June 6th 2015 | General Curator

Mike Sulak

Mike Sulak began his career in zoos working in the Farm-In-The-Zoo at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. He soon fell in love with the profession and would go on to be a zoologist at the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana, where he would serve as interim director for a time. In 1979, Sulak was recruited by director Saul Kitchener to be a curator at the San Francisco Zoo and would spend most of his career there.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:00 - 00:00:09

My name is Mike Sulak I was born on December 1st, 1948 at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

00:00:09 - 00:00:12

And you grew up in Chicago?

00:00:12 - 00:00:14

All my life, yes, in the city.

00:00:14 - 00:00:15

What was your childhood like?

00:00:16 - 00:01:08

Well, we lived on the west side of Chicago. It was kind of like the traditional fifties Jewish ghetto, had lots of relatives living in the same building. And very close to us, went to public school. Robert Emmet Public School and Austin High School in the city, in the sixties, early sixties, neighborhoods started changing and there was a migration of people into suburbs or different parts of the city, we moved to in my senior year in high school, I can’t think of any other specifics you made.

00:01:08 - 00:01:09

Where did you move?

00:01:09 - 00:01:14

Moved out to Lecture Drive on lakefront in Chicago, north side, north.

00:01:14 - 00:01:15

Which parents?

00:01:15 - 00:01:31

My mother was homemaker as was typical in the fifties. And my father was in sales at various sales jobs, but he also retired kind of early. He was 55 when he retired for health reasons.

00:01:32 - 00:01:37

So what’s your earliest memories of zoos?

00:01:37 - 00:01:39

What zoos?

00:01:39 - 00:02:54

Well needless to say with Lincoln Park and Brookfield in Chicago. I guess I got my introduction or love, my father loved zoos. I mean, he would go there by himself if he was out on the road and had some time to kill, between calls he and he would take my brother. I didn’t mention earlier that I have an older brother, he on Sundays would be our father son’s day, usually ‘cayse my mother was not a lover of zoos, but he would take us to Lincoln Park or Brookfield commonly. And we would go with our loaves of bread, dry bread because in those days they certainly allowed you to feed the animals. And we really like enjoyed I guess Brookfield more just because the size and the yards where you can throw the bread and see the animals more openly, I guess. I don’t know what the exact word is, but did that. I never remember not doing that.

00:02:55 - 00:03:05

And were there certain animals at Lincoln Park Zoo or Brookfield Zoo that you really remember or that you were drawn to?

00:03:06 - 00:04:09

I was always like the mega vertebra. I mean the great apes. At Lincoln, at Brookfield, I forgot the elephant, Ziggy, the elephant was there for years and chained up for years and was always marveled by that. And I remember things that used to as a kid, be fascinated with the glass screens in front of the rhino exhibits at Brookfield because they’d urinate on the public and as a kid, that was something special. So I’ve certainly drawn like I said, to the mammals more so than birds or reptiles, I was fascinated with the reptiles. I never understood. I certainly remember Brookfield closing, I’m sorry, Lincoln park closing the reptile building on feed days, which I always wanted to see as a kid. I don’t remember ever having the opportunity at Brookfield.

00:04:09 - 00:04:20

I assumed they may have done the same thing, but really don’t remember that. But I remember being mad ’cause I couldn’t see and feed the reptiles at Lincoln Park. Now you said you moved to Lakeshore Drive.

00:04:20 - 00:04:27

Did you ever bring home, did you have pets as a kid or did you bring home animals?

00:04:27 - 00:05:28

I loved animals, I mean, there’s a whole history of that. As much as my father and myself loved animals, my mother hated animals. They were dirty things that you weren’t supposed to have in the house. She was a typical Jewish mother. The pets that I was limited to as a kid, I never had a dog or a cat as a child, I had hamsters, I had parakeets, fish. We got into tropical fish, freshwater for many years, but I never had a dog or cat till I moved out of the house. Then I’ve had dogs and cats. I remember even in terms of my love for animals, we lived in this large building in Chicago that had basements and we owned the building and the basements had these storage sheds that each apartment would get a storage shed.

00:05:28 - 00:06:07

And I remember, there was in one of the back, one of the separate basements, in one of the back basements, I wound up getting some mice and putting the mice and breeding mice in this shed that my parents didn’t know about, for years. Not years, for months and I was breeding mice and selling them to pet shops. And that’s when I was probably 12, somewhere, whereas old enough where I could bicycle with my mice then hamsters to sell them to pet shops.

00:06:07 - 00:06:09

Well, I have to ask, why did it stop?

00:06:09 - 00:06:11

They discover it?

00:06:11 - 00:06:44

Yes, my mother found out about it and that was quickly ended. But then we moved the business. I had another friend in another building who had a similar situation and there was a shed. And then we really started breading hamsters, big time. And we couldn’t produce enough hamsters. This was in the early sixties I guess. And we couldn’t keep up with demand. We had a couple pet shops want 50 or 100 a week.

00:06:44 - 00:06:50

And you know, we were having hard, we were pressed to be able to come up with the numbers.

00:06:50 - 00:07:05

So when did you first think about, well, I guess what’d you want to be when you grew up here or when did you first think about, I wanna work in a zoo or did you think of other professions with animals?

00:07:05 - 00:08:17

It well, it’s strange. And I really don’t know when I made the jump. It was relatively early, when I was a kid in grade school, I had no idea what I wanted to be really, when I first entered high school though, I wanted to be an architect and I started taking drafting classes and stuff like classes that would gear me towards an architectural background. But then I guess my sophomore year or junior, probably my sophomore year, maybe junior, I started thinking I wanted to work with animals and be a vet. I mean, I really thought I wanted to be a vet. Backing up just a little bit prior to high school, I was working at a facility in Cook County called the Thatcher Woods, Little Red Schoolhouse, not working, volunteering on weekends. I’d ride my bike and they’d have a bunch of kids that would service the animals and take care of the animals, that this was, I don’t even know if it still exists. I would hope it still does. There was this woman who was famous in the area named Virginia Mo, Miss Mo and was wonderful with hand rearing animals.

00:08:18 - 00:09:03

And she had a bunch of animals, she’d be using lactating cats to raise squirrels in the springtime, or it was just a fun, fun, fun place to work. And that was really my first experience, really working with a variety of animals. Like I say, I did that 12, 13, maybe 14, my first job paid working with animals. I worked for a pet shop when I was 16, and they were primarily fish. They had some birds and just mice and hamsters and rats and Guinea pigs, I guess, I did that until I left for school.

00:09:03 - 00:09:11

So would you go to, you finished high school and you go to attend where?

00:09:11 - 00:09:14

Southern Illinois University in Carbondale Illinois.

00:09:14 - 00:09:18

And you were interested in zoology then, or you still interested in architecture?

00:09:18 - 00:09:55

No, I mean, like I say, I changed my curriculum or in high school, probably my junior year, maybe my sophomore year. I really don’t remember exactly, that I then started out thinking I wanted to be a vet, I mean, there was a time that I wanted to be a pilot, a commercial airline pilot. And I had a lot of battles with my father about that. He didn’t want me to do that for some strange reason, but then I focused in on thinking I wanted to be a vet. And then when I went to Southern, didn’t a vet school, but I was majoring in zoology.

00:09:55 - 00:10:11

So you were interested in zoology and as you were progressing at the university, were you then thinking about, I want to work in a zoo or when did that kind of come to your mind?

00:10:11 - 00:10:52

I guess soon as I decided I wanted to work with animals, I wanted to work with zoo animals and I wanted to be a zoo vet, and there may have been impact Lester Fisher on his Arc in the Park. And I was raised with Marlin Perkins and Zoo Parade and Ark in the Park in Chicago and all that stuff, seeing those shows on television were part of my growing up and experiencing, thinking about what would be like working with animals. So you tell your father or your family, I wanna work with animals and I’d like to work in a zoo, you’re attending the university.

00:10:52 - 00:10:54

What does your father say to you?

00:10:56 - 00:11:00

And does he say, I’ll get you a job or do you say I wanna work at Lincoln Park?

00:11:00 - 00:12:25

Well, I mean, I don’t remember any specific questions, you know, questioning me wanting to work at zoo or be a vet. I mean, I’m sure my mother though wasn’t a doctor, a doctor, it was a doctor, a vet, which was probably acceptable to her. And I did, I guess in college, somehow I was doing some research for a summer job and seeing that I wanted to, I didn’t wanna work in zoo. I wanted some hands on experience and found out that at Lincoln Park, the children’s zoo operated seasonally at the time and was open in the summer, maybe early fall, but they close it down during the winter. And during the summer, they would hire six part-time laborers to work in the children’s zoo for the summer. They were college, as I remember, there were always college students, all guys, I don’t remember any women at the time working in the summer as laborers. They did have some other positions, zoo leaders, I think they were called. So luckily my father knew somebody at the park district because this is sixties in Chicago and everything was so political.

00:12:25 - 00:13:34

It may still be like that, but I’m so far removed from it, but it was totally political in the city. And luckily my father knew somebody who was very influential in the park district, and I was able to get a job at Lincoln Park. It was actually very special in terms that I didn’t get a laborers job. I actually got an animal keeper’s job at Lincoln Park, which was unheard of at the time for multiple reasons, A, it was a summer job and you were supposed to be a laborer. B, I was 17 years old at that time. And you’re supposed to be 18 to be an animal keeper, but I got to be, it went through, I went to Lincoln Park and I was working, they signed me at the farm in the zoo, which I loved. Though I was working with domestic stuff, I just had so much fun there. It was a great first experience with large animals, that were probably a little easier to deal with than with the exotics.

00:13:34 - 00:13:52

I mean, the difference being that with almost all of them, we went in with, ’cause they were domestics opposed to the exotics, you’re with the exact year removed from many of them. So you started Lincoln park zoo in 1967. Yes.

00:13:52 - 00:14:02

The general question was, what was the zoo like when you started, what were your impressions of the zoo now that you were kind of on the inside?

00:14:02 - 00:14:05

And the secondary question is you’re at the farm in the zoo.

00:14:05 - 00:14:08

What was the work ethic like?

00:14:08 - 00:14:19

Did you work, because you were the college kid, a little harder, did you find out that people wanted you to do the work or were you all pitching in?

00:14:19 - 00:15:49

Well, okay, interesting question. Interesting point, Lincoln Park back then in the sixties, the farm and zoo was like, as I remember, I mean, it was the newest thing, it was something very special. Dr. Fisher wanted to build a working Midwest farm in the middle of an urban area to show the people of Chicago. What’s a cow, I mean, because many of them had never left the city and their experience with farm animals, would it either be on television or in books, there’s no videos at the day, there’s no internet. I mean, people wouldn’t know what farm animals were like, the work ethic, I find interesting, when I went there, the keepers were generally long term employees, old, have always worked at Lincoln Park zoo, cared about the animals, would be happy to let me do all the work, if possible, I mean, and I was excited to do it. I mean, to me, it was, this is what I wanted to do. I remember, took me a couple weeks before they allowed me to work in the dairy barn and milk the cows because that was like something special to milk the cows. But I finally got to milk the cows.

00:15:49 - 00:17:03

I mean, the other thing that I totally enjoyed and it was work, but it was totally recreational. They had a barn of horses and they had about half a dozen horses. And they ranged from Shetland pony to mule, to American saddle bread, to quarter horse to Clydesdale. And there was a small paddock off the barn where the animals would be, where let the horses during the day. But there was also an old rink in Lincoln Park, not the zoo proper, but in the park proper that you could take the horses, where they could run, and everything was broken, where was rideable, even the Clydesdale. And we would wind up taking the horses to the rink, let them run, get on them once in a while and ride them. And then I don’t remember, it was just me asking, they suggesting, there was a riding trail that runs the whole length of Lincoln Park on the lake shore. And at that time, horses came and went.

00:17:03 - 00:17:42

I mean, it was at a low time for other horses. You know, the barns had closed down. There was no run, but they allowed, I was allowed to take the horses and exercise them and I would wind up going in the afternoons. I’d a two hour ride along Lincoln Park. And here I am in my teens, late teens, riding a horse, I always thought, it was such a wonderful way to meet girls. It was great. They always wanted to come and pet my horse and did that regularly. I mean, I had a colleague that joined me too.

00:17:44 - 00:17:57

We used to go ride in regularly and I never ever thought of me working at the zoo as a job. I mean, it was fun. It was a hobby. I couldn’t get enough of the zoo.

00:17:59 - 00:18:01

Did I answer the second question?

00:18:01 - 00:18:04

What were you, talk about your responsibilities?

00:18:04 - 00:18:42

Did you ever get to the children’s work or you always stayed at the farm and the zoo. No, that was my first year, when I was an animal keeper. Then the following year, the following couple years when I got the job for the summer, I was a laborer and generally worked at the children’s zoo almost exclusively. I mean, there would be a few times that there would be sick calls in the main zoo and they didn’t have enough people. And I may have had some experience with something. So they moved me out. But that was few and far days between.

00:18:42 - 00:18:45

What were your responsibilities at the children’s zoo?

00:18:45 - 00:19:45

It was a bunch, the children’s zoo had a building, which had small animals in small, strange little cages that were very difficult to clean. They weren’t designed to be cleaned. They had primates perched on poles. They had a big pen in the center where they put anything from, could be a baby tapir or a giant anteater to goodies, it was just a huge hodgepodge of animals. There was also a nursery attached to the children’s zoo, which we didn’t have anything to do with, but in those days they were hand rearing a lot of animals. And then there’s the outside area of the children’s zoo that would have, they had a large squirrel monkey cage. They’d have a calf there sometimes. They have or llamas or alpaca.

00:19:45 - 00:20:33

I remember them trying one year they had, oh, nevermind. I can’t remember, a turtle pool, just in the area to get out where kids could get close, there wasn’t that much contact with them though. The animals were these concrete pits kind of like, almost like the old bears grotto type exhibit, where people could interact with them. And I’d spend the day cleaning. You know, we’d have to get the children zoo clean basically by 10 o’clock. ‘Cause that’s when it opened up, we started at eight. So you also had the opportunity, you ranged around the zoo on your own just to see the place.

00:20:33 - 00:20:34

What kind of place did you see?

00:20:34 - 00:20:38

What was the zoo like when you were there?

00:20:38 - 00:21:31

I mean, certainly when I was there as a student, a kid, just fascinated by animals and also being in the sixties. I mean Lincoln Park was a menagerie of exhibiting animals, showing animals, most of them were in cages. They had a few, the bear exhibits, they were caged in front, open on top. It was still basically unchanged for many, many, many, many years from when they build the large, classical buildings. I mean, Lincoln Park was a compact facility. I think it was 35 acres. And I’m not sure if that included the farm in the zoo or not, but it was a very, in the middle of an urban area, it was very compact. So they were limited in space.

00:21:31 - 00:22:42

They didn’t have the luxury of real estate, like Brookfield, which was about 200 acres. So it was, the primate house, monkey house. I mean, there was monkey house, lion house, reptile house. They had the basic names as they were for 100 years. The primates were in cages behind, all in cages, but behind glass, the lion house was all the classical, small, giant building where you could be, I don’t know, I’d say eight feet away from a lion, behind bars. And they had the same situation outside. I guess there was something remodeling in the birdhouse about that time, but once again, too, they had the outer edges of the birdhouse was caged birds, birds. And the inside was like a free flight area in the middle.

00:22:42 - 00:23:47

And there was also, as I remember one towards the back end of the building. And you went to the zoo to see animals. Education wasn’t, as I knew it, as I thought about, if I even thought about it then, it was to go see animals, experience animals, see them, touch them, smell them feed them maybe, it was just to go have a good time. I think of man’s relationship with animals takes back 30 years, thousands of years, and they’ve always had animals as part of their culture, almost any society, whether they served purpose, whether they’re working animals or just companion animals, or feed animals. I mean, animals that they would use for food. I mean, there was always a relationship with animals. And I just think, the zoo was a way of seeing the animals you couldn’t keep in your house.

00:23:47 - 00:23:53

Did you ever have any concerns for your safety when you were working in this area?

00:23:53 - 00:25:08

In terms of specific examples, there was a couple times, there were things that we wound up having to do because you you’d be grabbing animals. I mean, just to relate an early story that I always liked to tell when I was working at the zoo, very early on at the lion house, in one of the back cages, and they had these small holding cages, I think we called them hospital cages at the time. I don’t remember exactly, but they had a snow leopard there that needed treatment. And I remember the senior keeper there, Willie Renner was his name. They had to grab, and I think they had to give it a shot or do something. Some way they really had to manhandle the animal. And Willie went in with this hoop net and netted this snow leopard. And that was like the first time I ever saw anything like that, other than what you see on television, zoo parade showing pictures in Africa or something, grabbing animal, I was so wowed by this, that’s the stuff that I wanted to do.

00:25:08 - 00:25:56

That being said, in my early years experiences that I had working with animals, or that became chancey. The first one was my first summer actually at the farm. And there was one very tough animal there. And they always kept a bull at the farm in the dairy barn, had a pen for a bull. I was working on the dairy side, taking care of the milking cows, cleaning that section. They put two people in the building. One would do the dairy side, one or two. They always had a bull, maybe a pig that was with piglets, and sheep or calves that were being reared.

00:25:56 - 00:26:31

And I remember he went in, and I don’t know why he went in with the bull or wouldn’t go out. He was trying to shift it. And then while he was in there, the gate closed and he was trapped in the yard. And he just, he panicked. I mean, he was certainly in a dangerous situation. I don’t remember the bull attacking him or anything, but he couldn’t get out. And I came running over there and I was able to open the gate where they could shift the bull. So that was my first experience with something that I had to do, reacting, thinking that I had help someone.

00:26:33 - 00:27:39

And I remember another year, another time rather, new kid, wanna do anything I could with the animals. We had an old sea lion pool, and in it they had one male sea lion, California sea lions. And they were probably six, seven females. And they all looked the same, and they were having problems with the animals, they weren’t doing well. And they didn’t know who could eat and who couldn’t eat. So Dennis Meritt, who was one of the zoologists there, thought that we should, he wanted to paint, put spray paint, these female sea lions different colors. And when they’re feeding them, they say blue fish, red fish, and be able see who was eating and be able to tell who was eating and who wasn’t. And this was the old original sea lion pool, as far as I know at the zoo.

00:27:39 - 00:28:28

And it was just, it was a donut, it was a giant pool, inside, in the center, there was this rock island. And underneath the island, there was this tunnel that measured, I don’t know, three and a half feet by three and a half or four by four, that just went through the exhibit. And whenever they wound up having to clean the pool, drain the pool to clean it, drain it. And when the keepers went and start cleaning it, all the animals would run into this tunnel and just stay there while they’re cleaning the pool. Well, the animals reacted. We dropped the pool, ’cause we were gonna spray paint them. And they all ran in. And what we were doing is going in from one end, chasing them out.

00:28:28 - 00:29:15

And as an animal comes out, they’d net it, spray paint it and release it. And then we just keep it out until we had, we needed all the animals painted except for the male and the last female. So then they’d be able to identify all the animals, makes sense. So there was a half a dozen keepers working on this ’cause you needed people keeping the animals, so they couldn’t go back in the island. You need people grabbing them. And we had a bunch of people there and they kept chasing them out and grabbing them and chasing them out and grabbing them. And it was down to the last two, the last one, excuse me, the last one that we really had to paint. And it was like, who didn’t do it, who didn’t go in there yet to chase them out.

00:29:15 - 00:30:01

And what you would do is you’d go in there with a shovel and you’d start yelling and banging on the walls and hope, plan to push them out the other way. So low and behold, I was the last one who hadn’t done it and they go, okay kid, it’s your turn. So I went in there and he had the shovel, I bent over and it’s all full of algae, it’s slippery. You’re afraid you’re gonna fall. You’re screaming, you’re banging this shovel, hoping the animals were gonna go. And these last two animals didn’t wanna go, to me it felt like I was in there five minutes. It’s probably 30 seconds, I mean, you have to be realistic about it, and I’m banging and screaming and I’m horrified. And then I figured, it’s not gonna happen.

00:30:01 - 00:30:07

And I’m just backing out. When I moved out, one of them ran, finally ran out and they got it and they painted the animals.

00:30:07 - 00:30:10

Was I in a dangerous situation?

00:30:10 - 00:30:40

I don’t know, I guess potentially, I mean, I was certainly horrified at the time doing it, in retrospect, the project wasn’t that useful because a week later, the paint was gone, so they were back to square one. But yeah, it was fun. I loved the thought of doing it. You know, now I think about it, scared at the time, but wanted to do it because I wanted that hands on experience with animals. So you were gaining experience in the beginning.

00:30:41 - 00:30:53

Did this change or did this alter or cement your notion of what a zoo would be like, ’cause now you’re on the inside doing things?

00:30:53 - 00:30:58

Was it everything you thought it would be or did you think differently?

00:30:58 - 00:31:26

It was everything I thought it would be and more. And I mean, but I was limited. I just wanted to work with animals. I wanted to take care of animals. I wanted to feed them, I wanted to clean them. I wanted to see them reproduce and have offspring. And I wasn’t thinking. I could have been an animal kid for all my life.

00:31:27 - 00:31:37

And at the time I was just happy, I was doing my dream. I was working in a zoo. You mentioned, Dennis Mayor was zoologist.

00:31:37 - 00:31:39

Who was the director at the time?

00:31:39 - 00:31:45

And how much interaction did you have with the director or any of the senior staff?

00:31:46 - 00:32:35

In the five summers, years that I worked at the zoo, I mean, Dr. Fisher was the director. Dr. Fisher was a special person in Chicago. Everybody knew Dr. Fisher, Dr. Fisher would say hello to anybody and everybody. And talk to everybody, he’d walk around zoo commonly. I remember, I mean, even working in the lion house, the lion house, when the office was closed, was like zoo central. The phone would ring, off calls were directed to the lion house. It was just zoo central. And you know, I remember being in the lion house kitchen and the phone would ring and Dr. Fisher would just answer the phone.

00:32:35 - 00:32:56

Hello, Dr. Fisher, and answer any question that would come on. I mean, he worked so well with the public and the staff, as I knew him. I mean, here I am a kid zookeeper, laborer, probably was scared when he came by, he was the director of the zoo.

00:32:56 - 00:32:58

What am I supposed to say or do?

00:32:58 - 00:33:13

And he was just a nice guy. And you would just, you would have these conversations with him. I was more probably, I mean, certainly early on, more petrified and fearful of the conversations than I was later on.

00:33:14 - 00:33:21

Did you have experience with other members of I guess I would call them the senior staff?

00:33:22 - 00:34:24

Yes, I actually became quite friendly with one of the zoologists, Mark Rosenthal. I didn’t know initially, we started at the zoo at the same time, when we started in 67, as I said earlier, I was working at the farm and he was working at the children’s zoo, but we kind of heard, we went to the same school. We went to Southern Illinois University, but we didn’t really meet till the end of the year. Close to the end of the year before we actually met and then, found out we both wanted the zoo careers. Mark was a couple years ahead of me and we became very close. I mean, to this day, we’re very close. Dennis Meritt was a zoologist. He ultimately became the assistant director of the zoo and Saul Kitchener, who was a curator and Dennis became curator.

00:34:24 - 00:35:37

I mean, there was all kinds of changes there. I became very friendly with all of them. And God bless Saul, he was my mentor, my friend, and invited me, offered me a job in San Francisco many years later, Lincoln Park at the time seemed like a very special place because the staff got along so well. I mean, they were friends, they traveled together. It was a learning process for all of them. I mean, Saul certainly had the most zoo experience prior to Lincoln Park, Mark and Dennis were relative newbies to the zoo business. There was also a curator, I don’t remember how the titles were in birds, I was not a bird person. And then there was Eddie Almandarz, who was the curator of reptiles.

00:35:37 - 00:36:23

Zoologist and curator, reptiles, I guess. Eddie grew up in the zoo, and I probably had 25 or 30 years experience, in the sixties when I’m talking about it, all of them helped me in terms of mentoring, about stuff at the zoo. I did at one point in time, it surprised me. They assigned me at one point to the reptile house and I wasn’t a reptile man, but I wanted to do it because once again, I wanted to learn all aspects of the zoo business. So you’re attending Southern Illinois University. You’re thinking about a zoo career.

00:36:24 - 00:36:25

What was your plan?

00:36:25 - 00:36:28

You worked at the zoo summers.

00:36:28 - 00:36:31

Did you have an idea of this career path after that?

00:36:31 - 00:37:06

I wanted to major in zoology, I wanted to go onto vet school. I saw that wasn’t going to happen because the curriculum that they had for vet school required more chemistry than I had the ability to pass. So I was just happy to stay in zoology and I wanted just to get a job at the zoo. I knew I wasn’t gonna be a veterinarian. I just wanted to work in the zoo.

00:37:08 - 00:37:14

And what did you think about doing this full time now?

00:37:14 - 00:37:18

How did you think you were gonna get into the profession full time?

00:37:18 - 00:37:18

How did that occur?

00:37:18 - 00:39:06

Well, once again, getting into Lincoln Park, I had the advantage of getting these jobs politically, but I also knew at the time, and I still say this today if anyone asks me about it, I mean, it’s important to get your foot into the door, volunteer at a zoo, get a job at the zoo. Once you’re there and your foot in the door, you have your chance to establish yourself there. And beyond, if you don’t have on your resume zoo experience, it’s such a small field and there’s so many people that think they wanna work in the zoo. I mean, people start working in the zoos and find out it’s not what they want it to be. I knew just the importance of me working at the zoo, yeah, at the time, I guess I would’ve been happy if I stayed all my life as an animal keeper at Lincoln Park, I was doing what I want to, course changed. And things happened that shortly after and happened probably sooner than it should have. In 1971, I was working at Lincoln Park as an animal keeper. And then I literally was offered a job at Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville as a zoologist, I literally didn’t apply for it, Saul or Dennis talked to John Zara, who was a director, and I guess they were looking for somebody and they suggested me.

00:39:07 - 00:40:00

And I talked to John, this was probably, I started working there in June of 1972. And in September, I was offered a job as a zoologist at the Mesker Park Zoo. And then I started thinking, career choices. I mean, and it literally, it was a smaller zoo in a smaller community. And I even wound up taking the $2,000 pay cut to become curatorial staff or administrative staff at a zoo. And here I am working full-time at Lincoln Park, living with a couple of my friends from school, having a great time, great time in the day, working in the zoo, partying at night because we had the money to do it.

00:40:00 - 00:40:02

And what was my responsibilities?

00:40:02 - 00:40:06

And then here I get offered this job.

00:40:06 - 00:40:12

They’re going, I have to move, take a pay cut, go to a smaller city, do I want to do it?

00:40:13 - 00:40:24

And it didn’t take me long to make that decision because I did do it because once again, knowing the field was so small, how often do you get an opportunity like this?

00:40:24 - 00:40:28

So I then went to Evansville as a zoologist.

00:40:30 - 00:40:44

When you went to Evansville under the director, what kind of zoo did you find and what was it like when you first got there?

00:40:45 - 00:41:36

Evansville is located in Southern, the most Southern extreme point of Indiana. It was at the time, the largest zoo in Indiana. I mean, since then other zoos have grown, Indianapolis became a pretty big zoo, is a big zoo. It was a small zoo that had, excuse me, basic collection. I mean, they had a little of everything. There were two buildings at the zoo. There was one building called the clay building. And that had the bird collection, small mammal collection and downstairs, they had exhibits, they had a pair of hippos.

00:41:37 - 00:42:44

They kept tapir in another exhibit and they had one elephant and that building was built in 55, and I went there in 72. They also had an older building called the old building actually, connect building. And it housed the cats. They had leopards and tigers and primates in that building. They had a couple chimps were the only apes they wound up, they had some Gibbons to actually, you wanna consider them apes. And then outside the grounds was very, it was like, almost at the outside limits of the city, excuse me. They had primarily large pens with hoofstock. They also had a one grotto motive exhibit where they had lions and nothing spectacular in terms of the collections.

00:42:45 - 00:43:07

It was a small collection. They also had a sea lion pool, which shortly after I came, we stopped using, it became just deficient. I mean, it was just falling apart. The city didn’t fund the zoo very well, small zoo, but it met the community’s needs.

00:43:08 - 00:43:12

So who were you working with?

00:43:12 - 00:43:14

I mean, what was the structure of the zoo?

00:43:14 - 00:44:04

Okay, so the zoo was city owned and operated and we came the park’s department. The staff at the zoo consisted of the zoo director. There was a general, excuse me, general curator. And the zoologist. When I was hired at the zoo, John hired me, the general curator had left. John hired me as zoologist, and he told me that there were two zoologists, one of them at some point in time, he will promote to general curator. He has to decide who would better fit. I think he had his own plan in mind at the time.

00:44:06 - 00:44:46

I mean, things did change. So I went there as a zoologist. And we would be responsible for running, just taking care of the zoo day to day. And on weekends, we worked the same days actually. And John would be covering the zoo. John would be covering the zoo our days off during the midweek. Shortly after I left, the other zoologist, who was just, that wasn’t his career. He took the job.

00:44:47 - 00:45:55

He was there before me, I guess he volunteered at the zoo, and then he was offered the position and he took it, but he left shortly after that. And then John hired a gentleman named Frank Kish, who was a zoo person, who worked, was a known bird person at the time. And he hired Frank as the other zoologist. And literally, I guess I was there about 10 months. Frank had only been there three, four, maybe five months. I don’t remember exactly how long it is. I mean, one day literally John said, Mike, I’m making you the curator, which just blew me away. And I was thrilled with, so once again, I mean, it came down to, there was three zoo administrators, there was a maintenance foreman and that was the administrative staff at the zoo.

00:45:56 - 00:46:54

And the zoo consisted of, I think it was 18 keepers and one dietician who was just, was not a licensed or trained dietician, who was an older lady that had worked there, that would repair the diets. Every Monday to Friday and then would have one of the keepers relieve her on the weekends and a four man maintenance crew. And that made up the zoo. We did have seasonal cashiers ’cause the zoo charged admission six months a year and six months was free. Give me a typical day in the life of a zoologist, early in the morning till late at night. As I remember it, I mean, John was really good. John, you did what John said. I mean, and it was his zoo, and he made all the collection decisions.

00:46:55 - 00:47:58

He would be making all the deals and basically we were there to carry out his wishes. I think it’s good to this day. I wish I had kept it up, I certainly didn’t do it. But first thing in the morning was a round. You always made a morning round and you would look at almost every animal. I mean, sometimes you couldn’t see some of the stuff in the yard, but you’d get a feel of what the zoo looked like. What needed be done. Let me back this up one minute, prior to our round, we had daily keepers reports and it was a very simple, literally a half sheet of paper lined, where the keepers from the night before would leave a report if they needed maintenance or if they noticed anything with the animals that wasn’t really important, that they’d contact us, during the day to come see you as something.

00:47:58 - 00:48:18

Oh, I noticed whatever about an animal and be on that report. So you’d go through those keepers reports before you’d make your round. So you’d knew if you had to see, take a special peak at something, not necessarily animal, it could be building, it could be a hose that’s broken. I mean garbage cans that were damaged.

00:48:18 - 00:48:27

It could have been anything, excuse me, you walked the zoom during the day, what would you do?

00:48:27 - 00:49:24

You would also wind up sometimes having to work as a keeper. Sick calls, I mean, I wanna say 18 keepers, something like that. we didn’t have too many days when there were extra people. So one or two sick calls could come and just like any other zoo, you may wind up splitting a work area string or sometimes you wound up having to work it yourself. I also, there was, I always, from the almost the day I came there, I became responsible for the records at the zoo. And at first, when I first got there, ISIS hadn’t even started when I first in 72.

00:49:26 - 00:49:27

ISIS is?

00:49:27 - 00:50:43

international Species Inventory System. It was the first national, became international, record system, computer record system for zoo animals. I mean, prior to that, we had index cards with the animals’ records on it. I mean it literally would be an index card with what it was on it, who we purchased it from. If we had our birth date, how old it was, I mean, basic information, and then we would add, comments to it, gave birth on such and such a date or died. I can’t say every was done every on every animal in those days, at Evansville, we had a consulting veterinarian and he was in theory, supposed to come out to the zoo for half a day, one day a week when we needed something. I mean, he would come out for emergencies if he needed it. And more often than not, he would tell us what to do over the phone.

00:50:43 - 00:51:40

And we had a small room that we would keep for our hospital purposes. Would keep the medications and drugs, but in those days, and at that place, it was so small. You wound up having to do everything. I mean, there was one, it only happened one day that I had to act as a cashier for a couple hours, ’cause they were so short and they couldn’t get, cashier called in sick. And I had to go open the gate and sit there and be a cashier. So it was a matter of doing anything and everything. And I don’t know if I’ve been specific enough, you never knew what your day was. And I think that’s typical of any zoo, of any curator.

00:51:40 - 00:51:47

You may have plans, but the collection or facility can quickly change those plans.

00:51:47 - 00:51:53

You mentioned that you made rounds, important to you important to do that kind of thing?

00:51:53 - 00:52:39

I think it’s really important to do that thing. I think A, it gives you a time to look and reflect at the collection, interact with employees and keepers. I mean, as time goes by and as facilities change and whatnot, you may become more distant from the keepers. And it’s important to know your keepers because one keeper could say, oh, this is a problem. And we gotta do something now because the animal’s gonna die instantly. But you know, the keeper is the sky is falling keeper opposed to another keeper. If he says, Mike, we got a problem here. You know who this person is and you know there’s a problem and you gotta do something about it.

00:52:39 - 00:53:34

So it’s a chance, like I say, to look at the collection, enjoy the collection, interact with people, look at the facility. And once again at Lincoln Park, we had to direct the maintenance crew. ‘Cause the maintenance crew was also the ground keeping crew. And there are probably almost 50% of their work was ground keeping, whether it be cutting grass, getting leaves, emptying garbage cans. We had to take care of the facility. If we had major repairs, we would use the recreation department’s maintenance, or have to call private contractors to make repairs. But we tried, needless to say, we tried to do everything ourself because money wasn’t flowing. So you’re the boss of all the animal keepers now.

00:53:34 - 00:53:36

General curator.

00:53:36 - 00:53:41

And how did you have any idea, you’re still young, do you have any management style?

00:53:44 - 00:55:04

I guess it was kind of still the old school training of zoo back in the 70s, where I didn’t have formal training in terms of management. Certainly way in the future, I mean there were classes, the city of San Francisco offered stuff in terms of taking classes. I went to AZA’s management school that certainly has evolved tremendously over the over 30 years or 40 years that it’s in business. I guess I was kind of maybe in your face type thing, I didn’t want to dilly dally around. And when I wanted something done, I wanted something done, at Evansville, you were dealing with an uneducated keeper that had been there for years and wanted to be animal keepers, but they also would have a farm mentality, I think with most of the animals in terms of their care and wellbeing.

00:55:09 - 00:55:19

Were you able as a zoologist or a curator to make recommendations, you’re in the collection now, to the director to say, we should do this, we should change this, and how did he take it?

00:55:19 - 00:56:41

Well, I mean, John would, you have different relationships with different people, but different directors, with different curators and you John how he became the zoo director. I mean, he was the general curator and was promoted when Frank Thompson was the director of the zoo left. And it was, they both I think went to the school of Hard Knocks for the zoo training, and had been in the profession for years and just had their own styles of dealing with things. John was a director and you knew he was the director. And I was still very green initially in terms of what I knew about animals. I was working part-time as an animal keeper at Lincoln Park or full time for a very short period of time. And all of a sudden here I am a manager, a zoologist and a couple months later, I’m a general curator at the zoo, I’m number two. I mean, I had oodles to learn, which I couldn’t learn enough about, whether it be going to conferences.

00:56:41 - 00:57:08

I went to as many regional conferences as he had allowed me to go. I wasn’t allowed to go to national conferences when John was there initially because he went to national conferences and we were too small. I mean too small to have two people going at the same time, generally speaking, initially, and then just had to be there to take care of the ship so to speak.

00:57:08 - 00:57:12

Just a quickie on conferences, did you find conferences beneficial to your professional growth?

00:57:12 - 00:58:43

I thought it was tremendously tremendous. So important, one of the most important things you could do. A, networking, though we didn’t call it networking in the seventies, meeting people, learning who they are, learning who you are, what kind of person you are, the papers that were given, learning about how different institutions were taking care of animals. I guess I kind of grew up as a transition. You hear stories about in the good old days, prior to the sixties, that zoos weren’t real big on sharing information, animals were retainable as long as you had the money to do it. You know, there was very few wildlife laws that prevented you from acquiring almost anything that you wanted. If you can afford it, there was an animal dealer that could acquire almost anything for you. And zoos were not, it’d be interesting to see how many breeding loans there would’ve been for zoos of the early sixties or prior to that, if a zoo was successful with something, it was not uncommon for them not to share how they were successful, what the facility was.

00:58:43 - 01:00:29

I mean, you could see the facility, but the diet or whatnot, how they were maintaining what they were giving the animal that they were successful with, and I say successful is, I want to say in the beginning, in the sixties, I would think that you were successful with the species if you could bring an animal in from the wild, successfully maintain that animal, have that animal reproduce, raise that offspring and have the offspring breed offspring. In my mind in those days, that made you successful with the species, but zoos didn’t want, some zoos didn’t wanna do it. They wanted to be the only ones that could breed this or get that. So, certainly the seventies, zoos became, they would be sharing, I mean, papers really were important what were given, what different facilities, different people were doing with different animals and the moving of animals became more freer. I think it was also limited to, as the laws changed, endangered species act went into effect in 1972, as I remember, and that certainly had impact. I mean, there were other laws, the Lacey act and stuff that was on the books for years that had had impact on animals, but zoos became more sharing. And as the world changed, what technology changed, whether it be television, video, everything, you know, the world was constantly getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

01:00:29 - 01:00:42

You mentioned the director, John Zara, when you were there, had more of a directorial management style, did you know Frank Thompson or did you hear things?

01:00:42 - 01:00:47

Did you feel from either what you heard or knew that there was a different type of style?

01:00:47 - 01:02:09

Well, I mean you to hear John, John thought of himself as a teddy bear and Frank Thompson was the director. So I knew Frank in terms of talking to him, I started talking to him more for advice after John left, less than a year after I arrived. And there was a period where there wasn’t a director, or I was the acting director, and Frank, who had become an animal dealer. I mean, he was very forthright in calling and offering me help, or I would call him, more so, he was familiar with the facility and that certainly had some impact or a lot of impact. Maybe some of my questions, they may have been facility specific and also animal specific for that matter. I did talk to him for quite a bit during my period where we didn’t have the full-time director, permanent director. And we’ll talk about that in more depth, quick question about the elephants.

01:02:09 - 01:02:22

You didn’t have any real elephant experience when you came to Mesker Park Zoo, but how did that evolve with the elephant or elephants that were there and what kind of exhibit was it?

01:02:22 - 01:03:31

Well the elephants was elephant. They had one elephant that they acquired as a young Asian elephant. When the building opened in 1955, she lived in a stall, I’m guessing was probably 30 by 25 in the building. And then there was this large, I mean, large by standards in the seventies, not large by standards today for elephants, there was a circular yard and inside the center of the yard, there was a pool. You could fill it up and have a pool for her. She was probably one of the best or docile elephants in the country. I mean, I don’t know exactly, I don’t remember. She was trained, they had one keeper was with her for years.

01:03:31 - 01:04:14

And she was trained. She would respond to verbal commands easily. She was very docile. I mean, I worked with her. I became like the elephant hoof trimmer by default. Maybe, I don’t know. It wasn’t something that I relished doing, I would working with the elephant she responded to me too, I mean, through no planned action by myself, she was just such a good animal. I remember we used to wind up chaining her every night.

01:04:14 - 01:05:08

That was a routine, which was common in zoos at the time. And we also, she was scared of thunder. And when there was a thunderstorm, which was pretty regular in event, we would chain her up. The chains, I mean, we used to say was a security product. I don’t know, I mean, it certainly was done, but it was interesting that there was, lights, and the bars in front of her exhibit inside were just steel bars that were probably about 16 inches wide. And then there were cross members about every 16 inches that went up to about six feet. And then it just went steel up to the top. And I don’t know, you never think of things.

01:05:08 - 01:05:36

There was a light, there was a door in front of the exhibit and this was the keeper area. It was about eight foot. And then about six foot wide. And then there’s little safety barrier to keep the public out. Or it was just open space. And there was a light switch right there that turned on the lights. So she was playing with the light. She started playing with the light switch.

01:05:36 - 01:06:16

And so we had enough sense on, okay, we’ll put a plate over this light switch and not use this. But we used to call bunny the educated elephant, this door, she would open this keep door, which wasn’t locked with her trunk. And there was another light switch and the inside could operate the same lights. And I don’t know exactly. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but she was playing with the light switch one time and she got an electric shock. Something happened. And when she backed up, she had small, she was an it Asian elephant. She had about 12 inch.

01:06:16 - 01:07:19

Probably about it’s eight inch tusks. And when she got the electric shock, she backed off and she broke off part one tusk. it was just split. And we knew we had to do something about it and we didn’t know how well she would do it. But once again, being the great elephant she was, we laid her down and I took a saw and I just saw it off. The keeper was there with a Angus, holding her trunk down and I just sawed off the tusk And I also took off the other one, so she would look balanced, but yeah, I was so naive. I didn’t realize how dangerous it potentially was at the time. Me still being, I guess you’re always green, ’cause the day you say you can’t learn something, you’ve got big problems, you should be moving on.

01:07:24 - 01:07:49

You talked about your relationship with the elephant and handling the elephant. You talked about netting, some of the skills like netting skills, some people would say are eroding because fewer animals have to be handled in that way. And there’s more training techniques and so forth, positive, negative.

01:07:49 - 01:07:53

What is your feelings about the handling?

01:07:53 - 01:09:06

Well, once again, the business has evolved over thousands of years. But in my tenure it certainly has evolved, the things that were available or known in the seventies to me were still many of the old school ways. I mean, we didn’t have the darts that are available today. We didn’t have the drugs that were available today. We had the techniques that were available at the end, at that point in time, and we had to regularly grab animals. And I certainly, at that time was learning many skills, I’m talking general curator because I was at zoologist there for such shorter period of time. All of a sudden, here I am a general curator, but I still learned from some of the older keepers there how to do stuff. It was still a learning process for me at Evansville.

01:09:06 - 01:10:10

I mean, certainly the first five years I was there. I mean, at some point in time, I mean, I really had to embrace the role because we wound up hiring more staff in the late seventies due to the federal government making funds available. So all of a sudden we were hiring curators and more keepers and more staff and the curators that were hiring, some were interested in the field. Some had zoo backgrounds, but never worked in the zoo, but none of them that I could remember ever had any prior zoo experience. So there the training would be, online training, you have to go grab, come here, I’ll show you how we grab. I’ll show you how we grab a kangaroo. I’ll show you how we sex a kangaroo. I’ll show you how we’re grabbing hoofstock, you know, deer or whatever.

01:10:15 - 01:10:45

And I’m thinking retrospectively, in San Francisco, at times we would have training stuff in terms of how we grabbing animals. I never remember doing that in Evansville. I mean, other than bringing the people with, whether it be curator and keepers, who didn’t have that experience that needed to see how something is done. No one likes to see an animal escape because of potential danger and so forth.

01:10:45 - 01:10:56

And in Mesker Park, when you were there as general curator or zoologist, did you have experience with animals getting out and what was your role and how was it handled?

01:11:00 - 01:12:07

I think of two instances specifically at Mesker while I was there. One was, we had two older chimps, female chimps that were in this old building That was probably 50 years old at the time. And one Saturday morning, I mean, literally it had like a half moon shaped window with bars on it. And I don’t know if it fell out or they pushed it out, but the chimps got out out of the building onto the grounds. And it was quite quite the day. They immediately left the building and there was some, and we were right next to a main road behind a fence. And there were some very, very tall trees that the chimps immediately went up to. And we’re trying to figure out what to do.

01:12:07 - 01:13:15

I mean, this is something that you should plan for, but then again, there’s almost so much planning you can wind up doing, because the chimps are 60 or 70 feet or 80 feet up a tree, there’s not much you that you could do with the capture equipment that we had at the time, we immediately called the police in the fire department. ‘Cause we wanted help. We thought maybe a snorkel, we wanted to get ourselves higher because we were trying to dart the animal. First we were trying to coax some down, which was a joke. Just come down closer, that was a joke. But we knew we had to dart the animals, but they were so high up in the tree, when we would shoot, the darts wouldn’t be able to go high enough in the trees to hit them. So we were calling for help, outside help with ladders, or like I say, cherry pickers so we can get up and closer to them. This was literally an all day affair.

01:13:15 - 01:14:13

I mean, excuse me. It even, on the table at the time, though it was in the summer and there was lots of daylight left, we started discussing, if we don’t get these animals by such and such a time, we’re gonna have to put them down because we it’s pitch black out there. It wasn’t light. We can’t just sit here all night with these two chimps up in these trees. So eventually, the chimps came down a little bit and threw a cherry picker. We were able to get a couple shots off and we wound up hitting them. And then they came falling down through the trees. I mean, I don’t know if it’s good or bad.

01:14:13 - 01:15:21

I mean, the branches were breaking the fall. We got, actually I stand corrected, we got one earlier that we were able to get a shot of. The second one was later in the one we were worried about and it came falling through the trees. We were able to get our hands on him. I mean, we lost one that day, didn’t survive, the other one survived, and we wound up, it initially survived and then it to passed and it was a traumatic experience for the zoo. At that time we decided, we’re never gonna have an ape there at the zoo again with the facilities that we had. That was certainly a growing experience for me and seeing how unprepared you could be, and even, to do it over again, 20 years later, you have it chimp 80 feet up a tree. I mean, and trees all around it where you really can’t get equipment close to it.

01:15:21 - 01:15:23

How do you deal with it?

01:15:23 - 01:16:31

But it is what it is or was what it was. And the other incident that I remember that I personally dealt with, that we had a polar bear at the exhibit, at the zoo. There were like three cages inside, small cages that would bring him in at night. And there was a moated exhibit with a small pool that we would leave out, that would be out during the day. And I remember. The keeper somehow made a mistake where he realized that he opened the door from the outside exhibit to the inside exhibit and the door was wide open to the inside exhibit to get into the keeper workspace was the door open. And he saw the polar bear look into the cage indoor holding. And he just saw the animal and he ran out and he called for help.

01:16:32 - 01:17:45

And I always think this was my moment of stupidity in terms of what I wound up doing, become running over there, driving up with the golf cart. And I guess we made a call. I don’t remember if we made a call to the police, and to be honest with you, I don’t even remember what guns we had at the zoo at the time. And certainly we had no, I mean, this was a shortcoming. We weren’t practicing on a range or using the guns in irregularity or even, like I said, I don’t remember ever cleaning the gun there. So we called the police. But in any event, I come there and the bear was in the exhibit at the time, went back out, didn’t come in, didn’t walk in. I wanted to, probably the first thing to do would’ve been just close the door to the exhibit where the bear would’ve been contained either in the keeper space, have access to his holding or the exhibit, but me more reacting than thinking it up.

01:17:45 - 01:18:23

I figured I gotta go in there and close some doors. And I just went in there screaming, making as much noise as I can. I wanted that bear to know I was coming in there and hopefully that would work to my benefit. And I ran in, the bear wasn’t in, I never was face to face with this bear, slammed the door closed to the cage. And that was the end of it. I mean, the bear never left the exhibit, you know, but it had huge potential. Your heart was pounding. I would imagine so, it’s one of those things.

01:18:23 - 01:18:26

You do something you don’t realize after you’re done.

01:18:26 - 01:18:29

What did I just do or why did I do that?

01:18:29 - 01:18:43

But, you know, I mean, I’m sure it’s happened to many zoo people. You just react to a situation hopefully it works out well and there’s no problem.

01:18:47 - 01:18:55

We’re gonna talk a little about your evolution to general curator, but how do you see your evolution from the zoologist to general curator?

01:18:57 - 01:18:59

How did that kind of evolve?

01:18:59 - 01:19:00

How do you see it?

01:19:00 - 01:19:07

There was no evolution that I guess you can call it evolution or enlightening?

01:19:08 - 01:20:16

I was so lucky to being at the right place at the right time at that point in my career, I applied for neither one, for neither the zoologist job or the general curator’s job. I mean, literally they were handed to me. I mean, I wanna say that John felt that I was qualified, or could become qualified. I would think would be a better thought, than anything else. Though we talked through the recommendation of Saul and Dennis and me interviewing with him. And he offered me the position. Though, I knew, he said initially when I was hired that one of us would become general curator because the staff is one of each, a director, a curator and zoologist, that one of us would become it, though there was a change because the first zoologist who was there when I hired, had left. And he had hired Frank Kish.

01:20:19 - 01:21:21

I still, I guess, my thinking at the time that Frank would’ve gotten the job, ’cause he had oodles more experience than me. But when it came literally overnight, he tells me, Mike you’re the general curator. I mean, and he said that he had concerns about Frank, that his animal experience was one thing, but his other skills he had, or mine were better than his, let’s just say, he thought mine were better than his. He could shape me. I’m sure that was helped in his thinking that since I was so early in my career in the learning process, that he could help shape me into being the general curator that he wanted me to be. I mean, but that evolution quickly changed too because literally shortly after he promoted me, he left the zoo himself.

01:21:21 - 01:21:24

Are we talking about months, weeks?

01:21:24 - 01:21:51

Months, I mean, it’s probably within six months, I don’t remember exact timing. I mean very quickly that all of a sudden, actually now that I think about it, I was probably at the zoo about a year because he left, I came there in the fall of 71 and then in the fall of 72, he left and all of a sudden I was the acting director of the zoo.

01:21:51 - 01:21:56

When he made your general curator, at the time, did your relationship change?

01:22:00 - 01:22:59

Yes, I think we talked about it earlier. It’s one thing knowing somebody and socializing with someone and then working for them, you may get a different opinion. I think he mellowed more when he promoted me ’cause I don’t remember too often. I’d be invited over on a Friday afternoon to his house and we’d have some drinks in the barbecue and just talk. And I don’t remember Frank coming as often. I was there more often, I think. So there was a bit of a personal relationship outside of the business than previously. But once again, all of this is in a very short period of time because within a year and me being 22 years old, I went there, I was 21.

01:23:01 - 01:23:18

I probably became general curator when I was 22. And later that year, I’m acting director at 22 years of age. I mean I’m sure there’s other zoo directors have started that way, not that I became a director, but I was still a kid.

01:23:20 - 01:23:21

Was Frank jealous?

01:23:21 - 01:24:22

No, I don’t think so. It was hard to tell with Frank. Yeah, he was, I mean a great guy and new birds like nobody’s business, old school type thing. I mean handling stuff. I mean he could go and grab anything with feathers and make it look easy. But Frank was also, he immigrated to the United States during the Hungarian Revolution in the fifties. And I’m not saying this detrimentally, he had a European attitude. I mean just how things were and you know, certainly to a small degree language maybe had some impact, and he was also not the most positive person.

01:24:22 - 01:24:27

I mean, his cup was half empty all the time.

01:24:27 - 01:24:32

How did the staff, the general keeper staff react to you becoming the new general curator?

01:24:32 - 01:25:39

I’m sure what they said behind my back and what they said to my face were 180 degrees different. I mean, and some of them, I got very close with and very tight with, some of them, I wasn’t their fan. I became more removed from the keeper staff, shortly after that, I was just a placeholder to keep the zoo together till they hired a zoo director. I had no interest in the position. I made that clear to the city at the time that I didn’t want it, I didn’t have the experience to do it. I didn’t know that stuff. So after a six month period, they hired Dion Albach as director. He was originally from Lincoln Park.

01:25:40 - 01:26:53

He had been the director at the Providence Rhode Island Zoo before he came to Evansville, became my new boss, became very friendly with him, close with his family. I remember his wife used to refer to me as her adopted son. I mean, and I would commonly go over there. And during that time, a couple years into the time, I mean the zoo changed drastically, probably about into 75. When the federal government created the SEEDA program, I think it’s comprehensive employment training act, and there was a recession going on. And so the federal government put all kinds of money into city, state government for doing projects. And you Evansville must have gotten millions. I really don’t know how much it is, but we practically doubled our staff with SEEDA a in terms of employing additional keepers.

01:26:54 - 01:27:43

We created additional, we changed the title 10 from zoologist to curators. I mean, we wound up having a curator of mammals, a curator of birds, a curator of education. I mean, we just did wonders in how the zoo grew. We also wound up expanding the zoo, which was the first time in many, many years that anything really new was built. We built a children’s contact area and some new hoofstock areas because of SEEDA monies. Because it literally paid for all the people, not for the materials. And that’s the cheap end of stuff. So we’re able to do lots of stuff.

01:27:43 - 01:27:55

Okay, let me back up, just so I understand the timeline, from the time you became general curator to the time the director left is a period of how many months?

01:27:55 - 01:28:12

Six or less. Okay. And then you find yourself in the position that you are in charge of the zoo. Yes. And you decided right away that this was not what you were interested in. Directorship, absolutely.

01:28:12 - 01:28:13


01:28:13 - 01:28:48

I lacked the experience. I didn’t think, if you add up all my, excuse me, all my experience at that time, three months, I didn’t have maybe for three or four years total experience in working at a zoo. But yet you were in the position now as director, whether it was interim or not. And so other responsibilities were thrust upon you, you just didn’t supervise and that was it.

01:28:50 - 01:28:54

Were you feeling more confident as you were going along or were you totally overwhelmed?

01:28:54 - 01:30:01

I was, I think totally overwhelmed. I realized, and I remember the dates because it was at the end of the year, shortly after, almost immediately after I took the position, I was reviewing the budget and saw what the spending levels were, that we were gonna run out of money Probably in November. I mean, we had been spending at such rate, and I made the city aware of that, the recreation park department aware of that, which they were, I don’t know why. I don’t know the accounting at the time in many of these things, like I say were thrust upon me, something that I never looked at all of a sudden, I’m looking at at monthly spreadsheets at the time that we were running out of money and that we wound up having to make corrections. And then the parks department had to redirect some money to us. And I won’t say I became a hero.

01:30:01 - 01:30:08

It was noted that, you know, how come I’m the kid here for a month?

01:30:08 - 01:30:51

And I just noticed that we’re running outta money, but the previous administration didn’t. And I mean, I certainly could understand. John was leaving the zoo, and he gave notice and looking for the job and maybe he wasn’t 100% into it. I mean, and maybe that was an annual at the time, many places at the end, the year you find out your spending levels, they’re above what they should be for what you were budgeted. I always found, budget in zoos general were amazing. Almost like you have bones and stuff that come up with numbers, I mean to this day, I don’t understand the budgeting process. But you were doing the job.

01:30:51 - 01:30:58

Did you have a vision for the zoo, if I could be director, I could do this and this I’d like to do it, or you’ve never had the thought?

01:30:58 - 01:31:44

I was just living from one day to the next, I just wanted to do as well as I could, but I wanted someone there with more experience than me that could teach me what all that, that I needed to know. I mean, certainly, the amount of paperwork. The amount of paperwork that was required then was a lot more than it is today. I just wanted to, every day I wanted to get through every day, I believe that was my goal at the time.

01:31:46 - 01:31:52

What were your responsibilities in supervision during this time?

01:31:52 - 01:31:57

Did they change from when you were a zoologist, again, as general curator or?

01:31:57 - 01:32:51

Well, at that time, we were still just a small zoo, you know, had the small staff. This was prior to 75 when the SEEDA monies came in. So during that time it was Frank and myself running the zoo and the labor, I mean the maintenance foreman and this was it. And I then wound up changing my days to Saturday and Sundays off because suddenly, I was spending an in ordinate amount of time going downtown to city for meetings that I had to do, that came with the position. But also when we were going through this budgeting process of figuring out what happened to the end of the year. I was a caretaker.

01:32:51 - 01:32:54

I mean, I was a caretaker director, was I learning stuff?

01:32:54 - 01:33:40

Sure, I learned a lot of stuff, you know, the business end and working with downtown. I mean, I may have gone occasionally to a meeting only very few and far between, but suddenly I’m going to the monthly park board meeting, I’m meeting personalities, I’m meeting politicians. And just as important as the black and white spreadsheet, dollars and cents things, it becomes very important to be able to work with people. And sometimes that’s more important than anything else if you could go and you get that slap on the back and how are you Mike, and what’s happening, opposed to, works wonders.

01:33:44 - 01:33:55

Aside from the budget, were there other problems that existed at Mesker Park that upon your interim, you started to notice or were aware of?

01:33:55 - 01:35:04

Yeah, it was an old, neglected facility. There was always problems, physical problems. I remember the clay building, which was the main building that had the bird, small mammals and hippo, that building, which was built in 55, had a boiler that was constantly going down. I mean, the money that we wound up spending trying to keep it going. And finally, and I don’t remember exactly when, they did replace the boiler. I mean, I’m looking when you talk about problems, it’s the physical plant was falling apart and neglected, after the fact, as we talked about earlier the window on the chimp cage, literally I’m assuming fell out. I mean, if they shook it, it from years of shook it and finally wore it down, I can’t say is thinking about that location. You inspect things when the last time anyone went and shook the bars to see how secure or what was going on with that.

01:35:04 - 01:35:53

So much of this, the work that was done was 30 and 40 years old at the time, I don’t remember animals as being a problem. ’cause the stuff that was bad, like as I mentioned earlier, the sea lion bowl was a horrible thing that was closed. We had it open initially when I went there, but it was quickly closed because it was just a maintenance nightmare that we didn’t have the funds to bring it up to par, scale, whatever you want, up to minimum standards. It wouldn’t meet our minimum standards that we wanna house animals there. We did use it for like kind of off exhibit. We did use it, but nothing for public display.

01:35:53 - 01:35:57

As a general curator and an interim director, were you still able to make rounds, which were important?

01:35:59 - 01:36:07

I wanna say I didn’t do it as regularly. I really don’t remember doing it as regular ’cause I did start doing it.

01:36:07 - 01:36:30

Then again, after Dion was hired and things went back to relative normal and that was then a different kind of round because then I would be making a round and then talking to the curator or curators saying, hey, what’s happened with this?

01:36:30 - 01:36:32

What’s happened with that.

01:36:32 - 01:36:34

Is this good, is this bad, do you need help?

01:36:34 - 01:36:54

I mean, I don’t know how often I said that. I should have said that more often. Certainly, you become wise in your years, I like to do a lot of things over again that I did previously in my former life.

01:36:54 - 01:36:59

As interim director, were you purchasing animals at the time or you that everything stopped?

01:36:59 - 01:37:42

Yeah, that really stopped because A, money was tough. Money was an issue. It was keep the place, open that up every day and close it every day and have everybody safe. We weren’t making plans for expansion during that time. I mean, you wouldn’t wanna bring a new director in and all of a sudden have him, I wouldn’t wanna bring in a new director in all of a sudden saying, not that it’s been that long of time. It’s been a short time, oh, we wanna do this, do this. You have to do that, so no, nothing. It wasn’t a large planning phase.

01:37:42 - 01:37:51

You mentioned that you were talking with people downtown now as an administration, making contacts and so forth.

01:37:51 - 01:37:59

Did any of these people who were obviously maybe higher position than you say to you Mike, we’d like you to be a guy?

01:38:01 - 01:38:26

I don’t remember saying that, but I know some sort of conversation had certainly came up because I did make it clear. No, I don’t remember the details of the conversation, that I said, I’m not interested. I’m not interested in a position. I just wanna wait, take care of things until you hire a director.

01:38:26 - 01:38:34

So when that was mentioned, I’m not sure if it was me coming forth, Mike, are you interested in position?

01:38:34 - 01:38:56

No, I don’t remember that. How long were you. Six months. I’m sorry, about six months. And they had, I mean, during that time, the city had brought in a couple people for interviews and I would be showing them around to the zoo, I was the zoo contact.

01:38:56 - 01:39:01

Was your input for a new director solicited by the people from the city?

01:39:01 - 01:39:03

No, not that I remember.

01:39:03 - 01:39:10

And when the new director came in, did you know him previously or he was new to you?

01:39:10 - 01:39:48

I knew of him, I knew the name. I had never met him, once again, it was so early in my career and going to conferences where you meet people. When he was the new director, and they used to have five, I think it was five regional conferences back in those days, he was in the east and he would probably have gone to the Eastern conference and then nationals, and I wasn’t doing nationals at that time. So make a long story short. I knew him because of his Lincoln Park experience.

01:39:49 - 01:39:51

He knew of you?

01:39:51 - 01:40:17

I guess when he applied for the zoo, I mean, I started checking on me. I wasn’t the name in the business at that point in time. Not that I’m a name this at this point in time, but it was certainly so early in my career. I mean, whether he wound up contacting anyone at Lincoln park because he would’ve known, I came from there. He may have done that, I don’t remember that.

01:40:19 - 01:40:32

You mentioned that you talked to one of the former directors, Frank Thompson, when you were heading the zoo, were there other people you reached out to, or were there people that reached out to you in a mentorship kind of role?

01:40:32 - 01:40:50

I talked to people at Lincoln Park on various occasions, sometimes just to, I don’t remember specific conversations in terms of, hey, I have this problem.

01:40:50 - 01:40:52

What would you do, what would you recommend?

01:40:52 - 01:41:33

But I certainly would call these people These are some of the few people that I feel I knew more than just colleagues, that I could sound off, blow off some hot air, just relieve myself. ‘Cause I didn’t have that. In Evansville, I didn’t even have, I mean, I was young. I didn’t have family there. I couldn’t go home. I guess I yelled at my sheep dog and told Chauncey what I thought of the day. But you know, there was no one really there for me to talk to. He was so early in the career.

01:41:33 - 01:41:36

The new director comes into the zoo.

01:41:37 - 01:41:47

Did he immediately start to make changes or discuss changes with you zoo change direction?

01:41:47 - 01:41:49

What were they focusing on all of a sudden?

01:41:49 - 01:43:07

Initially when Dion came in, he had his learning curve too. See what the facility was, see how the city was to work with. There was always a zoological society there that at that time, about the only thing they wound up doing is producing a newsletter quarterly for their membership, probably, and it couldn’t be held. It was in the hundreds, it wasn’t in the thousands of members, and they ran a little gift shop in the clay building that was opened sporadically, not on a regular basis. And that was only on weekends. So didn’t have a society really to work with and all during my time at the zoo, the society never really longed for a larger role in the zoo. I believe that’s changed now, but they knew where their place was or what their place was. And also was aware of the city.

01:43:07 - 01:44:28

I mean this, once again, seventies, Though Evansville changed. It had been a long time democratic city. And then in the seventies, there was a Republican, there was a change, Republicans came in and hadn’t been there in office for, I don’t know, 60 years, 70 years, some very long period of time. So there was lots of changes with the city government and how it’s working. So once again, with them, he had to have his learning curve. That being said, I never remember having anything of a master plan at Evansville to the day I left. I mean, I don’t even know if the word had entered my mind, my lexicon yet the zoo hadn’t changed for years until the mid seventies, when we got the SEEDA money and were able to start some changes, I mean, after that, there were some changes with the zoo, but it was almost like, it was very haphazard. What we did or didn’t do.

01:44:31 - 01:45:23

As we progressed, the old building that we had the chimps in and the other primates that we had at the zoo and the other cats, other than the lions, we eventually closed that building to the public, the exhibitry was horrible. It wound up, we changed it into a hospital, so to speak where we could hold and treat, had some facilities to deal with some animals larger than a darker cat dog or cat. So that was done. I mean that eventually, the building was in such disappear. I know it has totally been taken down, I don’t know, inconsequential to my relationship at Chicago.

01:45:26 - 01:45:37

When Dion came in, did he lean on you to ask you your advice ’cause you obviously had been at the zoo and what you thought might be changed?

01:45:39 - 01:46:31

As I remember it, yes. I mean Dion was very low key. I don’t remember him really getting emphatic or yelling or, need this done tomorrow type thing. He was very easy to work with and accepted my input. And he also gave me more freedom with some of the collection, you know, changes of the collections, collection management. I won’t say it’s more, but it was certainly much more than John had in terms that I had. I need a break. You mentioned that the new director gave you more latitude.

01:46:32 - 01:46:37

With that latitude, what did you start to try and implement at the zoo?

01:46:40 - 01:47:46

It’s difficult for me to remember a lot of specifics so many years ago, I mean, literally, it was over 35 years ago, probably closer to 40 at, yeah, probably about 35 years ago. In any event I got, I mean, one of the things that I enjoyed doing that once again, no one else would do. It was the records and ISIS started becoming, it was being implemented. I mean, at that time, everything, there was no computer. We had no computer at the zoo and we were inputting information. I mean, we had this card stock that had a carbon copy and we’d be filling out all these numbers for these animals. And I guess I was fascinated about, I was totally fascinated about computer inventory. I remember the Topeka zoo, Paul Linger was the assistant director there.

01:47:48 - 01:49:55

And I think, to me, he was the first person zoo person ever had a computer to use and was using it for different reasons. Anyway, I’m drifting. I was very interested in the inventory and basically the history of the zoo, of the animal collection. Something that I felt at Evansville was lacking and it was probably, lacking no more than other facilities at the time where they keep records of animals, you’d see card stock that said acquired antelope, and you go, antelope, eh, I wonder what it was, it could have been anything, it was the records, no one or many or most, I’m not sure what the word is. People didn’t care about the history of the animal, it was just here and now, we have the animal now and where it came from. We may not know or where it went, once we get rid of it, it’s no longer, in our purview, our record, opposed to some institutions. Now it’s created the grave responsibility for animals, but I was fascinated and I really enjoyed doing that part of the job. I didn’t have a daily routine, for every hour I had, as any zoo manager does, they have freedom to do stuff, whatever that stuff is, to a degree they could do it every day for as long or short as they want, as long as they have to meet the criteria that’s given to them from the manager.

01:49:55 - 01:51:06

So you’re saying what did Dion give me, whether he had confidence me, whether they had respect in me, he left me to my own devices, I guess. I mean, there wasn’t a day that he had a small off, everybody. I had a bigger than him actually, but also my own office was at the library and store room and everything, you know, there wasn’t a day that I wouldn’t be going into his office with a cup of coffee, and we’d sit and talk about the zoo or zoo stuff, or reliving stuff. I mean, which was learning to me every day it happened. I mean maybe twice a day had many days to just come in. We just did this, that happened. He was so much easier for me to communicate with than John was. And Mesker Park wasn’t a scientific institution.

01:51:06 - 01:51:23

Mesker Park was a zoo. And the purpose of the zoo, at that point in time was for us to maintain a collection of animals for the people, the metropolitan people of the tri-state area to come and see and enjoy.

01:51:25 - 01:51:29

With your newfound freedom so to speak, were you able to go to national conferences?

01:51:31 - 01:53:03

Yes, I was able to start going to national conferences after a couple years later, as the staff increased with the SEEDA work, it was a blessing to me and a downfall to me, but it allowed me to start going to national conferences and it became, certainly for years it became a ritual that I was doing two conferences a year. I would do a regional and, and the national enjoyed it immensely, once again, it’s a matter of networking with people, hearing papers, to seeing stuff, seeing zoos. I mean, I wanted to see as many zoos as I could too, in a national national or regional, and more often with the regional, we’d be driving to them. So maybe able to see some other zoos on the way there and back nationals, depending where they were on block find. And that may be limited, important to my personal growth and the institution I was working for growth because I would be learning stuff. So seeing zoos was giving you new ideas. Absolutely. I mean, it was everything, how zoos were exhibiting the animals, how they were managing animals, what they were doing, some stuff, what stuff worked, what didn’t, I mean, you’d see, I remember there was a conference at San Diego.

01:53:06 - 01:54:02

I think it was San Diego. Anyway, we went, one of the exhibits that impressed me so much in my youth. I went to Sea World and they had this moray eel exhibit. And you walked into this small building and they had this wall with an exhibit, a tank, and it had all kinds of holes in it. And they were, I wanna say hundreds of moray eels and they’re all coming out, looking menacing. And I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. I remember I went to the Bronx with Dion. I don’t remember if there’s a conference, but we went to the Bronx and it was the first time I saw the World of Darkness in the seventies.

01:54:03 - 01:55:00

And the concept of having an nocturnal exhibit. I mean, it helped me ’cause we then put, we used to wind up having in the clay building and the small mammal section was a U-shaped part of the building where you’d just walk in at a U-shape and see all these glass exhibits with the small mammals in there. And it was a nocturnal exhibit. We’d wind up putting red lights in it, but it’d have all the other external lights coming for it. But after seeing the world of darkness, I mean, we changed everything. We built a wall, so we could really control the light cycle and reverse the animals more. So, even before it was exhibited because the exhibits were so small, we were disturbing the animals all the time, just in daily cleaning the maintenance. I mean, you’d go into the exhibit.

01:55:00 - 01:55:28

You know, you had to go in with everything there except for the otter, which we were able to shift. And we actually, we got rid of it when we turned into nocturnal, we tried some other animals here, but in any event, that was like the spark that we should do something nocturnal at Evansville, we converted the small mammal section into an nocturnal section.

01:55:28 - 01:55:34

So this is allowing you to formulate opinions and ideas about design?

01:55:34 - 01:56:26

It certainly allowed me yeah opinions, and seeing what they did, not that we did it at Evansville. I mean, what we wound up doing was making the building a light shield, and taring and covering light sources. So we could actually control the light cycle. We just renovated existing facilities. We didn’t build something from scratch. And this renovation was purely budgetary. It wasn’t capital, it was budgetary money that we had for maintenance that allowed us to do it. We did it, it was probably in the seventies, maybe a couple thousand dollars to do this, but it certainly was good.

01:56:26 - 01:57:13

It impacted the animals because we got much better visibility of the animals under red or pink lights. We used to play with lights all the time. We tried green lights a little, but we certainly, it allowed the public a more realistic view of the animal, so to speak, that they’re not sleeping balls that you, that you see and that their activity level, at night or perception of at night was much greater than, or maybe what they expected and never saw previously. You indicated that going to conferences was a curse and a blessing, explain that.

01:57:13 - 01:57:19

Well, you you’d have jealousy, you’d see stuff at zoos going, wow, why can’t we do this?

01:57:19 - 01:58:42

And it’s so out of our, it’s so out of your league, you can’t work at a zoo at the time of the size of Evansville and go to a mega facility, whether it be Bronx or Bush Gardens or Brookfield or Lincoln Park, and see some of the great stuff that they’re doing, that was so out of our world that you go, gee, that would be nice, but I mean, and it’s not to say that, maybe if I was a director and I had the strength and to drive the zoo in that direction to find the sources, the resources, whether it be, we were not getting donations at Evansville, soliciting donations for anything in those days. I mean, if someone donated something, fine, but we weren’t looking for funds for building stuff. So that’s the way it was. There was nothing at the time that I saw changing that I was going to change, but you’d wind up seeing, you know, seeing stuff that you are envy of going. That’s the curse.

01:58:42 - 01:58:43

That’s the curse, right?

01:58:45 - 01:58:46

What’s the positive?

01:58:46 - 01:59:04

Seeing the great stuff and learning and being able to take that. And whether you take it and implement or take it and just file it back in your mind or in a file or in a slide, that’s going, someday I wanna do that, someday maybe we can do that.

01:59:04 - 01:59:12

You indicated that when you started at Lincoln Park, there were just men, couple of women at the children’s zoo, when you were at Evansville, how diverse were your employees?

01:59:12 - 01:59:15

Were there women keepers, were there African American keepers?

01:59:15 - 01:59:16

What was the makeup?

01:59:16 - 02:00:37

When I first came there, I believe it was 100% white male with the exception of the dietician, which was just a person who they paid less than a keeper who was a woman that cut the plates, who did the diets. She would cut the same diets every day, or as directed for changes. But she did well, she was told she wasn’t a dietician, but everyone else, there were no female keepers. We did have, we eventually, I mean, before I left, I mean, we had more diversified staff, several women keepers, some African American, one I could think of, but then again, Evansville was a very white community. And back in the seventies, what was 100% male dominated culture business in the fifties, started changing in the sixties, Evansville behind times and started doing it in the seventies.

02:00:40 - 02:00:44

And the women, what was this evolution of the women?

02:00:45 - 02:00:47

I mean, how did that kind of evolve?

02:00:47 - 02:00:48

Did you originate it?

02:00:48 - 02:00:50

Was it forced upon the zoo?

02:00:50 - 02:00:52

Did the director say you wanted more?

02:00:53 - 02:02:09

I think a little of everything. I know also for sure there was some political pressure from downtown, a daughter of somebody who had connections, wanted to be an animal keeper and they were hired. I also remember there’s a big fight that we had a secretary of the zoo wanted to become an animal keeper, and at that time, I mean, A, she loved animals and B, it would probably double her Saulary. She was eventually promoted to an animal keeper, it was a big fight cause they didn’t want, I mean, they didn’t wanna lose her skillset as being secretary ’cause she took care of so much, she had been there for years and you can, the right person at the right time at the right place, administrative assistant secretary. I mean they could take care of so much business that you just don’t have to worry about because you know, they’re gonna take care of it. So you hate to lose that resource, but we would be getting, it was more women than minorities there.

02:02:09 - 02:02:10

Were you a champion of that?

02:02:10 - 02:02:14

Did you have any feelings about it?

02:02:14 - 02:02:55

I don’t know, no, I can’t say I was a champion. I had no problems with it. I think later on in life I became more to be honest of a curmudgeon about it. And once again, this is later on in life where, suddenly you have more women keepers than men keepers. And in my opinion, and this is strictly my opinion. There were times you didn’t have the strength that you needed.

02:02:55 - 02:02:59

You have to pick up a box, you don’t have enough people to pick up the box, you know?

02:02:59 - 02:03:04

So that was one of my foibles later on in life.

02:03:10 - 02:03:13

Has that changed over time?

02:03:13 - 02:03:48

Well, yeah, once again, the zoo, the business has evolved. So how you’re doing things and maybe you don’t have to pick up as many crates as you used to, you have equipment that we didn’t have. We never had a forklift at Evansville. we had several forklifts in San Francisco. I mean, so if you have the equipment to move something, all of a sudden you don’t need the people to do something when you have the equipment to do it. So you could do something, the same thing differently.

02:03:48 - 02:03:56

There was a pretty substantial layoff at the zoo in 1978, what had happened and how were you affected in your management?

02:03:56 - 02:05:24

That was my downfall actually, once again, downfall and mixed blessing. As we talked about earlier, the city became very dependent on SEEDA funds, where all through the city and the zoo, positions were funded and then in 78, the city wound up having a physical financial crisis where there had to be cuts in budgets. They weren’t getting the revenue. I don’t remember if there was a recession or something economically changed the city. So what happened was they knew they had to lay off people. Now the city was paying for one director, one general curator and one curator zoologist, but we wide up hiring. We had like three curators going, one general curator and one zoologist. Well under the SEEDA regulations, if you have layoffs, you can’t lay off a regular employee and keep their SEEDA counterparts, they didn’t want the institutions or the municipalities or the states to become that dependent on SEEDA, where they have no payroll.

02:05:24 - 02:06:35

So we literally had people in almost every, we had animal keepers that were Animal City paid animal keepers, SEEDA paid animal keepers. We had maintenance people that were SEEDA paid bottom line is, there were counterparts for every position except for two at the zoo, the director and the general curator, the zoo knew they had to lay someone off. I mean, they were given this mandate. You have to reduce personnel. Well, unfortunately I was the only person besides the director that didn’t have a counterpart. So they eliminated the general curator’s position. Like I say, it was my downfall. And also my a wonderful thing that happened because as that was happening, Saul Kitchener, who was director at San Francisco, had a position opened up and he started talking to me about the position, at the time, it couldn’t have been better.

02:06:35 - 02:06:44

How did they inform you that your position would be eliminated and did they offer you anything else?

02:06:44 - 02:07:40

You seem like you were valuable employee to the director. There were all kind, whether it was a matter, I don’t remember the press or I was formally or Dion sat me down, but it was certainly in the news. I don’t remember exactly the instant that I knew that it was happening. I mean, excuse me, There was different instances that they tried to save the position, but there was all votes of the city council that controlled the budget. They were asking, there was a vote for changing some stuff at some positions of funding at the zoo. I mean, it was defeated by, one vote just here or there. It was defeated. I just, it became a matter of time that I knew, it was inevitable.

02:07:41 - 02:08:17

There was a public outcry so to speak the keepers, some of the keepers wanted me to stay in the director to leave. But that was just personal choices, you know, it became newsworthy at the time that there was this heated debate about me leaving. I mean, I was surprised how much press that it wound up getting in terms of my presence there at the zoo, but like say, in the end it was enough. And beneficial me.

02:08:18 - 02:08:25

What, in the time you were at Mesker Park, what was the exhibit you were proudest of?

02:08:27 - 02:09:32

In thinking of it, I mean, in terms of what was actually done, we built the contact area. And we built a maintenance building, and the maintenance building actually was really important to the zoo. I mean, it was before we get a garage that housed the maintenance building, that much exhibit tree did it change. I liked the idea when we did the Nocturnals, in the clay building, it wasn’t like ground up, it was modified, it was renovating, you know, for small dollars. What the hoofstock yards that we already did with buildings were just, I mean, they were chain link yards with barbs. It wasn’t much exhibitry to it. The children’s zoo probably, it was called children’s contact area. We were able to do some stuff was probably, the thing that I was proud of.

02:09:32 - 02:10:12

‘Cause that was built from the ground up. And I mean, it was built in house too. Once again, with SEEDA money, we had people to do stuff. We actually got a donation from a family for $50,000 for materials, it was the family of the president of the park board who had passed away. And we were gonna name the contact area after him. Whose name, I can’t remember at that moment.

02:10:12 - 02:10:14

So you had input into it?

02:10:14 - 02:10:46

Yeah, oh lots, yeah. Literally, I mean, I was there working after hours or on weekends, I mean building, it was one of these things that you want, oh, it’s gonna open June 1st, you know, and here we are May 15th. What are we gonna do in two weeks, it’s open, there’s invitations out, there’s press releases. So yeah, I was the resource actually know to go where water lines were because I was putting them in.

02:10:48 - 02:10:54

So your experience, seeing other things that zoos help develop this?

02:10:55 - 02:11:47

Yes, saw things in contact areas. I guess, one thing that I remember and I don’t remember I saw, but we wound up using it. I mean, we did a giant habit trail type exhibit, I think it was gerbils, I don’t know, our old maintenance building was a garage. We converted that into a building. And then I wound up certainly having fun building this giant trail, throughout the building where these gerbils could run everywhere and anywhere, simple, off the shelf type thing, materials that we use. But I got a huge kick out of it. It brought so much satisfaction, something that simple at the time brought so much satisfaction to me.

02:11:49 - 02:11:59

You were told that your job was being eliminated from the Mesker Park Zoo, and you’re looking for a job or how did your next job come about?

02:12:00 - 02:13:28

Yet again, being in the right place at the right time, when I knew I was losing my job, that it was being eliminated, I initially started talking to people and looking to see what’s available. And Saul, who I worked with at Lincoln Park had become the director of San Francisco in 1975. I visited him once, came out here, went to a regional with him and I visited San Francisco. Well, Saul contacted me and he let me know that the staff at that time in San Francisco was almost very similar to that of Evansville, early Evansville. And that the professional staff was a zoo director, a zoologist and a vet, a veterinarian, animal keeper staff was a little more extensive. There was a head keep and an assistant head keeper, since Saul arrived, he was able to add two senior keepers to the staff. So in any event, Saul contacted me and said that the zoologist was leaving and was wondering if I was interested in coming out to San Francisco. And I really the thought it was beyond my expectations.

02:13:31 - 02:14:18

Because A I had to leave Evansville, I was never happy with Evansville itself. I was raised in Chicago, I liked a bigger city environment. The idea of coming to San Francisco, certainly peaked my interest. And the thought of working for Saul, I thought would be absolutely great. I mean, there was no one better more in the business that I would’ve preferred working for. So, we talked, it is funny. San Francisco had always had a reputation. I mean and certainly from the early sixties or late fifties, it has this reputation as a progressive liberal city.

02:14:20 - 02:15:41

They certainly, it existed in the culture, the politic, the whole nature of San Francisco. And I remember having a conversation with Saul, I mean, talking about the what’s like working at the zoo and working for the city and all the what’s about, and he was explicit in talking about it and saying that you can’t talk about it. You have to come here and experience, he couldn’t put it into words. And to this day, I subscribe to that, that was over 35 years ago, the city still has its uniqueness. That maybe could only similar to Berkeley in terms of how it treats people and it thinks of people and what people can do and what actions could get done. But to this day, it means a very progressive city, but I did take the job. I was happy, I started here in March. I started there in March of 1979 and it was truly a learning experience.

02:15:41 - 02:17:25

I mean, once again, the keepers, there was primarily male, white male, probably 80%. There were a few women keepers at those days and some minorities, but it was most of them, most of the men were long term forties to fifties, maybe some, even 60 year old keepers that had been there for a long time. It was a unique experience. I know there was a lot of question about Saul hiring me, there was all kinds of talk about the Chicago mafia being at the zoo, ’cause Saul hired me, ’cause I remember was from Chicago and work with me, but it an amazingly interesting, depressing event at times. I remember one of the things that stuck out in my mind very early in my career there at San Francisco, initially just for me to learn the lay of the land, I was working for two or three days on every string with every keeper. So I could learn everything I can. I could learn about the people I could learn about the animals, I could learn the care of the animals. And I remember one thing that stands out with me, they had these old primate exhibits and all of the caging was the exact same thing.

02:17:25 - 02:18:46

And they probably had almost 20 species of primate all in the exact same cage in the exact facility. And what boggled my mind at that time was how they would feed the animals. They would wind up, the keeper would wind up, going to the commissary, get a wheelbarrow. And they had commissary workers that would cut bulk foods and they would then fill up these wheelbarrows, different every day and they’d pick the produce and pick whatever they wanna put in it. And also we had, at the time, we would wind up sending a truck to Safeway every day and we and Safeway would give us the stuff that they were ready to throw out, and it could be anything. It wasn’t just produce. And it wasn’t, that was all garbage. It would be, you would find as an example, you could see a case of apples and the apples looked good, but what they would wind up doing is, they’d open up a case of apples and look at it and they’ll see one or two rotten apples and they’d just show the whole case away, ’cause it was cheaper to do that than for an employee to go through the whole case of apples, see what’s good or bad.

02:18:46 - 02:19:37

So they’d give us apples, but they’d also give us baked goods and meat and all kinds of stuff. And I remember I moments in history that stand out in one’s mind. I was walking with this long term keeper and he had his wheelbarrow full of produce, mixed produce and they mix it up like a salad. And then he topped it with Oreo cookies, sprinkled all over the top of the wheelbarrow. And he’d be walking along and he had a big food scoop and he’d take a scoop of food. And every Primate he got the exact same diet. I don’t care if it was a marmoset or a gibbon or a guenon of some, they all got the same diets and they including some Oreos.

02:19:37 - 02:19:41

And I remember I said something to him, I go, do we really have to feed the Oreos?

02:19:41 - 02:19:43

Is that really necessary?

02:19:43 - 02:20:17

And this keeper got so mad at me because you know, he was talking about, this is a treat. That’s something special for them. We don’t want you upstart young kids coming here and disrupting the place. I mean, he was just so down on me and it certainly spread around the zoo that I dared to say, do we have to feed Oreos to the primates and didn’t help my initial cause there at the zoo. When you got the job in San Francisco, you met your wife in Mesker in Evansville.

02:20:19 - 02:20:23

So how did your family take to the news, we’re going to San Francisco?

02:20:23 - 02:21:22

Well, the family at the time was just she and two old English sheep dogs. And she was from Evansville, but she was willing, very willing and able to move to San Francisco. That wasn’t an issue at the time. The biggest issue was finding housing in San Francisco because at the time, dogs were not seen as a plus. If you’re trying to rent a place, and having two old English sheep dogs certainly caused us a bit of. I mean, we were lucky that we wound up renting a place through somebody at the zoo, who worked for the society whose husband was in real estate. And they were able to get a place would take us with the two dogs. Let me go back to something you said, you said it was depressing.

02:21:22 - 02:21:26

What was the depressing part initially?

02:21:26 - 02:22:42

At the zoo, I mean, how they would wind up, you seen these wheel barrels of food, stuff coming off the truck, that was Safeway, instead of throwing up, we were picking up. There were a few standards at the zoo, cleaning standards. It though when Saul first got there, they had always provided uniforms to keepers, but they couldn’t wind up forcing them or requiring them to where the uniforms. And by the time I started this three years later, most of the keepers where were in uniforms, I guess they saw the benefit of it, but some of them didn’t wanna wear uniforms because in terms of San Francisco culture, they don’t wanna lose their personal identity. And if they put a uniform on, they would just become part of the masses. So stuff like that was interesting to deal with.

02:22:43 - 02:22:47

What was Saul’s management style?

02:22:48 - 02:24:07

Saul, as I’ve said, I thought, he was my best mentor. He knew animals and he knew management And contacts and he knew the zoo business. And Saul originally said when he came to the zoo, the zoo at San Francisco always had a reputation that there would be an evolution, not a revolution at the zoo. And Saul had an open door policy that anybody could come in, any employee could come into the zoo, you know, and talk to him about it. Things changed in the zoo as you know, got more organized I see. And maybe bigger, we increased the number of senior keepers to the zoo. We broke it up into like quadrants where these senior keepers would kind of manage a contingence of keepers. He just would allow, he would listen.

02:24:08 - 02:25:50

He would openly listen to keeper, he would listen to people, for their input in terms of changes and things that’s going on. and he was able to implement or change, initially when he first got there, in terms of acquiring animals or reacquisitioning them, no animal could be moved out of the zoo until the Recreation Park Commission approved it, they would meet monthly, there’d be a resolution and yay, nay, for all practical purposes I gonna say that was a rubber stamp, but legally he couldn’t move any animals without their permission. Well, that at times became quite the problem because people didn’t wanna sit on an animal, it was more so in terms of acquiring stuff and in the summer they wouldn’t have like an August meeting. So they could be like two months between meetings. So, he was able to get the park commission to make a resolution, giving him the authority, to make these exchanges of animals, with their concurrent that it’d be after the fact that they give the approval and Saul had a general manager of the parks department that he would report to. And certainly, doing a small animal is inconsequential, but he wasn’t about to move a major animal, gorilla or copy or something without everybody knowing and having all the docs lined up in the right order.

02:25:50 - 02:25:54

How did your management style change at all, from Mesker Park?

02:25:55 - 02:26:55

When I first came there for many years, I was not in the chain of command. My position there was advisory. I mean, I think they called it advisory to the head keeper or assistant keep and senior keepers. I had no direct reports and I would be keeping the zoo running legally, permits licenses, taking care of all the paperwork for the zoo, but it would basically come back to me and be working with the veterinarian. And I mean, that changed, everything’s always evolving with different people and how they’re evolved. I mean, making up diets, the basic managements of animals, making recommendations for setting up exhibits. But you know, it was different because I wasn’t in the chain of command.

02:26:55 - 02:26:57

What were some of the issues affecting the zoo when you got there?

02:26:58 - 02:28:17

Money was always an issue. The society’s involvement was an issue. Early on, I mean, the society always thought that the city was doing a poor job of managing the zoo. The society had a contract with the city that they operated all the concession stands, gift stands or gift shop, gift stands, the children’s zoo and the educational component, the contract basically said, or did say that all revenue other than admission in the zoo would be generated by the society. The city was not getting any of the income except for the admissions at the gate. And once again, the society thinking that the city wasn’t running the zoo to its best ability. And obviously there were problems with the zoo prior to Saul coming there, there wasn’t much happening. The zoo hadn’t built anything new, for animals or public or anything.

02:28:17 - 02:28:50

There was nothing really that would increase attendance, draw attendance to the zoo that started changing, SEEDA also had effect on San Francisco and what they wound up doing because it allowed them to partially fund first of Wolf Woods and the Musk Ox exhibit, then Gorilla World, and the Gorilla World certainly had great impact on the zoo. You mentioned the Zoo Society.

02:28:50 - 02:28:57

How soon after you arrived, did the zoo go from being a public zoo to a private zoo?

02:28:57 - 02:30:06

That wasn’t until the early nineties, it was about 13, 14, 15 years. So you were a city, as well as everybody else was a city employee. Yeah, everyone was a city employee. Well, the society had their own employees too. They had their own staff taking care of animals in the children’s zoo, they didn’t report directly to Saul, but they knew, it’s like an unwritten rule that they knew that Saul was the director of the zoo. And I don’t believe it was in the contract that they reported directly to Saul, but rather the executive director of the zoological society, they did their own hiring. Saul, he did have to hire a manager shortly after he arrived. And the person was hired was the one that, he recommended, or I don’t know the other exact process.

02:30:06 - 02:30:10

You mentioned the zoo did ultimately go private.

02:30:10 - 02:30:19

Can you talk about the general transition from a public zoo to a society operated zoo?

02:30:19 - 02:30:21

Any difficulties?

02:30:21 - 02:32:05

Of course there were difficulties. Let’s first talk about the employees, when the city and the society came up with an agreement, and I think it is a 99 year contract with there’s an option every five years, it’s either five years or 10 years, to renew or to make changes upon mutual agreement. So when the contract was first signed and the city was paying the zoological side, a management fee to manage the zoo, the city retained ownership of everything, of all the property, of all the animals, it was their facility, the society was running it. The society gave the option for all the city employees to resign their position and become society employees. Wasn’t a successful program, nobody took that option. It was felt that there was, they had more job security, better benefits by being a city employee rather than the zoological society employee through the 20 some years that that contract has been in effect. And there are also multiple contracts. The Zoological Society had their own contract for their employees.

02:32:05 - 02:33:10

Same union, there were Teamsters, but a different contract and the city had its own contract and there were different pay rates and there were different benefits. People could be working next to each other, and they have basically the same job description, totally different pay scale, benefits. That made it difficult. And in the 20 some years, that that contract has been in effect. As I was saying today, there are four civil servants left, everyone else, 150 people, they’re all society employees, but there’s still two contracts that I know I may change in the last four years since I left, but we’re still managing two contracts that also, they weren’t even tied in together. One can expire, they expired at different times. It was a difficult situation to manage at best. When you look at the contracts, there were different holidays.

02:33:10 - 02:34:06

The city had many more holidays than the zoological society. There was talk about the zoological society, I believe. And their initial contract wouldn’t allow employees to take vacation in the summer because that’s the busiest season. Well that wasn’t in the city’s contract, all of this caused a lot of ire amongst employees and amongst managers too, in terms of how to deal with stuff. There were different rules for working overtime under the different contracts. All of that made it difficult. Plus we always, I said earlier, as we were talking, I’ve always had difficulties in budget. I’ve never, fortunately or unfortunate.

02:34:06 - 02:34:58

I think it’s fortunately, I never took budget seriously in the end. I have no experience with budgeting Lincoln Park, but at Evansville and one of my first introductions as a management was a budget issue. But over the years I saw that it didn’t matter, you may not be able to improve. There’s always money to feed the animals. The employees always got paid, no governmental agency will, governing agency. Oh no, we have to eliminate the horse meat from the lions. We have to feed them bananas, not gonna happen. And it never did happen.

02:34:58 - 02:35:16

We always had the basics to run the zoo. And I forgot the point that I was trying to make. Well, when you were talking about the zoo society, you said were talking about unions.

02:35:16 - 02:35:26

Did you personally, as the general curator have to deal with the unions and how did that affect the zoo?

02:35:26 - 02:36:23

Well, first of all, the general curator came, though initially I was the only curator. Then there were multiple curators. I wasn’t general curator in charge of animal, whole department officially until 2010, when they’ve created the society, created the position that there will be, it was a department, the society had I think seven different departments, finance, education, development, maintenance, IT, animal management with department heads. Some of them are now being called vice presidents, or have multiple titles, vice president and. So it was. Well that you were dealing with the unions. Oh, sorry. The society took care of its own contract.

02:36:23 - 02:37:42

And, and I don’t know who on the zoo side, if Saul was involved when they were separate entities with their contract and in terms of the city contract, that was part of the city master contract. I mean, there were people that sat in from the recreation park department, but there was no, I don’t, I’m not aware of anyone sitting in for the zoo. And also with contracts, San Francisco being such a union city, everybody was in a union, including the director myself. They were all in different unions. And the city required that, because they said, if you weren’t in a union, you couldn’t go to the table to represent yourself. You had to be represented. So a funny story that I like to tell about my union was I was assigned as civil service, I’m sorry, let me backtrack. At some point in time, during my tenure year, civil service said that everyone had to be in a union.

02:37:42 - 02:38:15

I wasn’t initially in a union, but then they made some rule of saying that everyone had to be in a union. So then civil service in their brilliance, started going through all these different classifications that weren’t in unions and started, they had assigned them to unions. So the story that I’m told about my position is they’re looking at my position, zoologist as curator.

02:38:15 - 02:38:16

What are your duties?

02:38:16 - 02:39:02

Oh, you’re responsible for transporting animals in and out of the zoo. You move animals internationally. Oh, transportation, bus driver. That’s the closest one, you should be in the bus driver’s union. Viola, I became a member of the bus driver’s union, which was a very strong union and everyone had to join a union and just deal with that fact. When the zoo privatized, you were a union and you mentioned that some people transferred over, but you made a conscious decision to remain with the city. Yes.

02:39:02 - 02:39:06

Was there any danger in keeping with the city?

02:39:06 - 02:39:10

Was your job gonna be in jeopardy or you just felt it was better for you personally?

02:39:10 - 02:40:47

I thought it was better for me personally, especially in terms of the managers and the retire. Here I am, I have tenure or 10, 15, 18 years, whatever years of service already with the zoo and into the city’s retirement system, I thought I was better off staying there, vested as I was. And if I would’ve left the city, I then would become an at will employee for the society, which at that point in time they could have done anything they wanted with an employee. I mean, I may have been fine if I did it, but like I say, it was financial reasons, I think in job security, because also under the contract there, every civil servant was listed by name in the original contract and virtually given a guarantee that they will have a job if the city eliminates them, they would need cause to eliminate, but I was just felt more secure staying with the city and benefited me in terms of retirement. Go back to just quick thing on this keeper’s wearing uniforms.

02:40:47 - 02:40:49

How was that ultimately resolved?

02:40:51 - 02:41:08

Well, it was eventually evolved. It was put into the contract that they would have to do it. The city would have to supply them with the uniforms. The city would have to clean the uniforms. The city would have to give them so many changes of uniforms. It eventually became part of the contract.

02:41:11 - 02:41:29

At this point in time, you indicated that you weren’t directly in charge at some point in your San Francisco job for the day to day of the keepers, but did you become responsible when the zoo society took over or never?

02:41:29 - 02:41:58

No, ultimately like about in 2010, I became the department head for animal management and it was the largest department in the zoo. And I had myself and my staff of curators, man, managing the animal management department separate. And it was separate from the veterinary departments and it’s an independent department. I’m stammering.

02:41:59 - 02:42:09

How did you manage the animal keepers though in the beginning, if you didn’t have direct authority to manage them?

02:42:09 - 02:43:25

The senior keepers managed were the day to day supervisors and would do the appraisals of the keepers in their section. Initially, probably, the zoo was very bad and the personnel department didn’t enforce it. Early on, evaluations were rarely done, but the senior keepers would be managing X amount of keepers in the section of the zoo. I mean, the way the city ran the zoo or how the city’s charter is literally, Saul didn’t have the authority to hire or fire. Under city charter, only the general manager of the department, that’s the title all department heads would have, San Francisco be called the general manager, had the authority to hire and fire and discipline, Saul could only recommend, I mean, once again, rubber stamp generally speaking, it’s a rubber stamp that the general manager would be approved, but rules are rules. And that was the rule.

02:43:25 - 02:43:39

Many times when this changeover occurs in various zoos, but in San Francisco, when it’s changed over from public to private or run by the zoo society, in your opinion, what was the pluses?

02:43:39 - 02:43:42

What was the minuses of this changeover?

02:43:42 - 02:44:54

Well, the society was advocating, I mean their ability to raise money. they could go to the private sector and Lord knows, San Francisco bay area is a very rich area. There was a lot of money, a lot of philanthropic money in the area. They said, people were hesitant. They said that people were hesitant to give money to the city because the city would never spend the money like they were supposed to, they would accept something and then do something different with the money. So the society would said that they could, their selling points where they’d be more efficient, oit would be efficient and raising money, they’d be more efficient in terms of budgeting for the zoo, because the city’s budget was never realistic or dealt with change in a reasonable time. And the society being an independent organization, they could make changes whenever necessary, as easy as they can, which I found either to be true.

02:44:58 - 02:45:11

What was the director’s relationship with the zoo society and what was your relationship with the zoo society and how did that affect management?

02:45:11 - 02:46:10

Well personnel change, different people, whether it be when I was at San Francisco, I think I had six directors in my tenure there. So there was always a different relationship with society. With me, with directors. It was quite fluid, when Saul was there, he had a good relationship with the society. I think once again, the society thought they could run the zoo and do a better job than he or the city. There was like two or three co-directors, but Saul was a little higher. And what I mean is there was an executive director for society and she was in charge of the children’s zoo, under her came the children’s zoo, the education program, concessions and gifts. And fundraising.

02:46:11 - 02:47:50

But she didn’t report to Saul, like legally, she reported to the zoological society, but they had pretty good working relationship. I mean, something can always be better, I guess. Who’s to say, as people changed, after Saul retired, then in the interim, the assistant general manager of the recreation and parks department became the acting zoo director. And he was in that position for a year, and I mean, actually, and he was an administrator. Very nice man, who also, as I think I said earlier, caught the feeder and he wanted to be, he actually applied for the position, was one of the applicants for the position, while he was in that position. Once again, if you’re interim, it’s not like you’re gonna be developing new programs and changing things, I mean, maybe you could, but common sense to me says, you can’t turn the place upside down, and give it to somebody else, do the pass off and say, you know, I’ve started this, I’ve started that, I know you’re not interested in this, but we’re doing that anyway. So Phil was there for a year. Phil’s background was the business end of the parks department.

02:47:51 - 02:49:58

So he knew that aspect better. And it was also good because he knew the right people and his connections were better than Saul. I mean, though Saul was a department head, and in the chain of command with Phil, they were on the same level. Everyone reported that the general manager, Phil Arnold had the connections in the department, he worked in the department. So it was just a mutual agreement, I guess, for the year, while we were looking for a permanent director, that was probably the first real change in the management of the zoological society, because when they were started looking for that new director when they hired a head hunting firm to find it, and when the final choice, when they had the shortlist and what they wound up doing is that the director of parks and the executive director of the society, they went around the country, visiting the applicants at their facility, the short list of the applicants, or three or four people that they visited, the applicants and the decisions behind closed doors. I don’t know what was said, certainly by the city allowing the society to participate in the process, they also paid for the process of hiring the head hunter and making it touring, I believe, and touring the country. They involved the society as has never been done before, I think, and though the general manager of rec parks made the appointment, because that was an exempt position from civils, from civil service, the society was heavily involved.

02:49:58 - 02:50:01

Did they ever approach you?

02:50:02 - 02:50:05

No, simple answer.

02:50:07 - 02:50:12

During this time that Saul was there, were you acquiring animals?

02:50:13 - 02:51:21

The mid eighties were probably some the best times at the zoo to this day. I mean, probably there was not, we were so lucky in terms of what happened in the mid eighties, gorilla, early eighties, Gorilla World opened up, we built, we designed and built the Primate Discovery Center. We designed and built and brought in the koalas. We brought in the penguins. Just backtrack on a little bit, surveys that the zoological society did for the visiting public, say, hi, thanks for coming to the zoo. You’re at the zoo now, what would you like to see that’s not here, that is missing at the San Francisco zoo. So the animals that came up on that survey were koalas, penguins and giant pandas. In the mid eighties, we did all that.

02:51:22 - 02:52:29

I mean, probably the early eighties, pandas were early eighties, when we were lucky enough to receive the pandas. And they were at LA, that was during the Olympics. China lent the pandas, a pair of pandas to the LA zoo and during the Olympics. And in those days, pandas, weren’t the animals they are today. I mean, in terms of being able to see them, very limited, where you could see them. And for whatever reason, I mean, one good, lucky reason, a deal was cut with the Chinese that after the visit at LA, that the pandas would come up to San Francisco for three months and have a visit. And to this day, in my recollection, there was nothing ever, ever like that. I mean, the numbers of people, visitors that we were having at the zoo was phenomenal.

02:52:29 - 02:53:27

I remember that the gift shop manager was saying that she said that literally, we were making sweatshirts and stuff to sell with pandas. And she said, I remember her telling me. She said, literally every wet red sweatshirt that was available west of the Mississippi was coming to San Francisco, was before you be pinned up for pandas. ‘Cause we were selling, couldn’t keep the merchandise in it. We also, what we wound up doing, we wound up exhibiting them in the lion house. We used one of the grottos. They were exhibited outside and kept in it on the inside. And we then built this tier, two step tier in front of the exhibit, where we’re able to put 60 people, 30 people on each step to see the pandas or panda.

02:53:30 - 02:54:42

And they were allowed three minutes and then they had move on and we’d bring the next group of 60. And it was common for us to have a line with a three hour or more wait to sit for, to spend 180 seconds in front of two pandas. And more often it was the south end of a northbound sleeping panda, but they loved it. It was so phenomenal. And in addition, in terms of the prep for that, all of a sudden we got support from the city, and we were fixing up the zoo for the pandas to come, buildings that haven’t been painted in 30 years, we were painting our other buildings. Landscaping was done. I mean, just all kinds of money was being put into the zoo. And this was just like the start of the eighties Renaissance that it had for what the pandas brought us, I like to say, and you know, this is me saying that my opinion, I mean, something extra was done.

02:54:42 - 02:55:15

The society actually made so much money from the pandas that they wound up giving extra money to like $100,000 extra to the Chinese government because they had it, you know, I mean they were doing so well. It certainly was a special time for the zoo. And like I say, during that time, building and opening up what we did was great, was wonderful. In acquiring these animals.

02:55:15 - 02:55:20

How did it affect you as a manager of the pandas?

02:55:22 - 02:55:24

Were there special things you had to put into place?

02:55:24 - 02:55:26

Were you concerned about their wellbeing?

02:55:26 - 02:56:37

Well, okay. With the pandas came a team from China, that were with the pandas. There are two keepers and interpreter, we wound up assigning two keepers, their job was take care of the pandas. And that’s all it was. I mean, part of their job too, was they were going out and harvesting bamboo all over the place. I mean, lucky there was a wealth of the right kind of bamboo in the area and the Chinese were managing. It’s a very specific contract on how the care would be taken. And they were directing us what to do with the pandas and how to care for him and make changes and anything, we weren’t independent to do as we wanted, though, there was some medical issues and I don’t the exact specifics about it, but we did make some changes.

02:56:37 - 02:57:15

I mean, there was a great debate about change. There used to be giving them all out meat and bones in addition to the stuff. And that was changed while we were there. I mean in the end, they were fine, we shipped them back to China. Saul and I went down to LA, flew down to LA to pick him up and accompany the animals to San Francisco. But that eighties period was nothing like anything I ever experienced with, like I said, the openings of those exhibits that I mentioned.

02:57:15 - 02:57:19

Were you responsible for acquiring animals or was that the director’s job?

02:57:22 - 02:58:23

No, Saul was real good about that. I mean, Saul would acquire animals. I would be doing, I knew the direction we were going. It’s like when we were acquiring the animals for the primate center, we wound up having to move out all the primates that were at the zoo because we were building the new exhibit in place where the old primate cages were that we wanted to get rid of in destroy. And when we came up with the concept of the primate center and at the time, I mean, it was cutting edge. It was never done at anything. No one ever tried to explain what a primate was like we were trying to do at the time. We had 16 species in it initially, and they ranged from Marmoset, tamarins to probably the largest baboons, mandrels in the exhibit.

02:58:25 - 02:59:51

Some of the species we had, some of them we had to acquire, one of them that we wound up adding for that was the François’ monkey, François’ leaf monkey, which was, we knew we were getting with our sister city relationship with Shanghai, they had offered to send us a group of François’, which was, a wonderful species to bring in. There were not many of them in the states. There wasn’t a lot of founder stock, it was one of the more spectacular animals for, I think zoo people more than the public, but it filled one of the niches that we wanted to exhibit in terms of showing, how diverse primates are from, we tried, so we had failures in there too. We wanted swimming monkeys, we had Crab-eating macaque and it was a dismal failure in terms of getting into the water. I mean we never heated the water warm enough. It was a bathtub rather than a pool. I mean, should have been thought a little deeper.

02:59:53 - 02:59:58

Were you dealing with animal dealers when you had to move animals out or bring animals in?

02:59:58 - 03:00:44

Yeah, I was the conduit literally for almost everything. I mean, Saul was very involved and in terms of going to Australia for the koalas, and he went to China for the pandas. But once you eliminate those two species that you work with during my time, in that period of time, I was the conduit for making deals, most of the time, not like I say, Saul was the director, he went to a conference and strike a deal and strike a deal, fine. I would complete it, he would say, I just gotta yellow nosed wombat from Portugal, take care of it.

03:00:46 - 03:00:50

Were you able to go on acquiring trips during this time?

03:00:52 - 03:02:27

It didn’t happen too often. The only time that I could remember that we wound up bringing animals in from the wild, I had company, other institutions pick them up. But muskox, when I went up to Alaska in the early eighties, when it was a great process that we were going through, we San Francisco had a history of being relatively successful with muskoxs. I guess we kind of put our name in the media or in the paper, when going back to the early seventies, when Richard Nixon established relationship with China, part of the exchange was national zoo, the United States received a pair of pandas from Chinese and for whatever process, I don’t know, it was decided that the United States would give to the Chinese people a pair of muskox. the muskox came from San Francisco. So they were sent there. This was 72, before Saul’s tenure there. So for whatever, well, for unsuccessful management, we wound up losing the muskox.

03:02:29 - 03:03:33

There wasn’t a bunch of them in the country. We weren’t breeding enough. I believe if I remember correctly, the last 15 animals that were born, it was 11.4, which doesn’t make for a real large breeding stock. So, and then you had the problem with multiple males that you really couldn’t, starting males out, in any event, that species eventually just died out. We couldn’t do anything with it. So then in the eighties, we were, the zoo, initially, they had started talking with Alaska to try to acquire some muskox ’cause what the native muskox, wanna talk zoology. The native muskox of Alaska was exterminated turn of the century and they were reintroducing. There were three species, subspecies of muskox.

03:03:34 - 03:04:58

They were reintroduced. They were introducing the Canadians subspecies of muskox white fronted poster bar grill. So Alaska has establish the muskox on this island called Luna back island and the animals were doing well, the island could support 600 animals and after 600 animals, they would have to remove surplus animals. Their intent was to take the surplus animals and establish populations in Alaska, in the historical to the historical regions, areas. But you know, politics are politics even governmental agencies don’t necessarily always get along with each other. And I mean, I know there were times on where they couldn’t relocate animals and they wound up having to for management purposes, put down animals because the population got too big. And the reason the population got too too big, they were relocating animals to federal land. They were relocating animals to state land, and then federal land could be divided, Indian affairs, fish and wildlife, agriculture.

03:04:58 - 03:06:05

Everybody had their own land. And at times they’re saying, well, we can’t take extra animals. They wouldn’t allow other departments, fish and wildlife bring animals into their land. So in actuality, though we were talking about muskox, we had given up the possibility of getting muskox because of the insanity that was going on beyond us. So we had initially built this building and yard for muskox, and it wasn’t complete yet, it was coming to fruition and we were then literally started, we changed it all up and we were gonna put tule elk in there ’cause we didn’t think we’d get the muskox. So we wanted to get tule elk were unique to California. All of a sudden all the cards fell into place. And all of a sudden they’re saying, we could get the muskox, the muskox could come there.

03:06:09 - 03:07:12

So all of a sudden we changed our plan and started making the changes, the additions to what we were going to get. And it wound up that I got lucky enough to have to go up there. And we went up to flew up to, well, first, I flew to Alaska and Alaska to Bethel. Then we flew on small planes to Nunivak Island. We actually, we were catching the muskox, how the government wound up doing it. They hired a lot of locals who were experienced with it. And we were just taking little guys out, that’s previous spring’s births, they were all couple hundred pound, 150 pounders. And we were, we wound up bringing out 263, 37, three males and seven females, picked up one, a pair was going to the Anchorage zoo.

03:07:12 - 03:07:55

So we was bringing it. So I had the fun luck of he help capturing the muskox, which was, I don’t know if you want to go into that, but caught them, we flew them to Bethel, Bethel to Anchorage and Anchorage back to San Francisco. And I was with them, taking care of them. Now, all of these animals, as you had indicated before in the zoo, you were updating the record system, trying to modernize it and so forth. And you were responsible for all aspects of record keeping permits and so forth.

03:07:57 - 03:08:11

Can you share anything with us about this whole experience and what it took for you to, in a sense, reorganize or modernize this and how did it affect the zoo?

03:08:12 - 03:09:04

It certainly affected, it was a task. It was a daunting task. And at times had help, at times I didn’t want the help. When we first started, computers weren’t even in the zoo. I remember when they first got the first IPM computer, it was huge, it was eighties and ISIS still was not computerized and you’re filling out cards and we still had to maintain a card system. ‘Cause how you originally filled out the ISIS just had basic information. I mean, basic information, you couldn’t send to them behavior notes, breeding notes. I mean, it was just who it is.

03:09:04 - 03:09:09

What is, where was it born, parentage, what you paid for them, who you got it from?

03:09:09 - 03:11:10

You couldn’t give any history about the animals initially to ISIS. It was just keeping the basic information and you would able, you’d have a hard copy and a paper copy and you’d send the paper copy to ISIS and you’d keep the hard copy. And that became the record, and on the back, you were able to write whatever entries you wanted to keep on the animals. So it was not uncommon to have group index cards for the animals when I got there, they were changing the cards over, you know, we were changing, ISIS where there were individuals records rather than group records. And that in itself was a huge improvement for the management of the animals, knowing a little bit more about them and can have stuff documented about the individual animals, you chose what you did or did not want to write, which was always subject to some criticism by some staff members. I mean, some keepers would write it’s eyebrow was out of place yesterday, and they would, if you didn’t take every comment and let me clarify this, there wasn’t every keeper, there’s some keepers that just wrote so much stuff that was so trivial, maybe some researcher would wanna know the placement of an eyebrow, but it became issues at time of what was or wasn’t put in the cards. I mean, we were wound up then we also kept keeper’s reports, but there was no retrieval system to it. They’d filed by date, but if you didn’t know when the specific thing happened, you may have to go through months or years worth of reports to find when the eyebrow was out of place.

03:11:14 - 03:11:36

All of this, you know, it became shared information with other zoos, through ISIS, they would be able to see the records and these animals, or you’d be able to send stuff to them. This ability to write permits is something you did.

03:11:37 - 03:11:49

And I presume that you knew colleagues within the profession who also did it, was this the norm for curators to be able to do this kind of job?

03:11:50 - 03:13:00

Once again, every institution is unique, back in the early eighties, I won’t say there were that many, zoos may not have had the luxury of having full-time registrars, or just how they chose or how the staff managed. Some zoos were, I mean smaller, the curators had to write their permits or maybe senior keeper in some places, some places had designated people to do designated permits. I mean, you would. I thought it was always more important. I loved that phone and I loved calling Washington. I thought that was the best way of going through the process. Once again, building relationships, you called the phone, Mike Sulak, they call you back, they know you. They give you the advice that you need, how it has to be, the black and white issue of it.

03:13:00 - 03:14:29

‘Cause it almost always comes down to a black and white issue. This is the way, you know, it’s gotta be done if you want to get past the management authority because you know, there were multiple authorities that would go off on a permit and things changed too. I mean, when the fed, there was once the endangered species act, was firmly in place and basically, it initially caused zoos to stop breeding endangered species because they were became so difficult to manage. You needed these, to get to get these permits were a huge to count on your employees, hours and hours, hours to do permit. Once they came up with the Captain Wildlife Permit, and then you would be, you had a wildlife for X amount of speed that you could do. As many as you wanted to write up that you could document, that then allowed zoos in the United States to freely move endangered species amongst themselves with capital bread wildlife permits. I mean, there were ways to of moving animals when you may not need that permits, you put them on loan, you retain ownership. You know, you don’t necessarily need the permit to do it.

03:14:29 - 03:15:38

If there’s no change of ownership, even though it’s crossing state lines, you don’t need that permit. ‘Cause I legally that animal, but zoos, there’s still, you wanted to move, you didn’t want to have a animal forever. I could tell you an example, one of the few times that there was much angst at San Francisco because with an endangered species, and San Francisco’s very lucky in breeding black rhinos, they had a female and a male that were compatible. I mean, the only time we separated them was when we had an offspring and we did that for about six weeks. And then when we introduce them and the male and female baby, all did well. And in those days, every two years, two and a half years, we were getting another black rhino. I mean this female wound up having like 13 offspring. I mean a huge number, well overrepresented in the population.

03:15:38 - 03:16:50

What we sent an animal to the Lincoln Park Zoo on loan, and then Lincoln Park was redoing their large mammal house, building a whole new super facility and they had to move the animals out and they sent it to Ohio. And I can’t think of the name of the facility. The Wilds. The Wilds, thank you very much. So bottom line is, then Lincoln Park finished the facility and they were going to get different black rhinos. They had different black rhinos. I don’t know that detail or don’t remember that detail, but then The Wilds had this animal and we never, it was an adult animal. We never wanted this animal back and never intend, never intended it to come back, but they had a problem saying, we gotta move this.

03:16:50 - 03:16:56

We gotta send you your rhino. When do you want, Lincoln Park told us you own this rhino.

03:16:56 - 03:16:58

You know what airline should we put it on?

03:17:00 - 03:17:36

And we’re going, we don’t want this rhino. We can’t take this rhino. And there’s all kinds of dialogue. I mean, bottom line, what happened, I mean, it changed a lot of things at the zoo, bottom line, we had to send The Wilds $10,000 so they could build a barn for this animal for whatever period of time before it was finally moved. And at that time too, we then looked at all our animals that are on breeding loan, going it’s time to give them away. If we don’t want them coming back, we’re gonna give them away. ‘Cause this could happen again. I mean, and I say it wasn’t just rhinos.

03:17:36 - 03:17:48

It was anything. Rhinos, were an exhibit. You said you were involved in exhibit planning.

03:17:48 - 03:18:02

What exhibits did you kind of move along the way with you as a main person, Primate World, Gorillas, were you involved in the putting these together?

03:18:02 - 03:19:14

Well, okay. Well the Gorilla World was first and when I started, I came there in December just to visit Saul was the first time. And I started in March, when I came there in December, I was there for the groundbreaking for Gorilla World. And then when I started working in March, it was like a 16, 18 month construction project. So my involvement with Gorilla World was, oh, we gotta change this. Or they are the architect or the contract saying, we got a problem here. You know, this is not gonna work or it is gonna be difficult or we can’t do it. So my involvement with Gorilla World was after it was designed and while it was being constructed to make any changes with that, or after it opened up for X amount of years, yours got a twink, you can’t open new exhibit and walk away and say, it’s fine.

03:19:15 - 03:20:51

That was a huge problem with San Francisco in terms of, an exhibit would be built. And then you walk away thinking it’s gonna take care of itself and maintained, I mean, deferred maintenance, which is a common problem unfortunately, throughout many institutions, it was a huge problem in San Francisco of not maintaining, giving a facility that needed regular work. That being said, the primate center, I was involved from day one, literally, and it kind of came, the society I’m sure was courting this donor, this woman named Thelma Dulger, who was a very, an elderly woman, very rich, loved primates, had a huge collection at her estate and gave the zoo they were surprised, a million dollars. It was like the first million dollar gift that the society ever received. I mean, that being said, the primate center back in the eighties was a $7 million exhibit to open it up. So they had to go out and raise six more million dollars. I mean, the city may have come up with some sort of bond money, I think for like a half million or something like that. But the vast, vast, vast majority of money was raised by the zoological society.

03:20:51 - 03:21:45

So, from concept and Saul was a primate guy. I don’t care what kind of primate. He knew it, he liked it. You know, he was the man. So it was then decided to do the primate exhibit and try to show what a primate was, through its diversity. They also, at the time too was the educational component. At the time, we were truly cutting age, we had touchscreen TVs in the early eighties, they had museum people designing this stuff. I mean, we were involved in it.

03:21:45 - 03:23:19

I can’t say I remember how many ideas that we came up with, but they had all kinds of consultants and designers to design that aspect. And there’d be references from the exhibit, saying, go to computer J in the education component and you’ll learn more about the Celebes ape or some aspect of the Celebes ape. But in terms of trying to design the primary center, totally involved, there was some disappointment, in you scratch your head. How could you have done this in terms of once, not once it was open, but once it was being built, you’re sitting for months and months and months and countless hours of talking to architects and engineers and designers. And then they start coming up with conceptual drawings and drawings. And you see these drawings you see these two dimensional drawings of exhibits and you’re like, oh, that’s 30 feet and that’s 20 feet and that’s eight feet. And at least in my mind and many overall, they seem very adequate at the time. But once the footings are, it’s only this wide.

03:23:19 - 03:24:05

It’s only this deep, oh yeah. That’s 24 feet, you approved it. Oh, you know, so, I mean, there was disappointment in that. The Colobus, we built this gigantic Colobus structure. I mean, it was 56 feet tall at the highest point of it. And it was scale up down massive and way where we started off like a dozen Colobus, 16 Colobus in there. And one of the battles we lost that I regret to this day. I mean, the whole structure’s gone for what it’s worth, when we first wanted to build it and design it.

03:24:05 - 03:24:16

We wanted them to put a catwalk on the top of the exhibit, 56 feet high, right. In the length of the exhibit.

03:24:16 - 03:24:28

Why we saying, well, if we have a Colobus that’s 56 feet high and we’re 56 feet low and we gotta do something. How are we going to do it?

03:24:28 - 03:25:00

So we wanted a cat walk on top. So we’re on top of the animals. It gives us, you know, a little more animal, so to speak where we can work with the animals a little better. While they’re wound up being this gigantic fight with the designers. And and what saying no, if we put this catwalk in the railings, it’ll be so ugly. You can’t stand it. I mean, here, we’re building this black steel structure. It has as much steel as the Golden Gate Bridge in it.

03:25:00 - 03:26:06

And they’re worried about a catwalk, I thought. But bottom line is, it was decided that since the society was paying for it, they were the owners of the exhibit because the city didn’t become owner until it was built and given a gift in place. So the society didn’t want this ugly cat walk on it. So there was no cat walk on it. So when the animals went up and stayed up high, there was nothing could be done about it. I mean, in retrospect, there was lots of problems with that exhibit being so big, you could build something too big. We built something too big that wasn’t manageable. It was built, there were I beams all along the place, vertically and horizontally, well vertically it wound up that and the way it was designed, the eye beam was on the inside of the fabric.

03:26:11 - 03:27:24

It was a cleaning nightmare because you had all these eye beams that were going up 56 feet high. You couldn’t clean it. So then USDA inspections would start getting on. And then we wound up designing, putting in these fittings in place that were at a 45 degree angle so A, animals couldn’t sit on there comfortably, or stuff would fall off, to get it. But once again, in terms of the, over the years and okay, so that’s 1985 and now it’s 2015, 30 years ago, many, many years ago because of deferred maintenance. It’s something I say to this day that I certainly know I or Saul any director that was there now, we always used to tell these designers and architects, anything you build in San Francisco, you gotta build it. It’s a battle ship at sea. The salt environment being right on the ocean is so invasive stainless steel will rust away in time.

03:27:24 - 03:28:15

I mean, and that structure and it’s more than 10 years, it probably lasted less than 18 years, maybe 15 years. I mean, we wound up having to take it down because of the metal structure. I mean, we wound up having fabric that was coded with vinyl, but moisture would get in the vinyl, the fabric were all melting, vinyl holding it up. So eventually that exhibit had to be taken down and there were all kinds of modifications. I mean, the other exhibits are still there, but many, many, many changes had to be made over the years because of the environment and how we designed it.

03:28:15 - 03:28:17

Was this part of a master plan?

03:28:18 - 03:28:20

Did the zoo have a master plan?

03:28:20 - 03:29:15

The zoo had many master plans. It’s funny, as I said earlier, you know, at Evansville, I never heard of the term master plan, while in San Francisco, I mean, there certainly were master plans. And I think part of, I’m not sure. I know when the zoo’s first official master plan was made and that’s during Saul’s tenure, it may have started just before, with the SEEDA money, you had to have a master plan so that the feds knew where you’re going, how you’re going. And your master plan, it’s not like you take a master plan, you design it, you check off everything on the master plan. You finish it, you start another master plan, master plan, it’s a dynamic document, it’s constantly changing.

03:29:16 - 03:29:26

I mean, every five years, you have to set up some sort of time period and say, when was last time we looked at this master plan, what have we accomplished?

03:29:26 - 03:29:28

What didn’t we accomplish?

03:29:28 - 03:29:32

What should should we be accomplishing?

03:29:32 - 03:30:34

And, and San Francisco is very good, was very good at master plans. Numerous master plans were made. My criticism of master plans are, we never followed them. I mean, they were almost well, they were meaningless, I guess there was some meaning to them, economically, if the city was or society, and I’m not sure about that, was acquiring some funds. Whether it be from private or governmental agencies, they wanna see the master plan. But so many times, we at San Francisco, you’d have a master plan. And then all of a sudden out of left field, let’s get Komodo dragons. We’re gonna build a new Komodo dragon exhibit in the aviary.

03:30:36 - 03:30:50

You know, it’s one of those. Okay, and though it’s not in the master plan, suddenly for X amount of months, you’re putting in an unbelievable amount of effort in terms of trying to figure out how are you gonna display Kamodo dragons.

03:30:50 - 03:31:07

This is real case, this not me just picking something out and we’re designing exhibits for Kamodo dragons, no one at zoo had any experience with, and trying to come up with budgets and this and what we’re gonna do, you know?

03:31:07 - 03:31:26

And then all of a sudden, three months later, they’re moving on, and back to something on the master plan. I personally am not a master plan advocate. In 1983, you said Sunshine, which was a prime breeding potential to Ohio.

03:31:26 - 03:31:27

How’d that come about?

03:31:27 - 03:31:30

How successful was it and who is Sunshine?

03:31:30 - 03:32:36

Sunshine was a gorilla, first gorilla that was born at San Francisco. He was named Sunshine because he was born during the day, out in the middle of a sunny day at San Francisco. And he was actually, his mother died shortly after he was born. And he lived with his father and his father, was a great gorilla. I mean really nurtured Sunshine. But there came this point in time when we had multiple Silverbacks in one exhibit and the way Gorilla World was designed. And in the eighties, we thought it was a great exhibit. It’s a wonderful exhibit to exhibit the animals.

03:32:36 - 03:33:49

If I’m building it in the 2000s, would I’ve done the same thing or multiple yards, things change. Well, the problem is having multiple Silverbacks in the same exhibit, in the presence of females. And we always had that. Add to that, SSP in terms of an animal, that came out of founder stock was an F1 animal, in those days, you know, Gorillas, started breeding, in the seventies, more commonly in the United States in the early seventies, they still wanted, needed gorillas for their captive population. He was sent to Columbus. He was a marvelous success. I mean, I could say facetious things about he’d breed anything, but you know, he, and I believe, any reproductively sound female gorilla that they paired him with, he successfully produced. I don’t know the numbers of animals that he produced.

03:33:52 - 03:33:57

In 1989, San Francisco had an earthquake.

03:33:57 - 03:34:01

Can you give us some idea what happened before and after?

03:34:01 - 03:34:42

Yes, I missed the ball game. I was sitting, waiting for the ball game. I was home when the earthquake happened, I’ll just give you a little side note in terms of my personal experience at the house. When it happened, I was sitting at my home and I had a computer, but I wasn’t online. I had a computer in our remember playing a game. I don’t know exactly what I was doing. All of a sudden the house started shaking. My daughter, who at the time was about six years old was at a neighbor’s playing.

03:34:42 - 03:35:31

And the house shook like I never felt it before. I’d been in the Bay area for 10 years at the time, had many earthquake, never felt an earthquake could that, I went running to my neighbors to make sure everything was okay. My wife was on a walk, we lived in back in the valley and this is a park, county park there. And they were walking on the park ground. Everything was fine. We wound up, our personal impact at the house during the earthquake is we lost cable TV that night. We had to use Rabbiters, electricity flashed on and off for a moment, but it was fine. Phone was fine.

03:35:31 - 03:36:56

The thing that I always got the kick out of is, I don’t know how long after the quake happened. I don’t remember if there was after shocks, I walked into my daughter’s bedroom and in her room, we had a five gallon aquarium with goldfish in it, and I’m walking and the carpeting is all wet. And like half the water of the aquarium had splashed out of the aquarium onto the floor. I mean, that was our big hit, some nick nacks fells down and my wife didn’t even feel the earthquake on her walk with the neighbor, that being said, the zoo, it was as old of a facility it is, luckily we weren’t, the zoo was built on land, That was always there. They didn’t have the problems they had in the marina. We had a sink hole that opened up, not real big, down in the children’s zoo at the far west end of the zoo. We had some cracks in structures, Gorilla World, and some of the buildings, we lost power. It got back the next day.

03:36:58 - 03:37:47

It happened so late. And then it happened like at five o’clock in the afternoon, evening, a little after five, there wasn’t a lot of daylight. There wasn’t a lot of people at the zoo. We got some people in, started looking at things, when we saw that the collection was intact, we had no fail safe, failure or any exhibit we say, we’ll look in the morning and see what’s going on. And really see what’s going on. So we waited to daylight and then looked at the places. Like I say, when I was talking, is as much the following day and day forth, ’cause we didn’t have anything that was there. I mean, we had a few things, but you know, all in all the zoo fared pretty good.

03:37:47 - 03:38:05

We actually could have opened up like two days later, but we were closed for a couple days just to make sure, fail safe to make sure everything was okay. Compared to other places in the city, we were lucky.

03:38:05 - 03:38:10

Did the zoo have an earthquake contingency emergency plan?

03:38:10 - 03:38:43

We certainly did after that. Not that I remember. I don’t remember having an earthquake plan. I mean, after that, I guess it was years later. I don’t remember, AZA wound up wanting to do one of the sessions at national conference was emergency contingent plans for various things that could come up. And they asked me to present a paper about, earthquake preparedness.

03:38:47 - 03:38:57

Well, you weren’t at the zoo, when you talked to people at the zoo who were there, did they mention anything about the animal’s behavior before the earthquake?

03:38:58 - 03:39:51

I can relate a story though with earthquakes that many, many years ago, in the children’s zoo, we had this bird room that they had a bunch of parrots, it was almost all parrots. And the manager of the children’s zoo was in there. And he said like a few seconds before an earthquake, like all the birds jumped off their perches and were on the ground of the cages. And then seconds later, the earth started shaking, and it was also a common, whenever we had an earthquake, animals would be set off, peacocks more than anything else are all of a sudden them screaming and crying.

03:39:53 - 03:40:13

And I have a sarcastic answer about that question because every time we had an earthquake it’s from the media, the heat wave media question, but this is the earthquake version and said, did you notice anything different about the animals before the earthquake?

03:40:13 - 03:41:02

And my stock answer is, well, let me know two minutes before the next earthquake. And I’ll go look, I mean, it is a question you can’t answer, you have to be at the right place and realize, and you talk about it with, an earthquake gives off different waves. Some you can feel, some you can’t, the first one isn’t as doesn’t cause the damage it’s the second wave, but I think it’s, they have different names, which I can’t remember. I mean, and that’s certainly possible that animals have, can perceive feel those vibrations prior to us, no different than your hearing range or seeing stuff that, so that they can give you, you could have the Canary in a mind within animals. You’re looking at them at the right time.

03:41:04 - 03:41:06

Talked about, were there contingency plans?

03:41:06 - 03:41:25

And you said after the earthquake we had them, can you talk a little about contingency plans or what your involvement was when some very bad things happened and how they affected the management or your professional understanding with the tiger escape?

03:41:25 - 03:42:36

I don’t know if you were there, or when the keeper was severely injured by a cat and how that affected you and the zoo and your emergency plans. Okay. When the keeper was attacked by a Persian leopard, I have to admit it was David Anderson, was new. It happened very shortly, it could have been weeks, maybe no more than months that he arrived there and we get a call. And I don’t remember how the call came in, senior keeper was attacked by a leopard. And then another senior keeper actually got the cat away from the keeper dragged him out to safety. And David Anderson was there immediately. And he took charge and I was really impressed with him, how he took charge in terms of what he wanted to do was separating people, immediately getting statement.

03:42:36 - 03:43:34

You know, I mean, we called 911, I mean emergency service, but just separating people, talking to people, isolating the area. I thought, he impressed me with that, that moving on to the tiger attack. That happened on Christmas, I can, you know, happily say I was on vacation and not even near San Francisco, when it happened, I got a phone call, someone called me to let me know what’s going on. I was shocked that it happened. and I’m saying I’m shocked that it had happened at the time, as I would say, this is a building that’s 67 years old. It has had hundreds of cats. No cat had ever jumped out of there.

03:43:35 - 03:43:37

So should we expect it?

03:43:37 - 03:44:15

No. The only thing that I ever remember talking about with cats jumping from the moat is the old lion keeper who had been in the lion house for years and years and years. He used to talk about that they would have a cat get down at the bottom of the moat and they would have a long pole and put a hunk of horse meat on it and then stick it out. And the cat would jump up and get the cat. It was never moat height that they jumped to. It may have been close, I don’t know. And you know, how much he embellished the story too. I never saw that.

03:44:17 - 03:45:24

That being said, it never should have, that never should have happened, but we didn’t know that that that was possible for a cat to do that. You know, and undoubtedly, whatever the individuals did something to antagonize the cat. I mean, they were over the guardrail doing something. The cat didn’t jump across the moat, the cat came up on the side, and they said, they said there were scratch marks on the wall of the cat. So it’s not like it made a clear jump to the outside, it jumped at some point in time and was able to make the clearance. It’s a call that you never want to, you don’t want to get that call. I mean, could you imagine how you feel, A, someone was hurt or killed at your zoo. One of your animals had to be killed, put down because it was escaping and, God knows what it could have done.

03:45:26 - 03:46:50

Certainly there were huge changes made to the lion house after that, the building was closed. I mean, there was all kinds, windows were added, this mode exhibit now had six feet class panels from you. The height was extended so much higher so to prevent something like that from ever happening again, the zoo changed all kinds of protocols. I mean, after that point, after that became much more, we became much more serious in terms of gun protocols, having a shooting team there, having them practice regularly, A, having them certified by the police department for a shooting, maintaining guns, acquiring additional guns, having a plan. It used to be people, it used to be five o’clock came, everybody punched out and left the zoo. After when that came, it then became that there was a protocol for leaving the zoo that we had a shooter, a curator was on zoo grounds. There was a shooter on zoo grounds. And one keeper from every section of the zoo was on zoo grounds.

03:46:50 - 03:47:29

After the zoo closed, that was not allowed to leave until security had made a sweep of the zoo and made sure everyone was off grounds. It was a major impact on the zoo in doing that. Talking about a little different thing, animal health in you work with the veterinarian closely, and the staff. In 1990, Skippy the kangaroo, he went through something extraordinary.

03:47:31 - 03:47:34

What was it and what was your involvement?

03:47:35 - 03:48:38

Well, I had little involvement. I was little aware of what’s going on. Skippy was a great kangaroo, I believe. I can’t remember, anyway, had a heart problem. And we had been working with UCSF in Stanford. The vet department through, once again, personal contacts, I met someone at a cocktail party at Stanford who was in the anesthesia department and he had done some previous work with Marine, with the Ana Nuevo, with the elephant seals and I guess Marine Mammal Center. And when he found out I worked the zoo and that evening we talked and he wanted to become, you know, he said, hey, if you need help, give us a call. And we had other, our vet, who had that by that point in time, was working with the doctors.

03:48:38 - 03:49:50

They were MDs, not vets, also was developing relationships with the UCSF, with the department. And there was this kangaroo, it had heart problem. And it was decided that this heart problem potentially could be improved. I don’t know the exact words, but by implanting a pacemaker. So they wound up moving the animal to UC and the cardiac department of UC with the anesthesiologist from Stanford wound up placing a pacemaker in this kangaroo. As I remember, he was a success. He only lived about a week later, very short. It wasn’t a total success, you gotta start somewhere, try something different, or certainly there was favorable press in terms of, people think, oh, this is something different.

03:49:50 - 03:49:52

And you have to try something.

03:49:55 - 03:49:56

Did you feel it was worth the effort?

03:49:59 - 03:50:43

Yeah, probably so. And why I say probably so, I mean, A, there’s information, there’s science, there’s medicine that could be drawn out of this. And all the physicians that were involved, I mean, the two things A, they were doing on something radical. I mean, I don’t say it’s gonna become regular. It hasn’t become regular. They were trying something different. And also they were, some of them will get involved with the zoo that they never have. The pacemaker was donated from the company.

03:50:43 - 03:51:47

I mean there was little financial cost to the zoo. It was trying something for the animal that didn’t succeed, the benefits of working with these institutions, these huge institutions, medical institutions was great for the zoo. So at the time, yeah. But we do it again, probably. Tell me about raising. Let me skip something else here. You mentioned that David Anderson was another director at the zoo in this emergency situation, he reacted and you saw how he reacted, that particular style. During your time at San Francisco Zoo, you work with a number of zoo directors.

03:51:47 - 03:52:01

Can you talk about the different management styles and how they affected the zoo, how you were able to work with them with the zoo collection, with what you had to do in your responsibilities?

03:52:02 - 03:53:10

Yeah. Can we start with the first zoo director and just kind of talk about different styles. I was at San Francisco for 32 years, a fair amount of time. In that time, there were six zoo directors. First was Saul who was there for almost 12 years. My first 12 years who I can’t say enough good things about in terms of being a professional, a mentor, a friend, all around good guy, it was unfortunate when you know, in my eyes when he retired, I mean, it’s not something I wished upon, following Saul we had. When you say he was a good guy, give me some examples of what you consider good to you and how it worked for the zoo management style. Yeah.

03:53:10 - 03:53:56

Saul gave me the authority, the permission to change the collection. Now I wasn’t about to sell a gorilla or get rid of the gorilla collection and bring in a new Orang collection. I mean, I knew my limits, but clearly I was able to move. Yeah, it’s part of the fun of the zoo, in terms of managing the collection, be able to change species. I mean, not that everything was just done, hit or miss, or, at the moment, but once again, you go to a conference, in those days, and animals are available and someone says, I have something, go.

03:53:56 - 03:53:59

I want it, I think that’ll be real good for us, you know?

03:53:59 - 03:54:44

And I would just do the deals, and then let him know after fact, I didn’t feel that I have to hold it. I gotta talk to Saul before I could tell you, we can do this. He gave me the authority to do this, do that stuff. It made it so much fun. I could go to Saul and I could, I didn’t have to worry about complaining about something. I could say whatever I wanted. We had a very liberal speech. We could talk freely in his office, or Saul was a very good new Yorker or New Jerseyer and you could speak freely and say what’s on your mind.

03:54:44 - 03:56:25

And whether you disagreed with him, it’s not that I’m would just sit and call him out and say something, but if something was to be done, that I didn’t agree with, strongly agree with, I would let him know. I think that’s very important with any institution. He was the only director that I was able to do that with, you know, ever after Saul’s gone. That relationship that I had with any director was never the same. And let me just say, I’m gonna jump, skip one director for a moment, David Anderson, when David Anderson was hired, he was given the option to hire his own assistant director. An with him, he brought David Robinett, who, David previously was the general curator at the Audubon park zoo, I don’t remember. And David Robinett was the curator of mammals. I believe initially they had kind of the same relationship that Saul and I had amongst them, that did change though, unfortunately, I think for the animal collection, but it did, he had the luck of being able to comfortably talk to David.

03:56:28 - 03:57:39

I think, how he did, but now I have to jump back, after Saul left when he had Phil Arnold. And once again, Phil, nice guy, new business, you know, was not a zoo guy, not an animal guy, a placeholder, who wanted to be zoo director. It’d be interesting to see, how it would’ve worked out if he got the position. I think so many problems today with zoo directors are many of them are not zoo directors, they’re directors, they’re managers, they’re financial people. They’re PR people, they’re fundraising people. They’re not animal people. And I like to use as an example, I think Doug Meyer, who is the director of San Diego, he’s not an animal guy, but he’s surrounded by a great animal staff. And you know, I can’t speak from experience saying, how many animal management decisions that he actually makes.

03:57:39 - 03:59:25

But I believe that, he knows he has the right team around him. He could support them and he gets involved whenever he has to, but he’s not an animal guy and a zoo seems to do pretty darn good. So it would’ve been interesting, you know, like I said, Phil was interested in the position, had he gotten the position, who knows how he would’ve evolved into the position, moving on David Anderson, David came on very, very strong initially. I mean, once again, San Francisco, whether by intent or by rumor by association, had this reputation, and David, I don’t believe that Audubon, and Audubon totally had a complete metamorphosis. I mean, it was in the sixties and seventies, a terrible, terrible place that had a bad reputation, was a bad facility with no commitment to anything, running on the good old boy system, I guess. Ground foreman worked for years to change and make it into a highly, totally respected facility. I don’t think as I remember, that there were unions at Audubon, and I may be wrong. So I don’t want to, in any event, David had a much stronger approach.

03:59:25 - 03:59:42

And I remember at one of the early senior management meetings that we were having, sat down on that, David started talking about changing the hot dog. We need a different hot dog.

03:59:44 - 03:59:49

And I remember talking to Peggy Burkes after this and going, what does he know about hotdogs?

03:59:49 - 04:01:21

He’s the director of the zoo. And I remember her talking about, yeah, we have to teach him to be a director. You don’t know everything, you know, but, you know, initially he came on very strong, he had tried to change the zoo and unfortunately the zoo did change. I’m gonna say something that I may regret if you put this in print, but with all the problems that San Francisco had, has had, does have, and will have, it’s a cultural thing. And I always used to joke around saying, if we wanna fix the zoo, to run it like we think we have to fire everybody. I mean, 100% of the employees and then only hire people that never lived in California, to start anew. I mean, because cultures are learned, you pass culture on, you just don’t born a culture and you see how things are done from one from one generation to the next and cultures do change, but they evolve. So this director, his management style of directness was being thwarted in a way by the culture of the institution.

04:01:21 - 04:02:35

The institution, the area, the politic of the city. And the culture, I think, it is funny how David did change as personnel changed in his management team. And when David, initially David, he was very good at making decisions, and it’s not like he would just jump. David was very Southern, when you’d speak to him, he never just answered. He always thought before he talked, something I never do. And, but after he’d think it out, he’d give the answer, you know, you’d be expected to carry it out. But David was there for, I guess, 12 or 13 years, 1990 to 2002 to 2003. And he has some personal that totally affected his life that happened.

04:02:36 - 04:04:04

But he also through his support staff, and whatever was said to him, from him being very authoritarian in terms of making decision, we then became the consensus zoo, where everything was done by consensus. And everybody had to buy into the plan before we could implement things, and it wound up that everybody wound up almost having an equal say in any plant and an example, one of the things that toasted, that disappointed me early was at some point at time, exhibits would come up, we wanna build it a new exhibit. And he started a program, in terms of a master plan that was done during him, that we’d have three different types of projects, and I don’t remember the order, I’m gonna reverse it. We’d have a C type project. And that was all like $100,000 project, something where you’re renovating an exhibit and clean it up and fix it up. And that should happen every year. You’re doing something. And then you have a B type project that may be from, 100,000 to a million dollars.

04:04:04 - 04:05:32

And that was a pretty significant change in an exhibit. And you do that every couple years, two to three years. And then you have the A project, was the one million plus, one million to the sky’s the limit. And that was the project that should be built every five years. In terms of drawing people to the zoo, to a degree, I mean, you have your regular audience that is gonna come to the zoo. They’re 2.3 times a year with their 1.6 kids and wanna see the zoo because they want to see Chunky the bear, but you need something new, just like any amusement park has to come up with a new ride, every couple of years, you need a new major exhibit, every three to five years and something that I agree with, unfortunately hasn’t been done and became more difficult as became the consensus zoo. And the point that I was trying to make that I was very disappointed. And we were talking at some point in time, we decided to get, is very bad naked mole rats, was not a major exhibit, but to me it was a fun, unique, special exhibit.

04:05:32 - 04:07:00

One of those things, could be, you know, a low B type, that’s not gonna call multimillion dollars, but depending on where you’re gonna put it, gonna cost some box, and we talked about it, looking into it, and then the marketing department made this huge, huge stink about it saying we can’t market penises. ‘Cause she felt that a naked mole rat looked like penises and no one’s gonna want to give money to that. And I mean, I thought, being in San Francisco would probably maybe be an easier place to raise money for that. But you know, literally, it was because they felt they couldn’t market naked mole rats, the project was kiboshed. I don’t think, I never thought and I still don’t think you make decisions on how you market animals. That’s not the reason to have that. So that being said for that, as David’s management style changed to the consensus director, no zoo director should stay forever. I mean, no person should stay forever.

04:07:00 - 04:08:19

I don’t think ’cause I mean you need new blood. I think it’s important that our new hires, it’s great to promote from within and at times promote zoo directors from within, it’s important to bring new blood into a facility where you are gonna see and do things possibly differently. And I mean, and David was new blood when he came in, following David, after he left, Manuel was named the director for a short period. Three years there for three years, came from LA. He was the zoo director and director of recreation in parks for the city of LA. He came, his zoo experience. I guess he initially was, and I don’t know everything. He was appointed zoo director there, was there for a period of time.

04:08:21 - 04:09:14

Once they hired John Lewis, he was then returned to his position as director of parks. He had no feel in my opinion, he had no feel for the zoo. And it’s like he wanted to be something that the zoos are trying to get rid of. The newest, last collector. He just wanted animals that nobody else has or so few have and at the rarest you know, doesn’t make any sense to bring him in. Cause how are you gonna manage them the long term, if you just want them for five or 10 year period, fine. But if there’s no others in it and you only bring two or three of them in it, it’s gonna be hard to have a everlasting population.

04:09:15 - 04:09:19

What type of style did he have as a manager?

04:09:19 - 04:09:23

And how did that affect how you and the people ran the collection?

04:09:23 - 04:10:39

I’m happy to say I had little involvement with him, because his style, what he would do is, he would give orders and he would also, in terms of, he would minimize people, which I guess worked for many positions in senior staff at the San Francisco Zoo. He minimized positions where professionals would wind up saying, I’m not doing anything, I’m moving on. And many senior staff members left because of his style. Like I say, I never was a direct report to him. I won’t get into what the personal things I’ve I had with him. I mean, I felt I was one of those minimalized people, but you know, I was able to deal with it at the time. We were talking about management styles of directors and the last director you worked with had a different management style than the other people.

04:10:39 - 04:10:41

What were the pros and cons of that management style?

04:10:41 - 04:10:44

Has it affected the zoo?

04:10:44 - 04:12:15

So the zoo emotionally, the institutional emotion was not in good shape at the end of Manuel’s tenure. We had the tiger incident, we had his management style, we had his knowledge or lack thereof and the zoo, like I say, emotionally, if you look at it, institution emotion, I don’t know if that really exists, was not good. So the society, after they came to terms about him leaving, decided that they were going to place Tanya Peterson in as interim director, she was a board member. She worked for HP, was an attorney that was head of the crisis management department for HP. And she’d be there until they found the professional director, at the time, I thought it was a good idea. I thought she came in, she was fresh. She was brutally honest about herself and doing it. And initially, it seemed fine that she was holding that position.

04:12:19 - 04:14:01

I think at some point in time, I believe she caught the fever and she liked the idea of being zoo director and by osmosis, by affiliation that sometime, soon as someone gets the title as director, they know everything. Tanya had us, she was making decisions on emotion and she turned the zoo, I feel into a really emotional place rather than a business institution. We are an institution and it is a business. She was making animal management decisions. And when I’m saying animal management decisions, deciding what animals come and go, which I didn’t think she had the knowledge to make those decisions, while this was all happening, I think the society was happy with her. And after the time, from the time that we had just come out of, there was a negative press, I guess the attendance or the money was okay. We certainly had had years of cutting back and stuff, and she came from within their own, she was a board member. She was one of theirs.

04:14:03 - 04:15:38

I also believe that boards are very reticent to admit to making mistakes with their choices. And they will go above and beyond hoping, praying, whatever they do, thinking that their initial choice was the right decision. And I saw this, I think with the last two directors, I stand corrected, they totally support Tanya. That’s their choice, I don’t necessarily have to agree. And when I say in terms of her management style, master of master plan became irrelevant. Not that I’m not a supporter of that, but she’d make decisions that I strongly disagreed with, whether that be, one of the things that hurt us operating in the zoo. If you look at the contract that the society has with the city, and you actually, there are management policies that are resolutions that were initially passed by the recreation and parks department. There were amended during David Anderson’s tenure.

04:15:40 - 04:17:12

And one of these things that cost us at times, I assume it still cost us today a lot of angst was the euthanasia policy. And you’re in the animal, in that resolution. It says that that the zoo director shall make all decisions about euthanasia. And previously to that, we really ran the zoo and what we did, for the most part, they became veterinary decisions. If an animal would be put down and then it would be with the concurrence of the curatorial staff. And certainly if it was a significant animal, the director would be contacted, you’re not gonna euthanize an elephant or a lion, or a gorilla without the zoo director knowing but it wound up that she, and I agree, it is legally what it says, the zoo director, but she made mandated that no animal will be euthanized without her permission. And she wasn’t necessarily saying her, or a designate. I mean, and if she went out of town, she could name someone that would wind up making, would make those decisions.

04:17:12 - 04:18:14

But yeah, animals hurt themselves, animals severely hurt themselves, and things have to be done. And literally it would be something as possibly as not as important. I don’t know what the right words are. As a Guinea pig was severely injured, gutted, nothing possibly to do, but you couldn’t euthanize that animal without contacting her. And if it’s on the weekend, you had to find her, you had to call her, you waited for that phone call. You couldn’t put that animal down without her permission. And A, that bothered staff. I mean, professionally you’d think that that a veterinarian inner curator would have the knowledge to know, the experience, the training to know when an animal should be put down and don’t have to sit and call the director and wait for her explicit permission to be able to do that.

04:18:14 - 04:18:55

I mean, we used to wind up having to give her, send a report when an animal was questionable, you know, a heads up, oh, the Guinea pig doesn’t look good, and we don’t know, it’s six years old. They normally live three years. It has no teeth, you know, we’re giving it soft foods, we may have to do something. We have to give advance notice like that. You know, I think that that day that still exists. It’s not a way to run the zoo. She needs to have, she micromanages or did, and I’ve been gone for a years, so how things have changed, I can’t say what they are today.

04:18:56 - 04:19:02

How did these various directors affect you as a curator and your ability to manage the collections?

04:19:03 - 04:20:18

It was a new game every time, needless to say, over the last, I guess five or six years that I worked at the zoo, well, let me back up a little, we talked about some great detail. When with David Anderson and David Robinett, I started working very closely with David Robinett. And David knew that I was unhappy with what was, I felt my cards were being dealt. We’d have these conversations, common conversations. Our offices were right next to each other. We’d have conversations sitting at our desk, not seeing each other, and David, became a really good guy. And I think that was one of his downfalls. And in terms of good guy, I’m not saying, I’m not saying all of a sudden, he was anti David Anderson.

04:20:18 - 04:22:24

He was pro animal, pro animal management staff wanting the animal management department to have more say, so what happens with the collection and not just randomly have other departments dictating what we wind up doing or not doing. So, yeah, from the beginning of David Anderson’s tenure to the end, I mean, David wound up having to leave before David Anderson did. And it was, I don’t think that many things changed during that interim, as I remember, I mean, other than the zoo then changing to the consensus zoo as I called it, to, the succeeding directors in terms of Manuel or Tanya, in my opinion today, she’s a nice lady. I don’t think she’s a zoo director. I remember, when we were redesigning this exhibit for black rhino and hippo, and we had some older hippo that in the interim, there almost two years that the exhibit was under construction. The animals died, we had no hippo left. And then we had this tapir that people, the exhibit was okay. I’m not saying it was a wonderful tapir exhibit, in my opinion, not that horrible exhibit, but she then wanted us to modify this hippo exhibit.

04:22:26 - 04:23:39

So it would hold this tapir. I mean, she’s thinking baby, it lives much like a hippo, it’s aquatic, it’s a herbivore, I don’t know exactly her thoughts, but it was gonna cost us. We had price it out over $100,000 to modify this exhibit that was designed to hold hippopotamus. We had to change the fencing. Totally make it a lot smaller as you didn’t need, didn’t need as much, you need stronger fence that wasn’t as much as you would for the tapir. And all of a sudden we’re modifying this exhibit to move this tapir. And, I don’t remember the exact sequence, but at some point in time, we were able to find Topeka Zoo had a hippo that they were looking very hard to place, and I had contacted them and talked to them and they needed to move the hippo. I would rather have a hippo, I would’ve never put a pair of hippo in that exhibit again, but a single hippo that was displaced was defined.

04:23:42 - 04:24:01

So, I mean, after initially starting to change and trying to get this rhino, I’m sorry, this tapir into the exhibit, we changed things back. We never started construction and moved the hippo in there, which I think is a much better exhibit for the public than the tapir, seeing a hippo.

04:24:01 - 04:24:46

While all this is going on, these various directors are coming in and out of the life of the zoo, the last zoo San Francisco we worked at, there are things going on in the zoo world, which have nothing to do with them personally or professionally, but they’re happening, your thoughts on new trends in zoos in the last quarter century, that you’ve worked, there’s been drastic reduction of animal species in the collection, SSPs, survival programs, immersion landscaping so much different than when you started, have these new trends as they’ve affected the collection that you had to work with under the various directors, positive, negative, more things should be happening, what were significant?

04:24:47 - 04:27:24

Well, the profession has evolved so much, whether it be, that was 43 years ago, opposed the last 25 years in the field, when I was first started in the business, Lincoln Park, which was considered a small zoo, had a massive collection. And there was probably as many animals off exhibit at Lincoln Park as were on exhibit. They were stashed in every nook and cranny of the basement of every building. I mean, yeah, the public would have no concept of what was on exhibit at the zoo, and like I said, they had, massive collection of species, you look at the inventory, I don’t know what 3000 animals, 600 species, I mean, as you mentioned, I mean, the species number, the specimen species numbers of zoos have changed dramatically. I mean, you know, A, the death of the postage stamp collection where prior to the sixties, it was one or two or three of everything, and people just wanted to buy, build these massive collections of a little of everything, opposed to, as zoo professionals learned in terms of managing species. Some of the stuff was by choice, in terms of better management, you have to add, some of the stuff was forced because the animals weren’t available as they used to be, readily available or available at all, it shows a wonderful progression for many animals. Now, it’s not all roses. In my opinion, there are some problems that we’ve certainly talked about throughout the afternoon in terms of managing a collection of animals and what you have to do, if one were to turn the clock back and talk to me 30 years ago, and tell me that they wanted, or could train an animal to present itself, to extend its paw out.

04:27:24 - 04:28:34

So they could do a blood draw, I would laugh. You know, we don’t have the time, effort, it can’t be done, you look at some of these training that people have done from the biggest to the smallest it’s phenomenal and wonderful, and certainly benefits, the animal, stuff like that is great. I think certainly in San Francisco, you ask about me looking at the profession. I mean, my world became more and more closed in terms of just being at San Francisco. I hadn’t really gone on to a conference in several years. My love for visiting zoos was becoming less and less, as I started looking at the end of my career. But yeah, I see at San Francisco, you have to love the animals. You know, I mean, love the animals.

04:28:34 - 04:29:28

And I just, I’m not that type of thinker where I think you have to manage a collection of animals and you can love the animal, but love the individual. It’s not my cup of tea, it’s not my style, whether we’ve gone too far at San, whether they have gone, it’s we, I was part of the process, I guess, gone too far, allowing this personal interaction between animals affects the management of the animal, the species, the institution. I have problems with that. Well, you mentioned one thing just to follow.

04:29:28 - 04:29:30

How did you know it was time to retire?

04:29:32 - 04:29:54

Simplest thing, I was maxing out on my pension. It wouldn’t get anymore if I worked longer, very simple. So it was more of a financial consideration. Yeah. I mean, like I said, I certainly knew my time has come, but yeah, it was a financial decision.

04:29:55 - 04:29:58

What had you hoped to accomplish but were unable to finish?

04:30:00 - 04:30:53

I’m not sure I really ever had a life goal. I was always a behind the scenes guy. I did not like being up front. I liked the idea of being able, whether to acquire the animal, to get the permit, to get the stuff done, to get the animal through the gate. I used to tell the curators, I’ll get the animal through the service gate. Soon as it passes that service gate, it’s yours and take care of it. I used to really go out of my way to avoid those situations. I remember, we had this exhibit at San Francisco, Monkey Island, was the famous Monkey Island.

04:30:53 - 04:31:48

She had a group of at one time, 60, 65 spider monkeys that dwindled down to smaller numbers from inbreeding animals weren’t bred in, the exhibit was, you know, a 60 year old falling apart, concrete mess. And I remember that they wanted to have a picture, get a picture of staff on the zoo, the day they were gonna start demolition of the exhibit. They wanted to get a picture of staff on Monkey Island to do it, and I was begrudgingly going there, not thrilled, didn’t like the idea of having to do it. And it was probably one of the few times that I got a call on the radio that USDA was there. And it was one of the few times I was happy to see USDA. And then didn’t make it to the picture.

04:31:48 - 04:31:53

What was maybe the most difficult time at the zoo for you?

04:31:59 - 04:33:05

Yeah, it certainly was a huge rollercoaster ride over the 32 years I was at San Francisco. the Lincoln Park and Evansville years, there was huge ups and downs. It’s hard to say what I felt, whether it be my biggest failure or the most disappointing time with my career, I’m hard pressed to come up with one single event that happened, you always hated. And this may have had an impact on me when there was press, that was negative, no one wants their name in the media when there’s something negative. I really can’t give a definitive answer for that. Okay.

04:33:05 - 04:33:15

What would you say are the largest professional problems facing United States zoos today and what could we do to correct the problem in your opinion?

04:33:15 - 04:34:33

Well, I think a huge problem is, it all comes down to the mighty dollar. Unfortunately, zoos are such an expensive facility to operate, it costs so much money, and I think that the zoos have been going, more and more zoos have been turned over from city operations to society, privatization of zoos, almost, I may have peaked actually, I don’t know. I can’t remember recently what zoos have converted, there’s limited resources in terms of limited animals, there’s rules, regulations, whether it be on the local level, the state level, the national level and the international level. I mean, from societies, animals, endangered species to whatever, they all have limits in terms of limiting you on terms of managing species of animals.

04:34:35 - 04:34:39

How would you describe conventional zoos now?

04:34:39 - 04:34:42

What would you like to maybe see them become in the future?

04:34:44 - 04:36:17

I’m old school with my opinion of what a zoo should be. And though, you need the animals and you need conservation and you need education and you need research. The only one that should be, well for the most part, the only one should be the animals. People should be come to zoo to see animals, and there’s no one possibly that can tell me that they could make it better seeing an elephant that’s on a computer or computerized, than seeing and smelling and getting near the real thing. And though for zoo’s own survival, I mean, they have to do the education and conservation and research. Some of that stuff may be better off not in the forefront, but I mean, still you have to figure out how you’re gonna fund it to accomplish it. And I’m telling you, I’m suggesting to do something, but I can’t give you a solid answer, how you’re gonna accomplish that, because you know, it it’s for the same reason, I would imagine that there’s certain things that you have to have at a zoo and I’ll use the great example of bathrooms. Well, I find that it’s gonna be very hard to get a donor who will build new bathrooms at a zoo.

04:36:17 - 04:37:29

I mean, maybe you play your cards right. And you go to some plumbing company or something, and they may wind up doing that. But it’s not too often that people wind up giving their money blindly and saying here here’s the do what you think you need to do. It’d be great if you had enough of those, do with this money, what you think it is best served. Now, whether there be, you know, a new exhibit, a new species, a research project, some educational program where you’re going to, the inner city or bringing the people to the zoo or funding something in Botswana. I mean, it’d be nice that if people can wind up figuring out a way of doing this successfully and having the backing, I find that, that blind, I can’t think of a word that people just blindly give you money and trust, this trust in you that you’ll serve them and it, well.

04:37:29 - 04:37:42

You’ve received a lot of advice I’m sure in your career, what strikes you as maybe some of the most important advice you’ve received that stayed with you, maybe you’ve even passed on to other people?

04:37:42 - 04:39:06

Well, I don’t know, to start with Sauls, evolution not revolution, don’t expect to change things overnight, nobody, nothing will be able to do that. Zoo is for people. I used to say that zoos are run for zoo people. You know, a deer is a deer, is a deer, is a deer. John Q public doesn’t know a white tailed deer from a brocket to a barasingha deer. You know, it’s a deer, it’s got antlers, it’s a reindeer. So, but you know, many collections, know there were zoo people that would want to get every species of deer, we won’t mention names. Or primate, and certainly you look more old school, I guess, the new school, because I would imagine, it seems like most new directors now are business people, where they have funding experience and management experience, zoos used to be, like I say, run for zoo people.

04:39:06 - 04:39:26

And the face of the director would be the face of the zoo, would be the embodiment of the zoo. If you had a zoo director that loved reptiles, it’s amazing, but a good reptile collection you’d have in your facility, if you know, mammals or primates, you have a great primate collection, nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

04:39:28 - 04:39:35

But then again, too, serving your public, when someone comes to zoo, what do you wanna see?

04:39:35 - 04:40:06

Are you best seeing a wonderful exhibit of a limited number of species or a diverse collection of species, with lesser numbers, I guess that’s all in, it becomes a personal choice. You were involved in a medium size zoo in Mesker Park, you went to bigger zoos that wish we could do what they were doing.

04:40:06 - 04:40:16

What do you think a small or a medium size municipal zoo today can do to be involved in wildlife conservation either nationally or internationally?

04:40:16 - 04:40:17

Can they do anything?

04:40:17 - 04:41:04

Yes, but I there’s certainly limits, the resources and in those resources are, you know, I mean the physical plan, financial availability, what the community wants, what the zoo can realistically accomplish, where it becomes meaningful. I mean, it’s easy to say you’re doing stuff, but in my opinion, if you’re doing something you want it to be meaningful, just about donating money to some organization, ythat doesn’t buy me conservation, in my opinion, from an institution.

04:41:04 - 04:41:09

But then again, too, you have to look at, in a small zoo, what can it do?

04:41:10 - 04:42:13

They may have a very, very limited staff. I mean, the smaller zoos that may have a half a dozen or 10 people or less, including the director that are responsible for that zoo to operate seven days a week, 365 days a year, no matter what happens, every day, those animals have to be taken care of in some manner, and in a smaller zoo, the director, it’s hypothetical. May have to cancel talk that he was giving to a civic group because two keepers called in sick and he has to shovel that day. I mean, it’s a smaller zoo. It’s nature of the beast. Your responsibility is to the collection. I mean, that has to be the first and foremost priority you have that your responsibility is to that living collection.

04:42:13 - 04:42:16

Should every zoo be trying to breed animals?

04:42:19 - 04:43:20

I could say yes and no. I feel strongly both ways. Yeah, breeding animals are important to zoos. I mean, it’s important to zoos for the conservation and survival of many species. I mean it’s also important, baby animals draw, you get the right. You don’t have to have a baby elephant to draw a crowd on the weekend. I mean, some animals, I always think of Patagonia Cavies, when they’re babies, they’re about as cute as any animal there is, in a smaller community with a smaller zoo and you wind up breeding Cavies, and it’s on the news or in the paper, it’s in the meeting some way, people are gonna want to come and see it. It’s a draw to have babies, right, wrong or indifferent.

04:43:20 - 04:44:09

It’s a draw or it can be a draw to have the temporary exhibits, the visiting animals. I mean, and that has the advantage, you may not have to have, build a permanent specialized facility, it helps with drawing people in because it’s there for a limited time, no different than going see a movie. It’s not gonna be here forever. This animal is visiting for three months, six months, two weeks. It’s gonna impact your visitation, which’ll impact your revenue and impact. You know, maybe some joining the society are learning to support the zoo. They hadn’t visited the zoo for X amount of time. They came, they saw this, they saw the rest of the zoo.

04:44:09 - 04:44:16

And hey, I want to get involved. There’s been a complaint at times from zoo directors that there are few good curators.

04:44:18 - 04:44:19

What’s the problem?

04:44:19 - 04:44:24

How do you think curators should be trained today to do what’s expected of them?

04:44:24 - 04:45:33

Once again saying I’m old school. I think it’s very important that curators need to experience. I mean, they need practical hands on experience. I have certainly seen institutions hire people from the academic community. Have great academic credentials may have done, some wonderful field work, but never worked in a zoo and have that experience of dealing with the people, the animals and the captive experience. So depending where I am, but for the most part, I would take practical experience over academic training for a curator. Give me three qualities you think a curator should have. Able to communicate well with his staff, have a knowledge base of it, the animals that he’s responsible for, and be honest about it.

04:45:33 - 04:45:54

You can’t know everything about everything, and you have to have an open mind where you can learn from your keepers. There’s a hot topic of zoos maintaining elephants in their collections. You’ve had elephant experience.

04:45:54 - 04:46:02

What is your view regarding the topic of elephants in captivity from a curator standpoint?

04:46:02 - 04:47:53

Another one of those, I feel strongly both ways When you visit a zoo, the most typical, I mean, if you were to draw what your average family is, whether it’s a male that’s 37 years old and a female, 29 years old with 1.6 kids. And that means one, no 1.34 kids, not using zoological terms. I always think there’s certain expectations that you wanna see in the zoo and it’s the basic zoo animals. If you wanna see the lion, the tiger, the red assed monkey, the elephant, zebra, there’s certain basic animals that one has expectations for it in the zoo. Unfortunately, zoos haven’t had the success with elephants that they’ve had with many other species, I say one of the few failures, in terms of managing elephants for long term, but that being said, I think it’s one of those animals that you need, you know, that the public wants to see, that you can’t replace. Coming to a zoo and seeing animals and smelling animals and looking at animals, and then if you get the opportunity of touching animals. That’s part of human culture wanting to do this. I mean man wants a relationship with wildlife.

04:47:55 - 04:48:45

At the time when we got rid, when we shipped the elephants out of San Francisco, I understand that it had to be done. And certainly in San Francisco, because of the culture of the city, I understand that move. I personally would’ve liked to seen them stay, but I think I would’ve been in the minority at San Francisco at the time, if it was my decision to say, we’re gonna keep them and not move them out and not bend to the pressures though. I mean, some of the bending, it wasn’t pressures. It wound up that the board of supervisors made it illegal for the zoo to keep elephants, there was no choice in it, but yeah.

04:48:46 - 04:48:52

What would you say to those who still believe zoos are nothing more than places where you cage an animal?

04:48:52 - 04:49:42

Yeah, it is one of those subjects that you can’t argue. It’s like talking. I equate it to trying to convert someone to religion or politics. If a person has a feeling that zoos are horrible places that just keep animals caged with a miserable life, that the animals have no purpose in life, being in a zoo, unfortunately there’s certain arguments that in my opinion, it doesn’t pay to argue, you’re not gonna sway him one way or you’re not gonna sway him to your way. No one’s gonna ever talk me out of saying that we shouldn’t have zoos. Let’s say you’re in charge of the world.

04:49:42 - 04:49:45

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

04:49:46 - 04:50:55

Make sure they do it. You’re very direct. They need to be able to manage, and whether that be fund, give enough guns. I mean, manage the collections, the wild populations of animals in a meaningful way. Now, let me say this too about that, extinction is a normal part of evolution, for millions of years, animals have become extinct. I mean, that also gives the opportunity for other animals to evolve through the extinction of previous, of earlier species. Now, I’m not saying that extinction should happen rapidly and uncontrollably, but you know, it is part of the national process. Unfortunately, we can’t turn the clock back.

04:50:56 - 04:52:16

We can’t devolve man. We can’t euthanize the population. We can’t bring the world back to way it was, whether it’d be a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago or a million years ago, it’s evolving. I don’t know if two years ago, certainly still talk about it, that global warming, now, you know, more often than global warming, I hear climate change. Some people that were saying, we were destroying the world, making it warmer, and that may be true, I didn’t hear that much climate change a couple years ago. I hear that commonly now, have I looked into it, not really. I mean, what I see on the news or, you know, have ever read a few articles, but I can’t say, if it’s really, the world has warmed and cooled and changed numerous times over years, what what’s happening now is that normal. It certainly is possible in my mind.

04:52:16 - 04:52:21

Do zoo have a role in conservation in the tenants of education and research?

04:52:22 - 04:53:31

Well, yeah, they certainly have a role, now, you know how successful they are with the role. I can’t subscribe to a zoo being successful in terms of conservation. It’s almost once an animal becomes considered endangered or site one or whatever. You want to have some sort of designation, in my mind, for the most part, once those animals reach that critical point, more often than not, they’re not gonna succeed. And more often not, they will become extinct. Now, yes, and you can cite examples from whether it be the American bison or whatnot, we’re down to minimal animals. they’re meat animals raw for practical purposes. You gotta choose your battles.

04:53:31 - 04:54:29

You can’t choose everything and think you’re gonna succeed out everything with the limited resources of zoos, universities, national parks, governments, you can’t save everything. So I guess, choose your battles wisely. You’ve done a lot of things. Do you have anything that comes to mind that is really a proud accomplishment that you’re, professionally. Professionally, I guess I wanna say survive right, wrong or different, I worked at zoos for 43 years. I’ve seen zoos evolve. I’ve seen the profession evolve, I’ve seen myself evolve. I’ve seen people come and go.

04:54:29 - 04:55:00

I’ve seen people come and disappear. Never to hear from them again. People you would think, that I considered were, good guys who got good zoo guys, man, or woman, but for whatever reason, whether it was by choice, by necessity or by mandate, they left the profession, and maybe have never, and didn’t survive in the same manner that I have.

04:55:01 - 04:55:05

What skills did you have or skill that allowed you to survive?

04:55:06 - 04:56:26

I guess at some point in time, when I realized, I mean, once again, looking at my own personal self and retirement, if I could just stay under the radar, do what I have to do or do nothing if I had to do nothing. I mean, not that I’m saying that I did that, but I certainly, depending on the manager of the zoo, the director of the zoo, I did what I did to not be involved. A classic thing that I know that I wound up doing is eye contact. You learn a lot with eye contact, there are directors, and I’m not mentioning names, but soon as they had eye contact with you, they felt that they had to say, do or be directorial in some way. But if you didn’t give him eye contact, you could walk right by and nothing’s said, and nothing’s done. And it may could have made your day or week a lot more pleasant.

04:56:28 - 04:56:40

As a mentor, what do you tell a young person in college who appears to be realistic and sincere about wanting a zoo career?

04:56:40 - 04:56:47

What do you say to them about study or work or reading, what advice do you give them?

04:56:47 - 04:57:33

Well, it always comes back down to, you know, no matter where they are in school, whether they’re working on a bachelor’s, master or even a PhD, the academic community, the crystal palace is a lot different than working in a real zoo, go to a zoo. And just not visit it, go to a zoo and work at a zoo, no matter what you have done, you need some sort of experience, practical experience and seeing what it is. You can have all these ideas of being able that you want to work at a zoo, but without that practical experience, you don’t know if you really wanna work there.

04:57:38 - 04:57:40

Do you feel we still need zoos?

04:57:40 - 04:58:00

Absolutely. I mean, like I say, I’m not the strongest advocate. I have no problem with having zoos strictly for fun for the family, I really don’t, come and see the animals. Am I saying you have to ride an elephant, no, come and see the animals.

04:58:01 - 04:58:04

How important is the community support?

04:58:04 - 04:58:06

And do you think the zoo can survive without it?

04:58:06 - 04:59:16

It’s becoming so hard to do that nowadays. But once again, it’s the dollar and cent. You look at 25, 30 years ago, municipalities were running the zoos. You know, you had that government money. Many zoos were free, many zoos, there’s not, I think I can think of two free zoos or three, National, St. Louis and Lincoln Park, are the only three zoos that come at the top of my head that are free. There are fortune to run, so you need that community support. Now, whether that community support can be your advocate with the decision makers, at whatever level, whether it be government or society, to do that funding or direct funding from the community itself, you get groups involved. I mean, and we wound up doing it San Francisco, which I thought was a great project to get groups personally involved.

04:59:17 - 04:59:39

One day a month, they would have a project where they’d get civic groups together to work on landscaping or paint something, the zoo where you could, all of a sudden you get, I mean, it could be from 10 to hundreds of people and in a day you have hundreds of people. It’s amazing how much reading you could do. It’s amazing.

04:59:39 - 04:59:42

What could he be painted with that people?

04:59:43 - 04:59:56

And it’s just the cost of materials. And usually the materials are minimal compared to the wage cost. You said you’ve been in the profession 43 years.

04:59:57 - 04:59:58

Is that correct?

04:59:58 - 04:59:59

I think so.

04:59:59 - 05:00:03

What do you know about this profession that you devoted so much time of your life to?

05:00:04 - 05:00:38

Well, yeah, I’m a simple man with simple taste. I enjoyed the animals. I mean, I’m not thinking of anybody else but me now, for me just to work with some animals, to watch some animals, to bring them in. I mean, it was just a causal effect I’d have with working with a collection.

05:00:40 - 05:00:43

How would you like to be remembered?

05:00:43 - 05:01:21

Well, I said earlier as a survivor, you know, Mike Sulak was a good guy. He worked with a lot of different people, I help them, they help me with collections. Maybe a few of them learned a few things from me over the years, whether they have Mike Sulakism, they use that is really a practical, something practical for the management of something at the zoo, how they work things.

05:01:26 - 05:01:27

Did you ever have a favorite animal?

05:01:29 - 05:02:17

I have to admit, that changed over the years. I mean, at Evansville, I worked so much, we did a lot of work with Capybara, I had never worked with them at Lincoln Park prior to them. I mean, I enjoyed them, pangolins, I was working with earlier in my career. I enjoyed those. I was definitely a mammal person. I can’t say as I remember any bird that was really my favorite bird. And if I was visiting someplace, I wanna see the mammal collection first I wanna see everything I can in the mammal collection. And then see the rest of the zoo as time is available.

05:02:19 - 05:02:28

You had mentioned elephants that had left San Francisco zoo. You had an elephant named Tinkerbell. There was an incident in 1988 where she attacked her keepers.

05:02:28 - 05:02:31

Can you kind of tell me what happened?

05:02:31 - 05:03:42

Well, she actually attacked, two people got hurt with her at that time. They were moving her, Tinkerbell was, there was no protected contact in those days. We’d go in with the animals and move them and then work with, and two people went in, they were doing a medical procedure on her that she did a handstand, a headstand on one of their RTS and actually had broken pelvis and was out for a long time. And the assistant head keep was working there and she trunked him and he was thrown into a moat. It was sandy on the bottom bottom. I mean, he wound up breaking his back. It was certainly changing moments. One of those times in your career where, you have to reevaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it.

05:03:43 - 05:03:45

Why do you think Tinkerbell acted the way she did?

05:03:45 - 05:05:30

Elephants are elephants. By their own evolution and their own hierarchy, they survive by dominance. And, historically think that man was managing elephants through do, I mean, zoos took, whether it be elephants in the wild in India, how they were worked or on surfaces, used those methods on their animals in zoos, what made Tinkerbell, she was a moody animal. I mean, she wasn’t trusted. When I talked about much earlier about bunny, the elephant, mellowest was elephant in the world, quickly wound up listening, taking command from me and never had a problem with her. You know, Tinkerbell, had repeated problems with her, different animals, like different people have different personalities and different results. This incident occurs, but you didn’t move the elephant out instantaneously. How did you re retain or get back this dominance.

05:05:30 - 05:06:14

Well, I mean, that was the beginning of protective contact. We weren’t going in with them. I mean, we wound up modifying the elephant house with shoots and there were modifications, the doors were changed, electronic doors were put in, there was a shoot that was put in, it wasn’t a very elaborate shoot, but it was one where we could stop it and contain the animal and be able to do some of this stuff that we had to do to manage the animal when I had to work on her and have some level of protection. You took on another elephant.

05:06:14 - 05:06:18

Kelly as a companion, how did that work out?

05:06:19 - 05:06:20

Not well.

05:06:20 - 05:06:21

Why’d you think it would work?

05:06:21 - 05:07:47

Well, I mean, it didn’t work out for a different reason. I mean, Kelly, unbeknownst to us came in and had TB and she was one of the first elephants with TB, since then, is a more common occurrence than that. And Kelly was a good animal, we had to deal with a TB animal, I don’t wanna use the word nightmare. I mean, there was a huge amount of care that had to be put into this animal with the limited resources in terms of treating this animal for TB, she was kind of like isolated there. I mean, the feds, they weren’t gonna allow us to move her with her condition. She was at LA, I mean, and there was a rush to get her. I mean, if we waited long enough for LA, they may have discovered that she had the TB when she was down south and it wouldn’t have been our problem, but there became a rush to bring her up to San Francisco as a companion animal. And that turned out to be some of our undoing, dealing with her.

05:07:47 - 05:07:50

Did they ever have an opportunity to get together or never?

05:07:50 - 05:07:54

No, they got together. They were okay together. Yeah, yeah.

05:07:54 - 05:07:59

Is there anything that we haven’t covered?

05:08:00 - 05:08:04

We talk about a dozen subjects over the course of the day.

05:08:04 - 05:08:13

Is there anything that, we haven’t covered that you’d like to mention about zoos, your career, things that were most memorable?

05:08:15 - 05:08:22

I’ve had this question asked to me before and I guess I’ve answered in different ways.

05:08:22 - 05:08:34

I think the basic question is, if I were to do it over again, would I do it over again?

05:08:34 - 05:09:33

I don’t think I would do it over again if I was just starting, and maybe it’s because how I was raised in zoos. I mean, zoos have become so serious. And I still like a little fun. I used to get a kick out of the, AAZPA before it became AZA, at their conferences where they would wind up giving the zoo goof award and, they wouldn’t take themselves so seriously. And I’m not that one that all the time has to be a serious character. I don’t mind making fun of myself or my peers. And I thought it was really great when zoo professionals would get together and say, oh, you did the stupidest thing this year. You were raising a rat thinking it was a kangaroo, and we’re so serious all the time now.

05:09:35 - 05:09:48

So, that bothers me. And like, I, yeah, we used to have, there used to be auction’s not the word.

05:09:48 - 05:09:59

They used to have a, at the conferences where zoos would get up and surplus, get up and say, I have a kangaroo to sell, anyone interested?

05:09:59 - 05:10:42

And then there’d be bidding for it. And it was kind of light lighthearted at times. It was fun, it wasn’t to have to be serious. You know, I was raised, if I shook my hands with the super professional, that was my word, we would do the deal that we shook on. You know, unfortunately our world, everything has to be so clearly on paper, legal documents. I don’t like that. So, you know, not a realistic answer to your question. If I could keep the sixties, what was happening then, I had a lot of fun.

05:10:42 - 05:10:59

The zoo was not my job, it was my hobby. It was, you know, something that I liked. I was the luckiest person in the world to be able to do it, in 2015, with what I know, where I know, I don’t think I’d work in a zoo.

About Myron “Mike” Sulak

Myron “Mike” Sulak
Download Curricula Vitae

General Curator

San Francisco Zoo: San Francisco, California

General Curator Emeritus

Mike started his long career in the zoo profession as a summer zookeeper at the Lincoln Park Zoo in 1967. Learning his craft, his journey continued when he joined the Mesker Park Zoo in 1971 as a zoologist. He became General Curator at the zoo and at one point was interim director.

In 1979 at the urging of San Francisco zoo director Saul Kitchener he accepted the position of zoologist. When he retired as General Curator in 2011 his career had spanned 44 years. Mike’s expertise in federal regulations dealing with animal imports and exports helped to bring in new blood lines for various American Zoo Association Species Survival Programs.

Related Interviews

View All of Our Interviews

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.