June 7th 2014 | Director

Stephen Wylie

Steve was passionate about his zoo career, conservation, international travels, birding, hunting and fishing. He was Director of the Oklahoma City Zoo from 1985 until his retirement in 2000. During his 15 year tenure at the Oklahoma City Zoo, Steve was a builder. He dramatically increased community support and created numerous major renovations, upgrades and new exhibits.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:00 - 00:00:16

Steve Wiley. Actually, it’s Stephen R Wiley, that’s the professional name. Born on November 15th, 1943, Kansas City, Missouri. And tell us a little something about your childhood.

00:00:16 - 00:00:19

What kind of outside activities did you do?

00:00:19 - 00:01:17

Well, my family is very small. Basically, our Thanksgiving dinners, you could put around one table and that’s the entire family. So, it was a small family and it was at a time right after the War. My father was employed but things were tough and so our form of recreation was camping and fishing, a lot of fishing and some hunting to some extent. But we fished a lot as a family and so, I was introduced to nature and the outdoors. In fact, I started fly fishing at the age of six. First fishing rod I ever handled was a fly rod. So, I was just exposed and if I wasn’t fishing, I was lifting rocks and catching crawdads and looking at bugs and really wasn’t into to much else, other than things that I could directly lay my hands on.

00:01:17 - 00:01:33

But I had an appreciation of nature and I’m sure the fact that we did that as a family instilled an interest in me in the natural world and it just went on from there.

00:01:33 - 00:01:38

Now, when you’re growing up, did you have the opportunity then to see or visit zoos?

00:01:38 - 00:02:31

I visited the local zoos, obviously the Kansas City Zoo. I went to high school in Omaha. My father was transferred into Omaha. And so, we went to the Omaha Zoo that time, which was a Park and Rec Zoo which was pretty bad at that time. If we went to another city, sometimes we would go to the zoo. Typically, we didn’t target that, that wasn’t a destination but if time allowed, then we’d do it. I had never really thought about a career in zoos, obviously, I was obviously interested in nature and biology and zoology and stuff like that but really hadn’t thought about it as a career endeavor but we visited ’em if it was available.

00:02:31 - 00:02:34

So, what got your interest in wanting to work with animals then?

00:02:36 - 00:03:46

I think I was interested in working with animals as I grew older. After I got outta high school and went to college, being a Zoology major and wanting to work with animals, you realized that if you were going to do it, there were probably two ways to do it. Fish and Wildlife Departments, which I was interested in pursuing or a zoological park. The Fish and Wildlife endeavor, it was very tough to do because in many cases, that was a pretty competitive field in the state of Nebraska. Even to be a game warden, it was competitive. So, it was tough to get on to these civil service positions in Fish and Wildlife or the Nebraska Department of Wildlife or the Missouri Department of Wildlife. They’re publicly supported institutions and as a result, they tended to want to take people who lived within the state. So, it was very difficult if there wasn’t an opening, you’re not gonna be considered until there was an opening.

00:03:46 - 00:03:50

So, then actually somebody suggested, well, have you thought about zoos?

00:03:50 - 00:04:04

And I thought, you know what, I guess I really haven’t. And then I applied for a job at the Kansas City Zoo in 1967 and the rest is history.

00:04:04 - 00:04:09

Now, when you talked about college, what kind of schooling did you have?

00:04:09 - 00:05:03

My formal education is Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m a Cornhusker having to live out my life in Oklahoma, which is tough. And it was a liberal arts school and I got sort of a Bachelor of Arts in Zoology from there. Then I did two years of graduate work at the University of Kansas. Did not finish a masters. I think one day, my wife said, “Do you think you could hold down a job?” And so, that’s when I applied for the Kansas City Zoo, was accepted and went on from there. Well, in looking at your background, just as a quick aside, you were in a fraternity, Theta Chi- Theta Chi.

00:05:03 - 00:05:04

Theta Chi Gama?

00:05:05 - 00:05:12

Theta Chi. The Gama chapter is the a chapter name but the national fraternity is Theta Chi.

00:05:12 - 00:05:14

What’s with the name Pear-head?

00:05:14 - 00:05:28

(laughs) Every brother’s got a name and some of ’em had to do with your appearance and I guess I have a pear-head.

00:05:28 - 00:05:33

So, that’s how I got my name Pear-head and how did you find that out?

00:05:33 - 00:05:40

(laughter) Our extensive research. Yeah, extensive research. (laughter) Pretty funny.

00:05:41 - 00:05:44

Yeah, that was- Is this is widely known in the zoological fields among your colleagues?

00:05:44 - 00:05:54

No, not at all. Now it is. (laughter) You mentioned wildlife management. You had been thinking about that.

00:05:54 - 00:05:56

How’d you get in the study?

00:05:56 - 00:05:59

You did some studies with the black-tailed prairie dogs and how’d that come about?

00:05:59 - 00:07:13

Well, actually it’s interested in being a mammalogist, I think when I was at KU. E Raymond Hall, very prominent mammalogist, academic mammalogist was a major professor and he had a project. It was a 10 year reevaluation of the black-tailed prairie dogs in the state of Kansas, the populations. And a publication had been done 10 years prior to that and he asked me to go out and under the auspices of the State Biological Survey to look at these populations, see what their status was today. So, I went back and looked at the same populations that were looked at, I guess would’ve been 1957, ’58. And so, they gave me a truck and a spotting scope and off I went, to count prairie dogs and measured the sizes of colonies and such. And that’s how I got involved in it. And it was a really fun project, certainly became fairly knowledgeable about black-tailed prairie dogs and particularly their status in the state of Kansas at that time.

00:07:13 - 00:07:23

And while I was out there, I was also looking for the black-footed ferret and really had determined that it was pretty well been extirpated out the state of Kansas.

00:07:23 - 00:07:29

But that study didn’t make you really want to go into wildlife management or did it?

00:07:29 - 00:07:49

No, I don’t know that that really did, it didn’t discourage an interest in it but I don’t think it really in encouraged it more. It was just like, oh, this is kind of neat. So, getting the job at the zoo, your first job, your first zoo job at Kansas City. Right.

00:07:49 - 00:07:54

Was something you were mildly interested, you were gonna test the waters or you were hot to do this?

00:07:54 - 00:08:48

That’s a good question. Probably thinking back on it at the time, it was like okay, let’s see where this goes. And as I got into it, I remember my first three weeks when I started there. And in those days, a lot of the old-time keepers, there wasn’t anyone on staff who had a formal education. These were career keepers and they were very good but here comes the college kid. And so, for the first three weeks I had a paper picker and a bag and I picked up paper around the Kansas City Zoo. And since that didn’t break me, I guess they decided, well, okay, we’ll keep the kid. And from then I started working, I think my first keeper function was working gorillas believe it or not.

00:08:50 - 00:09:29

And as it went on, it became very apparent to me that there were a lot of mammal people in the zoo business but there wasn’t many people were involved with birds. Now, I’d had the academic training in birds. I had no practical training. I was a bird watcher. I had knowledge of ornithology. I was very interested in it. And I remember the director came to me one day and said, “We have a shipment of birds coming in. Would you like to take care of ’em?” It was an opportunity, golden opportunity.

00:09:29 - 00:09:44

And I said, “Absolutely.” And the Kansas City Zoo’s bird collection actually began right there. And I had it for two or three years and then I left to become assistant bird curator at Philadelphia Zoo.

00:09:44 - 00:09:48

Now, when you were at Kansas City, you were a trainee or an actual animal keeper?

00:09:48 - 00:10:32

Actually, my title to Kansas City Zoo was Animal Attendant, I think was the first one. And then I took a test and became a Zoologist 2, I think is what it was. And that was a level that the city had put for the zoo, so that it was a step above. In other words, a college education was required for that and only those people could apply for it but you had to take a test and if I remember and stuff and then, so I was promoted to that level. It was another pay grade, basically what it was.

00:10:32 - 00:10:35

Was did your day-to-day activities change?

00:10:35 - 00:10:37

My day-to-day activities did not change.

00:10:37 - 00:10:38

And they were?

00:10:39 - 00:11:15

I’m was a keeper for what bird collection they had there. I took care of the flamingos. I took care of the parrots. I took care of all these little birds that were around. And then they have a cultural program at that zoo, which had never really been done much before. So, my job really became focused on birds. Occasionally, I’d have to go in and fill in, whether it was cats or gorillas or whatever. It was a small zoo and everybody had to be able to work every place else.

00:11:15 - 00:11:18

As you look back now, what was the zoo like?

00:11:18 - 00:12:05

Kansas City Zoo at that time was under the Park and Recreation Department. And it was a nice zoo. It was a small zoo. It was in the inner city, so to speak and it was in a very pretty park, Swope Park. And it had been that way, I used to go to that facility as a child growing up and it didn’t really change much through all those years. They didn’t have the finances. They did add a gorilla building and a gorilla collection and chimps and some orangs. Outside of that, the facility had really not changed that much in a long, long period of time.

00:12:05 - 00:12:07

Just didn’t have the money.

00:12:07 - 00:12:12

As part of that, were you doing any municipal management training?

00:12:12 - 00:12:37

No, we did no municipal management training at all. The zoo had two head keepers, one director. And so, we basically managed ourselves, there wasn’t anybody and didn’t look like there was ever gonna be anybody else. At that time, that staff wasn’t going to grow much.

00:12:37 - 00:12:40

Who was the zoo director at the time and did you have interaction with that person?

00:12:40 - 00:13:29

Yeah, it was Bill Cully, William Theodore Aloysius Cully and Bill had been the head keeper at the Bronx Zoo for many, many years. And he came there as director, I’m gonna guess in the 50’s and yeah, we saw him every day. He would get out and walk around the zoo, very interesting personality, very strong Bronx accent and fairly knowledgeable. Then he fell in ill health and had to step down. And then shortly after that, a guy named Don Deetlime became the director and during that time I left and moved on.

00:13:29 - 00:13:40

As you were working at the zoo, were there things then in your formative years that you were thinking boy, if I could I change this kind of thing and why are they doing this way?

00:13:40 - 00:14:31

I guess I really didn’t think a lot about change. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge to base change on. I had, as I’ve always been a very strong believer in you’ve gotta become a student of your trade and you never stop learning. It just doesn’t happen. Some people thinking, oh, I’m outta college, I don’t have to study anymore. I spent every night reading literature. Those were the days before the internet, so we had to buy books and it’s tough to do on a zookeeper salary and my wife was a school teacher. But the library became the basis of your learning.

00:14:31 - 00:14:57

So, I had to do that. So, as I learned and as I became more aware, particularly what was being done in other institutions, then I could start formulating some thought but I just mainly took in what was and it wasn’t probably until the second or third, maybe fourth years that I could start seeing broad changes could be made. But by that time I was, I had left that institution.

00:14:57 - 00:15:05

And when you were at Kansas City, did you have the occasion to deal with other zoos and other zoo people?

00:15:05 - 00:16:29

When I was at Kansas City, I think the first zoo professional that I ever met at the time was Gary Clark ’cause Gary was an alumni of the Kansas City Zoo. And then there was a curator of birds at the National Zoo named Carrie Muller and Carrie really was wonderful. He took me under his arm and I would ask him questions, he’d have answers. He was very helpful, all I had to do was pick up the phone and call him and anything I wanted to know, he would tell me. He and I attended a Waterfowl Convention together and roomed together. And he probably got tired of me asking him all these questions about waterfowl and stuff but he was really very instrumental in terms of my early training in the field of aviculture and zoo ornithology at that time. And I did begin to learn the names of other people in institutions. Although I didn’t know them at that time, I became who they were and I didn’t hesitate to pick up the phone, I can remember talking to Joe Bell at the Bronx Zoo, he didn’t know me from anybody and was very helpful.

00:16:29 - 00:16:40

And I found that as you became familiar with these people and they became familiar with you, all you had to do was ask and you got an answer.

00:16:40 - 00:16:44

So, you were at Kansas City from ’67 to 1970?

00:16:44 - 00:16:48

I was there at Kansas City from ’67 to 1970.

00:16:48 - 00:16:58

And then you decided, what prompted you to seek employment at the Philadelphia Zoo and how’d you hear about that they even had a job?

00:17:00 - 00:17:55

I became aware of the job at Philadelphia in the spring. I gotta think. No, it was in the fall of 1969. There was a National Zoo Conference, which I think was Oklahoma City if I remember. And at that time, an announcement was made by Gus Griswold, that he was looking for an assistant curator of birds and if anyone knew of any applicants, just to let him know. Well, I knew Gus and I knew Gus from this Waterfowl Association that Carrie Muller had introduced me to. And Gus was one of the Deans at that time, there were only probably three or four bird curators in zoos in the country. Gus Griswold, Joe Bell, Carl Plath at Brookfield and KC Landt at San Diego.

00:17:55 - 00:18:57

Those were the deans. Those were the teachers. Those were the mentors. And of course, Carrie Muller, I forget Carrie. And so, someone who attended the meeting came back and told me, “Hey, they’re looking for a bird curator.” And I knew Gus, so I called him and I said, “I’m interested.” And we had an IWWA meeting, an International Wild Waterfall Association meeting, I think it was in November of that year. So, my wife and I went to the conference and I remember it was in Long Island, New York. And we sat down, we talked to Gus and we had breakfast and luncheons and it was a whole informal interview process basically. And later that year I was asked to come for an interview at Philadelphia, which I did.

00:18:57 - 00:19:10

And I began there in maybe May of 1970, something like that. It was a wonderful experience, Gus was a great mentor.

00:19:11 - 00:19:12

Who was the director at the time?

00:19:12 - 00:19:13

Roger Conant.

00:19:13 - 00:19:14

Did he interview you?

00:19:14 - 00:19:15

Yes, he did.

00:19:15 - 00:19:17

How’d you interact with him?

00:19:17 - 00:20:20

Wonderfully. In fact, he said something to me that has always stuck. ‘Cause he was sitting across behind his desk, I was sitting on the other side now. You understand, you’re a budding zoologist. Well, you sure to know who Roger Conant is, he’s the paramount herpetologist in your little world. And I was anxious, I was born and raised in the Midwest, was used to a certain lifestyle and all of a sudden I was going to pick up and we were expecting at that time and move the whole family to Philadelphia or that area. And it was a big leap. I don’t think any Wiley had ever left the Midwest. (laughs) And so, it was a big question.

00:20:20 - 00:20:21

Was this a smart thing to do?

00:20:21 - 00:20:25

Was it the economic thing to do?

00:20:25 - 00:20:31

There was a jillion questions and I was sharing this with him.

00:20:31 - 00:20:36

And he says, “What do you want to do in your profession?

00:20:36 - 00:22:34

What would you like to do in this career?” I said, “Well, I’d like to make a contribution and I’d like to be the best that I can be.” And I said, “I’m a little concerned about whether I can gain that at the Kansas City Zoo or another smaller zoo, if the sacrifices are gonna be worth it to move to a larger zoo in a large metropolitan area.” And he said to me, “Well,” he says, You know you can be a frog in a small pond and someday you’ll be a big frog in a small pond or you can go to a big pond and be a small frog in a big pond and someday be a big frog in a big pond.” Well, it’s spelled out. Okay, from it I’d say, well, if I want to reach some visions and goals, not only for myself but for my family, then I do need to move to an opportunity that would allow that. And I got the position and I’ve never looked back ’cause it was being associated with an institution like Philadelphia was wonderful. Not only was the collection good, the culture there in terms of curatory, the curators, what they had done, what you could learn, the association of that and the museums in town and you just get thrown into it. I went from a keeper uniform to a white shirt and tie and it was just a whole different thing now. There was a lot of personnel issues I was behind the curve on because it was a union zoo. So, I had to learn. In fact, the first thing that was given me was here’s the union contract, read it, memorize it.

00:22:34 - 00:23:30

So, that I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do and that was all new to me, all totally new, totally foreign. But it worked and was great. Great place. But that training in unions stood you in good stead later on. Well, when you work with an institution that has that kind of regimen for the personnel, you learn a lot. I came from, truthfully, I came from a culture where people’s ethnicity was not an issue. People were people. And I was thrown into a culture that I became aware very quickly about the lines between ethnicities and the lines of personnel.

00:23:30 - 00:23:52

So, all these rules and regulations were totally foreign to me. And it was a real learning experience. And boy, was I behind the curve on that. I don’t think you really ever catch up with that but you learn. So, you were hired as an assistant curator of birds. My title was assistant curator of birds. They expected you to be with the birds. That’s why you were there.

00:23:52 - 00:23:58

My entire function was related to the bird collection. There were other curators.

00:23:58 - 00:24:00

Was there a head curator?

00:24:00 - 00:24:01


00:24:01 - 00:25:00

No, there wasn’t. Well, there were two, I guess his title was Supervisor. His job was largely the management of the keepers. If I had a keeper problem, I had a personnel issue, I went to this individual to get it solved. So, my direct, although I worked with these individuals, with the keepers, the real personal issues were handled by the two individuals whose jobs were to make sure that all this stuff worked but there really wasn’t a head keeper. There were the curators and there were two assistant curators at that time, myself and Kevin Bell, who was Roger Conant’s assistant curator. And he was assistant curator of reptiles and amphibians. There was no assistant curator of mammals.

00:25:01 - 00:25:02

And the mammal curator was?

00:25:02 - 00:25:16

The mammal curator was Fred Omer. Fred’s background was in museums and he had been there for years and years, that he didn’t have an assistant.

00:25:16 - 00:25:17

Was there a hierarchy there?

00:25:17 - 00:25:25

Did Fred and the other curators not mentor you but accept you or were you Gus’s guy?

00:25:27 - 00:26:02

I was Gus’s guy. The Reptile Department, the Mammal Department and the Bird Department were all sanctioned. Everybody did their own thing. We met and had weekly meetings and certainly Conant, he was also curator of reptiles and director of the zoo. But this was bird business. This was mammal business. This was herp business. And it was kept pretty distinct.

00:26:02 - 00:26:19

So, my entire function was working with the bird collection and working under Gus’s direction and tutoring and working with the keepers that managed the collection. Now, I’m told Gus was a dapper kind of guy.

00:26:19 - 00:26:30

And how did your styles, as you were developing yours, mesh with his and what kind of influence did he have on you down the road with birds?

00:26:30 - 00:27:06

Gus’s background. Gus, his name was John Augusta Griswold and that’s why everybody called him Gus. Gus’s background was very unique and I don’t know that there will ever be anyone like him in this profession again. Gus’s upbringing was one… He came from a very wealthy family. He was educated. His father was an international banker and he spent a lot of time living in France. So, he spoke French very well.

00:27:06 - 00:28:08

He read it very well. He had not gone to college but he was very interested in birds and he was interested in doing field work that he did some expedition work as a young man. He actually is the one, I still believe this, that put the first bird list for Yellowstone National Park together. He spent, I don’t know how long riding horse and camping in Yellowstone and doing the survey of the birds of Yellowstone. He participated in some field work and expeditions in Borneo. And he was a field collector. He’d done a lot of that. And as a result, he was hired by the Peabody Museum, which is Yale’s comparative Museum of Zoology, maybe it’s Harvard.

00:28:08 - 00:29:11

Anyhow and he worked for some of the great ornithologists at that time. Tom Barber. And so, he got hands on ornithological training in taxonomy, as well as the general science of ornithology. And he had a book collection that was priceless. And in fact, after his death, his book collection was sold through Sotheby’s, that’s how good it was. And I had access to all of those wonderful publications and monographs that were done by the old masters, the hand painted lithograph sentiment. So, he was extremely knowledgeable about birds without having a formal education. And every day he would pass, we’d have conversations that I’ve learned.

00:29:11 - 00:29:54

I can’t ever remember having a conversation I didn’t learn something. And particularly, the opportunity to get out one of these big monographs and open it up and say, “Now, Gus, tell me about da, da, da, da, da.” And he could. And so, he was a very interested, interesting person and he taught me a lot about the parameters of professionalism in the zoo business. And particularly, having to do with birds. He knew all the old deans. He knew all the old masters. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t ask that he didn’t have an answer for me. He was amazing.

00:29:54 - 00:30:03

And he was like a second father. He really was. And even today, I miss my conversations with Gus.

00:30:03 - 00:30:07

Would you say there’s anybody comparable to him today?

00:30:08 - 00:30:40

No. No, not at all. Unfortunately or fortunately, we’ve come to a point in life we’ve outlived our mentors, we’ve outlived some of the people we really looked up to and that were there and so graciously gave of their time and knowledge. They’re all gone but I don’t see another Gus Griswold or another KC Landt, I don’t see that in the future.

00:30:40 - 00:30:50

Can you give any memorable Gus Griswold stories that he shocked and surprised you or something where it was very memorable?

00:30:52 - 00:31:47

Wow, haven’t thought about that. Gus was a very prim and proper person. In fact, if you looked at Gus, you’d thought he was an English professor. He wore the tweed jacket and everything and that’s the type of persona he projected. But I don’t know that there were really many stories. We did an expedition in 1971 to Ecuador. He brought the same tent that he used in Borneo, I don’t know, in the 40’s, leaked like a sieve, he brought the same tent and used that tent to sleep in at night. And I slept in that tent too and it was full of water every morning from the night rain.

00:31:49 - 00:32:37

And then he brought a camera that he’d had in Borneo, (laughs) which took lousy pictures. He just was a man of tradition. And if I was gonna think of anything funny, it was just that Gus didn’t really step up to a lot of new things very easily. And the tent thing, when you’re sleeping out in the jungle for a month and a half and you’re wet every morning when you wake up, that will get to you. That will get to you. Better in the telling than the doing. Very much so, better in the telling than the doing, that’s it. We did have a lot of interesting and fun experiences during the expedition.

00:32:37 - 00:33:00

Things that I’ve probably forgotten a lot of but he always had answers very quick because he had the expedition experience. And I don’t know of any other bird curator ever in this business, who had the expedition experience that Gus Griswold had ’cause he did that for the universities, for Harvard and Yale.

00:33:00 - 00:33:15

So, the words that Roger Conant said to you about being the small frog in the big pond and growing, were you learning things about birds that you couldn’t have learned in the other zoo, now at this zoo that you were maturing?

00:33:15 - 00:34:18

Yes, definitely. The collection at the Philadelphia Zoo far surpassed that of the Kansas City Zoo, so the learning opportunity was there. It was very good. And it was just a matter of me taking advantage of that opportunity. We had birds that the Kansas City Zoo would never have had, simply because that zoo had access to importations. It had the funds to go out and we went out and collected things on our own. And what I didn’t have in my own little library, Gus had anything and everything I’d ever want to read to know about some of these things. Now, at that time, the aviculture was really starting to build as part of a zoo program.

00:34:18 - 00:35:30

And we were writing a lot of the things that was happening. It was all new stuff, certainly reproduction with hummingbirds and reproduction with… The zoo one of the largest waterfowl collections in the world. And so, we were breeding things that hadn’t been bred before and that went not only for waterfowl but like I said, for hummingbirds and a lot of other things. So, that was all new information that no one had done before. So, it was a real pioneering stage of aviculture started about that time. Now, Philadelphia Zoo wasn’t the only one doing it, Bronx Zoo and San Diego Zoo and others had really taken on that direction. In fact, there were, I’m trying to remember, Art Risser was an assistant bird curator under KC Landt and Don Bruning was an assistant curator under Joe Bell at the Bronx Zoo.

00:35:32 - 00:35:44

There may have been one other, maybe Frank Todd. We were the youth at that time. So, it was a lot of pioneering was done then.

00:35:44 - 00:36:02

Well, it sounds like you had the opportunity for a lot of unique learning experiences or were you also assigned as an assistant curator, just the basic work that no one else wanted to do or Gus didn’t want to do?

00:36:03 - 00:37:03

I think my workload at Philadelphia, if I try to remember back on what was a typical day, I was the one who was responsible for checking out the bird collection every morning. I tried to visit every exhibit we had. Now, the zoo had just constructed the Elmer S Gray Hummingbird Exhibit. The first hummingbird exhibit in this country and hummingbirds are very difficult to manage. They’re very aggressive. You have to pay attention to them and if one bird doesn’t get to eat, it will die. They have very high metabolic rate and so, it’s a constant management problem and the zoo had huge hummingbird collection. I don’t remember, we had 30 or 40 in this exhibit, as well as some other birds.

00:37:03 - 00:38:10

Some other passerines, tropical tanagers, stuff like that. And so, my job was I had to go in the hummingbird exhibit obviously, every morning and we had individual feeders hanging. And so, this feeder was for this hummingbird, that’s his territory. And this feeder is for this humming, that’s his territory. And I had to memorize where all these territories were, although it was a short term memory because if you went in and you found out another bird was at this feeder, that means somebody’s been displaced and you better go down the line and find out where the guy at the end of the pecking order is because chances are he’s sitting up on a limb by himself with no access to food. And so, it was every day that kind of a thing you had to do but it was a great experience because this kind of stuff had not really been done before. It was new and it was a constant learning opportunity. And then I had my own little research projects in terms of aviculture mainly.

00:38:11 - 00:38:27

I would publish and Gus would publish, we’d publish about how to breed such and such or how to manage a hummingbird collection, stuff like that. That was in spare time. A lot of things were done at home at night.

00:38:27 - 00:38:35

Were you allowed to pick the projects that you wanted to learn about or publish?

00:38:35 - 00:38:40

It’s what you personally wanted to do or were you told to do certain things?

00:38:40 - 00:39:08

I think the projects, particularly for terms of publishing were just opportune. In other words, this is something we need to work with and you worked with it. I don’t know that I really sat down and gave a lot of thought to like, I need to work, I need to start something over here because it would probably would have displaced something that needed to be done first. So, it was a matter of prioritization.

00:39:08 - 00:39:13

Who instilled with you the of sense of you need to publish?

00:39:15 - 00:40:16

I guess I was taught at KU by E Raymond Hall about publishing. And I think in academia, it’s a publish or perish kind of a thing. I remember the first thing that I prepared for him in terms of a publication on black-tailed prairie dogs. He got a little red pen that looked like he just bled all over it. That was where I learned the difference between writing in I guess a popular style as opposed to a scientific style. He probably, of all people, instilled in me a need to publish. And when you get in the zoo business, you want to make your contribution and sometimes it has to be in print. And I think we were all doing it when we could, not for personal gain necessarily, as much as getting the information out.

00:40:16 - 00:41:13

The old group, shouldn’t say that, the old timers, the individuals who’d been in for a long time didn’t necessarily share information very well. I think the generation that mine and since, has been more about let’s share information, it will serve us all better. And as a result, I know Don Bruning and Art Risser, we were always writing stuff. Frank Todd was always writing stuff. And it was based on things that we were doing at that time that we thought we could share. So, if something came along in that, whoa, we need to get this out there, then we’d write about it. I don’t know that we went in that direction. At least, I don’t know that I went in that direction and say, “Oh, I wanna write something about that.” It was more like oh, this is new information, let’s get it out.

00:41:13 - 00:41:21

Now, speaking of publications. In 2007, you wrote about the use of tropical plants in bird exhibits at the Philadelphia Zoo.

00:41:21 - 00:41:23

Can you talk a little about that?

00:41:24 - 00:42:52

One of the unique things about the Hummingbird Exhibit at Philadelphia Zoo was that the way the exhibit was planted. It had a wonderful collection of plants and they were plants that were obviously all tropical but the selection of plants seemed to fit the ambience much better than at least what I had seen before, what had been done before. You can go into a, what they call, “A Tropical Exhibit,” and you see a Palm tree or you’ll see a calliandra or you’ll just see the typical, run-of-the-mill, usual suspects in terms of tropical plants. We had tropical plants in there that you didn’t see another institutes. You’d probably see ’em in botanical gardens because that’s where a lot of the stuff came from but it was totally different. It really gave you a feeling you were in some place special. Now, Chuck Rogers was the Head of the Horticulture Department at that zoo at the time. He was a great teacher and in that publication, although basically I wrote it, he’s the first author listed because he had the knowledge and he was able to guide me through everything basically was said in there.

00:42:54 - 00:43:15

He was the expert about the plants in there. And to me, it was really something fascinating because you can go into all these topical exhibits you see in zoos, now they’re better today but in that time they say oh, it’s a tropical exhibit. You go in there and it’s the same usual plants you can see at your local nursery.

00:43:16 - 00:43:28

Now as assistant, were you able to give Gus information or talk to him about expanding the collection?

00:43:28 - 00:43:29

Did you have any input?

00:43:32 - 00:43:39

I think my involvement with collection planning at Philadelphia in that bird collection. Yeah, yeah.

00:43:40 - 00:43:51

Gus was very open to ideas in terms of what we needed to have in the collection but the caveat was, can we provide the proper care?

00:43:51 - 00:43:52

Do we have the right space?

00:43:54 - 00:43:58

Are we able to provide the proper food sources?

00:44:01 - 00:44:50

All of the things that you think about before you’re doing a bird exhibit. I’m trying to remember. I know that I probably looked at the surplus lists that we used to get in those days, which were many, probably a little more closely than he did because that was part of my responsibility to do that and then bring to his attention anything that really looked good. And every once in a while, something would pop up that I think, well Gus, we might want to think about this ’cause this is something, could probably work very well in the space that we have and it’s compatible with where we might want to put it and stuff. And so, yeah, there were a lot of decisions made like that, that I guess I had some initial involvement in or started.

00:44:51 - 00:45:01

And in managing this collection and working on these exhibits, were there philosophies that you were learning that would help you later on in your career?

00:45:05 - 00:45:59

I think the basic philosophy and this came largely from Gus, the basic philosophy is if we’re going to do it, we do it right and that very little was knee jerk. And although I had a lean toward impetuosity, he was always the calming factor. I could always tell when he was excited with me. (laughs) It was because I had made a snap decision or made a decision and really hadn’t thought through it. So, the philosophy was basically let’s do it, let’s do it right. Let’s don’t do something just because it’s being done someplace else or because you think it’s cool.

00:46:01 - 00:46:03

What is there to gain from this?

00:46:03 - 00:46:08

He was a good collection planner, very good collection planner. We just didn’t throw things in for the sake of throwing things in.

00:46:08 - 00:46:10

Any good bird stories?

00:46:11 - 00:47:07

Well, probably just some of the successes we had that were really… Were there any successes where you were notable in putting it together and it was like, that was a great idea. Not at the Philadelphia Zoo. At the St. Louis Zoo we were the first to breed bateleur eagles and got the Bean Award for that. That was at the next institution. But I think at Philadelphia, we had, I’ll say we, the institution was known for its quality bird collection and the quality of it’s reproductive programs with that collection. It was in good stead. It was well done.

00:47:07 - 00:47:12

Did you have other opportunities at Philadelphia to get field experience?

00:47:14 - 00:47:43

Yes, we did the expedition in 1971 to Ecuador. We were there for a couple of months collecting. In 1973, we participated with the Wildfowl Trust and Gus didn’t go on this trip but I went on with Mike… Lee.

00:47:43 - 00:47:44


00:47:44 - 00:48:11

Mike Lee. Mike… Boy, I’m having a senior moment. I’ll think about it. Anyway, he’s with Wildfowl Trust, we went to Argentina to collect waterfowl and we went to Argentina and we went to the Falklands to collect steamer ducks and things like that. And that was a pretty successful expedition. Yeah, there were probably some funny stories with that. I see you smiling.

00:48:11 - 00:48:59

(laughs) We stayed at an estancia that had gauchos and it was a working estancia and we collected these waterfowl out in these lagoons and marshes and stuff. And we built a pen and put up some wire. And so, we were maintaining the collection there until we could box it up. And those days we had to send it to England because the Newcastle’s Disease issue had become prevalent in the United States. And so, we couldn’t bring ’em in to the States until they went through a quarantine. So, we wanted to send ’em to England which had a better system at that time, rather than trying to get ’em to the States. So, we kept ’em there. And we were there at this estancia for, I think for almost two weeks.

00:48:59 - 00:49:38

And we suddenly realized that some of the birds we were collecting were disappearing. Now, predation is not an uncommon thing but you usually know the signs of predation. There was no signs of predation. Then we found out the gauchos were eating them. So, we say, “Hey guys, don’t do that. Go get your own ducks.” (laughs) And that was the last time I rode a horse. We had a horse that I was on, we were out collecting screamer eggs and the screamers are a type of bird. And this horse didn’t understand my Spanish very well.

00:49:39 - 00:50:00

And after, I don’t know, four hours on this horse and this horse would not obey, it wouldn’t get in the water. A lot of things it wouldn’t do. And I said to the lady who owned the estancia, I said, “Will he find his way back?” And she says, “Oh, of course he will.” And I said, “Well good because we’re parting ways,” and I walked three or four miles back to the estancia but I was not spending another second on that horse.

00:50:00 - 00:50:11

Haven’t been on one since for good reason. (chuckles) Now, at Philadelphia, how’d you see your career moving at Philadelphia?

00:50:11 - 00:50:14

What were you thinking of and your goals?

00:50:14 - 00:51:36

After being at Philadelphia for three or four years, my wife and I and of course, by that time we had two children. We had gotten into the eastern way of life but we would’ve liked to get back to the Midwest. She was a farm girl outta Carroll in Nebraska, so this was what we considered our cultural experience. And there was an administrative change at the Philadelphia Zoo. And I thought, I wasn’t going to like it in the long run. I had discussed it with Gus great length and I said, “I’m not sure what’s gonna happen here because the individual who was made director was known for off the cuff decisions that may not be to anyone’s benefit.” And as a result, I thought I could be a victim here. And Gus, you’ve been here for 30 some odd years. And so, you’re gonna retire.” In fact, he was gonna retire in two or three years.

00:51:36 - 00:52:35

So, it wasn’t mainly concern with him but I could see that after he retired, I might not be promoted to the curator level. So, I started giving some consideration to maybe going to another institution, maybe more back into the Midwest. And as it happened, the St Louis zoo, the director came and visited the zoo and he and I talked and he was interested and I was interested. And in February of 1974, we re relocated to St. Louis and left Philadelphia Zoo. I really hated to leave Gus’s mentoring and our friendships didn’t end but I really missed the guy. And so, we went off and started a new life at the St. Louis Zoo.

00:52:35 - 00:52:38

Who was the director at the time that interviewed you?

00:52:38 - 00:52:39

Was it an informal interview?

00:52:39 - 00:53:16

Yes. Well yeah, because he had come to visit. His name was Robert Briggs, he was a PR guy and had followed, I don’t even recall who he had followed. And so, I started under him and he was director there for maybe two or three years then he left and then another person came in. But it was an opportunity and we just sought the opportunity.

00:53:17 - 00:53:21

But it was all based on just an informal interview that you had?

00:53:21 - 00:53:43

At that time. Yes. In fact, it was one of those, we’re at dinner having a couple of drinks. You know how often that happens in the business and it was and then he called and we talked over the phone. I can’t remember, I don’t know that I ever went there for a formal interview. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t, it was all done very informally and such.

00:53:46 - 00:53:53

So, you come in as curator of birds, who were the other curators and what was your relationship with them?

00:53:53 - 00:54:33

Well, by that time, there were probably two or three more bird curators. The zoos had decided to add into their staffing. Frank Todd was probably more of a player at that time. I’m trying to remember, boy. But at the St Louis Zoo, when you walked in, there were other curators- Oh, there were other curators. Oh, I’m sorry. Bob Frew, curator of mammals, Charlie Hassel was still curator of reptiles and he was general curator. And I was the curator of birds.

00:54:34 - 00:54:56

That was basically, it, that’s the size of the collection at the time. There were a couple assistant curators. I’m not sure they had those titles at that time. They did later, one for the cats or the carnivores, one for the primates. It was a large collection. So, it was a little more diverse in terms of staffing.

00:54:56 - 00:54:58

They welcomed you with open arms?

00:54:58 - 00:55:27

Yes, very much so I was a new face and yeah, in fact, the camaraderie within the institutions that I was, was always very good there. I can’t recall… Oh, there were conflicts once in a while but you have people working together, there’s going to be conflicts but basically speaking, I think zoo people make great friends.

00:55:27 - 00:55:29

What was your charge from the director who hired you?

00:55:29 - 00:55:35

Was it go build us a bird collection or maintain it or do what you want to do?

00:55:39 - 00:56:56

I think my responsibilities, at least the direction that he had given me was a fairly simple one because prior to my arrival there, there had been, as I understand, I never knew the gentleman. There had been an individual who hadn’t done a very good job of maintaining the collection, had created some personnel issues and was not a player in the profession. I don’t think anybody even knew who he was. And as a result, he didn’t satisfy the goals and the missions of what the zoo had in mind. For instance, for itself, as well as for that collection, I think they wanted to get in who had experience at another institution and who was dedicated to the cause. And so, I pretty well had, it was cart blanche but my priorities were just cleaning up the mess and getting it straightened out. Getting the records together. Getting a system for managing the collection and managing the people that took care of the collection ’cause it was a little out of sync.

00:56:58 - 00:57:03

Was it a good representational collection or not?

00:57:03 - 00:57:06

The collection at the St. Louis Zoo at that time?

00:57:06 - 00:58:01

Well, I guess it got to be more so later but it was probably the largest waterfowl collection in the publicly owned institution, perhaps in the world. Obviously waterfowl has been a real interest of mine but it had a birdhouse which was antiquated but nevertheless, it was there. It had a large pheasant collection, large game bird collection. It had a big flight cage that was built in 1904. The facility there had run down but the collection within the facility had gotten worse. There was a, what would be called the chain of lakes and it had a number of waterfowl and other kinds of birds in it. Big crane collection. And I’m trying to…

00:58:02 - 00:58:27

I think that was pretty much it. So, after getting it straightened out… Oh, it had a tremendous aviculture program in terms of I don’t know how many incubators we had but they weren’t all running and weren’t in condition to run. So, it was I think the first year was spent just cleaning up, just getting everything up to where it should be and then building from there.

00:58:27 - 00:58:30

Did you have some goals in mind?

00:58:30 - 00:58:31

I did.

00:58:32 - 00:58:39

I think the goals were all directed toward, okay, what can this collection be?

00:58:40 - 00:58:44

What can the waterfowl collection truly be?

00:58:44 - 00:58:47

What can happen here to make it better than it is?

00:58:47 - 01:00:02

Well, it was probably at that time, largely just cleaning it up, getting rid of some things that had become too numerous, too common and we really started working with things that needed to be worked with from a conservation and avicultural standpoint. I can remember even importing birds from the Wildfowl Trust in England, maybe 30 or 40 new birds, new stock to get this started. The pheasant collection needed the buildings, the aviaries needed to be all cleaned up. And so, those kinds of things and as you improved each of those, then it made a big difference in the results that you wanted to get. So, we had to create better holding spaces. We had did a lot of horticulture work in terms, particularly in that large aviary and getting plants in there so that the ambiance was more suitable as an exhibit and for the birds themselves. They didn’t really have very good perching spaces in many places. So, it was a long task and 1979, we totally renovated the birdhouse.

01:00:03 - 01:01:07

And we went from individual museum type glass type windows to high tension wires like the ones that had been done at Pittsburgh Aviary which was probably the first place that that’s been done. So, we had all these high tension wire, I think there’s over almost 9,000 of them. And the birds were maintained behind the wire so that you had a better feeling between, the exhibits were all landscaped and planted and such. And it was really a nice makeover of a very old building. Those were all built in the 1930’s. The St. Louis Zoo has a primate house, a bird house, a reptile house and those were all built in the early 30’s by a guy who was an architect and an artist. So, that the capitals on the… There was a lot of artwork done inside the buildings.

01:01:07 - 01:01:15

And it really turned out to be a very, very spectacular product when it was finished.

01:01:16 - 01:01:24

Was this your vision to do this or was it one that the director had or how did this renovations come about?

01:01:24 - 01:02:25

This renovation fell in line with some other renovations. A new cat exhibit had been completed. The primate house had been completed, been renovated. The herpatarium had been, I think it had been renovated, that I think the birdhouse was the last. Obviously had the opportunity to work with these architects who had this vision. We had some ideas, the high tension wire was certainly one of the things that we wanted that was a given and that we wanted to use that instead of glass. And in order to do that, it required some very special engineering because each one of these wires had a tension of, I forget, 75 pounds or something like that. Well, over 9,000 wires, that’s quite a pull on your structure.

01:02:25 - 01:02:43

So, all this had to be taken into account. So, we designed all of this and it was done as a team effort. We had design teams. And so, I would work with the architects and the engineers.

01:02:46 - 01:02:49

Was your first major design that you were involved in?

01:02:49 - 01:02:52

It was indeed the first major design I was ever involved in.

01:02:52 - 01:02:54

How did it get funded?

01:02:54 - 01:03:38

The St. Louis Zoo is funded by a zoo-museum tax district. And it’s a tax on real and personal property for people who live in the city, as well as St. Louis County. And that money is taken and given to some institutions and the zoo receives the largest portion of those monies. And so, it’s really tax supported. The zoo had the money to do it and that’s how it was funded there. I don’t even remember if there were any private donations that were given toward the facility. I can’t remember that.

01:03:38 - 01:03:41

Were you involved in any type of fundraising?

01:03:41 - 01:03:44

I was not involved in any type of fundraising, that was done by others.

01:03:46 - 01:03:53

And with this new exhibit, you had to bring in new birds, new specimens for this?

01:03:54 - 01:04:59

We had a game plan of what we wanted to show. Now, I’m pretty much of a supporter of ecological type of exhibits. In other words, this is a shorebird exhibit. And so, we’re gonna design the exhibit to look like a shore with the way the pools are and so it looks like that it’s the sandy beach and we’re gonna put species in there that are compatible and that represent and tell a story about what is found on a sandy beach. If we can breed some things in there, that’s wonderful but primarily it’s an educational story. And for each of the other exhibits, they were all themed. And so, we had all that in mind before we ever started doing things. And then we had to make sure that we had the right specimens and had the specimens coming that we wanted to put in.

01:04:59 - 01:05:21

If we were having a cock-of-the-rock exhibit, it’s gonna look like a tropical exhibit with a cocks-of-the-rock in it, we had to make sure that we were gonna have cocks-of-the-rocks. If we were going to have a small exhibit that is going to tell the story of toucans or something then we need to make sure that we got toucans that are gonna work and everything is gonna be compatible with them.

01:05:21 - 01:05:30

So, a lot of thought had to go toward what’s this space really gonna be best for?

01:05:30 - 01:05:34

How are we going to design it?

01:05:34 - 01:06:57

How are we going to put trees and all of the artifacts in there that we need to have to tell the story and then we wanna make sure that we have this proper specimens to what we’re trying to do. It was interesting that when you came into the birdhouse, sign copy has always been an enigma to me because there’s all kinds of sign copy. Everybody writes sign copy different but I would write the sign copy so that it would tell a story, so that when you’re looking at an exhibit, instead of having all these little individual tags of that’s a yellow-throated euphonia or that’s something else, is that something else which doesn’t go through, it doesn’t stick in people’s minds. Tell the story, this is a mountain rainforest. And tell the story about colors of birds in these types of environments and why they’re that way so that they walk away with the concept ’cause they’re not gonna remember what a red-legged honeycreeper looks like. They’ll forget at the minute they walk to the next exhibit. So, try to portray concepts. Now, some of the species obviously, you had to talk directly about and say this is a bateleur eagle and here’s why they called them bateleurs and you’d have to design your sign copy for individuals.

01:07:00 - 01:07:16

But in the mixed aviary exhibits, we tried to tell a story ’cause it was more of an educational benefit than trying to identify every little bird in the exhibit. And you couldn’t keep up with it. You mentioned some unusual birds.

01:07:16 - 01:07:22

Were these animals, were these birds difficult to acquire for the exhibit or how did you acquire them?

01:07:23 - 01:08:04

Birds weren’t hard to get at that time, they’ve become more difficult. Some of these were captive raised. Some of them were imported from dealers under special permits. I think it’s harder to do things today than it certainly was then. You’ve got the quarantine issues that are more stringent. You don’t have the third world countries allowing some of these specimens to go out like they used to. So, I think that’s totally different. At that time, it wasn’t so rough, not rough isn’t the right word, it wasn’t so hard to get.

01:08:05 - 01:08:08

Did you have to go out in the field to do any of this or not?

01:08:11 - 01:08:31

No. No, I didn’t do any expeditions at St. Louis in terms of field collecting. During this time that you’re the curator of birds, you were making daily rounds of your collection all the time.

01:08:31 - 01:08:35

How were you interacting with your employees in your division?

01:08:35 - 01:08:38

What was your management philosophy?

01:08:40 - 01:08:52

Management philosophy. Yes, the first thing I did was obviously, I went around to look at the collection and I was looking at a lot of things.

01:08:52 - 01:08:57

I was looking at the health and welfare of the bird, are you looking good today?

01:08:57 - 01:10:55

Because many times with a bird, when this starts looking bad, it can get bad real quick. So, just looking at the health and welfare of the collection, make sure that everybody’s looking good, talking to the keepers, “How’s this doing?” “How’s that doing?” I was a real task master on cleanliness and organization. So, I was pretty strict about maintaining their keeper areas, their equipment, everything has it’s place and it should be in it’s place and making sure that they’re keeping their exhibits clean. Didn’t like to have all these droppings building up and not being taken care of. And I had a pretty good crew. They were very, pretty soon, they understood what I was trying to tell ’em because they realized they’re gonna have to work twice as hard to clean up something if they didn’t do it on a regular basis. Because of the tropical plants in the building, when I interviewed for a new keeper, one of the things that I looked for was the sensitivity to plants because plants were as much a part of that exhibit as the birds were. So, not only did I want someone who was conscious of the health and welfare of the bird but also the health and welfare of the plants as well because we had a very large investment in horticulture material within this building that had to be maintained.

01:10:55 - 01:11:34

You just couldn’t just think it’s gonna take care of itself. You had to water it, you had to had to feed it. You had to take care of it. And so, that was something new to me. I never had to really think about that until that new building came along, that you’ve got to get people who understand that you gotta take care of the plants too. I had a good staff. I had a good crew and I really didn’t have a lot of personnel issues that couldn’t be dealt with it. Just the typical personnel issues that I think everyone has.

01:11:36 - 01:11:45

And I still keep in touch with two or three of that crew. We’ve all gotten old together but nevertheless, I keep in touch with them.

01:11:45 - 01:11:48

So, you had the responsibility of hiring your own people?

01:11:48 - 01:12:03

Yes, I did. I selected them, obviously the general curator had to approve, they had the final signature on it but the interview process, all the curators did their own interviewing.

01:12:04 - 01:12:10

So, you were trying to instill or were you, a new culture in your section?

01:12:10 - 01:13:02

Yeah, I think when you start looking at a bird keeper today and least what was going on in that period of time. Yeah, it was a cultural issue because you were trying to get them to understand that it’s not just a cleaning, it’s not a custodial issue. As we both know, in the old days, keepers had one function, they cleaned. You hosed. You scrubbed, You picked up. That’s what we did. And today, the exhibit spaces are so much different and the responsibility requires a lot of other factors and everything that’s in there, keepers gotta be responsible for and they have to be sensitive to it. And so, that’s the culture.

01:13:02 - 01:13:09

Build a sensitivity to understanding cleanliness and understanding what’s trying to be portrayed here.

01:13:09 - 01:13:11

What’s the story we’re trying to tell?

01:13:11 - 01:13:16

This isn’t just something you come in from eight to five and clean.

01:13:16 - 01:13:17

What’s the story?

01:13:17 - 01:13:18

What are we all trying to do?

01:13:18 - 01:13:24

And I think when they found that out, a lot of ’em got interested and a lot of ’em had more suggestions.

01:13:24 - 01:13:25

Well, what if we did this?

01:13:25 - 01:13:27

What if we did that?

01:13:27 - 01:13:29

Typically, that didn’t happen before.

01:13:31 - 01:13:38

You said Gus was a mentor of yours, did you have mentors at St. Louis?

01:13:41 - 01:13:43

Did I have mentors at St. Louis?

01:13:43 - 01:14:33

Yes, I did. There was a director named Dick Schultz who came in, actually after Bob Briggs. Dick Schultz had been a corporate finance director for a large chemical company in St. Louis. So, he was basically retired. And then he came in and his first position was as financial director of the zoo to get all that straightened out. And then he became director after Briggs left. He taught me a lot about financial management in terms of the way it applied to the zoos. I used to discuss budgets with him all the time.

01:14:33 - 01:15:27

Used to discuss just stock market. We’d talk about investments. He was very knowledgeable about it. And we talked about even accounting, ways to account for these kinds of costs and stuff. So, our conversations were really just between he and I because we had become friends and he was very interested in passing some of this financial skill on because of his belief that it was so important and my belief as well. I have a business minor on my undergraduate degree and I came from a business family. So, I’ve always been interested. God, I don’t have many hours of accounting I’ve got but I’ve always been interested in that ’cause I think it’s a big part of what we do.

01:15:28 - 01:16:02

More so than I think what people realize, without that knowledge, you need it for home and you need it for work too. During your time at St. Louis, you were not only curator of birds, you were deputy general curator, you held a number of other titles. So, you’re growing as the little frog, (chuckles) getting bigger in the bigger pond. There must have been many memorable things that happened at the zoo, either tragic or funny or amazing or whatever they would’ve been.

01:16:02 - 01:16:05

You got a story that stands out in your mind?

01:16:08 - 01:16:11

Do I have a story at St. Louis that stands out on my mind?

01:16:11 - 01:17:11

Well, I don’t know that I really do. I was the only curator. (chuckles) This sounds really strange but this is a fact, I was the only curator at that time that had a family. Now, there were two other curators that were married but they had no children. And as a result, a lot of ’em would tend to hang together on the weekends or something they would… But I couldn’t, I had my own group that I had to hang with and stuff. So, I once in a while would get to break loose and go play with them. I don’t know that there are any funny stories but one of the things that they like to do a lot were getting canoes and ride down the river, one of these little, I can’t even remember the name of the river anymore and turn over rocks and catch frogs and stuff. And it was largely Charlie Hessel, who was the general curator, who was a herper.

01:17:11 - 01:17:37

A lot of that was spurred on by him. He liked to do those kinds of things and I’ll admit they were fun every once in a while. But most of my downtime, off-time was spent with my family. I didn’t really do a lot of socializing with the others because our lifestyles were different.

01:17:37 - 01:17:44

But at the time when you were at the zoo, did you get calls, like if you were there oh, somebody shot a zebra?

01:17:45 - 01:18:52

Well. (laughs) We’ve had a couple of incidents at the zoo. We had a curator who was taken by down by male zebra. And I wasn’t on the grounds at the time, I was having a crown put in my mouth. Charlie, the general curator was on a road trip into Colorado but I had to break away to get this crown fit on my tooth. And so, everybody knew I was off the grounds. But what had happened is the curator went into, in charge of hoof stock, went into the exhibit and the zebra attacked him and knocked him down, got his foot in his mouth and was flaying him around. The security force at the St. Louis Zoo were all retired police officers, so they carried side arms.

01:18:53 - 01:19:50

And as it was told to me, the one security person just happened to be there when this happened, fired a shot from the public space and hit the zebra. Hit the zebra in the side, then a keeper came up, got the gun from, this is an interesting story. I forgot about it. Came up and got the gun from the security officer, took the gun to the zebra, emptied the gun and this was a six shot revolver. So, he’s got one in his side, emptied the next five shots into the head of the zebra. You just say the zebra fell over. The zebra died one year later from complications of one of those bullets working itself into a neck vertebra and that’s what killed him. It was one tough zebra.

01:19:50 - 01:20:00

Now, the keeper or the curator, probably still walks with the limp today because the animal damaged his foot pretty badly.

01:20:00 - 01:20:02

What was your position at the time this happened?

01:20:02 - 01:20:06

I was deputy general curator.

01:20:06 - 01:20:07

So, you got a call?

01:20:07 - 01:20:42

I got a call at the dentist’s office (chuckles) and they said, “It’s an emergency. We need to talk.” So, I answer, “Hello.” (chuckles) And they told me what had happened and I told the dentist, I said, “You gotta put this thing in as quick as you can. I gotta get outta here.” And so, and then we did a damage control meeting. What happened, who saw it on and on and on. It was just one of those freak things, it’s unfortunate that it happened but it happened. And you know it can happen in this business. There have been some bad, bad, bad accidents.

01:20:42 - 01:20:50

Some of these accidents that you had to deal with at St. Louis in a sense, stood you in experiential good stead in your later career?

01:20:53 - 01:22:02

I think any experience like that makes you aware of one thing, it’s you’re very vulnerable if you aren’t careful what you’re doing around wild animals. It’s just brings it all home. After I went to Oklahoma City, we had a very serious accident happen to a young lady and it was probably something that could have been prevented but nevertheless, it happened and it cost her an arm as well as a lot of scarring, a lot of mental scarring and it was really terrible. But once again, it brings right up in front of you, this is not something that you have to take lightly and it’s a dangerous business. Certain parts of it are very dangerous. Two last quick questions on exhibits in St. Louis.

01:22:02 - 01:22:08

When you came to St. Louis, did you bring things with you from Philadelphia?

01:22:08 - 01:22:11

Like we gotta get hummingbirds here or not?

01:22:14 - 01:23:20

I don’t think, when I went to St. Louis, I was pretty much focused on what the issues were that existed there at that time. Couldn’t really think a lot about we oughta do this or we oughta do that other than just getting what we had in order, getting our house in order. And after that, then we could start looking at other things that we might want to consider in the collection. Things like hummingbirds, we didn’t have the space for hummingbirds. We didn’t have the space for several things. So, that was out of the question. It just couldn’t be considered, we couldn’t provide the proper space and the proper techniques for maintaining them. So, I really didn’t have any preconceived thoughts when I went to St. Louis, it was just like what do we have to deal with first and foremost to get it back where it should be and build from there.

01:23:20 - 01:23:28

My last exhibit question is, can you tell me the bateleur eagle story and what your involvement was, how it came about?

01:23:28 - 01:24:40

Bateleur eagles story, it actually was a very interesting one and it goes back to the Kansas City Zoo. When I was at Kansas City, we had white-tailed sea eagles and they had only been bred at one other place and that was the Vienna Zoo. Golly, I think in 1965 perhaps. We had a nice pair of white-tailed sea eagles. I thought well, I’m want to build a platform for them, I wanna build an nest for them. And we had an old mechanic who had great welding skills. So, I sit down with him and say, “Okay, Jimmy, I’d like to build a platform but we don’t wanna put a flat platform because the sticks will fall off and everything, we need to have something that it’ll fit in, like a basket.” Well, he got some steel and got some I-beams and whatever and he created this perfect little square basket that had sides that went down on it and had a nice bottom on it. Must have weighed a ton.

01:24:42 - 01:25:13

And we put it in that exhibit on top of a utility pole. Within two years, we had white-tailed sea eagles. So, that nest structure worked. And I always remembered that nest structure and in fact, I published in an article on the white-tailed sea eagles ’cause that hadn’t been done in the United States before. But this nest structure I thought was, well, this is really cool, it works. When we got to St. Louis, we had these bateleurs. Ah, let’s try this whole nest structure. So, we built another one just like it.

01:25:15 - 01:25:49

We put it in there and within two years we started raising bateleurs and we did it every year. It was just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. So, we raised them and that was the first time they had ever been propagated in captivity. And as you know, they’re a really very attractive bird. They’re very unique and they’re very interesting and we got recognized for the Bean Award for that. But that’s how that happened. So, they thought we got a smart bird curator here. Well, it goes back to a mechanic at the Kansas city Zoo.

01:25:49 - 01:26:07

He’s the one that had the idea. Well, when you do these I-beams and get everything to fit and it worked out very, very well. All right. So, now you were deputy director curator at the St. Louis Zoo, obviously learning more.

01:26:08 - 01:26:18

In 1985, your career takes a turn, how did you decide to now leave St. Louis and go for this executive director position?

01:26:18 - 01:26:22

How did that all come about and how did you make that decision?

01:26:22 - 01:26:33

Well, when the position opened up at Oklahoma City, I had first thought well, do I want to do that?

01:26:36 - 01:27:20

Oklahoma City had some history to it. There had been some issues. And I didn’t know whether I really wanted to be subject myself to that. You know how you can hear this stuff about all these institutes. Everybody’s got their issues. And so, I really didn’t give it a lot of thought and then I gave it some thought and then I got a call because… And I don’t know why, to this day I don’t know why but someone apparently had given in my name. I didn’t file a formal application at first and they called to ask if I was going to do so and if I would, which was flattering and so I did.

01:27:22 - 01:28:36

And the more I looked at it, the more attractive it got and I’d been in St. Louis for 11 years. And I was at a point in my life and I was at an age in my life where you have to say, “Well okay, now what do you wanna do?” “Do you wanna stay doing what you’re doing or do you want to be that big frog in that big pond?” So, I did an interview, went to the interviews were held during a spring conference in Oklahoma City regional. And they apparently went well. I was asked back maybe in March or April, maybe in April, this time to bring my wife for the another interview and then I was offered the position and I started there on May 15th, 1985. It was a more formal process than you were used to in your other positions. Certainly it was a more formal process than St. Louis was. Yeah and in Philadelphia as well. Yes, it was a more formal process.

01:28:36 - 01:29:26

I met with two or three different groups and answered questions. Now, the Oklahoma City Zoo is an interesting situation in that it is governed by what they call the Zoological Trust. And it’s made up of three individuals who are associated with the city. Six individuals who are associated with the society but the entire zoo is a city asset. The city owns the zoo. It’s one of those privatization type of agreements. The Zoological Trust being a little more formal and in Oklahoma City, there were a number of trusts. Airport is under a trust.

01:29:26 - 01:29:52

The Water Department is under a trust and it’s a method for turning public responsibility over to another management entity to manage. Although, of course the city municipality still keeps ownership, of course. And it’s a good system actually.

01:29:52 - 01:29:56

So, they call you to come for this second interview with your wife?

01:29:56 - 01:30:01

Correct. You are in the Midwest where you wanted to be.

01:30:02 - 01:30:05

What does your family think of it?

01:30:05 - 01:30:13

Was it difficult to think about moving from the Midwest back or to a whole different type of culture?

01:30:13 - 01:30:15

What input are they giving you?

01:30:16 - 01:30:30

Well, at first, my family was and of course I had kids that were about ready to go into high school and I think my oldest was in junior high at the time, would that be correct?

01:30:31 - 01:31:25

And so, it was like we’re gonna do what but they went along with it. They realized and once they visited the place, they thought okay, this could be fun. And I went there in May but my family didn’t join me until about August, about July or August. About July, I guess it was July they came down. Now, there was a residence there that had been a director’s residence and it was the prior director had lived there. I had no desire to live in that house. I had children that needed school, needed friends and everything and you’re a little isolated when you’re on the zoo property. So, we looked at a town north of there called Edmond and Edmond’s just a suburb of Oklahoma City.

01:31:26 - 01:32:05

And simply incorporated but nevertheless, that’s where we looked. It was about 13 miles from the zoo, taking me about 15 minutes. It was very close and so we did buy a home up in Edmond and moved in there in September and kids started school and did their entire, basically they all went to the… At that time, there was only one high school in Edmond and they all went to that high school and they went to college after that. So, I think they’re kids, they’re flexible and they just molded into it.

01:32:06 - 01:32:07

And your wife?

01:32:07 - 01:33:07

Passy was very much used to a rural scene because she was born and raised in rural Nebraska. So, she started, she got some students and so she molded into the music community there, she’s still very active in the state and local Music Teachers Association and Teachers Association. So, everybody molded into it. Now, it was a bit of a culture shock for us obviously. When you come from and we love food, we love a lot of things that weren’t typical of Oklahoma. We found that when you move from St. Louis that had tremendous restaurants, Oklahoma struggles with that. Now, it’s different today but in 1985, it was a whole different culture. Also the primary economy base for Oklahoma is petroleum, oil and gas.

01:33:08 - 01:34:05

In 1985, the oil boom was over and oil had gone down to $14 a barrel or something like that and they were plugging wells. The biggest employer in the state was the company that handles all the bank, runs the core things for banks and stuff. And FDIC, they were actually one of the biggest employers and they were closing a bank a week in Oklahoma. And so, it was a tough economy time for Oklahoma. However, it was a great time to buy a house and it was a great time to move there. And of course, it’s all recovered now but it’s been a good place to live. People are very friendly. You have to get used to the culture but it’s all worked out very well.

01:34:05 - 01:34:10

You had been working at a couple of other zoos before you came to Oklahoma.

01:34:11 - 01:34:17

How different were each of these compared to now what you’ve landed in?

01:34:17 - 01:35:09

Well, when you start comparing the institutions, Philadelphia was a very formal culture. It was a very scientifically oriented program and the culture was that we wore ties. We were expected to act and look the part that the zoo wanted us to portray. All of us. St. Louis was a younger staff, more people, bigger collection and a new community. It was a community that was really growing. St. Louis was growing. I can remember when we first moved in our house, it took me 20 minutes to get to work.

01:35:09 - 01:35:48

By the time I left, it took me almost an hour to get to work. So, it was totally different. And so, it was a bigger zoo. And then when you go to Oklahoma City, now here’s a zoo that had had some struggles and it was struggling at the time financially. But the potential there was tremendous. You could see that this could really, you could really do something given the time and given the money, finances, there was a lot that could be done with the Oklahoma City Zoo. And that was intriguing to me because I think everyone wants to leave their mark. You leave your marks in different places in your career.

01:35:48 - 01:35:57

That seemed like a good place to leave a mark and to really take on a challenge. And that was attractive. And so, we went.

01:35:59 - 01:36:08

Your responsibilities of executive director, were they given to you in a piece of paper or was it okay, you’re in charge, make it happen?

01:36:10 - 01:37:07

The responsibilities as they were lined out to me were that we needed to get the zoo back online. Actually the zoo in Oklahoma City was like the Bird Department in St. Louis at the time. It was broken and it needed to be fixed. There were a lot of things that needed to be corrected and the desire was to pursue a better funding source than what the zoo had at the time which was general gate revenues, concessions and a subsidy from the city. So, that was the game plan. Let’s get this place cleaned up, let’s get it going. I don’t know that any of them had a real vision as to what they felt the zoo ought to be. They were saying this is yours.

01:37:07 - 01:37:39

You tell us what we need to do. And they were pretty good about that at in the beginning. And so, we started working ’cause we didn’t have a lot of money. We started doing just cosmetic changes. New coat of paint can do a lot for an old building. And so, we were painting, we were replacing broken windows. We were putting up new fences. We were cleaning up the sidewalks.

01:37:39 - 01:38:28

We put together plans, we worked the plans. We made the effort to change the institution in appearance first because that way people could see what was being done and not just saying, “Well, we’re doing this program or we’re doing that program.” They aren’t interested in programs. We wanna see the changes you’re making. Putting in plants, you can really pretty the place up. And that’s where we started. Let’s fix what’s broken. Let’s make the place attractive and let’s try to attract some visitors and grow some revenues by doing that. Between 1985 and 1990, it was tough.

01:38:29 - 01:39:07

The economy kept plummeting. People didn’t have the spendable dollars they used to have. And as a result, we were having a hard time attracting people to the zoo. They just weren’t gonna spend the money to do that. So, we started looking at other ways of funding the institution. And we went through the gamut of looking at mill levies and bond issues and sales taxes. Mill levy, the county didn’t really want us to get on their mill levy program. That means they would lose some opportunities.

01:39:07 - 01:40:00

And so, that was not going to happen. Bond issues were mainly for capital expenses. They weren’t supporting operational issues. So, that left only one possibility and that was the sales tax. So, I guess in the fall of 1989, an effort was made to put together a referendum for a sales tax. We had to do the petitions first to get it on the ballot. And we were going for an 1/8 of a cent sales tax. Now that meant, if I can remember but I think it was if it would pass the budget would go from $8 million a year to $23 million a year.

01:40:00 - 01:40:58

Just that overnight. So, when we and this was a tax against a sales tax for Oklahoma County and the county would collect the money, give it to the city and then the city would dole it out to the trust but nobody else could touch it. It was the zoo’s trust money and it could be used for capital. It could be used for operational, whatever. So, on June 17th, I think it was June 17th, 1990, it went up to the public and it passed. And everybody was quite surprised ’cause this was a community that had defeated tax after tax for education. So, that made all the difference. We had done a master plan up to that point.

01:40:58 - 01:42:02

We had recognized if we had the money, what we would do. So, when we got the money, the next morning I was on the phone to a contractor about let’s get our to the City Planning Committee, let’s get this out, let’s get it in bid form. Let’s start building the Great Escape or let’s start doing this. And that’s just exactly what happened. And once it passed and the money started coming in, we started making the changes that needed to be made to make the Oklahoma City Zoo a better place. And it worked very well. And I will say that we had to manage the money very closely because a large percentage of the sales tax money became operational money because the city of course, stopped their financial support. Within two years I think, maybe three years, they were giving us 300,000 a year.

01:42:02 - 01:42:28

They dropped it off 100,000 for each year. So, by the end of three years, we didn’t get any more money from the city. So, we had to generate our own. So, obviously we started looking at revenue centers. We started balancing that with the capital expenses in terms of building new exhibits and new attractions and doing all of the things that we needed to do to make the facility much better.

01:42:28 - 01:42:35

Was the sales tax idea your idea, was it a group thing?

01:42:35 - 01:42:36

Did it come from the commission?

01:42:36 - 01:42:39

Did it come from the city fathers?

01:42:39 - 01:43:29

I think it was, looking back on it and somebody else has asked me that question and I thought it was just a matter of deduction. This was the only opportunity left to us other than somebody coming up and giving us a whole lot of money for X number of years, that wasn’t gonna happen. So, that was the only other method that we had of trying to reach our goal. The mill levy was out. Bond issues weren’t gonna work. The only thing left is the sales tax. In that environment at that time, they thought we were crazy to even try to do that. We met with each city council person so that they understood what we wanted to do and we asked each city council person, don’t make this a political issue.

01:43:29 - 01:43:56

Please stay out of this, just give us your blessing and just stay out of the way and let the people decide. I do believe that they were all very surprised when it passed because I don’t think they really understood how popular the institution was with the tax payers. In fact, I’m sure they didn’t. And you mentioned a master plan.

01:43:56 - 01:44:00

Was this a master plan that was already in place or was this something you created?

01:44:00 - 01:44:46

No, 1987. We interviewed some architectural firms for a master plan and Cole Lee were selected and they produced the master plan. So, actually I think that may have been the first bonafide master plan that that institution had ever had. They had little parts but it was here was a plan and we’re gonna work this plan and that was done ’87, ’88. So, we had a plan ready to go. And I think that was a selling point to the community. Here’s what we’ll do if you give us the money and it worked and we did.

01:44:48 - 01:45:03

Just to drop back a bit, when you became executive director of the zoo, were there things from your other positions that you consciously brought with you that helped you in this executive director position?

01:45:05 - 01:46:14

I think when anybody steps into a position, they’re gonna bring elements of their past with them in terms of what their vision would be and how you would like to make it better. I certainly was fortunate to have some financial skills in terms of managing money and managing capital projects, managing operational expenses, knowing how to do that. And so, I brought that and I applied that from the very beginning. In fact, we redesigned the entire line item accounting system for the zoo soon after we started making efforts to do that after I arrived there because their current system, I don’t know how they worked with it. It didn’t really tell the story we needed to have told. And that was also in the beginning of the computers. And I’d had some experience with computers on a personal basis ’cause I think I bought my first computer in 1982. I still have it by the way.

01:46:16 - 01:46:58

So, I had an understanding of the power of the computer and how that could help us manage things. When I arrived at the zoo, the entire accounting system was being run on an Apple 2E with about three peripherals in terms of memory and stuff. It was crazy. So, we began changing that so that we’d have be better management tools. That was something that we started doing at St. Louis. So, certainly I wanted to implement that. Managing the collection was second nature by that time. Managing the collection was not difficult, I hired a good general curator to help with that.

01:46:58 - 01:47:49

And so, we started getting the collection cleaned out and cleaned up and making it more meaningful in terms of the zoo’s goals. I’ve always been a strong believer in understanding that first of all, the zoo is a recreational entity and that’s why people come to the zoo. We try to beat ’em in the head with other things when we get ’em on the property but the reason they’re there is to have fun and it’s entertainment and it’s enjoyment. The second being the education. Zoos plays such a valuable role in education today. So, with that and then what are the four things, it’s recreation, education, conservation and research. I’ve always been a believer in those. And so, we started making sure we were satisfying those goals the best we could.

01:47:49 - 01:48:31

And if that involved new technology by gosh, we were gonna do it. If that involved doing some things that have been done in the past, recreating, then that’s what we did. And we put together plans. I’m very methodical in the way I do things, whether it’s at business or whether it’s at home, probably to my detriment. But we put together a plan. We reviewed the plan, the plan looks good. We start putting it into effect. You run into a glitch, you make a change but we didn’t do much shooting from the hip.

01:48:31 - 01:48:43

I’m not a shoot from the hip person. So, we really worked hard at focusing and making the positive changes and letting the pieces fall where they may.

01:48:43 - 01:48:51

When you decided or were thinking seriously about this position, did you seek advice or guidance from any of your peers?

01:48:53 - 01:49:47

They sent me probably two years of budgets from that zoo, financials from the zoo. Dick Schultz had retired by then. I went over to his house and gave him these materials. I said, “I need some help because there’s things I’m not understanding here. This doesn’t doesn’t look right but I’m not able to read these financials very well.” And I checked with him about two days later, he says, “I can’t understand it either.” (laughs) So, I figured okay, we’re in trouble. We need to make some changes. So, I did seek his advice on the financial stuff and the line item format, accounting format that we put in in Oklahoma City was very much like St. Louis’s, the one that I’d learned under.

01:49:47 - 01:49:51

What’d you see the strengths of the institution and the weaknesses instantaneously as you were there?

01:49:54 - 01:50:27

Potential. The potential in that institution was just phenomenal. Had the property. I forget, 112 acres. The property was there. The opportunity for building new exhibits was there. Just cleaning it up and making it presentable, that potential was there. There were a lot of things that had happened in the past and probably due to financial reasons and philosophy reasons.

01:50:28 - 01:50:36

It just didn’t fit in with the modern zoo. You mentioned education.

01:50:36 - 01:50:44

What was your vision for education in the zoo and how did you see it starting to develop?

01:50:45 - 01:51:49

At the time the Education Department was very small, largely docents. And one of the problems at that institution, which had probably just been a result of prior administration and the cultures created within that is that none of these departments talked. The Education Department didn’t talk to Animal Department. Animal Department didn’t talk to the veterinary, they did talk to the Veterinary Department, but it wasn’t a team. It was separate entities that operated by their own guidelines. I can remember one day when the curator of education came into the business office and started taking out some of the furniture and I simply asked, “What are you doing?” And the response was, “Well, we need some of this down there.” Now, that’s a mentality. I need this so therefore, I’m taking it from you. Well, that had to stop.

01:51:49 - 01:52:26

But that was throughout the organization. So, there was a you talk about culture change that really had to happen there badly. And over time, what had really amounted to the personalities had to change. I had to I guess, I had to eliminate some of those people from the organization because they were not getting it. They were not willing to change. They didn’t know how to play well together. And so, after you did that, bring in the right people, then it made the difference.

01:52:26 - 01:52:28

Was it difficult to get things done?

01:52:29 - 01:53:16

In the beginning it was, it was difficult to get things done simply because people hadn’t been given permission to succeed. They had been told to do something and if it didn’t work out quite right, then they were chastised for it. So, their enthusiasm was almost nonexistent. Their willingness to try new things was nonexistent because they were worried about the punishment. So, by changing that and some people just couldn’t make that change. They just didn’t understand it and as a result, we had to make the change for ’em.

01:53:16 - 01:53:24

Now, as I understand the mission of the Oklahoma City Zoo, was it called Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden or was it just?

01:53:24 - 01:54:01

At first, it was Oklahoma City Zoological Park. It was called the Oklahoma City Zoo. We put the word, “Park,” on it to give it a little more formality. Then in the mid 90’s, we went for botanical garden accreditation through AAM, the American Association of Museums. That process took a couple years but we then were accredited as botanical garden. Then it became the Oklahoma City Zoological Park and Botanical Garden. And the mission was we’ll be one of the world’s premier zoological institutions providing visitors in the community with exemplary recreational and educational opportunities.

01:54:03 - 01:54:07

What plans did you develop to try and make that mission statement happen?

01:54:10 - 01:55:24

Well, let’s say in terms of education, we built a new education center in time and with the library and with classrooms and the lecture hall. And so, we put together a location for this to take place. We also put in a staff of naturalists to teach these classes and to organize curriculums for the classes and every one of these people at some point in their career had been a certified teacher. So, they were educators. I was just trying to think and then they started working together and putting these programs together. We had a zoo-mobile that went out and visited schools. We had a large active docent program, so it all fell together. And I don’t know that we particularly did anything unique or different from what was being done at other zoos.

01:55:24 - 01:56:06

At least the Education Department was beginning to be a player with the other zoo community, the other zoo related institutions. Where before that, there hadn’t been any exchange between the Oklahoma City Zoo educators and the rest of the world. So, then the Oklahoma City Zoo started participating in activities and taking programs that they had learned about at other places and trying to see if they would work in Oklahoma City and they were given a green light to do so. I said, “Here’s what we wanna do,” and they did a very good job of it. You mentioned a library just as a quick aside.

01:56:06 - 01:56:10

How important do you feel a library is to a zoological park?

01:56:10 - 01:56:59

In those days, I think a library was very important because a lot of what we had then wasn’t on the internet. There was no internet, basically. And as a result, hard copy books and reference material was there for use by the docents or by use by staff, curators and so forth. I thought it was very important. Plus it was an archive, we kept some other things in there as well. And this was a library that had the automatic running shelve. So, we had more space than what you typically would have in that room and we utilized. We also had a same kind of facility for artifacts, for educational artifacts.

01:56:59 - 01:57:39

Skins, bones, skulls and all that. And that worked out very well. So, the question about the library, in today’s world with as much material as available on the internet, probably the need for a library may not be as great as it once was because I think you have a generation coming up that is probably more prone to reading something off the internet, off a computer screen than they are picking up a book. That’s sad. It’s a sad statement but I think that’s happening.

01:57:39 - 01:57:45

And when you came in, what was a animal exhibit that you thought would be important to develop as you went forward?

01:57:45 - 01:57:52

Was there one in your mind that you said, “Okay, my first one that I’m gonna build.” Well.

01:57:52 - 01:57:52

Bateleur eagles?

01:57:52 - 01:58:38

No, it was actually replacing those exhibits at that zoo that needed to be replaced. Either shut ’em down and move out that part of the collection or build something new and move the collection into it, take that space and build something else, which is exactly what we did. They had an old gorilla building that was atrocious and it was one of those retrofitted things. And it had to go, either that or the gorilla collection had to go. It just was not proper. So, we built a new exhibit for gorillas, chimps and orangs. The gorillas were moved into that. We had chimps in another building and orangs in another building.

01:58:38 - 01:59:16

So, we eliminated two bad buildings with one new state of the art facility. And that’s what we started doing. We started going, okay, it takes care of that. Now, we gotta do something about cats. And then we did a new cat exhibit, state of the art cat exhibit. Eliminated another bad place and the cats were being kept in grottoes. The old look down type exhibit the old, in fact, they were WPA era but in Oklahoma, they used the Conservation Core CCC Group to build these things. So, they’ve been there for years and years.

01:59:16 - 01:59:27

So, we eliminated that. So, we really needed to go take care of the things that needed to be taken care of first before we built anything really new.

01:59:27 - 01:59:33

So, this great ape area was the first that you put together?

01:59:33 - 02:00:21

Actually that term, “Great Escape,” had been there. The prior director had wanted to build a Great Escape but he’d wanted to do it totally different than what it ended up. He wanted to use the sides of a building as a backdrop and it wasn’t going to work that way. So, the Great Escape was on there. Actually, when I came there, I inherited another project and I should’ve remember this. It an aquarium and there was going to have dolphins. So, when I came there, this project was under construction. The contractor went bankrupt.

02:00:22 - 02:01:00

So, the bonding company had to take over getting this project done. Well, needless to say because of the oil boom, the people who had money, who made pledges didn’t have money anymore. So, they lost, I don’t know, 2 or $3 million in pledges. So, here we were, we have this building that’s supposed to be opened and I think it took, after the dolphins were put in, I think it took another year and a half before the aquariums could be finished and completed. That building struggling on for a while simply because of economics. But I inherited that when I came in. The first one to be done while I was there was the Great Escape.

02:01:00 - 02:01:05

And did you have to then find the money to build the Great Escape?

02:01:05 - 02:01:30

No because the sales tax took care of it, the sales tax funded the exhibit and that’s where the money came. And that’s where the monies came for all of the exhibits after that. We did have some private donations that helped but they were largely funded by the monies from the sales tax. Now you mentioned that your belief that recreation is very important for a zoo.

02:01:31 - 02:01:35

How important is conservation?

02:01:35 - 02:01:38

What role did you see Oklahoma City playing in that?

02:01:38 - 02:01:44

And the second part of that is the science slash research, how important was that?

02:01:48 - 02:03:07

I think that when we started looking at those four purposes of a zoo, we obviously in 1985, we needed to find every way we could to try to generate funding against an economy which wasn’t going to support it very well. I know as I went through the profession, particularly the curators, they didn’t really want to think about this but zoos are a business. They have surpluses in funds. They have deficits in funds. And depending on how the institution is economically, will depend on the health of the institution and what the institution can do. Now, fundraising has become a bigger matter today than I think it’s been in the past. You had a few people giving, you have more people giving now than you did back in those days. But I feel that the most important thing was we had to make the place, make the institution financially successful.

02:03:07 - 02:03:47

We had a fiduciary responsibility. We all had a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that we operated it so that we could do the things that we wanted to do. And that meant being very cost conscious and thinking about ways in which we can gather more money. So, when it came to education, I think that problem really grew on itself. We gave ’em the tools. We gave ’em the opportunity and good staff. They made it grow. The conservation issues really took collection planning.

02:03:47 - 02:03:54

And I think that was something that we really had to think about in terms of what we wanted the collection to be.

02:03:54 - 02:03:58

And that synced with what kind of exhibits do we want to have?

02:03:58 - 02:04:03

What kind of exhibits do we want to build that are gonna be popular with the public?

02:04:03 - 02:05:03

And when we got in this business in 1967, if you said you were going to build an insectarium, somebody would’ve thought you were crazy. And yet, that’s a very popular exhibit. And today I think you’ve got to have a collection that’s got an insectarium because it’s part of the animal kingdom, you need to be telling the story. But back in those days, that wasn’t a priority. So, I think collections are gonna change. And along with that collection, it’s gotta have something to do with conservation. Now, I know we could talk about this thing, this topic forever because there’s a lot of people that would agree and disagree on the topic as to where zoos are going with their conservation programs. In the latter 70’s, the AZA put together the Species Survival Plans, which were actually had a different name.

02:05:03 - 02:05:22

And then it was changed to Species Survival Plan. At that time, Denny Merrit was chairman of the Wildlife Management Committee and I was vice chairman. And the charge was given to the committee to start looking at species that we’d like to have in a sustainable plan.

02:05:22 - 02:05:38

What had promulgated a lot of this was new information about inbreeding depressions and what was going to happen if the genetics of these populations didn’t change and they weren’t managed?

02:05:40 - 02:06:29

This was happening. They were doing a lot of research in labs with white rats and white mice. But nevertheless, the message was the same. You’re going to have some genetic anomalies if we aren’t careful. A lot of that spilled over into zoos. And so, this idea of that we better start looking at the genetics of our collections or long term collections because this could face us. Now, at that time, the original plan for the SSPs was guaranteeing that zoos would have animals for display and educational purposes. It was a matter of survival.

02:06:29 - 02:07:45

That was what this was all started out to be. Somehow it got changed. And there are a lot of reasons how it got changed. I really think that there should have been a system for monitoring the direction it was going. It was identified as this is what we wanna do. And it was turned over to those who, many of them, who had really hadn’t worked with captive animal collections but they understood genetics and such. And so, these plans were put together and then the curators started identifying species to keep in collections based upon the natural population sizes and whether they were in danger rather than looking at keeping a good mix within a collection of a zoo. So, now what you’re faced with is you’ve had all these plans and all these directions and all these people who are governing the distribution and what we’re gonna breed and what we’re not gonna breed.

02:07:45 - 02:08:10

And the diversity, I think the diversity in zoos in terms of collections has greatly changed. And it could get to the point that you won’t see the same kinds of things that you used to see. And I think that’s sad ’cause I don’t think that really tells the story, certainly for educational purposes.

02:08:10 - 02:08:18

I think in the long run, what’s a zoo without a lion, if you don’t have lions?

02:08:18 - 02:08:20

What’s a zoo without a tiger, if you don’t have tigers?

02:08:20 - 02:08:43

So, but I definitely support conservation programs. Don’t get me wrong and I’m not anti-conservation programs. But I think what’s happened with the selection of some of these programs has been to the expense of what the SSP was originally intended to do. That’s an old timer speaking because I can remember when it started out. So…

02:08:45 - 02:08:57

What is the responsibility, just to follow through, what is the responsibility of zoos to protect or work with the species in the wild today?

02:09:00 - 02:09:05

What is their responsibility for conservation in the wild?

02:09:06 - 02:09:55

I- Well, let’s call it in situ concept. They maybe have a new term for it today. I don’t think it fits every zoological park’s agenda. It’s expensive. Now, you can cooperatively get a program going between two or three institutions. And that’s good. You’re at least putting a little bit to make the whole better but I don’t think it’s the primary. Well, I know you weren’t saying primary but I don’t think it’s an issue that should take precedence over maintaining the institution itself and it’s programs.

02:09:56 - 02:10:17

I think it’s okay to be part of but I don’t think it’s you have to or you can’t. It’s not a good fit for everybody. We were talking about exhibits also. I’m a new director. I call you up.

02:10:17 - 02:10:21

Is there words of wisdom you might give to me about developing exhibits?

02:10:26 - 02:10:31

Developing exhibits is a philosophical and it’s a design issue.

02:10:34 - 02:10:41

If you’re sure you’re gonna get serious about putting a certain exhibit in, how does it fit with your entire program?

02:10:41 - 02:10:43

How does it fit in your vision?

02:10:45 - 02:10:54

How does it fit with what’s being done on a national basis in terms of what the industry is looking at?

02:11:00 - 02:11:16

I would really think that if to go build an exhibit that’s mimicking everything else, that may serve your local community because it’s new attraction something but in the big picture, what does it do?

02:11:16 - 02:11:21

So, I would say to that new director, have you really thought this through?

02:11:21 - 02:11:25

How is this going to improve your institution?

02:11:25 - 02:11:34

How is this going to improve of the species population on the whole in captivity?

02:11:34 - 02:12:12

I think you’d have to ask those questions. Then I’d say don’t design this yourself, get somebody who knows and has some experience with doing some zoo designs. How many times of have I seen architects stumble into designing zoo exhibits and they’re used to designing junior high schools, it’s a struggle. And you end up having to train the architect. I’m very much of a supporter of those architects who have done prior zoo exhibits and aquariums and such. Animals come into zoos. You’ve sent them out. You brought animals in.

02:12:12 - 02:12:13

Some specifics.

02:12:13 - 02:12:21

Did it seem a little out of character for a zoo to be giving Disney’s Animal Kingdom hippopotamuses and how did that happen?

02:12:21 - 02:12:43

Well, we had two hippos and neither of them, they were not compatible. You couldn’t put ’em in the same pool together. So, in order for one to enjoy the pool outside, it would go out, the other one would stay in. The next day that one would stay in, the other would go out.

02:12:43 - 02:12:52

This had gone on for years and it came to the point with us, do we wanna keep Nile hippos?

02:12:52 - 02:12:55

Do we want to keep Nile hippos that are incompatible?

02:12:55 - 02:13:01

Chances are, we could get rid of one of ’em but you’re not gonna put another one in there ’cause they’re probably not gonna get along either.

02:13:01 - 02:13:15

So, we rethought the whole process and decided there’s a conservation issue with pygmy hippos, so let’s take a look at can we be part of a conservation program for pygmy hippos?

02:13:15 - 02:14:09

We have a better space for maintaining pygmy hippos than we do Nile hippos. The Nile hippos, the female was there as a result of a song called, “I want hippopotamus for Christmas,” that a local Oklahoma person had sang and made famous and so they needed to get Matilda the Hippo to the Oklahoma City Zoo. Boom, Matilda shows up and then they get a male but he’s not compatible with her and they grew old together. So, the opportunity was there. Okay, here’s Animal Kingdom. They need some Nile hippos. These aren’t compatible here. Let’s look at the possibility of doing pygmy hippos and let’s get these two hippos off to better life.

02:14:10 - 02:14:31

Now unfortunately, one of them didn’t make the trip. The other one did, the male made the trip and my understanding he’s fathered so many babies, it’s amazing. So, he’s passed his genes on. So, the one that didn’t make it was this Matilda that- Was an institution at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

02:14:31 - 02:14:36

How difficult was it when she died on her way to Disney?

02:14:36 - 02:15:29

She died in transit and I don’t recall why but I think she just, I don’t even remember what her age was but yeah, she didn’t make it. She was almost there, she died in the truck unfortunately. There was some criticism but we also told the story about this was not a good life for her. We were trying to offer her a better life. Had she made it, she would’ve had a much better life as the male did. Big exhibits. But unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. And in talking about animals coming or not coming to the zoo, at one time you said, “There’re only so many rooms on the arc,” and you refused to take some special chimps, Bruno and Bewe, maybe I’m killing the name here.

02:15:29 - 02:15:30


02:15:31 - 02:15:40

Why wasn’t there room on the arc and wouldn’t they have been a recreational positive thing for the Oklahoma City Zoo?

02:15:40 - 02:15:41

What was the decision making?

02:15:41 - 02:16:53

Well, these two animals in question had been part of a hepatitis research program in an animal lab in New York. So, they had been exposed and were carriers of hepatitis. This whole thing started by a young journalist who worked for, “The Daily Oklahoman,” in Norman, Oklahoma. He had a good friend who used to work with this chimpanzee. There used to be a professor there then he got pretty aggressive and really started some bad PR about this. “Why won’t you take these animals?” And by the time we’d done the research, the articles had already come out by the time we’d done the research and found out these animals had been exposed to hepatitis A, B and C. So, there’s no way that we could introduce ’em into a clean collection of animals. So, that was pretty well it and we received a lot of criticism for that until we had to make it known that hey, these guys are potential health problems, health risks.

02:16:54 - 02:16:56

Then it brings up the question.

02:16:56 - 02:17:09

How do you handle demands of donors, whether they be people who are just interested or influential people who want to have a giraffe at their zoo, with the best interest for the animals?

02:17:12 - 02:17:54

Many times we would get people that would call and want to know how they could get ahold of something, whether it was a giraffe or a tiger. And I will tell you at one time there were 19 large carnivores in the city limits of Oklahoma City. This included lions, tigers and bears being kept in backyards and it had become a problem. There had been a child injured and it seemed that if there was something on Discovery Channel about somebody having a pet bobcat or something, we would get phone calls.

02:17:54 - 02:17:55

How can I get a pet bobcat?

02:17:55 - 02:17:57

Or how can I get a mountain lion?

02:17:59 - 02:18:58

Oklahoma has always been a little loose on permits for large carnivores. That’s how all this happened. So, we would just try to discourage people in pursuing it simply because we weren’t a source, we would tell ’em right up that we’re not a source and we’re not gonna be part of this pursuit because we don’t agree with it. It takes a lot to maintain these animals, it’s not in their best interest for them to be in private hands. And we pretty well would kill the information in their pursuit, at least involving us at that time. Many people, you’re never gonna change their mind. They think they’ve gotta have it. And when you find out how many exotic animals are being kept in private hands in the city of Oklahoma City, many of which are very, very dangerous, including hot snakes, it’s alarming.

02:18:58 - 02:18:59

It’s very alarming.

02:19:01 - 02:19:05

Was it difficult to replace animals?

02:19:05 - 02:19:07

Well, let me just stop.

02:19:07 - 02:19:10

Did you ever get those pygmy hippos?

02:19:10 - 02:19:22

Yeah. We did, started program and been propagating and been doing well. It’s been a successful program. Now, I haven’t been there for 14 years but I assume it’s still going.

02:19:24 - 02:19:29

So, when we were talking then about replacing animals that are lost or so forth, how did you do that?

02:19:29 - 02:19:31

Were you trading with other zoos primarily?

02:19:31 - 02:19:34

Were you working with animal dealers?

02:19:34 - 02:20:39

We probably traded more with other zoos than animal dealers because as you know many of the mammals in captivity were probably born in captivity. If we were going to work with some exotic species of antelope or something, maybe times you might have to import them. I know but we worked very closely with a lot of institutions and did swaps. And of course and as time went on, they knew more about the genetics of all these different animals and different populations. And so, you knew what was gonna be paired with what your need was. But when it came to birds, I dealt a with a lot of private aviculturists through the years, there were as many private agriculturists. There were hundreds of them. They had waterfowl collections, had parrots collections, who had finch collections.

02:20:40 - 02:21:16

So, if we wanted new specimens, if I wanted new specimens of waterfowl, I never went to a zoo, I went to a private aviculturist. Pheasants, the same things ’cause that’s where you were gonna find the good specimens and reputable breeders. We all did that. So, it was not so hard. Everything else you had to get through a dealer. You just had to wait for that opportunity where something a dealer might have and then you would decide whether that something would fit in your program or not. You mentioned private individuals.

02:21:16 - 02:21:24

Do you feel that zoos today feel the same way about private individuals?

02:21:26 - 02:22:41

No, they don’t about private individuals. About four years ago, there was a spring regional in Oklahoma City and the Avian Interest Group, the bird curators were meeting, had their annual or mid-annual meeting there. And they asked me if I would come and make about a half hour, 40 minute presentation on the way we used to do it. I said, “Sure, that’ll be fun.” So, I did. And candidly, as I stood and looked out over the audience and I was telling them about the way we used to transact business with the understanding that the lot of the regs and problems didn’t exist at that time that exist today, I was looking at a lot of blank faces. I thought there’s more to this story, many albums. I did my thing and I stayed for the rest of the day and listened to their talks. And it became very apparent that they don’t do anything with private people anymore.

02:22:41 - 02:23:25

And the reason being is that they are too worried about the X factor genetic issue. In other words, I won’t take your duck because I don’t know his genetic history. What’s happened is that many of these waterfowl collections are disappearing in zoos. They’re not going back to the aviculturists to replace them. Same thing with pheasants, same thing with a number of other things. They have broken their ties with that private group, that private sector. In my time we knew them. We attended their conferences.

02:23:25 - 02:23:59

We knew their families. We knew their kids. We’d visited their homes. They’d been in our homes. They were business colleagues and they were friends. This group today doesn’t know any of ’em. They on the whole, they don’t. They don’t have any contacts with ’em and as a result, I stood up and I said, “You guys are talking about the fact that you don’t have sources for these species that we used to always get from this private sector.

02:23:59 - 02:24:50

Do you go to any of their meetings and stuff?” Nobody did. And I just basically said to them, “It appears you need them but they don’t need you ’cause they’re still doing their hobbies.” And I just think that AZA made a big mistake when they started cutting them out of the conservation picture, the animal husbandry picture because they are a viable source and sometimes you just have to make exceptions. When you stop and think about all of these collections that are out there and it had been out there and that had been going on for years and you’re gonna ignore them. And that’s exactly what’s happened so I think it’s sad. I think it’s sad. And I don’t know that can ever correct itself.

02:24:51 - 02:25:01

When you were active in the profession as the director of the Oklahoma City Zoo, what professionals did you really look up to?

02:25:01 - 02:25:12

Maybe not your mentors but you looked up to them and you learned from them and who influenced you as you were taking this turn as director of the zoo?

02:25:13 - 02:26:10

When I- Okay, when I first interviewed for the Oklahoma City Zoo, Warren Thomas was at the same conference. Warren had been director of the Oklahoma City Zoo at one time and a lot of the things that the way the zoo was laid out at that time was the result of the time Warren spent there. So, I said, “You and I need to go walk around the zoo.” I said, “You need to tell me what you did and why you did it,” which he did. He was a great mentor in that way. He said these exhibits were here because of such and such and this water flow this way. And he knew, he remembered everything. And as time went on, he and I would talk almost on a regular basis. He would say, “Well, how’s things going?” and da, da, da, da, da.

02:26:10 - 02:26:18

And by then I’d learn something that I didn’t have an answer for and I could ask him and he may or may not have had the answer but it was usually on a historical basis.

02:26:18 - 02:26:19

Why did they do this?

02:26:19 - 02:26:20

And why did that?

02:26:21 - 02:27:07

So, he was very helpful simply because he’d been the man on the ground at one point in time. And there were others, certainly Clayton Freiheit was a good mentor. Clayton always had a calming effect of thinking things through. There were some others as well. Bill Connolly was always a great colleague. Probably it goes way back to our days because we were both bird people and that was our interest. And I first met Bill probably in 1969. I had only been in the business a couple years when I first met him and we’ve maintained a strong friendship all through it.

02:27:07 - 02:27:09

So, he was very good.

02:27:09 - 02:27:11

And Ron Blakely, you remember Ron Blake?

02:27:11 - 02:27:22

Ron Blakely was close. He was close a neighbor. But I was always had an ability to have at least a good open conversation with him if there’s something I wanted to know.

02:27:23 - 02:27:29

How involved were you in the day-to-day activities and hands-on when you were director?

02:27:30 - 02:27:43

I probably did micromanage a little too much in the beginning because I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know what their strengths and weaknesses were.

02:27:44 - 02:27:57

I was very hesitant to just turn ’em loose without monitoring and supervision until I knew what their skill levels were and were they going to be able to do things in time?

02:27:57 - 02:28:33

When as I learned more about them, I had more faith in their abilities and pretty well let them lose but I always monitored. I would say to them, “I would rather you take a chance and try something and fail, then not to have taken the chance at all.” And they pretty well understood I’d have their back. They may mess up and I may say, “You really messed up,” but I’d have their back.

02:28:34 - 02:28:43

And how important is it do you feel, is it for a director to make daily rounds?

02:28:43 - 02:28:45

Did you do it, do you think it’s important?

02:28:46 - 02:29:46

I think it’s very important to do daily rounds. The unfortunate thing is when you get to a higher administrative level, there are other things drawing your attention away from the ability to do that. I know that I’m a morning person. And so, I’m an early riser and I’d get to the zoo sometimes 6:30 in the morning, sometimes seven. I’d have at least an hour where somebody wouldn’t be knocking on the door or some crisis was, be it a crisis or not. I had an hour’s worth of time to myself. So, that allowed me to at least get myself organized. And then there was always some administrative duties you had to do, financial reports or sign some things and everything, usually by 10 in the morning, sometimes a little later than that, then I’d say, “I gotta get outta here,” and then I’d get on my cart and then I’d go around to look at things.

02:29:48 - 02:30:25

I think that it was more of a strain on my available time being a director than what I had previously thought it might be but it wasn’t just animal issues anymore. When I’d go out on the grounds, I was looking at trash cans. (laughter) I was looking at everything that took me away from the things that I probably enjoyed. Well and you are an animal guy as opposed to a business guy in the broad sense. And a lot of directors say they missed the contact with the animals when they became director.

02:30:25 - 02:30:29

And did that happen to you and how’d you keep that connection, if indeed you could?

02:30:29 - 02:30:54

I did miss the animals. I missed going into an incubator and turning eggs. I missed helping chicks outta shells. I missed that. That was a hands on thing. And it was something I’d done for so long that it was second nature. Brought me home, the kind of things that I enjoyed doing. And I couldn’t do that anymore.

02:30:54 - 02:30:58

Time wouldn’t allow me to do that anymore.

02:30:58 - 02:31:14

Now, once in a while, I’d break off and particularly with the bird curator and we’d sit down and we’d talk birds and we’d talk about nothing else, we’d talk about birds and we’d talk about okay, is this technique working?

02:31:14 - 02:31:18

Or how’s this species doing, are they nesting?

02:31:19 - 02:31:58

Once in a while I would take time to do that. When I really got uptight, I’d go over to the greenhouse and the horticulture crew would put me to work planting seeds. That was good therapy because nobody ever came looking for me there. (laughter) And so, I did that. That was about trying to keep in touch was very difficult. You can’t keep your finger on the pulse all the time, it’s just not possible when you have other administrative duties. You mentioned when you’d walk around, you’d look at trash cans and other things.

02:31:59 - 02:32:09

Can you describe visitor services when you first were at the zoo and how did you start to think about what you wanted to do to change it and were you able to do that?

02:32:09 - 02:33:25

When I first went to Oklahoma City, the concessions area was really fairly rudimentary. There were, I’m trying to think, I think there was just one or two refreshment stands being maned by high school kids, typical. And there was a gift shop that was full of all kinds of little things that didn’t sell. What’s the old adage, “You don’t buy things you like, buy things people will buy.” Well, that thing was full of things that the two buyers who bought the stuff liked and it didn’t sell. And so, that wasn’t my area of expertise and it took about two years. We brought in a professional group. First of all, we brought in someone from Oklahoma State University and he helped and they have a big Hotel Management Restaurant School up there. And so, he helped us redesign the food stands.

02:33:26 - 02:34:15

And then we brought in a group to help us run ’em. Help ’em get and eventually we contracted with the group to do that and we built a new gift shop. And so, it just took time. We had to, obviously, some people changes helped that. We got rid of some old practices and brought in some new practices. We even started a catering service, not for off the grounds but for on the grounds so that we could cater company picnics, family picnics. And that business grew in time. In fact, in time we built a picnic pavilion and built a catering kitchen.

02:34:16 - 02:35:25

We could feed a 6,000 person picnic fried chicken all day long but that part of the business really grew. It was really a very successful entity at the zoo. One of the other things that made Oklahoma City Zoo unique is it had an amphitheater and it had been built by CCC in, I don’t know, early 1900’s. And so, there were some big stars that appeared there at one time. Bob Hope and I don’t know who else but it had set vacant for a long time. And then they started bringing in rock concerts and that became a revenue center but that was a learning experience. They don’t teach you that any place in school, how to manage rock groups. The first concert that was there, my family had come down, we were living in the old zoo director’s house and the Grateful Dead was supposed to appear.

02:35:26 - 02:35:37

And so, I got up that morning and I walked up my little lane, opened the big wooden gate and stared out at an interesting group of people.

02:35:37 - 02:35:41

(laughs) I thought, oh my God, what am I into here?

02:35:41 - 02:36:47

And it was a Grateful Dead concert and all the Deadheads were selling earrings and smoking funny things and doing all that stuff. And from there, it got to be a pretty good business. We had lots of big rock, James Taylor, a couple of times. A lot of country western groups. Our record was we sold 235 kegs of beer one night for I think it was Hank Williams Jr. So, you had to learn about that and how to deal with that business, which is totally foreign to anything that any of us ever done in the zoo profession. Working with road managers is a task, it’s a challenge because you’re fighting for your self respect and he’s fighting for his self respect and his band and it was an interesting experience but very profitable actually. Now, during your career, there were many things that occurred in the zoo world and obviously affected Oklahoma City.

02:36:47 - 02:36:58

What would you say would be a couple of things that might come to your mind as major events that affected zoos in general and obviously had an effect on your zoo?

02:37:00 - 02:38:33

Well, I think from the collection standpoint, from managing the animal collections, certainly the federal regulations as they occurred, whether it was the Endangered Species Act or whether it was the Newcastle’s problem that caused the big quarantine issues and all the regulations that came up the road. Every time something like that happened, there was a change. It changed the way we did business. It changed the way that we could plan our collections. It changed our attitudes about regulations and it just changed a whole bunch of things. I also think this to a certain extent was a good thing. A lot of the changes started happening in zoos in early 70’s because there were starting to be outcries of animal abuse, poor holding facilities, the animal rights community, even though in it’s infancy in those days, were getting vocal and in many cases they were correct. We weren’t taking care of what we should have been in the fashion that we should have been.

02:38:33 - 02:39:35

When you look at the majority of zoos then were under Park and Recreation Departments, under municipal governments. Zoos were always step childs and as a result, if an animal exhibit got old, it got old, make it work and to the point it couldn’t work anymore. A lot of that changed. Public attitudes changed. And I think that was good because it caused municipal governments to think about their support for these institutions, really caused them to in many places to, you can remember New Orleans, there’s a good example. They had to step up to the plate and make this change. And so, the institutions changed. Then the animal rights people became more vocal, animal rights organizations became big businesses.

02:39:37 - 02:41:06

We were constantly faced by their criticisms and I think that we probably didn’t react to their criticisms correctly when they first came out. I think we did a lot of knee jerks and we reacted to their criticism instead of being proactive about it. We should have gotten probably ahead of that long before we did. When you look at where we are today, I think public has a much better understanding of the goals of zoos today than they did then because we probably really didn’t get it across what our real goals were. I’m not sure we knew so much ourselves what they were really, where we were gonna end up. And if you look at the fact that a lot of these animal rights organizations, although people that are in the administration of them may try to do some things in an intellectual fashion, the majority of people that belong to them are very emotional. They belong to ’em because they’re emotional about the way animals are kept in captivity or are handled in any fashion. So, you’ve got a whole different kind of arena you’re having to deal with there and they’re approaching things largely from an emotional side, we’re trying to deal with it and respond to it on an intellectual side.

02:41:07 - 02:41:58

Sometimes we have gotten down into the ditch and argued with them at that level. I don’t believe that wins anything. I don’t think you can solve anything by doing that. I can remember even times when we tried to do some cooperative ventures with them, only to have it come back and bite us. I really think this whole animal rights thing, I think has been of benefit to zoos and particularly those agencies that have funded zoos because it’s created change. There’s had to be change and those have been positive changes. The continual badgering of zoos, I don’t know where that’s all going to go in time but I would hope that we would remain proactive about it. So, I think the legislation issues have had a big change on it.

02:41:58 - 02:42:21

The public attitude issues have had a big change on zoos. I would say those two things are probably had more of an impact on zoos and aquariums than anything. If I was to go out now, after your first couple years at the zoo, now you’re getting your feet wet in the big pond. You’re the big guy in the big pond.

02:42:22 - 02:42:33

If I went to your staff and I asked them to describe your management style, what would they say or what would you say?

02:42:33 - 02:43:33

Not in the first couple of years but as it evolved. I think my management style, it’s a good question. There’s probably arguments for both sides, whether it’s good or bad. There were obviously opportune times when I had to be fairly autocratic because the responsibility, I had to make sure that the task ended up the way it was supposed to. It’s sometimes hard to project what all the factors that were supposed to lead up to this positive result. The curators, they pretty well ran their collections. The general curator was over them. There was a veterinarian there.

02:43:33 - 02:44:27

I certainly didn’t, I just checked and monitored their programs. If we had a sick animal, obviously that was gonna be a PR issue. So, then we had to get other people involved. Again, I would criticize him more for not trying something or for trying something and then if it failed rather than not trying something ’cause try it, go for it. I probably spent more time dealing with staff, the management staff on a day-to-day basis than I did those that their reports. I didn’t often see their reports. I was friendly with them when I saw them. I knew most of their names.

02:44:30 - 02:44:58

But with the time that I had during the day, I had to take the best advantage of it. And so, I was tend to work more with the managers than going out and seeing much with a lot of the keepers. Oklahoma City Zoo is a big enough place that you may not see somebody out there with all the space and such. I’m gonna ask you a question, maybe a couple things that might pop into your mind.

02:44:58 - 02:45:05

What were your most frustrating times, the most difficult times for you as a director?

02:45:05 - 02:45:07

Things pop into your mind when I say that?

02:45:07 - 02:45:34

Yeah. I became a critic of governing bodies. And let me explain that. And I think everybody has these problems. Everybody approaches it a little differently. When you look at the fact that at one time, the majority of institutions were managed by municipal governments.

02:45:34 - 02:45:37

So, then who you’re responsible to if you were a director?

02:45:37 - 02:46:56

You’re responsible to a Park and Recreation Department director who was responsible to a mayor. When the privatization occurred, in other words, the societies or other bodies took over the management of these zoos, not the ownership but took over the governance of them. Then you started dealing with the nonprofit board, not-for-profit board. There’s been some tremendous studies done by actually Yale University is one. I think Harvard has a school on this and maybe a couple others where they have tracked and watched the cultures of not-for-profit boards through the years. In the beginning, in the old days, the not-for-profit boards were made up of largely big community leaders, large corporate CEOs, stuff like that, who were used to making decisions. Who made decisions on policy but left the day to day operations up to the professionals, the directors, the animal staff. Through the years what happened is that these boards changed.

02:46:56 - 02:47:55

The CEOs of these corporations and such, now this doesn’t apply to every place. Let me say that right off the bat because I would say that it’s some organizations, they probably still have some pretty powerful CEOs on ’em, I know that St Louis does. But what happened was the CEOs said they don’t have time to do this. And so, then the people sat on these boards were individuals who were mainly involved in civic activities. You had people who may not have had any organizational experience whatsoever. And it became more of a desire to not just do policy but to tell you how to do your job. And I’ve watched that happen through the years. I think I encountered some of that too.

02:47:55 - 02:48:30

And that was a very frustrating thing, dealing with trying to explain to somebody sitting on a society board or sitting on any other board you might encounter why you had to do something in a certain fashion. You sat there with this knowledge and you sat there with this experience and you sat there with an understanding of the big picture. They sat there with limited knowledge, limited experience and no understanding of the big picture, trying to make a point. That was very frustrating.

02:48:32 - 02:48:41

I think every director has someone who says, “Well, why don’t we have this animal?

02:48:41 - 02:48:43

Or why don’t we do this?

02:48:43 - 02:49:23

Or why can’t we have this kind of exhibit?” What really used to frustrate me the most was people who would come and have this grandiose idea but hadn’t done their homework. Hadn’t done their homework. They hadn’t thought it out themselves as to what the problems may be. They just got this great idea. In most cases, the idea was bad. It wasn’t even a good idea. Give you an example. We had a guy come in one time, who’d been to Durango, Colorado, seen the mountain train, the steam train, realized it was run by volunteers.

02:49:24 - 02:50:40

Came back, met with two or three of us, which included a couple of trust members. He wanted to put this train in, (chuckles) take up a large part of our parking lot with train tracks and have this wonderful train that would run from the zoo down near the Cowboy Hall of Fame and some other places. But he’d never thought about the logistics of the impact on the zoo’s parking lot. To put a train track across any street in the state of Oklahoma, you got to put a railroad arm up and you can’t have anything in view within 250 feet on each side. So, that would mean it would take and they cost at that time, like $200 some thousand. So, there was that cost and there was the cost of destroying the zoo’s parking lot and everything. But you see, he never thought about that. And he was quite angry when I said, “Do you ever think about all of this?” And he was mad ’cause we just didn’t buy his idea.

02:50:40 - 02:51:19

That happened many, many times. We’d have people that we oughta be doing this. We’d ought be doing that but they never thought through it. So, I really haven’t had much patience for that approach probably didn’t serve me well. But I always felt if you’re gonna really come up with a good idea that has merit enough to be considered, do your homework and decide for yourself whether it has merit before you bring it before the trust or anybody else with the idea. Because we spend a lot of time, I spend a lot of time debunking some of these ideas. You mentioned the trains.

02:51:19 - 02:51:22

What was the reaction when you sold the trains?

02:51:22 - 02:51:24

You did have trains. Yeah.

02:51:24 - 02:51:26

And why did that come about?

02:51:29 - 02:52:09

For space. In order to do Great Escape, we had to realign the tracks, which we did. We kept the train. But when we did the cat exhibit, it sat right in the cat exhibit, went right across where the train was. So, then the train had to go. The train had also gotten to a point that every year it had to be inspected by the United States Department of Transportation. That was pretty expensive. And the revenues from the train, were not meeting the costs of managing the train.

02:52:09 - 02:52:12

So, it became a point like this isn’t economical anymore.

02:52:13 - 02:52:16

Should we keep it just for the sake of history?

02:52:16 - 02:52:28

But when the cat exhibit had to go on there, well then the train had to go. It wasn’t a question anymore. And another thing that took up, I’m assuming took up some space.

02:52:28 - 02:52:31

Can you tell me something about how did the racetrack come about?

02:52:31 - 02:52:34

How did it help or hurt the zoo?

02:52:34 - 02:52:37

What was the you’re in the racetrack business?

02:52:37 - 02:53:08

(laughter) We were landowner for a race track. It came about, we had a trustee, a trust member who liked to dabble with real estate. And we had this huge piece of property on the other side of the road from the zoo. And it was owned by the society and it was owned by the trust. It was basically city zoo property. And on that sat the animal hospital, Maintenance Department.

02:53:09 - 02:53:10

What else was over there?

02:53:10 - 02:53:58

Oh, there was a couple other buildings and some exhibit and some holding spaces. Incubation room was over there and this possibility of this racetrack came up. And again when I got there, this was largely down the path. And a guy named Ed De Barlow came in, he wanted to build the racetrack. He liked the piece of land. The zoo benefited from it. The buildings that were on the other side of the road, which were the animal hospital and the holding space, it was all torn down. The new maintenance facility was constructed on the other side of the zoo.

02:53:58 - 02:54:47

A new animal hospital. New curator-keeper spaces was created over there. So, it really from a capital trade off, it really benefited. There was a contract that the zoo got, I’m gonna say $250,000 a year for the first 25 years and then 500,000 after that. The reason for the smaller amount, the first 25 was due to the money that had been spent moving the facilities had to be amortized against the pay. So, that was done. In fact, I think they’re probably maybe at 25 years now. So, I think that’s gone up.

02:54:47 - 02:55:24

Now what’s happened, racetrack’s still there but now in the state of Oklahoma, you’ve got all this gambling. And so, it’s gambling over there now. De Barlow’s no longer on the track, it’s gone through two or three owners but that’s how we ended up with it. And it was really not a detriment to the zoo any way, shape or form. It was financially rewarding to the institution. I say we used to be the landlords and I suspect that the zoo still is to some extent the landlord but it’s a business arrangement.

02:55:24 - 02:55:34

You’d mentioned some exhibits and how they were funded and how difficult was it to raise funds or wasn’t it difficult for the cat forest lion overlook?

02:55:37 - 02:57:04

Funding for, I think almost virtually every exhibit that I was involved in was funded primarily out of operational dollars. Certainly the renovation of the birdhouse at St. Louis, we didn’t build too many new bird exhibits in St. Louis, just the renovation is probably the main endeavor. Oklahoma City. The aquarium and the dolphin exhibit had some private dollars involved in it but it had to be finished off with operational dollars and what was left in the bond. All the other exhibits had operational funding. We didn’t build them until we had the money to do it. In fact, I think it was a rule with the city that after this was passed, that if we were going to build something, we had to show that we had the funding for it to begin it and finish it. So, based on this sales tax, it would appear you were in a very unique position to other zoo directors and that you didn’t have to worry about being the major fundraising person, you had these dollars coming in.

02:57:04 - 02:58:18

That is correct. We had a funding base which was very unique for any zoo because we could for the foreseeable future, we had and you understand it, that we were making money through the tax faster than we could spend it. So, when we looked at, I actually formulated a cash flow statement sheet so that the timing of when we should begin a project and what it was going to cost and where we were gonna be financially would be known before we ever started the project so that we didn’t get to a point and say, “Oh my gosh, we’re outta money. We gotta wait two years to finish paying for it.” We didn’t do that. And that as a result, construction on Great Escape didn’t start for almost a year and a half after the sales tax passed because that gave us the ability to start having some money and then to start appropriately spending it but spending it in the fashion that the timing prevented us from having to be in a deficit.

02:58:20 - 02:58:24

Is that money still coming into the zoo today?

02:58:24 - 02:58:43

The money still comes into the zoo today. There’s no sunset clause on the sales tax agreement. The only way that it could be removed is for another referendum to remove it. So but it’s the same amount of money coming in. It’s still the 1/8.

02:58:43 - 02:58:48

I’m just asking maybe a technical, I’m just curious, 1/8 of a cent?

02:58:48 - 02:59:29

Still 1/8 of a cent. But in theory, the amount of money being spent for sales in Oklahoma in theory grows. And so, that 1/8 of a cent now becomes a larger amount of money due to the fact it’s an 1/8 of a cent based upon a larger sales. And just recently the Columbus Zoo had their levy that they were requesting, a new one rejected even though Jack Hannah and the zoo director and other people were trying to see if the community would be in favor.

02:59:29 - 02:59:32

What does that say do you think that the Columbus zoo?

02:59:34 - 03:00:19

I don’t know that that’s a reflection upon the Columbus Zoo, as much as it might be a reflection upon a bad idea because the idea obviously didn’t fly. They ran it up the flag pole but nobody saluted it. And so, the fact that it failed probably wasn’t based on anything about the Columbus Zoo, it was based upon the fact that it was a bad idea and that people didn’t want it. Now, since that time, they have agreed to not go back and forget doing what they were going to do with that money and do something else. We were talking about staff at the zoo and you had a large staff of curators and people who were running the collection.

03:00:19 - 03:00:27

How did you try and develop them educationally and upgrade them?

03:00:27 - 03:00:29

Were you sending them out to conferences?

03:00:29 - 03:00:32

Did you want them to learn more?

03:00:32 - 03:00:40

Did you have to beat ’em over the head to do it or how did you provide for them, the increased learning of your staff?

03:00:40 - 03:01:51

We we had an in-house program that if you took a course that was applicable. If you were a horticulturist and took a course in pottery making, that wasn’t going to be applicable to the job. But if you took a course from the local Oklahoma State University extension on City Campus in horticulture or botany or something like that, that is applicable. If you took the course and you received, I don’t recall. It probably was a C or better, then we would reimburse you for the cost of the course. But you had take the course, pass the course at a certain grade level and then we would reimburse you. So, continuing learning but it was an opportunity but it had to be taken with the understanding that you were gonna work at it and it had to be applicable to what your job was. Curators certainly went to national conference.

03:01:51 - 03:02:34

We were limited in the amount of monies, like any other zoo is on how many people could go. And actually, how many people could be away from the zoo at one time. So, some curators went one year and other curators went the following year. Education curator went, that person became involved with the other curators around the nation. So, we had to measure it every year when they submitted their budgets. And we started looking at the amount of dollars we were going to have and what we could afford and what we couldn’t. And that’s what pretty well dictated the travel budget for that year. And education budget.

03:02:34 - 03:02:37

Did you challenge your curators to be participatory?

03:02:37 - 03:02:48

That is if they were gonna give a paper there you were more inclined to fund their trip or was it just general education to be at a conference whether it was local or regional?

03:02:50 - 03:03:51

I encouraged them to participate. There’s two ways of doing that. If they came in and said, “Well, I’m scheduled to give a paper.” You should ask permission before you do that first because now you’re trying to commit us to something that we need may not be able to satisfy the commitment to. So, they basically knew that if they wanted to give a paper, that was great and I encouraged that but are you gonna be able to attend the conference first because we can afford for that to happen. And then you take advantage of being able to attend by giving a paper, not in a reverse fashion. That happened too much. Not only did it happen in the beginning at Oklahoma City but I’ve seen it happen in other institutions when you realize that curators aren’t dumb. If they want to go to a conference, they say, “Hey, I’ve been asked to give a paper.” Well okay, that’s great but I’m not sure you’ll be able to.

03:03:51 - 03:04:26

You have to measure against the better good of the whole institution, everybody else going as well, so that not everybody is guaranteed a trip but when they do go, I would always encourage them to take advantage of it, give a paper, do a publication, always encouraged the publications. Now, you’d mentioned that the Zoo Commission ran the zoo or at least was charged with the oversight of the zoo or may be the wrong word.

03:04:28 - 03:04:31

What was your relationship with the Zoo Commission?

03:04:31 - 03:04:35

If I’m correct, it’s not Zoo Society. Zoo Trust.

03:04:35 - 03:04:39

What was your relationship with the Zoo Trust and did it change over the years?

03:04:40 - 03:05:33

The Zoo Trust was set up as one of the city’s trusts. And then one time, I think they had 24 of them and I think they whittled it down to maybe four or five. The Water Department was a trust. The airport was a trust and the zoo was a trust. And it consisted of the three city related people on the trust at that time was the mayor who very rarely ever came to a meeting. The city manager and the local council person, the remaining six people that served on the trust and it was a nine person body, their names were put up to the mayor and the mayor made the selection. And there was essentially two names for each opening. And they rotated on it every three years.

03:05:35 - 03:06:05

In theory, it was a good system. In reality, it had its faults. It was a two-headed monster. Came in as a director. You were paid by the trust. Your paycheck says, “Oklahoma City Zoological Trust,” which is a political entity. The property, the buildings, everything within your eyesight on the zoo property was a city asset. You couldn’t do anything.

03:06:06 - 03:06:59

You couldn’t build anything. You couldn’t tear anything down. There was a lot that you couldn’t do without first getting some kind of guidance through the city. If we were to build anything, we had to go through all just like anybody else would have, any other public entity would have to do. We’d have to go through the City Planning Group and not the commission, the city planners, the city engineers, we had a very good relationship with them. That hadn’t been that way in the past but it grew to be a very good relationship. And so, we are pretty beholding if we wanted things done and we wanted the city’s help and even in terms of coming out and fixing a water valve that really we had no way to fix, they would do so. And so, we had a very good cooperative relationship.

03:07:00 - 03:08:11

The other problem was, the other side of that double-headed monster or double-edged sword was the fact that you had six people on there that served the society. The society had a philosophy that they had this stewardship over the zoo. And as a result, although the society was not part of any governance of the Oklahoma City Zoo whatsoever, it took on a role of stewardship by their own definition. That could be difficult because you had people that sat on society. Society was a not-for-profit and it suffered some of the same kinds of issues as I mentioned before, about what happens to nonprofit boards, when people get involved with them who really have no knowledge about what you’re doing and think that they would like to be more in the hands-on, day-to-day running of the institution, instead of leaving it to the professionals. That’s a problem there. Since I’ve left there, they’ve gone through two directors. They’ve just got a new one.

03:08:11 - 03:08:54

We’ll see how that one lasts for a period of time. So, it’s tough. It’s a tough management scenario, very difficult. And there are other institutions, particularly the ones that have privatized with societies taking over the management contract of them. I think you’re running into the same kinds of issues there, that you get boards who, people who want to be in charge but their management style and understanding what their role is, is a little cloudy. Then what happened in later years between you and some of the trustees.

03:08:54 - 03:09:01

Mr. Hammock and Rainbolt to name two people that changed the dynamics?

03:09:01 - 03:10:25

Well, part of the dynamic that existed there was you had the society, you had an individual who was executive director of the society who had another agenda. And I think their agenda… Well, I know their agenda was that the society ought to be involved more in the revenue centers of the zoo. Okay. That’s a setting it up to give you an idea of what took place. You had then people that came onto the trust that had the same idea, had been steered in that direction, that the society ought to be running the concession stands and the society ought to be running the gift shop and they ought to be managing these things instead of at that time, we had a professional contract with an agency that does that thing in lots of zoos in this country. And that was the direction that they wanted to take that, needless to say that I didn’t agree with that simply because we had seen what had taken place at other places when that happened. There was all kinds of mismanagement, misdirection of funds.

03:10:25 - 03:11:28

And it just wasn’t a scenario that would have been a benefit to the Oklahoma City Zoo. So, we had some personality conflicts. Rainbolt became eventual Chairman and it was certainly his goal to try to do that, take over this part of the zoo operations. And there were others that were right behind him and so that’s what we just had decided to have a parting of the ways because it wasn’t philosophically the right thing for the zoo. It was more personal agendas. And honestly, they had a hard time managing their annual memberships. They couldn’t run their annual memberships probably any better than they could have run the gift shop. So, I was not supportive of ’em and that was a problem.

03:11:29 - 03:12:14

And there were six of them on the trust and the other three who supported me. I had a couple members of the sixth that supported me but it got to be an untenable situation so that it wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t fun and it was a rough situation. And there have been other directors that have gone through this in recent years with these new kind of arrangements that have caused a fair amount of turnover. So, you indicated you in this juncture, you agreed to have a meeting in the minds where you’d go your way, they would go their way and so forth.

03:12:14 - 03:12:18

How did you feel about leaving the zoo under those circumstances?

03:12:21 - 03:13:16

(chuckles) At the time it was traumatic. Looking back on it, hey, it’s just the way things go. People get fired from corporations all the time. That never got to any point like that with me and it probably would’ve been fairly ugly had it happened because I think it would’ve have been very difficult considering the fact that certainly my employment record, my achievement record there had been exemplary and I had been rewarded for that. So, this was a personality thing. What is interesting. What is interesting is that within six months after my leaving Rainbolt was off of the trust and the guy who was head of the society had resigned because of some other allegations and things. So, it just all fell apart.

03:13:16 - 03:13:20

And that’s the way life goes, I guess.

03:13:20 - 03:13:22

What’d you take away from the experience?

03:13:25 - 03:14:30

Certainly there were things that I could have done better. I wish I would have been more sensitive to seeing some of this activity that was going on. I wish people would have been a little clearer about what the politics were. I felt that if it the city owned the facility and if it was too the city’s benefit and I always remembered that the zoo was not owned by anybody but the taxpayers. And we had been given the responsibility for maintaining it to the best of it’s abilities. That was the goal. And when private agendas came into it, I don’t play politics well and I didn’t play that political game very well.

03:14:31 - 03:14:33

Should I have done it better?

03:14:33 - 03:15:14

Probably so but I may have had to sell part of my soul. And I just wasn’t very good at that. And which probably not been good for me over the long run. But when I look back at it, for the 15 years that we were there, that I was there, we had a great team, we got tremendous amount accomplished. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. If personalities were what they were, then that’s people. Now, during the time you were at the zoo and throughout your zoo career, you were a member of the Zoo Association, professional organization. Correct.

03:15:14 - 03:15:19

Were you a member of the organization when it was part of the Parks Department or not?

03:15:19 - 03:15:58

No. Well, I take that back. Yes I was. I think I first joined, which at that time was AAZPA 1969, ’70 and I believe it was under the NRPA at that point in time and then it split ’72, ’73, something like that. ’72, ’73, maybe a little bit later. I can’t remember. So yeah, I do remember when it was under the NRP, I didn’t understand or have knowledge of any of the problems that took place at that time. I became more knowledgeable association after it split.

03:15:58 - 03:16:15

So, when it became the independent AZA or AAZPA at the time, were you involved, did you start to get involved when you were at Oklahoma City or were you involved earlier?

03:16:15 - 03:16:24

And do you think it’s important for zoo directors who are active to be involved in this national organization?

03:16:26 - 03:17:42

Overall to answer the question, yes, you definitely need to be a player in AZA. As to the amount you wanna be a player, that’s a personal decision as to what you want to do. I probably started getting involved with AZA after I went to St. Louis. I was appointed to a couple of committees. I was appointed to the Wildlife Management Committee and I think there was one other one and started becoming more involved in national affairs with the association. And in time, just the more involved I get, the more committees I would serve on. And certainly I was involved in bird groups, their activities and it just builds over time. I suppose you get involved and you become knowledgeable and you have experience with some of the association’s activities, and you become more of a player in the association politics if you wanna call it that.

03:17:42 - 03:19:21

What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of AZA from when you first started to when you left active in the profession. When the AZA split, it was basically a one director organization that had an executive director and there were five or six clerical employees that handled everything from membership to oh, I don’t know what, the amount of things that the association did at the time was limited. The accreditation program was building but it was a very small office and it was in Wheeling, West Virginia. The big changes started to come with more demands for legislation, paying attention to legislation. Even though that had been handed out to committees, I can remember as a member of the Wildlife Management Committee, that we spent a lot of time looking for things in the Federal Register having to do with animal importations and permits and such. And so, we were the overseer for all the fish and wildlife things that were going on. And I think in time, we ended up having staff members involved with that. And then when I was on the board of AZA and that’s when the decision was made to open an office in Washington DC.

03:19:21 - 03:20:12

And when the decision was made to go in that direction, it probably caused some quality of life questions with the individuals who worked in Wheeling as to whether they wanted to pick up and move to Washington DC, big jump from Wheeling to Washington. There were new people being hired for the position in Washington DC, so that you had the staff moved from five or six people to almost up to 20 people. The disciplines were now expanding. We had someone in charge of conservation. We had someone in charge of education. We had someone in charge of membership. These were paid employees. Not that they hadn’t been before but these were dedicated toward that.

03:20:12 - 03:21:24

And so, the whole philosophy of the organization, the whole focus was changing. It was just changing with evolution, changing in time and it had to happen. That caused some problems. And it was in 1990 that we realized that we probably need to have a change at the top of the organization and a new executive director was hired who was located in Washington, DC. The main staff office was created in Washington DC and it’s gone from there. What they do today now of course, is much different than when I was pretty much involved with it. Except the accreditation program is still growing and it’s getting stronger. The membership program is still growing and getting stronger but they deal with legislation and the political entity more so and that I’m sure is growing.

03:21:26 - 03:22:04

They have a great newsletter where it used to be on recycled paper. It’s now slick paper. A lot of things have changed. Communication is much better among the members than it used to be. You have a whole new generation of people out there that are belonging to the organization. I don’t even know today what the total membership of AZA is. It always is around the 7,000 markers that I remember but it’s probably larger than that now. There obviously were many births that occurred during your time at the zoo.

03:22:04 - 03:22:10

Is there one that jumps out of you in the birth of a species that you were really excited about?

03:22:13 - 03:22:38

Oh, there was always quite a few that I thought were really unique and it was really noteworthy. I honestly, I don’t know that I can think of them. I can’t think I can single one out at the present time. I was always amazed like wow, they were able to do that. I mean the top three. Oh, geez. They probably would’ve been birds.

03:22:38 - 03:22:40

Bateleur eagle?

03:22:40 - 03:23:55

I think that was significant. Yeah, it definitely was significant. You know it’s interesting, the Bean Awards went from significant births, which is what it always was to if you had a colony of Bali mynas going that was reproducing and everything, then it started looking more at not necessarily the individual breeding but a colony or a sustained population thing. So, things changed. I honestly, I’d have to sit and look over the list to say, “Well, yeah, that one was good. That was really something.” But there were some significant landmarks or benchmarks that occurred. Certainly the harpy eagle would’ve been one ’cause that was worked with for a long, long, long, long time. I think that the husbandry with flamingos has greatly improved in recent years, when there was a time if you hash-winged, the parent had to raise it, you couldn’t hand raise it but they’ve gotten over that.

03:23:55 - 03:24:13

They figured out how to do that. So, there’s been a lot of successes that you could probably group together and say, “Hey, these were notable.” And those were successes but in 1998, a tapir injured a zookeeper and injured her severely.

03:24:13 - 03:24:22

Can you give us an overview of what happened and how did this particular incident affect you as a director and how did it affect the zoo?

03:24:23 - 03:25:13

Well, it’s interesting that that that accident occurred. It was like it was yesterday. I can remember I was in my office and my secretary said, “There’s been an accident in the Children’s Zoo and we’ve got a keeper down.” So, I went immediately to the site and probably was about the fourth person to get there. And what had happened is that this keeper had been mauled by Malayan tapir. I honestly did not recognize her when I got there. She was mauled that badly. I could not recognize her. And she was trying to talk.

03:25:13 - 03:26:09

She kept saying something about her arm and there were two people with her, one was a keeper and the other one was one of our security people. And he kept looking at me, when she’d say something about her arm, he kept looking at me. Well, she had a jacket over her and I still couldn’t connect what she was trying to say. And yet, I could tell she was mauled, she had a gash on her face and her legs were bleeding, her arm, she was just bleeding all over. And I lifted her coat on the left sleeve, I lifted the jacket up and her arm was missing. I had never seen an injury like that before. And I’m a big guy but I could feel the blood leaving my head. And I felt I had to get up and walk out and just get my wits about me before I went back in.

03:26:09 - 03:27:18

And so, eventually the medical team got there and took her to the hospital. She was very badly mauled, she lost her arm. And it was an accident that probably shouldn’t have happened. As we know, the majority of accidents that happen in zoos are keeper human error. At the time, we weren’t real sure what totally had happened. This animal had a baby and there were some practices that there are some things that she had done that really she shouldn’t have been doing. And she was in with the mother and the mother grabbed her. And as we found out in time that there was someone else in the room and we had a flat rule that nobody’s in an animal space, unless they’re supposed to be in there.

03:27:18 - 03:28:30

And this was a person from the horticulture crew and apparently the keeper had said, “Do you wanna pet the baby?” And that was enough to alarm the mother because here was a strange face and we all know what that can cause. And as a result, she was in the way and ended up paying the price. Now, a lot of this was found out later because the keeper or the person from the Horticulture Department finally came forward, did an affidavit. And I wasn’t with the institution anymore. The sad thing was that it happened, it was a terrible accident but it was used against staff where it wasn’t anyone’s fault but the person who was directly involved in it but it spilled over on everybody else. And they used that for one of those things to let’s hammer on the staff. And it was a terrible thing, I wish it had never happened. But so many times, you can say that for every bad zoo accident, you wish it had never happened.

03:28:30 - 03:28:37

What do you think directors in general, that you could teach them could learn from this type of experience?

03:28:41 - 03:29:37

Well, certainly you have to find out exactly what happened. I know that I gathered everybody together, I started asking questions, a lot of the keepers who were not present when this happened felt that what happened was not caused by human error. You’ve got to ask a lot of questions. You’ve got to really delve into the issue and see what really took place and then prepare a crisis plan to deal with it. Because if it’s human error, you’re gonna have to address it as human error. If it’s not human error and it’s a fault of the institution, you’re gonna have to face it either from the beginning or you’re gonna have to face it at some time but someone’s gonna find out. If there’s been negligence, then so be it.

03:29:39 - 03:29:59

I think when you have accidents like that and this girl’s still alive but how many accidents do we know about where the keeper isn’t alive, where it’s led to a fatal injury and how do you talk about that?

03:29:59 - 03:30:05

How do you instill into other keepers, you’ve got to pay attention?

03:30:05 - 03:31:09

You can’t do things that are gonna jeopardize you. I had a flat rule and this may sound silly but I always believed it. That when I inter interviewed a keeper and if they said, “Oh, I love animals,” that always caused me to pay attention because there’s a difference between loving animals and wanting to work with them. Doesn’t mean you don’t love them but at some point in time, the brain has to take over where the heart’s trying to. And if it doesn’t, then it can lead to results that you don’t want. And I think in this case, that happened. I think there are other cases where that has happened, that even employees, they just don’t really realize what can happen and they don’t pay attention to it. It’s sad but it’s happened.

03:31:09 - 03:31:12

And it’s happened how many times with elephants.

03:31:12 - 03:31:25

It’s happened not too long ago with a jaguar in Denver, these accidents unfortunately will continue to happen because it’s the human element and what do you do about that?

03:31:26 - 03:31:32

On different subject, can you tell us anything about a goose statue and the commemorative plaque?

03:31:32 - 03:31:36

(laughter) How did you feel about that?

03:31:36 - 03:32:16

(laughter) It’s funny. Yeah, there is a Canada goose, a bronze Canada goose at the Oklahoma City Zoo, it says something like, “In recognition of service as director of the Oklahoma City Zoo from 1985 to 2000,” or something like that. And they wanted to have a commemoration party or something and obviously I declined and said, “That’s nice thought and such,” but that was put there. And I always thought, how apropos that on my way out the door, I get a goose.

03:32:18 - 03:32:20

There’s also a bench isn’t there?

03:32:20 - 03:32:21

There is the what?

03:32:21 - 03:32:23

Is there a bench also associated with it?

03:32:23 - 03:32:48

Oh, there is a bench, not associated with that. Oh. actually I took a group to Africa one time. And the group that went to Africa bought a bench for the zoo ’cause we had a number of benches that had a commemorative plaque on it. And this one says, was in recognition of, I think of the trip and it says, “Haku Matata,” on it. So, that’s all I’m going to leave behind.

03:32:48 - 03:33:07

(laughter) How did you, just ’cause you mentioned Africa, do you feel that the trips that some zoos do, many are important as part of an educational process, a philanthropic process, what do they do if anything?

03:33:07 - 03:33:57

Well, I think the trips, certainly for the public who through a society or whether it’s just general public, it provides an opportunity for awareness of nature far beyond anything you can see on TV. You’re right in it. I know my first trip to Africa, I was in total awe. Although I had seen lots of pictures, Discovery Channel wasn’t around at that time. But when you go to a location and you experience it, it leaves a different impact on you than just a fleeting memory. It was an experience. It was an experience. I think it’s very important.

03:33:57 - 03:35:26

If you were trying to get people to support your programs and your conservation programs and your education programs and stuff and you take ’em to Africa or you take ’em to South America or you take ’em to the Galapagos, you don’t have to say much because the location will say more to them than you ever could. And I just am a strong believer in those kinds of programs. Now, those programs are there for individuals who can afford to pay for ’em and who want to make the investment for a trip like that. I always thought a great benefit was the ability for a curator to accompany a trip as a guide or baggage carrier, whatever you wanna call it because it helps that curator’s understanding of it just as much. I can’t imagine trying to be enthusiastic about animal programs at a zoo, particularly involving African animals and having never been to where they live. To me, that’s a big disconnect. So, I always supported the curators getting to go to places that they typically can’t afford to go. Can’t get the time, can’t afford to go.

03:35:28 - 03:35:32

I just think it’s a great benefit. That’s a nice perk of the industry.

03:35:33 - 03:35:45

Now, you leave the Oklahoma City Zoo as director and now what are you thinking about as the next phase of your career slash life?

03:35:45 - 03:35:48

Did you have a game plan in mind?

03:35:53 - 03:37:03

That’s interesting because I thought okay, now I’m gonna spend more time in retirement and doing some things. And somebody said to me, well I had a neighbor. I had a neighbor who was in charge of all the Six Flags parks in the world. He’s my neighbor. And he said to me, “Why don’t you come do some projects for us?” “Okay, that sounds cool.” “What are you looking at?” He said, “Well, let’s just take a look and see if there’s any zoo type possibilities in some of our theme parks and so on and so forth.” About the same time that happened, my mom fell ill and my father had already passed away. And so, I was faced a little bit with I’ve got a parent that I have to watch, stay close to, be able to help when I need to and when she needs me to. So, that worked out fine because I would be at home and I would go out and make these visits, come back and put together a report, some ideas and stuff. And so, I did that for a year.

03:37:03 - 03:38:08

Well, during that time, that was in 2001. And during that and then my mom passed away in 2002 if I recall. And so, that was behind me. And so, I had somebody contact me about doing some consulting work at two or three different zoos and I did that. Then I had somebody call and ask me if I wanted to, the zoo had just privatized and if I want to come and just take over the animal collection, the education thing and while they did their reorganization, I said, “Sure.” So, I actually went to Kansas City and bought a townhouse ’cause I was going back and forth. And I did that actually for about three years. During that time, what happened was the typical thing as I mentioned earlier about here’s this privatization, the zoo director lasts about a year. The news zoo director comes in and then the person who is involved in the society is gone.

03:38:10 - 03:39:13

And so I think, well okay, my job is about done here but I was helping them with getting accredited, preparing accreditation materials because that was one of the things that they had really struggled with and had really gotten in some quagmire over. And about the same time I got a phone call and the Fresno Zoo in Fresno, California was looking for an interim director while they went through a search of getting a new director and doing a sales tax. And since I was the only zoo director in the country that had sales tax experience, off I went to Fresno. So, I spent two weeks in Fresno, a week in Kansas City, a week in Oklahoma. And I did that for almost a year. And then I finally said, “That’s enough, it’s time to go fishing.” And so, after 40 years I said, “I’ve gotta go on the next stage of my life. And that happens to be a bass boat and a fly rod.” But as a consultant, you’re seeing zoos in a much different light.

03:39:17 - 03:39:19

What did you learn about consulting?

03:39:25 - 03:40:32

It’s an interesting situation to be in when you know what needs to be done. Not because you’re a genius but because this is what’s always worked and not having the ability to make sure that it’s done because all you’re doing is saying, “Here’s what you need to do.” Now, the decision of whether that’s applied or not is somebody else’s. I found that a little ’cause you want to think, oh God, let’s get this fixed but it’s not your decision to get it fixed. What your job is to tell ’em how to fix it and then that decision is theirs. That was a conflict in thought. I thought that it was conflict in control, I guess. (chuckles) It was just very difficult to do. I was able to do things at Kansas City because I had the responsibility to make the changes so that wasn’t a problem.

03:40:32 - 03:41:32

But when it came to Fresno, Fresno was looking for a director. I certainly had no interest in being the director of that zoo. So, I wasn’t even interested in it. I was just holding the fort but realized that the community was a highly charged political community. It was the city zoo and the sales tax passed and they were trying to put together this board of people to manage the zoo. There were some problems with people that came from the society part of it because they had their own agenda. And so, when they finally hired a director and then I was finished, within six months that individual left because of those three people that I just mentioned. And so, it had lots of turmoil in it and eventually they settled out.

03:41:32 - 03:42:25

They got a director who was there maybe three years, I guess and then they have another director since. It was just an interesting adventure but it was something that when you stand outside and you look in and some of the decisions that are made, you want to say that probably wasn’t the right decision. Or some of the decisions that are made you say, “God, I’m glad I wasn’t part of that decision.” You have this little turmoil of emotions but I enjoyed consulting but I would not be a professional consultant all the time. I just wasn’t interested in doing it that much. It was nice. It was nice to be called. It was nice to be asked. It was nice to participate.

03:42:25 - 03:42:35

It was nice to pass on what skills you had to pass on but it I found that ownership wasn’t part of that.

03:42:36 - 03:42:45

Did you see common mistakes that in your new position so to speak, did you see common mistakes that people were making?

03:42:47 - 03:42:53

Yeah, yes I did see common mistakes. I would also see mistakes that would keep repeating themselves.

03:42:53 - 03:42:54


03:42:56 - 03:43:54

Okay. I gotta think about that a little bit when after I’ve said it. Particularly at Kansas City. Now, I started my career at the Kansas City Zoo and I basically ended my career at the Kansas City Zoo in this part-time consulting capacity. A lot of the practices that were going on in the Kansas City Zoo in 2002, 3 and 4, were the same practices that were going on in 1967. They were left over from the Park and Recreation Department mentality and control. And so, you would look at these things and you say, “Oh God guys, this mistake was made, this was done before by such and such and it didn’t work then, it won’t work now.” And a lot of ’em had to do with animal issues. It had to do with some practices of maintaining some of these collections and it had to do with record keeping even.

03:43:54 - 03:44:17

It was just stuff that they hadn’t been exposed to another way of doing it. So, they were still caught in this twilight zone of non-evolution. As the director of the Oklahoma City Zoo, you had to deal with the media. Obviously there were high points and low points as we’ve discussed.

03:44:17 - 03:44:19

How did you view the media?

03:44:19 - 03:45:27

I did not like the media. I didn’t feel the media, you couldn’t trust them. They were out for what they wanted. It always used to bug me when they tried to tempt you and try to goad you into saying something. I can remember a staff member making a remark to event and the reporter said, “Well, this is off the record.” And she had her microphone down at the edge of her leg and the veterinarian said something he probably shouldn’t have said and needless to say, they got front page. So, I had learned early in my career that although the media’s like a necessary evil, it’s your friend and it can be your enemy and how you play that game is probably better left to people with better skills for doing that than me. I tend to be too factual, too candid. And when I didn’t really want to talk, I didn’t.

03:45:29 - 03:46:02

So, I was always very cautious around the media. You’re looking at I’m a victim of 60 Minutes. So, I watched them operate and you wanna see some real pros operate and distort and take things outta context, they’re great at it. And I was a firsthand witness to it in the manner in which they did it. So yeah, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with them anymore. And just as a follow up question to that, as the press might say, you mentioned 60 Minutes.

03:46:02 - 03:46:05

What was your experience and why were you involved?

03:46:06 - 03:47:02

We sold an animal, a Speke’s gazelle. Hell, this is all public record I guess. We sold a Speke’s gazelle to an animal dealer with the caveat that he was to take it to either the San Diego Zoo, which had a collection that Speke’s gazelles or he was to leave it on his property and he had a collection of animals in his property. That was it. That was the caveat. You keep it or you move it onto the San Diego Zoo ’cause they had ’em. What he did was he took it to an animal auction and it was spotted there, reported to, I don’t know how you report things to 60 Minutes, perhaps there’s a website. And of course, at that time there wasn’t that but it was reported to 60 Minutes.

03:47:02 - 03:47:39

And the first person they approached was San Diego and Jim Dolan And he figured out real quick what they were up to. And he called me, he says, “Brace yourself. Guess what?” And he told me, they even sent me a copy of the tape that they did. So, here they show up at Oklahoma City Zoo. Now in hindsight, in hindsight, I wish I’d told ’em, “No comment,” and that would’ve been the end of it. That pretty well would’ve been the end of their thing.

03:47:39 - 03:47:41

What are they going to say?

03:47:41 - 03:48:46

“Well, we contacted the Oklahoma City Zoo and they said, ‘No comment.'” That could have been the end of it but oh no, we felt that we needed to tell our side of the story but there wasn’t any way of what you were going to say were they’re going to exonerate you from what they felt you were guilty of. So, when I say they take things outta context, they indeed take things outta context. I remember they took my office and made this studio out of it. And I was interviewed by Meredith Vieira. Very attractive young lady from here to there. And the questions that were being asked, I could see outta the corner of my eye, the producer for 60 Minutes and she’s going, they’re constantly messing with your mind. It was not a fun experience. Like I said, I’m not sure that I would do it again but we did it.

03:48:46 - 03:49:25

And when you see the final cuts come through, then you realize that they have cut out some very salient points that I was trying to make and it’s not that they piece phrases together, they just leave it hanging. It’s a real art I’m sure but that’s what it was. And then of course I had to address it with all the local TV stations and radio stations and da, da, da, da, da, the newspaper and everyone else. But it really happened and it was not our fault. The animal dealer had violated our agreement and that’s what happened. Plain is simple.

03:49:26 - 03:49:32

Did you ever see the value of using or were you able to use the media in your favor?

03:49:32 - 03:50:09

Well, anytime we had a new exhibit opening or something. Oh yeah, absolutely. And you had have ’em for that. I said that they’re good on one side and they’re evil on the other. Yeah, they were most helpful when we got a new animal in, they were always looking for zoo type stories. After the injury to the keeper, we had one station that was merciless in trying to point the fingers of blame and it was not pretty. It was not a pretty sight. So yeah, we used them to our benefit lots.

03:50:09 - 03:50:16

I think every institution does. And now every institution has deaths of animals that occur. They’re all die at some point in time.

03:50:16 - 03:50:20

How did you handle the deaths of popular animals?

03:50:20 - 03:50:23

Judy the elephant and the new dolphin Lily and that type of thing?

03:50:23 - 03:51:21

I don’t remember so much about the death of Lily. Those animals didn’t belong to the zoo. And when it came to and I don’t even know that I remember why the animal died but I think our veterinarian and the veterinarian that worked with that particular entity, I think they did most of the talking. Particularly, it wasn’t a Oklahoma City Zoo type thing. It was more that we had this accident, this animal was here on loan or whatever. Judy the elephant though was I think we definitely did the right thing there. When she was 49 years old, if I recall or something like that. And she was one of these animals that, it happened in many zoos, all little kids threw in their pennies and nickels and dimes and gathered up, I don’t know, $4,000 and bought Judy the elephant.

03:51:21 - 03:52:26

So, Judy the elephant had spent the majority of her life there. When we had a definite confirmation that she had cancer, we had a press conference and we let the community know immediately. Judy has got a health issue. Now, everybody knows about cancer. There’s some cancers you can cure and some cancers you can’t but we let them know that she had cancer. And gotta remember where it was, I think it was, she had some lung cancer and she had a bone cancer issue. So, then we did regular reports on how her status was and when she started going downhill as the result of her ailment, the community was prepared. It wasn’t a surprise.

03:52:26 - 03:52:45

Everybody been told this is gonna happen. We’ve known people that the same thing has happened to. So, everyone was aware that this could happen and it did. And one night she went down and couldn’t get back up and then we had to euthanize her.

03:52:50 - 03:52:52

What made you a good zoo director?

03:52:52 - 03:52:54

Made me a good one?

03:52:54 - 03:53:24

There’s probably those who would argue the point. (laughter) I don’t know. I don’t think I was that much different than others. I believed in the purposes of the institution. I believed in plans. I believed in working plans. I believed in all the logical approaches that had been done by other places and been successful. I believed in doing the same.

03:53:25 - 03:54:15

When we run up against something that was different. Yeah, you don’t know till you try but you do it. I’m a big risk manager. I am not a gambler. So, if I ventured into a space that I didn’t know about, I wasn’t comfortable with, I did it with a great amount of caution. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but that was my approach. So, from an institutional standpoint, I would like to feel that I always protected the institution from financial disaster, from operational disaster, from structural disaster. I really worked to make sure that the institution survived in the best way possible.

03:54:16 - 03:54:50

I probably didn’t play politics very well. And so for that point, I wasn’t probably very good at that. And some people are, some people aren’t, I probably was too candid. Probably should have kept a lot more on my chest but that’s just the way I am. We’re all different. And then that’s just the way I approach things. The one thing about it is that if someone, they always knew where I stood on an issue, I wasn’t gonna play both sides of the fence. I’ve seen people do that too much.

03:54:50 - 03:55:29

I didn’t wanna be identified with that type of behavior. I want you to know where I stood. Now, if you provided information that was relevant and would made better sense than what I thought then by God, I’ll go for it. But until that time, if I’ve done my own research, this is where I’ve come. Now and in terms of financial management, I think I was an excellent financial manager. I think that was certainly one of my strengths, I was very organized. And so, that part of it. Personnel issues, I probably had them a little further down on the list than maybe I should have.

03:55:29 - 03:56:08

I was a good collection manager but probably there’s some personnel issues, probably going back and looking at it. I’d probably say, I probably should have treated these and I should have done this a little differently later. Sometimes the personnel issues weren’t caused by me. They were caused by my bosses putting in a policy that wasn’t popular necessarily with the employees, nor was in popular with me but nevertheless, it was their policy. So, I had to enforce it. The one thing that if I was to do it differently today, for sure was I would spend more time with my family. We get caught up in this. It’s more than a job.

03:56:08 - 03:56:27

It becomes a way of life and you forget that you’ve got other things in your life than the job. And as you know, being a zoo curator, being a zoo director, 24-7, 365 days a week.

03:56:28 - 03:56:34

And the weather’s bad, you worry about is the collection being cared for?

03:56:36 - 03:56:39

And in Oklahoma, there’s big storms.

03:56:39 - 03:56:42

If there’s a storm, is everything gonna be okay tomorrow?

03:56:44 - 03:57:41

All that time that I spent worrying about the zoo, I wish I’d had taken that time and spent it on family. Probably as you get older, I think we’ve all looked back and probably think, gosh darn it, probably should have spent more time doing that. I was very fortunate that I had a wife that supported my career. A great mom, great homemaker. Kids were taken care of but I wasn’t there as much as I should have been. And it just pointed out by one of my children recently, “Dad, you were never there.” That hurt but it was true. There are fewer and fewer zoo directors it seems with animal collection experience in recent decades, many did not start in zoos and made a career change in midstream to the zoo field. You had roots in animal care.

03:57:42 - 03:57:47

Pretty much the norm of the day. There are pros and cons in today’s trend.

03:57:47 - 03:57:49

If there is one, what’s your opinion?

03:57:50 - 03:58:34

I think that the change in the qualifications of people that are running zoos is probably inevitable. Again, you go back to the time when majority of zoos were managed by municipal park departments, the director of these institutions were animal people. I can’t imagine any of them not have been because that was their job. They didn’t have to worry about anything but taking care of the animal collection and managing the piece of property and the facilities. And if there was a problem, they called down to the Park Department and they came out and fixed it. But they weren’t involved in fundraising. They weren’t involved in marketing. In most cases, the concession stand was run by the city concessionaire.

03:58:34 - 03:59:30

So, it was an all animal thing. When it started to change and they started to privatize, then those talents changed to individuals that had the talents to meet the challenges. Ie, marketing, fundraising experience. Financial experience. We have seen them come and we’ve seen them go. We’ve even seen two or three professional military people come in and be zoo directors, administrators for a while. So, we’ve always watched these different talents move in. I think the danger of individuals come into the top position of zoological parks and to be the directors, the danger is a very simple one.

03:59:30 - 04:00:36

If they don’t rely on the professional animal staff who have the knowledge, which is their core product. If they don’t rely on them and don’t support them and if they think that they know more about it than they do, that will lead to disaster. I’ve watched an institution who traditionally had animal people in it and now, they have, I don’t know, I think she’s 36 years old. I don’t know her. I don’t know her qualifications but I do know that her background is fundraising and it’s marketing. And if she takes on that role and if a person like her, does that role for the specific purpose of fundraising and building a revenue base and a funding support for the institution, that’s great. But when they get involved with the animal side of it, that can cause a problem. When they start making decisions that impact the animal collection, that is a problem.

04:00:38 - 04:01:17

I think it depends on the institution, how well it works and how well it doesn’t work. If the depth of the staff is good and they’re respected, then I think that those situations will be fine. I think there will be some problems with institutions who the director, who doesn’t have that animal experience. ‘Cause that after all, that’s the core product, it’s about animals. And if you aren’t careful, you can really have a problem.

04:01:19 - 04:01:30

It’s better to have in your opinion, an animal person at the leadership position with a business person under them or a business person in the leadership position and animal person underneath them?

04:01:34 - 04:02:24

Good question. I’m not real sure but I probably would tend to support the animal person with the business person below them. Ultimately, the problems that might occur will be related to the animal collection. Somebody has to speak on behalf of the animal collection. And it’s usually, in my opinion, it’s best that the top person be the number one animal person. I will tell you that and I was in St. Louis and Dick Schultz was a finance guy but animal issues were spoken to by Charlie Hessel or me. That it was passed down as it rightfully should have been to be addressed by the animal staff. So, there wasn’t a conflict there.

04:02:24 - 04:02:36

As long as you can maintain that demarcation, I think it’s fine if the director is business oriented but if you don’t, then it can be a problem.

04:02:37 - 04:02:41

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

04:02:43 - 04:03:48

Get back to the old thing, it used to be animal person would run these Park an Recreation Department zoos and that’s all skill set you needed. But now we’re in a world where in order for the institution survive, you gotta start looking at all the business sides of it. And I think fundraising has really popped up there because now the director needs to have at least a good working knowledge of fundraising. If they’re smart, they’ll hire a good marketing person or they’ll hire a good financial managers to allow that to happen. And they can accompany that activity of trying to fundraise but without being the number one fundraiser. But they’re always gonna get called into it. They just need to have a good working knowledge without being a professional fundraiser. I don’t think a professional fundraiser is being necessarily the answer.

04:03:48 - 04:03:59

You can hire a good fundraiser. You can hire a good marketing person. We’ve talked about conservation and big zoos have the wherewithal finances if they want to use it.

04:03:59 - 04:04:07

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

04:04:09 - 04:04:58

Well obviously, it’s gonna depend on the institution and the financial resources they have to participate. My first suggestion is that they co-op with another institution or a group of institutions to be part of a cooperative conservation effort. That way everybody kicks in a small amount but it still has an opportunity to have a big impact. And I’ve seen lots of zoos do that and you can still get credit for being… Our institution is part of this conservation effort. You don’t have to say how much you’re in financially on the project but you’re part of it. We were part of the Madagascar Fauna Group. We didn’t support it 100%.

04:04:58 - 04:06:05

We were part of a number of institutions that were putting money into it so that it was a cooperative effort. But certainly, there’s a plethora of small conservation needs out there. Partula snail. You can do an unbelievable conservation project with Partula snails, they don’t take up a lot of space. Some of the conservation things that are being done with small populations of insects and other, even on a local basis. At Kansas City Zoo, we did things with some mussels, some fresh water mussels that were having problems in the state streams and lakes. We had populations of ’em growing in our lagoons or bodies of water and the state would come and pick ’em up every once in a while and seed other lakes and streams with ’em. So, those are the kinds of conservation projects you can be involved in.

04:06:05 - 04:06:24

They’re no great expense. They are part of a big picture effort. And there’s a lot of ’em out there. I think a lot of local conservation projects that just have to be explored and have to be worked on.

04:06:25 - 04:06:32

Considering the financial resources available to many small or medium zoos, what should be the focus of their collection?

04:06:32 - 04:06:34

Is it a regional approach?

04:06:34 - 04:06:36

Is it western hemisphere?

04:06:36 - 04:06:38

Is it endangered species?

04:06:38 - 04:06:43

Is it the typical collection of endangered or non-endangered species from around the world?

04:06:46 - 04:06:49

What should they be focusing on if they should be?

04:06:49 - 04:07:04

I don’t think there’s any set answer for an institution as to what the composition the collection should be. The composition should certainly fit the resources of the institution. You gotta think about that first.

04:07:04 - 04:07:09

And what is the educational message they’re trying to portray?

04:07:09 - 04:08:14

If it’s an institution that’s directed at animals of the Sonoran Desert, then that’s what your collection composition should be. That’s your story. That’s your mission. If your education program is to teach and to make aware a more worldly group of animals then pursue that. Again, I don’t think there’s any set answer. It’s got to be what fits the institution and what fits their mission and what their vision is and it’s got to be scaled appropriately. I’ve seen zoos that spend a whole lot of money on an exhibit that they probably could have done in much smaller fashion and spread the money around to some other parts of their collection but someone gets focused. I can remember going into a zoo and looking at it and looking at the collection figuring, well, this has a large bird collection.

04:08:14 - 04:08:34

So, this must be a particularly interest of the director. And we’ve all seen institutions like that. Well, I think those days are gone. I think now we’re trying to balance things out a little bit better but it should really be closer to trying to see what is gonna match that zoo’s mission and they can be mixed.

04:08:35 - 04:08:40

What do you feel is the largest professional problem facing US zoos today?

04:08:42 - 04:08:49

And if you can identify that in your own mind, what might you think is helpful in correcting that problem?

04:08:52 - 04:08:59

We’re talking about in terms of personnel or we’re talking about in terms of just overall direction?

04:09:03 - 04:09:43

If we’re talking about overall direction. I think an overall direction. Okay. We’ve talked about it earlier but I’ll reiterate the SSP programs are not satisfying what they were intended to satisfy. There are lots of shortcomings. I think they’re throwing a lot of effort and I couldn’t tell you how much money, if money is a factor at all but they’re putting a lot of academic effort into trying to correct something that isn’t getting corrected.

04:09:44 - 04:09:55

Somewhere along the line, perhaps maybe some common sense need to be put back into it and need to stand back and look and say, “Well, what is the problem?

04:09:55 - 04:10:44

And how can we really take a major step in correcting it?” So, I think that’s going to constantly be there and I think in the long run, if it isn’t corrected and there aren’t some things changed that we’re all gonna stand back and look and say, “How did we get to this point?” Should all zoos, you’d mentioned those four tenants I guess I’ll call them of conservation, recreation and education and science. Should all zoos play a role in research and science or is it for only certain zoos. Cost. I think research is a cost factor and in some cases it’s a luxury factor. But let’s define research.

04:10:44 - 04:10:52

If we’re talking about avicultural research and what can we learn by what’s gonna benefit this collection and benefit this particular species?

04:10:52 - 04:12:02

That’s one form of research that doesn’t cost a lot. That’s just a matter of observation, a record keeping, publishing, that is contributing to the welfare of maintaining the collection. If we’re talking about doing DNA studies and doing studies on diets and nutrition and medicine, that’s a different kind of research. Those programs are usually costly, involves equipment, involves specialized personnel. That’s a luxury. I wouldn’t advise any zoo to go into that unless they can do it right. And if it’s gonna be costly, the larger zoos, certainly like the Bronx and even St. Louis and in San Diego, they’ve got large departments that are focused on that kind of research and that’s very good but we couldn’t afford that at Oklahoma City. And I suspect that there’s many institutions can’t afford to play at that level.

04:12:02 - 04:12:14

But the research that can be done is certainly observation and record keeping and recording things that haven’t been recorded before.

04:12:18 - 04:12:25

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

04:12:25 - 04:12:45

It was the comment by Roger Conant about the small pond and the big pond and being the small frog and going into the big pond. And that stuck with me. I’ve never have forgotten. In fact, I can still see him sitting the other side of the desk telling me the analogy. I thought it was great.

04:12:48 - 04:12:50

Should every zoo be striving to have a breeding program?

04:12:52 - 04:13:35

I think so and it depends. Again, it’s a matter of scale but I think every zoo can be involved in a conservation program and every zoo can be involved in a breeding program. It’s just a matter of determining what fits and what fits best with the parameters that that institution has to operate under. Definitely. I think it’s something you and it doesn’t matter what it is. You just have to sit down and figure out and take a look at all the options you have and it’s like the best ones. Now, some zoo directors have said that there are too few good curators in the community today.

04:13:38 - 04:13:49

Having come from those ranks, is there a problem and how should curators be trained today to do what is expected of them?

04:13:49 - 04:14:50

Well, I think the problem has certainly been caused by a lack of mentors. I was very fortunate. There were others that were very fortunate. When we began in this profession, that we had individuals, ie, Gus Griswold, who showed me the way, took my hand. Chastised me when I really screwed up and patted me on the back when I did something right. Showed me what the parameters for proper professional behavior were. I don’t know that the young people coming in today have that opportunity. They come in at a level that I don’t know how many old timers there are around anymore, that can provide that kind of leadership or guardianship or whatever you wanna call it to some of the young people coming in.

04:14:52 - 04:15:51

That being said it also, I think is important for curators to not only know their craft and remain students of their trade and keep on learning. You never stop learning but become familiar with other facets of the industry and not just the animal side of it. They need to understand how it’s all paid for. They need to understand budgeting. They need to understand how marketing works. They need to know more about the big picture than I think that certainly me and the others, we weren’t made privy to a lot of that. We had to learn that as we went along. I believe that it would help if they could have a better understanding so that when they get to a point that that may become an influential part of their responsibility, then they will better understand why.

04:15:53 - 04:16:00

Were there issues that caused you concern during your career and how do you see the future regarding these same concerns?

04:16:06 - 04:17:50

And I guess the things that might have bothered me at the time were the things that I didn’t understand and the guidelines that were placed without explanation. Many times and maybe this was because that I was raised in the household when that I was told, “Don’t ask questions, just do it.” Many times in my working scenario, I would go, don’t worry about it, just do it. And that used to frustrate me because I wasn’t real sure that what I was doing was indeed right, if it was going to work but more so, I felt like I wasn’t being trusted to understand why. If it was shooting from the hip and there wasn’t a good answer, I would much rather say, “Hey, I don’t know whether it’ll work or not but let’s try it.” Hey, that’s fine, let’s do it. That was frustrating for me I guess, coming up through through the ranks. If you could help those today understand that that’s as important part of what you’re doing as understanding, whether in the case of birds, it’s a cavity nester or a ground nester or whatever. I think that would go a long way but I don’t know that they wanna pay attention to it. I don’t know that they think it’s important but I would like to instill some kind of confidence in the statement.

04:17:50 - 04:17:57

You need to know this too, at some point in time in your future, you’ll have to be responsible for this.

04:17:57 - 04:18:06

If I could make you in charge of all the zoos in the United States or even the world today, what issues would you want those zoos to address in the future?

04:18:06 - 04:18:08

What would you direct them to do?

04:18:09 - 04:18:51

Well, obviously conservation is a big issue. But I also think just being able to make sure you stay a viable entity in your community, make sure you remain a cultural asset to your community and that you’re going to have a financial base that will guarantee the fact that you can do these things you know need to be done with conservation and education. That’s probably where I would like to push everybody. Just keep doing that and work on those things. The rest will follow.

04:18:51 - 04:18:58

Now, you mentioned community, how important is that community and support and do you think a zoo can survive without it?

04:18:58 - 04:19:05

I don’t think a zoo can survive without community support. I just don’t see any way it can happen.

04:19:05 - 04:19:18

If people don’t support the institution, they don’t visit the institution, they don’t help the institution through public referendums, how’s the institution going to survive?

04:19:18 - 04:19:40

If it’s a private entity, that might be a different matter but if it’s a public entity, it can’t. It’s the reality of cost versus expenses. Of revenues versus expenses, if the revenues aren’t there then the expenses aren’t gonna get satisfied and the whole thing folds as the business model.

04:19:40 - 04:19:46

Did you develop any tricks of the trade to promote community support for the zoo you ran?

04:19:47 - 04:21:06

We certainly did through our education programs. Oklahoma has a very high number of homeschooled students and part of their requirement, their state requirement was a certain amount of science credits. Well, these students would come to the zoo for their science credits and I was always amazed at how many kids there were that were being homeschooled that would come and utilize the education, the zoo’s education programs as to satisfy some of that science credit. So yeah, we were a big player there through our education programs, not only for those students but for the students in all the schools and grade schools and junior highs and even high schools to a certain extent within the community, they all utilized the zoo’s education programs. In the month of May, we may have on any given day, you might have 120 school buses in the parking lot. And these were kids that it was their last day in school and they were gonna spend it at the zoo. So, it was a great recreational entity. Great educational opportunity.

04:21:07 - 04:21:15

Highly utilized by the community for their programs as well as by their families.

04:21:15 - 04:21:28

Do you believe that this education in general helped to boost the zoo’s image in the face of you had mentioned anti-zoo imaging from different groups?

04:21:29 - 04:22:17

Well, I think it’s happened in other communities. Oklahoma City community is a little unique. There isn’t a large anti-animal rights community. This is a community of people who understand, who hunt, who fish, who understand the out of doors. They are not animal rights activists per se. There are some but they’re a very small minority. And it really was never a problem that I envisioned, that I saw during my time that I was associated with that institution. And I still live in Oklahoma.

04:22:17 - 04:22:27

I still live in the community. I still don’t see animal rights as being a big high level, high focus area in the community.

04:22:29 - 04:22:37

What can be done, we’ve talked about visitors, what can be done to make the visitor connection more meaningful at a zoo?

04:22:37 - 04:22:40

What programming or what would you want to have happened?

04:22:42 - 04:23:47

That’s interesting. I had a conversation with a colleague recently and we talked about… This particularly individual is director of education at the zoo. And I said, “What with all this technology that’s coming on, how’s all this working in?” And it’s really very fascinating that the methods in which you have to connect with your visiting public today are far different than they were certainly when I got in the business and even when I left the business, in that this technology call it Facebook, there’s iPhones, all the little things they’re doing on iPhones, this geo-caching and all that stuff. Twitter, the zoos are plugging into. So, they’re contacting the community, they’re contacting their visitors immediately. That information is out. If the zoo’s got something going on, that information gets out there.

04:23:47 - 04:24:27

It’s a whole new world in their ability to do that. But one of the important things that I think that she said was, “We’ve got to make it fun.” Now, I think we’ve always known that, that you learn better when you make it fun. Don’t throw all that information in there. Throw a little bit that you want ’em to know and make it fun for them to learn that. She’s experiencing better results from that. She said that some of the visitors today have higher expectations. School groups want to be treated a little differently. They’d like to do behind the scenes.

04:24:27 - 04:25:12

There’s some tremendous liability issues related there but somehow they’re trying to find methodologies so to give them a more intimate experience with the keeper or with the animal or with the lifestyle that the animal lives. Making it one step further into their education of what goes on in a zoo. That’s probably where it’s gonna have to go because your clientele is changing so much. Their methods of learning are changing. It isn’t the way I learned. Watch these kids get on iPhones and get on iPads, they can get that information like this and they can learn it that like that. We’re talking about different age groups of people.

04:25:12 - 04:25:15

How do zoos reach teenagers, a whole different group?

04:25:16 - 04:25:53

I don’t know that there’s an answer for that. Teenagers, they’re an enigma. Then eventually they grow out of it, then they’re human again. If you’ve had teenage kids, you’ll understand that. I think teenagers have so much going on in their life. I don’t know that that zoos will ever be able to grasp them. There seems to be a period of time, that up to a point that age wise, that zoos are of interest and they’re a lot of fun. And then when they get into their teen years, there are other activities that are a lot more fun.

04:25:53 - 04:26:43

And the zoo is there, they might go to it once in a while, probably with their families, probably rarely on their own. And then they get through formal education if they do that and then as they get older and particularly if they get their own children, they’re gonna gyrate back to the zoo. So, I think that particular age group, I think that’s a tough nut to crack. I don’t know that there are some answers. It’s probably the same kind of thing. You gotta make it fun for ’em if you’re gonna get ’em. But there is so many other things going on with their life that the zoo probably takes a pretty low priority with them at that point. I’m a new zoo director and I call you up for some sage advice.

04:26:43 - 04:26:47

And I say, “Tell me something, what’s the importance of marketing my zoo?

04:26:47 - 04:26:49

What should I be thinking about?

04:26:49 - 04:26:52

How should I be thinking about approaching it?” And you tell me?

04:26:52 - 04:27:34

Hire yourself a good marketing person. I think… Yeah and that’s it. Hire yourself a good marketing person. Just like hire yourself a good PR person. There are some things, you can’t be a Jack of all trade but more likely a master of none. Marketing is a tough thing. If you haven’t been trained in marketing and you don’t understand all the marketing factors and elements, that’s tough.

04:27:34 - 04:28:12

And you’re much better having someone who does understand that, give them guidance and give guidance back. I was always glad that I had a marketing person ’cause I am not a marketer. And I don’t know many people with animal backgrounds that are good marketing people. That’s just not our shtick. Were there things though, that you saw in your time that you said, “Well, this works good. I’d passed that along to somebody.” Yeah. Now, one thing I became a firm believer in and I started this when we went to Oklahoma City. We did a survey.

04:28:12 - 04:28:17

And how do the people feel about this institution?

04:28:17 - 04:28:43

We hired a firm and we did a survey and we got the impression, the zoo was well liked, very popular place. That wasn’t a problem. Yeah, there were concerns about some of the animal exhibits. There was concerns about a lot of different things but overall it gave us a good impression. Then we started doing zip code surveys.

04:28:44 - 04:28:56

Now, zip code surveys evolved because when people first started taking zip code surveys, they thought okay, where are these people coming from that are visiting your zoo?

04:28:56 - 04:29:54

Well, if you took it just on the face value of a zip code, you’d say, “Well, looks like we’re getting this number of people from here, this people from there.” What we found out was 50% of the visitors to the Oklahoma City Zoo lived within 25 miles. Now, the nice thing was we could take and take those groups of zip codes. And then we could start looking at everything we ever wanted to know about the people that lived in those zip codes from the census documents. So, we’d know okay, here’s the average income. Here’s the ethnicity of this particular zip code. Then we could really start studying our client. We needed to know our visitor. And I don’t think in the past a lot of that was done.

04:29:54 - 04:30:42

I think it’s done probably on fairly regularly today because there’s a lot more marketing people involved with the zoo business today. But those zip codes were very helpful to me, particularly in discussions. “Well, we don’t have that many people visiting the Oklahoma City Zoo.” “Oh, excuse me. Let me tell you exactly where they’re coming from. Let me tell you the outlying rule areas that they’re coming from.” We’d go market in those outlying areas. It was very helpful and we found that over time, it really made a big benefit. We had a big impact when we found out that the Hispanic community wasn’t coming to the zoo as much as we thought they should be or we were surprised that they weren’t coming. So, we started marketing to the Hispanic community.

04:30:42 - 04:31:17

Well, that’s like, duh, we should be doing that. And we learned their cultures. We learned when they would come to visit the zoo and we made things special for them. They would always come on Sunday afternoon after church, after they’ve had their lunch and the families would come in and they’d spend Sunday afternoons. Hardworking community, they usually took just Sundays off. And so, that’s when they’d come to visit. Well, we realized that but it took that zip code survey to find out that we weren’t penetrating that market as well as we should be. And that’s mainly South Oklahoma city, is a large Hispanic community.

04:31:18 - 04:31:51

And we tried to make corrections. We got on the Hispanic radio stations. We got on the Hispanic newspaper and we concentrated. And so, zip code surveys, big help to us and exit surveys. Now, exit surveys, you can take ’em for what they want. If you’ve had a great day at the zoo, your exit survey’s gonna be real good. If you’ve had a bad day at the zoo, your exit survey’s not gonna be so good. If you’ve had a wonderful day at the zoo and you stop by the bathroom on your way out and there’s no toilet paper, it’s gonna translate to a bad experience.

04:31:51 - 04:32:03

So, you can take those for what they’re worth. Sometimes we had good ones. Sometimes we had bad ones. We quit doing them because we weren’t sure that we were really getting valid information.

04:32:03 - 04:32:06

What’s your opinion about US zoos and aquariums?

04:32:06 - 04:32:19

Can they do things to help upgrade developing countries with their zoos, especially where zoos are not the profession but a job filled by people just looking to have work?

04:32:19 - 04:32:22

Do we have a responsibility to that and can we help them?

04:32:23 - 04:32:55

First of all, I don’t think we… We probably have a little bit of a moral obligation. I don’t know that it’s so much a responsibility and I think it totally depends upon an institution. I think it depends on whether an institution’s got the funds to participate in that kind of activity. I believe if you’re going to do that, it’s got to be extra funds because you could be subject to criticism.

04:32:55 - 04:32:57

Why aren’t you spending that money at home?

04:32:58 - 04:33:58

I think you also have to be very cautious because when you send money off to a foreign zoo or something like that, you’ve got to make sure that it’s going to be spent for that which it was meant for. I am aware of monies that have been given to third world zoos, that the money never got spent for what it was supposed to. It ended up someplace else. I think that’s very dangerous. I think you have to be very cautious. I would recommend that if a zoo’s going to do that, they work in concert with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, they have a better knowledge of these institutions. Our foreign colleagues probably know more about ’em than we do. And if you’re going to go into that kind of adventure, go into it with your eyes open and be fully aware and knowledgeable about what the pitfalls can be.

04:33:59 - 04:34:24

When you talk about spending money, there are zoos that spend 10, 20, 30 million, more maybe on animal exhibits for gorillas or flaming, whatever it is, should these monies be spent more for helping those animals in nature, as opposed to the incredible amounts of money that zoos now spend on these exhibits?

04:34:27 - 04:34:29

Certainly a big philosophical question.

04:34:32 - 04:34:41

And I think you’d have to dissect the activity and decide how does your community feel about it?

04:34:42 - 04:34:47

How do the people that own the institution feel?

04:34:49 - 04:35:10

Do they want you spending that kind of money helping something that isn’t going to show any benefit at home or would they rather see you fix up something at home that has benefit to the institution and to the people who care about the place?

04:35:10 - 04:36:25

I think that’s a big philosophical question. Now, I know that it’s probably a balancing act and there are some institutions that might try to say, “Okay, we’ve got an operating budget but 10% of our operating budget, we’re going to identify for in situ conservation activities and that’s what we’re gonna do. That’s gonna be part of our program and we’ll identify what the projects are going to be. And 40% is going to go into new exhibits or 30% or whatever and whatever that amount of money is going to be, that’s what we’re gonna do it.” So, I don’t know. You should look at the dollar amount as much you should look at as the percentage of involvement that you’re doing. I think it’s very good if you can help make a difference in nature but I don’t feel that’s the primary purpose of the institution. It’s in addition to what they have to satisfy at home. We talked about expensive exhibits and right now, elephants being maintained in zoos is generally a hot topic.

04:36:26 - 04:36:28

What’s your opinion about that?

04:36:29 - 04:37:39

Well, I certainly agree with a couple of points that I think have been made through the years. Not every zoo needs an elephant. You don’t have to have an elephant to tell the elephant story. And if you’re gonna have elephants, certainly by what we know today and the standards that we’re able to provide, only institutions who can provide the best husbandry as we know it and satisfy as many of the behavioral characteristics or requirements for the animal, for elephants as possible. Only those institutions should have ’em. In other words, you better have a good program and you better have good facilities that meet what we’d like to have today before you have elephants. Just having an elephant in exhibit is not the answer. I think we’ve outgrown that, I really do and certainly the number of problems that have surfaced with elephants through the years probably is justification to really take a real hard look.

04:37:39 - 04:38:32

And I think AZA has been really taking a hard, hard look at where elephants fit into the collection. Now, also little sidebar on that is we know that it’s been difficult working with the philosophy of the people that maintain elephants through the years. This argument of no contact and contact. There are elephant keepers that strongly believe in contact. There are elephant keepers that now realize that non-contact is the safe way and the smart way to go. It was left in their hands for a long time to try to work at that out. They were unable to do so. So, then it became a mandate and there are probably some more mandates that are gonna have to come down the line.

04:38:32 - 04:38:53

But I do think it’s going in the right direction. I do think AZA has taken a leadership role in at least coordinating these efforts and that a lot of the directors and appropriate individuals have realized that there’s gotta be change and it’s got to take place now.

04:38:55 - 04:39:02

What would you say to those who still believe that zoos are nothing more than places where you keep caged animals?

04:39:02 - 04:39:30

I tell ’em do their homework. It’s a lame remark and I don’t believe that it’s founded on anything other than emotion. That intellectually, you can’t make that kind of a statement in today’s world. You maybe could have 40 years ago. I don’t think it applies today. It’s an emotional comment. It’s done without foundation.

04:39:31 - 04:39:38

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

04:39:39 - 04:39:41

How much time we got?

04:39:42 - 04:39:45

(laughter) What would I have done?

04:39:45 - 04:39:46

Would you have stayed in the profession?

04:39:46 - 04:39:47

Would you been a CPA?

04:39:47 - 04:39:55

Well, that’s interesting because I have thought if I hadn’t gone into the zoo business, what would I have done?

04:39:55 - 04:40:53

I would’ve probably end up running a nursery. A tree nursery or a plant nursery. It would’ve been doing something with something living, although an accounting job would’ve been a nice eight to five thing but probably a lot of things I would’ve done differently. I always had a little bit of an impetuosity problem. It feels right, then do it. And sometimes I probably acted too quickly or I voiced an opinion too quickly and I would love to pull some of those back. And don’t ask me, “Give us an example,” because they’re too numerous. I would’ve liked to have changed some of the ways that I probably did that.

04:40:53 - 04:41:48

Probably and I do realize and I learned this with age and you learn a lot of things with age that there were more ways to doing something than my way. And I could have paid a lot of more attention to those because it would’ve been the right thing to do. And many cases, it probably would’ve been of more benefit than my approach. So, you, you make these mistakes in life, you do these things and you learn. You learn from your own mistakes. I guess, you gotta have some mistakes to learn from. And I feel like I had my share and I created some of my own mistakes. Although, I do feel that there was a lot of successes there too.

04:41:48 - 04:42:28

I don’t know that they balanced out but certainly one of the things that I would’ve done different is I would’ve spent more time with my family. I mentioned that earlier. You don’t realize it as you’re doing it, it’s that way of life. And you don’t realize that there are some other penalties that may be paid or there’s some other feelings of some other people that play into this. And we get focused and we get into our thing and we don’t pay a lot attention what’s going off to the side. But so I’d do that much differently, for sure.

04:42:28 - 04:42:34

Impetuosity from a person who told me that they don’t like to take risks?

04:42:34 - 04:43:17

Well, I don’t like to take risks. That doesn’t mean I didn’t make some snap decisions (chuckles) because on occasion I did. Now, I think my track record for snap decisions is pretty good though. I probably made more correct snap decisions than I did incorrect ones but it seemed like the incorrect ones that I did, I maybe didn’t apply any kind of thought process to or didn’t consider risk management. And I just went ahead and did ’em because it felt good and I felt it was the right thing to do at the time. You went with your gut. I went with my gut. Now, you mentioned successes.

04:43:19 - 04:43:22

If I asked you, what would be one of your proudest accomplishments?

04:43:22 - 04:44:32

Well, from an animal standpoint, the renovation of the birdhouse at the St. Louis Zoo. I was always proud of that because that was monumental change. That was a big step in the way bird collections were being exhibited and maintained and that was maybe a next generation start on how we did things. And so, from an animal standpoint, that was something I was very proud of. From an administrative thing, I think being part of the sales tax venture at Oklahoma City and the success of its passing and what we were able to do with newfound revenues was, that made the difference between the Oklahoma Zoo of what it is today as to what it could have been. And prior to 1990, we were even talking about reducing the collection and operating on a seasonal basis. There were gonna be some other changes that would’ve had to have been done. Fortunately, the sales tax prevented that from having to happen.

04:44:33 - 04:44:39

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

04:44:46 - 04:45:25

It’s a good profession. It’s a good profession. It’s a good way of life. It’s something when you look back on it, you would like to think you made a difference. There are opportunities there to make difference. It’s a wholesome thing. It’s not particularly cutthroat. It’s not like having to worry about stock prices or the kinds of things that most people have to worry about in day-to-day business in terms of survival.

04:45:27 - 04:46:18

I think the profession was very comfortable. It had some wonderful travel perks to it. I assume that the young curators and stuff today are still able to visit parts of the world and see nature first hand. So, when somebody asked me, “Well, what was the zoo business like?” I said, “Well, it beat selling insurance.” But it had its moments. It had its good moments and it had its bad moments but it was a good activity to be involved with. It was a good way of life to be involved with. And the people I think in the zoo business are… Some of my best friends are certainly still zoo people.

04:46:18 - 04:46:34

I keep in touch with a lot of them very regularly, those of my generation. So, it was good. But I think it’s changing. I think it’s evolving. It’s probably evolving at a rate that today would make me very uncomfortable.

04:46:34 - 04:46:36

Why would it make you uncomfortable?

04:46:36 - 04:47:14

‘Cause I’m getting up there in years and it’s seems like things are happening too fast. Decisions are being made and activities are taking place that I’m not sure that are being totally thought through but I’m not so sure that they aren’t. I just don’t know. It’s a little foreign. All this technology is very foreign and I’ve messed with the computer for years. That iPhone is a whole new world and what people are doing with it, the sky’s the limit.

04:47:14 - 04:47:16

Who knows where all that’s going to end?

04:47:16 - 04:47:28

I don’t know. But it’s just challenges that I guess I feel like I’m tired. I don’t wanna mess with them anymore. I wanna take it easy now.

04:47:28 - 04:47:31

How would you like to be remembered?

04:47:35 - 04:48:21

I think anybody wants to be remembered. (chuckles) An old adage that I can remember I learned in college. I don’t know why I learned this in college. It was, “Through life’s burning embers, these are my regrets. When I was right, no one remembers. When I was wrong, no one forgets.” I would like to be remembered for the right things that I did. Right things that I was involved in, whether I did them personally or whether it was part of something that I fully supported, I would like to be remembered for that and not for the things that perhaps didn’t go right. And certainly not for the things that were just plain mistakes.

04:48:25 - 04:48:40

I would rather measure other people in what they really positively contributed rather than what mistakes they made. And I’d like to be treated in the same fashion. Thank you, Steve Wiley. You’re welcome.

About Stephen R. Wylie

Stephen R. Wylie
In Memoriam
Nov 15, 1943 - Mar 11, 2021
Download Curricula Vitae


Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Former Executive Director

Steve started his career as an animal keeper at the Kansas City Zoo (1967–1970). His next opportunity came when he took the position as Assistant Curator of Birds at the Philadelphia Zoo. This position gave him the opportunity for field experience in Ecuador, Argentina and the Falkland Islands. He later moved to St. Louis to take the position of Curator of Birds and later Deputy General Curator.

In 1985, the position of director at the Oklahoma City Zoo became available and Steve was offered the position. After he retired in 2000 he continued in the field as a consultant to the Fresno Zoo and Kansas City Zoo.

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.