October 27th 2012 | Director

Louis DiSabato

Louis DiSabato starting working at the Columbus Zoo at the age of 15 cleaning bathrooms and parking cars. After serving in the Korean War, he returned to Ohio and was immediately offered a job as mammal curator for the Columbus Zoo.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:00 - 00:00:20

My name is Louis Roman, you didn’t know that, (laughs) DiSabato. I was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1931 and lived there about 30 years before moving on to other places.

00:00:21 - 00:00:24

What were some of your early memories in Columbus about animals?

00:00:25 - 00:01:03

Well, my family was really an animal loving family, as well as being hunters and fishermen. So I got a very early start being able to go out with my uncles and my father and my grandfather to not only hunt animals, but to use them for food and to enjoy seeing them in nature. And I think that’s what started me, but there were other factors that really came on that I didn’t expect in those days that made my life the pattern it’s become.

00:01:04 - 00:01:13

So, you were involved with kind of native animals, but how did you start getting, did you go to the zoo as a kid in Columbus?

00:01:13 - 00:01:22

I don’t suppose I ever remembered going to the Columbus Zoo before the day I walked in on my first day on the job.

00:01:22 - 00:01:28

Now, kind of let’s back up and how did that first day on the job even happen?

00:01:28 - 00:02:51

Well, I have to go back to a time where I was raised in Columbus and that was in the Italian community near north side of Columbus. And at the time that it was, right after the Depression, my father and mother said, “We’ve gotta get out of this living with cousins and brothers and uncles, all in this one neighborhood. And it’s coming to a point where the Italian neighborhood has to dissolve itself.” And so we moved and I happened to move two doors from the director of the Columbus Zoo, who was then called the zoo superintendent. And he worked under the director of parks for Columbus. He had a son who became my best friend. He was my age and we did everything together in high school because that’s when I moved there. The day I started high school, I moved to that new address. And Don, my friend, Don Davis had friends who also were our age and we just did everything together.

00:02:52 - 00:03:44

One day I was walking my employer’s dog in the city hall grounds. I worked Downtown Columbus and my neighbor Earl Davis, the director of the zoo saw me walking the dog. So he came home and asked Don, his son, “Do you think that kid would like to work at the zoo?” And I said, “Yes, I would, if the pay was more than $8 a week,” which is what I was making in those days. And that’s how it started. Of course, I wasn’t able to work with animals, all the keepers, the old time keepers wouldn’t let me touch an animal for quite a long time until they were sure I could do the right thing.

00:03:44 - 00:03:47

What was the kind of job they started you out?

00:03:48 - 00:03:53

(faintly speaking) Okay. What kind of jobs did they start you out at the zoo?

00:03:53 - 00:04:23

The most menial, if you know what I mean. I cleaned restrooms. I parked cars. However, I also on that same day, popped corn at the concessions stand. Now, thankfully I washed my hands in between these jobs. That may be a good start for all the zoo directors too to get started that way. It wouldn’t hurt for a few zoo directors to have that happen.

00:04:26 - 00:04:31

At some point, did you graduate to working with animals?

00:04:31 - 00:05:20

Oh, yes, I did. And very quickly because I found myself so taken with this part of my life now that I spent every moment I could at the zoo, day and night, working night shifts or daytime, weekends, summers, trying to get as much time with the zoo and the animals that were there. I was fascinated by these creatures I was seeing for the first time, really. Now you were in high school when you started this journey at the Columbus Zoo. And after you graduated high school, you had been working at the zoo for a couple of years in summers.

00:05:20 - 00:05:27

Did you continue on with your education or did you then kind of move right into the zoo?

00:05:27 - 00:06:30

I did continue with my education. And in fact, I went to Ohio State University along with Don and his friends who were our age, but things happened in my life that caused me to, my life was turned upside down. My dad died at age 42 and my brother and I and my mother were left really wondering what was to become of, at least my mother worried what was to become of these two boys. And so I spent more and more time at the zoo and less and less time in the classroom. It’s a funny thing though, every weekend that I’d come back to the classroom on a Monday, in some of my classes not only the instructor or the professor, but the students would wanna know what I did that weekend at the zoo. And by that time I was then working with animals.

00:06:30 - 00:06:32

Were you the animal keeper?

00:06:32 - 00:06:33

I was an animal keeper, yes.

00:06:35 - 00:06:44

And from an animal keeper, how did you rise in the zoo hierarchy?

00:06:44 - 00:06:51

What opportunities came about that you were going to be picked for other opportunities?

00:06:51 - 00:08:38

Well, at the same time, Korea was happening and I enlisted in the army and I wanted to see how far I could go in the military. I applied for and got the opportunity to go to officer’s candidate school. I also met my sweetheart at the university and all of these things were happening at one time. And I found myself getting married at 21 and three months after I got my commission as a second lieutenant, I was on my way to Korea, where I spent a year and was away from the zoo for that year. But in the process of being away from the zoo, I found that Earl Davis, the zoo director, was in touch with my wife, Phyllis, and keeping her informed that he wanted me back at the zoo rather than stay in the military. And finally, I found myself coming back from Korea and having to make that decision. And he offered a curatorship, the curator of mammals, and it sounded pretty good. And that’s how I began my rise, you might say with a good deal of experience by that time and just plain living as an adult and also learning about what the zoos were all about.

00:08:39 - 00:09:54

Sounds like Earl Davis liked you and was a bit of a mentor. He was not a bit of an mentor, he was the mentor for my life. He knew how to push me beyond what I thought I could do, and he knew I could make it. And in fact, I found myself getting new jobs, new appointments to various jobs, like curator of birds, curator of mammals, zoo concession operator, buying and selling souvenirs and working in more visitor oriented things than zoo oriented, you might say. But I also found that I never lost one of those titles. So it wasn’t long before I was so entranced in the zoo that it just was commonplace for me to do whatever Earl said I needed to do that day.

00:09:54 - 00:09:56

Did you find it difficult to handle everything?

00:09:56 - 00:09:57


00:09:57 - 00:09:58

Those roles both at one time?

00:09:58 - 00:10:08

No, I did not. I relished it. I thought this was the greatest thing could happen to me. And as it turned out, it really was.

00:10:08 - 00:10:11

So how old were you when you became curator?

00:10:11 - 00:10:35

Well, I was 23, I guess when I’ve got my first job as a curator and I remained the curator until I was appointed assistant superintendent to Earl Davis. And shortly after that, well, he passed away.

00:10:36 - 00:10:57

Now, when you started this job as a young man, as a curator, you had already been there, so the staff knew you, were there challenges for you as a young guy, even if they knew you coming in, working with all these people you’ve maybe worked with before, and now you’re their boss?

00:10:57 - 00:11:00

There really wasn’t a problem.

00:11:00 - 00:11:06

I was amazed at how well they took to my being promoted right past them, you know?

00:11:06 - 00:11:30

And I think mostly they thought of me as one of them anyway. They were very happy for me to be able to progress. And I’m so thankful that they did that and they allowed me to be part of that crew, you might say that we had there at the Columbus Zoo.

00:11:31 - 00:11:42

Now, did Earl tell you what he expected of you in the sense of how he wanted you to approach the care of the animals?

00:11:42 - 00:11:50

Or did this allow you to come to him with maybe things you had been thinking about as curator?

00:11:50 - 00:12:27

I was allowed to, I had the freedom to come to him and talk with him about how we should develop an exhibit or make a change in the collection. By that time, I had met some of the animal dealers, I had been involved with other zoo curators and keepers around the country, I had also become a member of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and also the National Institute of Park Executives.

00:12:30 - 00:12:37

So, it wasn’t unusual for me to do that, to go to Earl and say, can we do this?

00:12:37 - 00:12:39

Or why don’t we think about that?

00:12:39 - 00:13:04

In fact, Earl was in the stage where he could, he was beginning to do a master plan for Columbus after that thing that happened in Columbus that made Columbus Zoo what it is today. And that is the birth of the first gorilla in captivity. We’ll talked about that in a second, ’cause it was big deal of course.

00:13:04 - 00:13:10

So you had, kind of backing, you had great apes, how did that start?

00:13:10 - 00:13:15

You acquired a male, a female, they all came together?

00:13:16 - 00:13:19

The first gorillas at the zoo, how did that start?

00:13:21 - 00:14:09

The first gorillas that came to the Columbus Zoo was a male, Mack and a female, Millie and a third gorilla, a female named Goma, I believe. They were young. I was put in charge of caring for them. In fact, I picked them up at the railroad station where Earl had come back with them from getting them from an animal dealer. And so I grew up with those gorillas. They were just small at that time and really rambunctious and we were learning a lot about gorillas at that time.

00:14:09 - 00:14:11

There weren’t a lot of gorillas in the country?

00:14:11 - 00:14:22

No, there were not very many gorillas and certainly none that were breeding, no one had ever seen a gorilla breed in captivity, let alone give birth.

00:14:23 - 00:14:34

Now you built the great ape house or the primate building specifically for the gorillas, or they were put into a section that already existed?

00:14:34 - 00:14:49

The great ape house in Columbus was a series of cages an indoor and outdoor facility for gibbons, orangs, chimps and hopefully for gorillas.

00:14:50 - 00:14:58

Now, did you have to do some additions to this when the gorillas, as they were getting older, did you have to do something to teeth proof it?

00:15:00 - 00:15:18

We didn’t have to make changes in the building itself because the building was built with that in mind that you would have what the gorillas needed at that time. We didn’t know a lot about keeping gorillas, as you can imagine in those days compared to what we’re doing today.

00:15:18 - 00:15:26

So now the gorillas progress in age, did you know the female was pregnant?

00:15:29 - 00:17:26

Earl Davis and Don Davis and Warren Thomas and I were all involved with the gorillas at the same time. Don and Warren, because he came on weekends, he was in veterinary school at Ohio State University and he had aspirations of being in the zoo business. So they decided to go ahead and see if these animals would be compatible together. Typically in those days, gorillas were kept separate because the males were always bigger and pretty rough on the females, but that was no way for breeding to occur. So, these young Turks, Don Davis and Warren decided, “Well, we’ll watch them closely, Mr. Davis, if you’d let us do that.” And so we put them together, we thought it looked like breeding was taking place, but we weren’t sure, they don’t show you very much of what’s going on, but we watched the female then getting rather large and we thought that that’s what was happening. And that was after several attempts at putting them together for breeding. And so in 1956, when Warren Thomas came to work one morning on a weekend and looked in the gorilla cage, there was Millie having this young gorilla being born. And he noticed that the animal was not able to breathe because it was still in the amniotic sac.

00:17:26 - 00:17:38

And Warren’s separated the female very quickly, got into that youngster and opened it up where it could breathe and that’s why we have that gorilla today.

00:17:39 - 00:17:42

Was Warren alone in the building when this happened?

00:17:42 - 00:17:53

Excuse me one second. Warren was alone in the building. (indistinct) this cable out from your foot. Oh, okay. There we go. Thank you. Okay. Alright, go ahead.

00:17:53 - 00:17:54

Would you ask that again?

00:17:54 - 00:17:55


00:17:55 - 00:17:58

Was Warren alone in the building?

00:17:58 - 00:18:13

Warren was alone in the building and he immediately called for the closest person. And that was a fellow named Terry Strasser, who was a very good artist in the early days and still is a very good artist.

00:18:13 - 00:18:34

And Terry ran over there, I ran over there and there we were, looking at this baby gorilla and we thought, “Now what do we do?” We didn’t know whether it was a premature, who knew what a baby gorilla should weigh, you know?

00:18:34 - 00:19:03

By the way, a baby gorilla at that time weighed four and a quarter pounds. So we immediately found the nearest thing to a bassinet that we could put it in with a bunch of scrap dust cloths. And there was a cardboard box. And so that’s how the first baby gorilla was raised in the furnace room of the ape house, where it was the warmest.

00:19:05 - 00:19:07

You immediately called the director of the zoo?

00:19:07 - 00:19:27

Oh yes. Earl Davis came over immediately, right after we came over. Earl was great for taking pictures, so he immediately started taking pictures. And as I look at those pictures, I think, God, what a fabulous thing that happened to us. People were excited. They were crying.

00:19:27 - 00:19:30

They were calling their friends, what was going on?

00:19:30 - 00:20:11

They were very excited. The people, of course the newspapers and television were very excited about this because it was the first. In fact, Dave Garroway, some people may remember Dave as the premier person on television for news and early morning in those days. And he arranged to come and see the baby and the people in Columbus just, they thought this was fabulous. So they came out even in December to see this baby gorilla. Well, Earl then had another dilemma.

00:20:11 - 00:20:12

What do I do?

00:20:12 - 00:21:00

I need some kind of a nursery, an exhibit space too where the visitors could see this baby without interfering with the raising of it, but still being able to see it. And the city, the city operated the zoo. They immediately started building an animal nursery onto the great ape house and my wife and I and Warren Thomas spent many, many nights and days with that baby gorilla feeding it through the night and taking its temperature and respiration and so on. Again, nobody knew what was correct, whether temperature was what it ought to be or not.

00:21:00 - 00:21:02

Who did you seek help from?

00:21:02 - 00:21:03

This is a first.

00:21:03 - 00:21:08

Who are you reaching out to to find out about how to raise a baby gorilla?

00:21:08 - 00:21:47

I happened to become a father in 1956 as well. And my wife and I had a pediatrician and I immediately called the pediatrician and said, “Look, this baby gorilla is born. No one knows what baby gorillas should be fed. What do you think?” He came out and he looked and he said, “Well, it looks like all babies look, why not try it on the same formula that your son is on?” And so we did. And that’s how we raised it until it was able to eat solid food.

00:21:49 - 00:21:52

This was all occurring at the zoo?

00:21:52 - 00:21:53

Big crowds coming to the zoo?

00:21:54 - 00:22:42

Big crowds started immediately and they continued. And the zoo, I think that was the turning point for Columbus Zoo in terms of popularity in the community. It was always popular, but it was a place where you go for a day’s outing because it was 16 miles from town and along with the Scioto River in a nice area, a nice picnic area, but when the gorilla came, they were coming to see this baby gorilla. In fact, there was a contest to name the gorilla. And so the gorilla baby was named Colo for Columbus, Ohio, and Colo is still alive today.

00:22:44 - 00:22:45

How old?

00:22:45 - 00:22:50

56, I believe. I hope that’s right, because my son is the same age.

00:22:51 - 00:22:53

International press on this?

00:22:53 - 00:23:35

Oh yes. International press, zoo directors from all over the world wanted to come and see this first gorilla. So Earl must have been thrilled and happy as you probably were for this first birth. He was– Earl was, well, he was always famous because he was one of the best, but he didn’t show himself excitable. He was never very excited. A very quiet man but he loved all the press that the zoo was getting. He was not one for press for him. He didn’t care much for that.

00:23:35 - 00:23:39

Now you mentioned that Earl was your mentor.

00:23:40 - 00:23:51

What kind of specific lessons was he imparting to you and did those lessons help ultimately when you became director?

00:23:53 - 00:24:33

I can’t really tell that there were lessons. I just know I learned from them. I learned from everything that he mentioned, and one of the things about having a mentor like Earl Davis was he allowed me to make mistakes. He allowed me to make mistakes or give an opinion and then let me watch as my opinion really didn’t come to fruition. He knew it, but he let me discover it myself.

00:24:35 - 00:24:42

What kind of qualities would you say made him this good or excellent zoo director?

00:24:43 - 00:25:29

Well, he was just a very dedicated man, very dedicated to the zoo business, known nationwide, certainly, especially in the Midwest, because he started the midwinter meeting of the zoo directors of Ohio, for example, that so many people wanted to come because they were having that meeting to join in that we finally ended up with it being a regional meeting of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. In 1960, you became the acting director of the Columbus Zoo because Earl Davis was recovering from some surgery.

00:25:29 - 00:25:40

Was that an automatic because you were next to the line or did Earl say I’m going in and you’re taking over while I’m out of the picture for a while?

00:25:40 - 00:26:42

No, it was certainly not automatic that I would be put into that slot. In fact, when I was told that I should go ahead and take the reins of the zoo prior to being formally made a zoo superintendent, I said, “No, Earl Davis is and will be as long as he’s alive the director of this zoo.” I mentioned to my board chairman, “I’ll do whatever I have to do to make everything run smoothly while Earl is ill, but he’s still the director and I’ll do it his way. My time will come and I’ll do it my way then, but not before.” So kind of the, help me out here, Earl goes in for surgery and he is still zoo superintendent.

00:26:44 - 00:26:48

He comes back to the zoo or he doesn’t?

00:26:48 - 00:27:09

He came back to the zoo, but really couldn’t really spend a lot of time. So, he– He does develop cancer and it was kind of a lingering situation, but he did remain the zoo director until his passing away.

00:27:12 - 00:27:23

So they were looking kind of to fill the position or get someone in the wings ready to go in case anything happened to Earl?

00:27:23 - 00:27:29

Yes, but they knew they had me to fill that position until they decided what they wanted to do.

00:27:30 - 00:27:43

Did you realize that you were gonna be appointed the director or was there a search for a director or were they just saying Lou, if anything happens, you’re our guy or how were you approached?

00:27:44 - 00:27:51

I was never really approached to say, would you like this position?

00:27:51 - 00:27:59

I was just appointed a zoo superintendent upon the death of Earl Davis.

00:28:01 - 00:28:05

So, no one came to you and said, would you like this job?

00:28:05 - 00:28:09

No they didn’t say, would you like this job?

00:28:09 - 00:28:20

They knew that I would continue on because that was my hometown and it was Earl Davis’s zoo and I wanted to be the very best even after his passing.

00:28:20 - 00:28:24

Did you ever mention to people that, hey, I’d lik to be the zoo director?

00:28:24 - 00:28:29

You know, I can’t remember– Did they kinda know you wanted that position even though if they didn’t ask you?

00:28:29 - 00:28:53

I suppose they must have known it, but I don’t remember ever saying to them, I would like to apply for this position. You become zoo director, and I have been told that you can be an assistant zoo director or a curator, that being zoo director is way different when ultimately you are.

00:28:54 - 00:28:59

What did you find when you now were zoo superintendent?

00:29:03 - 00:29:07

What did I find as a difference?

00:29:07 - 00:29:52

I don’t think I found that there was a difference. I just knew that I had to pick up and go with it. And that’s what I did. It was not a difficult transition because I was doing so many different jobs anyway, that it was just another step forward for me. At that time, the zoo was run by the parks commission. The zoo was a city operation and the zoo was under the park department, as I remember it. But the park department had no saying in the operation of the zoo, that was strictly the zoo staff.

00:29:53 - 00:29:58

Was there a zoo commission at all or it was strictly through the city?

00:29:58 - 00:30:20

There wasn’t a zoo commission. There was a zoological society and they were active depending upon the political situation in the mayor’s office. The zoo society was politically on one side. And if their party was in, everything went well. And when it wasn’t, then things slowed down.

00:30:23 - 00:30:26

Were they active when you were zoo director?

00:30:26 - 00:30:32

The zoological society was active through the chairman of the zoological society.

00:30:37 - 00:30:47

At the time you took over, was the zoo still riding the popularity wasn’t that long afterwards of the first gorilla birth?

00:30:47 - 00:31:50

Yes, the popularity was there. The visitors were coming in and things had to change pretty quickly because we were getting large numbers in attendance and that continued. And of course, that’s exactly what we needed and wanted for the zoo start expanding. And that’s when we began to do our master planning in earnest, based on what Earl Davis’s thoughts were. And it allowed me then to begin to get the experience of planning for this new zoo. And in those days there was only one group as I remember of the zoo planners in the country. And that was Bob Everly, the McFadzean, Everly firm, and Bob was hired by me and his people came and we began the master planning for the Columbus Zoo.

00:31:53 - 00:31:56

Who was involved in that master plan?

00:31:56 - 00:31:58

Was the zoo society involved with it?

00:31:58 - 00:32:01

Was the city involved with it, or was it your zoo staff?

00:32:01 - 00:32:38

The zoo staff was involved. (coughs) The society was partially involved financially and the city government the other part of the financial situation to hire a planning firm to come in. That was our first big step, you know, can you imagine, finally, we had someone who wanted to dedicate their firm’s activities to planning zoos. Now, sometimes they say, the dream of the father is not the dream of the son. And here you were mentored by Earl Davis.

00:32:40 - 00:32:58

When you became director, did you have any vision that you said, you know, I think I’d like to take it slightly or radically in a different direction or what was going on, were you happy about the direction that had been planned?

00:32:59 - 00:34:26

The direction that the zoo was going in was pretty good at the time Earl Davis was the director, but there was a lot of opportunity there, a lot of opportunity for me to have the input that I needed to have, because I am now, I’m taking his place. So I found myself working with architects and engineers and designers, but telling them what I wanted. And I spent the rest of my zoo career telling them what I wanted and saying, “Okay, now you put it on paper and you show it to me. You show me what I’m thinking.” And if it looked proper, that’s what we would do. One time though, I remember I have to mention this because it was beyond me to ever do such a thing, but Earl had planned a new bear exhibit, a row of bear cages, which was typical of those days. And he went out and we staked out the way he wanted it. And I looked at it over a period of time and I thought, wait a minute, there’s something not right here. So, one night I went out and I moved the stakes and I didn’t mention it to him.

00:34:26 - 00:34:29

And that’s the way we did it in the new version.

00:34:31 - 00:34:35

You mentioned his son, his son was working at the zoo at this time also or not?

00:34:35 - 00:35:27

Don Davis was, he worked at the Columbus Zoo until he, after military service, he came back as I did. And he applied and got the position of the zoo director for Evansville, Indiana, and worked there for a number of years, doing the same thing I was doing, planning that zoo, making it better than it was. And after that period of years, he was offered another position in Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. And that’s where he remained for quite a long time until he retired from that position. And I think he was out of the business for a short period, but then went to Honolulu.

00:35:28 - 00:35:48

Now, when you started, I mean, when you were director, a superintendent of the zoo, did you have to move a lot of surplus animals out, or was there a problem in that area that you felt you had to kind of get some things out of the collection that you might not have had the power to do before you were superintendent?

00:35:48 - 00:36:43

I didn’t have to move animals out of the collection because our collection was meager in some areas and great in others and I liked it that way. For example, we had a very good bird collection because Earl had made arrangements years prior with the Australian Zoo to get some Australian birds that weren’t in the US zoos and Earl brought in a huge quantity of (indistinct) from Australia. And I was put in charge of those. What a great experience was offered to me. I loved being bird curator, but I never dreamed I’d have some of the birds that were coming in. And it was just a great experience and one that I cherish even today.

00:36:43 - 00:36:48

Were you at the time working with rare mammals at the zoo?

00:36:48 - 00:37:02

Did you have the lesser kudu or hyenas or things that were unusual at the zoo than the mammals area that Earl had brought in, or you were trying to move forward?

00:37:02 - 00:37:46

We didn’t have much in the way of antelopes. We didn’t have the facility for them. We had elk and deer and things of that sort, but not the antelopes, certainly not African antelopes and not many people did at that time. Some of the majors zoos of course, Chicago and Bronx and San Diego, but there weren’t too many, there was a lack of those animals in those days. And that was yet to come, but down the way this started growing, and I didn’t have the access to facilities in Columbus for that, but that was not the last zoo I was gonna be in.

00:37:46 - 00:37:51

Were you able to hire new positions at the zoo?

00:37:51 - 00:37:57

Did you feel you needed to bring anybody else on board to move the zoo forward?

00:37:57 - 00:39:00

I did bring on some people, but we didn’t really have a major group of curators. Neither did most zoos in those days. We had a lot of senior keepers, keepers who’d been around a long time and learned their particular expertise quite well. But I did bring on for example, a visitor services person to help me so that I can get out into the community more. I was always one to wanna be out to see what people wanted in the way of a zoo in the community, and to talk with those people through service clubs and so on, the organizations within the city to get them to think zoo. And that’s worked out for me for a long while.

00:39:02 - 00:39:08

Now, were you running then, as director, the business end of the zoo or did you have someone helping you with that?

00:39:08 - 00:39:39

I was running the business end, but we have to remember that those days, the city government had finance officers and things of that sort and I reported to them. I brought all the funds for the week’s income to the financial people at city hall. We talked about the gorilla making the zoo famous.

00:39:39 - 00:39:52

Were there any, during your tenure, escapes at the zoo that you had to deal with the press and might not, had been the opposite of the gorilla birth?

00:39:53 - 00:40:15

There were escapes when we were quite young and we relish those escapes because it gave us a chance to chase down those animals and try to put them back where they belonged. But we didn’t have some terrible problems with that in Columbus.

00:40:19 - 00:40:27

In the primate house, did you have any problems with termites at the primate house or not?

00:40:27 - 00:40:50

We didn’t have a problem with termites in the primate house, although there was a lot of wood involved in those old buildings, but I think it’s probably because we kept those extremely clean. Now, as a young zoo superintendent, you were dealing with other directors around the United States.

00:40:52 - 00:40:58

Who were some of those in your formative years as running the zoo that influenced you?

00:41:00 - 00:42:26

There were so many people who were influencing on my life in the early days. Again, I have to refer back to what Earl Davis used to do for me when he went to a conference. He’d say, “You oughta go to this conference” and I’d say, “Well, I have to get there” and he’d say, “Well, maybe I can work something out.” And he’d give me the time off and I would go maybe for part of the conference. I was not a member in the early days, but he’d somehow get me into the meetings and I’d listened to the lectures and listened to other zoo directors. And I found myself at a lot of the late night sessions that are so common at zoo conferences, listening to all these zoo directors who were friends of Earl and listening to their comments, always talking about what they would like to see in their zoos, what they’re going to do. And I just soaked that like a sponge. And I think that hopefully is not missing in the present situation that we have in the zoo business.

00:42:26 - 00:42:35

Did those sessions, those formative things, did that start to shape your view on nature and the zoo’s responsibilities?

00:42:36 - 00:43:29

Yes. I think I could see that times were changing. The zoo of today is more responsible for conservation and education and it ought to be, but we can’t overlook the fact that people go to the zoo for other reasons. And all you have to do is go into your community and listen to what people say to you when they find out you’re the zoo director. Oh yes, well, we always go to the zoo. The kids are, you know, they love to go to the zoo. Or they say, we haven’t been to the zoo in so long because the kids grew up. And that scared me a little bit. We’ve forgetting perhaps that those are important reasons.

00:43:30 - 00:44:39

And they gives us the opportunity to get new people coming back to the zoo because they enjoyed it so much when they were younger. Additionally, it brought in those 20 and 30 year olds that never thought about going back to the zoo until their children would have to go. And maybe we better be careful that we don’t forget that zoos are fun places. Zoos are for people. I think somebody made that comment in a book somewhere, and it means so much. Zoos are for people. We’re gonna talk a little about that later, but it just prompts me to ask the question now in all your time at various zoological gardens and parks, how do you think the zoos can look to attract those different markets like teenagers to come back to the zoo, start to understand what it’s about, maybe that relationship with nature, ’cause they’re gonna be adults at some point in time.

00:44:39 - 00:44:46

Are there certain markets that zoos are missing or that they can start to draw from?

00:44:47 - 00:45:50

Oh, I think that there are markets out there that we could draw from that we aren’t reaching, but we’re doing a better job getting those younger people back. Just because young people today are more educated, they read newspapers and they see television that we never really had when we were young, they’re exposed more to looking at the fact that there is a zoo in the community. We haven’t been there in 15 years, but maybe we oughta go back and see. And if the zoo director and his staff are out there talking it up by going to service clubs and various organizations in the community, they’ll soon get the idea that if they’re going to be in the know in the community and they are the new adult group coming in, they better get to knowing about what’s happening at the zoo.

00:45:50 - 00:45:54

When you were at Columbus, did you join service groups?

00:45:54 - 00:46:18

Oh, yes. I have been and I’ll probably always will be very fond of the Rotary Club. And that’s an organization that has done a lot for me in all of the cities that I’ve lived in. And that’s where I would go first to meet the movers and shakers.

00:46:18 - 00:46:20

You had instant credibility?

00:46:20 - 00:46:21


00:46:21 - 00:46:22

While you were a member of Rotary Club?

00:46:22 - 00:46:24

I’ve been a member of Rotary Club.

00:46:25 - 00:46:31

Now, how long were you zoo director or zoo superintendent in Columbus?

00:46:32 - 00:46:49

Let’s see. I was, I think only three years actually as a zoo director. And the reason was because I was offered a new position.

00:46:50 - 00:46:53

And how did that come about?

00:46:53 - 00:47:10

I mean, here you are finally the director of a place you’ve grown up in and you’ve reached the highest pinnacle there to be able to make decisions and focus in a direction that you kind of learned and wanted to continue on.

00:47:10 - 00:47:18

How did this change occur where you left and what were the circumstances that surrounded that?

00:47:19 - 00:48:10

Well, at the particular time in my career, someone in the zoo field and maybe more than one told the park director in Rochester, New York, who was looking for a zoo director that they ought to talk with me. And it happened to be at a conference. And so I did talk to the park director, the county park director in Rochester, New York in Monroe County. And very quickly after that, I was asked to come and be interviewed and see what their zoo was like and offer some suggestions about what could be done.

00:48:10 - 00:48:15

And in terms of what would you do if you came to Rochester?

00:48:17 - 00:48:23

And I did that, and I found a small zoo needed a lot.

00:48:23 - 00:48:33

It was a typical old style zoo, one building, some outside cages, a polar bear exhibit, it’s kind of loose ended everything, you know?

00:48:33 - 00:48:47

A nice bird collection, but not big, apes, much too small facility for that few monkeys, cats, you know, typical zoos of the day.

00:48:49 - 00:48:54

But the important thing to me was what did you want in that community?

00:48:54 - 00:50:06

And Rochester, you know, is pretty good community, a Kodak and Xerox, and it sounded like there was great opportunity there. And I found out what they were looking for is someone who could come in and plan a new zoo for this new county park department that had a zoo now. And it’s as part of their operation. And I turned the job down three times and finally the park director, I happened to have known the park director. We were both in the American Institute of Park Executives as members by then. And he said, “Look, you just have to think about this. Can you come?” And I talked with, I think it was Warren Thomas, my friend from the old days who was by this time a veterinarian and so on. And I said, “You know, I’ve always thought, what if I just had the opportunity to design from scratch a new zoo?” And I came home and I talked to my wife about it and said the same thing to her.

00:50:06 - 00:50:23

“I’ve been saying no to this and this is the greatest opportunity I’ve ever heard that I could plane a new zoo for a community that really needed some change.” So I agreed yes I would go, and I would do that.

00:50:23 - 00:50:25

Why did you say no three times?

00:50:25 - 00:50:31

Because I was living in own hometown and doing quite well in Columbus.

00:50:31 - 00:50:34

And I thought, why would I do that?

00:50:34 - 00:50:43

I have a family and every relative I could ever think of right there. And I knew everybody knew the DiSabatos in Columbus, you know, there were a lot of us.

00:50:44 - 00:50:46

Was your family supportive?

00:50:46 - 00:50:54

Yes, my family, my wife has always been supportive of what I wanted to do. That’s what counted the most.

00:50:54 - 00:51:07

But the most important thing also was that my mother who I never dreamed would ever be supportive of my leaving Columbus said, “I think you oughta do that.” You said, Mum, what are you saying?

00:51:09 - 00:51:11

You’re kicking me out of the house?

00:51:14 - 00:51:19

When you went to Rochester, did you live on the zoo grounds?

00:51:19 - 00:51:22

Did you have to buy a house or how did that work?

00:51:22 - 00:52:06

When we moved to Rochester, yes, we had to buy a house. I had a house in Columbus. After 15 years of looking, finally found a house within a mile of the zoo and out on a beautiful area, but nobody wanted to live there because it was so far out of town. As I look back on it now, those homes that I built there a mile from the zoo are worth a lot of money right on the Scioto River. But I looked for a house. My wife didn’t come with me initially. So I went out and bought a house and said, well, okay, you can come now. We’ve got a place to live in Rochester.

00:52:07 - 00:52:18

And she has been very supportive of all my decisions on houses that we needed to buy. So you come to Rochester as the director.

00:52:18 - 00:52:20

What kind of staff did you inherit?

00:52:22 - 00:53:16

The staff at the Seneca Park Zoo was small. Many of them old timers, typical municipal type governments employees, except for one had Dan Michalowski. He was born and raised in Rochester and had been at the zoo. And when I walked in the door, it didn’t take me long to know that Dan was a real good man. And I could count on him to do what needed to be done in the zoo and allowed me then to, when Dan was at the zoo, he could handle the keepers and I could be out in the community drumming up business for the zoo and beginning the planning stages for a zoo.

00:53:18 - 00:53:20

How serious were they about this master plan?

00:53:22 - 00:54:43

The idea of a master plan for Seneca Park Zoo or Monroe County was, I think they were very interested in that happening, but there were other circumstances that came about during that time of planning that changed everything in Rochester. The city had the first race riots in America, and it was devastating to the community. However, what that devastation produced was much change in the community for the better, but it took everything and anything for that to occur. And it didn’t take me long to know, even though the plan was developing very well, that it would be a while before that could ever come to fruition, if ever, and as it turned out, it was never. Was the community, so the community was behind the plan the politicians were behind the plan. It just was, there was no money for it. That’s exactly what it was. There was no money for it at that time.

00:54:45 - 00:55:13

Now, one other thing that occurred that my wife reminded me of one day, and that was that I made enough changes in the Seneca Park Zoo that people thought, hey, this is pretty nice. It’s gotten so much better since the last time we were here with the kids. And I might have overdone it and maybe I didn’t do Seneca Park Zoo a big favor.

00:55:14 - 00:55:16

Well, what kind of changes were those?

00:55:16 - 00:56:06

Well, there were changes to the way the zoo operated. We couldn’t change much in the old building, you know, it looked like a fairgrounds building, glass roof, and cages on either side and cages outside. We added more space in the park. It was the linear park, very difficult site. And one of the things that was in the planning stage was to move to one of the other parks in the community where there was plenty of land available because Monroe County took advantage of federal funding, which they could get now after the riot situation to buy land and the park department blossomed and is now still one of the finest park systems in the country.

00:56:08 - 00:56:15

So you had these improvements you were making, were you bringing new animals into the collection?

00:56:15 - 00:57:16

I was bringing in more animals that they’d never been seen in Rochester. Give me some examples. Well, for example, I brought in birds that I could put into a mixed exhibit we called them in those days. We call them now zoogeographic, or we have some other nice words for them, but they were mixed exhibits, mammals, birds, even some reptiles in some fashion where you can mount a cage in a wall and see it within this large space where the people would walk in. And also, I became fascinated with the fact that there weren’t many zoos that really had small mammals. South American, African, small mammals that we just forgot about. We were out there thinking in terms of lions, tigers, bears, and that’s what the zoos were all about. No, it’s more than that.

00:57:16 - 00:57:32

How about all these creatures like tamandua, armadillos. And I found myself bringing those in and putting them in these mixed exhibits as well in this small space that I had for a zoo.

00:57:33 - 00:57:49

Now, when you were purchasing these animals and bringing them in and kind of changing the face of the collection, was this, for your zoo are other zoos, was this something where you would purchase them from animal dealers who had these animals available?

00:57:49 - 00:57:54

Would you go to the country of origin or try and bring them import directly?

00:57:54 - 00:57:57

Or were you trading with other zoos?

00:57:57 - 00:58:35

In order to get these animals, I was trading with other zoos. I was buying from dealers who passed through many times a year and I was very familiar with the good ones and I didn’t deal with the bad ones. So it was not difficult to make these adjustments, the zoological society in Rochester, they backed me so well that if I needed money to buy an animal from a dealer, then I could buy it and it would not be a problem.

00:58:39 - 00:58:42

How did you know a dealer was bad or a dealer was good?

00:58:42 - 00:58:55

By that I guess I’m thinking, to mean they delivered what they said they would, or they didn’t deliver what they said they would, or what differentiated in your opinion, the bad dealer from a good dealer?

00:58:55 - 00:59:36

Well, it doesn’t take long for zoo people to get the word around when something didn’t go right, or animals sold to a dealer and he sold it to someone who couldn’t or shouldn’t have had that animal. It doesn’t take long. In addition to that, I knew these people personally. I visited with them, talked with them, met with them at conferences, had plenty of those late night sessions with them about what I thought about the animals coming from dealers. That’s about the easiest part of the job, finding out who’s good and bad in the business.

00:59:38 - 00:59:42

Was there a tiger a Bengal tiger called Spirit that you dealt with?

00:59:44 - 01:00:03

I believe, I didn’t know the name of it, but Rochester, they had a tiger that the ball team would take out every weekend in a circus cage. And I soon stopped that. They were not very happy when I did that.

01:00:03 - 01:00:07

Was that something that was started before you had arrived at the zoo?

01:00:07 - 01:00:09

Yes, it was started before.

01:00:09 - 01:00:13

And how did that whole, what was the experience?

01:00:13 - 01:00:19

You came there, saw this, were unhappy or you were, and then how did you make those decisions?

01:00:19 - 01:01:17

Well, for the first thing I did was I watched how they treated the animal, how the young man who came to pick it up in the trailer and take it to the games, how they handled the situation. And I let it go for quite a while. I didn’t just go in there and say, I’m here now and you’re not getting that tiger because they’re the ones who bought the tiger for the zoo and all of them chipped in and paid for the animal to be brought to the zoo. But it was surprisingly easy. I thought it would really be, I figured, boy, this will finish me in the community, taking the tiger away from the ball team, but they didn’t, they took it and then they’d come to the zoo and see it. I finally got them to get a costume character. So that took care of the need for the tiger. So one day he just said, maybe next time, don’t take her out.

01:01:17 - 01:01:23

Yeah, I did. I just said, we need to stop this. And we did.

01:01:25 - 01:01:33

When you were at Rochester, did you start on safaris when you were there or was this later?

01:01:33 - 01:02:41

The first time I took a group on a safari was a 1967 and it was in Rochester, New York. I wanted to go over the years and never thought that would be possible, but it became something not only possible, but regular for me over the years, because the first one was so successful. And the reason it was so successful was Kodak. Kodak was right across the river from the zoo. And the greatest photographers that Kodak had would come over in the evening for meetings. And I always provided them with an animal to photograph, and they’d have the meetings at the zoo. And so I got to know these fellows. And so when I told them I’m going to Africa and they said, “Well, what kind of camera are you gonna take?” I said, “Well, I, you know, just, I don’t have much of a camera.” They said, “Well, what do you need?” I said, “Well, I’d like to take movies.

01:02:43 - 01:04:36

Well, that’d be really great, but, you know, still camera too.” And next thing I knew I had a 16 millimeter turret lens camera, and a case of 16 millimeter film and a brand new Kodak, the best Kodak camera that they were making at that time and off I went with this group from Rochester, fabulous people, wonderful, they were so easy to have with me and they just soaked up the information about what they were seeing in the national parks over there. It was East Africa and we based it on George Eastman’s first trip when he went with, I think it was Henry Ford. He and Henry Ford went over there and they actually did glass, I don’t remember if they’re negatives or slides and developed those right there in Africa. And that’s another thing that the Kodak people did. They said, “Look, we have all these stuff in the Eastman House,” which is a museum in Rochester, the George Eastman House. And they said, “We have all these pictures and glass slides and so on, why don’t you pick out the ones you’d like, and we’ll see if we can’t make copies for you?” So they did that and I sold the safari by showing all these pictures that George Eastman took in the early days. So that went so well, that when I left Rochester then to go to another zoo, I continued the safari business as well. Instead of taking vacations, I’d take a group on safari.

01:04:36 - 01:04:45

So, ’67 was the first one and 1968 was not in Rochester, but in another city. Now, two questions.

01:04:45 - 01:04:53

How did that opportunity first arise that you were able to start thinking about, I’m gonna take people on a safari?

01:04:53 - 01:05:02

And throughout your years, have you used safari as a jumping off point for fundraising?

01:05:04 - 01:05:52

In Rochester, I don’t think I even mentioned it to the county park director that I was gonna take that group. However, he probably saw it in the newspaper. But it was on my vacation time, so it didn’t really matter. I was gonna do it anyway, and it was only gonna be good for the zoo. So I didn’t hear much from him, but “How was your trip?” And that brought me then to realize that I could do some great things with this information and the people who were with me, if they had a great experience, would be ambassadors beyond the scope that I had in any community.

01:05:54 - 01:06:06

So were you able through the years to then bring donations to Rochester or to the zoo we’ll talk about later, San Antonio through these things?

01:06:06 - 01:06:47

Yes, I was able to take these trips and believe it or not before the trip was even over, I had people giving me checks as donations while they were on the trip, because I’d sit down in the evening, we’d have a drink in a lodge in East Africa and I talk about what we saw that day, but I’d get around the same way, you know, when we do this exhibit for the East African Plains, you’ll be able to see these animals in the zoo like that. However, it takes money.

01:06:47 - 01:06:51

And I had a number of people said, how much do you need?

01:06:52 - 01:06:55

And before I knew it, I had a check in my pocket.

01:06:57 - 01:07:12

When you were at the zoo, were you thinking, as you were looking at the Rochester, the Seneca Park Zoo, were you thinking about research or any other aspects that you wanted to try and get started at the zoo?

01:07:14 - 01:07:59

In Rochester, we didn’t have a lot of research potential. However, we had a university that had some great students, zoologists and biologists, and they enjoyed the zoo. And I found myself enjoying having them come to the zoo. Some of them actually went into the zoo business. And the good name that comes to mind is Dennis Merritt. Dennis happened to be in Rochester about the time I was there. And he was just a young kid. And the first time I saw him, the first few times, I thought, hey, this kid’s he’s okay, but he sure is a bother.

01:07:59 - 01:08:32

He was always underfoot, but I soon found that I enjoyed talking with him and I discovered that he was genuine and he really meant what he was telling me about wanting to get into the zoo business. So, in Rochester, you’re starting to get a feel for zoo planning ’cause you’ve done it now, one zoo and now started at another zoo.

01:08:32 - 01:08:38

Are you getting a reputation around the country that you kind of have some knowledge about zoo planning?

01:08:38 - 01:08:40

Are they coming to you?

01:08:40 - 01:08:52

Yes, I guess because I had already started or didn’t really complete, I don’t think you ever complete a master plan.

01:08:52 - 01:09:10

And certainly with the few years that I spent in Columbus after developing the plan and the few years in Rochester, by the time I got to my next assignment, I began to wonder, am I ever gonna see my planning come to fruition?

01:09:10 - 01:09:21

I didn’t know though that, I knew what I wanted in the way of a plan for the zoo, I just didn’t know how far ahead the plan ought to be.

01:09:21 - 01:09:30

How many years should a plan really be designed to be before you take the next step in master planning?

01:09:31 - 01:09:35

And I think now I know what my answer is.

01:09:35 - 01:09:36

That is?

01:09:36 - 01:10:27

My answer is, if you spend 20 years on a master plan, it’s time to do something with it. Begin again. Begin again and maybe not even with you, but with someone new and younger and let them take it and run with it. Leave the idea in place because you’ve developed this based on what the community needs in a way of a zoo, but take it and run with it and bring it up to date again. But don’t make it last more than 20, 25 years. Plans are never complete, but you can adjust them. They are only a plan. They’re not cast in stone.

01:10:29 - 01:10:32

How long were you director at Seneca Park?

01:10:32 - 01:10:34

I was the only director there five years.

01:10:35 - 01:10:46

What materialized that would take you from that place to your next mission?

01:10:49 - 01:10:50

How did that come about?

01:10:51 - 01:10:53

You oughta have to give me a better hint than that.

01:10:53 - 01:11:03

Well, I mean, how did you, why did you decide to leave Rochester and how did that new opportunity materialize for you?

01:11:04 - 01:12:43

I decided to leave Rochester, not too willingly, but I was at a conference in Pittsburgh at a zoo conference and a fellow came up to me or I’d never met before and he said, “I’m from San Antonio, Texas and our zoo director has passed away and we were looking for somebody. And I hear from a number of people that you are someone I ought to talk to.” And I said, “Fine.” He said, “I’d like to meet with you for breakfast tomorrow and discuss our need.” I did that. And we just talked about what I knew about San Antonio. I knew Fred Stark, a longtime zoo director there and corresponded with him a lot. Saw him at conferences. I knew he was a terrific bird person, had a good collection. I didn’t know much about San Antonio, but what the man told me was, “We want someone who can go forward with our zoo.” And so I said, “Well, I’d be happy to come down and visit with you and your selection committee.” Which I did, and when I did that, I found there were people who were dedicated and determined to find someone who can plan a zoo for them for the future. And when I looked at San Antonio, I thought, what a great opportunity.

01:12:43 - 01:13:45

Very unusual and difficult site in a rock quarry with a river running through the center. And I thought, my gosh, there’s not much land here, but what’s here has great potential. It also was almost barren. They under story, they have beautiful cypress trees and oak trees, rock walls of this quarry, 60 feet tall. But the rest of it was, the collection of birds was so great in the waterfall area that they had eaten everything green away from it and you could see from one end of the zoo to the other practically with all of these ducks, geese and swans in the waterways. And I thought, this could be more than that, could be a botanical garden as well. Okay.

01:13:45 - 01:13:58

So they offer you the position of director, not superintendent, but director of the San Antonio’s Zoo, did you say yes?

01:13:58 - 01:14:14

They offered me the position of director of the San Antonio Zoo after meeting with the board, a very tough board, all ranchers and businessmen from San Antonio.

01:14:14 - 01:14:24

And I thought, well, I don’t know how well I did, but they did offer it to me and they said, “Would you like to come to San Antonio?

01:14:26 - 01:15:06

Would your family like to come?” And I said, “Who wouldn’t?” Because I finally, we got to take a look around town when I was down there visiting and we found San Antonio to be just an exciting city, big city but not like a big city and the river walk and all the wonderful Mexican flavor down there, it was just perfect for us. So the family was all for the move, again, supportive. And you got there.

01:15:06 - 01:15:09

And what type of zoo did you find?

01:15:10 - 01:16:33

I found that a great collection, especially birds. I found an excellent beginning of a collection of antelopes that just didn’t exist anywhere else in the country or the world really all because Fred Stark had gotten the idea that he could get antelopes and put them in San Antonio environment, the climate, and do well with them. But he needed to have the support of someone with the cash to buy them. And of course that’s available down there and he found them through the board mainly. They were very instrumental in getting the people who would finance the purchase of a number. I think it was something like 56 animals came in all at one time and he had built a makeshift pens off exhibit in the zoo, but here he had these animals in perfect combinations, male and female for each species. And they weren’t to be seen in any zoo in the United States at that time. A few, you know.

01:16:33 - 01:16:35

He had sitatunga but who didn’t?

01:16:35 - 01:18:03

I think wasn’t a the, Brookfield had the big group of sitatunga one time nobody else had them. Well, that was one of them, but sitatunga didn’t do too well in the climate we had. But everything else that Fred had chosen were desert type animals and a pretty dry climate, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa species. And I look at that and I thought, this is a great beginning. I looked around the zoo and the zoo needed a lot because it would, a 1930 ish zoo that had no infrastructure. It had no commissary, bulk storage, no services type facility like auto mechanics for the vehicles that we had or for construction. And I’m a great believer in doing as much construction within the zoo as you can. And we had no veterinary care except once a week, a local veterinarian would come and look at the collection with the director.

01:18:04 - 01:19:13

So, I had years of work yet just facing me that it just sounded great and that’s where I began. I started to build these things. I built the commissary or what we call the nutrition center. And I was able then to blast freeze meat products, and had plenty of storage for fruits and vegetables, hay storage, all of the things that any zoo that has a large collection of animals like San Antonio had needs. Then the next year or two, I built the veterinary hospital, thanks to one individual in the community who loved to come to my office and sit in my chair. He was very wealthy and he come in and he’d just drop in any time he wanted to. And he come in and sit and we’d talk. And I told him what I wanted to do one day.

01:19:13 - 01:19:18

And he said, “Well, you got it.” And that’s how we built the veterinary hospital.

01:19:18 - 01:19:23

Well, I was gonna ask, where is the money coming from for these projects that you were developing?

01:19:23 - 01:19:35

It was coming from the community. The San Antonio Zoo is operated by a zoological society with a board of 84 people.

01:19:35 - 01:19:38

Can you imagine having 84 bosses?

01:19:39 - 01:20:27

But of that 84, 15 member executive committee that really operates the zoo with the staff, but they are very free and easy to get along with, always has been. They liked what I was proposing and what I was doing. And that continued, believe it or not for all of 25 of the 26 years that I there. I don’t think that there was, but maybe one or two years that I didn’t have a major project being under construction. (indistinct) Usually the chairman of the board and the executive committee is directing things.

01:20:27 - 01:20:30

What was your relationship with the chairman?

01:20:30 - 01:21:49

My relationship with the chairman and the executive committee was always very good. In the early days, the chairman of the committee before I arrived, was very demanding. He would send out telegrams to people when he wanted them to come to a meeting. And the meeting was always about the need for money. And he’d hit them pretty hard because he could, he was very wealthy and influential in the community and he usually got what he wanted. When I arrived, then I found that a lot of the effort to get the money was gonna have to come from the zoo director. And that’s when I began to spend as much time as possible in the community visiting with every Kiwanis Club and every Rotary Club and any women’s, especially the Women’s Club, because they were so influential in the family. And we began to have functions in the zoo, like the Zoobilation Ball and things of that sort that really brought in the, not only the cash, but the interest, the great interest in the zoo.

01:21:51 - 01:22:10

They’d walk through the zoo in the evening. And I highlighted all the exhibits and this was all black tie and very, very formal. We hired nationally known bands and things of that sort. And it still continues even today.

01:22:11 - 01:22:15

When you first started, did the board give you any charges?

01:22:15 - 01:22:17

Like here’s what we would like you to do?

01:22:19 - 01:22:28

No, I didn’t have any board member that came in and said, this is the way we want it.

01:22:28 - 01:22:32

And that’s the, how many people can say that?

01:22:32 - 01:22:45

Not very many, I don’t think. And it was a wonderful way for me to start, because I knew what I had to do. And of course they agreed with that and I was very pleased that they did.

01:22:45 - 01:22:48

So you got to give them your vision and they bought into it?

01:22:48 - 01:23:00

Yes, exactly right. They bought into what I was saying the zoo needed and that’s the way I worked with them for almost all of the years I was there.

01:23:01 - 01:23:07

Had you had conversations, now, when you came there, Fred Stark had already passed away, correct?

01:23:07 - 01:23:10

Yes. Fred had passed away.

01:23:10 - 01:23:11

Did you know him?

01:23:11 - 01:23:13

had you had conversations with him or?

01:23:13 - 01:24:26

I knew Fred Stark because I’ve visited with him at conferences. He knew I was also bird curator in Columbus, and we had corresponded in those days. Fred was not a person who corresponded much with his friends, but he did. Everybody knew Fred when it came to thinking in terms of birds and San Antonio, because he was the one who hatched the first Flamingo in a zoo. And he raised it in the zoo house, which is where Phyllis and I lived for 17 of the years that we were in San Antonio as a zoo director. And the reason we didn’t live there for 26 of those years is our family was too big for the house. So I couldn’t move them in there until we expanded it. The board allowed me to add a suite with a washer and dryer facilities and all those things you have in a home to the old house that was Fred’s and where he raised the Flamingo in the house.

01:24:28 - 01:25:16

The first time I went to the house to see it before I brought Phyllis and the kids down to San Antonio, I walked in and the whole dining room was a bird cage. He had built a bird cage in the middle of the house. And I thought, Phyllis is not gonna like this. So I might as well get rid of that pretty quickly. So I got the house in reasonable order before I ever took her there to see where I wanted to live. And I did want to live in the zoo. I wish that could happen to every zoo. It happens in Europe a lot, and I’ve always been sort of envious of the European zoo directors for living in very nice facilities in those zoos, the old zoos.

01:25:17 - 01:26:17

And I found that I got so much done that I would not have done if it were an eight to five kind of job. I would go out after I’d close up my office and just walk through the zoo. And because the zoo stayed open much later, I was able to sit on a bench and listen to conversations. I’d walk along and maybe get into a conversation with families to see what they felt like a new exhibit or whatever. And I did a lot of thoughtful planning during those hours that I spent in the zoo. And by the time I got to sit down with the architects, I knew what I wanted and all they had to do was put it on paper. So you were kind of doing market research before it’s time. Yes, that’s market research.

01:26:18 - 01:26:26

So just a quick question, going back to the house, part of the job was they said, we’re gonna give you a place to stay with your family.

01:26:26 - 01:26:27

Didn’t charge it, did they?

01:26:27 - 01:26:29

No, they didn’t charge me.

01:26:30 - 01:26:35

So now you move in with your wife and two children?

01:26:35 - 01:26:37

Five children. Five children.

01:26:40 - 01:26:45

How did they react to living, the kids, on the zoo grounds?

01:26:46 - 01:26:50

I mean, essentially it’s an estate, there’s no neighborhood, right?

01:26:50 - 01:26:58

No, there’s no neighborhood and it’s not a very good neighborhood around. In fact, the dog pound is right across the street from the house.

01:26:58 - 01:27:03

And everybody who ever asked me, where do you live?

01:27:03 - 01:27:40

I’d say, wow, I live right next door to the dog pound. But the children, they loved it. They had all this area to walk in in the evening as well. They had already gotten used to the kind of life that the zoo directors kids have to get used to. So it was not a big change. It’s just that we lived in a zoo. They had to have a gate open for them before they could get in and things of that sort. But they got used to it and they did very well.

01:27:40 - 01:28:28

And of course, all of their friends thought, boy, this is great, you live in the zoo. And you’re right. That doesn’t really happen very often now in zoos in the United States. Now you mentioned you ultimately moved out of the house because you needed more of. I didn’t move in at the house until I had the more room and the board members decided they wanted me to live in the house and I think that was a good move on their part. I was a 24 hour duty guy and that’s exactly what they needed. Fred was, you know, they got used to Fred being there 24 hours a day as well before I arrived, so.

01:28:30 - 01:28:41

Now, did you start a master plan at that zoo right away or did it kind of percolate a little before you wanted to get to that level?

01:28:41 - 01:29:17

I didn’t start the planning until I had finished the first major project was to have placed the store the food stuffs for the animals in large quantities, where I could buy in large quantities instead of going to the market every week at the wholesale market and buying a five bushels of apples, let’s say, I could buy six months supply of things. Then I needed hay storage, two big barns that we had on the grounds there and so on.

01:29:17 - 01:29:25

So I had to get some of that accomplished before I could really think in terms of what do we do with the exhibit spaces?

01:29:25 - 01:29:52

But it wasn’t long and again, I went back to my old friends, McFadzean and Everly, and those architects and planners that were quite good. They were always good. They knew what I wanted and how I wanted it done. And it worked to my advantage and I stayed with them for as long as I was the director. And they retired by the way about the same time I did.

01:29:52 - 01:29:57

So the board was supportive of the master plan and paying for it?

01:29:57 - 01:30:53

Yes, they were paying for it and it wasn’t until the last couple years of my tenure that things got tight, not only at the zoo, but everywhere. In the mid ’90s, early ’90s, money was pretty tight in all communities. And so it sort of slacked off. And that’s when I got to thinking, this is time for the plan to be rediscovered and maybe with someone else. And I talked with the board about that and they agreed that that probably is a good idea. So, planning has never stopped. It just hesitated for a while during the sort of the bad period in the US all around.

01:30:55 - 01:31:09

What was the first thing of the master plan after the infrastructure of the hay storage and food storage and so forth from an exhibitry standpoint that you wanted to get done and that you started and accomplished?

01:31:10 - 01:32:33

Because of our trips to Africa, especially to Africa, my first effort, and because I was talking with those slides that I did in Africa to get funding and support from various organizations, I thought the first thing should be an African plains exhibit, but I didn’t just want an African plains exhibit for antelopes, storks and things of that sort, I wanted to go beyond that. So I chose a section of the zoo that was undeveloped. It was nothing but rock and cactus and rattlesnakes. And I took a fellow who owned a steel company in town. I took him up there and we walked through this maze of cactus and rocks. And I walked him through a little pathway I had developed in this area. We ended up and he said, “Yeah, that’s a nice looking area up there. Well, why did we do that?” And I said, “I wanted to show you what Africa is going to be, where it’s going to be, and I need your help.” I said, “We’re gonna build an exhibit that the people walk through.

01:32:33 - 01:34:36

And along that exhibit will be other exhibits that help it be a mixed feeling of being in Africa, starting with the African plains.” I was going to put giraffes in the background on a raised level. And that would be the backdrop along the 60 foot cliff of rock. And down below that would be a waterhole with the antelopes and other zebras and so on. And as you pass that, you view on the right, rhinos, further on up, not only white rhinos, but black rhinos, then you go back to a cheetah exhibit viewed from a raised walkway, a bridge over the rhino exhibit, and then on to smaller exhibits for caracal, fish eagles. All of these exhibits radiating out from your main walkway that toured through Africa and up in the Mount Kenya forest, and then out into another area for antelopes. So that’s what I showed him and talked to him about. He said to me, “You send your trucks down tomorrow and pick up all the wire you need for these walk through exhibits.” And I had told him I was gonna use utility poles to hold this up, but the poles were not to be vertical, but angled so that they match some of the trees in the exhibit, the mesquite and the trees that were, you know, wild trees that just grew in this area, that was not used for anything. And that’s how we built it, all built by our own crews.

01:34:36 - 01:35:55

That by the way, had already put together these people. For example, I had some excellent people who are craftsmen. They could make artificial wood out of concrete, you know, and beautiful. They had special dyes that they developed in Mexico that looked like tree bark. So I said to this one fellow, he said, “Well, I used to work as a, I mixed the concrete for the artists, but he died and we don’t have him” and I said, “Well, now you are the artist.” And I said, “From now on, you’re gonna make those trees.” And I said, “I want you to make one tomorrow and you show it to me.” And sure enough, by gosh, he made a pretty darn good looking tree out of concrete. And for the next 15 years, he worked for me doing that. And it just started from that African exhibit into then Amazonia along the waterway, down in the center of the zoo. I had the water, I had the big oak trees and cypress around the waterway.

01:35:55 - 01:36:59

I had the tilapia in the water. I had the hippos in one part, but I also had South American animals in another part sitting along the river. So I decided what I needed to do was if I want people to walk through that exhibit, I needed to put the people in the middle and the animals over and around them. I built a jaguar exhibit on one side of the river. And from the jaguar exhibit, I’ve built an overlook deck over the water that looked into flamingos and South American birds, anteaters, all sorts, capybaras, all with the jaguar as the cornerstone exhibit. Now you’re in a Texas zoo, you’re a Midwest guy who’s gone to the east.

01:36:59 - 01:37:12

What kind of cultural differences did you see from your experiences on these other places that you might have noticed in Texas?

01:37:12 - 01:37:24

Were there any where the people ought to say, or were there subtleties or bigger differences that you picked up on as far as the zoo was concerned in relationship to the community?

01:37:25 - 01:38:08

You know, Texas is unique. There’s nothing like Texas and thank God for that, I love it down there. But what I love about it is the people, they’re so honest and easy to get along with if they like you and you don’t try to make them something that they’re not. I found it so easy to get along in Texas, but it certainly was a cultural shock from New York state, nothing like that. One of my friends went to school at University of Texas in Austin, and he lived in Rochester, New York.

01:38:08 - 01:38:21

And when he heard that I was gonna move to San Antonio, he said, “Boy, I don’t think you and Phyllis are gonna like raising your kids there.” I said, “Why?

01:38:21 - 01:39:51

It seems like a great opportunity.” He said, “They’re different. You need to worry about the racial differences, you know?” And so when we went there to visit San Antonio, I thought about that. And Phyllis said to me, “But maybe we oughta go talk to the priest, the Catholic priest in the Downtown parish.” So, I said, “Okay, let’s do that. I wanna learn what the Mexican and non-Mexican rivalry or what is the condition down there.” And we walked in and we said, “We’d like to meet the priest. We’d wanna talk to him about San Antonio.” And out comes the priest and he says, “I’m Father Garcia, what can I do for you?” And we were taken back. We were gonna talk about the Mexican and non-Mexican populations and it was so easy to talk with him. He said, “There are good and bad about all of us and you just have to be aware of what’s good and what isn’t.” We were quite satisfied. We even rode the bus to see whether some rode in the back of the bus, which they didn’t, by the way.

01:39:52 - 01:40:00

Now one of your projects was to regreen the zoo.

01:40:02 - 01:40:04

How much support did you get for that?

01:40:04 - 01:40:07

And what kind of effort did it take to do it?

01:40:07 - 01:40:15

And did you have a bigger vision in mind to do it, or you just wanted to just make sure it was more of a zoological garden?

01:40:15 - 01:41:12

I had a vision of being green and flowered because everything grows so well down there. But what I wanted to do first is get a horticulturist interested in coming to the zoo. And I found one in the park department and I offered him a job as the first horticulturist for San Antonio Zoo. And I brought him there and I told him what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. And he didn’t fail me. He did a wonderful job of choosing the plants. And as we did exhibits, I would take him with me and we walked the exhibit and I’d say, “Now, I don’t wanna see the animal from this point, so you have to put something there to stop the view.” But when I get around that bush or whatever you put in there, I wanna see it. I want it to pop right at them.

01:41:12 - 01:42:35

And I want it to be close to the exhibit.” And that’s how we developed even the walkthrough any exhibit. I would build out of artificial rock crevices with glass in a just so big for one child to stand in. So that that little kid could be right there facing this fishing cat or whatever he was looking at. And it seemed to work and the people loved it. Because I had such a small zoo with main walkway going right along, you couldn’t have a walkway more than 30 feet wide in our zoo in San Antonio, because we didn’t have the room between the cages and the river. So I had to build everything so that it took up part of the rock quarry and left me that little 30 foot path to get emergency vehicles and zoo vehicles around. And how I did it was, I would take them into the rock area and bring them back out to the main walk so they felt like they worn themselves out by the time they got through the zoo, when really it’s only like 18 acres of viewing space in that entire central zoo.

01:42:36 - 01:43:00

So as your hands are full trying to do all of these projects and get the zoo kind of up to the speed you wanted it to, you were a member of the Rotary Club, because you had gone from the New York area as a Rotary member, and you were now a Rotary member, did they embrace this new Rotary member from a point where they were supportive of the zoo?

01:43:00 - 01:44:20

Rotary was very supportive of the zoo. And our Rotary Club in San Antonio hadn’t really never taken on a single project until I talked them into a children’s zoo that I wanted to build, which would be the central education facility and a place for the docents. Because by that time, I had already started a docent program. By the way, with only Junior League members. And can you imagine Junior League walking around the zoo, taking children, you know, that’s pretty high cotton. The Junior League, they do a lot of things, but they don’t do that. Well, they were standing in line to be docents at the San Antonio Zoo and the finally the league said, “Look, everybody can’t be just going to the zoo, so we have all these other projects that have to be done.” So that was how we began the docent program with Junior League members. Now it’s expanded to well over 100 docents, not Junior League only, but the Junior League stayed with me for about 20 years as part of that program.

01:44:20 - 01:44:30

You mentioned that you talk to them about building a children’s zoo, Rotary, because you wanted to kind of incorporate education area in it.

01:44:30 - 01:44:33

What was your thinking about a children’s zoo in education?

01:44:33 - 01:44:39

How was that combination something that you wanted to see develop and how would it develop?

01:44:39 - 01:45:51

Usually we think of a children’s zoo as a– Yeah, I didn’t think of a children’s zoo as, again, I wanted to get, I wanted to take those kids, I wanted to transport them somewhere else. So the children’s zoo wasn’t petting zoo. I had a petting zoo, but that was totally separate from the children’s zoo. The children’s zoo was education mainly in the main building, lecture room for guests speakers, classrooms for the docents, but the rest of it was, I developed what I call Islands of the World. And I only did that, because I wanted to put a boat ride in the children’s zoo. And I developed a boat ride with my planners who were excellent. They had a chain pulling the boats through the underwater chain and the boats were, because we have the river boats in San Antonio, I wanted them to look like Downtown river boats. So we built this ride and they’d pass the animal exhibits that were on islands, like ring-tailed lemurs, wooly monkeys.

01:45:51 - 01:46:54

And I put a tunnel in it that was the shark tank. I put a shark tank on one side of the tunnel, over the water going through and on the other side, tropical fish. And you could only see that if you took the boat ride. You could see the tropical fish, but not the sharks. And the shark tank was built in such a manner that it was deeper in the back and shallower in the front. And I painted it, my chief artists said, “What? A purple shark tank?” I said, “Yes, because I want it to disappear.” And I figured the best thing to do is use purple as a backdrop. And when the shark goes down in the back, he comes right up to the front of the glass and swims off again. And as the shark comes to the front, the boats passing by and the kids love it, and that’s what the children’s zoo was all about.

01:46:54 - 01:47:11

And from that, we had Galapagos Island, we had a reptile, small reptile building for amphibians and lizards where you could walk through. I had fennec fox exhibit and they were diorama’s.

01:47:14 - 01:47:18

So this was funded by Rotary ultimately?

01:47:18 - 01:47:51

Yes. It was funded by Rotary to the tune of 2 million of the $3 million that took to build the project. Now that’s pretty small amount of money today, but then it was still pretty small. Marvin Jones tells me, Marvin told me one time, “You do things here, how do you do them for the little bit of money cost when I just saw one like it in another zoo that’s three times that amount?” We did it because we had our own crews doing it.

01:47:53 - 01:47:57

Now, did you use your own crews to build the veterinary hospital?

01:47:57 - 01:48:25

No. I had a board member who was a large construction company. He did the project, we designed it, but he did the project and we paid him for doing the project. And at the end of the project, I just happened to get a donation, which was about the same as his profit for the project.

01:48:27 - 01:48:32

Were you able to hire then your first full-time veterinarian then or was there already one on board?

01:48:32 - 01:48:44

No, we finally did hire a full-time veterinarian and vet techs to work with him after we got the veterinary hospital built.

01:48:45 - 01:48:47

Who was the first veterinarian?

01:48:48 - 01:49:17

The first one, let me think, he didn’t last long because he really wasn’t a zoo person. He wanted to be, but he didn’t, it wasn’t a good match. So we tried a few different ones and we had some good and some that were, they were thinking about something else. They wanted to go off to do something else.

01:49:18 - 01:49:30

And when we talked about the role of the children’s zoo in education, did it have a conservation aspect to it, or were you trying to develop that in other places in the zoo?

01:49:30 - 01:50:12

It did have a conservation aspect in that the children’s zoo was designed to explain wildlife conservation to children and other groups that would come there for various reasons. The lecture space was designed to handle a speaker and a pretty good number of chairs and tables, depending on what the very, very diverse, you could do almost anything with it. When you were in Columbus and in Rochester, you’d obviously started to develop your style as a director.

01:50:14 - 01:50:20

When you got to San Antonio, did that style stay the same or did it evolve?

01:50:20 - 01:50:22

What was your style?

01:50:23 - 01:50:25

(laughs) What was my style?

01:50:25 - 01:50:36

Lemme think now, that’s hard to say. I always knew what I wanted and I took it from nature.

01:50:37 - 01:50:49

Whenever I’d go to Africa or South America or wherever, I’d look at it in terms of what can I do to make the zoo look like this?

01:50:50 - 01:51:35

And that was a style. Now from the standpoint of style in management, I don’t know, I might be pretty unique. I was demanding, I demanded certain things of the people who work for me, but I wasn’t so demanding as not to recognize those people who were trying their best to work with me and what their prospect for the future was. And I wanna say that I’m so proud of many people who’ve gone off to other zoos, and that started in San Antonio. And some of them are zoo directors today.

01:51:36 - 01:51:40

So as you had a mentor, you have mentored others?

01:51:40 - 01:51:53

I guess you could say that I mentored them. I hope I did. They might not have thought too much of me while they worked at the San Antonio Zoo, but maybe now they think differently.

01:51:53 - 01:51:59

What would your staff say if I asked them about your management style?

01:51:59 - 01:52:03

Would they use the same word, demanding, or would they use other words?

01:52:03 - 01:52:21

Well, some of them would probably give you, they’d invent some new words for you, but I think they knew what I was after. And they knew that if I didn’t get it, they wouldn’t, they’d better be looking elsewhere.

01:52:25 - 01:52:41

What were some of your management strategies as you worked with your staff or with the board for getting your ideas across and directing people maybe to go in the direction you wanted them to go?

01:52:41 - 01:53:31

You used the board or the people– Yeah, for the people who worked for me, I think, you know, I had normally regular meetings with the zoo staff, special meetings with the curators and the assistant director and myself, and I kept them abreast of what was going to happen. I showed them the sketches that we would be coming up with and the plans then would eventually come to them when they could see what the interior of the structure would be and what they would have in the way of a space and start to plan what specimens would be put in that space. But…

01:53:34 - 01:53:38

What about your management kind of style or approach to the board?

01:53:40 - 01:54:35

Well, the board, again, as I said, they went along with a great deal of what I wanted to do. And I hope because I put it to them in such a manner that they could visualize what it was gonna look like. And when the time came for the initial drawings and the sketches to be brought to them, they could see it after I told them what would be happening or what I wanted to happen. Now, since they are not a zoo professional, they had to go along with what I was telling them as would be good for the time. This is what’s happening in zoos now, and this is how we’re gonna take that approach in our zoo.

01:54:37 - 01:54:40

Did you find it hard to educate them or not really?

01:54:40 - 01:54:59

I didn’t have a problem with educating them really. As long as they knew that the cost was not prohibitive and the facility would be an improvement over what we add. And that was easy because what we had really was in need of a great deal of upgrade.

01:55:00 - 01:55:12

Were there people on the board that you could go to to help you fund projects that you were trying to do?

01:55:12 - 01:55:17

Were there certain go-to people that you could rely on?

01:55:19 - 01:56:03

There has to be go-to people on boards if you’re gonna have an active board and they’re gonna get things done. That’s what boards are for, I think. They’re the ones who can get you to the right people. Hopefully, if they leave it up to the zoo director, he’s gonna have his hands full. So that has to be a combination, you have to have the board and what they can accomplish, or get you to the people who can help you accomplish it. Many of my board were involved in large donations to fund the project, many of them. And if they couldn’t, they would get somebody to help.

01:56:07 - 01:56:14

Specifically, what was your relation with John McFarlin or Albert Biedenharn?

01:56:14 - 01:57:23

John John McFarlin was a good friend. He was a sort of eccentric, some people thought. I found him to be very interested and interesting. That was the first million dollar gift I ever got. And that was for the children’s zoo. And I talked to almost everyone about the children’s zoo project at one time before we started the project and when Rotary took it on, it was $3 million. And when we got to the $2 million mark and I had already talked to John McFarlin about it, John said, “I’m right in the middle of giving a gift to the children’s hospital. I really can’t handle much more right now.” So I went back to them when we had the $2 million project, we were that far along and he said, “Well, how are you doing?” I said, “We’ve got 2 million and it looks pretty good.” He said, “Well, how much do you need?” He was very, he was anxious to get it done.

01:57:23 - 01:57:57

And he was worried that I was taking too long to accomplish it. And I said, “Well, John, I need a million dollars.” And he said, “You got it.” And he said, “But you don’t even have a place where you can put my name.” I said, “John, I’ll build you a place.” And right then I designed a little pavilion just for his plaque and his bust on this plaque, you know, but it was worth the million dollars to do it.

01:57:57 - 01:58:01

And what was the relationship with Albert Biedenharn?

01:58:02 - 01:58:42

Albert Biedenharn was a long time board member, an excellent man, a good rancher, a great sportsman and conservationists and the head of Coca Cola. And that’s always good to have Coca Cola on the board, but so did I have Pepsi Cola’s head man on the board. And sometimes it got a little tricky because we carried Coke for years. And when the other board member got Pepsi, there was a little competition there for who was gonna be the sole Cola distributor for the zoo.

01:58:43 - 01:58:44

How did you diplomatically handle that?

01:58:44 - 01:59:32

Well, I don’t know. (laughs) I don’t know how I handled that. I tried to stay out of it, but I couldn’t because when the zoo was first put in Brackenridge Park, the same thing occurred with the two beer distributors. One gave a land for part of Brackenridge Park and the other one was a different distributor for beer. And he gave the other park. One said, you can’t have the, one said, you must have beer in the park, allow beer in the park. And another big donor of land said no beer. He was Baptist I guess. And he didn’t want any liquor in the park.

01:59:32 - 01:59:35

So that was a little bit of a tricky situation too.

01:59:37 - 01:59:38

Ultimately solved?

01:59:38 - 01:59:47

It was solved. So we’ll leave it at that. In 1992, an animal rights group wanted members of your board to resign.

01:59:48 - 01:59:51

Can you tell us what happened and what was the outcome?

01:59:53 - 01:59:55

A member of my board?

01:59:55 - 01:59:56

Say it again.

01:59:56 - 02:00:13

In 1992, did you have anything where animal rights people or groups were asking for resignations of your board in relation to any, did you ever have any, let me back up, did you ever have any problems at San Antonio with the animal rights people?

02:00:13 - 02:00:19

Well, we didn’t have a lot of problems with them, but on occasion when they were having a big membership drive, we did.

02:00:19 - 02:00:22

They always used the zoo as the culprit, you know?

02:00:22 - 02:01:04

That’s typical I think of all zoos and what they’re going through today and it’s probably worse today than it was then. I had the International Zoo Association in San Antonio and they picketed the meetings hotel and the meeting rooms because they were against zoos. And this was their opportunity to get to zoos from all over the world. But it didn’t go over too well in San Antonio. We don’t have a major problem for very long, but we do have that constant irritation from animal rights people as everyone does.

02:01:05 - 02:01:13

So did you ever have the opportunity or did you feel the need to speak with them, talk with them?

02:01:13 - 02:01:20

Did you have interaction with them at all on a discussion level, as opposed to them picketing the zoo?

02:01:20 - 02:02:58

I had discussions with them, but it was always private discussion. I didn’t have any incidents where they stood out in front of the zoo, demanding the zoo director to come out and talk with them. I can’t remember that that ever happened, but some of them were former employees of the zoo that become activists in different manners. There was a group, that one, there was a group that pointed out that you had some hunters on your board and they didn’t like that very much. Well I would have to say that the people who thought that I had hunters on my board were correct. They were correct in that they are a sportsman, they’re hunters, just like most everyone, other than the animal rights people are in San Antonio, especially they’re ranchers, they know conservation practices and carry them out on their ranches. They know that if there are too many deer, they have to cull the deer and what better way to do it than have hunters come out and pay for leasing the land for hunting in order for them to maintain the property. They can’t do it with cattle in Texas.

02:02:58 - 02:03:21

It doesn’t bring in enough money to carry out the plans for keeping ranches the way they would like to keep them. So hunting leases are almost the only way you can hunt deer in and around San Antonio. Lemme move from just quickly ’cause we’ll get back a little from hunting to conservation.

02:03:21 - 02:03:24

What was the San Antonio’s role with whooping cranes?

02:03:26 - 02:05:07

San Antonio at one time was the only zoo in the world that had a whooping crane. And when I came, Fred had already had a pair of them, Fred Stark, and not only had the pair, but because one of them couldn’t fly, that’s why we got it. He had them in an enclosure, right on the waterway, through the center of the zoo where they could feed on live small fish in the water, just like they would if they were at Port Aransas. But he had that pair breed and produce eggs. And he hatch those eggs and he had the first whooping crane ever hatched in a zoo. And from that time on, we had whooping cranes and still do in the San Antonio Zoo, but other zoos have them too. But the San Antonio Zoo has produced probably I’m guessing at this, but I would say it’s true that there have been more eggs laid from, fertile eggs laid San Antonio’s birds than any other birds, even in Patuxent and more success in, but for some reason, for a while, during my tenure, they didn’t think the San Antonio Zoo was really where they ought to hatch those eggs. So we had to send them to the conservation area back east so they could hatch them.

02:05:07 - 02:05:11

But they were from fertile eggs taken from San Antonio.

02:05:12 - 02:05:16

Were birds brought back to the wild then from these hatchings?

02:05:17 - 02:05:25

They were returned to the wild as far as I know, but not to San Antonio, not to the San Antonio Zoo.

02:05:27 - 02:05:34

So like the first gorilla birth, this was an important thing for the San Antonio Zoo?

02:05:34 - 02:06:17

Oh, it’s very important in San Antonio for people to be able to see whooping cranes, because for half the year, we have them down there on the coastline and they are big business for the vendors and so on with boats who take people out to look at them and I have to admit, I love going out there and seeing them myself in nature, but I enjoy it even as much going down every night. And I’m looking in on the birds in our zoo and knowing they’re producing eggs and doing well with them. You talked about the antelope collection a little.

02:06:20 - 02:06:27

Why was this collection successful and what do you think contributed to its success?

02:06:27 - 02:06:36

Was it successful when you first got there because it had started, but what was your vision to keep it kind of continuing?

02:06:37 - 02:06:57

When I arrived in San Antonio in 1968, it was just about a year after Fred Stark had made some agreements with some ranchers to pay for his collecting some antelopes through dealers from Africa, especially.

02:06:59 - 02:07:21

The ranchers had been to Africa, hunting and been there on safari for various reasons and enjoyed them and always felt like, wouldn’t it be great if I had some of those on the ranch where I could go on weekends and take a look at these wonderful animals right here in Texas?

02:07:21 - 02:08:38

And that’s how it all got started. Fred convinced them that he could bring them into the zoo from the wild, but they couldn’t by law. So he would do that, provided that they would pay for all the costs involved, and then he would share, to replace those animals, he would share the offspring with them until that agreement was canceled out by the offspring payment to them, you might say. And that was a very good arrangement for the zoo and for all zoos, really, because these animals who are not in zoos, just all over the country, we didn’t have these certain species that Fred was bringing in. And what a wonderful thing. And when I saw that, I said, this is great. I can’t imagine that it won’t be good for all zoos. If I can raise them now, after only one year, Fred didn’t really get to see come to fruition, the offspring so much, but I did.

02:08:38 - 02:09:48

And I continued that as I saw that I could, I bought more species and increased the numbers considerably. And I looked at it in terms of minimum for any new species of antelopes, two males, three females minimum. And if I could handle that in costs, then I could build quite a reproduction center for antelopes. So I continued with some of Fred’s thinking about space for them off exhibit. And I built a lot of breeding pens. Most zoos wouldn’t have thought about that, I guess, because they kept coming to our zoo to see how I did it. And I showed them, I was quite proud that we were building breeding pens, the animals weren’t all put together in one big space. I had pens for the females and the male separated, and we put them together only for breeding purposes.

02:09:48 - 02:10:18

And I ensured that they wouldn’t be injured so much by not having too much space. Its like, we all know that if you ship an antelope in a crate, you don’t give them a lot of space because they’ll only batter themselves up. So, you restrict their movement comfort, but not too much movement so they don’t injure themselves. Breaking horns and things of that sort. The same is true with breeding in our off exhibit space.

02:10:20 - 02:10:26

Was this the type of program that you initiated in 1970 with the blackbuck antelope?

02:10:26 - 02:11:28

Blackbuck antelope we did, blackbuck antelope in Texas are called Texotics. There’s so many of them all over Texas that people don’t even look at them like they’re exotic anymore. The same with axis deer and nilgai. I remember one time someone telling me that the King Ranch had 1500 surplus nilgai. Well, they probably did because most of the time they twin when they give birth. So you could easily do that if you had the increase that the King Ranch has. So, blackbuck, we had a lot of them and the ranchers were hunting them since they didn’t have space for all. And we got the idea and the ranchers were part of this idea, not just me, that we could send some back to Pakistan for example.

02:11:30 - 02:12:25

If they had a national park where they could be put safely, we could do that. And so we gathered the zoo, the staff gathered whatever the ranchers wanna donate in blackbuck specimens. And we brought them to the zoo and we held them at the zoo, built crates for them, got all of the approvals to get them back into Pakistan. And finally the day came when we were going to ship them. So, we didn’t have capture weapons in the zoo. So we had to rope all these blackbucks from the holding pens. And that was quite a sight. I remember seeing some of my best ropers out there catching blackbuck antelope like you do cattle on the ranches, but we put them in the crates, hauled them in there, and they did extremely well.

02:12:25 - 02:12:47

And the last time I got any word from that reserve, they had done quite nicely there. Since we’ve kind of started talking about this, how ranchers got involved in this exotic, let’s talk a little about the role of ranch.

02:12:48 - 02:12:58

How did their involvement help manage larger populations of hoofstock that might not have been able to do well in this traditional zoo setting?

02:12:59 - 02:14:07

If a rancher has the wherewithal and the space, and they’re willing to commit at least a section of land to one species or more, I think it’s one of the greatest opportunities for zoos today to get involved with that rancher, with agreement that the rancher will get something out of it. We can’t expect someone who is in the business of ranching to think that he’s gonna give and not get in return some return for his investment. And that’s what that really is. If a rancher is willing to look at it in terms of conservation, and I think we better do that in zoos in the future that we look at what we can’t house and what we can do about it. Otherwise we won’t have enough species and numbers of that species in either the wild or in zoos.

02:14:08 - 02:14:14

Isn’t it true with a lot of other animals that we don’t have enough?

02:14:14 - 02:15:30

Elephants are going down the tube. We can name a number. Rhinos, they can’t seem to stop the poaching of either elephants or rhinos no matter what, when you have poachers using automatic weapons and the rangers in the national parks using World War I rifles, you know, it just doesn’t add up that they can handle that. So we have to start thinking, I believe on what’s going to happen and how can people with the space can be used to help the zoos if we really need to have a depository for specimens that we can’t house in the zoo and not stop the breeding. I am not very fond of people who come in and tell me, “Well, now you have to stop. You’ve got to stop breeding snow leopards because your gene pool is ruining the snow leopard population.” There’s something not right about that to me. We ought to be able to handle it in a different manner. Now, it’s easier with antelopes than snow leopards.

02:15:30 - 02:16:04

You can’t turn snow leopards out on ranches, but you certainly can with antelope species, but we have to be willing to share and share alike with the ranchers and they have to be willing to support the program that the zoo put together. Well, it would seem that ranchers have this vast amount of space, which is always talked about that zoos do not have space. You know, many zoos do not have that kind of a space that the ranchers have.

02:16:04 - 02:16:27

And it seems like a really interesting idea that you obviously and San Antonio have done, why hasn’t AAZA embraced that theory of using the ranchers more for a variety of hoofstock, which is declining in zoos today?

02:16:29 - 02:16:36

Why hasn’t it been and what’s your opinion about why it hasn’t been as embraced as the San Antonio Zoos has done?

02:16:36 - 02:17:46

I think it boils down to this business of hunting on ranches. The zoo people who don’t know better seem to think that what they’re being told by the activists is more true than what they can see if they came down here to Texas and took a look. For example, I have never, in my life seen a canned hunt on a ranchers property. Now, there must be some, or they wouldn’t be talking about those. The activists wouldn’t be talking about them, but, you know you have to pick and choose your people that you deal with in any business. And I’ve been able to do that rather easily with ranchers, because I know the ones who can and can’t do what I’d like to see them do for their conservation effort with the land. I have a friend in Texas who is now into many years of building a beautiful ranch from one that was almost a desert.

02:17:46 - 02:17:55

And on that ranch, he came in one day and he talked to me about what can he do for conservation on the ranch?

02:17:55 - 02:18:02

And at the time I had surplus scimitar-horned oryx, and I needed to think in terms of what am I gonna do with them?

02:18:02 - 02:18:04

I don’t wanna stop breeding them.

02:18:05 - 02:18:06

So what could I do?

02:18:06 - 02:18:54

So I talked with him and we agreed that he would take whatever the zoos who wanted to get participate in the program. He would take the oryx, put them on the land, propagate them. And that would be forever. I mean, not just for a few years, but forever. I think he has the best heard of a scimitar-horned oryx in the world, including what’s left in the wild. And it’s because of his determination to be a conservationist. That ranch today is a marvel. It is absolutely a wonderful educational and conservation ranch that I’ve ever seen.

02:18:55 - 02:19:21

Now, it seems that in many respects, you have been kind of a liaison between the ranchers and AZA. An unofficial role if it were, but you seem to have positive relationship with them. What would you recommend to ranchers to maintain their interest in participation in these large scale species preservation activities, through working with zoos.

02:19:21 - 02:19:24

Who should be reaching out to who?

02:19:24 - 02:21:13

Well, first of all, I think the zoo’s better start thinking about where they’re gonna put their surplus and reach out to some of the ranchers, but they have to be willing as zoos to share and share alike in what as a result of that effort that the ranchers are doing. You can imagine what it cost to fence in 600 acres, for example, of a high fence on ranch land and maintain it, keep the coyotes out and all the things you have to do along with just holding even if it’s only deer you’re holding in there. It takes quite a bit. So, the zoos have to, and I hadn’t been able to accomplish that while I was on the board of AZA over the years. I did many years of board work with AZA, AAZPA, as it was once called. And I constantly talked in terms of their discounting what good can come from ranching and from so-called hunters as they wanna put it. And I didn’t get too far, but when it came down to admonishing people because of what their thoughts were about ranching, I finally, I had some meetings I got pretty vocal about that. And I said, “If you’re thinking in terms of admonishing ranchers before you know anything about them, I don’t belong to this organization any longer.” And I meant every word I said.

02:21:13 - 02:21:53

Well, it never came to that. I never had to give up my membership in our finest zoo organization in the world, I think, AZA, but it came awfully close. I still think that there’s time for the next generation of ranchers to work with zoo, but it’s gonna take quite a bit, it’ll take a lot of give and take. When we think about exotic species on ranches, one thing I think about is, and space, is rhinoceros.

02:21:54 - 02:22:08

And again, do you think it’s that same philosophy of why AZA and zoos have not used this vast amount of space to propagate the species of rhinoceros?

02:22:09 - 02:22:43

Well, rhinos take a lot more than just fencing. You have to put a lot of pretty stout barriers in their way to keep them from getting out. There are ranches I think who still have a white rhino and why, because we we’ve got too many of them for zoos. How many can we keep in our small spaces of zoos, but we still have to propagate them. We can’t send them back because they’re killing them off as fast as they can the wild ones.

02:22:43 - 02:22:48

So why put the captive born ones back in that situation?

02:22:48 - 02:22:51

So what is the next step?

02:22:51 - 02:22:53

Where else can we go?

02:22:54 - 02:23:03

It would take a lot more money, for example, to build what it would take to keep in elephants and rhinos, but it could be done.

02:23:06 - 02:23:19

Can you talk a little about, because again, the ranchers and their need to have species and to propagate them, are wildlife auctions necessary for ranchers keeping the exotics?

02:23:19 - 02:23:24

Can auctions exist that only admit qualified people?

02:23:26 - 02:23:30

AZA members, ranching society members.

02:23:30 - 02:23:38

How does that auction, do you think that’s a barrier between AZA and ranchers working together?

02:23:38 - 02:24:41

I think auctions has been a barrier between AZA and ranchers because auctions are something in between. They’re just a place where you buy animals and they don’t care what the horns look like. They might be one going this way and one that way, but they’ll have it in an auction. So some rancher who doesn’t care, all he wants is one that he wants to put out there to shoot, he would buy. So it would be difficult for the exotic auction people and zoos to come to an agreement. Certainly you couldn’t keep buyers out, but even ranchers have surplus. And so they’re taking them to auctions to get rid of their surplus, but they’re the least species that we think about today. You know, they’re the ones that have like blackbuck, like axis deer and nilgai.

02:24:41 - 02:25:02

They’re just not, no one wants those in great numbers in the zoo. Although they could be quite beautiful, you can’t afford that space for just blackbuck. I never thought I’d ever say that. Such a beautiful animal, that just blackbuck isn’t what I’d want in a zoo.

02:25:06 - 02:25:16

Would the statement that AZA and Texas zoos ultimately might need each other be appropriate?

02:25:19 - 02:26:09

I hope that someday that I hear that in some meeting of AZA. I’d love to hear them finally say what I’ve been saying for years, that we need them and we ought to be using them. But that use means sharing and sharing is the only way it’ll ever happen. It’s kind of a little tangent, but we’re talking about it and we’ll talk about a little more detail, but AZA has just recently, or consortium zoos have recently brokered a deal to have land for the breeding developments. Maybe that should have been 25 years ago, but it’s being done today, but they didn’t reach out to Texas ranchers who have tons of land. They went on their own to try and locate land.

02:26:09 - 02:26:17

Is that part of this philosophy of wanting to keep the Texas ranchers at bay or not go to bed with them?

02:26:17 - 02:27:45

I think Texas ranching is more attuned to antelope species than there would be to elephants. Rhinos, I think, well, we know that some ranchers have had rhinos on the ranch, but in smaller quarters than what we’re talking about for rhinos and elephants in great numbers. But I don’t think that you would find, I don’t know if a rancher who would be willing to put huge amount of ranch space for elephants. I may be wrong, but that’s my feeling. So in order to do it, they’d have to go other than Texas and maybe they should, maybe the land would be more suitable, but I can imagine that any of these places where we’ve decided to put elephants, won’t be destroyed by those elephants just like they destroy their habitat in the wild. And we all know from seeing it that that occurs if they don’t migrate. And I think the good Lord thought about it when he put elephants in this world and had space where climate changes causes the rains to go from one place to another so that the elephants had enough space to allow the trees to regrow.

02:27:48 - 02:28:00

In Texas there’s a group, the Exotic Wildlife Association, what’s their role and how does their role interface with AZA or (indistinct)?

02:28:00 - 02:28:48

The Exotic Wildlife Association as I understand it are concerned with ranching and the keeping of exotics on their ranches. Their whole thought is, let’s get together, have meetings, talk about what we’re doing to keep our animals on the ranch and reproducing them and offering them for sale just like we did in AZA in the old days. We’d sit down and have trading sessions and tell what we had, what we’re looking for. We’d have dealers come in and talk with us. They have auction people talking with them because that’s how they do it in an auction. And they’re quite used to.

02:28:48 - 02:28:54

They sell cattle that way and why not their exotic animals as well?

02:28:56 - 02:29:06

You mentioned white rhino. You said, well, there’s a lot of white rhino, but white rhino weren’t all that prevalent years ago.

02:29:08 - 02:29:11

Did the San Antonio Zoo have white rhino births?

02:29:11 - 02:30:13

We had the first birth in any zoo outside of Africa of the white rhino. I brought in a pair of rhinos. I took years to find just the right pair that I was looking for. And I found the pair that Fred Zeehandelaar, a good old Fred J. Zeehandelaar, an animal dealer for those who wouldn’t know him, or they didn’t know him. Fred had brought them into Gelsenkirchen Zoo in Germany, and they were for sale. Well, I glommed on to that very quickly and I bought the animals. A rancher gave me the money for the rhinos. And at the same time San Diego was bringing in 20 of them and they put their 20 on their preserve, the wild animal park.

02:30:15 - 02:30:44

However, and even Marvin Jones didn’t know this, we had the first birth from the pair that I brought in and what a great day that was for me. I really enjoyed it. I finally did something right. I picked the right age animals from the right dealer and brought them in and we got the first birth. Well, you mentioned that you were looking for years.

02:30:44 - 02:30:45

What was your criteria?

02:30:45 - 02:30:47

Where were you searching?

02:30:47 - 02:30:49

And how did that come about?

02:30:49 - 02:31:13

Well, there weren’t many available, so it took years to find some, and I found a pair that was in the zoo. I think they were perhaps five years old. I thought, okay, that’s pretty good. I probably won’t find some that young anywhere else. So I better grab onto these and see if I can get them to breed.

02:31:14 - 02:31:20

Did it take time to, did you approach the rancher instantaneously?

02:31:21 - 02:31:26

How did you convince him that this was a good thing for the San Antonio Zoo?

02:31:26 - 02:31:47

Well, this rancher was a member of my board. He was an excellent conservationist, still is, hunted in Africa, he loves animals. He saw the plight of the rhinos. And when we talked about my getting the white rhinos, he said, “Let’s do it.” And we did.

02:31:50 - 02:31:53

Did you bring them back or were they just shipped to you?

02:31:53 - 02:32:14

They were shipped from Gelsenkirchen to us. Fred was holding them in Europe till he found a buyer. And that was one of his techniques to hold animals in the European zoo, let them exhibit them for awhile. And then they would ship them off to zoos, whichever zoo bought them.

02:32:16 - 02:32:22

So, you must’ve gotten very big public relations from this birth?

02:32:22 - 02:32:41

I did. In fact, I think we got the Bean Award for that particular birth as well as we did for Colo and Fred didn’t, we didn’t have the Bean Award when he had the whooping crane in San Antonio, but.

02:32:44 - 02:32:49

Did that type of birth help the marketing of the zoo and the fundraising?

02:32:49 - 02:33:14

It certainly did for the year that that animal was very small. Everyone wanted to come and see the white rhino. Of course they thought it was gonna be pure white. That’s always a difficult thing to explain to people who don’t really come to the zoo often, but they’re light enough, especially in that limestone color in San Antonio, in the rock quarry we call a zoo.

02:33:17 - 02:33:24

What were some of your guidelines when you were looking to bring staff on board to your zoo?

02:33:25 - 02:33:33

You were hired as a young age, as a curator, you probably thought you deserve it and have a lot of things to bring to the position.

02:33:33 - 02:33:38

But what were you looking for when you were in the position in San Antonio to bring people aboard?

02:33:39 - 02:34:21

Well, I think we all look at, nowadays especially, not so much in years and years ago, we didn’t look at education as much as we did experience. I was always taught that and I was taught by the old time keepers, “You ain’t got enough experience.” That’s what they’d say to me when I wanted to be working with the animals and I’d say, “Well, I need it, so let me help.” And that’s how I got to work with some of the, what I thought were the best of the keepers in any zoo that I was in.

02:34:24 - 02:34:44

But you know, you look for education now as number one, you have to, just like any other business, interest in if they have experience, if they have any experience in zoos, what experience was it?

02:34:44 - 02:34:45

What zoo was it?

02:34:45 - 02:35:52

And then you always, you have in your mind, this zoo has a great staff potential. They have, because you see them at conferences. As I went to conferences, these young people are still doing that. And that’s how I would, when I’d get a request from them to be considered to come to San Antonio, I’d look at that and we’d discuss it with the curator if it was below the curatorial level for a keeper. And I remember getting an application from a fellow from the Buffalo Zoo, and I knew Clayton Freiheit when he was in Buffalo and I was in Rochester. Clayton was at our home every other weekend visiting and we’d sit and talk zoo for the whole weekend. And so this young man made an application and I looked at it and I thought, hey, this is pretty good. He had a good upbringing in Buffalo.

02:35:53 - 02:36:54

So I talked with him and I found out he was a duplicate of me at that age. And he’s just retiring this year from the San Antonio Zoo, after being in San Antonio for many, many years as a senior keeper. I offered him more than once a higher level position. And he said, “No, I want to work with animals.” And he trains most of the bird department and ran the reproduction center, the bird reproduction center there under Mary Healy, who was an outstanding bird curator. And I’m certainly glad that she came to San Antonio when she did. I’m even more glad that now she’s running a zoo in California. One last question right now before we break.

02:36:54 - 02:36:59

How important was it for you to be involved in the International Union of Zoo Directors?

02:36:59 - 02:37:08

And did that help San Antonio Zoo, or is it positive for zoos in the United States to be part of this organization?

02:37:10 - 02:38:16

You know, the International Union of Zoo Directors initially was by invitation only. And there were only a handful. And I think that was good, but most zoo people who weren’t members thought it was just a club for certain zoo people. Now, it’s not. Now it’s open to almost anyone and everyone. And I think it’s grown very nicely. For me, it was a great step forward because I got an opportunity since the meeting could only be held in America every five years that I could travel to see other zoos in Europe, especially where I most enjoyed visits to the old zoos of Germany and Switzerland and, well, all of the European countries and meet the zoo directors there. And I became quite good friends with all of them that were in the IUDZG as we called it.

02:38:16 - 02:38:29

And they’ve all been to my zoos and enjoyed dinner in our homes and I in theirs. And it was just a good arrangement.

02:38:29 - 02:38:50

And in today’s world, it’s even more important that there be an international union as there is an important reason to have an American association, but look at all the other associations we have in the world besides the WAZA, what do they call it?

02:38:52 - 02:39:34

Yeah, the World Association of Zoos. There are so many regional, if you wanna call the world reset of regions, but ours is still in my mind the very best, because we not only have the American zoos, but the Canadian zoos and we used to have the Mexican zoos. I don’t know if we do anymore, but, and even some Europeans have become certain members of our association. So we learned from each other and I enjoyed a great deal going to the zoos and seeing the old and the new.

02:39:35 - 02:39:37

You were invited to join the association?

02:39:37 - 02:39:41

I was invited many years ago.

02:39:41 - 02:39:45

Who put you up for membership?

02:39:45 - 02:40:09

I think Don Davis. And I can’t remember whether it was Charlie Schroeder or someone that was an influential member, but I was very happy to be invited. Oh, Ted Reed was another one.

02:40:09 - 02:40:16

Ted, he called me and said, “Have you gotten your invitation to come to the meeting yet?

02:40:16 - 02:40:46

We wanna see you and introduce you to the other members.” I said, “No, I hadn’t.” And I forget, and I think it was Collin Rollins from London who was president and he called Colin and he said, “Louis DiSabato haven’t gotten that invitation yet, when are you gonna send it?” So I got a call from Colin saying, “You didn’t get it yet, but we want you to come to the meeting.” And that’s how I was introduced to the membership.

02:40:46 - 02:40:51

And your board was supportive of you being part of this?

02:40:51 - 02:41:06

And by the way, Fred Stark was a member of that organization prior to my coming to San Antonio. We’ll continue with some San Antonio Zoo things. Okay. There were two attempts by unions that were defeated.

02:41:06 - 02:41:08

What were your feelings about unions?

02:41:09 - 02:42:17

They weren’t my favorite thing. I was glad they were defeated. We finally did have them come in. We had the Meat Cutters Union come in, thanks to Kroger Company that came into town, but they’re no longer there. So, the zoo union is the only, as far as I know the only Meat Cutters Union that’s in San Antonio. I may be wrong at that, but we have a very good relationship with the unions now because some of the people that I promoted to supervisors were formerly union representatives. And they finally, once I promoted them, realized, hey, this senior staff isn’t quite as bad as we thought they were. And now the volunteer attorney that we use for the zoological society says that they have very few members and those members are very congenial and they work well with the staff.

02:42:17 - 02:42:19

So, it’s worked out pretty well.

02:42:20 - 02:42:35

Do you understand since San Diego zoo did, San Antonio Zoo, did the space constraints of the physical plant prevent you maybe from doing things you wanted to do, or did they?

02:42:35 - 02:43:37

Oh, yes. The space is very important to San Antonio. We don’t have it. As I mentioned, I think earlier on we have 60 foot cliffs in this quarry that the zoo is built in and that’s all around the zoo. And the entire center of the zoo is solid rock. So, anything we build has really a great foundation, but very difficult to dig into and make it useful. The river on the other hand is also a barrier to us because it runs right through the center of the linear shape to our facility. So the whole idea of San Antonio Zoo in that area is great from the outside looking in, but what I have to do to make it, or what I had to do to make it useful was squeeze it all in between those two obstacles.

02:43:38 - 02:43:43

That prevented you from doing certain things that your vision had?

02:43:43 - 02:44:09

‘Cause just physical space didn’t allow it. Oh yes. It prevented an awful lot. It was also the topography within the center of the zoo. It’s a lot of up and down and we’re unable to follow the rules for like handicap ramps because it just doesn’t work. We’d take up too much space to get a ramp to go up three steps.

02:44:11 - 02:44:24

When you, as director of the zoo, did you ever have the opportunity to meet what I would call famous people because you were the zoo director and did any of them stick in your mind?

02:44:26 - 02:45:03

Famous people that I might’ve met, Miss Kitty, (laughs) one of my favorite people. I’ve forgotten your name now, but you know– Amanda Blake. Amanda Blake of course. And Amanda Blake came to San Antonio, we had her over for dinner at the house and she enjoyed all of my kids. They were quite young at the time and they just couldn’t believe Miss Kitty was coming to our house. And of course, Marlin Perkins another one of my favorite people.

02:45:05 - 02:45:10

Did he come as a guest for some event that you were hosting?

02:45:10 - 02:45:45

Marlin came to see the first white rhino and he was gonna be in town and it worked out quite nicely that he could come over to the zoo. And I showed him around and we looked at the zoo and of course the newspapers and television people came along also. They must have asked him some questions about the zoo houses, like the zoo or whatever. And he came over to me in the tour and he bumped me and he said, “What do you want me to tell them?” They’ve got a great zoo director.

02:45:47 - 02:46:00

During your career at the zoo, what would you consider to be major events that affected zoos in general and obviously then affected San Antonio Zoo?

02:46:02 - 02:46:03

Major events?

02:46:03 - 02:46:25

Any major in the zoo world that affected all zoos. Were there and then consequently affected San Antonio Zoo. I really can’t think of major events that might be something that affected the zoos. For example, Species Survival Program.

02:46:27 - 02:46:32

How do you think that affected all zoos, obviously in San Antonio?

02:46:32 - 02:46:35

Was it received well by zoos?

02:46:35 - 02:47:33

I think so. I certainly, I thought it was a great idea that we get involved in a program to protect species that are endangered of not surviving. We had to do something and that was a step forward and one of the first steps we took I think in a really major conservation thinking. And look at it now that the plans are still in effect, we’ve got people still doing the same species survival plans that they started out when they first open that particular effort. And I think one is our colleague, Dennis Merritt. He’s still doing the species plan for his favorite thing, the peccary.

02:47:34 - 02:47:35

And ain’t it great?

02:47:35 - 02:47:42

I mean, you don’t see that too often anymore where it hangs on and people get the job done quite nicely.

02:47:43 - 02:47:47

What were some of your frustrating times at San Antonio?

02:47:47 - 02:47:50

What kinds of things made you nuts?

02:47:52 - 02:48:59

Well, of course budget time is always frustrating. You plan for certain years to get something accomplished and because of budget in hard times, and now the present zoo staff people are uncertain having their difficulty with the economy in this day and age, I didn’t have quite as bad, but there were seasons for that and if it happened during the budget period, you couldn’t budget for what you had hoped to do. And that is a frustrating time. Other than that, I didn’t have too much trouble. We talked a little about Species Survival Program. In the ’60s, you were involved with the American Institute of Park Executives. You were one of the people originally who helped orchestrate or were involved in the separate AZA or AAZPA being formed.

02:49:02 - 02:49:11

Why at that time was the split necessary and how did people within the zoo community handle this idea?

02:49:13 - 02:50:22

During that time, we had been members of the NRPA, which came after the American Institute of Park Executives. And that came about because NRPA overtook the usefulness of AIPE for all members. We as AAZPA affiliates of that organization were becoming more and more frustrated with the lack of interest in us. We were sort of a splinter organization to them and we needed to spread our wings. We really needed to get moving with so many things. And I was on the board at that time. And it took a long time for us to finally make the decision. But the 12 of us who were on the board at that time, all decided at one major meeting, believe it or not, we finally decided as a group that we had to do this, we had to break all ties and we literally passed the hat around the room.

02:50:22 - 02:50:46

And each of us put $25 into the hat to start our organization and to build the charter and bylaws just for us. And I tell you, we couldn’t have done it without Peg Dankworth who was our executive secretary at that time. And Peg kept us going, kept us in the straight and narrow. And we got it done.

02:50:48 - 02:50:51

How was it received by the mass membership?

02:50:52 - 02:51:09

I believe the mass membership was all in favor. At least the majority must have been because we were getting this feedback from the membership that they were frustrated over so many things, and we just had to get something accomplished there.

02:51:10 - 02:51:17

Now you had some ideas of what you wanted this new organization to do and be?

02:51:18 - 02:51:33

We’ve come a long way since the breakaway first started, has the AAZPA or now AAZA evolved into something you had envisioned in those days?

02:51:33 - 02:52:17

Well, it’s evolved into something that I had envisioned, and I think all of us envisioned, but beyond. It’s now an enormous organization. I looked at the number of conferences, for example, in the last Connect Magazine and there is a slew of them for all the staff members to want to go to, which means the budget for travel it’s got to be raised, the registration fees are enormous now. And I for one, in retirement, can’t afford to go even to the national or international meeting anymore.

02:52:18 - 02:52:28

So, has it stayed true to the goals that you as a founding member wanted it to be for the members of the organization?

02:52:28 - 02:54:00

I think it’s followed the goals that I had in mind and probably beyond because things have changed so much. We’re living in a very fast moving time of our lives and so as the organization just gone wild with numbers, for example, their membership must be way up compared to what we had hoped for in the future. Lots of people, lots of businesses are involved. I have always at the national conferences, especially really enjoyed going to the exhibit halls and seeing what was new. And as I read the magazine today, I see everything under the sun that I could never dreamed would have been put forth in the form of an addition to businesses. All of the pretty darn good stuff that we use in keeping animals every day: new doors and door locks and restraint equipment that we sort of began in my era, but it’s just really gone crazy and quite useful I’m sure to the newcomers. While you were at San Antonio, you were appointed to a special appointment by the president, Ronald Reagan.

02:54:00 - 02:54:04

How did that come about and what did it involve?

02:54:04 - 02:55:36

Well, I don’t know how it came about, how they picked me, but I’m glad they did because I learned a lot. I spent five and a half years going to Washington and visiting museums all over the country. As a part of that organization, my job was to keep them thinking about zoos as part of that museum services group. Now they’ve added libraries to that, so that the money and the grants that were available could be used for zoos as well as museums of all kinds and libraries. But I had to fight for every dollar to make sure that we got our share. And when it came time to evaluate the proposals, I called on the people in our organization, who I thought would be the most useful in judging who should receive the grants over all the others. We always had to leave somebody out, because there were too many requests and not enough money to go around, but I wanted to make sure that the people who I chose to call on to evaluate, I wasn’t allowed as a board member to do the evaluating, but I could have people come in and make sure that we got it to the right organizations.

02:55:37 - 02:55:40

Did the president personally call you for this appointment or?

02:55:40 - 02:55:59

No, no, he didn’t personally call me, but I have a very nice appointment, framed appointment certificate on my wall that I’ve always been very fond of. And I got a Christmas card every year from the White House.

02:55:59 - 02:56:00

Still to this day?

02:56:00 - 02:56:06

No, not today. You once said that every zoo is a reflection of the zoo director.

02:56:06 - 02:56:07

What did you mean?

02:56:08 - 02:56:12

What did the San Antonio Zoo say about you as director?

02:56:13 - 02:56:31

Well, I hope they said some good things because I tried to do good things for San Antonio. And I expect that every zoo director hopes the same thing when they are in that position.

02:56:35 - 02:56:37

What else can I say about that?

02:56:38 - 02:56:50

Well, tell me the question again so I can make sure I don’t let it go by too quickly. That every zoo is a reflection of the zoo director. Okay.

02:56:50 - 02:56:52

What did you mean?

02:56:52 - 02:57:48

What I mean by that is, and it should be this way, the zoo director has to put forth the idea and from that idea then comes the finished product based on whatever else the zoo board, the city government, or county government whatever the governing body is and the staff itself, the curatorial staff, the keeper staff, but the zoo has to reflect the director. He was put there to make an assessment of the community. And that assessment comes from him and it should be what the community need is. Now many directors that we’ve talked to have said that they did the rounds.

02:57:48 - 02:57:54

How involved were you in the day-to-day activities and hands-on when you became director, did you do the rounds?

02:57:54 - 02:59:24

Oh yes. Many times a day. (laughs) I have one time someone said to me, “You don’t spend more than an hour at any given time in your office.” And I didn’t, because my business was out there on the zoo grounds, not in my office so much. I had other people to help me in the office, but no one could help me out there to make sure what I was seeing is what people wanted to see. For example, and there were a lot of little things. When the employees went on coffee break, they all seem to wanna congregate together, which is quite good I think, they feel good about being with each other for that little bit of a break in the day, but I would wait till the end of the coffee break and I’d walk past that group of keepers and other staff members to make sure they know it’s time to go back to work. Now, that’s being a little picky maybe, but to me it was important that they know that someone is out there looking at the whole scene, and people aren’t at the zoo to watch the zookeepers have their coffee at 10 o’clock in the morning or three in the afternoon.

02:59:25 - 02:59:44

They might wanna have that break and I wanted them to, but not excessive breaks and the people don’t know that it’s three o’clock and it’s time for their break, they’re just wondering, why aren’t they out there feeding the animals and us watching them instead of sitting doing nothing?

02:59:47 - 02:59:52

These are some questions now, they are pretty broad based in general.

02:59:53 - 02:59:56

At which zoo did you feel you accomplished the most?

02:59:57 - 03:00:18

Well, no question in my mind, the most accomplishment for me has been San Antonio Zoo because of the number of years that I was there and the capability of me doing it as a result of having a very cooperative board of directors and in a nonprofit organization that was not politically oriented.

03:00:20 - 03:00:29

During your time in any of these zoos, is there one animal species that stands above the others that you considered to be maybe the most significant that you acquired?

03:00:31 - 03:01:32

Oh, yes. The best acquisition I could have ever made was the rhinos. For example, having the first rhino born in a zoo, the antelope collection, which was major and I think is still a major contribution to what’s happened in zoos over the last 30, 40 years. Those two particularly. The rest of the zoo population or the inventory in the zoo that I have been in in San Antonio is good, but there are a lot of good bird collections. And our aquarium in San Antonio leaves much to be desired, but we have an excellent reptile collection. And I think those are important, but the most significant for me have been the two that I mentioned.

03:01:33 - 03:01:42

What skillset qualities does a zoo director need today, in your opinion, just compared to when you started?

03:01:46 - 03:02:58

Well, I think that they have more skills now, if you wanna consider education levels than in my earlier years, but I’m afraid they lack that ability to get out and see what’s happening with regard to the visitors. I prefer, for example, to see a zoo director who comes out often through the day at peak times, and he knows when those are, when the biggest crowds come in the morning or at a particular time in the afternoon, depending on what the weather is like in any given city. But I don’t think enough of that is occurring today. Perhaps it’s because they have too much to do in the way of paperwork, however, I think it might not be. I think maybe that’s an easy way out of not going out and seeing what’s going on in your own backyard. This is a question that is bounced around a lot.

03:02:59 - 03:03:17

Should there be a good zoo man at charge of the zoo, put animal person, or should there be with a business person behind them or should a good business person be running the zoo and have a good animal person underneath that?

03:03:18 - 03:03:40

Well, I think either way it could work. However, if I were the zoo person who was not running the zoo, I would not be a very happy camper. I think in my way of thinking, experience counts. And if you’ve never taken care of an animal in a zoo, and you’re a zoo director, there’s something haywire.

03:03:44 - 03:03:51

What would you consider the largest professional problem that face US zoos today?

03:03:52 - 03:03:57

And if there is one, in your opinion, is there something that can be done to correct it?

03:03:59 - 03:05:19

Well, perhaps the biggest problem now is finding experienced and educated staff members who will stay. Maybe they decide they wanna go on to be a zoo director. Well, that’s a goal in itself, but they may have been much better off as a curator, a very specialized curator. And when I say that I mean, sometimes outside of the very top level or top echelon zoos in America, we have a lot of smaller and medium-sized zoos and they bite off more than they can chew when in fact they could do a much better job if they applied all of that effort in one or two directions. And if each one of the small zoos did that, we wouldn’t have a major problem. If they all did it and tried to do everything and that that’s where AZA comes in, we’re getting to a point now where every zoo thinks that they ought to be doing what San Diego and the Bronx and National Zoo and Brookfield are doing. And they can’t, they have not the money or the staff to do it.

03:05:21 - 03:05:26

Do you mean in areas of education or conservation or research, those kinds of things?

03:05:27 - 03:05:47

Well, yes in those things as well, but I think when you, those words that you’re mentioning, conservation, they’re all important, but you can overdo that in favor of letting other things go.

03:05:52 - 03:06:15

What observations have you made about today’s zoo directors as you have interacted with them, in their style, their job responsibilities, are they being forced into certain areas that are as business people or is this just part of what they have to accept if they’re in that role?

03:06:15 - 03:07:00

Well, yeah, I think the zoo people, zoo directors are finding themselves having to have their hand in all those pots. They have to be businessman to a point. They have to be a salesman. They have to sell their product to the community, but maybe they neglect on the other hand being out, seeing what is happening in the zoo, in the planning stage, getting more time for planning and not as much time for the business end, making sure he’s got money to make it through the next fiscal period.

03:07:04 - 03:07:09

How would you describe zoos today?

03:07:12 - 03:07:16

What direction do you think zoos should be going in in general?

03:07:16 - 03:07:26

Should they be hitting more saving the planet, to saving things in the wild, educating the new generation to come?

03:07:26 - 03:07:33

Is there certain things that they really should be, and I’m talking about the big zoos as well as smaller zoos, focusing on?

03:07:35 - 03:07:50

Well, all of those things are important in the zoo business today. All the education and that saving the planet and working in other countries as some of the majors zoos are doing.

03:07:50 - 03:07:52

But what about at home?

03:07:52 - 03:07:54

Who is the most important?

03:07:54 - 03:08:39

The most important city is the one you’re in. That’s where all your efforts have to be going, or at least a great bit of it in order for you to be responsible to the community. Now, if you can be responsible to the community and do all the highfalutin stuff that I call it, then fine, go ahead and do it. But I don’t know that you can. If all of us had Marlin Perkins or Jack Hanna working with us in forests, we wouldn’t have to do a lot of that other stuff, but it doesn’t work that way.

03:08:40 - 03:08:52

I’m a young zoo director and I come to you and I’m seeking advice, mentoring a little, what important piece of advice would you give me that has stuck with you throughout your career?

03:08:53 - 03:09:53

Well, what I think, I have to go back to my beginning. I tried to, I don’t know that I tried, I did stay with loving the animals that I work with, every day was an exciting day for me no matter how long I was working in a zoo. There was always something that cropped up that never happened before. And I think it’s important for everyone who comes into the zoo business to look at it in that manner. Go there and do your job because you love it and you’ll be able to go far, I think. You talked about small, maybe medium sized zoos.

03:09:54 - 03:10:00

Can they do things to help wildlife internationally or nationally?

03:10:00 - 03:10:07

Can they be, they all can’t be the San Diego Zoo or the Bronx, but can they do something?

03:10:08 - 03:10:22

I think any zoo can do their part, but again, it’s getting back to, don’t try to do too much, do it well and you’ll get recognition for doing a good job.

03:10:23 - 03:10:26

Should every zoo strive to do breeding programs?

03:10:26 - 03:11:40

I think everyone has to. All zoos have to have some program that has to do with reproduction of certain species, whether it’s in the native area where the animal’s from or in the zoo itself. Because you said that each zoo has to do what they must do, and they can’t do conservation, then maybe they shouldn’t do conservation. But you had said– Yeah, but I didn’t mean that they couldn’t do conservation. That’s a very wide ranging word. They can do certain, they can conserve wildlife in some manner, no matter what size the zoo is. I think, and they should, but they shouldn’t try to do too many forms of conservation. If they can’t handle the one or two that really work well with their animal collection, the community and they themselves, then they’re wasting their time going to more of them ’cause everything will suffer, I think.

03:11:45 - 03:11:56

We kind of touched on it a bit, but zoos, in many cases, they’re afraid to confront animal rights, animal welfare groups that are anti-zoo.

03:11:56 - 03:12:01

Can you give us your thoughts on how business can deal with these types of groups?

03:12:01 - 03:13:04

Well, the first thing comes to mind is confront them, but do it in such a manner that you know what you’re doing. You’re not waving your arms and asking for a fight. You pick your battles and you pick your battles in a certain way. First of all, if those people don’t know what you as a director do, or what your keeper staff does, or your senior staff, they will never come to meeting of minds. So you have to reach out and tell them, hey, wait a minute, you got the wrong idea about what we do in a zoo. We have to make sure you understand what we’re doing and present it in such a manner that they can’t help it think, hey, this is not bad, you know, zoos aren’t that bad. We had talked about hiring curators and so forth.

03:13:06 - 03:13:13

You had mentioned some, are there qualities, top qualities, maybe three that you would wanna see in a curator?

03:13:13 - 03:14:42

I think one of them was caring about the animals. Yes. I think qualities that a curator should have, well, of course he has to have the education to be a good curator, but again, I get so tired of telling everybody, oh boy, you have to have an education. You have to have a much more than that. And it really is more than just education. You have to have the love for what you’re doing and be satisfied with what you can accomplish in your field as a curator, be knowledgeable of course, as best you can, make sure that the people working under you, and one of my pet peeves is that the curator doesn’t know who’s working for him half the time. He seems to wanna sequester himself in that records room with his computer and not get out there and make sure that the keeper who’s taking care of so-and-so animal is doing the job properly, if he knows whether it’s a proper job being done. And some curators don’t seem to know that.

03:14:45 - 03:14:59

What changes have you seen during your years in the zoo field regarding visitor attitudes and at either at your local zoo or as you have gone around the national level?

03:15:00 - 03:15:52

Well, visitor attitudes have gotten more complex I think. Some see the zoo as a good community effort, others see it in a different manner, some have an attitude that they shouldn’t be there, they’re costing money for the community. Maybe they don’t even know that the city doesn’t provide all the funding for a zoo. And a lot of city governments do not provide all of the funding. San Antonio, for example, has a single digit percentage coming from the city. And the rest comes from money earned in the zoo, private donations, fundraisers, and people just don’t know that.

03:15:55 - 03:16:02

What would you say to people who still believe that zoos are nothing more than places where they cage animals?

03:16:04 - 03:16:05

What would I say to them?

03:16:05 - 03:16:18

Mm-hmm. Well, they really don’t know the zoo and they ought to investigate further and see if they can’t get someone to come down and visit with them and tell them what the zoos really do.

03:16:21 - 03:16:25

What issues during your time as zoo director concerned you the most?

03:16:25 - 03:16:29

Were they animal issues, people issues?

03:16:33 - 03:17:16

Hmm, I suppose the greatest concern for the issues have to sort of be split equally between those two items, animal issues and whatever else. Again, we keep coming back to those words, conservation and education. I think now we’re getting to the point where we’re overusing them and forgetting other things that are important. And I keep saying that I’m very, very in favor of assessing the community for its need in this place called a zoo.

03:17:19 - 03:17:26

What kind of tools, ’cause talk about that, what kind of tools were you using to assess that community?

03:17:26 - 03:17:37

Was it the meetings of the groups you attended, like the Rotary and things like that to get the feel of the community and what they were seeking in the zoo?

03:17:38 - 03:18:35

Oh yes. I think, again, it’s like going out into the zoo in the late evening, before the visitor has to leave and listening to what they’re saying and whether or not they’re understanding what they just saw as they visited the zoo. Rotarians, I had many Rotarians say, you know, “We have the greatest zoo in the country, I hear” and I’d say, “Wait a minute, we don’t yet, maybe we will.” Or I’ll say, “Why don’t you come out and take a look and give me your evaluation of what you think of our zoo?” And many of them said, “Well, I’ve been going to the zoo for years and I was a personal friend of Fred Stark.” And I think they’re saying that about me now even though maybe they hadn’t ever met me and they’re probably telling Steve McCusker that. He used to let me in.

03:18:36 - 03:18:41

What issues would you like to see zoos address in the future?

03:18:47 - 03:19:11

I don’t know how to answer that. We’ve talked about just about everything that I can think of that pertains to the zoo, the collection in any given zoo, the goals and so on. And I think it’s just repetitious to go beyond that.

03:19:12 - 03:19:31

When you were dealing with the municipal people you had to deal with, whether it was in San Antonio or any of the other zoos, but certainly being in San Antonio for awhile, what was the most effective way that you were able to deal with the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats?

03:19:31 - 03:20:37

Well, I found it pretty easy because they didn’t know enough about me or the zoo to give me much of a problem. Short of not having money in budget or in the entire community budget, whether it’s city or county, I think the easy thing for them to say, well, we just don’t have the money this year, but beyond that, I didn’t have a lot of difficulty getting along with the bureaucracy. It was frustrating at times to have to deal with it, but that’s part of the job. It’s like politics. I remember one time in Rochester, New York, when I was at the Seneca Park Zoo, I had just gotten there in fact, and down came a phone call telling me that I needed to have six people down at the polling stations to drive people back and forth to vote.

03:20:38 - 03:20:39

And I said, what?

03:20:40 - 03:21:01

Oh, well you have to do that. And the keepers told me, “Yeah, we have to do that every election day.” And I called them back and I said, “Wait a minute, you want me to send six people down so they can drive people to the polls?” I said, “Okay, I can do that.

03:21:01 - 03:21:08

But if anything happens, if an animal gets out while they’re gone, I’m gonna tell them, what’s your phone number?

03:21:08 - 03:21:22

Let me have your phone number again so I can tell that’s what happened.” And I never heard from him again. And I never ever sent anybody to the polls.

03:21:28 - 03:21:40

When we talked about visitors and you’re going out and talking to those visitors, asking them questions, what can be done to make the visitor connection more meaningful?

03:21:40 - 03:21:45

Is it in exhibitry or programming?

03:21:45 - 03:21:51

What can make that connection more meaningful that they wanna come back?

03:21:51 - 03:23:20

I can tell you very quickly that the way I see the visitor having a more meaningful visit is the signage and the style we use in presenting that exhibit with a fantastic signage system. And it’s happening in zoos. I’m very impressed with some of the commercial, the companies that are dealing in information on signage at various exhibits. First of all, I like to see big ones, like something that tells them the story the minute they read the title of the exhibit. And then all of the characters and caricatures or however you’re doing it, they stop and have to read it. You remember, I’m sure and I do too, that we found out years ago that most of the visitors who go to the zoo spend not even two minutes looking at any given, not any, but most of the exhibits. I went to the zoo in San Antonio recently to our brand new, beautiful hippo and reptile and crocodile exhibit that was open. And I watched the people go in there.

03:23:20 - 03:23:48

They walked in, the first thing they saw was this gigantic hippo exhibit behind glass with the hippos in it and the fish swimming around in the exhibit. They just were in awe. They turned around and they looked at the reptiles along the wall and they passed it one after another nonstop, didn’t even look. And I thought there’s something not right here.

03:23:48 - 03:24:08

Those animals are so important that they understand that there are these reptiles and amphibians in the world, just as much as when they looked at the hippo, but why aren’t they taking the time to at least read the descriptive information?

03:24:10 - 03:24:21

And I think that’s a problem that zoos have. They have to come up with some gimmick that takes care of that. They’ve done it in certain areas.

03:24:21 - 03:24:33

Mammals are easy, you know, naming exhibits spaces is easy, but getting the people to stop and take a look at the beauty of even a snake, you know?

03:24:33 - 03:25:02

I have friends who won’t even look at a snake and it just bothers me that they can’t understand that this is just another animal that you should know something about. Now, when you talk about signs, we’re now in a more techno age with iPads and all these different devices and audio tours and so forth.

03:25:02 - 03:25:04

Do they have a place in the zoo?

03:25:04 - 03:25:09

I think they do. They’re better now than they were several years back.

03:25:09 - 03:25:13

The first audio tours that we had, do you remember the key that you put in the box?

03:25:13 - 03:26:07

People listened to them, but some of the kids would put the key in, turn it on and run to the next box and turn it on. They weren’t listening to the thing. Now we have more sophisticated ways of doing audio tours. I just recently went through the Biltmore estate on an audio tour and I was just really taken back how great it was done. And we have companies now as members of AZA doing things like that and doing it well. So, little by little we’re researching the problem and fixing it, making it more desirable. And who knows, we might end up with like the new signs along the highway that are so bright that some cities are saying you can’t put any more of those up, but we might even have those in the zoo.

03:26:08 - 03:26:11

Did the San Antonio Zoo have a guidebook?

03:26:12 - 03:27:32

The San Antonio Zoo has had guide books. Like most zoos, they just kind of fizzled out over a couple of generations. I think that they’re a pictorial history and I wish that they still had them. San Antonio had, I put out with the help of one of my board members, a book on the San Antonio Zoo. It was not a guide book, but it was a history book. And it took in Fred Stark’s, it took in from the beginning with the board and city government that owned the property and people drove through the zoo in their cars, believe it or not, drove through the zoo and got out of the car and watched the animals and then get back in and drove on. And then through Fred Stark’s era, and then the Louis DiSabato era, and now we’re approaching, I think in the next year or two, our 100th anniversary and Steve and his staff are working on the next step in the history. And that is more important to me than trying to read through the guide book as you’re going through the zoo, or maybe when you get back home.

03:27:35 - 03:27:46

Do you have any advice for the neophyte zoo director about the importance of marketing zoos and what are the most important aspects do you think of marketing your zoo?

03:27:46 - 03:28:39

Well, marketing of a zoo, you know, you can do it in so many different ways. You can think in terms of marketers who are expert at that. And that’s all they do. They get on the phone and they call and they do all these things to sell a product or even a zoo. I think of it also in terms of how you reach the community. I marketed the zoo with all the service club talks that I gave and it worked. Some weeks I’d have five out of seven days that I talked to groups in mass, in their meetings and it never failed that after the meeting they’d come up, they’d flock up there to ask questions. And I think that’s a good marketing tool.

03:28:39 - 03:28:51

Get around the community and let people know who you are. We know that certain audience has come to the zoo with the children or the kids.

03:28:54 - 03:28:57

What do you want them to feel about the zoo when they get there or when they leave?

03:28:57 - 03:29:00

What were you trying to accomplish?

03:29:02 - 03:29:49

Well, Steve McCusker has a saying, and I think it’s great. Whenever anything goes out, a printed item goes out to a zoo member or whatever, it says, visit your San Antonio Zoo. That’s their zoo. And that’s what I’ve said all along today. And you have to assess the need for the community and find out what the community need is for that zoo. And may be different in every case. Every size is a little different, every city is different. The visitors are quite different from one town to another as well.

03:29:51 - 03:30:07

Jumping back a little at the national level, as opposed to local, what concerns or what issues would you like, if you were on the board, AZA to be addressing now?

03:30:10 - 03:30:11

On the national level?

03:30:11 - 03:30:17

Yeah. I mean the national organization. Oh, the national organization. Yeah.

03:30:17 - 03:30:26

What issues if you were on the board and were the chair and could make your thoughts known, would you want them to be addressing now?

03:30:26 - 03:30:38

Well, I think they have to reach out more to every zoo and ask them the question that I often did when I was on the board in the old days, too.

03:30:38 - 03:30:43

What do you need from us as an association?

03:30:43 - 03:30:44

What do you need from us?

03:30:44 - 03:30:56

Not what do you have to do because you are a member of our organization, but what you need from us, what’s the most important need?

03:30:56 - 03:31:51

And it’s always gonna be different. Not everyone has the same need. Lincoln Park probably has a different need than Brookfield. But that’s got a question that AZA should be asking its members. Yes. I think AZA ought to be asking them. Elephants seem– Let me also add one more thing. The commercial members have always had that problem with AZA, AAZPA, NRPA, whatever, they weren’t addressing the need of the commercial members as well. They pay a good fee to belong to our organization, and they don’t seem to get the same consideration, at least on their part they don’t feel that they are.

03:31:51 - 03:31:53

Maybe it’s different now, but I doubt it.

03:31:54 - 03:31:56

Is that a complaint you had when you were president?

03:31:56 - 03:32:19

I heard it many times when I was a board member and as president. Elephants seemed to be always in the news, the AZA is building a new elephant, or at least your consortium is building a new elephant facility for space with breeding, et cetera.

03:32:21 - 03:32:31

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

03:32:32 - 03:32:53

I don’t know if it can be from the standpoint of who’s assessing the what’s correct and what isn’t. I think any zoo that can have an elephant ought to have it for the community, let’s face it, they may not be around in the next generation.

03:32:53 - 03:33:02

So what better way to change that than to have an elephant that you can actually see?

03:33:03 - 03:34:07

Not pictures, not video, not on television. That’s not the same. I’ve seen many elephants in the wild and they never cease to amaze me. And I often wonder what does the visitor who’s never seen that think about having an elephant. And I think I also think that, I think it’s fine that we don’t have elephant rides anymore, elephant shows, I miss them, but we’ve gotten beyond that. But not to have an elephant in the zoo in San Antonio would be a big step backward. First of all, I think the elephants in most zoos, if not all, are being cared for very well in the captive situation that they’re in no matter where the community is. They’re being cared for by teams of people, rather than single individuals, as we used to have to do it.

03:34:07 - 03:34:24

But everything is done in teams in zoos nowadays. It’s costly, but maybe it’s a learning, it’s a time when the keepers might be learning one from the other as they’re working in these teams.

03:34:24 - 03:34:41

But it seems strange to me that no matter where you go, who you talk to, an insurance company or a major company like Rackspace or whatever, they say, well, my team is working, you know?

03:34:43 - 03:35:45

It’s no wonder why the cost of everything is skyrocketing when a team has to do everything together, when in fact the same task was performed by one person years before. Now, it may not be all the fault of the zoo or the company. Maybe the regulating system in our country has gotten totally out of whack. You know, where I used to have a railing that in our zoo, there was three feet tall and it kept people back for two generations, now it’s no good anymore. It doesn’t keep them back. Of course, we have to be frightened and some kid is gonna jump that thing and get himself killed. But somehow the responsibility must begin somewhere else besides with the zoo and the people who come there.

03:35:48 - 03:35:51

Is that fence in regards to the elephants or some other exhibits?

03:35:51 - 03:36:08

Any exhibit. Of course the elephants have their own fence and now they have their own huge enclosure fence. And then we have pedestrian railing to keep them at a certain distance from them.

03:36:12 - 03:36:18

What would be, if you could name one and maybe you can, but what would be your proudest accomplishment?

03:36:23 - 03:37:20

People. The people who are now former San Antonio, former Seneca Park Zoo, former Columbus employees, I’m the proudest of those people. The other day I was thinking about San Antonio and how many people are presently former San Antonio keepers or curators, and I think of Mary Healy, Jim Fleshman, Dan Michalowski, Mark Reed. And every one of them are an example of fine zoo people and I’m very proud that they once worked with me.

03:37:23 - 03:37:26

Are there any zoos in the world that you particularly admire?

03:37:28 - 03:37:31

Where are they and why do you admire them?

03:37:31 - 03:39:02

Well, of course I admire our favorite ones in this country, the big ones with the giant staffs and the wonderful things they’re doing. Bronx and Brookfield and Lincoln Park in San Diego, Philadelphia. The European zoos I have become very fond of because of the past history. When I look at some of those wonderful buildings that they had, and I look at Frankfurt and think, without the war, they wouldn’t have had the great zoo they have now, because it was destroyed during the war. And thankfully it was rebuilt much better, I’m sure than before, but they lost those beautiful, architecturally beautiful buildings that some of them still have, like the Bronx has, you know, some of those old buildings are just delightful. Then I liked, for example, Vienna, where you have the old zoo, you can’t touch it you can’t even change the color of the paint and the new zoo all in the same zoo. Most modern buildings and the old just like it was. In third world countries, there are zoos and some are good and some are bad and some need help.

03:39:02 - 03:39:09

Can US zoos and aquariums do anything to help their zoo brothers and sisters?

03:39:09 - 03:39:47

I think so. A lot of cities have sister cities and some zoos have sisters zoos, like some of the Central American zoos. And it’s a result of our being there as zoo people going down and seeing what they have and offering to be of some assistance to them. And so we call them sister zoos or whatever you wanna call them, you give them them some advice, bring their staff members up here and we go down there and see what the needs are. China, they won’t accept it probably, but you could try.

03:39:48 - 03:39:55

Are there any suggestions you’d give to aspiring people who wanna make a difference in the zoo world?

03:39:58 - 03:40:22

Yes. Start at the bottom and work yourself up. Learn it, so you really enjoy it. Not at this far at the bottom that you started– Maybe not as far down as I started, but might be useful. (laughs) Many zoo directors after retiring continue to be active for animal welfare, animal causes.

03:40:24 - 03:40:31

Are you still involved in anything within the zoo world or animal world?

03:40:31 - 03:41:11

I’m involved locally in my community, but much behind the scenes. I think my successor is doing just great. He doesn’t really need my help so much, but I can sort of give him a little boost whenever I can and tell people what a great job he’s doing and how long was it since they were at the zoo, they ought to go and see what he’s doing now. And I think that’s my role and what it should be. That gives me time to play tennis and exercise and stay alive.

03:41:13 - 03:41:16

Do we still need zoos?

03:41:16 - 03:41:48

Sure. Zoos are important no matter what the activists say. Take a look at the millions who are going to zoos now. We have more now going to zoo, as they tell me through AZA, than ever before. And it’s true in San Antonio Zoo’s case, we have over a million people coming to the zoo there, and there must be, something good must be coming of it.

03:41:51 - 03:41:55

What do you know about the profession that you devoted so many years of your life to?

03:41:58 - 03:41:58

Say it again.

03:41:58 - 03:42:04

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

03:42:04 - 03:42:05

What do I know about it?

03:42:05 - 03:42:08

What do I know about the zoo profession?

03:42:10 - 03:42:38

They have done a lot as a profession. Zoos have done a lot for wildlife, both in captivity in the captive situation. I almost hate that word captive, but you have to use it. And certainly they’ve done a lot in educating people who they take to various parts of the world to see wildlife in nature.

03:42:44 - 03:42:46

How would you like to be remembered?

03:42:48 - 03:43:02

Having done as good a job as I can. Satisfied, very satisfied with what has occurred in the three zoos that I had some involvement in.

03:43:04 - 03:43:07

Do you have a favorite animal?

03:43:09 - 03:43:35

I’m asked whether I have a favorite animal almost every week by some of my friends. And it seems to me, they ask me that more than once. They keep forgetting what my answer is. I don’t have a favorite animal. I have favorites within every group of animals. I love gorillas as a primate group.

03:43:35 - 03:43:39

I just can’t not, you know?

03:43:39 - 03:43:59

What I went through with gorillas, I’ve enjoyed so much. I love birds. They’re my favorite animals too, because I worked with so many of them. So, almost every group you can think of, I can find a favorite in there.

03:43:59 - 03:44:03

But why pick just a favorite when you can have the whole thing, you know?

03:44:07 - 03:44:11

How did you handle the animals…

03:44:13 - 03:44:19

Can you repeat that for me– How did handling the animals change– Handling the animals change and develop in your career?

03:44:21 - 03:45:16

Handling of animals in my career changed tremendously. First of all, what we used to call the capture gun, the immobilizing guns that we use now made it so much easier to work with many animals to give them injections of any kind to immobilize them. When we used to have to put them through a lot when we had to capture them by hand or using backboards and lariats and all sorts of things to restrain them and now we don’t have that problem too much anymore. And thanks to people like Lee Simmons from the Omaha Zoo, in his research and development of better mobilizing rifles and pistols and blow guns.

03:45:16 - 03:45:17

Can you imagine this?

03:45:17 - 03:45:34

We have blow guns that we can use to immobilize animals. It’s wonderful. If only I’d had that 20, 30 years sooner, but we didn’t. So it’s changed a lot and for the better.

03:45:35 - 03:45:40

In the big cats– I believe its Dr. Lee Simmons, isn’t it?

03:45:41 - 03:45:50

Yes, but he knows him personally. I’m just kidding. So am I. (interviewer laughing drowns out speaker) That’s a long story. The short story.

03:45:54 - 03:45:56

In the big cats, do you have any favorites?

03:45:59 - 03:46:31

Yes. I suppose I do have a favorite. I have seen so many and I always look for that perfect lion, perfect male lion. And I found it in the picture that I took over there. Just coming into his best. He looked so good I couldn’t help but take the picture. And I keep looking at that picture. I have it in my home and every time I see it, I think about when I took the picture because he was such a magnificent creature.

03:46:32 - 03:46:42

But within the San Antonio Zoo, you did have a very good snow leopard– Oh yes. Snow leopards, how can you not like snow leopards?

03:46:42 - 03:48:12

They’re gorgeous. I learned a lot about snow leopards in the process of keeping them in the zoo. I’ve learned about their marvelous ability to disappear in an exhibit and as a result of the snow leopards and trying to keep them from being hidden from the public when people come by to see them, I told the architects who worked with me, that we cannot have a ledge in any cat exhibit that is more than one foot deep and one foot high. That it had to be that small, or we lose leopards, snow leopards, smaller cats for sure in the exhibit because their camouflage is so great along with it. So I said, we first what we’ll do is invert all ledges. So instead of having a ledge that is this way, we’ll have one that’s this way, you know, like that, so that the animal can’t hide and can’t climb out. There are lots of reasons to invert the ledges. That’s just a rule that I had with regard to the architects, that design work or did sketches for me in any exhibits.

03:48:14 - 03:48:17

And then your breeding program was successful?

03:48:17 - 03:48:47

Oh, very successful, too successful. And that’s a pet peeve of mine that they asked us not to breed them anymore because the population in captivity was lean toward are our animals more than they should. But that’s why we have species survival plan people. Because in some instances, when the breeding stops, it’s not necessarily easy to pick it up again. That’s right.

03:48:47 - 03:48:51

And they get older every day, you know?

03:48:51 - 03:48:53

So you have to breed them while you can.

03:48:56 - 03:48:59

How important was the Everglades exhibit?

03:49:04 - 03:49:06

The Everglades exhibit?

03:49:09 - 03:50:26

It was extremely important. It was an old sea lion performance lake. And it couldn’t be used for that anymore because we didn’t keep the sea lions in there. We now have to keep them in salt water and that wasn’t salt water. So I, and I knew I had to do it really inexpensively. So I decided to put the people out in the middle of that lake and doing it by making a walkway, a boardwalk that came off one area of the bank of the exhibit, across to the center island where the sea lions used to perform, hide the concrete island and then back over to the other bank across the lake and let the people then be in the center of an Everglades exhibit with cattails and storks and cranes and things that you might see in an Everglades situation anywhere in the world. And it worked very well. I used to love to walk there in the evening after everyone was gone just to see what went on in the scene.

03:50:29 - 03:50:34

What was the nicest time when the zoos, before the visitors come in, after they leave?

03:50:34 - 03:50:36

Yeah, always the best time.

03:50:37 - 03:50:44

Can you tell us about the Mopie incident and how did that affect the zoo attendance, keepers?

03:50:44 - 03:50:45

What was it?

03:50:45 - 03:52:01

Mopie was a beautiful gorilla. I don’t think he’s alive anymore. He was sent back to National Zoo I believe because he was on loan from them. But Mopie, it wasn’t Mopie’s fault, we had a malfunction of a spring loaded locking device that we invented in San Antonio and the keeper, Mopie went out for cleaning inside, the keeper let him out, the door came down, the pins were supposed to lock in and somehow Mopie either held his finger, which he often could do and hold that thing up just enough. And the keeper gets into the inside exhibit to clean and there was Mopie. Mopie runs out and the keeper goes out the same way through the keeper door instead of out into the outside exhibit. Thank God he went outside because then the keeper who was in there started yell for help. And people started coming to help him out, other employees.

03:52:04 - 03:52:56

But Mopie did, he was frightened badly, so was the keeper, but Mopie did do some damage. He bit, as gorillas do, they bite in every joint, you know, arms and behind the knee and things like that. How they know that you can immobilize another gorilla, one gorilla can immobilize another by doing it that way. I don’t know, but that’s the way they do it. I learned that as another lesson learned, but the keeper was injured, in the hospital. He made hay with it. He had a t-shirt said I survived Mopie. And he managed to do fine after healing.

03:52:58 - 03:53:05

Attendance rose for a short time, because everyone wanted to see the gorilla that got out.

03:53:06 - 03:53:10

And did that affect protocols?

03:53:10 - 03:53:31

Sure. We had more inspections of the locking devices. And I think that’s all the problem really needed. You talked about breeding programs and what I wanna cover is the golden lion tamarin breeding program.

03:53:33 - 03:53:36

How did that start or was it successful?

03:53:36 - 03:54:00

Yeah, it’s very successful along with many other zoos that were successful in keeping them and reproducing them and I’m not sure now what the program, whether it’s still in effect, but I would imagine so. They’re one of the most beautiful, the small primates.

03:54:01 - 03:54:05

Why not try your best to reproduce them?

03:54:06 - 03:54:40

It just was a good program for us and we were able to do it. We have wonderful weather. We keep them out almost every day of the year. No problem with housing them, doesn’t require a lot of space, but that’s, again, that’s what a smaller zoo can do. If they can acquire the animals themselves, they can get into a rather small program without expending thousands and thousands of dollars. That is a good program to be in.

03:54:40 - 03:54:44

Did any of your animals go back to the wild?

03:54:46 - 03:55:12

I don’t think that I remember that we sent any back to the wild. We sent some to other zoos and that might have been, what they were doing is collecting them for return to the natural environment. You talked about population management as it affected your hoofstock with the amount of animals you had and how you mix them and so forth.

03:55:13 - 03:55:26

Were any of your hoof mammals ever involved in programs where they were brought back to an area like the Arabian arcs or any of those kinds of things?

03:55:26 - 03:55:31

Did you participate with any of these programs with animals that were raised at your zoo?

03:55:31 - 03:56:22

Yes, we did participate in the Scimitar horned oryx with San Diego, I believe it was. And I don’t know if I mentioned the blackbuck antelope reintroduction that we did in cooperation with ranchers who kept them on the ranch and had surplus, the zoo surplus and the zoo then collected the animals, kept them in quarantine for a period of time, built crates, arranged for shipment and sent them back to a reserve in Pakistan. And they took to the re-introduction very well. And I think it’s still showing progress.

03:56:24 - 03:56:30

What was your philosophy regarding reproduction of endangered species via surrogate species?

03:56:30 - 03:56:31

Did you do any of that?

03:56:33 - 03:56:46

Did you have one animal, like, would you have a young hoofstock that weren’t nursing, would you take them or would you try and put them with other types of hoofstock for nursing?

03:56:46 - 03:57:21

No, I didn’t do that. We did bottle feed some, but got them used to other means of getting their food, rather than just with the keeper holding them and feeding them, trying to do it a little differently and better like the bird people and they’re using like the crane’s feeding them with the glove that looks like the head of a whooping crane, or things of that sort.

03:57:23 - 03:57:28

How successful was your Andean with birds, through your Andean condor release program?

03:57:28 - 03:58:13

That was very successful. I noticed though that recently, we’re down to one Andean condor, so I’m not sure just, you know, that we had them for many years and I’m sure that what happened was, they just reached their lifespan and that’s it. But we did get eggs from them regularly. And I believe most of those went to a hatching central location, probably the government program that they had for Andean condor or San Diego or LA, I think they both had programs as well.

03:58:13 - 03:58:16

Was that a national program that you participated in?

03:58:16 - 03:58:18


03:58:20 - 03:58:24

Was one of your management strategies to try and double clutch or not?

03:58:24 - 03:58:30

Yes, we did that with a lot of birds and it worked for the most part.

03:58:32 - 03:58:37

And you had also involvement with the birds on Guam?

03:58:37 - 03:59:02

Graham Kingfisher project that several zoos got involved in because it was a serious problem that cropped up, it seems to me as I remember it, that it happened very quickly and we had to do something. And so we got as many as we could into zoos and the program began and I think has been very successful.

03:59:03 - 03:59:08

And you were part of a national program then?

03:59:08 - 03:59:09


03:59:10 - 03:59:23

Would that kind of thing, with the tamarins, the Guam, kingfisher or some of these or the Andean condor, is that a program that is brought to you by your curatorial?

03:59:23 - 03:59:33

Was it by a curatorial staff saying we should be involved or was it you having the information saying, we will be involved in this project to help endangered species?

03:59:33 - 03:59:54

No. I think in each of those cases, it was the curatorial staff that got the information and we all agreed that that’s what we should do. You talked about the incident with the gorilla and obviously it made the press in San Antonio.

03:59:57 - 04:00:00

What kind of a presence did you have in the media?

04:00:02 - 04:00:06

How were you reacting relating to the media in San Antonio?

04:00:07 - 04:00:38

Well, I think I did a pretty good job of relating to the media. They seemed to enjoy very much coming to visit and asking what’s going on at the zoo. And if we sent them a press release, they’d come flocking to the zoo to get more information. We had a good relationship with all of the media.

04:00:38 - 04:00:40

Did you nurture that relationship?

04:00:40 - 04:00:41

You bet I did.

04:00:41 - 04:00:42

How did you do that?

04:00:42 - 04:00:57

Just cooperating with them as much as possible, giving them good stories, thanks to the staff who would put together a press release. Telling them we’re sending it.

04:00:57 - 04:01:03

I would call the city desk or something and say, we got this for you, are you interested?

04:01:03 - 04:01:05

And they seemed to always be.

04:01:07 - 04:01:12

How did the press, because of that relationship, how did the press treat you after the gorilla incident?

04:01:12 - 04:01:49

Not bad at all. I think for what it was, they thought that it was handled correctly. We didn’t have a major problem there. They were very interested, of course they would be and so they did a pretty good job of presenting it to their subscribers. Now, you’ve alluded to, and we talked about it kind of around, but it takes money to run a zoo, a lot of money.

04:01:51 - 04:02:03

When you left the San Antonio Zoo, twofold question, what was your budget kind of when you left and how did you get that money to run the zoo?

04:02:04 - 04:02:05

Where did it come from?

04:02:05 - 04:02:58

The money to run the zoo has always come from what we earn. There was probably a single digit percentage coming from the city, which went nowhere but to payroll below the senior staff. All of that money went to the payroll for our keepers. All the rest of the money from admissions, donations, fundraisers, concessions, gift shop, went to the rest of the operation. And if we didn’t have that, we didn’t plan it in the next year’s budget.

04:03:00 - 04:03:02

How much I had?

04:03:02 - 04:03:23

Honestly, I can’t remember. It’s been so long ago, but I know it wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. And I’m very pleased that Steve has been able to keep that figure so much higher and get the job done in this time when things are really expensive to do anyway.

04:03:23 - 04:03:31

Were you always able to balance your budget and were you in the black?

04:03:31 - 04:04:10

We were pretty much in the black. We didn’t overspend. All of my animals sales when we had animals sales went into replacing the collection needs. And that was very important to me that we didn’t touch that money. And I had many of my board members who felt the same way. They were very much for keeping the money that we earned from selling animals to other zoos and so on in the fund for animals or the replacement of the collection.

04:04:13 - 04:04:16

That was your call with the support of the board?

04:04:16 - 04:04:25

Right. In 1982, the San Antonio Zoo hit the 1 million mark. Best attendance ever.

04:04:26 - 04:04:37

Why was the zoo so successful that year and what did you do to draw people that sticks in your mind maybe that it hit that mark?

04:04:37 - 04:05:29

Well, not a week would go by without something about the zoo in the newspaper, especially at the week’s end, Friday, getting ready for the Saturday crowd, holidays, prior to the holidays. That was a plan and it worked very well. We had planned that we could reach that million mark. To this extent, we bought thousands of buttons that said I’m one in a million. And that was given to everyone who came through the gate. And the explanation then was picked up by the television and the news people and everyone else. And they did come. And when that millionth person came through the gate, we had a surprise ceremony.

04:05:29 - 04:05:34

They got, I forget now what we gave them, but it was really a fun time.

04:05:35 - 04:05:39

You didn’t give him the Good Egg Award, did you?

04:05:39 - 04:05:48

Oh no, no. The Good Egg Award had to go– Talk about that. It had to go to something very special and even a millionth person wasn’t gonna get the Good Egg Award.

04:05:51 - 04:05:52

Your idea?

04:05:52 - 04:06:40

My idea, with the help of our docents, and by the way, the docent chairman always got the Good Egg Award each year, one of the Good Egg Awards, and they worked hard to get it. So, and my board members, the board members who were exemplary in their efforts got it, not many of the Good Egg Awards were given other than that. You had to be a major, major donor. And there were donors like the one who gave me the million dollars, the biggest donation I had at that time, he was thrilled to death to get the Good Egg Award. Now tell me was it, tell me about the actual award.

04:06:40 - 04:06:42

Was it a goose egg?

04:06:42 - 04:06:44

It was an ostrich egg.

04:06:44 - 04:06:46

And what did you do that made it so special?

04:06:46 - 04:07:49

We would either carve a scene into the egg or paint the egg with a favorite animal of that person on it, and then have a little testimonial in the back why they received the Good Egg Award. One year we gave away two Good Egg Awards, one to the docent chairman and one to the docent chairman’s husband and his Good Egg Award was a broken ostrich egg with two chicks sitting in the center of it, for his putting up with us for the entire year. And he was thrilled to death as well. So, you were doing things this must have also, you said because of fundraising and people going out of their way to really hit a high mark, and you indicated that you figured it out at some point that, hey, it’s gonna be the director’s job to get money here.

04:07:50 - 04:07:54

How did you adjust to this role of fundraising?

04:07:55 - 04:08:48

Well, I dove into it head first because I saw all these things that had to be done and I wanted to get right at it. That was my job. And it just seems to be, it came so naturally that it didn’t bother me a bit. And I had board members who could assist in that by getting me to the right people. I remember going to a major donor for the entire community. On one instance, I had a board member I said, “I need to get to so-and-so. I’d like to talk with them about this project that I wanna do.” He said, “Oh boy, this is gonna be hard. He’s a busy man.” But he said, “I’ll see what I can do.” He got me, he said, “You got 10 minutes.

04:08:48 - 04:09:17

So if you wanna go up there, we’ll go up.” And we did. And that 10 minutes, I worked my tail off in 10 minutes and we got what we were after with him. So it was very good that I had somebody to give me a little boost at least to get to this person who was, he was bothered by everybody in town to help in some form.

04:09:18 - 04:09:27

Well then how would you say that, or what’d you say that fundraising over the years now for a zoo director has changed?

04:09:27 - 04:09:39

I mean, do zoo directors coming into the profession now need to be different than 30 years ago because of fundraising, or?

04:09:40 - 04:10:19

I think it’s harder now because there are so many needs in the communities, not just the Zoo and sometimes it’s a children’s hospital or some humanitarian thing that really is important community wise. And for the zoo to go waltzing in there asking for money at the same time may not be the wisest thing to do. But it’s very important, the fund raising is absolutely necessary for most of us today.

04:10:19 - 04:10:23

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

04:10:23 - 04:10:36

No. I didn’t ever use the political process for anything. I tried to keep the zoo separate from politics as much as possible.

04:10:37 - 04:10:52

Is there any one, aside from this 10 minutes, is there any one particular story where you walked in to get money, had to do something to ask and it became more and better than you thought it would be?

04:10:53 - 04:11:16

No, I can’t think of anything better than getting to the right people with a time limit on your head or getting to someone with a huge sum, like to me, a million dollars was a pretty darn big chunk of money and not coming from a granting agency or coming from an individual.

04:11:18 - 04:11:24

Was that million dollars one of the largest gifts that an individual had bestowed on San Antonio?

04:11:24 - 04:11:35

At that time, it was the largest. We had many people who gave over many years much more than that, but not at one time.

04:11:35 - 04:11:37

Did you have any surprise donations?

04:11:37 - 04:11:37

Oh, yes.

04:11:37 - 04:11:41

Where all of a sudden, can you give me one example?

04:11:41 - 04:12:10

I had surprise donations on safaris. I was on safari with the several people over the years and talking zoo business and talking what we saw that day on safari. And before the day was over, they’d hand me a check and say, here, put this in your pocket for your next fundraising event. So, that’s always a surprise.

04:12:11 - 04:12:16

What could zoos do to enhance their attendance regarding exhibits?

04:12:16 - 04:12:18

Any little tricks?

04:12:19 - 04:12:42

Well, I think keeping your name in front of the press and news agencies as we did for so long, every single Friday, they were sure to be getting a story from the zoo. And that can’t do any harm.

About Louis DiSabato

Louis DiSabato
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San Antonio Zoo: San Antonio, Texas

Director Emeritus

Louis DiSabato starting working at the Columbus Zoo at the age of 15 cleaning bathrooms and parking cars. After serving in the Korean War, he returned to Ohio and was immediately offered a job as mammal curator for the Columbus Zoo. As a young zoologist Louie DiSabato was a witness to the first captive lowland gorilla birth. In 1960 he became director of the Columbus Zoo but left three years later to move to Rochester to become director of the Seneca Park Zoo. This opportunity would allow him to design a zoo from the bottom up. But Rochester was to experience their worst race riots in their history. Plans for the new zoo was on the back burner. However, Louis made many changes and brought in a lot of animals to the zoo. By the time he left, five years later, people were much happier with the zoo then they had ever been.

In 1968 Louis DiSabato accepted the position as director at the San Antonio zoo and immediately began to re-green the zoo creating an impressive botanical collection. In 1971 he was named a director of the newly formed American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA). President Reagan nominated Director DiSabato to be a member of the National Museum Services Board of the Institute of Museum Services, National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities.

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