August 25th 2018 | Director

Mark Reed

Mark Reed served as General Curator of the San Antonio Zoo in 1974, then moving to the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas as Assistant Director. In 1991 he assumed the directorship of the Sedgwick County Zoo retiring after 25 years at the helm.

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Mark Crandall Reed. I was born in Portland, Oregon on November 28th, 1949, and I was in the zoo profession for about 44 years. And actually I was the executive director of the Sedgwick County Zoological Society was the official title, which operated the zoo for the county.

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Now you have a unique kind of history, but when you were growing up, what zoos were you exposed to?

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Interestingly enough, my father was the contract veterinarian for what was then called the Portland Zoo. And he actually helped start the zoological society there, the friends group, but he did his work out there in the evening. So I would go out as a four and five year old and had my first elephant experience and seen kangaroos and so forth, but really did not see other zoos until we moved to Washington, DC. I remember stopping at St. Louis and it was later on as you’re growing up, you know, trips up to the Bronx Zoo, to Philadelphia Zoo, Baltimore, and you know, the nearby zoos on the east coast and on vacations, you know, the Florida. Saw Busch Gardens before it was open to the public and you know, the old zoo in Miami at Crandon Park and so forth, but it wasn’t until I actually, you know, was employed as a zookeeper that I started actively on weekends and my days off traveling to all the nearby zoos. I did spend a lot of time at the Kansas City Zoo when I was going to college at Kansas State. Don Deline was the director there. He’d worked for my father.

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And so I’d take the train in. It was five bucks to Kansas City and spend the weekend at the zoo. Now back up a little, because you went to Washington, we’ll talk later in detail, but you went to Washington, DC because your father, ‘cos you were exposed to the zoo at a young age.

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Your father went to Washington, why?

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1955, my father was fascinated by working with exotic animals in vet school. Actually the head of the department was also the zoo director in Manhattan, Kansas at the Sunset Zoo. So he had applied for a job at the San Diego Zoo and didn’t get it. And Charlie Schroeder told him that the National Zoo was looking to hire their first full-time veterinarian and lo and behold, he got it. And we moved there in 1955 and he was the veterinarian. And I literally that first year went in every Saturday morning with him. That was the day he did sort of rounds and necropsies. So the funny story I heard years later was I was fascinated by watching the necropsies, how long the intestines on a sloth were.

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And so during the week I’d asked at dinner table, what time today?

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Knowing that I get to see it cut up. My dad, I didn’t realize how frustrating it was for him ‘cos here he is trying to save things and I’m getting excited about things dying, but he was basically the full-time vet for about a year and a half when all of a sudden the retirement of the long term director there, Bill Mann, and they offered Walker a temporary position, which he turned down and decided to retire. And my dad was the next in line. They called him down and made him the acting director. And he said, you better give me a piece of paper to prove it ‘cos nobody is gonna believe it. And that night I remember him telling us that he drove by all the entrances and exits to be sure if they were closed or not before he came home. He had no idea what it was all gonna be about, but. So you were exposed to zoos at a very young age.

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Would you say that helped your wanting to be in the profession?

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You know, actually a combination of, you know, great for show and tell. I had pieces of elephant tusk or teeth and a feather collection and things like this, and growing up in Washington, DC, especially when you got into teenage years, it’s a fabulous town. Everything is free, great museums and art galleries and so forth. And I took a lot of dates to the National Zoo. I knew it well and so forth. And I was actively involved in Boy Scouts, an Eagle Scout, and did the film on loved to camp out. So it was sort of a combination of the outdoor life and taking care of animals. And I originally went to college for pre-vet.

00:05:22 - 00:06:24

I thought that I wanted to be a veterinarian, probably a zoo veterinarian and quizzed out of some classes, but I got a D in trigonometry and that was the end of my veterinary career before it started. So I switched over to zoology and, you know, didn’t know for sure until I got that first job while I was waiting to go to graduate school. And I knew within days that this is what I wanted to do for sure. Tell me about your formal education. I went to Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I graduated in 1972. I knew I was gonna go to graduate school. And at that time, the nearest thing that I could find associated with zoos was at Texas Tech in the Department of Park Administration and Landscape Architecture.

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The head of the department knew the zoo world, knew the personalities because of the combined National Park and Recreation Association, the AAZPA within a division, so he knew who all the players were. And it had other zoo people that had gone to the program there, George Bidel Jr. After me, you know, Chris DiSabato had gone and went there. And I was able to do a zoo thesis, which helped me get the job, my first full-time job at the San Antonio Zoo. So let’s start. Now you’re beginning your zoo profession on your own.

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And how did you get, what kind of job did you get at the San Antonio Zoo?

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That was 1972 I believe to 1973.

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What kind of job did you get and how did you get this job?

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And some people might think it’s because of who your father knew. And it actually was. It was interesting. I found out a month before I graduated that I was going to graduate. I had forgotten some hours I had earned at a marine biology course I took down in the Mississippi State on the coastline there at Gulfport and I had enough hours to graduate. I thought I was coming back for another semester. And I hitchhiked home real quick. My dad had always said he could help me maybe get my first job.

00:08:03 - 00:08:48

After that, I was on my own. He got on the phone and he’s talking to some guy named Clayton who I don’t know where or who. And it was real clear early in the conversation that Clayton didn’t have part-time summer jobs. And then he called some guy named Louis and I could tell immediately that I had a position that I could could work at that summer. And they talked for 45 minutes. I’m sitting there wondering where the heck I’m going and got off the phone and found out I was going to San Antonio. It was minimum wage, a $1.80 an hour. I brought home $122 and 22 cents.

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I had a garage apartment two blocks from the zoo. I could lay in the Murphy bed and touch three out of the four walls and put my foot in the bathroom and had a Triumph Motorcycle and thought I was king of the world. And I worked in what was called small mammal department, which had giraffes and polar bears and gorillas and chimps and orangs, an interesting title. And I worked there two summers. The next summer I worked in the large mammal department, which was a tremendous hoofstock collection. It had 32 species I think at that time and exposure to rhinos and elephants. And San Antonio is not that huge. It still does have a very large mammal collection.

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And looking around, it was just in its stages of professional development under Louis DiSabato. And I went in and had a discussion with him actually my last day on the job. And he told me about this land that had been donated to the zoo to develop possibly a breeding facility or an offsite facility that might be open to the public much in the manner that San Diego Wild Animal Park was. It had just opened. He had been out there for the opening and when I got up to graduate school, I did a lot of research on the land and the issues of ticks and the issues of water were big ones and send ’em a bunch of information on that. And sort of out of that developed a thesis dealing with the development of this land for zoo.

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What are the things that have to be considered and how would you go about doing it and what to learn from places that had already done it?

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So I did a general problems analysis. I actually had some other graduate students do a vegetation analysis, a soil survey. So used a lot of resources, but in the end, Louis DiSabato ended up being on my board, my thesis board, and basically helped me get a full-time job. At some point, he held the position open ‘cos it had been offered somebody else in the field earlier. And I guess he saw enough in me that they held this. It was actually titled zoologist, I called it. Third line in the totem pole at the time, but they held it open and I started to work there full time in June of ’74 and worked full time for a little over five years before going to the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, Kansas.

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So when you worked for Louis DiSabato, who was director, what was your relationship with him?

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Did you learn from him, was he a mentor?

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Was he a hard task master?

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Or because you were the son of the former director. You know, we rarely touched on the son of former director. I had a great relationship with Louis I think. I discovered that over time, I’d stop by near the end of the day and we’d visit for 10 to 15 minutes and you know, he’d relate what his hopes and dreams were and ask how I was doing and how some of the projects I was doing. He really was, it was almost in some ways a teacher, student relationship, a mentoring relationship. And the thing that I got that I’m so appreciative of him is that in some cases, he let me make mistakes. He knew I had to learn myself and others, he would give me guidance on what he thought would happen if I tried this or did that. I had a lot of fun working for Louis.

00:13:04 - 00:13:57

I had a good working relationship with him. He learned a lot from those gorillas at Columbus, Ohio. I mean, he had those penetrating eye and you could see that quiver in his job when he’d get upset on things. But I can say that I really enjoyed my time. It was a great collection. I mean, it was a huge collection and exposure to animals that some of ’em we’ll never see in zoos again most likely, and San Antonio was just a great town. Now, you said he held quote unquote a job for you and you started in 1974.

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Is the title general curator or is the title zoologist?

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The original starting title was zoologist. And it was, I mean, during my five years there, I was also put in charge over the horticulture department. I liaison with the maintenance department. I spent a year doing some major overhaul, spent $40,000 on overhauling the aquarium and air handling systems and doubling the salt water. I designed some new hoof stock barns that were built in the back area, it was a little bit of everything. That’s why I called it more appropriately probably the third man on the totem pole. There was an assistant to the director, Ernie Roney. And we ate lunch every day together on the zoo property, you know, normal chain of command there, but I made a point and Louis had an open door and I’d go in there every evening, just about I’d say four out of five nights a week.

00:15:06 - 00:15:56

And yeah, we’d talk for five, 10, 15 minutes. Louis was one of those guys that got out in the zoo every morning doing a walkthrough and every afternoon for a few minutes somewhere, he knew the zoo. And you could also tell in the afternoon walks, you could tell whether he was enjoying himself or not by those radio calls. One out of whoever and if it was not a good day, you were hoping you weren’t gonna hear your number. My number was 13. Well, now when you started, you really had limited as a zoologist or general curator or that title as third in line, you really only had limited keeper experience.

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How did the staff, and I’m sure they knew where you came from, but how did the staff react to this new kid with limited experience being third in line?

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It was interesting because of the minimum wage, or in most cases, only five or 10 cents. It was before the zoo became unionized, a tremendous amount of turnover. And one of my jobs was the hiring. And basically I did all the hiring for the keepers, gardeners and maintenance, in addition to my other duties. And you know, the follow through in the probationary system to the point that we were having discussions at two weeks, six weeks, three months, and five months on probationary employees who found that it was easier to take care of issues during that time period, so there was not a tremendous amount of longevity. I can tell you that my second summer in the large mammal department, about 17 people, that I think there was only five there that had been there longer than I had. I mean, it was a hard, tough job. And you know, it was in the days when most of it was spent cleaning the pen and feeding the pen and making sure they had water.

00:17:18 - 00:17:35

And that’s about all you had time for. The things that we like to think about in Richmond and all the things you can do to talk with the public now and everything, this was before those days that you had that kind of opportunity.

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How much freedom did you have in this position?

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I had a tremendous amount of freedom. I was amazed how much that Louis allowed me to take on. Basically, I think because I kept him well informed on what was going on, I think he saw the passion in me to always try to make the zoo look better, feel better, better guest services, whatever it was. He was good to me in that aspect. I couldn’t have had a better boss that first five years.

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Was the relationship different when you were senior staff than when you were the animal keeper starting out. or?

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Oh, totally different. When I was the animal keeper stopping out, you know, I’d see him walk around the zoo and I’d nod, but that first summer, we didn’t talk until that last day really. And the second summer maybe talked a few other times for a few minutes, but he was getting reports. They had a long term superintendent of mammals, Raymond Figueroa, that I’m sure gave him reports on how I was doing. And he was a great task master. You know, he was good at hiding those golf balls in a pin If you didn’t find ’em, you weren’t cleaning the pin right. And I learned about flocks and always double checking and how important that is. And Raymond was also just a good hoof stock person.

00:19:25 - 00:19:46

He was one of those ones that could see that separation in the hips and know that the baby was gonna be born in the next 24 hours. And you know, all these things that he’d worked there since he was a 14 year old kid. And he was in his early 50s at that time and had done everything at the zoo one time or another, a natural.

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As a curator, as the third guy, were there lessons that you learned from your father that you kind of brought with you and used or not?

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The lessons that I learned from my father actually probably came in later, but the one lesson I did learn, my dad and I had a relationship early on where I was a keeper. I was sending back cassette tapes with my experiences when I was learning. And I would question some things that were going on at the zoo. And as he explained to me in one of the tapes coming back, and I still have those tapes. I was surprised when I was going through my dad’s stuff that he had some of them. He said, “Until you sit in that seat of ultimate responsibility, there’s no way to fully understand why Louis was making this decision or that decision. And as you move up the ranks, you will start to understand that.” And that was very much a true statement. The other thing that I learned from him was getting out and seeing other zoos.

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He constantly traveled. He was also head of the membership of WAZO, so we got a lot of international travel too. At that time, it was IUDGZ, but on weekends, you know, Dallas Fort Worth and you had the Lion Country Safari. There was also a commercial aquarium operation up there. Next weekend we’d be hitchhiking down to Brownsville, going over to Houston the weekend. I can remember sleeping on apartments at Jim Murphy, his house or in the parking lot at Fort Worth. I mean, and he made it up to Oklahoma city one time, but it was starting to see other zoos and how things are going and starting to build that network.

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At this time, would you say you’re forming a philosophy about zoo management on your own?

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I learned a lot of the technical aspects and the evolving professionalism of the zoo from Louis DiSabato. The philosophy behind it I got when I went to the Sedgwick County Zoo under Ron Blakely.

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And that was the basic question of why?

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This whole thing about interpreting nature for the layman is the presentation was the overriding philosophy that Ron gave us. But always to be able to answer the question why. If you can’t answer the question why, something’s wrong. In fact, Ron Blakely on the first day in the job told me I would learn just as much what not to do as what to do from him, and he was correct on that. I had a lot of things that I have adopted from him in philosophy. I had some others that I took a 180 degree turn. He was not as communicative with the board and the staff. I decided I was gonna have a total open, transparent thing and his worked for him and my way worked for me when I was able to do that, and I think ultimately it led to my success in many ways.

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Let’s talk about this start here. In 1979, I believe you become assistant director of the Sedgwick County Zoo until 1991, but a couple of questions.

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What made you decide to seek a job at another zoo?

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You know, when I was in San Antonio, I was looking to make that next step. I had figured originally three moves, you know, curator, general curator, assistant director somewhere, become a director. And it felt like I had a broad exposure with this job at San Antonio because of the other branches within the zoo, the maintenance and the horticulture, and had picked up aquarium background. I spent a year soaking everything I could out of David McKelvey when he was hired as the first zoo’s professional agriculturist. And of course, a very famous guy at the time, Joe Laszlo in the herpetological field. And he was a leader in the original environmental chambers and so forth and it was exciting to get him the materials to watch what was going on. So I had a broad, broad exposure and felt like I was ready to take that next step. And I could tell that the assistant to the director there, Ernie Roney wasn’t going anywhere so I started started looking, but the job, I came out of going to the regional conference in 1979, which was in Sedgwick County Zoo.

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I’m looking around, the zoo is eight years old. All modern, all new, young staff, they’re excited. I liked what I saw and Louis had sent me up there thinking that I’d see what I’d learned. He was very good about allowing us to travel to conferences. And I got talking to Ron Blakely and vice versa, and I actually even told my grandparents who were both still living in Kansas at the time that I thought I’d get a job offer in six months ‘cos I could tell that the assistant director at the time was probably not gonna be there much longer. And three months later, I got a call one night and I went up to see him a week later and worked out the details, came back and gave a about a three week notice I think and ended up working to that last hour. I always envisioned that last couple days walking around the zoo, saying goodbye to everything and to everybody. I barely made it to my little retirement gig they had done at the restaurant.

00:26:53 - 00:27:12

And you know, the same thing happened at Sedgwick County Zoo. After X number of years, you start thinking you’re ready to take that next big step and started looking around. I promised both directors, I told Louis when I was hired and I told it to Ron Blakely that I guaranteed him five years.

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And I felt like I’d seen too many people in the profession two years here, three years here and jumping around and you know, what did they have to look back that they could say they did or accomplished in that short of a time?

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And I felt like at least five years, you could leave something that you could feel and be proud of.

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So what kind of zoo did you find?

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You said it was a new zoo.

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What kind of zoo did you find that you were walking into and what were your new job responsibilities?

00:27:46 - 00:29:08

Well, the thing that hit me immediately was that this zoo had been master planned from the beginning and that they were following this master plan. They had already done a Farms of the World Complex, a herpetarium, the African Veldt had been done, but not the Asian part. And they had built the first major tropical building in the country. It wasn’t the first, the first was at Topeka Zoo under Gary Clarke. And they were in the process of opening a walkthrough Australian and South American exhibit called the Pampas Outback. And in which you were inside the aviary, which also included exhibits outside this aviary so that you were in the cage looking out into the animals in the open area and a tremendous amount of immersion in this exhibit. There were a lot of first, looking at tortoises with no barriers at the herpetarium. You could actually walk in with lizards and turtles in the Desert Room, the Jungle Walkthrough.

00:29:10 - 00:30:42

I liked the philosophy. And my immediate responses was the biggest thing I was given when I was there was they had a new general curator, Ken Redman, who later went on to become the assistant director and director of the Honolulu Zoo, was recently promoted up from the ranks there, was to find the animals for this exhibit. And you know, I got challenges of he would like to have some (indistinct), when we were talking about originally was gonna have Australian Dingos. I said yeah, I can get some, and I didn’t know what they were. I went back and looked it up and found out they’re these New Guinea Singing Dogs, and there were none in the country at the time. But I had traveled to Australia already and had developed relationships at Sydney and Melbourne and Adelaide Zoos. And I found some at the Melbourne Zoo and was able to trade three squirrel monkeys for a pair of New Guinea Singing Dogs. And the rest is history on there because from those and another import that we brought in from Germany, they’re now quite, I mean, they’re found in a few zoos, but they’re also in the regular dog world now.

00:30:42 - 00:31:04

And some people will call them a yellow cur dog and other people will tell you it’s one of the earliest forms of domesticated dog and I don’t get involved in that argument anymore. So you have a new director. I presume he has an absolutely different management style than the former director you worked for.

00:31:06 - 00:31:14

How easy or difficult was it to adapt to this new environment?

00:31:15 - 00:32:10

You know, was Ron Blakely was a brilliant man. I mean, no question this guy I’m sure would classify as a genius. And so we liked that. And it was always challenging. As he said, he had a psychology degree too so he’d brown bag psychologists at times and how he worked with people. I took great pleasure in when I caught him in a mistake on dealing with animals, and one of ’em was like the coati. He was calling them coatimundis. And I said that coatimundi means the male coati.

00:32:15 - 00:33:30

It was one of only two or three that I caught him on something. This guy was well versed in knowing his biology of the collection and animals. But admittedly, he didn’t get out in the zoo hardly at all. At the end, he had a special interest in the domestic animals and spent quite a bit of time down in the domestic concept. And there’s no question because of him, they have a couple of goose and chicken breeds that are still around. He was one of the founding supporters of this within America, what was now the American Conservancy dealing with rare and endangered forms of domesticated livestock. He was on the board there. He was willing to think outside the box on zoo design, which is what I really appreciated.

00:33:30 - 00:33:46

And that was an area that I feel like that I looked back in my career that it was most fascinating to me, especially with the challenge of the cost benefit ratio.

00:33:47 - 00:33:50

How much do you spend and what do you get out of it?

00:33:50 - 00:34:53

Because a lot of things that have been built cost a bloody fortune and you can’t see the animal. I can still remember Louis DiSabato draging me in to look at this picture when they did the great looking exhibits. It was in the old lion house at the Brookfield Zoo here of the four small cat exhibits. And they cost, I forgot what it was, so much a piece or whatever. And Louis said, “If you ever build something like this and spend that kind of money, I’ll come kick your butt,” because you couldn’t see the animals, which is a basic premise. And the challenge of exhibit design is something that, you know, people want to see the eyelashes, the eyeballs, but they want to know they’re in a well cared for large exhibit that meets their welfare needs and have space. So you always have that challenge. And the animal has gotta have a place where it feels safe and so forth, but from some angle still be visible by the public.

00:34:53 - 00:36:30

So that was one of the things that Ron was really creative and challenged me personally in my designs when I became the director, which led to me constantly trying to learn more. One of the first things I did in my early days at Sedgwick County was take the opportunity and go with Marvin Jones and then Ken Kawata came along and ended up doing 26 zoos in Europe in 21 days. You could do two zoos a day because of the train system. And there were things I saw that just blew me away. And I learned that you could take ideas and adapt ’em for climate, even governance, union versus non-union, utilities. While there’s always new things under the things, but they’re built on little developments that most things that we think are new and exciting have been done in some format before. I mean, the zoo profession goes back thousands of years. There’s been some real creativity that some of us didn’t realize until we see more and more places.

00:36:30 - 00:38:10

So your philosophy under Ron Blakely you indicated is your own personal philosophy, zoo management and managing the zoo is starting to form. Yeah, I would say that I knew when I was at Sedgwick County that we could do great things, that the biggest challenge would be that I would never have the 40 million dollars or something to build some monstrous exhibit, that we had to build and come up with concepts that would be of world class standards, but not spend the kind of money. And that became in innovation, materials and so forth. And you know, we are not there to display architecture, we’re there to display animals. So you know, people come and come away with an appreciation, that connection with those animals has nothing to do with the architecture or shouldn’t. And I think at Sedgwick County, we very successfully did that on main exhibits. I mean, you can go too cheap and things start falling apart. So there’s a compromise on that when you’re looking at materials, but you know, I never had anybody come to the Sedgwick County Zoo at any time, even dealing with all Blakely stuff, ‘cos he left me a great, great master plan, that didn’t come away surprised and impressed and it exceeded their expectations, which is how I always looked at a zoo.

00:38:10 - 00:39:12

I went to a zoo, my first visit at any zoo, I had an expectation from something. And if it exceeded that, I looked at it as a great, super day. If it didn’t live up to what my expectations were because I knew the people or something, I was kind of disappointed or whatever. But I feel confident in saying that I never turned around anybody or got feedback that would indicate that nothing less than it exceeded everybody’s expectations when they came. It was a feeling that made you feel proud that your colleagues and your friends were appreciative of what you were able to do, and the community. I mean, we all hear about some of the mega zoos in this country how good they are. And you know, people in Kansas vacation too. They came back and they said man, our zoo is good, if not better than this zoo or that zoo and so forth.

00:39:12 - 00:39:22

And it always made you feel good. Now 1991, you become the director of the Sedgwick County Zoo.

00:39:22 - 00:39:31

What happens to allow you to apply for the job of zoo director and why did you want to do it?

00:39:32 - 00:41:01

Again, I had promised Ron five years and actually it was at six years the first job I applied for came up, Seattle, the one that David Town got, and it was a good experience for interviewing. And I interviewed for many more, pretty competitively came in second or third depending if they listed you or told you why you didn’t get the job. I accepted a job at Auckland and 12 hours later, I had to call ’em back and say that I just couldn’t do it. The long story on that one is probably not worth telling, but I had relatives living in New Zealand and had been to New Zealand quite a bit. It’s a tropical paradise, but I realized that on a professional basis, it would not allow me to grow and would fulfill my need because I wanted this next job to be the job to spend my career at. I didn’t wanna hop around from directorship to directorship or anything. And at the time, I was actually a final three candidate for the job at the Fresno Zoo and I sent them a notice and pulled my name out because of the job at Wichita. Ron retired earlier than we all anticipated.

00:41:03 - 00:41:57

He chose to do that. And they did an international, not international, they did a national search and hired a head hunter to help. And I am very appreciative. They broke it down to 20 and then narrowed the field down. We went through the essay questionnaires and the phone calls and they broke it down finally to two people and I was one of them. And I was most thankful to Dave Siconi, who was president of the AAZPA at the time. He said, “I don’t even know why you’re looking. You’ve got the best candidate in the country right there,” which was good because that was the one thing that was lacking.

00:42:01 - 00:43:08

The staff did not have access to the board or we knew the board at all. It was Blakely just basically handled the board himself and minimally at that. He was a very much old style of pretty much kept in the dark. And as a lot of people said, at times he would’ve liked to just shut the gates and just had his little private zoo there to himself to be totally honest with you. So I competed in the final interview and you know, it was one of those interviews, and I’d had some that I had thought I did well, and others I knew that I didn’t. And somewhere halfway through that interview, I can remember feeling I’ve got this. And I told him what I thought my dreams were for the zoo. And I can still remember the one question from the founding person at the zoo, Mary Lynn Priest.

00:43:08 - 00:43:59

She asked me, “What did I think the attendance was capable of being?” Well at the time, we were under 300,000. Not much, the population of the actual city itself. The metropolitan area was a little bit bigger. And I said, “This zoo ought to be drawing 650,000 people in X number of years” and so forth. I don’t know if anybody believed me, but my last year as director, we hit 711,000 people. And that came with the new elephant exhibit and everything. But we had inched up every year and I had shown him what my dreams were as far as organization of the zoo and told ’em I supported the master plan, but we were able to re tweak it twice. It’s a living document and always needs to be looked at.

00:43:59 - 00:44:50

And in fact, the last thing I did my last year preparing for leaving and building that last budget was to build into the following budget after I left money for a total professional, strategic planning process and a master planning update review process. So I left my successor the money in that budget, which is what they’ve been going through a year long strategic plan. And I’m looking forward to, and I’ve been in touch with what’s coming out of it. Some of it is really exciting, but I’ll get a review of that here in the next month of what’s come out of that whole process. But I felt it was important the time a new director come in to take a good, hard look at everything. And for the board, it’s important for the board and the community.

00:44:50 - 00:45:04

You had indicated that your father had said to you, “Hey, until you sit in the seat, don’t keep judging ‘cos it’s gonna be different.” So how different was the role as a director from that of assistant director?

00:45:04 - 00:46:23

You know, I tell this story. The last three weeks, I can remember that Ron wasn’t there much the last three weeks, burning up some time and everything. And I was telling somebody, I said you know, if that elephant falls in the moat, Ron will get blamed for it because it fell in the moat. The director is ultimately responsible. And sure enough, my first week as the actual director, even though I felt like I had running the zoo for almost those first three weeks before I was actually titled, a new county manager is hired. And this was a public private partnership and they’re a partner and it’s a position on the board. And I had already met him when he had come out to start the job. The day before he came out and bought a membership he toured around the zoo and he told me at the very end of the tour that he would do everything he could to help me.

00:46:23 - 00:47:33

He believed in museums and zoos and cultural things for the community. And he lived up to that and he’s coming out to the zoo and right as he got to my office and we’re getting in the golf cart to ride down, ‘cos the office is outside the actual perimeter fenced area of the zoo property. And I got a radio call that the elephant is in a moat. And I’m sitting there thinking, oh crud. And he’s all excited. And then he looked at me and said, “This isn’t good, is it?” I said, “No.” So we went down and watched the staff very professionally get the elephant out of the moat. And there was no problems, but my example became my instant nightmare there for a little bit. But you know, as director, I realized very quickly that you’re responsible for every animal in that zoo, every employee’s safety and every visitor that comes to the zoo.

00:47:33 - 00:47:53

And in fact, you’re responsible to the community because it’s their zoo. And I always said that you knew you were doing a good job when you could go home and sleep at night. When you couldn’t sleep at night, something was wrong.

00:47:53 - 00:47:57

What surprised you from the shift in roles?

00:48:10 - 00:49:23

I don’t know if there were any surprises I found out. I think the most important thing was learning very quickly what my strengths and weaknesses were at that level. We all have ’em and I did not understand the budgeting process, the financial process very well. And I knew that at least because I told the finance person we had that we had a budget that was constructed with none of our input. That last time Ron, that last six months, basically we were just all cut out of everything and he’s doing his into the retirement routine. And I said, I’m gonna be spending a lot of money just getting things painted and cleaned up. The zoo was looking a little rough around the edges and I should have gotten that word in July that we were at that edge of the envelope because I didn’t understand the whole reporting things very well, and instead of the third week in September. And you know, we only had an operating reserve of I don’t know, $230,000.

00:49:25 - 00:50:48

And there was only 30,000 of that left at the end of that first year. And if it hadn’t have been my first year and if it hadn’t had been with the board’s trust in the finance person, I think I could have lost my job easily. I made a point after that that I sat there and she resigned and I had to do a whole budget and I can remember doing it on a legal sheet at home. And I knew I started with $36,000 in the operating reserve. And I left the operating reserve with about three and a half million dollars in it and five million in the endowment that I’d started out with about 80,000. And we had a surplus of almost not quite a million dollars in the black from what was over budget that last year. So we built that operating reserve up to the point that it was a requirement that it’d be 25% of whatever the expenses were the previous year from the zoological society as part of the budget, which was about 50% of the total budget. And it was a good feeling.

00:50:48 - 00:51:29

I only had to dip into the operating reserve once, which was sort of the prelude to the elephant story when it comes. But I felt very proud of the fact we put the zoo in a good financial setting. And I made a point to know where everything was going financially. I think more of my colleagues had gotten in trouble not understanding that and I came awful damn close. I was very lucky. So you’re the new director. You know the zoo.

00:51:29 - 00:51:33

And what did you want to be the first accomplishment that you did?

00:51:35 - 00:52:41

Well, I inherited. They were almost finished fundraising for the North American Prairie Exhibit. He had said that this exhibit could be built for a million, $100,000. We had been cut out of the planning process that last six months during the retiring thing. And I let some people go that first day in the job that I knew weren’t gonna work out and I reorganized some things. And I think in that first week, I called the architect up and I said you need to come out and make a presentation to the staff. I had the veterinarian and I had the maintenance person there and the one curator and we sat down and had a review of this thing. And we ended up making some changes and there’s some really good things there, incredible things actually that he came up with.

00:52:41 - 00:52:52

But I knew in my heart that this was gonna cost twice what he had told the board, it was gonna cost. So my first problem was convincing the board of that and how we were gonna handle it.

00:52:52 - 00:52:55

And were they gonna step up and raise more money?

00:52:55 - 00:52:58

And what could I do to scale back?

00:52:58 - 00:54:14

And so thank goodness when we opened the bids, the first one was 1.9, then 1.7, then 1.5, 1.3. And we had 1.1 and I had an ace in the hole and I knew I could overhaul the grizzly bear complex and save a couple hundred thousand if I wanted to. But I ended up trading off nails for screws in the boardwalk that was 800 feet long that I later regretted because every single one of those nails comes up were screws down, but we got it built and it was a huge success and the public really loved it. We were all kind of surprised because here we’re talking native animals, but you know, a combination of being proud of their heritage, but the grizzly bears and the bison and the pronghorn were all big hits. And we were able to later add otters and cougars and so forth. But after that, I had some goals. My two big goals were get the chimps and orangutans outside yards. They had a great indoor facility.

00:54:14 - 00:54:59

Even Jane Goodall came and said it’s one of the best Chimp exhibits in the country. You need outside yards. And we used that clip quite a bit in raising money for that project. And the other desire was elephants and decent hospital facilities. The elephants took a long time. The hospital facilities was right after the getting the chimps and the orangutans out. And we built that in conjunction with the lion exhibit and at the same time, but different funding. You’re running a whole zoo.

00:54:59 - 00:55:04

How important are amenities at a zoo, and do you think people think of them enough?

00:55:06 - 00:56:19

If you’re referring to amenities of everything from park benches to decent bathrooms to good food and the gift shop, it’s the entire package. You know, I can still remember Wendy Fisher, the wife of Lester Fisher from Lincoln Park Zoo, giving a talk on toilet paper and how important it was that that bathroom at the exit always be the cleanest because it could be the last impression. If it’s not and it’s out of toilet paper, that’s the one thing they’re gonna remember from the visit. And I had to look at all those, not only the bathrooms, first thing was getting them all air conditioned. Nobody likes sitting down on a sticky seat in the summertime when it’s hot and humid, so that was a priority. And getting indoor restaurant seating, upgrading the restaurant facilities ‘cos we ran them ourselves. We never went out on a contract and I did that for several reasons. I had people on the board that owned major restaurant chains, big time restaurant chains.

00:56:21 - 00:57:11

And you know, we had a special committee on it. And as long as we could have per caps and generate net profit that met industry standards, it made sense. I mean, it took a lot of work, but you had total control over the thing. And if you had the money for capital investment, it just made sense. And I have a lot of personal colleagues and friends that contract those out. It makes their life a lot simpler, but they lose some control. I mean, one of them even had one of those employees sue him because when the gorilla got out running around, it bit one of these concession people and they turned around and sued the zoo. That’s not good, but I felt like I needed to maximize everything I could.

00:57:12 - 00:58:33

And if you hired the right people, you could compete at industry standards for food and gift concessions. And so those were important and you know, our job, you had to look at it in some ways in a funny way, our job was to extract every penny and every dime and every dollar out of everybody’s purse when they came to the zoo that day. I mean, the simple thing of just putting in, you know, getting a contract with Coca-Cola or Pepsi and that bidding and how we did that. I mean, we didn’t even have machines in the zoo, so it became very important. People expect a good quality hamburger or hot dog when they come to the zoo. They don’t expect it to be the absolute world’s best, but they don’t think it should be junk either. They know that food’s secondary and qthere’s additional things in that because once you have those, they’re open and people want ’em to be open when they come to ’em, but it’s not profitable to have ’em open those first few hours in most places so you gotta work out compromises. And we always made sure we were open to the max because we didn’t want to upset people.

00:58:38 - 00:58:53

So yeah, they were quite important. I mean, it’s the whole package of we’re there to display the animals, but it has to be in pleasant surroundings. You talked about amenities at the zoo and so forth.

00:58:53 - 00:59:00

How important is education at a zoo and can you talk about your college degree program and how that came about?

00:59:00 - 01:00:02

Okay. First, as far as education, my dad and I actually used to talk about this quite a bit. It’s the one department that you could spend unlimited amounts of money and justify it with the programs and the messages you want to get across. I mean, how much do you do. And it’s also proven you can actually pay if you want to do the payment that you can actually recoup your cost to a pretty good degree if you’re charging for your classes or how much you’re charging. But yeah, and we were in the middle of that. We were charging little amounts, but offered a lot of it free. The aspect of the learning experience coming to the zoo, the best classroom was out there in front of the animals.

01:00:02 - 01:00:53

Some of the best messages are delivered by well trained docents or even keepers with the elephants there versus in the education building. At Sedgwick County Zoo, we actually had I think the second education building dedicated totally to education was built in 1980. And I expanded it and more than doubled its size. And we were always constantly struggling with that issue, we brought animals a lot heavier into the inside educational aspect and built special facilities for the animals there as a separate standalone collection. And that was a philosophical change from Blakely. We had no animals in for outreach.

01:00:53 - 01:00:56

And then how far do you go?

01:00:56 - 01:01:57

You always have those questions in your community and so forth. And then we had a thing on a tremendous number of school systems that couldn’t afford the trip to the zoo. And it’s not because of the cost of coming to the zoo. It’s the cost of the bus service. The days of all the parents bringing their kids, those days are gone, liability issues. They all gotta come in the school bus and so forth. And so we actually developed a special fund for allowing charter one schools to apply for the money to pay for the buses, to pay for the discount on the admissions and so forth. But the one requirement, and we’d give out all the money every year on a first come first serve basis until it was all gone and tried to build it up bigger so they were meeting everybody that did apply.

01:01:57 - 01:03:14

But the one requirement was that they would have to take at least one kind of structured program while they were at the zoo so they’re just not out running around the zoo the whole time. Now, whether it was in the classroom or out in the zoo on a special tour on someplace that it was done. And we had a reputation. I mean, the second person hired at the Sedgwick County Zoo was the curator of education. At that time, Barbara Burgan, who did many great things in the early days of zoo education, she was on the forefront. The original thing for the zoo science program was a dream of Ron Blakely’s. And originally it was wanted to be with Wichita State University, which is a state school region and has a biology program that’s geared towards people that gotta get the basic stuff for going to applying to medical school and stuff like this. It does not have a great programs that you had at KU or K State or Fort Hayes.

01:03:14 - 01:04:09

There’s a lot of good wildlife and biology programs at the other state schools. Wichita State really didn’t have it. But we were able to develop a relationship with Friends University, which was originally a Quaker school. It’s got some connection still, but when I became director, we had a problem of the guy that was running the program there, our problems at the zoo, it was a mess. I came within a hair’s breath, a hair’s breath of shutting it down. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make that I knew knew because it was a mess. I was embarrassed. It was not living up to what we thought it should be or could be.

01:04:09 - 01:04:53

But at the time, they brought in a new professor to head out the program. I was the new director. We got together and we said we’re gonna make this work. And I am so proud now. It’s a maximum of 60 students in the program at any one time. I was giving away an $80,000 scholarship in my name that had been put into the program. And you know, $4,000 for seniors and three for juniors and two for sophomores where they had to have a certain grade point average and so forth. They do practicums at the zoo.

01:04:54 - 01:06:06

It was amazing the number of hours that they have, it’s more than volunteering. I mean, they’re working one on one with a keeper, and that’s one of the reasons for how many people you can take ‘cos it does take time to do this. In fact, we have a special fund that allows those people that work with the students to apply for going to conferences, seminars, symposiums, that’s only eligible for those people that work with these students. And we have about eight of the classes that are taught. We teach everything from zoo design. There’s mammalogy, principles in mammal captive care, in care of humans as we call now. There’s a great bird and amphibian class. A veterinarian, there’s a basic zoo orientation class that’s done by the education department.

01:06:06 - 01:07:11

Horticulture, there’s a horticulture one, zoo horticulture. I would’ve killed for something like this when I was a student. And out of this, there are curators around the country. Bert Castro did it as a master’s special thing and a master’s thing in the early days and now director of the Phoenix Zoo, doing great things down there. It was something by the time that I left, I was very proud of. During the two semesters, once a month, we would have a luncheon in the president’s dining room at the university and all the staff members, the curators and so forth, they were teaching the classes, would come. I would come. Everybody was invited, all the students that were enrolled in it would have lunch and hear the stories what’s going on at the zoo and ask questions.

01:07:11 - 01:08:06

And I enjoyed it. It sort of kept me young in a way. I remembered those days when I was young and enthusiastic and how exciting things can be when you’re first starting out on your career or dreams. And you could see it in some of these young adults. And I could also see a shift. It was interesting, it’s one of the first places I noticed. I’m looking at the class composition very heavily weighed in women students. And it’s been one of those changes in the profession that I started in 44 years ago with major departments all men and now it’s predominantly female keepers.

01:08:09 - 01:08:31

The same thing in horticulture, graphics, exhibits, and curatorial staff and probably at the director level. They’re probably at 30% now, which is good. Women are smart. Well, you were talking about these different people that are part of your staff and stuff.

01:08:31 - 01:08:39

Can you describe your management style and how do you think your staff would describe your management style?

01:08:41 - 01:09:43

You know, I always said that I asked three things from my staff. They be professional, and that covers a lot of things. That they have fun. And I added a third one and I got this out of Disney, and that is pay attention to detail. Disney uses the word, it was fanatical attention to detail I think he did in his book that wrote… And I basically knew that I had to give them the resources. The compass pointed north with the mission. We had the set of values and tried to stay out of their way when they had what I called the marching orders I guess you’d say, you know, set up this program.

01:09:43 - 01:10:50

I had pretty open discussions. And when I saw certain strengths in certain areas, I would see if I could compliment that with some extra attention. I believed in staff training and exposure, whether it be travel just to see the zoos, travel with the chances to move animals from zoo to zoo, the symposiums, the meetings. I tried to maximize the number of people going to conferences because it’s continuing education. I think it’s one of the most important things. If you don’t get out and see what other people are doing, because yes true, we have social media now, which so much is out on it. But you know, I took every single newsletter that came and I had a routing slip and I routed it through the zoo. Now so many of tgem are electronic and it’s not as easy to remember to get online ‘cos you’d spend all your time.

01:10:51 - 01:11:49

I looked through every annual report, everything that ever came. If anything was longer than one page or something like this, it usually went in my briefcase and I read it at home at night. You could learn what to read and what not to read, but that’s how I kept up with a lot of zoos, what was going on. And it’s amazing what some people put in their reports, that you pick up little gleaning things that are helpful. So what my staff would say about me, I definitely had strong opinions on exhibit design and that I shouldn’t see hoses and I shouldn’t see wheelbarrows. We’re not there to display those. And I felt like I had a real fast critical eye from walking around. At the end, I can tell you in that last three years, I didn’t spend as much time out that I would’ve liked to.

01:11:50 - 01:12:45

Part of it was just this elephant thing was time consuming and overwhelming ‘cos it was a double thing. It was the issue of importing the elephants and the issue of getting this elephant exhibit built in time to receive the elephants. I mean, it was a race against time on many fronts. And I think most people would’ve said good things about me at work. It seemed like most of ’em came to the retirement party. Of course we had free booze. Now you mentioned something where you had talked about, you learned a couple of lessons, I’m kind of jumping around just for a moment, about know where you can find stuff and know what to read, you mentioned.

01:12:45 - 01:12:47

Can you expand upon that?

01:12:48 - 01:13:34

You know, there’s a tremendous amount out there. I mean, I had a large book collection one time maybe approaching a thousand books. I mean, it’s big, but it’s not monstrous like Michael or anything. And well, my wife could say that she’d read ’em all. I couldn’t say that, but I could open up and find certain chapters or whatever. I’d tell people about Dennis Merritt’s original thing on keeping armadillos and so forth in volume 16. And I even knew the page number at one time about vitamin K and how important that was for a three banded armadillo. But yeah, you had to remember when you read this stuff or came across it to pass that information on at times.

01:13:37 - 01:14:22

I think the biggest thing for me was passing on what I saw and learned at other zoos. I was pretty good about giving a slideshow and then eventually a PowerPoint on these travels that I did that I would show. We called ’em Lunch and Learns and all the staff did ’em. I just provided pizza and drinks and it was amazing. People come for free food, but I always made a point of showing the European trips or where I’d been and anybody that went to a conference was encouraged to make that presentation on whether it was going to the waterfowl place.

01:14:25 - 01:14:26

Mickey, what was it?

01:14:27 - 01:14:43

Lubbock’s Place, or you know, it was just something to expose the staff to what other departments were doing or in my case, exposing what other zoos were doing. You mentioned rounds.

01:14:43 - 01:14:50

How important is it for a director, for general curators or whomever, how important, especially director, is it to make rounds?

01:14:51 - 01:15:44

I think it’s huge. I saw the extreme in action. I was at the Berlin Zoo in 1985 and they had done at that time, this round every morning for damn near a hundred years. They met in front of the lion exhibit. There was the director, the assistant director, the senior veterinarian and all the senior curators. And in less than two hours, they walked the entire zoo. They got a full report at every major stop, at the swine house, the giraffe house, you know, and they could check on whether this got painted or fixed from the day before. They did everything but the aquatic aquarium reptile building there in less than two hours.

01:15:45 - 01:16:35

And it was impressive, the detail. And I’d heard Charlie Schroeder tried to do it in San Diego and Charlie got out on the grounds every day. And I saw Louis get out on the grounds every day. That was probably an impossible situation nowadays, to be able to do at any zoo of medium size or bigger. But my goal was to get out into the zoo at least an hour and a half every day. That was my goal. And I think I kept it up until the last three years. And I would say that if I counted the amount of time spent down in the construction zone as out in the zoo, probably would have met it.

01:16:35 - 01:17:19

But you know, they want to see you. I learned real quickly that it wasn’t good enough to be out in the zoo grounds after hours walking around. Your employees wanted to see you see them working ‘cos it also gave them a chance occasionally to dialogue with you. I can tell you as the assistant director, I knew everybody’s name. I knew their spouse’s name, I knew the kids. And I tried to do this all the way through. I’d go to the hospital when anybody was in the hospital. It got harder to do that as the director as the years went by and the staff grew and everything.

01:17:19 - 01:18:28

But I think the most important aspect for me, of anybody, but I know that communication and that’s being able to talk at a level with those that are your board members and donors out in the society and with passion to keep them excited and be able to work the other way too, down through your employees, that the work that we’re doing was important. That you realized to share with them that same passion I was showing at the other direction of why this is exciting and why we need to do this and be able to talk to people. And for some reason, I had that capability and it was one of my major strengths. And I think it was one of the most important ones ‘cos you can’t do it alone. If you can’t get the people working for you excited about it, you’re in trouble and vice versa. I had to pick out my biggest strength, that was passion and communication. And part of it’s going out, I’m a zoo buff. I love seeing the zoo to start with.

01:18:32 - 01:18:44

But you know, we had a standing thing. You’re not supposed to walk past trash and things like this. You talk about people working with people.

01:18:44 - 01:18:47

Did you have a docent program and how important was it?

01:18:48 - 01:19:45

Ours was… The first full-time new staff person I created as director was a volunteer coordinator. And we decided to open volunteerism up to all areas of the zoo. We had volunteers in the maintenance department. We had more volunteers in the horticulture department than any place originally ‘cos everybody knew whether they had a green thumb or not. And whereas they might not know about working around the animals. So with the education with the docents, it took longer. But under Sinead Anderson who came down from a program that had a very good docent program in Sunset Zoo, she has expanded that.

01:19:49 - 01:21:03

Not only expanded the paid staff, ‘cos she could show me that adding these staff members, we’d generate this much more money to pay for it, but she saw it and knew how to use volunteers and became a greater outreach. You know, there’s no question, the public that come to the zoo would rather hear about the rhinos from the keeper than they would from me ‘cos they wanna hear the stories. They wanna know the names. They wanna know about the personalities and nobody can be expected to know all that except for the person who is working directly with them. And you know, after the keeper, if there’s a trained docent that’s in that area regularly that knows those animals and knows the keepers. You know, whether you call ’em keeper chats or whatever or spontaneous, I mean, I think that’s the greatest thing was to see people that really liked it. They could see somebody was seeing something neat and they’re on their way to break and stop and take that minute or two to say what you’re seeing is really cool. It’s that connection with the people at the zoo.

01:21:03 - 01:22:11

And like I said, it’s so hard to judge the impact and there’s been all sorts of studies. You know, the one major study, I can still remember dealing with it. We had their attention for 45 minutes. And after that, it was family discussions or the monkeys look like Uncle Joe or something like that. And that’s why I tell people one of the advantages of membership is come to the zoo and see one or two things and come back later instead of trying to– Nothing I hated worse was seeing some kids drag their parents through the whole zoo in that once a year trip or the parents dragging the kids through that once a year trip, the biggest advantage on membership. Now there are some issues with memberships and membership benefits. You gotta get those matched right with the cost of general admissions. And you know, a lot of people discover when they open up the zoo and late nights and things like this, it’s mostly members coming ‘cos they’re the ones that know about it immediately.

01:22:11 - 01:22:56

But they’ve already eaten dinner and they come more often so they don’t spend as much money so you don’t have as high as per caps. I mean, there’s all these things that have to get tied into that formula. But we had 247 acres. The public is probably seeing 140 of it. It’s not like New York where people walk or Chicago all the time. They don’t think about walking around the Bronx Zoo ‘cos they do it all the time in New York City, which everybody wants to drive up to the store they’re shopping at. And so we had a free transportation system with major drop off, pickup and drop off points. You know, timed it right with the admission price to cover the cost so there’s no charge for getting on or off.

01:22:58 - 01:23:40

Unfortunately time, a lot of people that are riding those are the people that ought to be walking. But it’s also helped obviously over the years. We have the shade now and we didn’t when I first got there. Oh, it was a hot place to walk around then in the summertime, but. Tell me about some of the exhibits you champion and the highs and lows of each. And I’m just gonna read a list and then, you know, we can kind of do that. You did Zoo Hospital, the Downing Gorilla Forest, the Cessna Penguin Cove, North American Prairie and the Slawson, if I’m pronouncing a family tiger trek.

01:23:40 - 01:23:42

Can you give me some highs and lows about these things?

01:23:42 - 01:24:32

Well, some were exciting, neat. The interesting one, the first one right off the bat after North American Prairie, which you talked about a little bit was the Koch Exhibit, which was the outdoor chimp and orangutans. You spell that, right, Koch, K-O-C-H. Koch is the Koch family of political flame now, fame. And you know, it was named Koch orangutan chimpanzee habitat spelled out the name. It’s how we got the gift money and they have continued supporting the zoo. You know, they had their company picnic at the zoo. That’s an automatic almost a hundred thousand dollars because of what’s generated out of that one company and their picnic.

01:24:32 - 01:25:23

And they also pay for half of every membership for every employee that joins. And you’ve got 4,000 employees, that’s a good chunk, but we delivered that exhibit and it was on time. The Kochs were very proud of it and happy. They felt like it was one of their most successful. Up to that time, they said it was their most successful public display ‘cos it was a very private company. I mean, it traded places back and forth with the largest privately held company in the world. He’s the sixth or fifth richest person in the world. And we’d like to see them doing a lot more eventually, maybe someday, but because of that success and on time, I had the junior league.

01:25:23 - 01:26:06

They’d already picked out a 75th anniversary gift, but some of them weren’t happy with what they were doing. They wanted to think bigger. And they came to me and I gave them, here’s an elephant exhibit for this much. Here’s a lion exhibit for this much. And they chose the lion exhibit. It was cheaper and they raised the money. This junior league, 1.9 million dollars, At that time, junior leagues were doing 25 to $50,000 for education programs. And I got more calls for more directors when that was announced of what the junior league was doing ‘cos originally it was one and a half.

01:26:06 - 01:26:37

They just kept adding more. And it’s how I met my great fundraiser through this program ‘cos she was the one doing it in junior league. And this was done with the recommendation on the final vote when we made our presentation of somebody from the national office being there telling ’em not to do this ‘cos it didn’t meet the junior league’s mission. And I was told when I retired that this thing passed by only one or two votes for them to do it. Not because of the project.

01:26:37 - 01:26:40

They were more nervous about, could they raise that much money?

01:26:40 - 01:27:39

‘Cos it was the biggest thing they’d ever done. Well, that went open to a huge success. And that’s what led to the Downing Gorilla Forest. I just got a note from my other patron saint at the zoo, Mary Lynn Oliver, who’s from the Beechcraft family, the Beech family, and they wanted to do a major exhibit. So I wrote ’em a nice long thing ‘cos my next major project, I wanted to get these elephants out of the exhibit they were in. And I went over to visit with them and I sat down and I realized in 30 seconds that it was gorillas or nothing because they had just come back from sitting down next to the mountain gorillas 10, 15 feet away. And they had that mystical experience and they wanted the children, and they said that first, the children and the families to have that experience.

01:27:39 - 01:27:41

Could I do that?

01:27:41 - 01:28:23

And I looked at them and I said, “With your help I can.” Because I knew that it was in our master plan. And you can’t ever turn down money when it’s offered. I don’t care if it’s 10,000 or whatever. Oh, we can’t do gorillas now, I gotta do that. It changed things rapidly. And we spent a lot of time figuring out how much money. And basically this was, I said I’d been to every single major gorilla exhibit in the country but one because that’s one I had targeted. It was on the master plan and I knew I’d build someday.

01:28:23 - 01:28:28

And they basically said, what’s the best one in the country?

01:28:28 - 01:28:57

And I said for us to look at as the best one in the country is Congo. We flew to the Congo. The staff there did a great job and I picked it. For one, it’s a great exhibit, but it also encompassed bongo and okapi and red river hogs and so forth. It was a so geographical display and so forth. It was more than just gorillas.

01:28:57 - 01:29:04

And they bought into that and the Olivers decided they liked the okapis and said, can we get those?

01:29:04 - 01:29:40

And I said with your help. And so they made a four million dollar donation. The Olivers made a million dollar donation. Raised the rest fairly quick. I figured about 6.4 million dollars, which goes a long way in Wichita. And you saw a quick script. We learned a lot from the Congo. We’ve got that viewing circle that’s jetted into the exhibit so you have gorillas almost on both sides of you, in front of you and a nice big yard that goes up in a bowl shape.

01:29:40 - 01:30:38

And you can’t see what’s holding him in there and been successful breeding them and have babies there now. But it was my first design build ‘cos this guy wanted the money quick and he wanted babies. And all I could get was males. And I had a choice of 32 males and you know, we started with eight and I worked very diligently with the gorilla SSP and worked with the plans we built. The first major place that could hold a lot of male gorillas. We held nine males at one time and had a rotation system and they had an off exhibit display. They had an outside display and an inside display and sometimes we’d mix it, twice on a day occasionally. But most of the time it was on a daily basis they’d get moved to different places.

01:30:42 - 01:31:05

But on the design bill was getting that price down. ‘Cos at one point I shut down construction on it from August for four and a half months how to figure out how to cut some money out of it without affecting what I’d promised and what would be noticed by the public.

01:31:05 - 01:31:14

And we did it and there’s not one person that’s ever gone through there That’s noticed anything that, why didn’t you build this or why didn’t you do this?

01:31:14 - 01:32:04

I mean, you just had to be creative. And we already had the walls and the foundations for the building and the outer walls done. So we had the area, but it was something I sweated over a lot and I’d never do another one that way. And I never did, but we got it done and built on time. The donors were happy. And that first big party in there, two new exhibits came out of that first big party. There was a party for the YPO, young person’s, it’s a professional group of young presidents. Well, this was the meeting where they invite all the old former ones or the older ones and the Downings were there.

01:32:05 - 01:33:18

And this gorilla is up there making faces at Paula Downing and they’re getting all these accolades. And right after that, I had Mr. Slawson come up and said he wanted to do an exhibit at the zoo too. And then I had the Cessna Aircraft company come up and said we want to do an exhibit. Well, I went over to Slawson’s office and I walked in and I’m thinking elephants ‘cos I know this guy can afford it. This guy is in that exclusive club financially. And I walked into that office and I saw these 10, $15,000 tiger paintings everywhere. I thought tiger and I said holy cow, it’s tigers or nothing. His challenge for us was he wanted to do it with matching funds without donors from the board.

01:33:18 - 01:34:40

He put a million dollar check on the corner of the table for me to look at and said you match this million dollars and I’ll give you another million. Now, normally that’d be fairly easy. This guy had also earned some major enemies in town because he’d gone bankrupt twice in his thing and never paid some people back on things because of the whole bankruptcy laws. Thank goodness his wife was totally loved, but we found new donors through that. And he has since passed on, but he loved the exhibit and because of his reputation, it was one of those ones. I did the gorilla thing on a handshake for four million dollars. This one, the board because of the guy’s reputation and so forth and involvement in things, they wanted this one out in a solid contract and it took forever and contract number seven looked like version number 11, and we finally got it. And he was the least problem with any donor I ever had, ironically, but Cessna originally wanted to do the penguins.

01:34:42 - 01:35:25

And my instant reaction was penguins is in the master plans. It’s combined with the sea lion and an aquatic complex, aquatic complex. And it took me a while before I felt comfortable realizing that the penguins, if it was done right, could be the first phase of the aquatic complex. And so it was built with that in mind. And the next thing was how brave Cessna was sponsoring an exhibit for a bird that can’t fly, an aircraft company. They had fun with that. They had pictures of penguins all strapped in to the Cessna jet, you know, things like this. And you know, we obviously had the story they fly, they just fly underwater.

01:35:25 - 01:36:19

And that was a lot of fun. And again, getting creative, we built for 40 penguins and added extra filter systems in for it. And again, I learned Central Park Zoo, that indoor penguin exhibit they have is 50 feet long and felt real comfortable with it. The size, some structure got away from the straight line. Going back to Hediger, there’s no such thing as a straight line in nature. And to break up that thing and went for the depth. And because of malaria and avian influenza and the fact that our mallards and birds carry all sorts of things, it’s netted over top.

01:36:19 - 01:36:24

And how do you create a seashore looking feeling in the plains of Kansas?

01:36:24 - 01:37:24

We had some interesting challenges. And it will always be probably one of the most visited exhibits in the zoo because it’s right across from the main restaurant. It’s an easy walk. You know, it’s one of those easy outdoor walkthroughs and people like things that are black and white, whether it’s zebras, pandas, black and white ruffed lemurs. There’s something about black and white, and pandas it helps they have those big black patches on their faces. But we opened it at the same time that “March of the Penguins” and that other cartoon thing was out, so penguins were all the rage and have been since. And we picked Humboldt penguins and been very successful breeding them and sending out smaller groups to other zoos now. And it’s been a great hit.

01:37:24 - 01:37:38

That was a lot of fun, but that was our first experience in getting into heavy duty filtering systems and it was a whole new component for the zoo. Let me ask you about relationships, two specific.

01:37:38 - 01:37:44

What was your relationship to animal rights groups and humane society groups over the years?

01:37:44 - 01:37:49

And then to talk about your relationship with the zoo society and how did it change over the years?

01:37:51 - 01:38:50

We were fortunate, you know, I say in Kansas we eat meat. There was locally, we have a Kansas Humane Society. As you know, it’s not related to the American Humane Society and we had a working relationship with them on assisting and helping and still do. I made a major donation to them when they built new facilities and I’m proud of that relationship, it’s always been good. They’ve come to us for help at many times. There was no organized animal rights group or PETA in the zoo. We never had any complaints. I had one lady that for years wrote me about the elephants and I would write her back.

01:38:51 - 01:40:06

And over the years, she’d remind me of what I’d said over the years that I hadn’t fulfilled those promises yet on the elephant exhibit. And when the time came, she actually made a donation, even though she didn’t feel that elephants should be in zoos, but it was funny. We never had the picketing or any of the problems. In fact, neither Dallas or Omaha when we did the elephant thing, had those issues simply ‘cos I think we were all in the Midwest. We all had good zoos, a good branding community, looked at as community zoos. Dallas hadn’t had that earlier, but they had built that with all the new stuff and then when the society took over the zoo there. Omaha was beloved in their community. And you know, we had cheering crowds and people that camped out for five hours in the parking lot waiting for the elephants to be trucked into the zoo and we still had the police escorts and all those stuff.

01:40:09 - 01:41:07

When this went public, because at the last minute the government knew they were gonna get sued for issuing the permit, that they would have to do an environmental assessment. It had been declared that wasn’t needed because they’d done one earlier and this was the assessment of the elephants coming in this country, the environmental impact, which had nothing to do with us. It’s whether these elephants would multiply so fast or bring in diseases or things like this that hurt the environment. But because of that, it gets published in a federal register and there’s a comment period. That generated probably 20,000 notes, cards, emails, mass mailing, you know, mass things done by the animal rights groups. Three essential death threats for me are ripping me out of my house and burning my house down, things like this. But they were all from the east and west coast. Those got turned over to the FBI.

01:41:07 - 01:42:05

I mean, we learned all the lessons from San Diego and Tampa, what they went through and what to prepare for. And I made a mental point of realizing what was going on. Every single one was read and looked at by our marketing department. I said I don’t need to see any of these unless you think I need to see any of them. I mean, I know what’s being said or something like that. I’ve got no time for what was going on to push the average to count today. I didn’t feel like I need to know. So I think that’s probably been the most rewarding thing was after that exhibit opened and I’d see people, I’m getting teared up, seeing the elephants that would’ve been called in a beautiful exhibit, and our old female as the matriarch.

01:42:05 - 01:42:29

It was cool! So that was my reaction on the thing. I think part of it was, you know, you can call it the brand of the zoo, but it was truly seen as the community zoo and the community was proud of what we’d done.

01:42:31 - 01:42:40

Why are you emotional, because you survived this or because you gave them what you had the vision of?

01:42:40 - 01:44:13

Oh, I think it was just cool to see these elephants in. One, alive, two, our old female who had always been the matriarch when we just had two, but assume this and the public’s reaction. They were just so moved about wow, the exhibit, the elephants, a chance to, you know, we tried to design it in such a way as to let the elephants be elephants as much as possible. Feeding was up so they got good neck muscles and trunks and they’re not eating off the ground. And you know, these different feeders and keeping them moving, some of the new aspects of the exhibit. And a total no contact at all, except for the touch pole. And yet, you know, able to draw blood. We felt we built at the time, the best elephant exhibit in the country, a place where people can come and if they’re gonna do a new one, here’s one to see, to build upon, to start, to take it to another level.

01:44:13 - 01:45:02

But we felt like this exhibit took elephant exhibits to another level. It wasn’t the biggest, it was five acres. The biggest elephant pool in the world. We tried some new things, but for me personally, it was the most satisfying thing and the thing I’m most proud of. But the board during this time, I was upfront. I told ’em what to expect. And yeah, we went through periods of secrecy. I mean, this was the one thing where that transparency, we had to keep this, I mean, it just slowly came out.

01:45:02 - 01:45:41

We actually made it within 24 hours of what our deadline was for how long we wanted to keep it a secret from the shipping date actually over to the out of Africa to the zoos. We kept that much of a clamp on it. Originally, we thought if it hadn’t been for the environmental impact statement, we would’ve been able to bring ’em into the country just like Pittsburgh did without anybody knowing. You have said, we talked about elephants, you have said that this move was the acquisition, was the pinnacle of your zoo career.

01:45:41 - 01:45:43


01:45:43 - 01:46:39

Well, to start with, it’s every kid’s dream. They go to Africa and bring animals back. I mean, that was my dream was the dream of old of going to get the animals for the zoo. I mean, that was right out of Dr. Seuss. You know, if I ran the zoo. The story was that I was a month away in the fall of 2013 of telling our board that because we no longer met standards of which my mammal curator and I as involvement with the AZA, had helped write the standards that had been elevated. The bar had been raised and we didn’t meet it anymore. And even with a five year grace period, we did not look like we were gonna come anywhere near to meeting it.

01:46:39 - 01:46:55

And I had earlier, when I first took over the zoo as director, had that decision, like do I send them out for breeding or do I hope that artificial insemination can be done?

01:46:55 - 01:47:57

Well, that took a little bit longer than thought ‘cos I decided to keep and wait for that. And by the time we got it, it was too late. We did try it. But we now know that elephants under 20 years of age, if they haven’t had that first young, it’s not very likely that it’s gonna happen or be successful. So I knew that Omaha and Dallas were in serious discussions about trying to import some African elephants. I got a phone call from Dennis Pate asking if I would consider joining in those discussions. And I told my board president and my major fundraiser that we’d been invited to possibly participate and there was a meeting and asked for their blessing to go down. We met in January of ’14 in Dallas.

01:47:57 - 01:49:41

We had Ken Stansell, who retired as the acting director of the Fish and Wildlife Service who had been head of the permit office when the elephants were imported 13 years earlier by Dallas, I mean by Tampa and San Diego. And we went over what we thought the options were. And at that time, literally every country that had elephants that any reasonable attempt could have been made, none were available or we couldn’t for various reasons. The only countries that had available elephants were Swaziland and South Africa. And South Africa, we knew the political situations were such that it would be a major effort. Though they were cites of two, which would’ve made it easier permit wise, but we checked some back channels there and so forth or Ken Stansell had checked and so forth. And Swaziland had recently done an aerial survey and took a look and they knew they had a number of elephants that they needed to get down. They were way past their carrying capacity and that they thought they could provide maybe 15 elephants or 12, 15 elephants.

01:49:42 - 01:50:40

And because of the drought and the conditions deterioration over time, that got increased to 18 before this was through. But you know, we put together a budget and talked about a relationship and the discussion that this was a job that we were gonna need to have gonads because there was gonna be tremendous pressure from outside forces. We also knew that we had the advantage that we were all from the Midwest, zoos in smaller markets than Tampa and San Diego had been. And we knew that we needed to do this. We had to learn from all their lessons. I mean, we ended up hiring Ken Stansell to write the permit. It’s like 1200 pages of total documentation. And every I and T had to be crossed and had to be done right and no better person to do it than somebody that used to run the department, that knew the people over there.

01:50:40 - 01:51:50

We also knew that we were gonna have a public relations issue in which we all needed to act in unison, and this was gonna be bigger than our individual departments and so we hired Joe Allred and PCI to handle that end. And eventually when the time came, we knew we were probably gonna need a major law firm. And we went for the best firm, an international firm, but headquartered a particular lady out of Washington, DC that specialized in helping people fight off animal rights groups. She had had major significant victories against PETA and some other organizations. And quite frankly, she was a shark and she was good and she was expensive, very expensive, but worth every penny as we discovered. But the first thing was we decided that we would go to Swaziland and meet with them, that they would like to see us. We went over the next month and met with the Reillys to feel us out. They hadn’t met any of us.

01:51:51 - 01:53:25

And Mike Bester had a relationship with them from earlier. This is a country that most of the animals had been exterminated by the 50s and the Reilly family with the blessing of the king developed first on their own property the first facility, Mlilwane, and then on the Kings Royal Hunting Ground became Hlane Royal National Park. And then on additional property as success went on, the Mkhaya. Elephants were two different herds on one park and a herd in the park. They had three herds of elephants. And to basically meet them, for them to meet us, and feel each other out as far as were they willing to work with us ‘cos they knew by working with us that their problem wasn’t gonna get solved with too many elephants immediately, that further damage was gonna occur over a couple years of the permitting process. I mean, it was a major commitment to do what they thought was the right thing because as the damage was further intensified, that lessened the habitat for everything from vultures because they’re killing the trees to rhinos and everything else they had there. They had actually recreated these three national parks, refuges, reserves, with 22 different species of hoof stock, hippos, crocs, lions.

01:53:25 - 01:54:41

I mean, and they had the highest visitation of their native people seeing these national parks than any other place in Africa and at no charge to the kids. One was like going to a zoo in May and school. There were 30 buses there and they would walk out and there’s the lodge and go around the lodge and there’s a lake and there’s elephants and there’s rhinos there, white rhinos right there, and being seen by thousands of kids. What this Big Game Parks and the Reilly family has done is incredible. And we were impressed and got along and thought we could do this and struck a deal. And we ended up going back over in July of ’15 because in the permit process, you’ve gotta identify the gorillas. I mean, identify the elephants and get ’em up into a boma. They felt very strongly that they needed a minimum amount of time in the boma.

01:54:41 - 01:55:55

We actually had originally planned for even a little bit longer than that to get used to people, get used to eating cut broughs and so forth. Meanwhile, this drought had starting going into the third year was decimating the countryside. I mean, they lost huge amounts of cattle. And while we had these elephants in the boma, we were spending close to $4,000 a day importing alfalfa from South Africa. That’s across international borders and being trucked in. Plus they were going out and having to cut down further brush that black rhinos would be eating for these elephants when they were in this boma. And they were in this bomba for July through March, so they did eight months almost in this boma that we’re paying for the feeding eventually. And when you knock the elephants down, it’s done by helicopter.

01:55:55 - 01:56:41

We had the interesting things you don’t think about. One, you have to knock all the elephants down in the area because you just can’t go in and get– Explain what that is. Tranquilization shot from a tranquilizer dart from a helicopter. And you know, we in the zoo world, it’s a huge deal to knock down any animal. You take food away and water away for so far advanced and you have all this thing and they can’t, you know. We’re knocking down five, seven elephants at a time. We have hired the best translocation team that had done over a thousand elephants. These people knew what they were doing and the best helicopter people and they’re flying at treetop level and the elephants would all get knocked down in certain areas.

01:56:41 - 01:58:18

And plus I had our veterinarian from our zoo and a veterinarian from Omaha and Lynn Kramer from Dallas plus the three veterinarians that we had in the field. I’ve got a picture of five elephants in one shot all knocked down that we’re having to treat, keep cool, keep the dosages right, get ’em loaded up on trucks, truck to the other national park where we had the boma. The logistics were incredible. And you know, my job was to make sure that the transponders got put in keeping track of the records on the animals and things like this and photographing. And originally, because of the fact that they had been imported before out of Swaziland, that part of the permit we were exempted from. And we had met with the permit office. I mean, we did everything you could to make sure that we had all the bases covered and did this with a chance that we would not end up in court with the lawsuit, but the legal department within the US Fish and Wildlife Service Department knew that there was a pretty good chance, no matter what, that they were gonna get sued for issuing the permit. So the only thing that they felt that was lacking was to redo the environmental assessment they had done 12, 13 years ago about bringing elephants into the country, which has nothing to do with the zoos per se.

01:58:18 - 01:59:17

It has to do with elephants coming into our environment, but it’s a matter of getting published in the federal register. So we thought, and this was the only blip that we really had that had detrimental consequences in a way, had worked out when they were gonna make their announcement in the federal register about this. So we thought it was gonna be on Monday. So on Thursday we released, being proactive this is what we’re doing, this is why. And we had set up things like room for rhinos with PCI explaining why we were doing this translocation to the United States, saving these elephants to give the rhinos a better habitat, the whole drought, the impact it was having. ‘Cos these elephants were at this point that they weren’t gonna be released. They were in the boma. If it didn’t work out, they weren’t gonna be released back in.

01:59:17 - 02:00:26

They were gonna be culled. And it’s so stated in the correspondence that they were required to give our government for the permitting information. And instead of releasing that information Monday, it was a month later before they finally got it in the federal register. So we got pounded by animal rights activists from both coasts it seemed like. All the major ones you would expect. And we basically had a united front on how we dealt with it and PCI did a great job. And we had learned the lessons from San Diego too about involving everything from our local police force to the FBI ‘cos there were death threats received. The logistics on how we got ’em from the airport to here and so forth.

02:00:26 - 02:01:38

And when the permit was finally issued, we figured we’d be sued, the government would be sued within 24, 48 hours. And nothing happened for a week. ‘Cos in the past, on the San Diego, Tampa, there were 11 animal rights groups that formed a coalition that sued the federal government, in which the zoos joined on the lawsuits. And this time we only had one, Fund for Animals. They’ve got a Connecticut, Colorado connection and they had not been involved before. In fact, from what our lawyer in the scuttlebutt was that the swing was solo written, there was no basic grounds for it, but they knew the public outcry, they could make money. And you know, they made a lot of money off this thing from donors to fight us on this. But when they filed a lawsuit, they did not ask for an injunction, which we have no idea why.

02:01:39 - 02:02:45

The judge brought it up in conference calls and said, you realize that they have a valid import permit. They could bring these elephants in right now. And they said they realized that. And so a day or two after that conversation with the lawyer, we had a Sunday phone call for about two hours with our lawyer and weighed the risk evaluation that do we wait for this lawsuit and ask for a fast one ‘cos we’ve got elephants in the boma, we’re feeding them, or do we bring ’em in ‘cos we’ve got a valid permit. And we had made sure that the secrecy level of this was incredible. I had my assistant and a deputy director was the only person in our zoo that knew the time framings and what was going on. And we knew because the elephant community is so close knit.

02:02:47 - 02:02:51

And that could we sneak these elephants out of Africa?

02:02:51 - 02:04:09

And you know, we had a plan and I basically was going on a skiing vacation and Dr. Bryant was going on a special zoo accreditation inspection and then vacation afterwards and we disappeared. And everybody at our zoo thought it was gonna be the deputy director and doc going over, so everybody was waiting to see when they both left at the same time. So nobody thought it was happening. And we went over and we knew that, I mean, we had some basic parameters. We knew we had to have a charter plane fly in and we were going to knock down these animals a certain time and move ’em to the airport and get ’em loaded on and get it out and undercover in darkness type thing. But as you find out, all sorts of things come up and that didn’t happen. But when we got over there, our government issues their permit first and then the Swaziland government issues their export permit. And we found that we had issues, some days four or five issues that weere just shutting things down or making things impossible or things you don’t think about.

02:04:09 - 02:04:28

I mean, everything from a K loader for a 747. Got a brand new airport that has three Airlink planes coming in, little teeny things serviced only from Johannesburg. The runway’s big enough, but it’s only got lighting on one side so the 747 can’t land at nighttime.

02:04:30 - 02:04:33

You can’t say oh, 50 feet to the left of the lights, you know?

02:04:35 - 02:05:43

And they didn’t have a K loader, which is the loader you use for putting the crate on the thing to raise up to slide in. We had to bring up a K loader from South Africa, so you’ve gotta get that through customs going from South Africa into Swaziland. And we had to get permission for the air force in Swaziland to be able to use it also, so we’re paying for something they’re using it for. And then the charter people, they want to have exact weights on these crates and elephants with a certified scale, or yeah, a certified and, what’s it where you’re, calibrated, a certified calibrated scale. You don’t find that in Swaziland. We had to bring up one from one from South Africa. Then you had to put all these weights in the crates and weigh this thing before and after and make sure. And while the country is overseen by a king, it’s an absolute monarchy.

02:05:43 - 02:06:40

He has the power to dismiss parliament. He believes very much in conservation. He’s I don’t wanna say light handed, but that might be the easiest way. But we knew that there were people in Swaziland that didn’t want to see these elements leave their country. We ended up setting up an appointment to meet with them after a festival that the queen mother was throwing where they danced for four hours and Allen Reukauf, who was there helping us as a consultant and I were interviewed under fake names ‘cos the reporters were sort of starting to get wind of things and what we were doing there. We were geologists in the country, not for elephants. That what’s actually made the paper. And then we had to wait to get the official call.

02:06:40 - 02:07:25

We went through protocol, how to shake hands. We got called in a little after midnight and I can tell you, it doesn’t bother me at all. Part of the protocol is we had to get down on our hands and knees and crawl in, and as low as you could get. And then we sat on the floor. He was at a higher our level and Ted Reilly, they spoke the native tongue for a few minutes and then we all switched to English. He’s Oxford educated and it went well, giving us his blessing and everything, which helps. But that final signature took six hours in somebody’s office. Even with the king’s blessing, didn’t wanna see this happen.

02:07:25 - 02:09:01

And we had woken up that morning to line up and get all the crates ready. And we sat there and waited and waited ‘cos we couldn’t dart the first elephant out of the bomas until we got the okay. And when we finally got it and it started raining on the very first elephant, first rains in a long time, and that obviously slows down everything when you’re having to dart each elephant again, get it into the end of the wake up chamber, at the end of the wake up chamber then it goes down a series of crates that were lined up on various trucks, just the logistics of getting 18, 17 elephants ‘cos one had died during the times in the boma. And 17 elephants lined up on the trucks, because it was raining, we had to get the trucks across this dry river bed before it became an issue. And the last truck did get stuck ‘cos of the water issue. We had to drag it out. But we had discovered the night before because the 747, which we had a huge fee in the neighborhood of three quarters of a million dollar, I think it was $775,000 for this 747 charter. And it was $75,000 for every day over the day estimated time of wings up.

02:09:01 - 02:10:15

And after 24 hours, it was an extra $7,500 an hour. And we ended up being a day and a half late from the original time. And thank goodness Mike Vester was able to beat him back down to the original price, but the 747 parked on the runway made the papers. And obviously somebody had been paid off at the airport if a big plane ever showed up to take elephants out to send us a picture. And they filed a brief with the judge who they had to track down who was in Namibia. We don’t know, but think he was on safari, to a brief and settle it. Because we were running past the time, they questioned the permits, asking for an injunction that I can remember calling my wife and saying we may be moving to Canada. This thing could get called off ‘cos we knew once those elephants left the national parks and the boma, we couldn’t take ’em back.

02:10:15 - 02:11:31

They were moving rhinos in that were needing attention and food and care to live. And it was real clear that they had made a thing that if we didn’t get these elephants they were gonna have to cull ’em. And we were at the point on the airport that in relating with our staffs back in, who now knew where we were, in the discussions with the legal council that these elephants had to go on the plane or we were gonna be euthanizing them in the crates. It was incredible. We finally got the elephants to the airport at about noon instead of 11 o’clock at night before. The people at the airport had never throw nets over anything and never loaded a cargo plane. The guy they call the loader that works for the charter company that came in from England was a rookie. And you’ve got elephants in 17 different crates that weighed different amounts and balancing them out in a plane.

02:11:31 - 02:12:30

The first thing he said was four of ’em have to stay here, we can’t do this. And we said no, no, no, that doesn’t work that way. We’re getting all 17. Well, by six o’clock when we didn’t have more than, I think we had two crates on the plane by six o’clock, six hours later. And we had actually transferred one elephant from one crate, a bigger crate to a smaller crate, and all these crates were big enough for the elephants. And that was the two exceptions in the permit was that the crates were big enough that they could turn around, even the adults, and they could lay down, and so that’s one. The other one was that they were gonna get a short term sedative and a long-term sensitive, one for about three days and one that would have 10 days effects. And both of those were no-nos on the international air transportation.

02:12:30 - 02:13:50

We’d gotten exceptions for that, but basically I can still remain remember the Reillys, the three zoos and the logistics people that we were working with that had done these thousands of elephant transfers, the trucks and handling of all this, we basically looked at each other and said the only way these elephants are getting on the plane is if we do it. ‘Cos next thing we know midnight is coming around an these guys were now helping us were, you know, we get off work and we said no, you don’t. And you know, some of us had seen people at UPS places throw on cargo nets and do it in seconds. It was just something nobody had ever done, but it had to be done. And I can remember at 4:30 in the morning with four crates left to go of laying down to take a short nap and it was a three hour hard nap and getting up and looking out the plane and there’s still four crates ‘cos they had to reload, take some off and put some on. We finally got it loaded at eight o’clock that next morning. It didn’t take off until 11:45. I still carry in my cell phone the picture of the plane leaving.

02:13:52 - 02:14:52

And the taxes involved with that day, it was the most physically and mentally stressful thing any of us had ever been through. And two of the people had actually been in the South African special forces at one time and they said nothing like that. I mean, it was raining the whole time. It was cold and none of us had clothes for that. Just the fact that we were up for almost 72 hours straight with I had that one cat, everybody had a little nap here and there. And it was still a shorter time than the previous shipment ‘cos this airport was close by to the thing and they didn’t have to go down through Johannesburg. They were able to fly straight from this airport to refueling in Senegal and then into Dallas. The funny part was that at Dallas, they unloaded ’em all to look at ’em for our people.

02:14:52 - 02:15:53

And they tore in the forklifts, the wrap up things to keep the urine and the feces within. And so they flew to Wichita and unloaded six more. And the flight from Wichita to Dallas, apparently enough of the urine and stuff had gone down into the cables or controls or whatever. They couldn’t maintain air pressure and they were flying in hundreds of feet instead of thousands of feet going up to Belmont. It’s a good thing that didn’t happen going across the ocean. And it took Dennis’ crew a day and a half to clean out every single piece of alfalfa hay and the effects of the elephants being on the plane. I’m not sure if that charter company will ever charter another one for elephants, and that was something we split the cost three ways. This whole thing was done three ways from start to delivery, all the way to the delivery to the zoos.

02:16:01 - 02:17:08

We went over there, it was 11 days before we could actually do the shipping out. We knew that paperwork was falling into place. And you know, you had funny stories about when you see the mamba going over towards the crates where the crates were in storage and lifting up one crate and there’s the big puff at her. And you have to clean all these crates. You had to make sure there are no insects and the whole sprain, I mean, it was a thing. It’s one of those things you’d love to write a book about it in full detail, but you know, you think about the ammunition it gives the animal rights people or something, but someday maybe, but it’s something that if any of us ever do, it’s gonna have to be agreed upon by all three institutions to do it. Question, how did you convince your board to take on this financial and public relations thing– Oh. Yeah.

02:17:11 - 02:18:18

I went over to Africa with only my board president and my major fundraiser knowing, the first time to look to see about the possibility. I came back and met with him privately and said we can do this, but we need to be willing to commit a million dollars just on the elephants, the logistics of getting them here, and the conservation support and everything. And that’s as far as I went. And we went to the board the next day or two because they knew, I was able to tell ’em, we’re either gonna have elephants here or be a zoo without elephants. And there were no elephants available in the United States. This was a opportunity that wasn’t gonna come around again most likely. They sat there and didn’t flinch. They knew there was gonna be the issues of the animal rights, I told ’em all this.

02:18:18 - 02:19:01

They knew all that, that this was the easy part. And the million dollars, I said we don’t need to have it right now this minute ‘cos that’ll get paid out over time. And we didn’t identify where that million dollars was coming from because as I mentioned earlier, I had emptied out a huge, huge chunk, most of the operating reserve on redoing our jungle building with the new pillow roof and all new utilities and gas lines and new vegetation. And we just did a total overhaul of our jungle building. And I had planned that we’d have our operating reserve, which was required to be 25% built back up within two years.

02:19:02 - 02:19:09

And somebody said at the very end of this meeting in an executive session, where’s the million dollars coming from?

02:19:09 - 02:20:22

It’s not assigned to any place. And by the next board meeting, I came back to them and I said, this is a go. And oh, by the way, we really need to have about 12 million dollars raised and the exhibit built within the next two years before the elephants get here. And they said, one of ’em said the phrase, “Oh my God, you’ve got us pregnant and now you’re telling us.” I said, I couldn’t believe they didn’t really bring that question up before. I mean, they knew they were gonna have to build a new exhibit. I mean, they knew that, and it wasn’t for the number of elephants. We originally thought by the original accountant discussions that we were gonna be the zoo taking either three females or a male and two females or possibly at the most two males. Because this is done off of aerial surveys and not knowing until you physically had your hands on the elephants to put the transponder in them what sex these elephants were.

02:20:22 - 02:21:09

And it was going on as good a knowledge you can get. These were wild elephants out there. And thank goodness I’ve got a can-do board that said they would get it done. And there were some challenges. The economy had never fully recovered. And it’s just now really the aircraft industry collapsed at the end of the financial issue. They lost 34,000 aviation jobs dealing with avionics in Wichita from the suppliers, from Boeing, Beechcraft, Cessna, Learjet. And I mean, we were hit hard.

02:21:09 - 02:22:18

It hit our membership. I mean, these were our members. These $90,000 jobs putting in rivets and running lines and cables and things like this. Wichita is a major aircraft manufacturing center in the United States and it affected the whole town, so it made fundraising hard. Thankfully, and we’d had a conservative event taking over in the community about lower taxes and things like this. But our county manager Bill Buchanan knew that they had probably a surplus of 20 million dollars more than was necessary in the operating reserve of the county for AAA bond rating. He only needed 52 million, they had 73 or something, 77 million. And he thought that maybe the county might want to jump in as a 50/50 partnership and donate about half that money.

02:22:18 - 02:23:40

And that was the exact cost of the actual elephant barn as we would call in our profession, that was not gonna be a traditional elephant barn. And we got a vote on that just before the commission changed where it would not have happened, but that $5.3 million gift from the county made the rest of the money come in real quick. And at the same time all this is going on, we’re working hard on getting the construction laid out. I’d had a dream for 17 years being on the Zambezi River fishing for tiger fish on a pontoon boat just like we had at our zoo in our pontoon boat ride that we went around four islands that had lemurs on ’em. And I saw elephants crossing over to Zambia on the south and I’d look up river and see elephants heading to Zimbabwe on the other side going back and forth. Sometimes they could walk all the way across and just have to swim a little bit. I said, we could do this at our zoo. And I just got stuck with this fascination of being able to see the elephants from the pontoon belt in the water with no barrier, you know, putting an underwater barrier.

02:23:40 - 02:24:38

And coming up with that and the space and the acreage. And it took a while in the design to get it there, but we came up with over a half million gallons of water that they have access to, five acres. But we all know it’s not the quantity, though it helps. It’s the quality of this space and how you have the animals for their own welfare moving around, interactive feeders, an imaginative layout. And then we added also, the architects and staff came up with this idea of people like to see the eyelashes on elephants. They’re five inches long. They also want to know they have the biggest space possible. And I’ve seen enough exhibits where you have big yards in Europe and so forth and the elephants look about this big in the distance.

02:24:39 - 02:25:19

Came up with this island in the middle, a bridge over the island. Elephants can come out, they can be behind you, next to you, in front of you. You become part of the herd. You’re immersed in the actual exhibit and it worked. So we had two great features that had really never been done before. Moving dirt in Kansas was cheap, but to keep the cost down and as complex as this exhibit was, we had six different contractors working on this and the zoo was two of them. We had a site utility contractor. We had a general contractor that built the building.

02:25:19 - 02:26:48

We had Semrock come in and do the artificial rock work. We had the elephant restraint device with a full tilt after seeing a demonstration on that and what it could be used for being done by out of Springfield, Missouri, Todd Ricketts. Our horticulture department did the entire landscape on it, the irrigation systems, and they subcontracted out the power things that do soccer fields and big things that put out water a hundred feet and so forth. And then our maintenance department was gonna do all the railings and all the cement imprinted or embossed with our graphics and exhibits department themed walkways. And then we got valued at and figured into the cost about $800,000 worth of steel pipe donated by a board member, bless her soul. And then we got the utility companies to drill and put all those in the ground at no cost. So all it cost me for the entire fencing for this exhibit was the cable. And my maintenance department hung all the cable and strung it through on the system.

02:26:50 - 02:27:48

The actual barn, we spent a lot of time. It’s only got one place that has a cement floor and one stall. It’s got a huge herd room, small stalls coming off that, nightstands, but it’s all on sand substrate that drains real easily. We can flush it out, drop down feeders. You can put ’em on timers when they drop down. To see pictures at night with the cameras, to see pictures at night, you build this little pile in the middle where all the elephants are together laying down using this pile as a pillow and everything is pretty moving or you know, four of ’em there and three over here. I mean, it was a thing. And then the story I like to tell people is I worried about what our, by this time, our one female had died of a heart attack at 43.

02:27:48 - 02:28:02

And Stephanie who is now 48, 49 this summer, you know, what she was gonna think. She had never seen another elephant since she was two years old other than her one.

02:28:02 - 02:28:09

Was she gonna be happy to see ’em like my grandmother was and get tired of me after three months, when are they leaving?

02:28:11 - 02:28:57

And she freaked out. I was not there, I was still in Africa ‘cos I didn’t come home on that plane. I’ll explain that later, but they unloaded the smallest female first, the one without the tusk. And Stephanie had been moved over and been the test animal a couple months before. And this little one just spread her ears out and trumpet and it freaked Stephanie out, then reached through and grabbed her yams, her favorite food, and good way to start out a relationship. But you know, three days later they’re doing trunk to mouth and the male and everything worked out beautifully. And then when we put ’em all out, she just took over. I mean, the female that came with a male offspring in our group was a real tough lady in the bomas.

02:29:00 - 02:29:40

She was the boss. And even though she was bigger than our female, she never once made any attempt to be the head honcho. And Stephanie let him into the water and let him out of the water, disciplined him. It was so heartwarming to see this ‘cos I came real close to really trying to push hard that we can send Stephanie out to another zoo and we don’t have to worry about the whole introduction and the question marks there. It worked out beautifully. And since then they’ve brought in a 17 year old bull. That one particular female, the first one that cycled has been covered. Hopefully they’ll know shortly whether she’s pregnant.

02:29:40 - 02:29:45

Another one is due to cycle. But it was everybody’s dream.

02:29:45 - 02:29:49

And one thing, the big question was how do we separate up these elephants?

02:29:49 - 02:29:52

Who got which elephants in the bomas?

02:29:52 - 02:30:50

And Lynn Kramer and Allen Reukauf, after we caught ’em up and put ’em in the bomas, they spent some extra time there observing and watching. We had 24 hour guards on ’em there. We were paying, I mean, this was top secret. They couldn’t even hire new people on this complex while we had these elephants in the boma. I mean, it had to be kept closed over there too. But we finally worked out this thing of the older elephants would go to Dallas. The middle aged ones would go to Omaha and Wichita would get the younger sort of group of who got along with who and what the relationship, ‘cos they came out of three different herds. And this way, each of us though in that combination got one female that had an offspring.

02:30:50 - 02:31:40

They were all post nursing. I mean, there were five or six would’ve been the youngest one. You’d never know for sure, but we think six was the youngest. I did, six and seven, nine. Our female we think was about 17 and she’d had at least the one calf and she’s the one that got bred. But our grouping, the ones we got came from different places, but they all blended together great. I mean, it was one of the most… We all expected sorts of problems and difficulties and it was at the upper end and we think it was because of Stephanie taking charge and the reassurances and showing them the ropes and disciplining when she had to.

02:31:40 - 02:31:52

And it’s added an extra step and light years to her life, I’m sure. Now the importation takes 28 months. You’ve kind of talked about some things.

02:31:52 - 02:31:55

Was the high point getting the animals here?

02:31:55 - 02:31:58

Was the low point the lawsuits?

02:32:00 - 02:32:09

And how did you personally, you’re the director, how did you personally cope and persevere through this roller coaster of things?

02:32:09 - 02:32:12

And I’m gonna throw a lot of things.

02:32:12 - 02:32:16

What was your board saying at this time during this up and down kind of thing?

02:32:16 - 02:32:20

And what outside support were you getting, if any?

02:32:22 - 02:33:42

Personally, I can honestly say that I had 20 minutes the night before where I thought it had collapsed. And that was when we first heard that there might be an injunction where we couldn’t bring the elephants out on the second at the attempt to shut us down. And then we got word that the judge had denied their request. The next time when we were at the airport where there was that crisis because we hadn’t lived up to getting the elephants at time and it’d been so long that we shouldn’t be allowed to put ’em on the plane and bring ’em over. I wasn’t quite as worried, but there was worry, and it was true. If we couldn’t get ’em on the plane, that was it. My board throughout the time I think actually had full faith and trust because I think I built a history of I got gorillas and people said we couldn’t get gorillas. And we got them.

02:33:42 - 02:34:35

I mean, I’d always had fulfilled on all my promises and dreams. They were entrusted with the secret. I mean, we waited up the last minute to tell the board, the full board and everything. And as far as the arrival date, somebody called and said they’re leaving Dallas. And you know, it was somebody important. We said you know, you might want to stay in town that day, if you can. So we kept it down to the absolute minimum simply ‘cos we knew that we kept it a secret down to within 24 hours. And you know, the mammal curator didn’t know until three days before.

02:34:36 - 02:34:51

Same thing with the elephant staff. It was a hopping place there when they found out. Now lots of big name scientists and conservationists lined up against this importation.

02:34:51 - 02:34:56

What do you think they didn’t understand, and did you reach out to any of them?

02:34:57 - 02:36:12

Going from the other perspective first, we had support internally from the AZA, the elephant TAG people, the AZA board. We had supporting letters and documentation from the WAZA board. We had and got support from major international zoo directors, personally, Zurich, Switzerland and Leipzig and other zoos, (indistinct) and Chester. I mean, we went and made a list and got those letters to the IUCN rhino specialist group was one of our biggest supporters ‘cos they had flat out said that Swaziland had the best rhino habitat in Southern Africa. And that was predicated on the fact that the elephants were destroying it. And with this drought. And we had some, Ian… Not every field elephant conservationist was against us.

02:36:12 - 02:37:02

Douglas Hamilton was one of our biggest supporters. The ones that came out against us doing this and at the level what they said, I’m just gonna flat out say that we believe that like in a lot of things, money is talk and they get a lot of their money for a lot of their programs from animal rights groups. And they’re not getting it from zoos at that kind of level. And unfortunately, money talks, I’ll be honest. We know that the animal rights people made a lot of money soliciting donations to help stop this. And yet they didn’t sue us ‘cos they knew that, you know, they know where their win loss situation is. That this was a no win situation for them. The funded animals didn’t know it.

02:37:06 - 02:37:21

And the bottom line for those purists that believe that this was not the right thing to do because there was some other place for ’em, I don’t think they understood there was no other place for them to go. All the parks were full.

02:37:21 - 02:37:24

The cost of doing it, who’s gonna pay for it?

02:37:24 - 02:38:03

There were some places in Swaziland… There was no place in Swaziland that could have done this. And I don’t think there are some people that believed that the Reillys would cull ’em. That was the bottom line for some people, there was a threat. It wasn’t a threat, it was reality. They had no choice. The animals they had to cull and what they lost from this drought. After we left with the elephants and we moved four elephants from one park to another park at our expense because we had the equipment, the people there.

02:38:03 - 02:39:02

And this wasn’t in any deal, we just said we’ll do it. They have their successful program and the thing they’re concentrating mostly is black and white rhinos. They wouldn’t even tell us how many they have. It’s a state secret because they’re 20 miles from the Mozambique border where parts get smuggled out of. And our conservation support money was for rhinos and elephants, but we know mostly for rhinos. And some of the money they asked for okay to release some of it instead of for some of the conservation things they wanted to do was for rhino food. They literally had to continue bringing up food from South Africa and those white rhinos that didn’t come in to those feeding stations, they all died. Grass was eaten down to nothing.

02:39:03 - 02:39:50

It’s this high now and lush and thick after four years of drought when it finally came back. They couldn’t put those elephants back out, not when they had rhinos. Reproduction ceased, no baby rhinos. I just came back from seeing the first baby rhino who was six weeks old that had been born since the drought had broken. Four years, the worst drought in the recorded history of Swaziland. And you know, we originally as part of the permit, we had Mike Kreger, who worked for a different department at the time. Now he’s at the Columbus Zoo, head of conservation research, do a management plan for their country. I mean, it was all in the Reilly’s head, but it wasn’t written down.

02:39:50 - 02:40:12

That was one of the requirements. And we paid for him to go over and spend some time. And he knew that Reillys personally from earlier and a management plan. The hardest thing to do is to kill something you love. That’s what they were faced with.

02:40:12 - 02:40:15

Did the protest end after the elephants came?

02:40:15 - 02:41:19

One, we never had protest at our zoo. We had cheering crowds camped out at the parking lot for five hours before they showed up. It literally ceased after they arrived. We got a few more cards and stuff. We never had, and neither did Omaha or Dallas, have protestors show up at the zoo or anything like that. And I think once the elephants were in the country, they realized that there was no way for them to make– They looked at this as, and I mean, all the ones that were screaming and hollering about it, they were raising money. Now, it’s money they may not have spent sending out cards and whatever they did, but they didn’t sue us. But they made money off of it, no question in my mind.

02:41:19 - 02:41:28

Now you had a quote that was kind of used against you. “It is not a question of if, but a question of when we will have young elephant calves born here.

02:41:28 - 02:41:35

That’s going to skyrocket the attendance like nothing ever was here before.” What did you mean?

02:41:35 - 02:42:38

One, it’s true what I said and it’s not taken out of context, but it is taken out of a longer thing that I said. And yeah, that’s the worst thing I ever said that I kicked myself for, so be it. But I am a believer that animals in zoos and these elephants are brethren of their wild counterparts. They are the representatives. We spent 10 and a half million dollars on this exhibit. I could have run the park in Swaziland for decades on that money, or you know, we could have run every park in Zambia for X number of years on that kind of money. And you can think of all sorts of things, but with no elephants in the zoo, how much money…

02:42:39 - 02:42:49

If I can’t hook somebody and get the story across with a live animal, how are people gonna care about what’s going on with elephants in the wild?

02:42:49 - 02:42:55

Plus there’s the small parts, you know, how many people are ever gonna get a chance to go to Africa so see elephants?

02:42:56 - 02:44:26

But I have always felt that, and I’ve tried to have field conservation support for just about every major endangered species that we had at the zoo. I got over 50% that we were involved with some programs. This elephant exhibit is being used and all the money generated that’s specifically generated there and donations through that is all going to Swaziland right now. And they are continuing to support for elephants in general, the International Elephant Foundation’s African programs that we’ve done in Uganda and so forth and it’s been a long term supporter there, but we tell the story of where these elephants came from and what happened and why. I mean, these elephants would’ve been culled if we had not been able to do this. It’s just unfortunate that, you know, they’ve now learned what their carrying capacity is, and it’s only six to eight elephants total. I mean, man, animal and beavers can turn a forest into a desert without too much problems. And they were doing it and we show the pictures of where the elephants were next to land that was fenced off and where they weren’t, a night and day difference.

02:44:26 - 02:44:39

It doesn’t take long, it doesn’t take long. When you see an elephant push down a tree and strip off some bark and one branch and move on to the next one, you just want to cry ‘cos that tree is a hundred years old, but that’s elephants.

02:44:40 - 02:44:43

What made you a good director?

02:44:45 - 02:45:32

My passion. My board brought it up all the time. I lived and breathed the zoo. I was lucky I had a wife that liked it as much as I did and supported me. I got kidded at times ‘cos I just, you know, I believe in zoos to start with, but I talked up Sedgwick County Zoo to anybody that would listen. And I truly believed in the mission of the zoos. It’s part of my soul. I mean, I really, I really feel that.

02:45:32 - 02:46:01

And I found that originally, I didn’t think I’d be attending these zoo meetings after I retired, but you know, part of it it’s because of the people we worked with. The greatest people in the world and you know, friends and colleagues and they’re passionate. It’s people like you that have that passion for wildlife and for bringing that to their communities.

02:46:03 - 02:46:07

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

02:46:08 - 02:47:09

You know, the biggest thing that changed for me, and I think you’ve probably heard this from a lot of people, is that the amount of time that I spent out in the community dialoguing about development fundraising. Because even if you were at whatever phase you were in, you did one capital campaign after another. We only had one year we actually didn’t build something major or open up something. Some of ’em times they’re behind the scenes, graphics and warehouses and quarantine buildings and things like that. But I found myself that every opportunity in speaking engagements out in the zoo to every meeting, even with the commissioners, it was all about making sure that they realized that no zoo is ever finished. We always need more resources. We always have bigger dreams.

02:47:09 - 02:47:13

And what can you do to help us make this succeed for the community?

02:47:14 - 02:48:26

You were always on. And I had to balance that with making sure that I had a good staff that was out there. I had to give up all the animal stuff I was doing. The last one was the bear TAG and the last animal, you know, I was still doing Spectacled Bears quite a ways into my directorship. The fun part of the thing that I spent more time was actually in the design part of exhibits, simply because I’ve seen too many of my friends turn it over totally to the architects, which is absolutely nuts! You know, this is one way you need to involve your staff and yourself and make sure they’re there to interpret your dream, and it’s not their dream. And that’s one of my complaints of some of the zoo architects. They can pull stuff off the shelf and change it a little bit.

02:48:28 - 02:48:47

I had preconceived ideas and rough form and some of the staff polished ’em up even further. And the architects could then interpret all that and come up with wonderful things. Now, Wichita was not necessarily in the major market or a giant zoo.

02:48:47 - 02:48:56

So what can a smaller, medium size municipal zoo or county zoo do today to be involved in a wildlife conservation nationally or internationally?

02:48:56 - 02:49:54

You know, there’s some medium size zoos, even small zoos out there that are doing some pretty incredible things. And you know, a small market. 3000 animals, 400 species. We had as big a collection as just about anybody but San Diego and Omaha. I mean, overall it was 17th when I do these benchmarking exercises. We were bigger than the National Zoo at one point in the overall category. I loved that one. I found that one of the things I’m most proud of is that we were able to start getting involved in the conservation, not only as a ATM machine by spinning out money to programs, but to start getting involved with it.

02:49:54 - 02:51:08

We had some highly involved work with the rock iguanas in the Caribbean with San Diego and Fort Worth. You know, when the curator makes eight trips a year to the Caribbean with a permanent suntan, you know something is going right. We were involved with the Marianna Islands. My bird curator was out there transporting birds with you and Fish and Wildlife moving them, translocating them from one island to a next on the MacK Program. Jeff Ettling and the new directors brought on the stuff that he started in Albania with mountain vipers, Armenian Mountain Vipers. We’re playing a major role in the African Hunting Dogs, mostly by support, but we put together some symposiums and highly, highly involved with the African Hunting Dogs in a lot of fronts there. The SSP coordinator on that on the staff. Basically you can’t do it all yourself.

02:51:08 - 02:52:06

I made sure everybody realized it was expected that they become involved in the organization and in outside work for the benefit of conservation and different things. We had picked up on that Quarters for Conservation. I did some math real quick on that. And you know, there are some zoos now that I know in their communities are truly recognized as conservation organizations. Boise, Idaho has done it and so Cheyenne Mountain. Now, they did it in more ways. I mean, it’s just not Quarters for Conversations where you tell people here’s your quarter, put it where you think the money should go. Or in some places, the zoo decides where it should go, but that one move right there, you started multiplying the number of people coming to the zoo, a quarter per person.

02:52:08 - 02:52:20

It starts manning up quickly. We went from donating our $20,000 a year to over a hundred thousand dollars a year real quickly into various programs. You know, you have that question.

02:52:20 - 02:52:28

Do you dilute it by small contributions to a lot of ones, or do you concentrate on so many and do more money?

02:52:28 - 02:53:27

And that was always a tough question. But you felt good about those long range ones. We were one of the very first to contribute to the Tree Kangaroo SSP, simply because I believe that they had done such a great job and created a whole national park that it was one of our bigger dollar ones that we supported every year, all the way through it. And same thing with the Iguana Foundation and Puerto Rican Crested Toad. The feeling that you’ve helped save a species. You know, we sent down over 10,000 tadpoles to Puerto Rico for the release. They now have DNA proof that those toads that are coming back to these places are from genetic zoo stock and that’s cool. Zoos in many cases, they are afraid to confront animal rights groups that are against anti-zoo.

02:53:27 - 02:53:35

Sadly, we even have people in top positions in our field who seem in line with what these non biologists have to say.

02:53:35 - 02:53:38

Can you give me your thoughts on how best to deal with these groups?

02:53:39 - 02:54:53

You know, we have the issue that we’re the truth sayers and they can say anything they want. And that’s a communication problem to start with for a dialogue. I mean, if we’re using pure science on stuff. I’ve always felt a lot of it had to do with the brand and how confident and how much you believed in what you were doing. I truly believe that zoos are animal welfare organizations. And that’s where I think in the future, it’s gonna be one of the main drives that we’re gonna have to not only practice that and preach it, but document it and you know, it’ll be more and more in the accreditation standards. But I mean, it’s part of our ethical and moral obligation to give them the best lives possible to justify having them in human care. Part of it is I just felt strongly if you believe in this, that you have to have built a brand and the respect in the community, and you can take that on.

02:54:53 - 02:55:21

And I think we did it at Sedgwick County Zoo. I know that bad press cells and stuff like that and it’s an unfortunate situation, but if you can present it, and that’s what we did on this, and we always use that phrase your zoo. It wasn’t our zoo, it was the community’s zoo. It was your zoo, it’s your zoo they’re attacking.

02:55:22 - 02:55:25

What can you help us do to make it better?

02:55:26 - 02:56:44

That’s accentuating the positive at all times. And you know, I only had a handful of letters I never answered, but I know that one lady that for years complained about the elephant exhibit. I answered every single one of her letters. I didn’t live up to ’em as quickly as I wanted to for sure, but in the end she donated money for the exhibit and that just blew me away. So I do have a hard time. I mean, people ask me that famous line in that trial of Tampa and San Diego when the judge said, “Let me see if I understand this correctly,” when he was addressing the lawyers at the end, and it didn’t have a basis for the final settlement of the case, but he said, “As I understand it, you’d rather see these elephants dead in Africa than alive in zoos in the United States.” And they both said yes, which I think was a major mistake. Those lawyers probably didn’t get very many jobs again for that kind of answer. I mean, God knows how they could have spun it, but I have a hard time understanding how people, I mean, there’s so many ills in our world.

02:56:44 - 02:57:24

I mean, there’s people starving to death and we’ve got more refugees than we’ve ever had, that how people can believe some of the lies and some of the stuff that’s put out there when they’re fundraising on people, on their emotions. We are restricted by our moral ethical code to tell the truth and they’re not. Now sometimes we hear complaints from zoo directors that there are too few good curators in the community today.

02:57:24 - 02:57:32

Is that a problem as far as you’re concerned and how should curators be trained today to do what is expected?

02:57:32 - 02:58:25

That’s one I love to talk about at various times. I too had some trouble at various times. My example was at one time, we had our first herp position come up. I had six people to pick from in the top of the field. And the next time it came up, we had nobody really apply six years later. And I was kind of shocked. And then I realized and have since realized in a lot of cases that we all, after having a real good curator in this position, you wanted to hire somebody that is as good, if not better than that previous person. Well, sometimes you realize you’re hiring somebody that is not quite there yet, but maybe not as far back as that person was you’ve gotta find.

02:58:25 - 02:58:49

And on the other half of that equation, and like I said right now like on our bird curator. They’ve got a great bird curator there. If he left or got promoted, there’s two good in-house candidates that he has spent a lot of time mentoring and we have made sure that they’ve had all the opportunity for travel, training, being involved in the Mack Project, that you always have to be thinking about that.

02:58:49 - 02:58:53

Is there a good in-house candidate and what can you throw their way should that come up?

02:58:56 - 02:59:25

I’m convinced that everybody wants a top of the line curator. They want a Mark Rosenthal there. Well, there’s a young Mark Rosenthal and there’s a senior Mark Rosenthal. And you’ve got to realize that we all start out green at some point in time, and you’ve gotta find that person with the passion and give them the resources to make those judgment calls.

02:59:25 - 02:59:27

Who’s gonna be those people?

02:59:27 - 03:00:37

I take great pride in spotting. I spotted six people in the first two weeks at Sedgwick County Zoo that impressed me and all six of ’em became zoo directors or curators at other zoos. And there’s talent out there. You’ve just gotta spot it and then develop it. I take as much joy out of that fact that Terrie Correll, director of Tulsa Zoo, and Terry Lincoln at the Bismarck Zoo and Bert Castro with Phoenix that I helped. And Ken Redman at Honolulu and Kristi Newland at Garden City, Kansas, and some others that are curators that did good things that you helped along the way. The other thing too, like there is a cultural change too I think. I know my time in coming up, it seemed like a lot more people were…

03:00:38 - 03:01:50

There seems to be more of an interest and concern about quality of life besides outside the zoo in the community and where you’re gonna work. And I think it makes it hard for some. I mean, bringing somebody to Kansas from the east or west coast was difficult ‘cos you had this image. People weren’t willing to travel quite as much. I’m sure that some of the major cities at various times of downturns, I know Detroit had trouble getting people to come in. You know, especially if you had to live in the area, which they did at one time. But you know, there’s no question that sometimes there’s that little break where there’s just a missing gap, but right now in the bird world, there’s so many good people out there. And I think that has to do a lot with the fact that the bird curators in this SAG group or not the SAG, the Avian Interest Group has done such a good thing about pulling together and introducing and bringing up the younger staff.

03:01:50 - 03:03:14

And they’re all meeting at the same time at the midyear meeting. And they’re getting exposed to the older ones. They’re getting mentored at a great basis. I think it’s showing great results. Bird people got it together in that aspect. What changes have you seen during your years in the zoo field regarding visitor attitudes at the– You know, I think first off, because of the multiple choices we have for discretionary dollars, the competition for the zoo is bigger than ever. And the more exposure on media, whether it was, you know, first TV and now it’s everything, but then you consider as we’ve all gotten softer, air conditioning. My competitors in Wichita for just coming to the zoo, my biggest competitor was the fact that we lived in a manufacturing town where people knew how to use hand tools and you’d go to the parking lot at Home Depot and Lowes and they’d be full on the weekends ‘cos they’re doing honey dues for their wives.

03:03:14 - 03:04:18

Or if it’s a hundred degrees out, they’re at the movie theater where it’s nice and air conditioned. And it wasn’t so much other cultural institutions at times. They want a more personal experience coming to the zoo than they did in the old days. I mean, I think it’s been proven over and over with the keeper chats in the time span and the things that they can do to get involved. And some of ’em are weird. I mean, we’re doing craft brew things at the zoo and they’re filling up. You know, a chance to come try craft brew that’s named after an animal and learn about the animal plus having a drink, do it with wines. And you know, some of the connections are getting strange getting people to come to the zoo, but you know, it’s the marketing creativity level of some event departments and some of this thing is just astronomical.

03:04:18 - 03:05:07

We did a fundraising thing yearly called Zoobilee that averaged 60 some restaurants, 25 to 30 different bars, sometimes different kinds of specialty drinks at some of them. Five, six bands, a live auction, a silent auction. The last two years there, we grossed over a million dollars in one night, the largest fundraiser in the state of Kansas. And tickets were only 135 bucks. Made $175,000 on a record night for the live animal auction, $45,000 for a rhino so they can have their name on the rhino exhibit. And I started throwing in a baby gorilla just born this year, you get to name it. You’d be surprised what that did.

03:05:09 - 03:05:17

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

03:05:17 - 03:06:36

You know, the one interesting concern for me and I still don’t know where I fully lie on it, but is the traveling exhibits. You know, we had the white alligator, we got the koalas and Komodo dragons and you know, saw how much visitation they brought in. And I will be admitting, I was a purist at start and I just didn’t see it. And it doesn’t bother me now for most of ’em as long as I think that the animal welfare thing is committed, and some of ’em are and some of ’em aren’t. There’s no question when they move these koalas from one place to another and how they do it in the timeframes and under the arrangements and so forth that it’s done well. This penguin in a box bothers me. You know, it just a different thing. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those.

03:06:39 - 03:07:10

I was surprised of some zoos when they did things like that, but it comes down to your gut reaction and you know, the easier things were those white alligators or those big snapping turtles. I mean, white alligators look like chocolate to me, but it brought in a lot of people. I mean, St Louis figured 300,000 when they did it. And that’s a lot of people.

03:07:12 - 03:07:16

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

03:07:16 - 03:08:54

I think the biggest one, I mean, without animals, we don’t have zoos. That’s plain and simple. We can talk all sorts of things about various SSPs and TAGs and now safe in dealing with outside entities and commercial and private. But there’s no question to me from the biology of it, and more specifically the genetics of it. that the long term sustainability flat out is that we are going to have to continuously have new infusion of genetic material. Now, whether that means coming off of ranches in Texas, coming from zoos in Europe, coming from semen from gorillas in the wild, we’ve gotta do it. And there isn’t a program out there doesn’t need infusion, and that’s gonna cost money, especially if you can’t bring in gametes and you’ve gotta bring in the live animal. And you know, San Diego has brought in a lot of animals and it spread out a lot of those animals that they made major investments on importation and the cost and some of the zoos that were getting those animals were expecting to get ’em for free or gratis after they’ve spent a fortune.

03:08:54 - 03:09:39

And there’s a thin line how San Diego handled that. But there’s no question in my mind that that has gotta be resolved. And you know, that can eventually go the other way too. There are populations in the wild out there that it’s easy to say well, you send tigers over to reintroduce or whatever, but you can also send a semen over. And I mean, it’s a whole thing, but the biggest thing is you gotta have a while to have the animals in and you know, without the space, that’s the scariest thing right now.

03:09:40 - 03:09:48

Can you build a zoo with an airtight insulation against interference, external, political, or otherwise?

03:09:50 - 03:11:08

If you have your own money to do it. And a private individual can come pretty close to having a lot of those things done. The only thing I can tell you, whether you’re a zoological society, even those that are almost pure like San Diego, I mean, they still have difficulty getting parking lots built and things like this in Balboa Park. The thing that you can do is to make sure you’ve turned it into your community zoo. Your brand is all positive, and you can push aside most politicians. They will not, in most cases, vote against their own self-interest and their self-interest is seeing the zoo being a winner. They will line up. I had the classic case at our place and we were victorious on that, but I personally think it’s openness and transparency and making sure that the people see this as their zoo, their aquarium.

03:11:09 - 03:11:21

In 2000, non AZA, it’s kind of a two part thing. In 2000, non AZA zoos and private breeders were essentially banned from participating in SSP plans.

03:11:21 - 03:11:24

Did that hurt or help zoos?

03:11:24 - 03:11:30

And then in 2010, the AZA decided the banning private participation was a mistake.

03:11:31 - 03:11:33

What’s your opinion?

03:11:33 - 03:12:51

Well, I can tell you at the time that the first one that I do think it was a mistake. I understand the thinking for that ‘cos I was on the board during that time and a lot of discussions. The single most important vote I think we took, and it was the most hard fought vote during the whole time was on the establishment of the population management thing here. You were voting for fiduciary responsibility or long term successful animal management in a way. But I think, and I was on WCMC when we went to the green light, red light, which was an expansion out that brought people back. I still believe that the more people you have involved, and some cases it’s totally by the individual needs of this specimen what it’s gonna take to be successful for a long time, long term sustainability. And some species, you know, one place could do it all. There are others you’re gonna need outside expertise and outside individuals that have the money.

03:12:52 - 03:14:07

There’s no question we live in such a mixture. In fact, our association is undefined. You know, I’m starting to have pretty strong feelings about what I think it should be, but you know, the purest will say well, there’s no guarantee that the zoo will be there tomorrow if it’s a private place. And there’s examples of that, Catskill Game Farm, the Hearst Mansion, but there’s been zoos that have closed too. It does happen. At least it’s not a competitive nature anymore, but there is a lot of investment by a lot of people and you’ve got a lot of boards that want to make sure they got theirs. And when they got theirs, maybe they’ll let a little bit out, but we’ve gotta be in all this together. You know, AZA’s issue and policies and standards that have been established over the years.

03:14:10 - 03:15:12

And there’s been some changes in the governance. And I don’t think it’s resolved. I personally think to be successful, I think it has to be more institutional oriented. And it’s a combination right now of membership and institution. And it’s hard to blend those together because the deeds are different at times. And our selection for the governance now is a different format. And I think that’s had some changes that we’re still getting used to. You know, we’re not electing our board of directors anymore.

03:15:14 - 03:15:35

They’re selected for us by a nominating committee. We used to be a lot more open about what was going on and that’s all been changed and you know, I mean, nothing gets better without change, but I’m just not sure we’re at the final evolution yet.

03:15:35 - 03:15:38

What issues would you like the AZA to be addressing now?

03:15:38 - 03:15:45

I think it’s this whole governance issue is dealing with the age old question, which has been asked for 30 years.

03:15:45 - 03:15:49

Are we an institutional membership or are we a membership organization?

03:15:51 - 03:15:55

How does AZA compare with the AAZPA of 30 years ago?

03:15:55 - 03:17:05

Oh, it was lightning difference in that you know, originally, I think it was originally conceived. They have a voice in Washington actually to a certain agree. I know pre ’71, my father did a tremendous amount of lobbying in Congress. AZA is a nonprofit and has to be very careful about how far they can go on the whole lobbying issue as a nonprofit institution, what’s the word for it. They are a trade organization for the industry. You know, I think that a lot more needs to be done to make our lives easier. And that’s a tough one in Washington and it takes a lot of resources. And the other thing is, you know, everybody keeps talking about the image of the AZA.

03:17:05 - 03:18:06

Most people don’t even know who the AZA is. I mean, I think more do now. In certain communities it’s well known, but I’m hopeful that things like this show at the zoo that was done by the Conservation Society, that Discovery Channel said it was the highest rated new show they had the first year and kind of second year. I don’t know where it’s going and how it’s doing its second year, but I thought they’ve done a great job explaining what we’re about. And it’s had quite a following. But there’s so much competition out there culturally now with generations coming up that don’t know about what the outdoors is. I mean, coming to the zoos, we’re marketing as an outdoor experience. It was like camping when we were kids.

03:18:06 - 03:18:40

Now we’re saying get out to your zoo. It’s an outdoor experience. And we all did that when we got home from school when we were kids. Now they’re in front of their computers. You know, things continue to evolve. And I am very confident zoos will make the changes. They’re never as fast as you want to sometimes. There’s always gonna be that tug I think for people to have this fascination and hopefully develop an appreciation for wildlife.

03:18:40 - 03:18:43

And most of ’em are only gonna be able to do it as zoos.

03:18:43 - 03:18:48

Any advice you’d give the neophyte zoo director about the importance of marketing zoos?

03:18:48 - 03:18:52

What would you say are the most important aspects of marketing?

03:18:52 - 03:20:08

First off, confidence in yourself ‘cos you won’t feel that for about five years. And I’ve told that to several people and they said yeah, at five years all of a sudden things started clicking. You know, I think it comes down to if people see your passion and if you can get your passion across, it’s infectious and marketing is, you know, it’s do it to survive. If you’re not marketing your zoo and you’re not branding that out there, in this day and age, the way our culture is, you’ll be lost. I mean, I can think of some zoos that are in markets that they ought to have doubled their attendance and I can’t understand why, except for the fact that they’re just not marketing in their zoo. They’re letting their competitors beat ’em out by whatever they’re offering or whatever they’re doing. You’ve gotta tell your story and you know, if you can get ’em to the zoo and they have that great experience, you can hook ’em for the next time. But it’s amazing when you look at the attendance figures of some zoos.

03:20:10 - 03:20:28

It’s not the big, big zoos, but the medium size to the mid upper medium. Marketing can make a hell of a difference. I used to do those benchmarking surveys every year, which I’d print and send to the zoo. And you know, you look at the saturation of your community.

03:20:28 - 03:20:29

How many people are going to the zoo?

03:20:29 - 03:20:31

How much does it cost per animal?

03:20:31 - 03:21:13

And all these benchmarking things that you can figure out. And I was always amazed at the attendance figures and our goal was to hit a hundred percent of our statistical metropolitan area, and we were constantly in the 90%. We went over a hundred percent a couple times. And our problem in Kansas, you’ve got outside the statistical metropolitan area, there are a lot of cows and they don’t buy tickets. So that meant you had to get those people to come back again and again, and then you’ve gotta weigh that balance between membership and admissions ‘cos if you don’t get those priced right, you can mess that combination up. We talked about people coming back to the zoo.

03:21:13 - 03:21:23

How can a zoo improve their connection with kids and teenagers to heighten their zeal and awareness about the natural world?

03:21:23 - 03:22:29

Yeah, there’s no question that zoos need to pay close attention to the curriculum of their school districts in their community to find out where they can fit and what they can match and relationships that can be built with school districts. That’s one. Two, the one that I’ve seen grow tremendously that I was appalled with at first, but it’s become such a big market is the homeschooling market. There’s a lot of money there. And they’re looking and we developed it and you know, I can tell you that we started at our zoo, and I laughed about it at first. We started a nursery, a preschool program for three year olds and four and five year olds. If I had known how popular it was, we would’ve added a lot more classrooms ‘cos it was making money. It was paying for the teachers or the people that were helping.

03:22:29 - 03:23:57

What greater place for kids, they’re getting to go out in the zoo during their time at the zoo, their morning or their afternoon. It’s like any rental facility that you do that you get people there for those extra things. I used to say Halloween, which zoos own, has nothing to do with our mission hardly, except for it gives for your community a safe place for kids to come do the trick or treat thing in most cases. But you know, if they have a good experience out there and they say well, maybe we’ve got to come during the day when we can see what’s going on here, that’s what you hope for. But you know, there’s no question we have gone to special events, weddings, caterings, whatever we can do to get people to zoo on the hope that we can hook ’em to come again, millennials and the young kids. I’ve seen that case where three girls were walking down the sidewalk and they’re all texting and not seeing what’s around and not talking to each other. It’s gonna be hard to break, but there’s no question, the more you can tie into hands on experiences, volunteers at all levels. And you know, some of the emphasis that’s been put on it too.

03:23:57 - 03:24:17

Even at our national convention, there’s a huge section now on the whole volunteer thing. And that’s tyign the communities in ‘cos man, if you don’t have community support and involvement, your brand is not gonna be as strong. Let’s turn back the clock.

03:24:17 - 03:24:23

If you could go back in time, what, if anything, would you have done differently?

03:24:27 - 03:25:06

I have small things I can think of. I can think of an exhibit, or you can say I had one person I should have terminated earlier or something like that. But you know, I can’t think of anything that would’ve significantly been a positive thing by any specific multiplication if I had done something different. I stand by and feel pretty good by everything I did.

03:25:07 - 03:25:12

Are there any exhibits that you would’ve implemented during your tenure that did not happen?

03:25:12 - 03:25:23

Sea lions, I really wanted to do sea lions. And yeah, just ran out time. It didn’t happen.

03:25:24 - 03:25:28

Did you have a certain way, like this is how no one exhibits them?

03:25:28 - 03:25:59

I had seen a lot of exhibits. I had been looking about it. I had some thoughts. I wanted the water, the moving water. I looked at it as that would be a real challenge. I was looking for a real challenge Plus, I also knew it was one that people wanted. We heard a lot about it and it was a missing component. We didn’t have a marine mammal and yeah, hopefully it’ll get added someday.

03:25:59 - 03:26:04

What was the most important piece of advice you received that’s stayed with you throughout your career?

03:26:08 - 03:26:46

I think it was a question of, from a historical perspective, learning as much as I could so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes. And I think that had to do with visiting as many places I could ‘cos I always brought things back and stored ’em away so I wouldn’t make those mistakes that I’ve seen other people make because they didn’t know their history and didn’t know the background and didn’t research it long enough. I used to say you can’t live long enough to make all your own mistakes. You’ve gotta learn from other people’s mistakes. By knowing your history, you’ll prevent that.

03:26:46 - 03:26:57

Do you think that the euthanizing of endangered species, surplus generic issues, still pose a political problem for zoos and aquariums?

03:26:57 - 03:27:30

Yeah, no question, no question. And that’s gonna be a hard one. That’s gonna be a hard one to get around because of culture. And I think, you know, scientifically, we’re just gonna have to be creative on reproduction sex selection. And why it’s gonna be so important for genetic material coming in from outside our collections.

03:27:35 - 03:27:44

Do we need or have any charismatic or committed heroes to help shift public opinion for conservation?

03:27:44 - 03:27:50

Examples obviously are Jacques Cousteau or Jane Goodall, but who’s there now?

03:27:51 - 03:28:42

We don’t have anybody at that level right now. And I mean, there’s some people that fill certain parts of it, but yeah, there’s no question that’s something that’s been discussed for a long time is we need that. And we just don’t have it in our industry right now. Betty White has done as good a job as anybody. And she’s gonna be, you know, the woman on NCIS may replace her, Pauley Perrette. Let’s see how she does. But Betty White, if we’d gotten her younger, we could have really done some things with her nationally. She’s an incredible lady.

03:28:42 - 03:28:54

I have been with her a couple times in various meetings or social functions when we were at in LA and so forth. At the WAZA meeting, she was quite a character. I really liked her.

03:28:55 - 03:29:14

When the zoo spends, as you have, when the zoo spends multimillion dollars on gorilla, elephant, tiger exhibits and critics ask why this money is not used to help the animals in the wild, you say what?

03:29:14 - 03:30:16

I say we do help the animals in the wild. One, they’re the spokes criters for their wild brethren. I can raise money for conservation based on those exhibits, and have, and if we didn’t have those exhibits, I wouldn’t be able to raise any money for conservation from where I’m coming from. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but I’m convinced that it’s that appreciation and the live animal that you can hook people with to get that money to help in the wild. There’s nothing that beats the live animal, nothing. And there’s no question, I think sometimes more money gets spent than needs to be spent, but it’s on architectural things. Things that I don’t think are necessary, that I question. And the biggest thing is we build these multimillion dollar complexes I’ll say, and then some places the animals are still stuck in little dungeons all night long.

03:30:16 - 03:30:42

We always tried to make sure we had 24 hour access when the weather is permitting. Always had outdoor exhibits for ’em so they could get natural sun, even in holding areas. So if you had to cut ’em out then they still had access to the outside. That was one of our ongoing parameters, just about everything we built that we had outside holding facilities. So if we had to separate ’em out, they still had good welfare.

03:30:44 - 03:30:52

Are you concerned about zoos and aquariums staying viable and pertinent and relevant in the next 25 years?

03:30:52 - 03:30:57

Oh, I think– What direction will help them?

03:30:57 - 03:31:20

There’s no question, they need to understand their market. No question. They’ve got to understand the taste of what the public wants. We’ve gotta ask the public what they want. They do have a say in it. The zoos and aquariums will stand a test of time. I have no doubt. I mean, they’ve been for thousands of years.

03:31:22 - 03:32:04

It will continue. For the very reason of it’ll be a place of the wild for some people. Unfortunately, but it’ll be their connection. And I personally judge all communities based on their zoo or aquarium. If I think it’s a crummy zoo, I think it’s a crummy community. I basically can say that I think Chicago’s a great community. What they’ve done at Lincoln Park, what they’ve done for Brookfield, the Shedd Aquarium, that says a lot about Chicago, that they care.

03:32:06 - 03:32:13

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

03:32:19 - 03:33:22

I know that it will endure because of the passion and people that are involved with it. There is something unique about zoo people. I’m proud to call ’em all my friends and colleagues. While it’s not expressed by some, they all have a passion for what they’re doing and it’s that connection that we’re doing something good for the animals, for our communities. And after all, our mission, our overall mission I guess is actually to save the world when you really think about it. ‘Cos if we talk about the wildness disappearing and wild places for animals are becoming less and less and more restricted. These national parks in Africa are just larger versions of zoos now. They’re even adopting some of our management styles in some of the places.

03:33:23 - 03:33:26

They’re faced with some of the same issues, but.

03:33:33 - 03:33:36

Well, how would you like to be remembered, your legacy?

03:33:42 - 03:34:27

I used to look at the whole thing, you know, the Sedgwick County Zoo. I’m hoping that people look back and say, you really did some neat things for the community and they feel proud about their zoo, that I helped make it that way with their help. But you know, this elephant thing was pretty cool. Now you’re the son of a zoo director and your dad is not here, Dr. Ted Reed, to talk about his life in the zoo world, but you were pretty close to him. I’ve got a couple of questions that maybe you might be able to answer.

03:34:27 - 03:34:38

And the first one is, and this is for you, early in your career, did you ever feel– In your career as a zoo person, did you ever feel overshadowed by your father’s position?

03:34:39 - 03:34:40

His rep?

03:34:40 - 03:35:10

Actually, no. I never felt that. Realistic, he had his strengths and weaknesses, I had mine. I knew we were gonna be different type of zoo directors at different zoos. I did have the funny story. I was asked to apply for the job at National Zoo after the Lucy Spelman thing. And I had to laugh. I said enough people think I’m copying or following my father.

03:35:10 - 03:35:29

I said, “I can’t wait to tell him I got asked.” And I said, “I have absolutely no interest.” Now, your dad was involved, we talked about white alligators. Your dad was involved at the National Zoo and the white tigers for $10,000 were acquired in 1960.

03:35:31 - 03:35:36

Did he have problems with other zoos because of the tigers?

03:35:36 - 03:36:44

You know, he never had any problems because he got the tigers or any thing. I mean, he had some disagreements with (indistinct) in Michigan dealing with white tigers in later years. But they were still friends. I used that as it progressed and evolved and standards changed and so forth that these were genetic freaks and welfare issues. And I used my role as the son of my father to do everything I could to help discourage the show and display and the breeding of white tigers taking up space from critically endangered, Malayan and Sumatran and more tigers. And I think I actually got the point across to some of them. And I felt I was one of the two people who could say it as vocally as I did at some of these meetings, ‘cos I was the son of my father. Did your father, the pandas came to the National Zoo as a gift to the United States government.

03:36:44 - 03:36:52

Do you think your father was anxious to have those or did he accept that they’re gonna come to the National Zoo, nothing I can do?

03:36:52 - 03:37:37

No, he was very anxious. I mean, there were a lot of people that came out that wanted him real bad in addition, but my dad knew all along that the tradition of all national presentations to the children and the president of the United States had always gone to the National Zoo and that’s what was gonna happen. There was some real efforts on some of his friends to try and get ’em, but he knew and he was looking forward to it. He was very pumped, very excited. He had his suitcase packed for two and a half months. And I did ask to go with him if I could. And he said well– I said I’d shave my beard and cut my long hair and everything. And he said my mother was first in line.

03:37:37 - 03:38:14

And as it was, it was just him and one officer and they flew in and basically did everything that Nixon had done a month earlier, except he did get some time at the veterinary college there and everything, but it was quite the experience for him. He looked forward to it and he had (indistinct) red book memorized. And your dad established Front Royal in 1975.

03:38:19 - 03:38:25

Can you tell us anything about if you know his philosophy or you know why he wanted to do it?

03:38:25 - 03:39:08

It’s the thing that he actually ultimately felt most proud of. He felt early on and had looked for many years. He actually hired people to help look for it. Perry was brought on with the single focus of trying to find some place. Conway even commented when the front row came about that it was a better deal than he had at St Catherine ‘cos it was owned where he didn’t have a St Catherine. You know, my dad makes the claim that he’s the one that finally first heard about this surplus remount station. And he actually found it after having all these other people looking and going all over Texas and Florida and finding that place. And he found a place 70 minutes from the National Zoo.

03:39:09 - 03:40:07

He always knew it was gonna have to be open to the public to a certain degree at some place in time. That was probably one of the most exciting things for him and actually was part of the cause of his early retirement because of the deer thing out where they had to euthanize some of the deer, the problem with infecting the Père David’s deer and Dylan Ripley got called on the carpet and this, that and the other. And it broke up the relationship between Dylan Ripley and my dad. Basically he was asked time to call it quits Dr. Reed. But it all stemmed from the Front Royal thing. But I think he loved zoos, lived and breathed it, and…

03:40:11 - 03:40:13

What was his vision for Front Royal?

03:40:13 - 03:40:16

He knew he was gonna have to be open to the public at some point in time.

03:40:16 - 03:40:18

But what did he want it to be?

03:40:18 - 03:41:21

He wanted to have it a place to help build up sustainable herds. And he saw diminishing numbers of certain species and that obviously made sense for more room and space. I mean, you saw it with, you know… In his case it was things like Bactrian Camels and Père David Deer. And they had the space in the things for big groups of Maned Wolves and Tree Kangaroos ‘cos they had all these buildings. I mean, this thing had an incredible number of buildings that were on it that didn’t take too much to fix up for moving over to animals. But it was the ownership and the space of the land plus the fact that it was close to National Zoo. Now I don’t think he saw so much at the campus that’s been built up there, but I think it’s exceeded what his expectations were as far as some of the research and some of the educational opportunities at the scientific level that are going on there at that campus.

03:41:21 - 03:41:43

I mean, it is night and day what has transpired there over what it’s being used for. I mean, they bring in people from all over the world to learn everything from radio telemetry to some very sophisticated wildlife conservation things. Wemmer did a great job getting things started out there, Chris Wemmer.

03:41:43 - 03:41:51

But you mentioned the research, wasn’t he instrumental in the establishment of research and bringing Dr. John Eisenberg?

03:41:54 - 03:42:58

That was one of the first things that he did and had a relationship that started out with University of Maryland with Dr. Eisenberg, you know, they fielded students all over the place. Ann Baker actually was also in Sri Lanka at that time. He had a flock of students. I mean, he was a brilliant man. My dad and him had them rounding rounds at times, but he felt that and built up a team over time. I mean, they built that conservation research center at the National Zoo before he ever did a new office building and it was important. It was important to him and he was proud of a lot of things he got done, ‘cos I mean, one, everything was hard. The federal government, you can imagine what it’s like, but there’s no question Front Royal he looked at as his biggest legacy or what he’s most proud of.

03:42:59 - 03:43:01

You mentioned John Perry.

03:43:01 - 03:43:10

Can you say who John Perry was, and I think it was under your father, the Wild Animal Propagation Trust that worked on the rangs?

03:43:10 - 03:44:07

John Perry, I’m not too sure of his background. He just died recently, but he was involved with the friends of the National Zoo and then came on as the assistant director, one of the assistant directors, but his primary responsibility originally was to search and find a place that they could set up a breeding facility, a country operation, where they had more space. The Wild Animal Propagation Trust started out with orangutans. There were a few other species. It was a pre SSP type organization. And it fell apart ‘cos there was, you know, no punishments for not abiding by anything. It was a mutually agreeable club and it fell apart in 1973 at the Houston National Convention. I was there, I can remember the meeting.

03:44:07 - 03:44:33

I wasn’t there at the meeting, but him talking to me afterwards what had happened. But it was an early precursor to what led into collectively managed animal programs. It was all on mutual consent that we won’t bring anymore orangutans in and et cetera, et cetera. And I think it also involved, there were some other animals, but I can’t remember what they were now.

03:44:33 - 03:44:38

Did your father or the National Zoo, when he was director, have a relationship with Cuba?

03:44:39 - 03:45:09

They did. They actually, early on in the reptile thing, they got some work with Cuban crocodiles and actually had Cuban crocodiles at the zoo. Man, they’re nasty ones. They’ve got a personality and watching them and so forth. And you know, I don’t know where that went or what came of it, but they had a relationship there for a bit.

03:45:09 - 03:45:16

Did your father ever speak about the good or bad about being forced or asked to take political gifts?

03:45:16 - 03:46:28

No, no. It was just one of those things he just knew was part of it. He was a Goodwill ambassador. I mean, he took over animals to Dugal once and came back with Algerian Slenderhorn Gazelles or no, Algerian Dorcas Gazelles, and swans to Sukarno for Komodo Dragons, a pretty good deal. And he spent a lot of time doing consulting from the national level as the National Zoo director. He’d get asked through the government and the state department and everything to stop and visit the zoo and give him your comments and see what they think. And he enjoyed that, he enjoyed that. And part of that, all this traveling, hearing about all this and seeing all the pictures and hearing the stories growing up, some of the stuff seeped in in the dinner table conversations about that.

03:46:29 - 03:47:33

I didn’t realize the time, but this was the impious for me doing the travel and seeing what I saw. I’ve never taken any paid consulting, but I’ve done a lot of consulting as far as giving my opinions and impressions and telling them hey, by the way, you need to look at this zoo or that zoo for this exhibit to see what you’re doing and do it right. And since I’ve retired, I’ve continued doing that. Especially, there’s some things that need to happen to maintain long term sustainability in elephants. I’ve got a real vested interest there, but you know, there needs to be a consortium set up so that when elephants become available again, that some zoos can move quickly and it’s gonna take, it can’t be done by one zoo, from our experience. You need to come over with a full plane, another 17, a couple more, and it would really guarantee sustainability. It’s gonna be close, even with this addition. And San Diego’s success and Tampa’s success, but Indianapolis is bringing them in and a few other places.

03:47:33 - 03:47:52

But there’s no question it’s a thing. And you know, more and more people, a lot of people have gotten out of elephants or will temporarily, but there’s gonna be a lot of empty elephant exhibits the next few years before it starts going the other way. You mentioned your father took over from Dr. Mann, the long time director.

03:47:52 - 03:47:55

Did you ever have the opportunity to meet Dr. Mann?

03:47:55 - 03:48:09

I saw him just about every Saturday when I was five, six, seven years old. ‘Cos after we’d do the rounds and I’d go to the zoo and go around with him and Ralph Norris, who was the head keeper.

03:48:09 - 03:48:17

And that was also necropsy day so after we’d do the rounds of the zoo, we’d do necropsies and I’d ask all week, what died that day?

03:48:17 - 03:49:18

‘Cos I was fascinated by necropsies and I learned years later, my dad used to cringe ‘cos he’s trying to save animals and I want to know what died so I can see what’s cut up that weekend. But afterwards, the last thing we’d do, Dr. Mann lived in an apartment building right next to the zoo and we’d walk over and talk to him. And he was a great guy. He was an interesting man. And most people don’t know, he was a circus fan too. And I even met Emmett Kelly over there, or the Emmett Kelly son. I’m not sure which one now, but he was a legend on himself. I know I’ve actually read quite a bit about him and I have his picture in my office along with Louis DiSabato and a picture of Blakely and Jane Goodall and I, the type of thing that you keep as memories, but the picture with Dr. Mann.

03:49:18 - 03:49:38

Dr. Mann and his wife Lucy lived for a long, long time and she was part of the family. No zoo likes to have tragedies occur. And the tragedy occurred I think when your father was director of a child killed by a lion.

03:49:40 - 03:49:43

How did that, if you know, how did that affect him?

03:49:43 - 03:50:48

Oh, hugely. Can you kind of give a little– Yeah, what happened was a girl got on the other side of the guardrail and the lion reached out of the cage and swiped and decapitated her on a Sunday afternoon I think it was. And not a pretty sight. I can tell you all the horror stories on it, but basically that was settled by today’s standard, very cheap. She playing a lawsuit for like $10,000. They know interestingly that another child saw the grandparents lift the kid over to actually physically take the picture. You know, we’ve had it happen in our zoos. I’ve had it happen, but the kid was African American and this is 1956 or ’57.

03:50:48 - 03:51:44

Washington was segregated almost still at that time, just breaking away. And grandparents, these were the grandparents with little daughters. So there’s all those little things that were involved in it. But I can still remember the absence of my father there for a couple months and the stress he was under. I remember it very well. But it was, a heck of a way to say it, but it was the emphasis for the fact that the zoo was falling apart all over the place. You know, obviously the war years declined and afterwards it just, the zoo, the great zoo of the 30s and so forth had a huge collection ‘cos of Walker, ‘cos Walker brought in all these small mammals and everything so he’d get pictures for his book. And then they were in the small mammal, they had the greatest small mammal collection in the world probably.

03:51:44 - 03:51:46

Identify him, that was?

03:51:46 - 03:52:43

That was Ernest Walker who wrote “Mammals of the World.” It’s a classic printed by John Hopkins and still in, new additions coming out. But it was the start of the rebuilding the National Zoo, which started with the birdhouse in 1960. And he literally to the day he retired, the last one he retired was the small mammal house, but they built a new ape house. The small mammal house was redone. The elephant and giraffe house was redone once, the whole north complex. The only thing he built that was crap was the polar bear exhibit. It’s been torn down and that’s where they built the tropical South American half jungle that was there. The lion house got torn down and they made the lion hill.

03:52:45 - 03:53:14

The monkey house was totally redone. The reptile house was overhauled. I mean, the whole zoo got overhauled at least once and new office and new veterinary hospital and conservation center. So he had a good run. A lot of that stuff is being redone a second time. Sometimes some of it a third time, probably. One last question about your dad.

03:53:14 - 03:53:27

Is it true that when he would go to the congressional hearing for the National Zoo’s budget that he would bring animals to the budget hearing?

03:53:27 - 03:53:32

And sometimes the keepers who accompany him were attractive young ladies?

03:53:33 - 03:54:39

Oh, he did. The greatest story of all time was appropriations. The guy from the, I heard this indirectly, started with the director of National History Museum who took down a volcano demonstration for this wing on volcanoes or something. And he said my dad didn’t play fair. And my stepmother heard the story and this is where I heard it from, but essentially they had a baby orangutan and they had a keeper there that had worked in a Playboy club. A very pretty young lady. And my dad took some iron because she was a hoofstock keeper, not a great ape keeper. He took this baby orangutan down and this orangutan is hanging on her and all these congressional people wanted to have their picture taken with the orangutan and her.

03:54:41 - 03:55:17

And yeah, she was a very attractive lady and my dad, when he got questioned about it said, you know, it was one of those things that dad said until you run the zoo, your responsibility is to take advantage of everything you can. You don’t make your own luck. You take advantage when it’s presented to you. He wasn’t stupid. It’s been said that many newer, younger zoo aquarium professionals are computer curators with little knowledge of the preces of Heini Hediger, Crandall, Lee Crandall, or knowledge of the International Zoo Yearbook.

03:55:17 - 03:55:22

How important for the future of zoos is it to keep this link with the past?

03:55:22 - 03:56:34

I personally think it’s essential. And I made a point with my staff to, you know, I gave them copies of Conway’s paper, how to display a bull frog. I lent out my copies of “Man and Animal in the Zoo,” Hediger’s book, quite a few times. I really believe that if you don’t understand your history, you’re gonna repeat some of those mistakes. It’s amazing how many answers to the first basic question how long the animals live or what their diet is. The easiest thing to start with was to open up Crandall’s book if it was a mammal because it was a good starting place. And from there you’d go to the International Zoo Yearbook It’s amazing what’s in there. And so I made sure that we had an active library, that we infused it with cash every year for keeping up with the literature and pounded on people that they’ve got to read and got to look because what’s on the internet doesn’t all have footnotes all the time.

03:56:38 - 03:57:13

And yeah, it upsets me, but I learned. I consider Hediger’s two books the Bibles, “Zoo Biology” and “Man and Animal in the Zoo.” It’s two of the books that I kept and I owe a lot to my zoo career. I’ll never forget that. There’s no such thing as a straight line and I made sure that every exhibit I built, I kept that in mind that there’s no straight line and I had a lot of curves. A couple quick questions about the press.

03:57:13 - 03:57:17

Did you have a good relationship with the press and how do you nurture that relationship?

03:57:17 - 03:58:20

Oh, I had one of the best ones you could ever have at one point with a local reporter. Her daughter volunteered at the zoo, so the daughter knew sometimes before I did about something. I’d get a call from her mother, but the mother was nice enough that she would read over the story before she turned it into the editor to see if it was correct. That’s not right on her part probably, but it made for great, accurate stories. Oh, I missed Miss Jenny. I won’t mention her last name ‘cos she’s still a reporter in another town, but I was very lucky that I always had good relationships with the reporters. And in the end of my career, I will say it was interesting that because people liked to hear the stories from the people who are taking care of. Man, a lot of stories that I did in the early days, you know, you get passed down to the curators, to the supervisors, even the keepers.

03:58:21 - 03:58:42

And I got to the point that I saved myself for the major important ones when you needed to have a critical thing. And the example would be, we had just finished raising the money and got the matching money for the tiger exhibit. And the incident in San Francisco happened. So a reporter comes out, you’re building a tiger exhibit.

03:58:42 - 03:58:44

How high are your walls?

03:58:44 - 03:59:29

And you know, we were saying right what was in the standards, 16 feet. So we knew it was important that I get on and how we were gonna address it. And you know, we upped it six inches. It was real easy in the design thing to move the post up six inches. And the difference between feet and meters and what you want wanna do. And I also knew more about that tiger getting out at San Francisco than the general press did, but there’s perceptions you have to worry about. And you know, once you have something written down as a standard, if you don’t have that size and the perception is it’s not safe, you can’t do it. It was amazing that one incident how many exhibits got changed very quickly or got extensions added on.

03:59:29 - 03:59:48

But I was not a camera hound or a mic hound. I spread it out all over the place on that. You carried something in your wallets when you were director.

03:59:48 - 03:59:51

Can you tell me what that was and do you still carry it?

03:59:51 - 04:00:55

I left that for Jeff Ettling on my desk. I used to pull it out every once in a while when the board had aggravated me or if something come up, I’d read this. And it was about dreaming bigger dreams than one would expect because those that dream small dreams sometimes get that. And I actually got it originally from Ed Maresca. But I just felt it was more important for Jeff to have that. And I carried it for a damn 15 years almost in my wallet after I got it from Ed, but I pulled it out in a couple board meetings. But yeah, I kept it taped to the backside of a business card. Mark Reed, thank you very much for talking with us today.

04:00:55 - 04:01:07

I enjoyed it thoroughly. Sorry about my voice here the last part, but it’s been fun. I relived some stuff and it keeps me excited about our chosen love in life.

About Mark Reed

Mark Reed
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Sedgwick County Zoo: Wichita, Kansas

Director Emeritus

Mark comes from a zoo family. His father Dr. Ted Reed was director of the National Zoo and a leading figure in conservation and zoo medicine. He graduated from Kansas State university in 1972 and received his advanced degree from Texas Tech.

Mark’s first zoo job was at the San Antonio Zoo in 1972 as an animal keeper. He became Assistant Director at the Sedgwick County Zoo in 1979 under the directorship of Ron Blakely. In 1991 he was appointed to the post of director. Mark considers the zoos commitment to African Elephants in the Elephants of the Zambezi Valley exhibit to be one of his major achievements for education and conservation of the species.

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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.