and various staff people, usually the then newer, younger curatorial staff would go out with the Traveling Zoo, and tell the story of animals to the community. So that was something that Marlin pioneered, and you can imagine physically it was an expensive clumsy kind of thing they have lumbering around Chicago streets. Even today a big truck trailer unit is a problem that drive around. So we retired that unit, I can’t remember where it may have ended up, for some reason, I think it may have ended up at Hawthorn Mellody, a zoo up in the north suburbs. But be that as it may, I got a smaller truck unit, a self-contained unit that a person could drive more comfortably and easily, and conceptually it made nothing but sense to have that outreach. I didn’t have the television outreach at the start that Marlin did, and I think that he probably pioneered the use of that sort of vehicle in the country.

01:32:37 - 01:34:22

I think our Traveling Zoo unit may have been the first in the U.S. to do that. I think that there were a lot of fun experiences with it, and my outreach took a different direction. I felt frustrated by the fact that we had this wonderful collection of animals, we had an incredible medical facilities in Chicago and seemingly we weren’t bringing animals to the hospitals. And I thought there’s something wrong there, and I realized that my medical colleagues and the human medicine profession had a phobia about animals. They thought that if you bring a animal into a hospital that you’re gonna spread bugs that don’t belong there, the patients are gonna be bitten or scratched, and the lawyers would be upset, and so there weren’t any animals going out. And somehow I took that on as a challenge and I prevailed, then we have a place in the south side of Chicago called La Rabida Hospital, and it was for chronic children in Jackson Park. And I prevailed on the doctors there to let me bring some animals there, and they had downstairs on the main floor a big kind of public room space. And so I arranged to bring some animals down there, can’t even remember if at that time I used the Traveling Zoo vehicle we had, or if I just put stuff in carrying cases and proceeded to have the kids sitting around the outside of the periphery and brought some animals in.

01:34:22 - 01:35:45

And after the second or third such visit, the doctors realized that this was a plus, rather than a minus. And when I’d arrived there with my animals, the doctors and nurses would greet me at the door and they would take the animals and bring them around to the kids. And once word got out that this was going on in Chicago, next thing I knew right near us at Lincoln Park, we have a very world renowned children’s hospital, I was gonna say Children’s Zoo. But we had the Children’s Zoo, but children’s hospital. And so they said, well, “If La Rabida can do this safely, we can too.” And the next thing I knew, we went to county hospital and we started sort of our own Traveling Zoo, but these were cases where we put the animals in little carrying cases and went into the hospitals. And to me that was a very meaningful and happy breakthrough. And all the years that I’ve been at Lincoln Park, I can look back on the number of times that I would bring a little animal, and it ended up primarily rabbits and Guinea pigs. I used to think an exotic snake and a bird, and that would be kind of fun for these sick kids, but they wanted something soft and cuddly and safe.

01:35:45 - 01:36:04

And to just go to a place and put a rabbit in the sort of lap of a sick kid or in the bed with him and see the joy that that animal brought was extremely satisfying. So that was kind of the extension that sort of complemented the Traveling Zoo extension.

01:36:06 - 01:36:13

What professionals, zoo or otherwise, did you respect and learn from, that have had the most influence on you?

01:36:17 - 01:36:19

Say that again, Mark (laughs)?

01:36:19 - 01:36:24

What zoo professionals did you respect and learn from?

01:36:24 - 01:36:27

And who if any of them had influence on you?

01:36:29 - 01:37:39

My contacts with the other professionals in the zoo world were, of course, primarily through the meetings. George Rabb and I were solid here in the Chicago area. And eventually George Speidel went out from Brookfield to Milwaukee, and started a whole new wonderful zoo out there in the edge of the county of Milwaukee. And so these were two sorta close neighbors that I interacted with a lot. But over the years, it was really a personal privilege to get to know other zoo people around the country. Bill Conway was at the Bronx Zoo in New York. And as far as I was concerned, was one of the, then younger, more meaningful zoologists in the world. And the man at San Diego, Charles, I can’t recall his last name at the moment who was director at San Diego- You’re drawing a blank.

01:37:39 - 01:38:34

You’re drawing a blank. Charlie, anyway, it’ll come to me. But the director of the San Diego Zoo was a veterinarian. And he had been a part-time zoo doctor, and he worked, I think for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, and ended up being a director there at San Diego. And he became a colleague, and a mentor, and a friend. And of course, Marlin’s sitting down at St. Louis was there, and we were still at that point in time, good friends. So that I got acquainted quickly with people around the country. Len Goss, who I mentioned earlier had been a full-time zoo veterinarian.

01:38:34 - 01:39:49

His father had been a pathologist at Ohio State University. And Len became director at the Cleveland Zoo, and so he was a friend and a colleague. And there was a man down in Florida, Gordon Hubbell was another veterinarian who became a zoo director down there. And in fact, that just brings up an interesting issue that came to mind as I’m talking. There were three or four cases where zoo people ended up with veterinary directorships. And I’m not sure how or why the evolution occurred around the country as it did in my case. But the biologists in turn resented that some of them, they felt that they’d gone to get their academic training and they were good animal people, they were all zoology graduates. And why a veterinarian should step into the administrative slot when they could have and should have had it.

01:39:49 - 01:40:31

So I think there was an area of an undertone of resentment between the curatorial staffs in the country of the biology people and the medical people, the veterinarians. Fortunately, I guess, it resolved somehow comfortably and the biologists retain the great majority of the administrative positions, and the vets had a few, and they each did their thing well, and I was able to reflect and comfortably work with both. As a director, you met a lot of people.

01:40:32 - 01:40:38

Who made the biggest impression on you, the most famous, or how did they impact the zoo?

01:40:41 - 01:42:03

One of the joys, I guess, that I had in Chicago once I took the zoo job was that I became part of the Chicago community in the broadest sense. And one of the satisfactions of my job was interacting with the Chicago community. The zoo is kind of one of a kind slot in the city, and I quickly through my work at Lincoln Park became acquainted, of course, with the board of directors of the then Lincoln Park Zoo Society. A lot of them whom were in the business community, heads of their companies, some of them were social leaders in town. And one of the women that made a great impression on me, was a woman named Mrs. PG Frederick, Helen Frederick was her name. She was a dynamic little five-footer who was crazy about animals. She originally was married to a Cubs baseball player, Woody English, and they got a divorce. But PG in turn knew the whole Wrigley organization out in Pasadena, and Chicago, and everywhere else.

01:42:03 - 01:43:19

And so PG was probably the spark for the Zoo Society’s growth of the board of directors. And she brought on a whole wonderful group of people. One of the neighbors across the street from the zoo on Lake View in Fullerton was a man named Daggett Harvey of the Harvey restaurant chain. And Daggett was a vice president of the Zoo Society, on weekends he came and walked the zoo. And so we became friends, and today his son, young Daggett and I are good friends, belong to a Luncheon Group together. There were other people on the Zoo Society that were important in my life, and were very supportive and helpful of the zoo. But I think probably the number one person that made a big imprint on me was Mayor Daley, and this is our present mayor’s father. And when Mayor Daley came to the zoo, which was probably an annual visit, it would be like the president of the United States’ come, and there’d be a group of policemen that came before he was due to arrive.

01:43:19 - 01:44:26

And when he came, there’d be an entourage, and he would arrive, and was the presence, the man is here. and he very, very much cared about his zoo. And let me know that the reason that he enjoyed the zoo was that when he was a youngster, the zoo is one of the few places that his family could afford to go to. And by golly, as long as he was alive that zoo would remain free and open to anyone and everyone. And that was equally true of the commissioners, I certainly can’t say that they became friends, but I sure made an acquaintance with all of them. And one of them was an interesting man, named Colonel Jacob Arvey. And he lived in the Belden hotel across the street from where I lived. And so on the mornings I’d be walking my dog, there’d be the Colonel out, waiting for his ride to go to wherever he was going in town, he was an important political figure in Chicago.

01:44:27 - 01:44:51

And as a result of my zoo job, I had a chance, I had exposure to the leaders of the business community, the labor unions, I had a chance to meet many people through social contacts, and I’ve always felt that that was a wonderful privilege for me, I enjoyed that very much.

01:44:51 - 01:44:57

How did you meet Betty White, who was a actress and personality?

01:44:58 - 01:46:06

Well, one of my favorite animal people, I guess, in the whole world is a woman named Betty White. Betty has been around Chicago and the country for forever, she’s about the same age I am. And one time in the Chicago area, I’d been involved with a group called the Morris Animal Foundation. It’s an organization involved with the health of companion animals, and they’re headquartered out in Colorado. And there was some kind of a meeting in the Chicago area where it was, believe it or not, an association of pet cemeteries, a national association. And Morris Animal asked Betty to come and be a speaker there. And being in Chicago and me being involved with the group, I made plans to go there with my wife and spend a little time, and that was, I think the first time that I met Betty. We’ve laughed about it many times, what a kind of a place to meet.

01:46:06 - 01:47:31

But anyway, she was then, and still is a trustee of this Animal Foundation, and I’ve been part of it for 30 or 40 years. And so three times a year at our meetings, Betty and I would always have a dinner together at one of the nights of the convention, the meetings that we had. And over the years, we got to be good friends an unusual dynamic, wonderful lady, incredible sense of humor. At board meetings she would be just like one would see her on television, she’d go of zingers, and had all of us in a happy state of mind and laughing about things. And I’ve always kind of thought that it was a special privilege to get to know Betty because she cared about two things in life. In the later years of her life, that I was most acquainted with her. One was Los Angeles Zoo, she was a member of the board there, the Friends of the Zoo and the Morris Animal Foundation, and animals were an important part of her life. And I shared that kind of feeling, and so Betty and I have been friends for 30, 40 years.

01:47:34 - 01:47:37

What were some of the frustrations you had as zoo director?

01:47:40 - 01:48:47

I think in looking back at my time at Lincoln Park Zoo, that the biggest frustrations would be the bureaucratic overlay. There were times that you’d wanna see things done better, quicker. And it just doesn’t work that way in a city bureaucracy. And the Park District is just a branch of city government. Keep in mind that the Park District in Chicago is not a park department, most cities have a park department. During the depression, so the history tells me, Chicago created not only Chicago, the state of Illinois created Park Districts. I think there’s one in Springfield, one in Rockford, one in Chicago, there may be one or two others that I can think of at the moment. And these are separate taxing districts so that the commission, the park commission are a separate legal entity, get their own money from the tax base and run their own operation.

01:48:47 - 01:50:23

But in reality in Chicago, anyway, it was an extension to City Hall. The mayor would appoint the commissioners with the approval of the City Council. And so these were all friends of the mayors and the bureaucratic overlay was comparable to what it would be at city, same at the district. And one had to learn to work through and around this bureaucracy to reach certain goals. Budgetary issues were real, civil service constraints for personnel were real. I was limited in ways that I could do something special or good for a solid, wonderful employee, as I could for a sad sack, a poor employee. Once they had civil service status and they had a union situation for the keeper personnel, there wasn’t much maneuvering room I had to make the good guy feel better and the bad guy feel worse. And they were all guys at the time I took over at Lincoln Park, it was an all male operation because the Park District personnel thing said, “Live in Chicago, 21 years of age, and be a male.” And it was years later that the women finally stepped up to the plate, and demanded equal time, and started to move into the personnel operation at Lincoln Park.

01:50:23 - 01:51:57

So I think as I reflect back, these were probably some of the sorta frustrating times working within a large municipal bureaucracy. Again, I mentioned earlier that happily I could run the zoo, as I thought it was important to make it go. And then over a period of time, a major strength of the operation at Lincoln Park was the Friends of the Zoo, the Lincoln Park Zoological Society. They not only raised a few thousand dollars in the early years and bought an animal and that, they became a big time partners in the operation at Lincoln Park Zoo. Their goal was to help the Park District help the Old Zoo, and the Zoo Society stepped up. A woman named June Fairbank was the first executive director there for years, and in the latter years, a woman named Barbara Whitney took over as the executive at the Lincoln Park Zoo Society. And they made my life again much more positive because they started to raise big time dollars. By then I realized that the zoo was out of date, was bad stuff.

01:51:57 - 01:53:20

I used to think to myself, we had animals in jail. The old barred cages that were accepted 50 years, 80, 100 years ago were no longer acceptable, and it was important to improve the Old Zoo. So the Zoo Society made things happen at the Park District. And one of the wonderful, wonderful ladies that I had a chance to meet, and know, and work with was a woman named Hope McCormick. Hope McCormick was the wife of Brooks McCormick of the International Harvester Cooperation, very wealthy, wonderful people. And Hope was sort of the grand arm of Chicago society in her day. And she became a supporter of Lincoln Park and actually became a good friend and a meaningful person in the future of that zoo, and I’ll always be grateful to Hope who died some years ago, that she did make things happen at Lincoln Park. When Hope decided to call someone in town that she needed some money, or call one of the important political people in town that something should be done, they were more ready to listen to Hope then they were to Les Fisher.

01:53:20 - 01:54:46

And another wonderful, wonderful lady with the same name was Marilyn McCormick, the widow of the Colonel McCormick of the Chicago Tribune Corporation. And Marilyn lived in the near north side and Hope brought her on as zoo society board. Marilyn also served on the Anti-Cruelty Society board with me, the local Humane Society. And Marilyn used to go out to Wheaton, which is a west suburb of Chicago Cantigny, there’s a famous museum that Colonel McCormick established about his life and history of World War I. And Marilyn would call me at times and say, “Les, I’m going out to Cantigny, are you free today?” And I’d look at my calendar and if I was, I’d say, “Yes, Marilyn.” And I’d get in the car with her and drive out and spend an hour or two at Cantigny. The drive there was miserable because she had two little Pekinese dogs, and damn things were jumping all over me on the ride out and on the way back. But other than that, I endured and adored Marilyn. And she and Hope, I think maybe were cousins, I’m not quite sure of the relationship, but the two families, Colonel McCormick and the Cyrus McCormick families, the Harvester story were I think cousins.

01:54:46 - 01:55:00

So these two McCormick ladies certainly were very helpful in some of my early frustrating years to get- You left the job, what would you say were the strengths and weaknesses of the zoo when you left?

01:55:02 - 01:56:44

In reflecting on the years at Lincoln Park Zoo, 30 years is a long time to think about, but to condense it, I think the highlight of my time at Lincoln Park was the fact that I started the rebuilding of the Old Zoo. I mentioned earlier that Marlin was able to create the little Children’s Zoo at one edge of the zoo, and that was it. And my challenge was to get the animals out of jail. I thought it was important to give the animals best possible facilities. And I was fortunate that through the Zoo Society’s fundraising, we worked out an understanding with the Chicago Park District, the tax base, the owner of the zoo, that every time I raised a dollar in the private sector, they would match it. And so over the years we accomplished many tens of millions of dollars of money raised and money spent. We were able to bring not all, but the majority of the animal spaces to a much more humane, ecological, understandable area. And I think that in looking back, I feel good about, we pretty much brought the zoo up to snuff the way a collection of animals should be housed in today’s world.

01:56:44 - 01:58:33

Another thing that I felt good about in reflecting back on my time at the Old Zoo was the fact that I could tell Mayor Daley, the father, and I could tell Mayor Daley, the son that I thought and believed sincerely that Lincoln Park was probably the only happy neutral turf left in the city of Chicago. And by that, I mean, the fact that on any given summer Sunday, we could put, I don’t know, 25 to 40,000 people a day into that little zoo and never have a policeman there. People got along well, children from Cabrini-Green Housing were just as welcome as children from the wealthy Lake Shore area. Everybody liked their zoo, I made a point to make sure that the community felt that it was their zoo, which it was. And so I think the fact that then and now in Chicago and more so now because I guess in some ways our diversity is different than it was 40. 50 years ago. That people of every socioeconomic level could and did come to the zoo. And part of my sorta salary was to walk around that zoo and just see the happy faces of families, whether black, Latino, Asian, white, everybody came and enjoyed. So I think that, to me, that was a wonderful thing.

01:58:35 - 02:00:31

Another thing that we didn’t touch on, but the first project for the Lincoln Park Zoo Society in fundraising was to develop the farm in the zoo. And at that time it was, I think, a pioneering effort in the city of Chicago, we built a five-acre miniature sort of working model farm in the heart of a bigger urban area. And the story was that there were people in our Zoo Society Board that felt that there were children in Chicago who knew what an elephant and the lion looked like, but they didn’t know what a cow was, and they didn’t know what a pig was. It be 30 to 40, 50 miles to get out into the farm area from the heart of the city, and so we developed this miniature, sorta working little farm next to Lincoln Park Zoo, and we call it the Farm-in-the-Zoo, but it was really the farm next to the zoo. So I think that, that was good, and another thing that I reflected then and reflect now that I was probably most comfortable about was that the day I retired, I turned to my wife, Wendy and said, “You know, I’ve been fortunate.” I said that in all my years at Lincoln Park Zoo, I never had an employee or a visitor killed or seriously injured. And I said considering the fact that a zoo is potentially an extremely hazardous, dangerous kind of place to work in or be around, I felt that I was very fortunate. I think that historically, the last person to be killed at Lincoln Park Zoo is a bear keeper during Marlin’s time. And we had our share of injuries and close calls, but never a fatality.

02:00:31 - 02:01:03

We have had people several times during my tenure at the zoo, visitors that had a heart attack or a serious medical issue, and were taken by ambulance to a hospital, some of which may have died, but from a safety standpoint that was to me, a real good feeling to be able to look back on that and feel good about it. So that I think would be my comment on that. You talked about better homes for the animals.

02:01:03 - 02:01:10

How did the documentary and the project “Otto Zoo Gorilla” come about?

02:01:13 - 02:03:16

One of the things that happened happily in the Old Monkey House, where I mentioned Bushman years ago, living at the corner, that would be the Southeast cage of the Old Monkey House. In that part of the building we had some larger cages where we housed our few big apes, the orang, chimp, and gorilla. And happily, we started getting a few babies and it reached the stage where it was just totally in that time, thinking wrong and immoral to house these wonderful animals in these little old cells, the barred, cement cages with a single shelf in them. And so I went to the Zoo Society Board and then down to the Park District commissioners and said that we were reaching an instinct difficult time, we either had to provide a decent home for these great apes or I had to take the ones that we had and ship them out to places that had better, good facilities. And the Zoo Society came along and again, talked with the district commission and said, “We’ll raise money.” And they proceeded to raise the funds that allowed us to build what we called our first Great Ape House. One of the incidental players in that fundraising was Ray Kroc, the McDonald’s man. Ray and his wife, Joan are Chicagoans, and by sheer coincidence, Ray happened to be of my same heritage, we both were Bohemians or Czechs and we got along great. And Ray decided that by golly, a restaurant needed a good kitchen, and a zoo needed a commissary building.

02:03:16 - 02:04:54

And so I went to a lunch with Ray and came out with 100, not 100, a million dollar check. And that time I was, of course, walking on air and walking on water with that. And the money from Ray, not only built us the commissary hospital, but there were major funds left over, which applied toward this new Great Ape House. So the Great Ape House came into being, and when it was time to move these animals, that was a logistical medical potential nightmare. How to safely anesthetize and physically move and reestablish the collection that we had at that time of gorillas, chimps, and orangs. And I think that I felt it was important to record this medically for my colleagues around the country, in the zoo world and for just the historical reasons. And so sat down with Bob Carr at that time, the Zoo Society and said, “We have to get some money to do this.” And fortunately the Zoo Society came up with funds, I can’t recall for certain, I think somehow the Sears Foundation may have been one of the major backers of that particular project. And we found a young person named Dugan Rosallini, who was in the film industry.

02:04:54 - 02:06:13

I originally asked a man named Warren Wirth to perhaps try to document this move, and he’d been with “Zoo Parade” for years, he was an NBC veteran. And he had conflict with time and schedule. And I think he may have been the one that recommended Dugan to us. And so Dugan came into our picture and the timing was pretty tight, it wasn’t that we had a year to think, and plan, and work this out, we were talking about some months. And so fortunately Dugan and his other assistants sound man, camera man, whoever all had, I think maybe two months to do a little bit of historical perspective in the Old Monkey House with some of the apes. And I can’t remember why, but wisely in hindsight, they selected Otto, one of our male zoo gorillas to sort of be the transition point of the whole thing and be the star. And Otto had a character, all the great apes are characters each in their own way, and Otto definitely had a character. Incidentally, he was named after one of Illinois governors, Otto Kerner.

02:06:13 - 02:07:15

And Otto did stuff for Dugan in those first few times, and Dugan had just limited time to film him in the old facility that were kind of fun as it was filmed. And then, of course, it was anesthetized and taken over to the new building, and showed his introduction in there and everything. And that film that Dugan put together was a real winning combination because it was a true documentation of an important medical move. We were able over a period of time to move, and I don’t remember the numbers now, 15, 18 animals safely anesthetizing them, doing medical tests to get baseline things. One of the things that I felt strongly about was that in zoo medicine, we didn’t necessarily always have normal baselines.

02:07:15 - 02:07:24

You could take blood from a Chimp and find out if it’s sick or healthy, but unless you knew what a healthy baseline was for the blood work, how could you know if it was sick?

02:07:24 - 02:08:09

So we decided to do all the conceivable testing that we could at that moment in time, we took blood, and urine specimens, X-rays got a whole medical background history of baselines that other people around the country or the zoo world for that matter, could have in the future. And “Otto Zoo Gorilla” came along and just turned out to be both a true documentary of an important logistical medical move, but also the character of the animal came through and people I think, enjoyed that film very, very much. How did the concept of zoo volunteer- Excuse me, where is the (indistinct).

02:08:09 - 02:08:14

Cut, Dinah can you hear him- Yes, can you hear him during that?

02:08:14 - 02:08:25

Yeah. Unfortunately what’s gonna happen is. Okay, stand by. Okay, we are all set.

02:08:25 - 02:08:29

How did the concept of zoo volunteers develop and why?

02:08:32 - 02:10:23

Zoo volunteers is an interesting part of my life. I think that in the nonprofit world and the zoo is part of that in the sense of the word, the Zoo Society, the various museums and cultural institutions around the country. You can’t get along with a volunteer and you can’t get along without a volunteer. They are the sorta glue that makes an institution accomplish goals that they couldn’t do otherwise because at Lincoln Park, I mentioned earlier, I had civil service personnel departments and constraints. And in order to have things happen, I needed some extra people that I didn’t have any budget money for, and so lo and behold, both at the Children’s Zoo at Lincoln Park and at the Farm in the Zoo, we were able to start getting people who lived in the neighborhood, and who had time and some retired and some not, who said they wanted to participate and get involved in the zoo. The instinct problem, one has in a zoo much more so than say at the field museum or the art institute, which are other cultural wonders, is the fact you had a safety factor. And the Park District being a classic public bureaucracy, the legal and safety departments didn’t want someone hurt. And so if I had somebody helping me, let’s say in the Children’s Zoo, interacting with the rabbit and the visiting child, if the rabbit should scratch somebody that was considered a no-no.

02:10:24 - 02:12:11

So I had a problem to work through with the volunteers, and convinced the bureaucracy that this was important for the operation, and they just had to respect our wanting to move that ahead. And so over the years we developed a solid volunteer Corps of people. I may be, could even go back to day one and say, PG Frederick of the Zoo Society, you might say, was the number one volunteer of her day and era because she just, when she was in town, spent time at that zoo, they had no children, no pets, that lived at the Lake Shore Club on the near north side, and PG was there. And pretty soon other personalities developed with various people coming. And Lincoln Park did not have a meaningful education program, they didn’t have a meaningful scientific program. And whenever I broached those topics to the Park District, they said, “Our mission in Chicago “is strictly the recreation needs “of the citizens of Chicago. “And if you want to do things in education “or recreation or in conservation you’ll have to go out “and raise some money and get some people. So all of that is part of this trend toward volunteerism, where people came and said, “We wanna be involved, we wanna be helpful.” Certainly in fundraising, that area of volunteerism was meaningful.

02:12:11 - 02:13:40

And one of the most important people early, early on in that work was Marshall Field. Marshall came to my office one day, and we sat and visited a little bit. And he said, “Les, I wanna help the Old Zoo move ahead.” And I thought, well, you know, he’s just saying that, a lot of people say they wanna be helpful. But by golly Marshall, two, three days a month would make time to go with me to call upon various foundations, corporations, business leaders, and really help start raising big time dollars to redevelop the Old Zoo. And so that kind of era of volunteerism just grew into all facets, whether it was fundraising, whether it was education, whether it was physical stuff at the zoo. Marlin had finished the Children’s Zoo, but I was having such good luck with some births that we built a little Zoo Nursery as part of the Children’s Zoo building, and we staffed it with volunteers. And I think that they were probably the most committed people in town because that was such a special opportunity for someone to be able to play with a baby tiger or a baby chimp. These women never took a day off, they were scared to death they might be fired, and someone else would get that slot.

02:13:40 - 02:14:23

So whether it was Christmas, New Year’s two feet of snow after a storm, those volunteers in their Children’s Zoo nursery were there every time they were supposed to be there. And we also, of course, had an animal keeper involved to kind of oversee and work with the volunteers there. So I think by the time I left Lincoln Park Zoo, we may be had 3 to 400 volunteers in all those different areas, whether the Farm in the Zoo, the education department, the gardening, the clerical, the medical area, you name it, volunteerism was big time at Lincoln Park.

02:14:23 - 02:14:28

You talked about the Park District Commissioners, were they involved in the zoo operations?

02:14:28 - 02:14:29

Did they help it?

02:14:31 - 02:15:39

By and large the Chicago Park District Commissioners during my time there were not necessarily animal people. I mentioned at one time, Colonel Arvey was a political entity in town. Joe Gill was also a political person, Mr. McFetridge was Mr. Labor in town, he was not an animal-related person as we think of people interacting with animals. But over the years, one man came into my life, a guy named Franklin Schmick. And somebody in town socially and politically knew Frank. Frank was a very successful businessman who early on in his career in his 20s, I think made himself a ton of money. And he was an animal guy too, and a very unusual, interesting man, very autocratic, very much full of himself. And yet he felt a sort of bonding to the zoo.

02:15:41 - 02:17:11

And Frank was brought on the commission, I think during McFetridge’s time, was with us for, I don’t know, 10, 15 years maybe. Was very instrumental in getting the commission to help do a few projects at the zoo that might not otherwise have been funded and done, was very much into the big ape collection. And Frank had a thing, he was a major food man, he had a private kitchen in his office downtown. He loved to go to restaurants and he was at one time, I think, head of a club in town called the Tavern Club in Chicago. And Frank liked, on a Saturday or Sunday, to bring some of his friends down to the zoo to go visit his apes, he looked upon that collection as his personal area. And Frank was probably as fastidious a man, as I’ve ever known. If a drop of water happened to hit him, he’d be upset, much less the fact that if he would be close to the cages at the zoo and some chimp or orangutan through something at him, or proceeded to urinate or defecate and some debris would hit Frank, for some reason that didn’t trouble him one bit. But if a waiter dropped a bit of food on him, he would be outraged.

02:17:11 - 02:18:07

So Frank enjoyed coming to the zoo, he liked his animals. He enabled us to go to Africa and bring back some of our gorillas, the babies, the foundation stock. He was probably without a doubt the number one person on the park commission who cared the most of the commissioners during my time there. Mr. Merrill Wriths was another commissioner who I think felt strongly about the Zoo, he lived on the north side. And Sydney was a person who’d stop in occasionally. A woman commissioner, one of the early women commissioners was Jean Foran. And her husband, Tom Foran, I think had been a state’s attorney in Chicago. And so there was that political connect to Mayor Daley.

02:18:07 - 02:18:30

And Jean was not an animal person, but she had empathy for the zoo and she would come around at times. So I would say that a handful of the commissioners cared and were involved a little bit in different ways with the zoo. Whereas the rest of them were doing their job at the district and the zoo just happened to be part of the district.

02:18:30 - 02:18:33

So did I know them all?

02:18:33 - 02:19:33

Yes, we even had a really renowned architect, Walter Netsch, was appointed to the park board and became president for a few years. And Walter lived, excuse me, on the near north side of Chicago. And his wife was a political lady, Dawn Clark Netsch. And Walter would come to the zoo just because it was near there, and he and his wife both cared a little about it. So I think that was probably the kind of extent of involvement with the park commission. And I believe after I left, there were historically five commissioners appointed and filled the commission. I think since then the commissions grown to nine commissioners. And I’m not certain just how involved anyone or all of them might be with the Old Zoo, but the commission was there, it was important.

02:19:34 - 02:19:45

And my job was to work with the commission to make sure that they were proud of their zoo. The AAZPA broke away from the parks board.

02:19:46 - 02:19:53

And can you tell us something about that evolution that occurred and your involvement in it?

02:19:53 - 02:21:09

In the early years there was the organization called the AAPA, the American Association Zoological Parks and Aquariums. But when I first was at the zoo, there was a umbrella organization of park executives. I think it was the AIPE, the American Institute of Park Executives. And they had conventions and the zoo people were one segment, a small segment of this incredible large organization. You can imagine every city in the country had a park system, big, small, middle, or whatever, and there were a handful of zoos. And so in my early years, and I can’t recall how many at this moment in time that I attended the conventions of the AIPE and of course the smaller gathering of zoo people that were part and parcel of that large group of park executives. And we felt rather strongly that we were kind of short changed in commitment on the part of the parent body. We weren’t getting much financial support, we weren’t getting much time at the meetings.

02:21:09 - 02:22:41

And a few of the people start talking, “Perhaps it’s time that we start our own organization.” And so that evolved, and we found in Oglebay Park, West Virginia, a place that could become a home for our own little zoo association. And there were a group of us. I was, I think at the time that we did this split and created our own little AAZPA, I think I was maybe vice president, and a man in Kansas Gary Clark, was the president that year. And we proceeded to start our own little group, we had zero budgets, so all of us on the board, big time that we were, each threw $25 into the kitty, and that was our operating budget for that year to start with. And then, of course, we laid on a do’s and so on. And I think a lady named Peg Dankworth was our first executive director of the AAZPA for many years. Whoever at that time was able to do it. We got the Oglebay Park system to give us space, we had our couple of rooms or an office in one of their buildings there, which I think got for free at that time, we had no money to pay rent.

02:22:41 - 02:23:10

And that was kind of the start of the National Zoo Association, and being a free-standing meaningful group that we started our own national conventions. And I think the next year I was able to step up to the presidency, and I think it was at our Houston conference that, that occurred. So that’s a little bit of an overview of how AAZPA came into being.

02:23:10 - 02:23:16

Has the role changed from when you started this new organization till now?

02:23:17 - 02:24:46

I think as any organization either grows or dies, AAZPA continued to grow, we involve more and more staff people. The group finally start splitting up into subgroups, you might say the original intent of the group was animal people. And the whole idea of AAZPA was a clearing house for the curatorial animal people, the ornithologists, the herpetologists, the mammalogists you name it. Finally, people realize that there’s more to running a zoo than just an animal collection. And that’s when we had the growth of marketing people and public relations people, education people, all these other subsets. And so the zoo vets, all of these were part of AAZPA, but they sort of started setting up their own little subset areas, and that was part of the continual growth. I look back on AAZPA and I have kind of even today, mixed feelings about it. I think it all of a sudden started to become a group unto itself.

02:24:46 - 02:26:12

In other words, they started developing their own education area, their own research people, their own everything, and I felt then and believe today that it has one primary role, as I see it in the profession, and that is the service the membership. The AAZPA doesn’t exist, now got a different name. I think world’s, not the World’s Zoo Organization, American Zoo Association. AZA, I think that its function is not to become a big thing unto itself with its own staff, and bureaucracy, and payrolls, and that. It’s there to help the various institutions, of which they’re probably a couple of hundred now around the country who are members, how to help them do their work, and their mission, and so on. So that’s kind of an ongoing, I think bureaucratic decision-making that the organization has to work through. I saw it grow from just a group of wonderful animal people to all these other facets of the growth of the organization in these other directions. I remember so clearly as I’m sitting here now, my wife, Wendy, who was into direct marketing.

02:26:12 - 02:27:25

And she put together various people at different zoos who are doing direct marketing to raise money for their zoos membership. And then the organization cared less about them, they didn’t even give them a room at the annual meetings where they could meet to discuss their own area of interest. And somehow Wendy prevailed in this battle, and finally, they got to be recognized as well, maybe they should be given a room and then they should be given space on the program. And so that was just one little facet of the kind of growth of the AAZP in these related areas. Other than just the professional care of animals, it quickly grew into an umbrella for all of these wonderful needed things that make a zoo operate. And I think that that’s kind of where they are today, and I hope that they never lose sight of the fact that as I see it, a primary mission should be membership support. Okay. Take a break.

02:27:25 - 02:27:29

What are your views of the Zoo Veterinarians Association, the goods in the bads?

02:27:31 - 02:28:42

The zoo vets have had an incredible positive growth. Keep in mind that when I was a part-time zoo vet, there were a handful of us. We had almost no reference material to work with, very little published material, and it was a very kind of small informal group. And finally, we decided to create something to get together at the national AVMA, the American Veterinary Medical Association meetings, and have our own little get together. And I vaguely recall our first and only woman at that time, Dr. Patricia O’Connor, was a vet at the Staten Island Zoo in New York. And Patsy became a president of our group. And I can’t even remember what we called it originally, but it was totally informal. I was able to serve for twice, I think, different times three, four years.

02:28:42 - 02:30:39

And then the thing just kinda started an honest, good positive growth because a man, excuse me, named Murray Fowler, a veterinarian out at Davis Veterinary School in California, decided to publish the first reference book. And that was underwritten by Morris Animal Foundation. And Murray also started cranking out zoo veterinarians, they created a sort of internship program. I think they worked with the Sacramento Zoo as one of their labs next door to them near there. And so I think the Zoo Veterinary Group today are formalized about, I’m guessing 10 years ago, maybe give or take maybe 15 years the way time has gone, that they formed an actual board, so that the American Veterinary Medical Association legalized the boarding of zoo vets, such as our zoo vet at Lincoln Park today, Catherine Gamble is a board-certified zoo doctor. And just this past year I saw on the journal they had one at Brookfield also, Tom never went through that, but another doctor up there did the same. So these people now are highly trained, highly skilled, wonderful reference material. And they’re practicing a level of veterinary medicine at the zoos and aquariums because the marine mammal people and the marine medical people now are the same level of material, and background, and excellence, and it’s all very good, I’m happy to see this.

02:30:40 - 02:31:12

The present head of the association is a guy named Robe Hilsenroth, it used to be Edd Morris for years, and he went down and married a woman at Oaks, not Three Oaks. White Oaks. White Oaks, the white Oaks place outside of Jacksonville, Florida there. And they got married and he decided to live down there, so his headquarters for the zoo vets is at White Oaks, and it’s all a good story.

02:31:13 - 02:31:18

What do you feel zoos should be doing locally?

02:31:18 - 02:31:22

Not just Lincoln Park, nationally and internationally?

02:31:25 - 02:32:39

The role of the zoo has been sort of a growth story. We started out as recreation areas, most of them that were parts of park departments, such as Lincoln Park, were primarily the mission of a zoo was a place where people went and had a relaxed time, a good time. And the mission was recreation, good family fun. Happily, that all slowly steadily changed because in the early years, the collection was important but not critical. If an animal died in a zoo, that was sad, but it was replaceable. So that I believe if I recall rightly, at the time I took over this would have been 1962. I could order an animal anywhere in the world, bird, mammal, reptile by letter, by telegram, by phone call, by cable, and we would get it. At that time we thought the reservoir was unlimited of wildlife and it was workable.

02:32:40 - 02:34:13

Gradually as the animals became more threatened and more endangered, which they were and are, more so all the time. I think the role of the zoo got into conservation and that was and is important. I think again, it was a strong personal opinion of mine, that education should be equally if not even more important than conservation, because unless we can educate generations of young people about nature, and animals, and all the rest of that, we’re gonna have an uphill battle to make our culture survive. And so education came into being, and we can thank our Congressman at that time a man named Sidney Yates, who was one of the pillars of Congress and seniority, and I thought ability. Sid got me a small grant from the Department of Interior to do an endangered species program at Lincoln Park. And as part of that, I was able to fund an education curator. And from there on our department has grown happily, and steadily, and meaningfully. And so I think that today zoos are, and when I used the word zoos I’m including aquarium because zoos and aquarium serve a mutual role in the animal life of the world.

02:34:13 - 02:35:38

I think that the growth is continuing and positive, I think that the zoo has to stop being ever an island unto itself. The zoo is part of a community and whether it lives in a small town, a medium town, or a bigger urban area like metropolitan Chicago, it should really have outreach. I think that people should continue to support their facility, but they’re only gonna continue to support if they feel a need for that facility. So the zoo has to show to a community, excuse me, why it’s more than a luxury. And a zoo can be a luxury for a community in terms of the expense of maintaining a facility. Zoo is very labor-intensive and it’s expensive to run a 24 hour, 365 day a year operation properly. So I think that the zoo is become and should develop and grow more even in outreach in educational areas. The zoos today in conservation have stopped just trying to do something on site, the major collections in the country in the world are reaching out to the world.

02:35:38 - 02:36:49

And many of them have extension of researchers and funding for programs in conservation. Some of us feel strongly that in another 25, 50 years there won’t be wild areas left in the world other than national parks park systems, and the zoological gardens and aquariums. So I think this is a meaningful growth. I think that again, zoos no longer try to preserve a species, we try now to preserve an ecological niche of the world, where if you’re trying to save whales, you wanna save the ocean where all the other fish live. If you wanna save an elephant, you preserve the forest where the elephant lives, and all the other birds mammals, reptiles get saved too. So I think that the zoos of the future will play a continuing role. And of course, I speak with bias that they’re there and should be supported, and in turn should be part of a community in every respect.

02:36:51 - 02:36:57

What skillset do you think a zoo director needs today?

02:36:57 - 02:38:19

A zoo director today is with not only a zoo, but practically every cultural institution in my opinion, have comparable skill needs. And that is that you certainly, it helps if you know the collection. In other words, a zoo directors should be a person that relates to the animal world. On the other hand, there are few zoos today that have a business person running the zoo, and they in turn, rely on their technical staff to take care of the animal technical questions. But I think a zoo person today has to be knowing about the collection needs of that facility. A zoo person today has to be able to relate to the community, to get their support. A zoo person today has to have some fiscal awareness if not background, because most places are big time, money places, many multi-million dollars of budgetary area. A zoo directors should be good with people because you’re dealing with, not only the employees, but you’re dealing with the visitors, the public, the various bodies you interact with.

02:38:19 - 02:38:48

And so I think a zoo director has to be a person that can kind of be diverse in their thinking and have to rely on technical help in different areas because of this incredible expansion of operations. Some feel that the zoo community lacks really top notch curatorial staff managing the collections.

02:38:48 - 02:38:53

What has changed from when you started, and how do you believe new zoo curators should be trained?

02:38:56 - 02:40:09

I looked back at Lincoln Park in the early years, and our curatorial staff were people that were fortunate to go to college. The great majority of them graduated with a zoology degree, and that was considered an entry ticket to a zoo staff, a curatorial position. In those days, we even had more than one self-made person, man. Marlin, I mentioned never had an academic background, the man who built and ran the Detroit Zoo is a landscape architect. So that it wasn’t just a case of doing, knowing animal graduate studies. But I think that gradually is that changed and in today’s world, the academia portion, nowadays animal keepers are not only just nice people and care about animals. I’d say a great number of them have already some degree in biology. Most of the staffs today have either masters or doctorates in some area of biology.

02:40:09 - 02:40:18

And I think that as I see it, how do you get back to basic animal care?

02:40:19 - 02:41:36

It’s one thing to have somebody that’s skilled in a certain niche of research or a certain niche of education or business, but you still have to understand your animals. And if you’re gonna work with them, I think that may be in some ways, the pendulum went from just curatorial at AZA to all these other related facets of zoo operation, and maybe somewhere we’ve lost a little bit of that essence of saying that the new young mammal curator and bird curator should know a lot more about that particular group of wild creatures. So I think that somewhere, somehow that balance may swing, but today my thought would be that it’s important to get people who care for and about animals. Who bring some advanced educational knowledge to their care and are given equal credit that the animal curatorial staff should read right along with the marketing, and the PR, and fundraising, and education, and conservation. All those things are good and necessary, but the core still has to be the care of that collection.

02:41:37 - 02:41:51

We had touched on this a little before, but knowing what we know about endangered species today and populations, captive management, exhibition, what do you believe should be the role of the professional zoo organization today?

02:41:55 - 02:43:05

The role of a zoo today has to remain diverse. I think a zoo today is definitely charged with the responsibility of its collection, that’s the heart of operating any zoo. And just as schools and orphanages and everything else have to care about people and children, it’s the animals that are the core and heart of what the zoo should always be. But I think the fact that the zoo today is part of an umbrella of interaction, the zoo of yesterday was an island, I felt. I got mine and the heck with you, that was a philosophy, there was no sharing. Secrets were contained within the operation or the institution, that has slowly, steadily changed. And then now we’re cooperating, we work together. I think that the outreach to various important areas of the world where the wildlife are has become meaningful.

02:43:05 - 02:43:28

And I think that the zoo will continue to grow in those areas. I think the zoo is just one part of the so-called international approach to how do we hope that in the next 50 years and 100 years, there will be wild creatures still living in their natural habitat in this world.

02:43:29 - 02:43:42

You just hit on something because 50 years down the road, how do you see American zoos in terms of programs for the public, or the collections, or other activities?

02:43:43 - 02:44:04

I think to look into the future for 50 years today is difficult because of the incredible economic times we’ve just been through in the last two, three years. We were talking in our media today that universities are shutting back, and cutting down on staff and educational programs.

02:44:04 - 02:44:10

So how are the zoos gonna survive the coming economic times?

02:44:11 - 02:44:33

I’ve seen the growth of big business and big corporations where even in my own veterinary profession, an animal hospital today is an endangered species. A animal hospital today is part of big business. There are corporations now that run 10, 20, 50, 100 animal hospitals.

02:44:33 - 02:44:48

Is it possible that in our country and different parts of the world, there will be large umbrella groups, whether you call it a corporate entity or X that will be operating and running the zoological collections?

02:44:48 - 02:45:08

I don’t know, a lot of the communities are gonna continue to swim up hill to maintain a so-called local zoo. And it’s possible that there will be changes economically that I can’t begin to understand or foresee, but I think change will happen.

02:45:10 - 02:45:15

What role do you see zoos having regarding conservation, and education, and research?

02:45:15 - 02:45:18

What should be their lead, so to speak, in these areas?

02:45:19 - 02:47:02

I think that the so-called four core elements of running the zoo with recreation still being an important one. If we lose sight of the fact, I recall Hope McCormick used to say so often, “If you can’t have fun at the zoo, why have a zoo?” So that I think that the recreation aspect will always be there and important, but I mentioned earlier, I feel the educational component, schools nowadays no longer just go to have a good time on a visit to field trip, today it’s tied into the curriculum. And I think that the zoo of the future should even more so be directly involved with teaching the curriculum of the animal world. Conservation will remain a important priority. I’m not sure how important it is for communities to get involved, it’s important for individuals, and I think for governments to get involved in the conservation of wildlife, because the issues are beyond what normal limited resources can handle. And of course, the research element, that’s part of the fun part for people that work in zoos or other science-related areas, to be able to do meaningful research. We go back to the earliest days of Jane Goodall doing her early work 40, 50 years ago with the chimpanzees at Gambi. George Schaller, who did pioneer work around the world in conservation of different species like snow leopard and mountain gorilla.

02:47:04 - 02:47:11

I think that these are areas that remain intriguing and a continuing challenge.

02:47:12 - 02:47:15

What changes have you seen in the public’s perception of zoos?

02:47:18 - 02:47:20

How do people feel about a zoo?

02:47:22 - 02:47:39

That’s almost like when I started in this work, 50 or 60, 70 years ago, whatever it was. And I touched down the fact that in medical schools, there was the vivisection, anti-vivisection battle that even today is not totally laid to rest.

02:47:39 - 02:47:47

I think that zoos are faced today with an element of society that say, “Why a zoo?

02:47:47 - 02:48:57

“An animal should be left alone, leave them in the wild. “Don’t bring them into captivity.” There are various humane groups. One of the active groups we call PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, that’s kind of, I feel personally a strong fringe group. They would like to shut down all the zoos in the world, they’d like to shut down medical research with animals. They’d like to close circuses. They feel that, they and others feel that animals have a right comparable to a human, they talk of animal rights. And this is well-funded, it’s strong it’s continuing to be a problem in this world. And I think that until people can somehow differentiate animal welfare from animal rights, maybe I bring a personal bias to this, but I don’t feel that my dog at home is the same level of society as my daughter.

02:48:58 - 02:49:44

I think that people are endowed with certain abilities and rights and things that the animal world are not. And whether it’s a domestic creature, wild creature, we have to honestly look at that. And so I think that this is an ongoing struggle between the community and individuals to sort out. I’m not sure where it’s gonna end because I don’t see it getting better in the foreseeable future. I think there will continue to be people who somehow think that animals should have equal say in this world as humans, and I don’t know how you resolve that.

02:49:45 - 02:49:50

How do you feel zoos are doing in answering the challenges from the anti-zoo groups?

02:49:51 - 02:51:18

I think the majority of zoos today in the world, because we’re talking of that in the area of how do we deal with the animal rights issue, are no longer the terrifying, terrible place that they were 50, 100, 200 years ago. I think the fact that philosophically, a zoo today is geared toward best possible humane care of animals. Somehow, I think, and I’ve been involved in the Humane Movement for 50 years being a member here in Chicago of the Anti-Cruelty Society, I think all that time. I think that people no longer look upon the so-called community dog pond as a hellhole, a place to dump a dog and kill it. They now feel it it’s entitled to proper humane, good care with good facility. The zoo started years ago, and they’re continuing to expand the accreditation of institutions that have wild creatures. This is mandated by federal local state legislation. The zoos, I think have an obligation to do right by the animal if they have it, and give it the best possible humane welfare care that’s possible.

02:51:18 - 02:51:34

And I think the movement has gone a long way from way down here to way up there, that today I’m comfortable going into any accredited zoo in the United States, certainly, and know that the animals are properly cared for.

02:51:35 - 02:51:40

Going back to Lincoln Park, what are some of your proudest accomplishments?

02:51:42 - 02:53:52

I think at Lincoln Park as I reflect back on times that I’ve been there, I think, and it wasn’t me personally, that had much to do with it, but the fact that it remained and still is, was a free open facility for all. I always felt good about that and I still feel good about that today. Politically, that could change in the next 50 or 100 years for fiscal reasons, but as long as it’s possible to have free access to this special area of town, I feel that that’s something I was privileged to be part of and help facilitate. I think the fact that we no longer have the so-called animal in jail concept, where we used to be able to walk around and see the barred monkey cages, and the barred cat cages, and the bear dens that were almost psychologically unfit for a human to work in much less for the animal to live in, this is all pretty much history now. And I think that this is good, and I guess I have a strong personal bias about one animal and that’s the gorilla, because I think that I was privileged to be able to work with a sort of foundation group of such animals in our facility, going back to Bushman, and then Sinbad, and from there on through Otto and all the other wonderful animals we’ve had. I don’t know the number today, but I’m guessing it’s give or take 50 baby gorillas have been born at Lincoln Park since 1970 when the first one was born. And I think that I can always look back and enjoy the growth of the Gorilla Species Survival Plan and the interaction. Gorillas were very much part of a community.

02:53:52 - 02:54:48

And in the early years, when we tried to address collaboration, if someone were to tell Chicago, “You’re gonna have to send Bushman to Kansas City.” There would be a reaction, a public outcry. Well, when we tried starting to organize the Gorilla Species Survival Plan, we ran into that. The mayor of Omaha wouldn’t wanna see his animal, I’m just using hypothetical cases, to go to San Francisco because it’s part of the community. And the mayor of the Bronx and New York, wasn’t gonna send something to New Jersey. And so it took a little doing to get through that. And I was able to be part of the early years of cooperation and collaboration in getting the so-called gorilla anyway, SSP Program up to speed. And it’s of course, like all the rest of them now doing well.

02:54:48 - 02:54:55

Is there anything you would have liked to accomplish when you were director, but weren’t able to?

02:54:57 - 02:55:57

I guess they’ve accomplished what I wanted to, and never accomplished, and that was to make the name of the zoo be proper. We call it Lincoln Park Zoological Gardens. And by golly, even though I tried hard, the Park District never did it. We were fortunate, and still are, to be part of the Lincoln Park parks system. And they have next door to us, a conservatory that’s one of the best of its kind, small but wonderful in the city and in the country. And so I always felt strongly that we should be able to bring the beautiful gardens that are right outside our gates into Lincoln Park Zoo. And the district never were able to commit the resources to do that. And finally, when the Zoo Society took over the management of the zoo, I think, and started outsourcing that kind of work.

02:55:57 - 02:57:07

Today I can walk around the zoo and feel that it really is a wondrous just extension of the garden that exists in Lincoln Park next to it. So that goal has been achieved, even though I wasn’t able to do it, I tried. And I think the fact that even though I wasn’t instrumental in starting it, I certainly tried to help with the business of the women being able to move into our profession. When I came on board in the 50s and the 60s, you never saw a woman employee at a zoo. You never saw a woman at the national gatherings of the thing. And today the women are right in there, probably in numbers as much, if not more than the men’s, so there’s been a total switch. And I think happily the same is true of the minority representation. You could go to a national zoo conference with 1,000 people attending, and you might, might or might not see one or two black faces in the entire crowd of white faces.

02:57:07 - 02:58:00

So gradually the black community have slowly steadily come in, and I think the Latino community also are changing as Chicago being now, I think diversifying so that our city, not the suburbs, but the city is pretty much split between Latino, black, and white populations. I think it’s important that this continue, a trend that keeps going. My profession has changed dramatically, when I went to vet school in the whole history of Iowa State College, there were two women graduates, no women in my class before or after. And today I’m told nationally, 85% of the students in veterinary schools are women. So they’re slowly steadily pushing us guys to the side.

02:58:00 - 02:58:09

And one time, years ago, I jokingly asked a woman student, what she thought would happen when the profession became 100% female?

02:58:09 - 02:58:24

And she looked at me and said, “Dr. Fisher it’ll be the same when it was 100% male.” And I said, “Okay (laughs), “I can’t argue with that point.” So I think happily, the sex as part of the zoo world has changed and will continue to change.

02:58:26 - 02:58:31

Dr. Fisher, did you ever dream of any of the animals at the zoo?

02:58:33 - 02:59:36

Well, my memory on that is a little bit long mark, but if I were to say yes, it would be one animal. For whatever reason, in my early years as a part-time zoo doctor, I used to have to make occasional night calls to the Monkey House, the Old Primate House. And there, of course, in the one corner cage in the building was Bushman, and he was pretty much of awesome looking guy. And at times I always thought if he really, really wanted to come out of that cage, he might be able to do it. So there I would be at 2:30 in the morning, visiting the place to check on some sick primate, and kind of swiveling my head around looking to see if Bushy is indeed in his cage or coming out. And I think as I recall it, that that probably was one of the few individual animals that I ever probably dreamed about. So it was kind of silly, but true.

02:59:39 - 02:59:44

In the beginning, how did animal handling go at the zoo?

02:59:44 - 02:59:54

What were the challenges and problems with transferring animals, or the medical attention of animals, or even sending an animal to another zoo?

02:59:56 - 03:01:18

Oh, boy, animal handling was then still is an issue, but it’s been, of course, altered dramatically by newer technology. But in the early years it was a hands-on situation. For example, if we had to go and work on one of the hoofstock, say one of the antelopes, the only way we could do it was to go into that stall where the animal was, and get hold of it physically and wrestle it down, and do whatever we had to do with it. And that was fraught with stress for everybody, the animal was stressed beyond belief, and of course, the people. You’d tell one animal keeper, you grab the head or the horns, and you tell them another one, you try to get the front legs, and the other one, the hind legs, and one, two, three, go. And that would be kind of a way to get to the animal. The Lion Hose was another individual classic situation, the big cats were all behind the barred cages and there wasn’t any way to get to them other than with a long pole and a lariat on the end of it. In other words, we had a noose of the rope on the end, and the idea was to drop it over the animal’s head.

03:01:18 - 03:02:52

And for whatever reason beyond belief, the animals invariably went behind the scratching post, which was us in the middle of a cage, and so that became a game. And the other issue was you couldn’t just get a lariat around the head of the animal. You had to get it around the head and under one of the other front feet, because if you got it down to the head, and start pulling the lariat and dragging the animal to the front, you were choking it. And there wasn’t any way to unchoke until get. So sometimes that took five minutes and sometimes you’d spend an hour maneuvering with this long pole, trying to get the animal where you could then safely pull it to the front where the bars are, and then we would try to reach through and grab each foot and put a little leg rope on, and restrain it, and then do what we had to do. There are many, many cases where I felt that one became a believer in stress, I remember way, way back a researcher in Canada called Dr. Hans Selye came up with the stress theory about humans, and the action and reaction of stress. Well, over the years, we would, for example, net a monkey and not often, but occasionally, one would just die in the net from stress. It was not unusual to reach into a cage to catch a small bird with your hand, a canary budgie size type bird.

03:02:52 - 03:04:15

And occasionally the little bird would be stressed out and die in your hand. I can recall a dramatic case where Marlin Perkins, who was doing some “Zoo Parade” shows at the time, was doing something with one of the gazelles. And just the fact that the cameras were focusing on that animal in its small outdoor enclosure, within couple hours the animal was dead. And the autopsy showed nothing, but somehow the stress of people focusing in on that particular animal in that way, stressed it. So handling animals was indeed a real chore. And one funny thing happened that was not ha-ha funny, but funny because of the thing we’re talking about. We were shipping a gorilla from Lincoln Park Zoo to one of the European zoos, and they were anxious to get, and I can’t remember now which way the sex worked. They wanted to get a female and we had a surplus animal, so we were able somehow to get it into a transfer situation, and get it into the shipping crate, and send it to Europe.

03:04:15 - 03:05:49

At that time, we were so thrilled to be able to handle it physically and get it into this situation, no one bothered checking its sex. And of course, it arrived at the European Zoo, and the next day a cable came back, “Why did you send us X?” Meaning the opposite, we thought we were sending a female and there was a male. And a I’m trying to recall, I think at that time Marlin was still at the zoo. And of course, he was convinced that that couldn’t be, it was impossible, but the reality is we just were so happy to get that animal safely into a shipping container and on its way, that no one took the time to double check on the sex of the animal. Shipping animals, always was stressful, and in the earliest years, when many of them came by boat from Africa or Asia, south America, the time that they were in, whatever type of restraint mechanism they were in for shipping, the stress of that long trip created problems medically for the animals. That’s where air made the big difference, you could put a creature into an airplane in one part of the world, and 12 to 24 hours later potentially have it where it was going, so the stress was minimized. So early on, I became a great believer in stress for wild creatures. Even in my medical care, my feeling was to try to get in and get out early as possible time.

03:05:49 - 03:06:22

And one of the more stressful situations that I can recall is, I had a colleague named Dr. Eric Maskin, who was a perfectionist. And Eric’s theory on surgery was to do it meticulously perfect. Mine was to get in and get out within certain parameters. And if I scrubbed up with Eric to do an operation, I was trying to visually and verbally egg him on to keep going, because I didn’t want that animal under the anesthetic any longer than it had to be.

03:06:22 - 03:06:24

And Eric thought, “What’s the big deal?

03:06:24 - 03:07:41

“If it’s under 20 minutes or two hours, “it’s under the anesthetic not to worry.” So he didn’t quite have the same concern that I did about stress. I think that that kinda gives you an overview in response to your query about the animal handling. There’s no question that it was crude, it was tough. The early TV shows of how they would be catching animals in Africa and chasing them with trucks, and roping them from the front fender, and so on. Those were all dramatic scenes, but certainly stressful for the poor critters that were being caught. And happily, a guy came along, I think in Georgia, and developed, guy named Palmer, Red Palmer, and developed a gun to shoot a dart into a deer. He was studying a white-tailed deer, I think, down there in Georgia, in the Southeast USA. And he decided that instead of trying to chase it with a rope and a net and whatever, if he could figure out a way to create a syringe, a dart, a flying dart, and put it into a Crossman Air Rifle, and pick it up, and aim it at the animal, and go bang.

03:07:41 - 03:08:17

And shoot a drug into the muscle of the animal and get it to go down. That started a whole bevy of drugs, and rifles, and pistols, and aluminum dart guns, and you name it, with which we were able to truly, almost eliminate the stress of handling with newer medicine, newer technique. And it was a wonderful boom to both animal, wild animal biology, but also to wild animal medicine, made the big difference.

03:08:17 - 03:08:20

Were you one of the first veterinarians to use a tranquilizer gun?

03:08:20 - 03:08:48

Yes, we received as some of the earliest drugs and some of the early ones were crude compared to the later ones. Nicotine salicylates was one of the early ones that we were using, sort of like concentrated tobacco, I guess. And the problems were that we didn’t know dosages. In other words, it’s fine to say, well, here’s a drug, but this animal weighs 50 pounds, and this animal weighs 340 pounds.

03:08:48 - 03:08:52

Now, how much of that drug do you put in to safely work with the animal?

03:08:53 - 03:10:37

Another drug was succinylcholine, which is a paralytic drug, and it’s even used today in human and animal medicine to stop respiration ’cause it paralyzes the muscles of the chest. And a certain dosage would be used by the anesthesiologist along with other drugs. But it was not unusual to, for example, knock down an animal with one of these tranquilizing darts and you were in there with the animal, but you weren’t certain if it’s gonna sleep for two minutes or an hour. And there were times that we’d be in with some of these big critters, and they started moving around before we expected them to, and created some pretty scary situations. So I would say that our early years in determining the dosages for different animals was the challenge. And fortunately enough zoo wildlife researchers out in the field and the zoo vets at the various zoos started sharing all their knowledge and putting together basic dosages, so you knew that if you were gonna shoot a 20 pound monkey, you used a certain kind of drug, ketamine, was one of the common ones at that time that was safe. You knew if you were gonna stop a rhino out in the bush in Africa or in the pennant one of the zoos, a certain amount of a drug called M99, which was kind of like a morphine concentrate. And it just took 5 to 10 milligrams of M99 to put down 1,000 or 2,000 pound animal.

03:10:37 - 03:11:36

One of the interesting dangers were that, in working with these early drugs was the fact that we didn’t really appreciate the potential danger or toxicity to the person preparing the drug. And it’s possible if somebody had a cut on their hand and they were handling one of these very concentrated, lethal drugs, they could go to sleep (chuckles) along with the rhino. So those were, again, things that sounds silly today, but reality is, we learned the hard way to put on our gloves properly, be very careful to the sensitivity of the drugs we were working with. And to my knowledge, I don’t recall anybody in the zoo world, anyway, ever dying from that kind of a crazy coincidence, but we learned the hard way, many such things. Well, tranquilizers were obviously a significant change for how you treated animals.

03:11:36 - 03:11:43

Were there any other significant changes in zoo medicine, which assisted the zoo veterinarian in doing the job?

03:11:44 - 03:13:03

Well, and again, clarify, when you say the tranquilizers were good in treating the animals, meaning the primarily to get access to the animal. And the treatment part then became what would normally be done with any other medical procedure. Happily for the zoo vets, a veterinarian by the name of Dr. Murray Fowler out in California at UC Davis Veterinary School put together the first such book. It was the first compendium of all these different kinds of therapies for animals. He put together the dosages that people had shared around the country and the world. And that became almost a Bible for any, especially young, new zoo veterinarian or wildlife biologist, that’s gonna be using drugs and treating animals. Murray’s book was the first such, there really weren’t any true zoo veterinarians, as far as training goes. That was a case of just as I experienced, I was one of a handful of what we call part-time doctors.

03:13:03 - 03:13:20

And I think in those earliest years, there may be where at most three or four full-time in the U.S. A guy named Dr. Charles Schroeder out in California was one of the early both veterinarians, and he ended up director of the San Diego Zoo.

03:13:21 - 03:13:24

A woman named Patricia, who?

03:13:26 - 03:14:08

I can’t think of her last name at the, O’Connor, Patsy O’Connor was the first woman zoo veterinarian at the Staten Island Zoo full-time. And in Cleveland, a guy named Dr. Leonard Goss, who was a pathologist as well as a veterinarian. His father was head of the Department of Pathology at Ohio State Veterinary School. And Len was one of the earliest, I think he started maybe at the Bronx and then went to Cleveland. So you had a just a real, real small number of people that had any experience or training in working with the medical care of wild creatures, it was a challenge.

03:14:08 - 03:14:12

Were you able to communicate with these other zoo veterinarians on a regular basis?

03:14:12 - 03:15:38

Well, fortunately the telephone, which today is still a useful tool, was always there. And we would call each other up if we had issues or problems. And once a year at the National Veterinary Conventions, the American Veterinary Medical Association, AVMA would have their meetings. And invariably, those of us that were interested in wildlife issues and medical items, we would get together for an hour or two and discuss the issues, the case reports, you name it, and that was kind of a clearing house for us. Today that’s come a long, long way and we now have boarded certified zoo veterinarians who’ve been through an intensive internship and residency program. They have their own professional organization, the American Association of Zoological Veterinarians. And again, it’s a pleasure to know that it’s come that far from the so-called country doctor, the Les Fisher with a black bag from his small animal hospital to nowadays an incredible physical plant that has been built at different institutions. And the animals get the same care that you and I might get in our human hospital, it’s wonderful.

03:15:38 - 03:17:02

You talked about sending animals to other zoos and receiving them. Can you tell us the story about the Sri Lankan elephant, Bozie, that came to Lincoln Parks Zoo, and how you were able to- Bozie is kind of an interesting fun story. First of all, we heard, we meaning different people at different zoos, including me at Lincoln Park Zoo, that there was an orphanage in Sri Lanka. And this orphanage was a place where there were a handful of baby animals that had been for whatever reason brought there, where the parents had been killed or whatever had happened. And that these animals were literally up for adoption and sale. The government of Sri Lanka, then it may be, still as even called Ceylon in the early years next to India there, wanted to use this as a financial resource. And I can’t remember the amount, but I would guess it was somewhere between maybe 2 and $5,000 that you had to pay to get a permit to go and get a baby elephant at this orphanage. Well, I found a member of our Zoo Society, Art Boze who was a board member.

03:17:02 - 03:18:35

And Art said, “I’ll underwrite the purchase of the animal.” And we started a dialogue between the director of the zoo there in Sri Lanka, Lindy Alice, and also the governmental agencies. And finally, after what seemed like an interminable time, there was a small window of opportunity to go to their place and get the baby elephant. The window for me was that I had an international conference coming up in Caracas in South America. And I think I had something like, I can’t recall exactly, anywhere from maybe six to eight days to accomplish this mission. Get on a plane here in Chicago and go over there, pick up a baby elephant, get it back to Chicago and still make my conference in Sri Lanka in Caracas that I was committed to. Well, it was a classic case where everything that could go wrong did. It started right here at O’Hare, I got on a taxi and was gonna the airport, and lo and behold, I’m in the taxi on the way to O’Hare airport, and told the driver whichever airline I was going to, and sat back and relaxed. And anybody that knows Chicago knows that there’s a turnoff just before you get to the airport that goes to the interstate down Indiana.

03:18:35 - 03:20:15

And for some reason, this taxi driver got on that turnoff, and I looked out the window and thought, “Oh my golly, I’m heading down to Indiana.” Well, happily there was a booth somewhere, a collection booth not too far down some miles, and we were able to get off that expressway, get back to O’Hare. I literally just made my plane, and got to, I think at the time it was London, and I was going to get a Air India flight from London to Sri Lanka. And for whatever reason that flight was taking off early, it’s hard to understand, but at Heathrow they told us be back at the airport at such and such a time, and the plane will be there. And now that I think about it, it wasn’t Air India, it was Air Sri Lanka. And I got there and said, “Here I am with my ticket, “I’m ready to go, where’s the flight?” And they said, “Oh, the captain decided leave early, he’s gone.” I said, “Gone?” They said, yup, he left, whatever X minutes before. So I’m thinking, “Okay, what do I do now?” I scrambled and found a flight from London to, I think it was Switzerland, to Zurich. And got there and was on a hold for the flight then from there to Sri Lanka. And I’m on a so-called waiting list and the place is full of people, of course, ’cause for whatever reason, various flights around the European area had been messed up just as mine was.

03:20:15 - 03:21:40

And I finally went to the head of the airport and said, “I have an emergency situation.” He said, “What’s that?” And I said, “I’ve got to go get a baby elephant.” And of course, he thought I was a little wacko. And I finally convinced him of what I was up to, and I sat there and watched these people loading that flight one by one, and hating every one of them. And finally, there were two seats left for standbys, and the guy from the airport manager’s office said, “Fisher, you can get on this flight.” So I arrive in Sri Lanka, contact my colleague, the director of the zoo, and found out he’d left the day before for the conference in Caracas, that I was gonna go to. And I thought, “Oh boy.” Anyway, we went out to the orphanage, and I picked out what I thought was the animal that I wanted. And it looked great, and I was excited. And then I was told after sometime that you can’t have that animal, and I said, “Why not?” And they said, “That one’s committed “to your national zoo in Washington.” They also have decided to adopt the animal. And I thought, “Well, I can’t fight that one, “I can’t argue with them about it.” And went and picked another elephant baby that I thought would be good, and happily that one was ours.

03:21:40 - 03:21:45

And then the question was, how to get it home?

03:21:45 - 03:23:11

And that meant making a crate for it there, which they had facilities to do that because they were shipping animals from the orphanage. And I proceeded to have a crate made, and got to the airport with the crate and an animal. And the guy said, “But you can’t ship that animal, “it’s gonna defecate or urinate, “and mess up the whole freight compartment.” He said, “You’re gonna have to somehow tarp it “or use some plastic material to do it.” And I said, “Well, that’s not gonna be easy.” But we managed, and next thing I knew the baby elephant’s trunk was rapping at this plastic material and putting it in its mouth. And I said, “Well, we can’t do that.” So we took the plastic off, and the guy said, “You can’t go.” And finally, we somehow reached an accommodation, and then lo and behold, I found out that the crate wouldn’t fit in the plane’s freight area. I think it those were VC10s at that time. And so that messed up that, and then by sheer good luck, about three hours later, a KLM flight going to Amsterdam of a different size plane where the Creek would fit, worked out. And so the baby elephant and I got on that flight, got to Amsterdam. And then there, they have a really a wonderful animal holding facility, they did at that time anyway.

03:23:11 - 03:24:36

And we stayed there X hours, and had a flight booked to Chicago. And that time, the plane that we were on was one of these split planes where the front half of the plane are passengers and the back half were freight. And so this baby elephant and its crate was in the freight half of the thing, and I had to convince the people, the crew that I needed some milk to be warmed up and had to go back and feed this baby elephant. And pretty soon word was throughout the plane as to what was going on, and people were following me, watching me give this baby elephants some milk and stuff. And happily, we arrived in Chicago, and my staff were there, I think it’s possible Mark, that you maybe were one of the people that was at the airport to meet us and bring the elephant to the zoo. In honor of Art Boze’s financial support, we named it Bozie and I think his grandchild gave it that name. And the good and bad story is that the baby elephant that went to the national zoo, turned out to be a medical problem. And every few weeks I’d get a phone call from Washington, D.C. to Lincoln Park Chicago saying, this and this is wrong, and what should we do with it, and so on.

03:24:36 - 03:24:58

And I was trying to be medically supportive and I think it took them months before their baby finally settled down and did well. And for us, Bozie medically, I don’t recall as a problem. So the story of Bozie is just a silly fun story of timing, and coincidences, and happy ending.

03:24:58 - 03:25:07

When you tarted at the zoo as a full-time veterinarian, what was your philosophy to deal and work with the keepers?

03:25:08 - 03:26:47

Well, my philosophy was to try and learn, because I may have stated earlier in these discussions that I was a classic city boy, had no farm experience, didn’t know anything literally about wildlife, other than the little I’d read and was aware of as any youngster in school might be. And so for me, it was a learning curve. And fortunately at Lincoln Park then and now we had a cadre of good experienced animal people. And so they maybe weren’t academically strong, but they were practical animal people that knew how to work with and care for the animals. So for me, it was a learning experience, and I had nothing but respect for the various staff that were at the zoo over the years when it came to the animal issues. The zoo then was pretty much starting to break out in the, you might say specialized areas of birds, mammals, reptiles. And so the people that worked with them, pretty much knew their kind of animal, and I was able to tag along and learn. And one of the nice things, I can’t recall in our earlier discussion, whether we mentioned thunder, lightning, whatever the story about the zebu calf that I delivered when I was starting medical work at the zoo.

03:26:47 - 03:27:50

And this was a night call two, three in the morning on a rainy, thundering, lightning evening. When I got to the zoo and the keeper said, “Doc, we’ve got this animal, she’s trying to deliver.” And we were able to rope her and get her head and corner the stall. And I was able to go in and physically help deliver this little calf. And for me it was, of course, personally satisfying to have a good result medically, but word went around the zoo, that maybe that new doctor isn’t such a bad guy after all. And I think that that helped establish to the keepers that I was perfectly happy to listen, and learn, and in turn share whatever medical knowledge I had, that would be part of a team effort. So that’s kind of the way it went in the early years, and it worked. When you became director of the zoo, you established the Zoo Medical Committee.

03:27:50 - 03:27:53

Why did you do that and how did that evolve?

03:27:53 - 03:28:42

Well, I lived across the street from Lincoln Park Zoo. I had an apartment there in Lincoln Park West in Chicago, and in our apartment building was my pediatrician. I had two daughters, youngsters at the time and Dr. Martin Hardy was his name. And he was on staff at Northwestern and Children’s Hospital. And he also was interested in animals, and primates and so on. And so if I had a call off hours and was going to the zoo, I would knock on Martin’s door and say, “Dr. Hardy, I’m going to the zoo. “If you’re free, you wanna come along.” And he said, “Of course,” and he did. And he was a great help to me, especially with the babies that were in our zoo nursery at that time.

03:28:42 - 03:30:28

But in addition to that, as time went on and I needed specialized help, the veterinarians in the Chicago area were basically what I was, small animal practitioners, dogs, and cats, and assorted sorted little critters. And if we needed someone that was, say an ophthalmologist to work on the eye of an animal, if we needed a neurologist, if we needed a specialty surgeon, veterinarians at that time, didn’t have specialization, but the medical people did. And so thanks to Dr. Hardy’s early intervention, we contacted various people primarily on the staff at Northwestern Medical School because physically they were the closest to the zoo, and were enough people that were interested in animal comparative medicine, and were not sort of upset or dismayed by the fact that they’d be asked to look at a monkey, or a lion, or a black bear. And we put together about 15 to 20 such specialists, they came when needed in their area of specialization. And I think since then throughout the country, and I assume other zoos around the world, they have made great use of the human specialty doctor who’s willing to assist on animal projects. And so our little medical resource was a boon, and a nice thing, and it worked. And I think to this day is still ongoing, not only at our zoo, but many places around the world now. You had mentioned that the medical committee was helpful.

03:30:28 - 03:30:35

Can you tell us about the gorilla that went to Children’s Memorial Hospital, and why it went there, and what happened?

03:30:35 - 03:30:37

And do you remember a date on that?

03:30:37 - 03:31:08

No, I do not remember a date. The animal was a youngster, less than a year old. Was in the cage with its parents, at least with its mother, I can’t remember if at that time the male was in there too. And for whatever reason, the keeper came running into the zoo office and said, Dr. da da da, this little baby gorilla was lying on the floor of the cage, literally unconscious.

03:31:08 - 03:31:13

And the question was, what to do?

03:31:14 - 03:32:40

My first reaction was that here was a special little kid that needed special care, and physically in Chicago the Children’s Hospital is just a, maybe a 10-minute drive from where Lincoln Park Zoo is on the near north side of Chicago. And so I just scooped up the animal, put it in a blanket, put it in the car, and dashed over to Children’s Hospital. And said, “I’ve got a baby here that needs some help.” Well, the initial response was a total turnoff because by sheer coincidence, the week before this accident happened, a dog had been hit on the expressway near county hospital in Chicago. And the dog was brought in and one of the orthopedic surgeons at county worked on it, put it together, and helped it. And the media played both ways. On the one hand, they said, “Oh, wasn’t that a nice thing to do?” On the other hand, they said, “But there are people in Chicago with broken bones “who can’t get into the hospital, “and here they take time to fix this dog up.” Well, the people at children’s wondered, well, what’s gonna be the reaction if they try to help an animal. And I prevailed, and they did indeed agree to take care of it. And the neurosurgeon, a Dr. Tony Raimondi was there at the time.

03:32:40 - 03:33:42

And it turned out that it’s what we call, medically a subdural hematoma. It’s a case where a blow to the head causes bleeding under the scalp, and the hematoma is not a cancer or a growth, it’s just a swelling of blood that poured out under there. And what the doctors do is, they literally just open up the scalp, they trephine it, relieve the pressure, and fix the bleeding area, put the scalp together again, and patient does fine. And so our little baby gorilla was the beneficiary of emergency care by a skilled neurosurgeon. And the people at Children’s, finally decided to play it upfront and properly, that here was an endangered animal that they helped. And didn’t in any way interfere with any of the human medical issues at the hospital. And for them, it was a winner, and for us it was a winner. So that’s my recollection of that particular story, Mark.

03:33:42 - 03:33:43

It was a good one.

03:33:45 - 03:33:49

Were other animals, or groups of animals challenging, medically to take care of?

03:33:50 - 03:35:03

Well, I guess for me psychologically, the reptiles were by far the most challenging, because again, I wasn’t about to reach into a cage to get a rattlesnake out, or a big Python, or boa constrictor. I wasn’t comfortable working with these animals. And I had to rely entirely on the skill of the curators to figure out safely how to handle these animals. And then I could safely do whatever medical procedure was needed. Beyond that, I think I developed a comfort level working with and around just about any other animal in the collection under proper time and care. I can reflect that in my small animal hospital, I was bitten and scratched by dogs and cats many times. In all the years at Lincoln Park Zoo, both as a part-time zoo vet, full-time zoo vet, zoo director, I never was seriously injured in any way, shape, or form. I was both careful and lucky.

03:35:03 - 03:36:01

And when you’re working around animals, especially wild animals it’s combination of both. And so just as I would tell new employees at the zoo, hopefully if you’re scared of animals, you don’t belong here. If you lose a respect for that animal, someday potentially you may be sorry and get hurt, so I try to go by that same philosophy. We’ve had a lot of close calls and a lot of medical issues around the zoo over the years, but happily never a serious incident, such as for example, my predecessor, Marlin Perkins being bitten twice, I think during his tenure in Chicago, went to the hospital after some venomous snake bite that almost done him in. Well, in the 1960s you had to travel or did travel to Africa to acquire gorillas.

03:36:01 - 03:36:07

And what was the social climate like for the importation of gorillas at that time?

03:36:09 - 03:38:00

Bringing animals in from Africa was, again, a bureaucratic issue. You were involved with Department of Agriculture, there were certain permits required, both for export from country of origin, and import for country of destination. Paperwork seemingly took time, there was no simple way to get around the bureaucracy. And bringing animals in from Africa, the baby gorillas, the few that we got from Cameroon, which is a west African country where a lot of the lowland gorillas that are in the zoos of our country and the world came from. So that, again, it was a sheer happy coincidence that we had a Chicago Park District Commissioner, a guy named Franklin Schmick, who for whatever reason, thought that gorillas were the greatest thing ever. And he, of course, included chimps, and orangs, so the great apes in total, and he’s the one that underwrote our first trip to Cameroon to go and look at and see if we could bring back some baby animals. In those early years in reflecting back, it wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do, but orphan babies were brought in to various holding areas, various dealers in Africa, and these babies were there. And it’s a matter of either giving them an opportunity to get proper care and come to a zoo, or they potentially would die.

03:38:00 - 03:39:18

And so whether they came to the orphan state because the mother was killed. Whether the mother, for whatever reason, abandoned the baby, in most cases we didn’t know. And that was the way that we brought back a lot of our early kids, and I established rapport with some of the, what we thought were legitimate, good animal people there in Cameroon, and some of the dealers. And it was a positive experience. Frank went with me down there and he was the great white father, he had a wonderful head of white hair, and he was always immaculate in his dress. And there I was full of sweat, and wondering why we’re in this hot humid area. And one of the silly stories that came out of one of these trips, was that at one time we were having breakfast with the animal person, the dealer, the trapper, whichever he may have been. And lo and behold through an opening in the area that we were in, a young Chimp comes in, and grabs Frank’s breakfast food.

03:39:18 - 03:39:50

Frank was startled and genuinely upset for a moment, and then he turned to the dealer and said, “I want that animal,” and so automatically the price of that baby chimp went up 10 fold, and we ended up getting the animal. I think that’s the one we call Sam, but I’m not positive in recollection on that. But anyway, so that chimp ended up at Lincoln Park, again, thanks to Frank’s reaction and his financial support.

03:39:50 - 03:39:54

Were there objections from people for you bringing in the gorilla?

03:39:54 - 03:40:38

At that time, no. My recollection is that there weren’t that many animals being brought in, the fact that these were bona fide orphans on the export bureaucratic level, the animals were cared for by people in Africa as baby animals would or should be. And the fact that, again, it was a source of income for people there, and certainly was a source of new, young, wonderful baby animals to come to a zoo with the long-term hope of creating a proper home and longevity for them in captivity.

03:40:38 - 03:40:42

And how did that effect and impact gorilla conservation?

03:40:42 - 03:42:21

Well, over a period of time, as with all things like that, you go from one side of the cycle to the other. The very first recollection I have of great ape conservation was the orangutans. The baby orangs of all the ape babies anyway are by far, in my judgment, the handsomest, prettiest animals ever. They’re a little red head and red hair, and just a wonderful sight to see a baby orang. And over the years, many baby orangs were brought from Asia to zoos of the world. and some survived and some didn’t. And somebody said, “You know, “if we’re gonna try to shut down this sort of transfer “of orangs from the wild to the captive state, “we’ve got to stop bringing them in.” And so my recollection is that there was a voluntary arbitrary ban that we put on importing anymore baby orangs at that time to try to stop filling up this pipeline of youngsters that were probably coming because the parents were being killed, and the babies were used as a cash commodity. And in addition to that, then the zoos as with many things in the wild state, when I took over at Lincoln Park, administratively in 1962, I could order any animal, any kind of animal anywhere in the world.

03:42:21 - 03:43:18

At that time, I think we felt that there’s not an issue, the numbers game is nothing to worry about. The supplies are endless and we indeed could or would work with dealers, and bring in birds, mammals, reptiles, you name it. Finally, people started recognizing the fact that it wasn’t so, that certain kinds of animals were in trouble in their native area. And so the bans were put on in various rules by the zoo associations went into effect, and then various governmental rules also went into effect about trying to import various, especially the great apes, the gorilla, chimp, and orang. And the conservation ethic kind of took hold, and just grew as I recall it during that time, during the 60s.

03:43:20 - 03:43:28

First occurred while you were director, and that is the birth of a gorilla baby, can you tell me a little something about that?

03:43:28 - 03:45:14

Yeah, that’s another good story and a fun story. Our female gorilla, Mumby I think was her name, was pregnant and this was exciting for us because it was going to be a first ever in our zoo, we’d had before that wonderful animals, we’d had Bushman the famous big gorilla, we had Sinbad the big gorilla, but never a baby animal born at Lincoln Park. And once we saw that she was indeed getting a tummy on her, and she was basically a sweet animal, the mother or the female. And again, by coincidence, Frank Schmick, the commissioner that I mentioned earlier, was, of course, excited ’cause he was at the zoo every weekend, visiting the animals and stuff. And he said, “Oh,” he said, “My daughter is in the process of having a baby, “and she’s got an obstetrician “that might be interested in helping you.” And I thought, “Well, that’s kind of Frank talking, “and a little silly,” but lo and behold, I contacted the obstetrician, and he indeed said, “Sure, I’ll come out and look at the animal.” And at first, basically we just stood outside the cage and eyeball the animal. And after a little while, some weeks later she kept getting bigger and bigger. And finally, I asked him if he’d wanna try to do some kind of a hands-on that I thought it’d be safe with her temperament. And he said, sure, he’d be happy to do it.

03:45:14 - 03:46:31

And so he, and I, I think probably one or two of the staff, went into the cage with the animal and he was able to do a brief exam. I don’t remember that he necessarily did a proper vaginal exam because I’m not sure she would have held fast for that, and would have perhaps tried to bite one of us. But it worked out this man’s name was Dr. Bailey, I believe, Lee Bailey. And he said, “When you’re running into a problem, “if she’s gonna deliver, please call me.” And lo and behold, I had a dinner at my house across the street from the zoo with maybe six or eight guests. And a phone call, came from the zoo that Mumby was in labor. And so I explained to the dinner guests that I’d have to excuse myself, and they said, “Well, heck we wanna come along.” So the whole gang just followed me into the Monkey House. And I got on the phone and called Dr. Bailey. And unfortunately for me, word came that he was in the hospital delivering two other women’s babies, and he’d come after that was taken care of.

03:46:31 - 03:48:04

And so we proceeded to observe the animal and she had, which was a little unusual as I recall it for most of the animals, although she was young and this was her first time delivery. She had some problems, it was not a quick, easy delivery, it was over a period of some hours. I don’t remember exact timing, I would guess maybe two, three hours, and she’d strain and go into pushing, and we’d see a little bit of the head of the baby in that, and we were of course standing by with the thought of helping if needed, but not interfering if not needed, and hoping that Dr. Bailey would show up at any time if needed. And lo and behold, she proceeded to have the baby to deliver it by herself safely, and proceeded to care for it. Because again, many times first time mothers may have a baby and not really be interested in it, just walk away. The thing that I recall about that incident is that I had an assistant director at that time named Saul Kitchener, who was quite an emotional guy in general, in many ways always fussing and cussing, and doing stuff different than I would personally have done. And lo and behold, there was this big rough gruff guy Saul Kitchener with tears in his eyes. He was really so taken by this whole event, and of course, we all were.

03:48:04 - 03:48:44

So that’s the story, I think we named the baby Kumba because it was a 1970, would be my guess on that mark, that, that was the time of the first baby gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo. And of course, that was just the first of a long, long line of wonderful gorilla births that our zoo is blessed to have. I don’t know today the number, but we’re probably somewhere in either the high 40s or thereabouts of the number of gorilla births that occurred at the Old Zoo in Chicago, at Lincoln Park Zoo, and Mumby was the first, Kumba.

03:48:44 - 03:48:52

Was there ever an animal, or a group of animals that you wanted to have at Lincoln Park zoo, but weren’t able to acquire?

03:48:53 - 03:50:32

Well, everybody likes to think of sexy animals, and a lot of times everyone thought the koala bear was an animal that was really unusual and sexy. And eventually we ended up getting some koalas, but another animal that I personally was endeared about, and excited about when I first saw him out at the Vancouver Aquarium on the west coast, in Canada are the sea otters. There’s something about them that is to me, total wondrous, playful, great animals. And of course, we never really had the physical facilities to properly have and care for sea otters, so we never got any during my tenure. The koalas, we finally figured out how to get the food and the animals on loan from San Diego, so that we were able to do that. I think by and large, considering that Lincoln Park Zoo is physically compact and relatively small, there was never any great desire to try and bring in other kinds of animals ’cause we had a great representative collection. We had good spread of mammal, bird, reptile, and some invertebrates and things. And so that I think I was content with the collection we were able to have, and exhibit, and care for.

03:50:32 - 03:50:37

You served as chairman of the Gorilla SSP, you were the first chairman. Right.

03:50:37 - 03:50:38

When was that?

03:50:38 - 03:50:43

And how did that aid in the changing of the zoo philosophy about gorillas?

03:50:43 - 03:52:05

Well, it certainly was a first for me and for the gorillas, but it also was a forerunner of other species. The SSP means Species Survival Plan. And what that means is that if, for example, you’ve got two gorillas, and Joe down the road got three, and someone else got two, and someone else has one. You’re not gonna have any great breeding potential with isolate animals scattered about the country. And so the feeling was that by putting together a group of people, and our SSP was composed, as I remember it of 10 representatives from 10 zoos that had gorillas. And the idea was that we would look at the collections of all of these as an inclusive kind of thing, that instead of thinking of Lincoln Park with its whatever number, and Brookfield Zoo whatever, and St Louis and so on. That we would say, well, in America, we’ve got 160 females, and 28 males, and two babies and whatever. And this group would once a year, sit down and spend two or three days looking at the total picture of the various gorillas in each institution and what the, some came from the wild, the founders stock, we called them.

03:52:05 - 03:53:28

Some came from captive breeding, some had never bred. And the feeling was that this group were to tell other institutions how to move their animals around to encourage the national captive breeding program, and to minimize inbreeding. The problem with the gorilla SSP that I ran into very quickly. And I hadn’t really thought about it until it happened was that every community in town that had a big famous gorilla didn’t wanna move it. In other words, the guy in Kansas City said, “You can’t take our male “and send it to the Bronx Zoo in New York “because that’s part of the community.” And my reaction would have been the same, I think, if someone had told me Sinbad had to go to another place because he was kinda one of the stars of the collection. And so we really had some interesting early resistance from various communities trying to do what we thought was zoologically important and conservation-wise correct, but politically incorrect. And it took some years of nudging, and cajoling, and pushing, and working with different communities around the country. We even ended up with one lawsuit.

03:53:28 - 03:54:49

We had an animal that was, I think, gonna go from Cleveland, I can’t remember if it was a male or female, to the Bronx Zoo in New York. And the newspapers got hold of the story and they decided to play it up, and pretty soon, next thing I knew there was a suit filed in federal court saying you can’t move this animal. And that was a real shocker because if such a thing were to hold up, then it would mean that our ability to manage this collection properly on a national and eventually international level wouldn’t work. And by sheer good luck, we ran into some federal judges that ended up ruling on it. And they ended up in our favor, that, yes, indeed, we could move X animal from Cleveland to the Bronx. And that created a very from then on, workable healthy atmosphere for dealing with our gorilla SSP. And at the end of my 10-year tenure, I was happy to pass it along because it was both exciting, and frustrating, and worrisome, but it worked and it’s, of course, been nothing but good ever since.

03:54:50 - 03:54:54

How did you define your role working with the press?

03:54:56 - 03:56:18

Well, I guess I can say in retrospect, I was truly fortunate. First of all, the zoo is not a separate entity. The zoo is owned and operated by the Chicago Park District, and the Park District had a full-time PR staff. So that these were people that looked after all the different activities that occurred throughout Chicago, including Lincoln Park Zoo. And I found out very early though, that the press were wanting to deal directly with me rather than going through the Park District’s Public Relations Department. And I felt that if I dealt with them fairly, openly, and honestly that hopefully they would reciprocate and treat the zoo and me the same way. Dealing with the media isn’t easy, people can take stories and twist them in many different ways. By making myself accessible and available, it didn’t matter if it was a Sunday afternoon, if something happened and they felt they wanted to get some information about that item at the zoo, they’d call me, if I was home, I’d talked to them.

03:56:18 - 03:57:36

If I wasn’t, of course, I couldn’t. I felt that instead of having all the various professional staff and the animal care people interacting with the press, that it made a little more sense that they try to deal directly with me. And I think over the years, I found that they were supportive of the zoo. We tried hard to make them welcome, we tried to deal with them in an intelligent manner. And it’s similar to the humane stories, the so-called people who feel strongly about captive animals, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the PETA, humane people. I realized very early on that don’t fight them, join them. And so I became a board member at the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, way, way back, ’cause I’d spent some time there as a vet student in the clinic. And I related to them, and as a result felt that we weren’t trying ever to cover up any humane issues at the zoo.

03:57:36 - 03:59:19

We tried to deal openly and it paid off so that my recollections are that there are a few people in the media, and I can’t remember all their names, who had a special zoo interest. And they would come to the zoo on their own without necessarily being told that there was something special, they just enjoyed hanging around the zoo and getting stories, getting pictures. For some reason, the name Bob Haggart comes to mind as a photographer for maybe the early Chicago American Paper. And Bob who would be at the zoo, and he, of course, got a lot of so-called scoops because he happened to be there when something happened. And the colleagues would all give me a hard time saying, “But you can’t do that, “you’ve got to treat us all equally.” And I would explain what happened that I didn’t try to get around that open policy, which I felt that I had and it paid off. So I think the media in Chicago have been kind to Lincoln Park, and Lincoln Park at least during my time reacted positively with the press. It’s like many things in life, you can either be fortunate, and lucky, and be a winner, or you can stub your toe and have some bad issues. I found by and large that dealing with the press openly and telling them the truth on animals that died or had some issue that they finally respected it.

03:59:19 - 03:59:26

So I think that on balance, we came out on the plus side of the media issue, Mark.

03:59:26 - 03:59:29

Was it important to have a continuing media presence for the zoo?

03:59:30 - 04:00:23

Oh, I think that there’s no question that the contact was important. And I think that you develop a personal relationship with people over a period of time, and they know that they can call and you get an answer. So sure, over a period of time. Then when the Zoo Society came into being, and were involved and supportive of work at the zoo, they had a public relations person. And the Park District, basically, as I recall, it would assign pretty much one or two people as kind of the zoo PR people. And we had a lot of good friends down there at Soldier Field at park headquarters who enjoyed coming to zoo, and we were sort of their full-time clients, and it worked good.

04:00:24 - 04:00:29

What kind of impact did your television appearances have on the zoo, in its development?

04:00:29 - 04:01:21

Oh, it turned out to be incredible. I never dreamed that it could or would be that. My television experiences are strange one because after all I followed Mr. Television of Chicago, the country, the world. My predecessor, Marlin Perkins was a full-time, incredible TV person. Marlin developed an early show at Lincoln Park called “Zoo Parade,” and NBC picked it up. And I think it was the first national TV show in the country from a zoo. Once a week, it would be on. And I don’t remember now, every two, three months I would end up doing an animal health show as part of “Zoo Parade” series.

04:01:21 - 04:02:05

But when Marlin left and went to St. Louis and I took over, of course, everybody wanted to know when I’m gonna be on television. And my answer was, at that particular moment in time negative, because by the time Marlin left, there were a lot of difficult ill-feelings between him and the park commissioners and the superintendent, because the people felt that Marlin had gone from a part-time TV person, literally to a full-time TV person, and therefore a part-time zoo director. And I felt golly, I didn’t wanna get caught up in that kind of political backlash.

04:02:05 - 04:02:13

So for, I would think can’t remember exactly, maybe a couple of years, when I’d be asked about, are we gonna do some TV work?

04:02:13 - 04:03:53

And I’d say, no, thank you. And happily, in retrospect, our local station, WGN in Chicago pursued the fact that they thought Lincoln Park, Chicago Zoo, Chicago TV Station that they’d like to try and start up some things. So I told them, “If you go down “and talk to the park commissioners, “and if it’s okay with them, “that then I would pursue the item with you.” And they did go down and happily the park people felt comfortable that I would not become a Marlin Perkins, which I never could be anyway, meaning a full-time TV person. And so that kind started, my recollection is it was a Saturday morning show, and I think it was pretty much a Farm in the Zoo show. I would bring down animals from the farm in the zoo to the studio, and the WGN broadcast studios were only about a 20-minute drive from Lincoln Park. So it was handy, put an animal in the carrying case and bring it down. I think I even had my own Collie dog on a leash, on some of the shows as quote, “The farm dog.” And lo and behold, there was a TV show in Chicago, a morning show from 7:00 to 8:00 AM, run by a man named Ray Rayner. And Ray Rayner had this incredible TV spot, five days a week, Monday through Friday, sorta sounded like a children’s show, but it was truly, I think a family show.

04:03:53 - 04:04:57

And a lot of people would watch it having breakfast and then go to school. And I don’t remember quite how it came about, but someone from GN said, if I’d be willing to do a sorta five or eight minute insert twice a week in the Ray’s show. And I said, “Sure, I’ll be glad to try it,” and did. And from then on, it was just a gangbusters. First of all, Ray, my recollection is at one time, had more people watching his time slot than the other combined major networks. So that ABC, NBC, whoever else, CBS, his viewership was just incredible. And he was about as personable and special a person as could be. And so pretty soon people start watching my little insert that we call the “Ark in the Park” and it was fun.

04:04:57 - 04:06:24

It went on for, I don’t remember now, 12 to 15 years. And I’d be walking around the zoo, and kids would be following me, singing the theme song about green alligators, and long-necked geese and stuff like that. Ray remained part of Chicago an icon, he was also in to theater, in addition to the TV show, Ray was doing two, three times a year theater and other special things. And finally he retired, and they didn’t know what to do with me, so they asked me I’d go on “The Bozo Show.” And of course, I was unknowing at the time, I went down there and there were a couple of clowns, and I didn’t know who was Bozo. And there was another clown named Cookie, and so I started doing that show. I can’t remember now for sure, but I assume maybe once a week, and bringing some animals down there, and that went on for some years. So television had a major impact on, I think the public’s awareness of our zoo and our collection. I never pretended to be an actor, I had to join the union because if you’re on TV at X number of times a year, you had to join the union, and I didn’t know what it was all about.

04:06:24 - 04:07:15

I learned the hard way about not to move a chair in the studio ’cause there was a certain union for that. And not to try and change a light somewhere, there was a union for that. Not to pick up the carrying case, and a lot of learning went on. But I enjoyed the stuff, to say that it wasn’t fun to do, it would be wrong. It was great fun, Ray was wonderful to work with. The zoo got a ton of good positive, I think PR from the standpoint that we try to slot it as an educational thing, not just a silly thing. And so television, unlike Marlin’s experiences, were a totally different kind of direction. Mine was always part-time and fun, and I enjoyed it and look back on it, and reflect that it was great.

04:07:17 - 04:07:24

What was the origin of the chimpanzee tea party and how did that enhance the zoo’s image for good or bad?

04:07:25 - 04:08:03

Oh, the tea party turned out to be a fun, mixed bag. What happened was, again goes back to Frank Schmick, the park commissioner who had money, and time, and traveled, and enjoyed himself and came back one time from a visit to the London Zoo. And he said, “Fisher,” he said, “you’ll never guess what I enjoyed there “at the London Zoo.” And I said, “Frank, what was it?” And he said, “I participated in a tea party.” And he proceeded to explain to me that they would take young chimps, sit them around (phone ringing) Sit, they would.

04:08:04 - 04:08:05

Can we go ahead?

04:08:05 - 04:09:09

(faint female voice) I guess we can probably continue on. She’s talking (voice fades) They would take young chimps and sit them around a table. And in London, of course, everybody drinks tea, so they call it tea party, they had tea. In our case, Frank said, “Well, can’t we do something?” And I said, “Sure Frank, we can try something.” So in our Children’s Zoo, we would set up a little table and some chairs, like kids have in their playrooms. And we didn’t worry about tea, we would give them milk or we give them water, we give them juice, we give them whatever we had. And in those days when baby animals were born and had to be pulled, in other words had to be cared for in the nursery situation. The chimps for example, could be there for at least three to five years. And so we invariably had good breeding programs going on, and the chimps kept being in the nursery.

04:09:09 - 04:10:14

And this became, I can’t remember for sure, but I think pretty much almost a daily event that a certain time of the day was tee time at Lincoln Park Zoo. And the kids would get crackers, biscuits, goodies. And the idea was kind of at that time thought of as a positive, fun thing, because it was good therapy for the animals. They enjoyed it, and the keepers that worked with them enjoyed it, and the public came and watched and it was fun. But pretty soon we realized several things. One, that keeping these baby apes in a nursery operation and interacting with people, they became bonded to people. And once the chimp spent two to five years being part of this zoo family, they weren’t about to become a chimp again. And so pretty soon reality set in that this was wrong from a long-term animal behavior, and conservation items.

04:10:14 - 04:10:58

So the tea time folded up because it was time to stop using these babies for that purpose. Animals were returned to their parents as quickly as possible. The so-called zoo nursery operation took a dive, and wasn’t needed. And so everything kind of changed in that area, and I think tea party time was there for I’m guessing three to five years maybe, and then it happily ran its course, and so it’s history now, Mark. Things like that are no longer considered the right way to deal with conservation issues.

04:10:59 - 04:11:04

When an animal would escape as they sometimes do in zoos, was the press kind to you?

04:11:06 - 04:12:14

Well, first of all, animal escapes were a way of life in a zoo because you’re dealing with humans that are caring for animals. You’re dealing with animals that can find a weakness in an area that you didn’t know existed. Most of the escapes that happened in zoos were non-dangerous animals. You could have birds that took off, you could have various many small mammals, and say the small Mammal House that were very quick and a keeper would open a door to say, look into a cage with say six animals that were the size of squirrels. And one of them would dart out that open door, and there would be a keeper with a net chasing the animal. So by and large, the escapes were non-threatening and not a public issue from a safety standpoint. But there always are a few, a handful that could be problems. The media seemingly were always involved.

04:12:15 - 04:14:01

By and large, they accepted the fact that it was a human failure. Happily, if nobody was seriously hurt or killed, either of the zoo employees staff, or of the visiting public, the animal escapes made great stories in the media. And I think I can look back and say that again, we were treated fairly by the media because if we goofed, we said we did. Happily, the escapes were minimal in terms of being an issue. And I think that the probably difficult ones were the dangerous animals, where we’ve had several bears that got out of their facility, we had certainly the four different, big male gorillas at Lincoln Park, all of which at one time or another were out of their cages. Bushman, Sinbad, I’m trying to think of the name of the other two, Freddy and I think one other, that ended up happily with the animals, going back to their cage. There’s a silly story again, about Frank Schmick and Sam the chimp, at one time, in an outside cage four or five sub-adult chimps got out, because the bars had rusted and somehow they got the thing loose, and the door gave way, and we had chimps running around the zoo area. And one of them decided to head toward downtown, heading south on inner Lake Shore Drive.

04:14:01 - 04:15:08

And Frank, of course, made a point of telling the press that the animal was coming down to see him. But that ended up happily, when I hopped in a squad car and went beyond the animals location, and the animal finally ended up jumping in my arms. And the animal was happy and I was happy, and we got back to the zoo, but it was a great story. So escape stories went on forever. There were times we had dangerous animals in the Reptile House, as I recall it, once we had a whole cage with spitting cobras that disappeared somewhere into the plumbing in the building. And we weren’t sure where they were, we had to closed the building, it ended up safely and happily. So I think the stories go on even today, animal escapes in different facilities around the world. And fortunately, unlike people who think of the so-called cage or jail as a place to get away from.

04:15:09 - 04:15:52

Most animals, this is their home. And if given the opportunity, if they’re out of their environment, their home, their secure blanket, they’re gonna go back to it if allowed, and many times they have. So I think again, Lincoln Park has a history of way, way back when sea lions were in Lake Michigan, and bears were climbing trees in Lincoln Park. And there’s all kinds of great stories as you’re aware. But by and large, I think we were fortunate, and the media, I think treated it realistically and it was great story, but ended up okay. They didn’t fault us for it. Let’s talk about fundraising.

04:15:52 - 04:15:54

How did you adjust to fundraising?

04:15:56 - 04:17:11

Oh boy, fundraising was a major adjustment because I never in my life had reason to go out and ask people for money. In my veterinary days in my animal hospital, I ran a business, I took care of sick animals, and charge a fee, and made myself a comfortable living. And I certainly contributed to some causes that I believed in. But once I was at the zoo, and I realized that the Old Zoo in Lincoln Park needed help. The Park District were supportive, but only up to a point. And so if we were ever gonna rebuild the old facility, if we were ever gonna add programs that were important, such as education, and conservation, and science and things, the Park District said, “Our mission in Chicago is recreation. “If you wanna do things, go out and raise money.” And to my good fortune Marlin, when he was still there, was part of starting up a so-called Friends of the Zoo. And it ended up being called The Lincoln Park Zoological Society.

04:17:11 - 04:18:29

And I think it started in 1959 and I took over in 1962. And so they were sort of delegated to be the friends, so the people who’d go out and raise some money to help the Park District do good things at Lincoln Park Zoo. And they were hired workers in that, and it became apparent to me that this would be a team effort. If I could go calling on people in Chicago with someone from the Zoo Society and ask them for financial help, they would be available to support us if they wanted to. And over a period of time, many of the board members of the Young Zoo Society started contributing funds. And I realized that part of my job was to go out and market the zoo, and I felt I have a commodity that I believed in. I saw the need, and I could express that to people that I was told to go see. And of course, the culmination of my early years was one time a luncheon with a man named Ray Kroc.

04:18:29 - 04:19:39

Ray’s the man who started the McDonald’s restaurant chain and his wife, Joan, and at the end of that luncheon, Ray wrote me a check for $1 million. That was the only time in my life that I truly felt like I could walk on water or leap into the air, and it was a feeling that was beyond belief for me. But Ray listened to me and realized that the zoo needed help. He was in Chicagoan, the sheer coincidence is, and I’m of Bohemian descent, and so was Ray Kroc. And so as a couple of good Bohemians, we hit it off. And he and his wife, Joan remained supporters while they were in Chicago. But that kind of started our campaign, the Park District said that if we, the civilian arm, the Friends of the Zoo could go out and raise money, they would come up with some matching public funds. And so that really is what kicked off the major effort to rebuild the Old Zoo.

04:19:39 - 04:19:59

And I think it’s one area that I felt I was successful in helping. And to this day, I still at times try to get involved in planned-giving programs, because I know some folks in town that might be able to do that and wanna do it. And so that’s what we did we.

04:19:59 - 04:20:02

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

04:20:03 - 04:21:38

Well, the only time that I recall getting a federal grant specifically for the zoo in the early years was, we had a Congressman named Sidney Yates who was in my opinion, one of the ablest brightest, nicest guys in Washington. And he, of course, lived in Chicago, and was supporting the zoo. And Sid set up a program with the Department of Interior about endangered species. And he gave us a small grant that allowed me to hire a teacher and a woman named Judy Koehler was brought on board to be part of developing that initial program. And that’s one of the few times that I remember specifically getting a political gift, which that was, even though it was a conservation, thank you from Sid and the Department of Interior, and in turn, that program was used around the country, so it was a positive thing. But when you’re siting a zoo director’s chair, you’re dealing with all facets of the community life and the political life was part of it. I dealt with the people in the mayor’s office, and the Park District, and county state, different people. I tried real hard to keep the zoo neutral in a political sea because the Park District was, and still is sort of an arm of the mayor’s office of City Hall.

04:21:38 - 04:22:34

And I thought that if you were a Senator or Congressman, a governor, a mayor, you name it, it was everybody’s zoo. And so we tried hard to keep the political facet out of it, but certainly we were dealing with political entities, and that’s where a lot of support came from. So I realized quickly that part of my job was to spend time to make friends. And I joined various organizations in towns, such as the Economic Club, as a way to contact and interact with people who had funds. And that was how we were able over a period of time to raise many tens of millions of dollars to rebuild the Old Zoo. Dr. Fisher, thank you very much. Thank you very much.

About Lester E. Fisher, DMV

Lester E. Fisher, DMV
In Memoriam
Feb 24, 1921 - Dec 22, 2021
Download Curricula Vitae


Lincoln Park Zoo: Chicago, Illinois

Director Emeritus

Dr. Lester E. Fisher was hired as Lincoln Park zoo’s first veterinarian in 1947 working under the directorship of the famous Marlin Perkins. Perkins became a friend and the two worked well together. Each respecting the others talents and role.

In 1962 Marlin left to go to St. Louis, Lester was named director, beginning a 30-year tenure that transformed the zoo. Dr. Fisher introduced a new emphasis on education and conservation while remaking zoo grounds to meet modern expectations for animal comfort and care. He had a fondness for gorillas and created the finest collection of endangered great apes in the world. Lincoln Park has the largest collection of gorillas in the world. And a milestone 20 gorillas have been born in the Great Ape House, in addition to nearly as many chimpanzees and six orangutans. Dr. Fisher retired in 1992.

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