November 9th 2011 | President

William G. Conway

Dr. William G. Conway is an American zoologist, ornithologist and conservationist who began his career with the St. Louis Zoo. He joined the New York Zoological Society in 1956 as assistant curator of birds. He was later promoted to director of the society. In 1992 he became President.
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00:00:00 - 00:01:31

When I started in the zoo profession, it was a different world. Getting animals for a zoo was not a problem, not a necessary skillset. Knowing something about the global situation of wild animals was really not part of the skillset. If you’re going to be a zoo director in the 20th century, the 21st century, you had better understand wildlife globally. You’d better understand what’s left. The skillset for being a director today demands that you realize that 90% of the global biomass, weight, of all vertebrates is human or domestic animals. That leaves 10% for all the wild vertebrates, from whales to elephants, mice to hummingbirds. So you’re now dealing with wild animals at a level of rarity we never thought about when I entered the zoo field.

00:01:35 - 00:01:43

Now, if you’re a small. Don’t worry about looking at camera, you can go ahead and talk to Mark. Okay.

00:01:45 - 00:01:59

What can a small, you are a very large organization, what can a small or medium-sized municipal zoo do today to get involved in this wildlife conservation, either nationally or internationally?

00:01:59 - 00:02:00

How do they help?

00:02:03 - 00:03:29

If you are with a small zoo, you can make a major contribution, even though you are limited in what you can breed or exhibit in the zoo. Because you can help build constituency. If we don’t build a constituency for wildlife, all the efforts we make to propagate it or to set up parks and reserves will fail. So educational programs at small zoos are enormously important. But the other thing is small zoos can do, and not enough of them are doing now is specialize. Small zoos have no business trying to sustain a broad range of the world’s animals, two this, three of that, and four of the other thing, they must specialize and have significant numbers of the species they’re exhibiting, enough so that they can sustain them with skill, with expertise. If you have 500 or a thousand species, maintaining that you have the expertise to sustain all of these creatures in very small numbers, doesn’t make good sense.

00:03:33 - 00:03:37

Zoos in many cases today– Is that your phone?

00:03:42 - 00:04:08

(man clears throat) Today in many cases, zoos are afraid to confront wildlife animal rights groups, animal welfare groups that seem to be against zoos and maintaining animals in captivity. Many times, some people in authority or who are managing the zoos, seem afraid to deal with this.

00:04:09 - 00:04:14

Could you give us your thoughts on how best to deal with these type of people that don’t have the same mindset?

00:04:17 - 00:05:50

My personal experience in dealing with animal rights, people who are anti zoo, and of course not all animal rights people are anti zoo, but my experience has been that one must attempt to involve them, to educate them. We’re dealing with some very, very difficult questions. If, for example, you’re sustaining a collection of frogs and you have too many males or too many females, or you have animals that are not entirely in good condition, it is appropriate for you to call them. Who wishes to call a gorilla or an elephant. These are enormous problems. In nature, because we have limited space, many parks are now in the embarrassing position of having to call some of the animals they’re are sustaining. All the zoo spaces for animals in the entire world would fit within the borough of Brooklyn. This means that their spaces are very limited.

00:05:50 - 00:07:06

They must manage their animals very carefully. They cannot become facilities that are sustaining nothing but animals that are beyond their breeding age. That’s a tough problem to discuss with people who are concerned with humane issues, and every zoo person is so concerned. But again, looking at my experience, talking with, individuals who are anti zoo, I’ve never found very difficult. If we have a chance to talk, we can usually come to some sort of understanding, involvement, education, insisting that people have some sort of scientific responsibility. This is the real problem. Unfortunately, the vast majority of north Americans have very, very little, they’re scientifically illiterate. It’s a tragedy.

00:07:07 - 00:07:19

How can you make intelligent decisions in a democracy if you can’t understand that two plus two makes four?

00:07:21 - 00:08:30

And this is the kind of problem we’re dealing with in dealing with anti zoo people. How can you be anti zoo when you can see that in the next few years, fewer and fewer animals will exist without intensive management. That we’re moving into a world of, many parks and maxie zoos. Increasingly parks are going to have to be managed like zoos. Even a park like the Serengeti, (William clears throat) are lines we have to, (clears throat) excuse me. We had to deal with lions because of the diseases they were picking up from domestic dogs. We have to deal with ungulates, hooved animals, because of the diseases they’re picking up from domestic cattle. In the Western parks, in the United States, we have the problem of sheep affecting bighorn sheep, wild sheep.

00:08:31 - 00:08:42

Increasingly zoo management is having to be applied to animals in nature. We’re going to have to manage them ever more. I don’t know why I’m losing my voice here.

00:08:42 - 00:08:46

Going to have to manage them– Would you like some water?

00:08:47 - 00:09:40

Large well spaces. People who have a knee-jerk reaction toward any management or confinement of wild animals, have to come to some sort of understanding, some reality. I am often taken aback when I read that such and such a animal welfare organization thinks that all of zoos animals should be released into nature.

00:09:40 - 00:09:41

Where is this nature?

00:09:43 - 00:11:14

Unfortunately, it’s mostly gone. Just imagine, 90% of all the vertebrates are either human or domestic animals today. Imagine how little wildlife is left. Since 1970, the IUCN tells us we’ve lost 30% of the animal populations, not species, of the actual numbers of animals, just since 1970, think of that 41 years. It’s not a time for people who are really seriously interested in animals to complain about the idea of propagating animals in nature. When we began propagating California condors in captivity a few years ago, there were many organizations that argued that death with dignity was the proper response to an animal that was on its way to extinction. In the final analysis, what happened with a condor is interesting. The last 22 condors, 22 California condors were brought into captivity.

00:11:16 - 00:11:47

Today, there are about 400. 200 in zoos and other breeding establishments and 200 again in nature. That’s what can happen and that is what is going to have to happen with many species. Talk about the people who are helping to run a zoo and sometimes a complaint from some zoo directors as there are very few good curators, managers.

00:11:47 - 00:11:48

What’s the problem?

00:11:48 - 00:11:49

Is there a problem?

00:11:49 - 00:11:51

How should curators be trained today?

00:11:51 - 00:11:55

What is expected of a new age or the new curator?

00:11:57 - 00:12:01

For a zoo to obtain trained curators nowadays is not an easy thing.

00:12:02 - 00:12:06

Where is the curator to be trained?

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Why would a curator want to take on what is often recognized as such an onerous responsibility?

00:12:19 - 00:13:22

There is actually however, a great many people who fancy themselves as curators in waiting. And the zoo responsibility is to establish more training programs and a good many curators came out of programs in New York I’m happy to say, and became directors or became curators in other places and that’s true of several zoos, which have had training programs. There really is not a good way to train curators except through the ancient process of apprenticeship. You go to the zoo as a trained zoologists and there you learned that most of what you learned as a zoologist has little application when it comes to actually keeping an animal alive in a hands-on fashion. This has to be trained. You have to learn it. I don’t think there are any other answers.

00:13:25 - 00:13:33

What changes have you seen during your years in the zoo field regarding visitor attitudes at the national level?

00:13:38 - 00:15:31

(William sighs) I have no data. It’s not a question I can answer. Would you say though, that things that you have done in the various zoos in New York and at the Bronx have helped to bring visitors or give them a better understanding of some of the things that you have been talking about then, in the past. The educational level of the zoo visitor today seems to me generally higher than it was 40 or 50 years ago when I first got into the field. The educational level is not always the same however, as the understanding of the processes that are necessary to sustain our environment, to sustain our world, to sustain wildlife. It is hard to say whether larger numbers of people who come to the zoos nowadays, are– I’ll start over and drop that one. I think it is clear that people who come to the zoos nowadays begin with much more understanding and ecological education. Whether they have as much practical education is another question.

00:15:33 - 00:15:58

Perhaps that is because I grew up in St. Louis. There were a great many people from the country who came to the St. Louis Zoo. They’d handled horses, and goats, and sheep, and cows and chickens. Very few people come to the Bronx Zoo who have that sort of background. It’s an interesting difference.

00:15:58 - 00:16:08

And yet the people coming to the Bronx Zoo today have a better understanding when we ask them, what is ecology?

00:16:09 - 00:16:15

When we ask them, are animals endangered?

00:16:17 - 00:16:18

Is this animal endangered?

00:16:20 - 00:16:34

They understand that. I’m not so sure that people did 50 years ago at the St. Louis Zoo, but it would also be fair to say that not nearly as many animals were endangered, then.

00:16:38 - 00:16:50

During your career, many issues have come up, but what issues caused you the most concerned during your career and how do you see the future regarding those same concerns, or have they changed?

00:16:52 - 00:17:56

(William coughs) I am concerned that zoos have been very slow to recognize their responsibility, to make conservation their core public service. It’s taken them a long, long time. Zoos had no accreditation program until 1972 when I wrote it. There was no species survival plan until some years later, and I wrote that one too. I shouldn’t suggest that I wrote them by myself, in every case, I had a team of colleagues who collaborated with me and helped. But even with things like accreditation and the species survival plan, we have very, very few viable populations of wild animals in zoos. This is scary.

00:18:01 - 00:18:04

Are zoos embracing these ideas?

00:18:04 - 00:18:48

Zoos are embracing them, but not sufficiently, not a sufficiently broad fashion. Moreover, what we are now doing through the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the European AZA is not yet common in the zoo world. There is not a global program of accreditation. There is not a global code of ethics in zoos. There is not a global species management program. These things must happen if zoos are to survive. Not only their animals, but the zoos themselves.

00:18:50 - 00:18:57

So this is one of the directions, this global initiative that zoos should be embracing?

00:18:59 - 00:19:57

In my opinion, zoos have got to understand that not just entertainment, not just public education, but all of it together within a core effort of wildlife preservation. If you’re in the zoo business, why wouldn’t preserving wild animals, be the first thing on your mind. And yet by and large, it has not been zoos that is happening. When we talk about the breeding and the management of animals, in 2000, private breeders, non AZA zoos were essentially banned from participating in Species Survival Programs.

00:19:58 - 00:20:00

Did that hurt or help zoos?

00:20:03 - 00:21:16

Including the collections of private breeders within the overall zoo management of wild animals is highly desirable and very, very difficult. When you are dependent upon understanding how many males and females and a blood genetic lines in order to put together breeding pairs and the private breeder can’t or won’t tell you what he has, you’re stymied. And this has been a frustration for both zoo people and private collectors. After all very few private collectors have whole offices filled with computers, keeping records of their animals. They don’t have significant veterinary and curatorial staffs. So it is very difficult to start with a level playing field. But yet in 2010, AZA decided that banning private participation in SSP might’ve been a mistake.

00:21:17 - 00:21:19

How can this situation be changed?

00:21:19 - 00:21:22

Is it a good idea that it’s turned around?

00:21:23 - 00:22:29

In my opinion, we need badly to involve all the animals that are in the country that are properly, that we can identify. Let me give you an example of what I mean when I say properly identified, in the United States today in zoos, there are about 350 tigers, in the country as a whole, they’re almost 5,000, all the rest in the hands of private breeders. In nature, they’re only 3,200. There’s something wrong in those figures. Let’s just look at the zoo figures. We have 350 tigers in five different races. This is crazy. That means that you really haven’t got viable population of more than one or two races there, what are we doing with 25 of this and 15 of that when we know that we need hundreds.

00:22:31 - 00:22:40

We can’t do that. The private breeders have lots and lots of tigers, who knows what they are.

00:22:40 - 00:22:42

Are they Amur tigers?

00:22:45 - 00:22:48

Are they Sumatrans?

00:22:51 - 00:23:38

Javans? Certainly not. They ought to be extinct, they are. Caspians are gone now. This is a truly serious problem, which the zoos themselves are having trouble with, but the private breeders complicate it even more. And we can’t tell what is going to happen. Another example, take the Przewalski’s horse that we’ll call it the Mongolian wild horse ’cause it’s easier to say than Przewalski. The Mongolian wild horse is the last wild horse on earth. They became an entirely extinct, I believe in the ’40s, except for animals in zoos and private collections.

00:23:40 - 00:23:59

Unfortunately, a domestic stallion and maybe more than one became involved with some of the breeding stock. And the first thing you know, you had a group of animals that did not meet the requirements of being called a Mongolian wild horse.

00:24:01 - 00:24:04

What was the point of having a horse that was partly domestic?

00:24:05 - 00:24:54

The zoo field has worked very, very hard to get the wildest genotypes they can in the breeding collection that is now being managed as Mongolian wild horse. And they have maintained very careful records and the horses are now being reintroduced in nature and are beginning to do pretty well though it’s been a tough go. Stories like this occur wherever private breeders are involved. This is not something I think we’re going to solve quickly.

00:24:56 - 00:25:09

Picking up on the tigers, and you talked about numbers, is a tiger, in these dwindling populations with even rhinoceros, is a tiger, a tiger?

00:25:11 - 00:25:20

Should it matter if it’s a Caspian tiger or if it’s a Amur tiger in this dwindling population?

00:25:22 - 00:25:30

Should we be that concerned about those splitting, if you will, of taxonomy?

00:25:33 - 00:26:56

The difference between an Amur tiger and a Sumatran tiger is fairly apparent. But the fact of the matter is that genetically they are very close. So whether whether we will be able to sustain the remaining races of tiger or not is highly questionable. I’d have to say, I don’t think so. Sustaining tigers at all though is the big question. A single tiger in nature takes about 50 substantial animals, deer sized animals every year, one tiger. Now multiply that by the number of tigers you need to sustain a viable population of tigers, that is arguable, but we’ll take a minimum figure 250. Now to supply it with deer, that tiger has to have its deer once a week.

00:26:58 - 00:27:53

The deer population has to be big enough to provide that much tiger food. If we take the math a little bit further, a deer population can produce a surplus of about 10% a year. Now if you keep working down the numbers you’ll see that the sustained 250 tigers, it’s going to take 125,000 deer. Now let’s consider how much land that requires and the other uses of that land and competition for the deer. This is a microcosm of the kind of problem that conservation deals with and all the larger predators and many other creatures as well.

00:27:55 - 00:28:01

So when we ask, can we sustain Amur tigers and Sumatra tigers?

00:28:04 - 00:28:11

It’s a very involved question, gotta be a lot of fun to work it out and interesting to see how it comes out.

00:28:13 - 00:28:30

Continuing that just for a minute, does the use of a tiger or a giant panda, or some other charismatic mega vertebrae which you have coined, help the entire population and support the entire population?

00:28:30 - 00:28:37

Is that still a good paradigm for supporting this large area for that animal and everything else?

00:28:37 - 00:28:39

Is that still a viable conservation tool?

00:28:41 - 00:29:00

I don’t think I understand the– If you use the giant panda as the celebrated species of the ecosystem, in order to support every– And have people support, is that still a good tool for conservationist or zoo managers?

00:29:03 - 00:31:10

Human beings have difficulty understanding animal populations as such. They want to know Sasha the tiger, not tigers in general. And often we must use that perception in order to get their attention. In my experience is when you do have people’s attention, they can understand that anything, the flagship species idea, whether it be a giant panda, a tiger, an elephant, a penguin, has been a very useful tool in getting people’s attention. The problem then is to turn that attention into the application of science in the species preservation that is more complicated, we’ve got to get their attention first. One of the wonderful things about zoos, about small zoos is that they can get people’s attention, and get them to think about that animal. And then we can be begin working on other steps. And it’s important to understand that if you’re learning about animals, how they live, how they, relate to other species in the wildlife community, how they relate to human beings, you learn an enormous amount about yourself and about human beings, and that’s not a bad idea.

00:31:12 - 00:33:18

When you talk about that, you’re trying to reach people, but also you’re trying to reach decision makers, which many times equals the political process. So to bring it back a bit at your zoo or the zoos that you ran as general director, what’s the most efficient way to deal with these elected officials and municipal bureaucrats in order to develop and manage the zoo today. Getting the attention of office holders, bureaucrats, of people who wish to be elected to office, various kinds is an extraordinarily difficult problem as we demonstrate with every election for every office. Involvement, understanding, education, are all tools, but unfortunately their success is unpredictable. And the reason it’s unpredictable is that the people that we are trying to influence are highly variable. They’re quite diverse, and a tool that works with one group of people may not work with another. Wherever we can get people specifically involved with a wildlife problem, in my experience, we have a chance of getting them to broaden their view and apply it more generally and perhaps very importantly, if they are government officials.

00:33:21 - 00:33:24

You’ve had to retrain many bureaucrats during your tenure?

00:33:27 - 00:34:31

Or educate. It has been a remarkable and wonderful experience to attempt and actually succeed in getting the attention of a variety of bureaucrats. And these that range from the mayor of the city of New York, Ed Koch became a great backer of the Bronx Zoo, and many other people as well. And I think every zoo director goes through the effort of trying to make this connection, but I don’t think there are any secrets that I know that aren’t very commonly known. One of the aspects of being a zoo director, wherever, is marketing.

00:34:33 - 00:34:41

What advice would you have with your experience for the neophyte zoo director about the importance of marketing your zoo?

00:34:41 - 00:34:46

What are in your opinion, the most important aspects of marketing your zoo?

00:34:48 - 00:35:21

I would say two things are important in marketing the zoo or the aquarium, first do not trivialize wildlife, do not trivialize your animals. One would not expect to see the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art trivializing, a Ruben’s Rembrandt. It’s a treasure.

00:35:25 - 00:35:31

Why would you do so with a penguin, or a Python?

00:35:34 - 00:37:04

It’s a treasure. In some cases, there are fewer such animals than there are Rembrandts. For example, there are probably some 400 Rembrandts we know of, just about 400 California condors, many fewer Sumatran rhinos. And on the Rembrandt matter, we’ve often heard that he painted 400 paintings in his lifetime and all 700 or in the United States. A great task for a zoo is to convey the value of the animal and its interest. And this brings me to the second point I would make beyond don’t trivialize, wherever you can, present the animal beautifully with stunning exhibits. Now you can’t do that with everything. It’s kind of hard to make a mud turtle beautiful, although I personally think that wonderful animals.

00:37:10 - 00:37:43

When you travel in Europe, for example, and you go to a great cathedral, there’s something absolutely splendid about it, whereas my little sister used to say splendiferous, so that even if you are not religious, you’re impressed by that structure, by the feeling that it gives.

00:37:45 - 00:37:51

One of the things I struggle with is seeing how can we get that feeling?

00:37:53 - 00:38:28

Oh, the wonder of it. Sometimes it seems to require more space than we can provide. But the closeup beauty, the liveliness, when you look a condor in the eye, you have the feeling there’s somebody there who’s looking back, that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in any art museum in the world. They don’t look back at the zoo. They do, many of them.

00:38:31 - 00:38:33

How do we convey that better?

00:38:33 - 00:39:33

We can do it better now. When I began in the zoo field, we didn’t have video. In fact, we didn’t have television at all. And so many of the wonderful tools we have now for exhibition were unknown. We have ways of bringing people close up to the animal that we never had before. We can tell the animal’s story while looking at the animal and show aspects of its life that are not taking place right then, but which give you the feeling of its existence as a creature, as a fellow inhabitants of the earth. And I think that’s where we’ve got to go in the future. We’ve got to make zoo exhibits much more powerful using every technique that we can possibly dream up.

00:39:36 - 00:40:02

I only wish that Steve Jobs were still around and I could co-opt him for the work like this because it’s needed. Okay, all set. When you talk about presenting animals in a magnificent way, zoos today are spending tens of millions of dollars on elephant exhibits.

00:40:04 - 00:40:16

Should that money be better spent in what you have talked about with conservation in the wild, for elephants, as opposed to the grand amount of money?

00:40:16 - 00:40:22

How do you balance that and should one take precedent over the other or is there any answer?

00:40:26 - 00:41:00

In 2010, about 38,000 elephants were poached in Africa, 38,000. Now, let’s just think about that a minute, 38,000 is more elephants than exist in all the zoos of the world. It may be more elephants than exist or have ever existed in all the zoos of the world. That’s a lot of elephants, one year 38,000 elephants killed for their tusk.

00:41:04 - 00:41:05

How are we going to stop this?

00:41:07 - 00:41:08

What are we going to do?

00:41:14 - 00:41:26

Recently, the United Nations has appropriated $100 million for elephant conservation, last month.

00:41:28 - 00:41:30

How are they going to spend it?

00:41:31 - 00:41:33

What are they going to do?

00:41:36 - 00:43:16

The problems are immense in preserving elephants, many other creatures, but especially with elephants, I suppose it’s only fair that a big animal causes a big problem. But elephants are very special. Now in a zoo, an elephant is marvelous thing. One of the earliest experiences I ever had with elephants in the old Bronx Zoo elephant house that impressed me, I was walking through the elephant house and this was an old fashioned elephant house with bars and a couple of great big elephants on the other side of the bars, and a little girl and her mother were standing there and the mother was trying to pull her a little girl away and I’d listened to them, the mother said, “Mary, you’ve seen lots of elephants on television.” And Mary said, “Yes, mom, but not like this, not like this.” The impact of an elephant, if it is properly exhibited is enormous. It really is. This in some ways is our cathedral. It’s huge, it’s immense. It makes you just to listen to it, breathe.

00:43:17 - 00:44:31

It’s a wonderful, wonderful animal. Mostly, lousily exhibited, poorly exhibited like putting a Rembrandt in the shade or behind the chair. I think that elephants have the power in zoos, if exhibited with a great deal of thought, a lot of really interesting creative imagination to not only excite people, but to create ongoing support for them and to help with all the conservation organizations that are struggling so very hard to preserve them now. To cut off the poaching, it’s back to the situation we had in the late ’70s and early ’80s, because of China, almost all the tusk are going there.

00:44:35 - 00:44:38

What can we do in the field?

00:44:39 - 00:45:26

I happen to be a trustee of a foundation that is contributing an awful lot of money to elephant conservation. And mostly what we’re doing is trying to stop the poaching. But we have to go further than that. If the communities of human beings, which are either poaching the animals or allowing others to poach them do not personally become involved and believe in what we are doing, I’m afraid we’re going to lose out.

00:45:26 - 00:45:42

We won’t win, we won’t save to the elephant, Can the zoo in Sheboygan contribute to that problem in Africa or Ceylon, Sri Lanka nowadays?

00:45:47 - 00:47:17

I think they can, but only if they do it right and do it beyond most of what has been done. The Leipzig Zoo has just opened a huge magnificent exhibit, not for elephants, it’s called Gondwanaland. It costs 66 million euros. That’s real money, and they are trying to affect people powerfully. The Zurich Zoo has just done an incredible little exhibit called Masoala. It is trying to represent and to reproduce in great detail, a magnificent forest in Madagascar, which is being poached out, destroyed out, cut out and just destroyed by poor farmers trying to find a way to put food on the table for tomorrow. And after they destroy the forest, there will be nothing left and they will have no food for tomorrow, and there will be no more lemurs. We have to pull these ideas together, these problems, zoos have got to become involved in the battle.

00:47:17 - 00:48:46

I believe that zoo as a group should be involved in the elephant battle, the tiger battle, many of them are. AZA institution alone had over 3000 conservation projects underway last year, but the amount of money involved is small potatoes, it’s gotta be more. There’s a zoo in Boise that zoo has stated that the purpose of the zoo is to raise money for the protection of animals in nature. That’s the right purpose. When I did the great Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit at the Bronx Zoo in 1999, I arranged for there to be a charge for each person, three bucks. They would go through this magnificent exhibit, which alone is considerably bigger than the Central Park Zoo, and as they left, they would go through a voting room. And a whole series of conservation projects were set forth on touch screens in the room. 12 touch screens.

00:48:48 - 00:49:39

And visitors could touch, could look through the maps, decide whether they wanted to buy shoes and radios for wardens or help purchase a new piece of land to enlarge a park or whatever and touch it and the money would go there. And that was in 1999, June of 1999 when it opened. By 2009, it had raised $10,000,600,000. All of it had gone to central African conservation. No percentage was taken away for the zoo, all of them went there. This is what we’ve got to do for elephants. This is what we’ve got to do for tigers. I’m getting off.

00:49:39 - 00:49:40

No, no.

00:49:40 - 00:49:46

When I build my $45 million elephant exhibit– When you build it– with some of the money?

00:49:46 - 00:50:31

Should some of it be going– It should be going to the preservation of elephants in the various, and there are many organizations working on the problem, including WCS, the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo that has one of the better programs and they can help you with that expenditure. Zoos are beginning to do this all over the place. When the Swiss in Zurich built Masoala, they pledged that they would make $100,000 a year from that one exhibit. Go to Masoala, they’ve been doing it.

00:50:32 - 00:50:42

We talked about specialized zoos, the smaller zoos, the mid-size zoos, what exactly do you mean by the specialization?

00:50:42 - 00:50:44

What form would it take?

00:50:44 - 00:50:51

And if it was just one animal or a group of animals from an ecosystem, how would that affect that small zoo?

00:50:51 - 00:51:00

Do you think they still have, or could you project the visitorship or how it would allow them to continue to be relevant to their community?

00:51:03 - 00:51:07

How does a small or medium sized zoo become specialized?

00:51:09 - 00:51:15

How can it still projected enough diversity and excitement to bring in visitors?

00:51:20 - 00:52:21

I think the answers to those problems are enormously exciting. And I think we know how to do it. One of the answers is that all of the animals we work with in specialized collection should be animals that require or would profit from propagation. And the propagation of those species becomes part of the exhibit, and the interpretation of every aspect of those species. So they’re all rare species that require our help, and they have wonderful stories, every one of them. So right there, you’ve got part of the answer. Another part of the answer is that most of those species are darned interesting. They’re fascinating creatures.

00:52:24 - 00:54:18

We need to show how their lives work. We need to show the meaning of ecology. We need to show how it relates to people. I don’t think there’s any problem. If one, for example were to devote a zoo to let’s say, let’s say a, 100 species and 75 of those species were common forms that did not require propagation, and the other 25 where the zoo’s specialty maintained in the significant breeding numbers and interpreted in detail. And let’s remember the animals that are in the most trouble that we’re worried about are large animals. So they’re going to require a lot of space, but most of the lessons of zoology or the ecology can be taught with grasshoppers, with smaller animals. So it takes just a little imagination to show how we can have zoos that have specialties contributing to conservation and fascinating exhibits that the like of which has not been seen.

00:54:20 - 00:54:54

I wish I could do it. I wish I was younger. There are so many different types of people who come to the zoo and we wanna reach many different stakeholders if you will, or groups of people, but some are a little more difficult. How can zoos improve, if they can, their connection with kids and teenagers who don’t seem to fit, necessarily in the family thing to heighten their zeal and awareness of what you’ve just talked about.

00:54:54 - 00:54:56

How do we reach those kinds of audiences?

00:55:00 - 00:55:56

Zoos in general, plays a great deal of emphasis upon the education of children, which is fine and necessary and very important. There is one group that they have not place sufficient emphasis upon. These are decision-makers. No zoo that I ever heard of built exhibits or interpretive displays that were specifically for people who are going to make decisions for the rest of us, our elected officials.

00:56:01 - 00:56:02

Could this be done?

00:56:04 - 00:57:31

I think it can. I think it’s time because there are now so many problems, so many challenges in attempting to preserve wildlife for zoos to have exhibits and theaters addressing these problems, explaining the science, setting forth the alternatives, the options that we have as human beings who run the world. Ed Wilson, the great conservation of biologists was always talking about the little creatures that run the world, and ecologically he’s right. As a matter of fact, the biomass of ants is greater than that of human beings. But nevertheless, it’s the big creatures like us that run the world. And we need to find ways to let the zoo visitor know that he or she and their children are running the world or are going to in one way or another, and this is how they can do it. And these are the problems that they should be aware of, and these are the processes that they must understand. I don’t think we’re doing that very well.

00:57:31 - 00:57:38

I don’t think anybody is. That’s another challenge, a wonderful challenge.

00:57:39 - 00:57:46

Elephants, that so many are poached, what’s the answer to stopping that immediate problem?

00:57:48 - 00:57:50

Is it just a lot of boots on the ground?

00:57:50 - 00:57:51

Is it more than that?

00:57:55 - 00:59:18

The elephant poaching problem is a particularly tough and disgusting problem. The vast majority of the poaching that is occurring today is fueled by the Chinese economic success and the fact that they are purchasing illegal ivory. Now, let’s look back a little, in the late ’70s and the ’80s, elephant poaching was unbelievably, violent. We were losing eight African elephants a minute. That was stopped. It was stopped because the elephant ivory was coming primarily to American, European and Japanese markets. A person got up and said, “We can’t do this, this is terrible,” in New York. And most people don’t know this.

00:59:20 - 01:01:11

The wildlife conservation society was struggling, I was, I was trying to run an elephant conservation program and I had a talk with Liz Claiborne, you know who Liz Claiborne is, everybody knows who Liz Claiborne, the great stylist is, and one of the greatest American businesswomen. Liz Claiborne had been to Africa. She saw the elephants, she had an epiphany and to think that these animals were being killed the way they were. She personally called all the major distributors in New York, she made it clear that this was a shameful, immoral, and disgusting business, which it is today and was a major force in closing down this incredible traffic and it stopped, and everybody passed laws and it stopped. Why bring up Liz Claiborne, because she shows what one person who really cares who’s in a prominent position and knows it can do. We’ve got to be able to do more of that. Bill and Melinda Gates are doing wonderful things with their foundation, which we all admire. They are doing virtually nothing with regard to wildlife.

01:01:15 - 01:02:26

This is something where they could make an enormous difference, but we can’t ask them to do everything. There are many other people out there who might be able to do something about the elephants that we haven’t thought of, who have business connections, who have insights about the market that we don’t have. Of course the people who could stop it almost immediately, I suppose, are the Chinese. The Chinese government and they’re not doing that. In fact, virtually everything they’re doing is making it worse. We are not in the same position that we were 20 years ago. Because at that time, the American market, the European market were very important. And by stopping those markets, stopping the importation by law, it made a difference.

01:02:27 - 01:03:30

Ivory is not coming into the United States and Europe mow, it’s going to China. We have no control over that market. In fact, we owe them money. Not a happy situation. There is no clear way other than actually trying to stop, the poachers and to see that those who are caught are properly prosecuted that we know of at the present time, and getting the sympathy of the communities who’ve lived with elephants, which is not always easy to do. We had talked about, let’s continue there just a little with, we’ve talked about decision-makers and doing things to address their needs. Some of the decision-makers are the American Zoo Association, at least for the profession.

01:03:30 - 01:03:38

What issues would you like the American Zoo Association to be addressing right now?

01:03:47 - 01:05:38

Actually, they are doing some wonderful things right now. I should start that again. AZA, the American Zoo Association is doing some wonderful things right now. They have become, I think, fully dedicated to conservation. They’re dealing with the problem that their sources of income in many cases, if not most cases, are restricted. We are asking as conservationist, all of us who are conservationists in the AZA, which I would hazard to guess is now 90%, are trying to figure out how we can use money that was given to us to operate this side of the other thing in the zoo for conservation, while using the zoo to create more of that money and to justify getting any money in the first place. It’s obviously an extremely difficult challenge and I think it’s going to take time. But I see some imaginative ideas.

01:05:42 - 01:07:17

AZA member Steve Burns, who incidentally is from Boise is leading the field conservation committee of the AZA, which I founded in 1999. And he’s doing a wonderful job. The concept that he has developed is to get every AZA zoo, to contribute a percentage of its income to conservation of wildlife in nature. And they hope within three or four years to be up to 3% and eventually go higher and higher. That’s a pretty good start, an excellent start, but they have a long way to go. The problem they deal with and that all conservation organizations, other than zoos also deal with is developing ways that human beings can live with wildlife and share their resources without destroying the wildlife. That is fundamental. Even the most famous parks are threatened nowadays.

01:07:18 - 01:08:27

Consider the Serengeti threatened by a road right across. There is the great Tambopata Park in Peru is being chewed up, cut up, bulldozed by timber interests and gold mining. This is a national park. Everything that is happening is against the law. They Peruvian officials claim they do not have the power to, the means to control the situation. Look at the situation in India. In India, 41 people are being born every minute. The population is increasing at over 300,000 people a week.

01:08:28 - 01:09:55

They have to have some place to live, something to eat, some way to raise their children. The human population growth, which has almost tripled since I was born, is the fundamental problem. We can talk about conservation at length, but we’ll only be able to preserve small groups of animals and the world’s crevices and carefully protected parks and zoos, unless we control our population. Not one nation on earth has a serious population policy. China, they did, I think they’ve relaxed it. No country is saying we can’t handle more people without damaging our environment. No politician wishes to say that all the problems we have with energy, are just due to too many people. We talk about controlling carbon problems in the west.

01:09:56 - 01:10:33

China and India are building four coal power plants a week. Nothing we do in the west will matter as long as this continues. And it affects wildlife. It affects life. It affects you and me. If we can’t control our numbers, we can’t protect the numbers of wildlife. And we’ve talked about the American Zoo Association doing things with conservation, trying to make a difference.

01:10:35 - 01:10:46

How does that American Zoo Association compare with the American Zoo Association or the AAZPA of 30 years ago?

01:10:46 - 01:10:51

What do you see as the difference from that organization?

01:10:55 - 01:12:57

30 Years ago, the AZA’s forerunner, the AAZPA had virtually no scientific staff. Let’s see, I guess it just about had a species survival plan. We just started it 30 years ago and not long before that we started the accreditation program, but all of these efforts to professionalize the association that we take for granted in the AZA did not exist then, they do now. It is troubling, however, that some of our highest zoo officials are poorly versed in zoology and in the processes of conservation and science. That is something that I think was more of a problem 30 years ago. And one can hope and work to affect the change. The United States and most countries, have long believed that any sort of training is unnecessary for a high public office. You have to have more training to be a taxi driver than you do to run for high public office.

01:13:01 - 01:14:02

With that sort of a situation, it is astonishing that the zoo associations have done so well and are continuing to do well. Although I wrote the original accreditation program so many years ago, it is much better now than it was when I wrote it. The species survival plan has had many improvements, and I think we’re seeing a steady increase in the associations effort. Their, efforts now to publish recent issues in zoo biology in their magazine (indistinct) is, I think very encouraging. So I believe that the American Zoo Association is going in the right direction.

01:14:05 - 01:14:19

You are retired as general director yet still are active, are you still active in the zoological field or just the conservation field and what projects are you involved with right now?

01:14:19 - 01:15:51

Primarily in conservation I’ve been very interested and in fact started the wildlife conservation society’s program in Patagonia, the Patagonian Coastal Zone Management Plan. And the concept was to take an entire ecosystem, it’s vast, almost 3000 mile long coastline of Southern Argentina with its extraordinary colonies of sea lions, elephant seals, penguins, four species of cormorants, terns, gulls, its an absolutely wonderful area. Herds of guanacos on the shore, Darwin’s rheas. And it has been an enormously rewarding success. When we began the program, there was no conservation constituency on the coast of Patagonia or anywhere in Patagonia. There were a few, if any, there were actually no conservation biologists in Patagonia. There were few elephants seals to compare them with conservation biologist. In fact, when I counted the only elephant seal colony on the coast of Patagogia, which happens to be on Peninsula Valdes, there were only a bit over 2,000.

01:15:54 - 01:16:50

Here we are, that was in 1964, the latest count is 52,000, the elephant seals, the only continental colony of elephant seals in the world. We have now over a million penguins. The sea lions, which was over a quarter of a million sea lions had been killed on Peninsula Valdes on the coast of Argentina. There were just scattered little groups of them when I first went there in the ’60s, today, they’re over 60,000 and coming back rapidly. And yet the community is growing. Our headquarters there, a little town called Puerto Madryn, its population was 4,500 people when I went there first, it now has a population of about 120,000.

01:16:52 - 01:17:04

The challenge now is to see can these people and these big colonies of animals live in this environment together, can they share it together?

01:17:07 - 01:18:26

Tourism has become a major profession. It was non-existent when I started there, it’s really major now. But beyond tourism, the people themselves are involved with the wildlife. After we got Punta Tombo, which is now a famous penguin colony, the largest colony of penguins on any major continent in the world, a Japanese company came in the Hinode Penguin Company they called themselves and said, “Well, we want to provide more local employment. We will catch penguins here, we will take 41,000 a year and make gloves from them.” And I had just gone back to New York from having work to set up that particular reserve and the Wildlife Conservation Society paid for the Wharton station there. So my Argentine acquaintances began calling me and say, we’ve got a tragedy here.

01:18:28 - 01:18:31

We wrote people called and so on, what happened?

01:18:33 - 01:19:14

We discovered we had built a constituency. The local people storm the governor’s residence. He had to go out the back window, which I think was absolutely marvelous. And that was the end of the Hinode Penguin Company, but it was not the end of the penguins. And now they’re half a million penguins right there. They’re getting over 100,00 visitors a year. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place. And the citizens consider them their penguins.

01:19:15 - 01:19:30

This community is trying to preserve those penguins. That must happen with elephants. It’s damn difficult with tigers. Two questions.

01:19:30 - 01:19:33

Why had to Patagonia?

01:19:33 - 01:19:42

There’s so many places I know you have interest in, or that you feel need help, that are large stretches of land that have great animals, that have constituencies associated.

01:19:42 - 01:19:47

Why did you pick Patagonia or what sparked you to wanna work there specifically?

01:19:48 - 01:19:51

And two, you’ve talked about the tourism.

01:19:51 - 01:20:07

Do you believe that in many, if not all of these national parks, that the animals in some way have to work, or you use my words work for a living to be relevant so that people will want to keep them there, provide jobs in some way?

01:20:10 - 01:20:20

Why in the world did I pick Patagonia as a place to study wildlife and initiate conservation programs?

01:20:22 - 01:21:20

It was an accident. One of our trustees, a famous New Yorker, Robert Goulet used to go there fishing and asked me if I would like to go. And I said, “Well, yes, but I understand that there’s a lot of wildlife there and I’ve never seen a movie on television or any place else about it, we ought to make a movie.” So Mr. Goulet, and I went down there with our movie cameras and over a couple of years, we made a quite an acceptable movie, which was the first significant wildlife about Patagonia, was called “From the Pampas to Patagonia”. And that got me deeply interested. And everything descended from that.

01:21:21 - 01:21:23

And your second question was?

01:21:23 - 01:22:45

Do you believe that the animals in these reserves somehow need to work for a living to pay or to have people appreciate either the creation of jobs, as you said, constituency, so that they will be protected and relevant within that ecosystem with the people who are living in conjunction with them. Not all of the world’s animal reserves, national parks, state parks, and protected areas can earn their living through tourism or a part of their living, but wherever they can and it does not adversely affect the wild animals, it’s very valuable to help build an educated constituency. People who see them understand a little more about them, begin to treasure them. So I would argue that where are we can bring in tourism in a positive way, it is definitely something that ought to be done.

01:22:47 - 01:22:57

Kind of a broad question within your zoo career, if you could go back in time a bit, what, if anything, would you have done different?

01:23:01 - 01:23:03

What would I have done differently?

01:23:05 - 01:23:40

That is a very easy question to answer. I’d have done everything differently. I’ve learned so much over the years. My fellow staff members have been so tolerant of me. My trustees have been so helpful. All the animals I’ve known have been so wonderfully patient that I’ve learned a great deal and I would do it all differently. And I would do it all a lot better.

01:23:41 - 01:23:50

Are there programs or exhibits that you would have implemented specifically during your tenure that did not happen?

01:23:50 - 01:24:50

Oh yes, but– Colonial animals are a very special opportunity for zoos and rarely exhibited as colonies. Imagine a big colony of Scarlet Ibises there used to be a colony of Scarlet Ibises, which was run by the Disney people down in Orlando. It was absolutely fabulous. It was out on an island kinda hard to get to, and for that reason, not very popular. There are some wonderful primate colonies, baboons, and so on here and there. But really big animal colonies and herds and the proper facilities of showing them provide the opportunity to show so much animal behavior. These animals are constantly interacting. They know each other.

01:24:51 - 01:26:10

People don’t know that they know each other until they’ve watch them. They can recognize the kinds of things that Konrad Lorenz taught us many years ago when he wrote “King Solomon’s Ring”. When he discovered that geese recognize each other by their faces, he played a dirty trick on them. He painted the face of one of the females of a particular male, and then put them back together. He attacked her, he didn’t recognize her at all. My wife has never used that much makeup, but be as it may, there are just wonderful things that can be done with social species. There was an exhibit I wanted to build many years ago called How to Exhibit a Bullfrog. And I was interested in placing the bullfrog in its world in detail, its predators, its prey, its habitat, its ecology and I wanted to illustrate to the zoo world that even a common critter like a bull frog has a wonderful story to tell.

01:26:12 - 01:26:49

And having told the bullfrog’s story, I wanted to have the gall to say that every animal has its own story and we’re gonna show them to you. So there were many things I wanted to do. I wanted to do tree topics, and an incidentally, the Philadelphia Zoo is trying to do that now, others have tried various elements of it, the National Zoo has done some work along this line. There are all sorts of wonderful things one can do, wonderful animals, wonderful places, wonderful problems.

01:26:49 - 01:27:01

Well you indicated the bullfrog and that has been very, I feel important paper that you have done that has been read by many zoo people, and the question is absolutely, did you really wanna build it?

01:27:01 - 01:27:06

Oh yes. I tried to raise the money. I was not very successful.

01:27:08 - 01:27:13

I would like– ‘Cause it was a bullfrog?

01:27:13 - 01:27:24

I think there were too many other challenges to the society at that time, we were doing too much else. And that was just one too many.

01:27:27 - 01:27:30

What’s your proudest accomplishments?

01:27:33 - 01:29:19

Well, they’re four or five actually. The thing I did that I suppose I am proudest of, though pride is a very dangerous emotion, is the creation of the International Conservation Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, which took some years to get underway and we formally got it going in 1966. But there are other things too, of the zoo exhibits that I’ve had the great pleasure to work on, the Congo Gorilla Forest which we opened in 1999 was by far the best and the one I’m proudest of. And there were some features of it, which I had wanted to use elsewhere and not been able to that we finally managed to use. I made a short list on the (indistinct) list or on your list down at the bottom there and listed the five, whatever it says. Patagonia we’ve talked about. Yeah, Patagonia is definitely one of the things that– Programs. I think, (indistinct) cover all.

01:29:20 - 01:29:29

Now you’d mentioned a couple of zoo exhibits in Europe, are there zoos in the world that you particularly admire?

01:29:31 - 01:29:34

Why do you do that and where are they?

01:29:38 - 01:31:29

Yes, there are but I think there are major zoo opportunities, opportunities to see great zoos that I haven’t had a chance to do recently because I haven’t traveled much to zoos in the last few years. A collection that I think very, very highly of is the WildLife trust at Slimbridge in the UK. It’s a specialty collection and it’s done a great deal of good conservation work, and it’s a marvelous display. It gives the visitor a whole new view of the world of waterbirds, an excitement. And it presents them with beauty. One of the things that is most important that we do not concentrate sufficiently on is aesthetics. It is shocking to me to see a zoo presenting an animal in an attractive environment that suggest the ecosystem it came from and then to see a cyclone fence on one side or a square wooden shed on another and it completely destroys the exhibit. This is a great problem in smaller zoos, space limit.

01:31:32 - 01:31:58

There are so many aesthetic details though that are overlooked in zoos and the people who commit them should have some additional training. You’ve said one of your papers that the next stage of wildlife conservation will be one of care hence a personal responsibility.

01:31:59 - 01:32:07

Care by home, governments, zoos, aquariums, non-governmental organizations, can they all agree?

01:32:08 - 01:34:50

I’m certain they can’t and I’m certain they’ll have to. I think all of the, all of those who have the privilege of being responsible for an animal population are going to have to find ways to work together, taking advantage of their particular skills. There is no way for us to say that only a government can be responsible for this particular species. And our experience is that it doesn’t work, wherever possible the communities around the species environment must be involved and must help. But there is perhaps a new relationship that I would like very much to see occur. If you have a zoo in a town, how can we make that zoo see itself as a responsible conservation organization whose responsibilities extend throughout the ranges of the animals it is exhibiting. If you’re going to exhibit giraffes, or polar bears, your visitation, the half million or two million people who come to your institution every year should understand that they’re coming to an institution that takes an interest and assumes some of the responsibility for sustaining that giraffe or that polar bear in their homelands and that would be a breakthrough that would place zoos where they ought to be as conservation organizations. Of course, if they specialize, this becomes easier.

01:34:51 - 01:36:43

And beyond the simple specialization, I feel very strongly that the only way many animal populations are going to persist is if they are interactive. In other words, if we have a park that is, has reticulated giraffes, Samburu, it may get to a point, it will get to a point I’m afraid, where the only way you can sustain those reticulated giraffes is by inter active breeding with zoos and with other parks. And this is going to have to happen more and more because the parks are going to become more zoo like, they’re going to have veterinary care, they’re going to have to have SSP that has records of every animal, they’re going to have to be accredited, that their care is checked up on, monitored, monitoring the care that is being given to animals, not only in zoos but in parks is essential. So parks and zoos must become interactive, and new zoo exhibits should consider that possibility, probability and accept that challenge. Looking down the pike a few years. There has to be some (indistinct) between field biologists then, and the zoo managers. Sometimes they are odds with one another. Field biologist and zoo managers should not ever be at odds with one another.

01:36:45 - 01:37:24

If the field biologists knows his or her stuff and the zoo biologists manager knows the same, there should be no problem. There should be full understanding. Full understanding is very uncommon in the human species so it may take a while. Case in point might be the black-footed ferret where biologists were not necessarily so comfortable with taking the last remaining ferrets to a managed population. Yes, that was quite some time ago, and they did and they were successful.

01:37:26 - 01:37:44

You had alluded about euthanasia of animals, sometimes smaller ones easier to do than larger ones, does this potential of euthanization of endangered species because of the things you’ve talked about, surplus genetic issues, et cetera, does it still pose a political problem for zoos and aquariums?

01:37:47 - 01:40:07

When we manage animal populations, whether they be cockroaches or elephants, we deal with the rigidities of demography of sex, there only two. And, we can have enormous problems with the birth of too many males or too many females of a species. If this is a cockroach, the answer to that is apparent to everybody. If it’s an elephant, or a gorilla, even a, often most of a dear, even though people are used to shooting deer of all kinds to hunt on them, in New York state, we hunt over 100,000 deer a year and incidentally in the country as a whole, I think we’re hunting over 20,000 black bear. And each year in the United States, we kill about 2,500 cougars. But killing a zoo animal because it is surplus to the population is an extremely difficult problem, is an emotional problem for the curator or director who must insist that it be done for the keepers who have cared for it and for the public who like to think of the zoo as an Eden where nothing ever gets ill or dies. But that’s not the way the world works. And this is a problem, it will continue to be a problem and in some parts it is insoluble.

01:40:10 - 01:40:26

Do we need, or do we have any charismatic and committed heroes to help shift public opinion for conservation, Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall come to mind, do we need those type of people and are they around?

01:40:31 - 01:42:03

Well, do we need more charismatic heroes like Jacques Cousteau, still with us, fortunately Jane Goodall. And I think we do and I think we have a good many. I think of Iain Douglas-Hamilton the wonderful elephant conservationist whom I know well. I think of George Schaller, my colleague for more than 50 years with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the man who did the first study of tigers, the first study of loins, of Jaguars, of giant pandas, and who’s working at the age of 78 or nine in the field to this day. There are good many people out there who are real heroes and I’m delighted to say the media often capitalize upon them and strengthen their, ability to help us. And that’s really something I hope we can continue and enlarge. You’ve answered this question a little bit, but I don’t know if there’s additional things you’d like to talk about. You have said that zoos are becoming man’s primary contact with living biological diversity.

01:42:04 - 01:42:06

It’s still true today?

01:42:06 - 01:42:11

What (indistinct) responsibility does this bring to zoos?

01:42:14 - 01:44:05

Today, as was not the case, perhaps when I was born, zoos have become man’s primary contact with biological diversity. The vast majority of people will never see any great number of wild animals except in the zoo. That gives the zoo an enormous educational opportunity, an enormous window of opportunity for it to affect the thinking of the people who come to the zoo and those that may be interested in zoo programs. Nevertheless, the zoo must deal with the fact that the majority of people who come do not come there to be turned into instant conservationists or even to be educated. But recent surveys have shown that a lot of people who do go to the zoo and in fact, the majority, eventually admit that in fact, they did come to be educated and they are more interested in animals than they were before. The AZA has done several such studies, which are very encouraging, but we have an awful long way to go that direction. But I don’t think that everybody who goes to the Metropolitan Opera or listens to the symphony becomes an opera fam or a music buff.

01:44:08 - 01:44:18

Are you concerned about zoos and aquariums staying viable, well you are, and pertinent and the next 25 years and what direction will help them stay relevant?

01:44:18 - 01:44:19

Strictly conservation?

01:44:23 - 01:44:41

I think that zoos have to become primarily conservation organizations and I think they have to become more thoroughly committed to sustaining viable wildlife populations, both in their zoos and outside of the zoos.

01:44:45 - 01:44:51

What do you know about the profession that you’ve been so devoted to, sort of many years of your life?

01:44:56 - 01:44:59

What in the world? I can’t think of an answer to that.

01:44:59 - 01:45:00

Where do I start?

01:45:01 - 01:45:03

How would you like to be remembered?

01:45:03 - 01:45:07

What would you like your legacy to be?

01:45:07 - 01:45:39

I think in a world of seven billion people, very few are likely to be remembered. But in my case, if I am remembered, I’d like to be remembered as someone who attempted to buy time for wildlife. We had talked about a little about teenagers and people that come to the zoo that are different stakeholders, that have different interests.

01:45:39 - 01:45:50

Have you thought about when you were director of the zoo, what’d you want the kids who came to the zoo to feel about their experience or was it the same as you wanted the adults to feel?

01:45:54 - 01:47:20

I wanted teenagers who came to the zoo to take wildlife seriously, that’s not a small desire, after all it’s tough for teenagers to take anything seriously, I think. I guess, I would like to see zoos provide more opportunities for youngsters to become involved. I would like to see zoos provide more mentoring opportunities for kids. And I’d like to see them get children involved in nature as well as the zoo, and the zoo itself needs to be seen more as a part of nature. I hope that the future construction of zoos will do its best to hide as many buildings as possible.

01:47:22 - 01:47:29

And an the answer by the way, to prompt you of that question, what do you know about the profession that you devoted so many years of your life to?

01:47:29 - 01:47:34

You’ve mentioned that people have a great deal of hard work ahead of them.

01:47:34 - 01:47:37

You said much heartbreak, you fear, would that be?

01:47:39 - 01:48:17

As zoo people look to the future, and we watch the animals whose histories we know and whose relatives we may have become very close to, diminish and their possibility of survival decline, I’m afraid that zoo biologists are going to be in for a great deal of heartbreak.

01:48:20 - 01:48:35

We talked, and this is kind of an aside question, we talked about trying to promote groups of animals as opposed to individual animals, but in your career, have there been individual animals that you have felt close to?

01:48:42 - 01:50:05

Inevitably, a zoo biologists gets to know a few animals too well and I have. Jimmy, was an African gray parrot who moved from the zoo because he had a bump wing and was unsuitable for exhibition, and live with me and my wife for a little over 25 years. And he had been at the zoo long before and was well in his 50s when he died, Jimmy had a terrible vocabulary, which was another reason we were not able to exhibit him. But on top of all of these bad traits of Jimmy’s, he did one thing that we were never quite able to understand. Jimmy had been studied by several excellent biologists from The Rockefeller University who we’re doing some research on mimicking and birds and he was a wonderful mimic. And one day Jimmy laid an egg. Well, I mean, that was disgraceful. We’d live with him for many, many years.

01:50:05 - 01:51:22

Everybody knew he was Jimmy and with his vocabulary, certainly couldn’t call him Janet. So despite the fact that he laid an egg, we still called him Jimmy. And then there was a wattled crane, wonderful bird, the Hugenbeck, Lorenz hugenbeck back brought that wattled crane, one that was an adult from Germany to the St. Louis Zoo. And when I went to the Bronx Zoo from St. Louis, I discovered there was a female there, but no male. So I called Marlin Perkins, who was at that time at the St. Louis Zoo and said, I need that male wattled crane, and we will trade you whatever you would like pretty much to get it. So he sent that a wattled crane to the Bronx Zoo, where it lived for many, many years and produce many youngsters with that female and it became a very special animal to me, having gone through the hagenbecks at Marlin Perkins.

01:51:23 - 01:51:36

You have likened zoos and wildlife to a library whose books are decaying and authors dying, do you still feel this way or have you seen enough changes in zoos?

01:51:41 - 01:53:30

One of the remarkable things about zoos is that change is a part of their fundamental nature. That’s not surprising after all, they deal with life, in contrast to an art museum where the purpose is to exhibit the work of an artist in a rather static fashion. It’s not expected to change and they spend a lot of time making sure that it doesn’t. One of the reasons that municipalities and other kinds of government must consider so carefully when they take on the responsibility of a zoo is that it is dealing with life. All of its exhibits die. They must reproduce. This is a very, very fundamental key, not only to what zoos are and what people are committing themselves to when they seek to create a zoo, or hope to support one, but also to the future, just as the paintings and sculpture in a fine art museum do not die, they do not reproduce. The animals in a zoo do reproduce if they’re well-managed.

01:53:34 - 01:55:39

So you can create life in a zoo, although you normally do not create art in an art museum. I think these fundamental differences make the zoo ever so much more interesting. But if I were the city council of a municipality, thinking about creating a zoo, I would think about it very carefully. But even more importantly is to address the situation that exists, where we have cities that did take on the responsibility of creating a zoo or encouraging zoo to be built within their limits, and then they decide when bad times are coming, that they will cut the zoo’s support to the same extent as they cut the support of other institutions that are not so vulnerable to the loss of support. It’s pretty hard to starve a statue. It’s even harder to put a drop cloth over a giraffe or put a hummingbird on half rations. This kind of thinking is never, I think, wow, maybe that’s too much, it’s very rarely considered by those who create zoos. Now it’s gone to a further step just in the past generation, because now you’re not only trying to maintain the species in the zoo, you’re trying to maintain the species on earth because it’s disappearing.

01:55:41 - 01:57:25

Your responsibility goes beyond the population at the zoo, because it is part of what we now in fancy terms, call a meta population, a population that extends throughout it’s kind every place. So there’s a population of a creature in Chicago, in New York, in the Congo, in Rwanda. A zoo is a global institution, whether it seeks to be or not, if it doesn’t understand that, maybe it should do something else. This also imposes a great deal of responsibility on the quality of the care that it provides to the extraordinarily delicate creatures it cares for. Now consider a human hospital. People there must be cared for with enormous technical sophistication, responsibility and sensitivity, compassion. In a zoo, all of those things are also true, but with many more complications. Not least of which is that the zoo animal cannot tell you where it hurts.

01:57:27 - 01:58:13

You must be sufficiently sensitive expert and experienced to have a pretty good idea of where it hurts. And you must understand that the hurt of cock-of-the-rock from Ecuador is quite different from the hurt of a magellanic penguin from Patagonia. It is a wonderfully rich and complicated field that when exposed can hardly help but interest one, but it’s daunting, fairly daunting.

01:58:14 - 01:58:28

We’ve talked about education and conservation, has education made any headway and educated the public in the difference between the wellbeing of creature and the survival of a species?

01:58:31 - 01:59:54

There have been a great many surveys, most of which indicate that zoos do make a difference. We specifically at the wildlife conservation society in New York’s Bronx Zoo undertook a survey to see what the new Congo exhibit had done. I was not only gratified, I was downright hornswoggled. I was very surprised to discover how much people had learned in that exhibit, how their views had toured, how the knowledge they had when they came in had been refined. So I think zoos could make a big difference in that way, but many zoos also have education departments and those education departments can do marvelous things. The Bronx Zoo has had a wonderful education department for many, many years based largely on the work of a fantastic girl, now retired name, Annette Berkovits. Annette initiated programs all over the country. Virtually all of the 50 states had teachers that were trained at some point at the Bronx Zoo.

01:59:56 - 02:01:35

One of her more exciting experiences was to initiate a program in China at the invitation of a Chinese Institute of Science that was working with some of our field scientist. And she did a number of non-traditional things in China some years ago, what was 15, 18 years ago, taking children out of the class and out into the woods, taking them to the market to see what animals the Chinese were killing. And this has been going on for four or five weeks, when she was told by her connection at the zoo that Beijing was sending down an investigative committee. She thought, oh, oh, I’m going to be thrown out. Well, the group came down, they saw what was going on, they disappeared without a word. And then she got the word that they thought it was wonderful and they wanted her to expand the program. So we felt pretty good about that. There’s zoo educators working all over, in school systems, beyond school systems out with the public in general, and their work extends the fundamental work of the curators in a fashion that in many cases is really quite imaginative.

02:01:39 - 02:01:43

I think zoos and education or a natural marriage.

02:01:46 - 02:01:54

What has been the greatest areas of development in the way zoos have interpreted their collections to their visitors?

02:02:02 - 02:02:05

I don’t think I know the answer to that question.

02:02:07 - 02:02:25

Would it be in, you’ve spoken to the construction of more detailed exhibits, would that be an area that would bring home more of the conservation aspect?

02:02:29 - 02:03:46

Some zoo exhibits have been developed now, as I think all should be eventually with conservation is the main message. They include, the life history of the animal community on exhibit as effected by human beings. It is when you talk about the effects of human beings on wild animals that you begin to get into interpretive conservation education in a fashion that can lead to action. But some of these areas can be immensely complicated and unexpected and fascinating. For example, we now know that if we’re going to preserve elephants in Africa in an intelligent way, you have to provide for the elephants to migrate, to move.

02:03:49 - 02:03:50


02:03:51 - 02:04:19

Because if compressed by poaching, by failure of protection, into a single area, they eventually destroy it. They eat it to death, they trampled it to death like people. So they have to be able to move as they did before they were compressed by human populations, agriculture and other developments.

02:04:20 - 02:04:49

There is a fascinating lesson, and one that’s easy to understand that I have conveyed taking the groups through the Bronx Zoo and found immediate comprehension and then application, application in that those I was talking to said, well, what does that mean for large populations of deer in New York state?

02:04:53 - 02:05:01

What does it mean for, (clears throat) too many snow geese in some areas of Canada?

02:05:04 - 02:05:36

And so on and so on. So the nature of conservation demography, which I was not smart enough to represent it that way, because that would have been a very fancy word, which would made everybody very happy, came across to those I was speaking with as the result of the discussion and the search for lessons that we were trying to convey.

02:05:45 - 02:06:00

You talked about the Species Survival Program, and the animals they choose, has the selection criteria to decide which animals species become part of the survival program, met with what you envisioned?

02:06:02 - 02:06:17

Not yet. The selection of species for the Species Survival Program, the SSP is critical. Why? It determines carrying capacity.

02:06:18 - 02:06:26

Why would the selection of whether you choose a rhino or a frog affect carrying capacity?

02:06:26 - 02:07:23

For the simple reason that a rhino requires a lot of space on a frog doesn’t. So if you have a lot of rhinos are big animals, you can have fewer individuals and fewer species. On the other hand, if you concentrate on small animals, you can keep more species and more individuals. And that right there, and of course there are many other things besides size it’s determined the amount of space an animal needs, their behavioral requirements, their seasonal behavior, and so on and so on. It’s really a wonderful Persian rug of complications. And that means selection is critical to any long-term propagation program in a zoo. And for that matter in a park.

02:07:27 - 02:07:37

How difficult was the species survival plan to implement for zoos and aquariums when you first envisioned it, proposed it?

02:07:37 - 02:07:39

Did everyone buy into the program?

02:07:40 - 02:09:43

Implementing the species survival plan was most difficult. A wonderful group of colleagues got behind it and help get it through. There are some elements of the plan which are just doggone difficult. If you’re going to move a rhino from zoo A to zoo B, because you don’t want the animal in zoo B to breed with its brother and you have to move it someplace else, you may have to take an animal that is extremely valuable to Zoo A. In fact, maybe, talking of rhinos may be very valuable in dollars. A rhino is a very expensive animal, not that you can buy them on the market. So for zoos to give up a prize species or specimen to fulfill a propagation requirement, set forth by the species survival plan is not an easy thing to do, and may even run into difficulty with uneducated city officials who may say why you took a Joe the gorilla in the hoochie Tucci zoo and moved it out and he was the favorite of all the citizens in my constituency, you can’t do that. And the good thing about the accreditation program and the SSP is, yes you can, but it may not be easy and could rupture relationships with decision-makers.

02:09:47 - 02:10:07

So in the beginning, it just wasn’t simplistic. It was very difficult. How successful have zoos been in achieving the, you’ve talked about it a little, the reintroduction of species back into the wild, zoos, many times placed that high on their list of how good they are with conservation efforts.

02:10:08 - 02:10:14

Aside from the condor, are there some other stories that you can relate that you feel are important ones of reintroduction?

02:10:16 - 02:12:17

reintroduction is fascinating conservation technique and process. The reintroduction efforts are becoming and more successful, but places where you can reintroduce wild animals are becoming fewer and fewer, obviously. The vast majority of bird of prey reintroductions have been successful. But a few years ago, one would have to say that the majority of reintroductions were unsuccessful. Moreover, there were very few good records being kept, that has changed, much better job record keeping and much better job of reintroduction. Some of that has come about because of the good work of the people at the Lincoln park zoo in Chicago, who have focused on this effort and conducted scientific meetings, having to do with reintroduction in a very constructive fashion. There have been of course, many reintroductions, everything from the American bison or buffalo, which profited from animals from the Bronx Zoo, many, many years ago to Mongolian wild horses, whooping cranes, the condors we’ve mentioned. The list of reintroductions, black-footed ferret, is as long as your arm.

02:12:19 - 02:13:08

And there are now several good references, which enable you to look at them. The last time I looked at the bird reintroductions there had been 1,720 reintroductions of wild birds. I was astonished. The group in New Zealand has been particularly successful. Not that they’re all that many species, but virtually every reintroduction of birds in New Zealand has been successful. I can’t help but think that this is the technique that we simply must develop.

02:13:11 - 02:13:19

Can you imagine anybody turning down the opportunity to re-introduce the Carolina parakeet or the passenger pigeon?

02:13:21 - 02:14:13

The dodo. The pink-headed duck, and wherever that can happen, it is almost certain to create interest and develop conservation. But we’re at the point now where we need to recreate habitat. There’ve been so many areas that have been so badly damaged that nothing would live in them unless they essentially are rebuilt, restored and restoration ecology is now become a very major conservation discipline and they’re getting better at it. But the fact remains people are multiplying much faster than habitat restoration.

02:14:16 - 02:14:36

Stanford biologist, Paul Ehrlich, and his Harvard colleague, E.O. Wilson have calculated that one quarter of all species on earth will be lost in 50 years if tropical forests continue to be stripped at the current rate, what consumers and aquariums hope to do to fight against this prediction?

02:14:37 - 02:15:38

I don’t think that’s a problem that zoos and aquariums can address. Although, Paul Ehrlich and Ed Wilson are right, in my opinion, they’re grossly understating. It’s gonna be much worse than that. A very large percentage of the species they’re talking about are invertebrates. That’s where the greatest number of species is. Nevertheless, the number of species that zoos and conservationists in general can hope to preserve amidst the current avalanche of extinction is very small. Nobody knows how many species there are on earth. It’s been argued that about 1,000,500,000 have been named.

02:15:40 - 02:16:06

There are according to some, as many as 100 million and others more reasonably suggests it might be nine million. We don’t have any idea. But whether, man, I don’t think this is a question we can apply to zoos alone.

02:16:08 - 02:16:18

The question is how many of these species can man save, or to put it a better way, how many can he avoid destroying?

02:16:23 - 02:16:28

And unless he controls his population, one has to be pessimistic.

02:16:31 - 02:16:37

What type of resources can zoos use to save the wild species from extinction?

02:16:37 - 02:16:41

Is it just putting dollars somewhere?

02:16:42 - 02:18:12

Zoos can do quite a lot. In the first place, a great many species’ only chance is parks and reserves, and those parks and reserves are going to have to be managed intensively, for disease, for genetics, demographics and so on. In other words, they’re all going to become zoos. Zoos can help them, zoos know the techniques. They’re continuing to develop them in their scientific work. So zoos need to make their special skills available to the management of protected areas. Then there are a few species which can be sustained for short periods. And I say short periods, I mean a century or less, in zoos, and then released that period of time when they are being bred in captivity, like the whooping crane of the condor, very good examples, gives one a chance to restore land, to develop areas where a species may go and so on.

02:18:14 - 02:18:40

This is, still when we are already dealing with a situation where 90% of the world’s vertebrates are human beings and their domesticated animals, there’s a limit to what we can hope for.

02:18:44 - 02:19:02

So is there a wild out there or is it just managed wildlife preserves that become wild zoos to coin a phrase or is there still some wild left that’s not under the protection or needs to be under the protection?

02:19:03 - 02:19:41

According to the studies of a landscape ecologist at the Bronx Zoo, 83% of the earth is now influenced by man. Most of the rests is snow ice and sand. I think, there isn’t much wild out there nowadays. Well, many zoos say they’re helping conservation and using money for conservation purposes.

02:19:44 - 02:19:54

Is it just lip service in certain instances or is this conservation is issue so big that it’s unreasonable for zoos to think that they can help make a difference?

02:19:56 - 02:20:09

Many zoos are helping conservation directly with technical skills, building constituencies, contributing money.

02:20:13 - 02:20:17

is what they are doing major?

02:20:19 - 02:21:41

Not yet. Probably nobody is doing enough for conservation to be called major. But there are a few institutions that are, my own institution gives more than 50% of its total budget to wildlife conservation. But the prospects are poor. The challenge is great. And there are enormous opportunities to do things. But as I speak at the moment, in 2011, we’re on the edge of a recession, the economies which have traditionally contributed to conservation, are mostly in trouble. So it is very difficult to, be highly optimistic without sounding silly.

02:21:44 - 02:23:27

When you talk about this global strategy, are there countries outside the United States that could assist or partner with zoos globally, that would be the best use of the zoo’s resources regarding conservation. Does the World Bank play an issue here or other type of agencies like this. Many international agencies are now contributing to the most important conservation programs underway. My own Patagonian program, the Patagonian Coastal Zone Management Plan or the Wildlife Conservation Society was largely supported by the global environmental facility, which is a World Bank effort and it came through the UNDP, the United Nations Development Program, which is an international program and it is still contributing to that program. There are great many USAID programs that are contributing very substantially in less developed countries. In Latin America, I’m aware of their major programs, government programs from the United States, from the UN, from World Bank, from the Canadian Sovereign Foundation, also from the Brits, the British have done some wonderful programs. The Swiss have very major programs. I would say that internationally, the support for conservation is accelerating despite the fact that we’re in such a terrible financial situation globally.

02:23:30 - 02:23:33

So what are the key roles that zoos must do to help conservation?

02:23:33 - 02:23:40

Is it strictly financial, educational, would their staff, or are there other key roles?

02:23:43 - 02:24:55

Well, there are many key roles that zoos can play in the struggle to save species. Building a constituency, getting people interested in wildlife is fundamental. Money is fundamental, properly directed. The provision of technical skills of people, extremely important and zoos can do it, sometimes in emergencies. For example, the South African black-footed penguin had terrible oiling incident a year before last. Keepers from the United States and from Europe in large numbers, went to South Africa to capture and wash penguins. It was very, very successful program. And the good fortune of it was that keepers did it because they know how to do these things.

02:24:55 - 02:25:11

They have the skills that people off the street don’t have. Space, always a issue.

02:25:12 - 02:25:16

Does it continue to be a problem for zoos and aquariums?

02:25:20 - 02:25:36

All the zoos in the world could fit within their animal spaces, could fit within the borough of Brooklyn. That’s 212 square kilometers. Yes, zoos have a space problem.

02:25:41 - 02:25:46

Can it be solved in some degree with working with the private sector?

02:25:49 - 02:27:17

There are a number of private individuals who’ve shown great interest in sustaining either wildlife habitat or actual wild animals. A few of them have collections that are scientifically managed or habitats that are scientifically managed, but some do, and it may be a direction for the future in some instances, ultimately, long-term wild animal protection depends upon government support. Because after all the private property, the rights of the property owners are dependent upon government support so people don’t walk in and take their land over. So this is a, it’s a complicated area, but I do think that some more help can be obtained from people with really serious interest in preserving the land and preserving the wildlife on it.

02:27:19 - 02:27:29

We need a different approach to conservation, the San Diego zoo’s conservation research area has something called a frozen zoo, can you explain its value?

02:27:29 - 02:27:30

What is it?

02:27:30 - 02:27:34

Why other zoo should or should not follow suit?

02:27:35 - 02:28:23

The Frozen Zoo is a fascinating effort underway at the San Diego zoo for many, many years. The advantage of the zoo is that animals long dead, their genes apparently lost to their species forever, if they were collected and preserved in the frozen zoo and if the technology for their species has been developed can be brought back. They can be re-introduced if there are still some individuals alive, some females. This does not mean that you can take pieces of a mammoth someplace and bring it back.

02:28:27 - 02:28:34

It’s a little bit like the answer to the old question, what would you do if you are at everything?

02:28:34 - 02:28:35

Where would you put it?

02:28:41 - 02:28:53

So the advantage of the frozen zoo in the long run is that it has the potential to buy time for species, to preserve diversity.

02:28:55 - 02:29:00

How much of a solution is it?

02:29:00 - 02:29:48

It’s a very special solution. This is not the sort of thing that you’re going to use to meet the problems that Paul Ehrlich and Ed Wilson have called to the public’s attention by saying that we’re going to lose 25% of the world’s wildlife in the next, so many years. This is no solution to that. But where a critical case exists and the frozen zoo has the necessary specimens in its collection, there’s a chance of possibility. It may be a last chance, but last chances are often worth taking. This can be expensive proposition.

02:29:48 - 02:29:57

Should others zoos be following suit with that type of approach or should they be looking at more of the approach that you have expound?

02:29:59 - 02:31:50

The preservation of sperm, an ova where you can, in a frozen zoo is a very expensive proposition. But it is actually much less expensive than preserving the animals themselves. And whether it compares favorably or economically with other methods of saving wildlife is less a question than whether the institutions involved can help preserve animals in nature. In some cases, there is no other alternative and the alternatives that I prefer, saving animals in nature and collaborating, acting interactively between zoos and nature or zoos and parks is not an alternative to the frozen zoo, but it is a much, much more effective and better program so long as you can do it. But I suppose you could say that about the frozen zoo. I think it’s a wonderful thing that should be continued and expanded. I guess I would not rate it as highly as saving wildlife and sea too. In 1993 of the world zoo conservation strategy was released, how surprising was the report and what did it introduce– (phone rings) All set.

02:31:50 - 02:31:59

You talked about in 1993 the World Zoo Conservation Strategy was released, how surprising was that report and what did it introduce to the zoo world?

02:32:01 - 02:32:02

You ready?

02:32:03 - 02:34:41

The world zoo conservation strategy back in 1993 was a long awaited and difficult first step. It was put together primarily by the distinguished Dutch biologists, Leobert De Boer and Bert was trying to push forward the idea of zoo people acting globally in every aspect of their work. He wasn’t the only one on the team that wrote it, but he was the primary author and they did, I think, an admirable job. All of, such efforts and there have been, many, the accreditation thing I did, the SSP, I did the acquisition and disposition policy that I did. Those were all efforts to professionalize the zoo field, to accord the wild animals for which we are responsible, more attention and impose upon those providing that attention, the requirement of knowing what they are doing and establishing a eventually standards in the field that will be essential to working in the field. Accreditation is the foundation of virtually everything the zoo field is doing. Without it, we were in a morass of individual ideas and, failures. And in some cases, dreams that did not enable zoos to be responsible caretakers of wildlife, much less educators and conservationists.

02:34:42 - 02:34:56

So that world zoo conservation strategy was, it was a strong, intelligent idea and it’s something that has to be updated, repeated and made better.

02:34:57 - 02:34:58

What part did you play?

02:34:58 - 02:35:17

Oh, I helped review it a bit and provide a little stuff in the back but I really think that Bert De Boer is the man who we owe the greatest admiration to in that re required effort.

02:35:17 - 02:35:19

You agreed with the recommendations?

02:35:19 - 02:35:36

I did. Douglas and Chris Tompkins, wealthy individuals, have been criticized in some circles for their eco philanthropy of purchasing land to preserve it as wilderness.

02:35:36 - 02:35:39

Is this a viable tool to save habitat?

02:35:39 - 02:35:41

Should zoos invest in this?

02:35:45 - 02:37:32

Doug and Chris Tompkins are a most unusual couple and long-term friends. They now own about two million acres in south America, primarily in Argentina and Chile. They are attempting to create or recreate areas where the original ecology would be conserved, and also to do it in a fashion that was sensitive to the needs of the local communities. They provide jobs for local people, they have attempted with considerable success in some places in getting local Argentines and Chileans involved in their programs. They’re taking worn out ranches and restoring them, making them very much like they must’ve been 150 years ago, 200 years ago. So what they are doing is worthwhile. When we look at such efforts and there are a number of others in various parts of the world, the niggling concern in the backs of our minds is one of, their viability. They’re attempting to preserve things in perpetuity.

02:37:35 - 02:38:54

There aint no such thing as perpetuity. But they are preserving them, they’re buying time, which I think is the proper way we have to look at it for as long as they can. And that’s wonderfully valuable and generous. They’re trying to set up mechanisms and I’m not familiar with all of them that will enable their work and these wonderful places to continue after their deaths. I don’t know whether they’ve set up foundations or what have you. I know that they’re trying to work with the government of Argentina, where I have some acquaintances. Their objectives have been misunderstood by some, by some Chileans in particular and some Argentines who see their efforts as, selfish. And if there’s anything, they are not, it is selfish, but what they want to do requires change.

02:38:55 - 02:39:43

Now in one area, they have recently re-introduced giant anteaters, which are breeding. They want to re-introduce maned wolves in an area where they were once common. And that’s an animal that could certainly use that sort of attention. They also wish, they have a dream that they’d like to re-introduce Jaguars. That’s very tricky because Jaguars can affect other people’s livestock in one thing or another, but they’re very sensitive to all of that and they’ve sought expertise very carefully. So I say, go for it and let’s everybody who can help them do so. I’m all in favor.

02:39:44 - 02:40:05

You had talked about this as one group of individuals who have finance, trying to help the land, the Wildlife Conservation Society has received its own bequest of islands in the Falklands?

02:40:06 - 02:40:07


02:40:08 - 02:40:11

Is that what should happen?

02:40:11 - 02:40:16

Should people be donating their land to something that has more potential perpetuity?

02:40:16 - 02:41:31

If that’s what we would call it. It certainly is an option, an alternative in some places, is it better than what Doug and Chris have done in Chile for example, I don’t know. It does have the advantage of a scientific, proven society which has been around since 1895 and has every chance of being around quite a while longer. And I’m not certain that eventually the Tompkins won’t come to some similar arrangement, either creating such a society or donating land to such a society, but whatever they do has to be worked out very carefully with the government’s concerned or it will have no viability. Even the greatest efforts to do something in perpetuity have had difficulty as the Pharaoh’s.

02:41:34 - 02:41:43

Well, but should zoos be then contemplating purchasing land, as part of the conservation effort?

02:41:49 - 02:43:11

I would say in particular instances, absolutely they should. And we hadn’t land at the Wildlife Conservation Society before we received the Jason Islands (clears throat) from Michael and Judy Steinhardt who are New Yorkers. And, we still have some land down in the Caribbean, we have an island, Middle Cay which is magnificent island. And we own a little property in Uganda and a little property here and there, but very small. And of course we have the Karukinka. Karukinka is an area of over 550,000 acres, on Tierra del Fuego given to the Wildlife Conservation Society by Goldman Sachs several years ago. Now the society has made it clear that its intent is to prepare it, prepare that piece of land, which is quite difficult to access, to be given to the government of Chile as a national park. And I think everybody understands that.

02:43:13 - 02:43:20

So the Saudi is trying to figure out ways now to help the government of Chile accept it and support it.

02:43:22 - 02:43:34

Brings up an interesting point, so the society may be contemplating financial support for this reserve that they wanna give to the government?

02:43:34 - 02:43:35


02:43:35 - 02:43:51

The society is not contemplating supporting it itself. That’s beyond the ability of a society to do so. Goldman Sachs has been generous in helping us get underway. The idea is to find ways it can be supported.

02:43:53 - 02:44:04

You have been a champion of the adoptive park concept, why, speaking of that, why have zoos not picked up the challenge in more numbers?

02:44:04 - 02:44:06

Is it financial? Is it still viable?

02:44:08 - 02:44:12

I think it’s very viable. And several years ago we explored it.

02:44:13 - 02:44:21

We looked at land, a number of zoos did, we looked at land in Venezuela?

02:44:22 - 02:45:43

Good thing, we didn’t do that. Some land in west Africa and some land in New Guinea, and we discussed that option with the governments in each area. I think also we may have looked at a piece of land in Kenya. At the time we were not economically able to go forth, so we were stopped by the bucks. To have an institution like a zoo, which is a science based educational and conservation organization, own land for science and conservation, it makes good sense, but it’s expensive. But I’m talking about the established parks that are owned by the government, adopting them, helping them in certain ways. It doesn’t seem like it’s been picked up as much, not to establish the park, but to keep in some part help them. Yes, I think that’s a good idea, it was not my idea.

02:45:43 - 02:46:08

That was the idea of that very interesting conservationists who just retired from the Minnesota zoo, the expert on tigers. Yes. That was Ron’s idea. And Ron and I talked it over and I felt it had a lot of potential, but WCS has not really explored that one.

02:46:08 - 02:46:11

But why have not other zoos picked up on this?

02:46:11 - 02:46:41

(indistinct) I don’t know. We sometimes see zoos in trouble around the world, wars and things like that, but it seems that the zoos in the United States with the exception of maybe one or two, have used resources to try and help those. is this helping zoos in trouble or the sisters zoo relationship, another viable type of conservation effort that we can help with or should help with.

02:46:46 - 02:46:50

Should zoos help others zoos that are in trouble?

02:46:53 - 02:47:19

Well, ideally they should. ideally good zoos should help poor zoos. I’m afraid that this happens very rarely. I don’t see it happening with art museums, with hospitals or with universities.

02:47:21 - 02:47:26

Now, why isn’t it happening with all of these institutions?

02:47:28 - 02:47:33

Don’t think I know the answer, but I suspect that finance is at the foundation.

02:47:34 - 02:47:38

What made you a good zoo director?

02:47:49 - 02:51:08

If I am a good zoo director, I think it is because, I saw the zoo as part of a, process, part of an overall program in relation to the wildlife it exhibited. I did not look at it administratively as a castle as I have seen in some institutions. The bricks and mortar, I considered very important, but fundamental were the animals and I didn’t see the animals as beginning and ending at the zoos fences. I saw a timber rattlesnake, not only has a wonderful exhibit in the reptile house, but as a timber rattlesnake, that ranged down to the Southern United States, where there was a wonderful race, the canebrake and up into Northern New York State, where most of the timber rattlers were melanistic. It was part of a metapopulation. And that approach and the realization that the visitors coming to the zoo were not just the communities surrounding the zoo, but from all over the place, I think was helpful. But in the end, a person is considered a good zoo director because he’s got so many good staff that’ll put up with him, and great trustees that’ll support him. And he has come to understand that he can’t do a darn thing by himself, he has to do it with the help of others, whether they be a really sharp carpenter in the maintenance department who argues for a different approach to something, or rather, a wonderful editor redoing the annual report and suggesting changes in your interpretive labels.

02:51:15 - 02:51:54

Whether it’s your veterinarian, advising of some of the things that had happened in the past and are going to happen in the future unless you make certain changes. So, I guess those are all parts of it. And I’m sure there are wonderful secrets to being a good director. And maybe if I ever start being a director again, I’ll learn them. Okay. We were talking about directors and what makes a good director.

02:51:54 - 02:51:59

Could you speak a little more to that in the sense of vision, mission?

02:52:03 - 02:52:23

Ideally, whoops there’s some noise. Check those windows. That was a weird thing, it never happened before. I haven’t heard any vehicles, so maybe it was just like one of those little– Okay, I guarantee– It’s quieter in the hotel room. Yeah.

02:52:23 - 02:52:24


02:52:24 - 02:53:21

We’re good. Ideally, a zoo director should be a naturalist at heart. He should also be a naturalist by training. That’s not always possible and it’s not enough. If you’re going to be a zoo director, you’re going to arrange for the care and the public use because it is that of a large collection of living animals. It is really quite different from almost anything else. When you’re dealing with wild animals, you’re dealing with creatures that you just don’t look at. You do look at them, but the difference is that they look back.

02:53:24 - 02:55:07

That puts a whole different aspect to what you’re doing. You need a vision. If you don’t have a vision of what could be done with a zoological garden, maybe you should do something else. You’re not trying to return the highest possible income to stockholders, you’re trying to return the highest value because you’re dealing with a value based educational and scientific effort that ultimately is going to be responsible for sustaining animals that will disappear. I think that the future of wildlife is very disheartening. Most naturalists are quite confident that is the case. Zoos are the only institutions in the middle of human population concentrations that are actually focused on wild animals every day and dealing with live animals, not effigies of them, not stuffed animals. They’re dealing with the live animals.

02:55:08 - 02:56:26

Creatures that are living, dying, reproducing every day. You’ve taken pieces of nature and brought it in to the heart of human populations. It’s important that you bring it into the, heart of these populations in a broader way into the human heart. If that is your vision, you have some of the requirements for being a successful zoo director. But if it is your idea that you’re simply going to get more people to come through the door and pay more admission fees, perhaps you should do something else. Being a zoo director is a calling, it’s not simply a job. It’s something you would do every day for nothing if you could afford to. And if you don’t have that feeling, don’t do it.

02:56:26 - 02:56:38

Don’t even think about it. It’s more than that in another way, it’s an awful lot of fun.

02:56:40 - 02:56:48

Though some people have said, run it like a business, what are the downsides when you start to think in that direction, if any?

02:56:49 - 02:57:51

We often hear that zoos should be run like a business and animals should pay their way. I have trouble thinking about a hummingbird paying its way, it’d be a very small way I suppose, and a very expensive route to go. The fact is that businesses don’t last. We’re trying to do things as forever. We’re trying to sustain wild animal populations indefinitely. The vast majority of the biggest American corporations have declined and died. The majority of thhe S&P 500 disappear in a period of 30 or 40 years, or at least decline. Wild animals can’t sustain that, decline in a zoo means death.

02:57:56 - 02:59:24

You certainly must operate the zoo sensibly, accountably, transparently, and you must operate it in a business like fashion, but not like a business. You are not trying to make more money for stockholders. You are trying to make wildlife survive longer and make people care about it. That’s a vision, but it doesn’t necessarily bring any bucks in. It is a public trust. It’s a public trust in the way we provide security, the way we provide education, zoos should be seen as the same sort of public responsibility. After all they’re the living elements of the ecology that makes it possible for us to survive as human beings, and darned interesting too. People have talked about, if you have a large body of water like an ocean that kinda takes care of itself.

02:59:24 - 03:01:05

But when you get to the very small ponds, you’d have to have a little more intensive work on them to keep them going because they’re very small and need help. Can you talk about that concept as it relates to animals with large populations and where they’re needed as the populations get smaller. The viability of an animal population is dependent at some level, at a large level on how many of animal A exist. How many are interbreeding. The effective breeding population as geneticists referred to it, no matter how well cared for a population of 10 tigers is not secure. A population of 500 tigers has a much better chance of being secure. A population of one tiger is a tiger whereas a population of one penguin is not, a penguin is a social species. And this brings up an interesting question about numbers, but generally speaking, the thing we look at first when we’re trying to determine how well off any animal species is, is how many of them are there effectively breeding together and they place.

03:01:05 - 03:01:08

Then we say, well, how many of those populations are there?

03:01:10 - 03:02:49

Now, the problem we have with a social species like a penguin, is that generally speaking, they don’t breed as single pairs as a tiger would. They can on occasion, but mostly that is not successful because they have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years systems that are mutually dependent on being together in large colonies. On the coast of Patagonia, there are roughly 13 penguin colonies. It is almost as though you add 13 pairs of penguins if they were not colonial species. Each colony can be destroyed in the way a single pair of eagles might be. And 13 nesting eagles along the coast of Patagonia have a much greater chance of being a viable population than 13 pairs of penguins could ever have because the one is a social or colonial breeder and the other is not. Colonial breeders are things like terns, gulls, cormorant, penguins, and many other species, a good many mammals too. I’d to just go back a bit and talk about yourself some of your background.

03:02:49 - 03:02:53

For the record, would you give us your name, where you were born?

03:02:53 - 03:02:54

What year, the date?

03:02:56 - 03:03:22

My name is William Conway and I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. I grew up there and I guess I would have to admit that I almost grew up in the zoo. I spent so much time at the St. Louis Zoo of which I’m very fond. I was born in 1929. I think that the enormous economic crash that occurred then would have occurred anyway.

03:03:23 - 03:03:32

(Mark laughs) So the zoos you saw when you were growing up, and what kind of impression did they have on you at that age growing up?

03:03:32 - 03:03:54

I found the zoo at treasure house, a wonderful place where everywhere I looked there was something new to see and there were creatures that were doing fascinating things. I was more than charmed, I was absolutely fascinated and I have been ever since.

03:03:56 - 03:03:58

What type of schooling did you have?

03:03:58 - 03:04:48

Oh, all the usual schools. I went to Washington University eventually where my father was a professor. But I would have to admit that the majority of my schooling was at the St. Louis Zoo. I was very fortunate in having some wonderful mentors there. The general curator of the zoo, Moody Joseph Rutherford Lens was extremely patient. The keepers were sensitive to my interest and encouraging. For a zoologist, a naturalist that was just plain good luck.

03:04:52 - 03:04:58

When did you decide that this was the profession you wanted to work in?

03:05:00 - 03:05:21

Well, I suppose I decided that when I was five years old, but I wouldn’t admit it because my mother wanted me to be a doctor. I shouldn’t have put it that way, excuse me. I decided on my career when I was still in grade school, but I certainly didn’t admit it until much later, not even to myself.

03:05:24 - 03:05:26

Were you a visitor to the zoo on a regular basis?

03:05:28 - 03:05:39

I used to visit the St. Louis Zoo almost weekly. It wasn’t easy, I lived in the suburbs and took three street cars and a bus.

03:05:42 - 03:05:43

Are there any early stories?

03:05:43 - 03:05:46

Did you bring snakes home?

03:05:47 - 03:05:49

Did you have pets as a child?

03:05:51 - 03:07:50

As a child, I had a great many very patient pets. They ranged from a baby alligator that somebody gave me to box turtles my mother would pick up on the highway when she was in the process of keeping them from being killed and became a collection in my backyard. And in fact, the first article I ever wrote was about breeding box turtles. That is an article for a to be published. I was very interested in butterflies and had the good luck to be a boy scout with a wonderful scout master and go to scout camps where I could hike and find snakes and butterflies, turtles and watch a tremendous variety of birds. Missouri was a good for that sort of thing. Later on, I became interested in photography as a hobby, photography of wild animals and to photograph terns nesting on mud bars in the Mississippi river, unable to afford a boat, I got a wash tub instead, and I would put my movie cameras and tripods in the washtub, stripped down to my skivvies and push out in the river and float out middle of the Mississippi river to the mud bars, where the birds were nesting and build a blind there and follow their life histories and began to develop movies. And I use this material later on when I began working at the St. Louis Zoo for lectures and for kids and clubs and so on.

03:07:51 - 03:07:55

It was an absolutely marvelous place to grow up, there was so much wildlife.

03:07:59 - 03:08:07

You have this great interest, how did the zoo career actually start that?

03:08:07 - 03:09:24

My zoo career started because of my constant visitation and discussions with keepers and eventually the curator and they all encouraged me, and I think that encouragement came about to some extent, because I was willing to work. And so I became a volunteer keeper. And this was before the times of great concern about liability. So I was working in the reptile house in particular, and I worked with rattlesnakes and pythons, and what have you, I was still a teenager. And then eventually I had the good fortune to work with antelope and elephants, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, all sorts of animals in the zoo. Many monkeys. And over the years that built up and the director became aware of me and I began to get summer employment. And it kept on going.

03:09:27 - 03:09:28

What was your first position?

03:09:28 - 03:09:33

Did they actually paid you and how did you get that first paying position?

03:09:33 - 03:09:54

I suppose my first position at the St. Louis Zoo was, a paid position, was as a summer keeper. And then I also had a position at the zoo running a refreshment stand, learning the business end of the zoo.

03:09:55 - 03:10:00

And did that graduate to a keeper job?

03:10:02 - 03:11:49

Eventually the curator of ornithology, the bird curator left for another position in another zoo, and I was offered the bird curators job and I jumped at it. And that was really when my work as a curator began. And I was at the zoo for a good many years as curator and got to a point where I realized that if I was to learn more about wild animals and to realize my vision of helping to make the zoo a somewhat different kind of organization, to involve it in wildlife conservation, which was becoming apparent to me as a growing need, that I’d have to be able to greatly increase my opportunities and understanding and work with other people. New York seemed the best place to go. That was where the famous curator Lee Crandall was working with whom I was in correspondence. It was where William Beebe, the famous naturalist who went down in the bathysphere and studied tropical birds was working. And so I tried to get a job in New York. I took a few years, but I managed to do that eventually.

03:11:49 - 03:12:09

How old were you when you were curator at the St. Louis Zoo. Well, early 20s and I came to New York when I was 26 or 27, 27, I think.

03:12:09 - 03:12:12

And when you were at St. Louis, the director was who?

03:12:12 - 03:12:44

George Vierheller was the director of the St. Louis Zoo when I was there. And he was there for many, many years, quite a famous zoo director. His own career started in an interesting way. He was a telegraph operator. In the old days, when you had to know Morse code and they got telegraph operators finger and look for another profession. He got into politics and was reported with the zoo director’s job.

03:12:46 - 03:12:47

Did you learn from him?

03:12:47 - 03:13:42

Did he have strengths and weaknesses that– He had very interesting political strengths and made me aware of their necessity. And he loved animals. He was not a sociologist, not a naturalist, and the zoo world was different, the whole world was different. When George Vierheller started at the St. Louis Zoo, there was no major international conservation program anywhere in the world. There was no perceived need. The human population was only a billion and a half at the most, rather than today’s seven billion. It was a very different life, much better for the animals.

03:13:45 - 03:13:52

Based on what you know now, as you look back, what was St. Louis Zoo like at that time that you were working there?

03:13:55 - 03:14:38

The St. Louis Zoo was an interesting place, it was one of the very few circus zoos in existence. It didn’t call itself a circus zoo but it actually had animal acts. It had elephant shows, lion shows and chimpanzee shows. They were all done quite professionally, but almost all of them would now be considered quite improper. And one of the first jobs George George Vierheller gave me, was becoming an announcer for the chimpanzee show. So I learned an enormous amount about chimpanzee behavior and training.

03:14:47 - 03:15:02

You said you were starting to think about conservation, even then, what things were prompting you to think about conservation at your early age, what were you seeing that was germinating and starting to germinate for you about conservation?

03:15:04 - 03:15:07

Why did I become interested in conservation so early?

03:15:10 - 03:16:40

Every time I could get, when I was at the zoo, every time I could get time, I was out looking at wildlife. It was no mystery to me that wildlife was disappearing at the areas where I started looking at wildlife, had been developed. One of my favorite snake observation areas was turned into a major residential area, and a wonderful swamp where four species of frogs were calling and whose voices I was and photographing them and preparing them for a lecture, disappeared, it was drained and turned into a shopping center. At the same time I was reading and listening. The general curator, Moody Lens was expressing his concerns. Even the media began to show an increasing sensitivity to the change in the world. It was about that time, I suppose, that a Disney began its first series of wildlife films. And they became very popular.

03:16:42 - 03:17:08

That was largely the work of Roy Disney rather than Walt Disney. So, anyone who did not notice that wildlife was disappearing, did not notice the need for conservation, where I was, would have had to have been deaf and blind.

03:17:12 - 03:17:22

Did George Vierheller have this feeling or was he just more of a person who had a deal?

03:17:22 - 03:17:29

Did he involve you in the political end of anything or were you exposed to that, that you started to think about this interaction?

03:17:30 - 03:17:58

George Vierheller was a man of his times. He would never have thought of himself as a conservationist or have seen the need for it. He did understand very well, the need for the public’s representatives, the politicians to be interested in the zoo. And he worked at that assiduously.

03:18:02 - 03:18:07

You talked about New York Zoo, but did you have any relationship with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo?

03:18:08 - 03:19:15

When I was at the St. Louis Zoo, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs asked me to help them with some of the buildings that were under construction there. And that came about because the St Louis Zoo architect was doing those buildings. And I was invited by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs to go out and after the buildings were built, stock them with animals and train the keepers and make them work to develop the ecology of the zoo. And I would take a flight every couple of weeks to Colorado Springs and work on those buildings and meet animals coming in at the airport and get animals from others who’s and transport them to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to help them get underway. And that took place largely in 1955 and ’56.

03:19:17 - 03:19:25

So you were about– You found Cheyenne Mountain to be a different zoo than St. Louis?

03:19:25 - 03:21:00

Very different Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is very different from St. Louis and a very interesting zoo, it’s built on the side of Cheyenne Mountain and it’s a beautiful environment. And they had certain opportunities there that I suppose other zoos wouldn’t have, and they had various limitations because of the vertical nature of the site, but it was quite fascinating and I learned a great deal there and became interested in the wildlife. I would sneak up in the Pikes Peak area in the mountains to photograph dippers and the streams, and wonderful little birds, wren size birds dipping, jumping in the water and eating aquatic insects. And with the other local wildlife, everything from golden eagles to black bears, and it generally improved my education and my insights about what could be done with zoos and what could not. There are a lot of limitations in Cheyenne Mountain and yet they can do some wonderful things and they have. You had talked about New York, when and why did you decide, you kind of implied that because of the people, but to work for the New York Zoo Society.

03:21:02 - 03:21:11

And is it true that your first looked at a position at the department of mammalogy before you went to ornithology?

03:21:11 - 03:22:26

When I decided I wanted to go to New York because of people like Lee Crandall and Leonard Goss, the veterinarian there, and especially William Beebe, I would do virtually anything to get there. A mammal position became available, so I applied for it. And fortunately, or perhaps fortunately I didn’t get it. I had a lot of experience with mammals, but I was more in ornithologists than mammalogist. The person who did get it was a technical mammalogist and very competent, but he knew nothing about caring for animals. And consequently, he did not last. In the meantime, a bird position became available so I applied for that, and, was absolutely delighted to get it and was delighted that the people in St. Louis were kind enough to stand behind me as wonderful references. You have this deep interest in aviculture but yet as a younger man, you’ve talked about your interest in entomology and herpetology.

03:22:27 - 03:22:31

What kind of pushed you so to speak toward ornithology?

03:22:35 - 03:24:33

Well, I became interested in ornithology I suppose, because birds are so remarkably diverse, so active, and my original interest in reptiles is still very strong but if you’re a herpetologist and I suppose I was better qualified as a herpetologist than anything else when I became interested in ornithology, you soon realize that they’re pretty boring in the place like St. Louis in the winter time when they all are hibernating and their range of activity is not to be compared or their diversity in that area, which, that of birds. So I found birds, absolutely marvelous representation of life, as it interested me and by studying birds and their enormous ranges, their migrations from Arctic to Antarctic, the global perception one obtains is, really very helpful in giving one insights in what is happening to nature. So, I guess I’m not on all unhappy with my eventual focus on birds, but I have to say I’ve done quite a bit of work with mammals too. So now you are hired by the New York Zoo Society.

03:24:35 - 03:24:40

You walk in the front door, what were your impressions of this new place?

03:24:40 - 03:24:44

And I presume it was the Bronx Zoo that you were walking through the doors.

03:24:44 - 03:24:46

What was your first impression?

03:24:46 - 03:25:52

Well, my first impression was a little rough. I drove 16 hours from St. Louis to New York. The weather was miserable. I came over the George Washington Bridge, which had only one level at that time, and the first thing I managed to do was to get myself welcomed by a New York city policeman, because I went through a stop sign, trying to find my way at two o’clock in the morning. So my first impressions of New York were slightly jaundiced. The next morning I reported for work at the Bronx Zoo. I was delighted to put faces to the names I knew so well from their publications and from talks over the telephone and meetings at zoo conferences. But, I was surprised that the zoo staff had declined and that its condition had declined.

03:25:57 - 03:26:52

That the area around the zoo was not in good condition. The Bronx had become one of the poorest areas of that size in all the United States. So I saw that there were a great many challenges beyond the immediate needs of the zoo. The bird collection in St. Louis was comparatively modern compared to that of the Bronx Zoo and its exhibits were relatively modern. So those things I had to look at as an opportunity, and I did.

03:26:52 - 03:27:01

How were you treated by the older colleagues to this young man who was coming in through the door?

03:27:02 - 03:27:03


03:27:03 - 03:28:22

I was treated marvelously by the older colleagues and sometimes very instructively. William Bridges, the famous curator publications at the New York Zoological Society as the Wildlife Conservation Society was called in those days, was one of the first people to see me. And he came in, shook my hand and said that, “Curators the New York at Zoological Society are expected to write regularly for Animal Kingdom Magazine. I will accept an article from you every two months.” I was given to understand that this privilege was free, that you would not be paid. And that indeed was the case. So I swallowed and learned more about writing from the wonderful William Bridges in the next couple of years than I had in the previous 20. And that was the way things went to New York. Each of the people there had wonderful skills.

03:28:23 - 03:29:07

Lee Crandall was an extraordinary fountain of information. And although the zoo was in poor condition, that could not be laid at their door and it took a while to change and we’re still changing it. The people who have succeeded me are still working to change it and make it better. And many of the things that I did myself, I’m sure old enough now, so they should be replaced. At the time– just for a minute. (indistinct) He’s a spiritual guy. (Lester laugh) Right. My last name is (indistinct).

03:29:08 - 03:30:11

And now there were some wonderful conflicts, this not necessarily to be recorded between Bridges and Beebe and I didn’t know why. just so you know. And it took me months to discover why. It was about commas. (William laughs) Beebe liked and used a fair number of commas, Bridges as an editor removed them. Beebe was such an extraordinarily successful writer that he did not accept this sort of editorship and they’d gotten to the part where they hardly spoke. Finally, Beebe went to Fairfield Osborn, the president of the society, we would call him the chairman these days ’cause the title has changed, but in any case, went to Fairfield Osborn to settle the matter. So you can see this was quite, I found it quite amusing and I was still thinking it amusing, but they didn’t.

03:30:11 - 03:30:29

(William laughs) Well, speaking of that, had you met Fairfield Osborn before applying for work at the zoo and, had you met the other personnel, so when you walked in you weren’t an unknown person?

03:30:29 - 03:32:01

In 1954, I made my first real visit to the Bronx Zoo, I’d come actually at 1944 with my father to see it. He was coming into New York and I use it as an excuse as a teenager to get up here and look at the zoo. But in 1954, I took a driving trip from St. Louis and visited as many zoos in the east as I could. And when I came to the Bronx Zoo, I was delighted to meet a number of people, including the very famous president Fairfield Osborn, who wrote “Our Plundered Planet” which was one of the first really mind turning books about wildlife conservation, about nature conservation or about overpopulation. A very important book, indeed. And when I visited Dr. Osborn ushered in by Lee Crandall to meet him, he was very kind and Laurance Rockefeller, who was chairman of the board at the time was meeting with Osborn. And I was driven downtown to my hotel by Lawrence Rockefeller. So I felt this was a very good introduction indeed and consequently, I had that background behind me before I came to New York.

03:32:01 - 03:32:05

What kind of person was Fairfield Osborn?

03:32:06 - 03:33:20

He was a tall, athletic man, very, very interested in wildlife, a naturalist, but a businessman. He was a graduate of Princeton and then to work on his education, he worked in the railroad yards in San Francisco. He learned somewhere to sing cowboy songs, which he did on the radio. He was an extraordinarily, he was a real polymath. He traveled very widely. He had kept birds all his life. He was very deeply interested in what the zoo was doing and deeply interested in conservation. And he gave the New York Zoological Society, a real step forward in its conservation efforts.

03:33:21 - 03:35:12

Although the person who really got it started was its first director, William T. Hornaday who started here in the 1890s and Hornaday, of course, was responsible for the first seal preservation. He led the effort to stop the plume trade and he led the effort to preserve the American bison, and the Buffalo. And he was the Bronx Zoo’s first director, before that he’d worked at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. And he was here until 1926. Then after Hornaday retired, his successor was not nearly as interested in wildlife conservation, but when Osborn became involved later as the trustee and as president of the society, the society’s interest in conservation began to come up again and Osborn initiated the practice of giving grants for conservation activity. This was a very modest program. There was no department and no full-time conservationist, but it was a very important part of the society’s gradual perception of a change in role, which I was able to change much further and even change the society’s name from New York Zoological Society to Wildlife Conservation Society. And that was accomplished in 1993 with great difficulty.

03:35:13 - 03:35:32

We were gonna talk about that and we’ll hold that for later because we have we’ll cover that. Let’s talk a little about the early years, a little before 1962, shortly after you started working for the zoo society, they reopened the New York aquarium on Coney Island.

03:35:34 - 03:35:38

What was the relationship of the aquarium and the zoo at that time?

03:35:38 - 03:35:46

Did it change during the 1950s, the 1960s, was there a different culture?

03:35:47 - 03:35:49

What was your recollections?

03:35:50 - 03:37:25

When I came to the Bronx Zoo in 1956, a new aquarium was under construction at Coney Island. The society’s long-term aquarium, which had been down in the battery, which the society operated from 19 two until really about 1940, had been long closed. So the society had been induced, I could almost say forced to put its new aquarium on Coney Island, by Robert Moses, the very famous park commissioner of New York City who wanted to redevelop Coney Island for what he thought of as worthy efforts and he felt the aquarium could do that. So the aquarium was put there rather a smaller facility than the society had envisioned I understand. And the aquarium opened in June of 1957. So it was a matter of months after I came that the aquarium opened under the famous Aquarius Christopher Coates. And during the aquariums closure, an exhibit of fishes had been maintained at the Bronx Zoo’s lion house. And the staff of the aquarium was housed at the Bronx Zoo, including its scientific staff.

03:37:26 - 03:38:55

The aquarium had a large and important genetics program under Dr. Klaus Kallman and a major Marine, pharmacology program, a marine biology program under doctors, Ross Nigrelli and, George Ruggieri. So the aquarium and the zoo were very close and the staffs completely interwoven. And that situation was working well when I came, but, they were physically quite removed to drive from the Bronx Zoo to the aquarium is an hour and a half or so. And once the aquarium opened, and the aquarium staff moved down there, I think left to some sort of a regrettable separation, but they regularly met at staff meetings and so on. I had nothing to do with the aquarium in the earlier years, except that some of the aquarists especially Christopher Coates became good friends. A few years after you started working at the New York Zoo Society, district council 37 locals went on strike. And when that strike again in 1961.

03:38:56 - 03:38:58

What were the strikes all about?

03:38:58 - 03:39:00

How did it affect the running of the organization?

03:39:02 - 03:41:13

The AFSCME, struck the Bronx Zoo in the spring of 1961 and the strike lasted seven weeks. It was a horrible time. I’d been curator. John Tee-Van, the general director of the society in those days had worked very, very hard to avoid a strike, but there’d been a serious conflict, much of it, as I understand it came about because the union had organized zoo employees and sought various changes in their benefits and salaries and so on, which were not entirely within the societies power to award because in those days, many of those salaries were actually paid under the city’s career and salary plan. So the society could not negotiate at that time in good faith on all of those matters, but the union also wanted to represent these employees to the society and the society’s board did not want that to occur. And if it had to occur, they wanted it to occur under conditions that would protect the society in ways that would enable it to continue to operate, as I understood it. John Tee-Van when the strike occurred, had a massive heart attack, massive. And Fairfield Osborn called me at home and asked me to meet with him and told me that I was to become associate director or assistant director, I don’t remember which, but he would like me to conduct the negotiations with the union.

03:41:16 - 03:43:06

And of course I was very well qualified to do so, I could catch a cotton mouth or a rattlesnake bare handed and teach a hummingbird to feed a substitute diet and put a harness on a splay leg of giraffe. But, he had made his choice and I was extremely fortunate in that a very distinguished labor lawyer who had been a friend of John Tee-Van’s and a long-term member of the New York Zoological Society came out of retirement to help me. And I chose one of the employees who ran the maintenance department, which was the center of apparently many of the problems. And I met with the keepers. The society demanded, I demanded, that so long as the AFSCME represented or sought to represent any of its employees, jobs necessary to the wellbeing of the animals would have to be considered non-strikable. If they were not willing to accept that level of responsibility, there was no way the society could agree to there representing our employees. There would be no way we could guarantee the wellbeing of the animals. That is what caused the seven week strike because the union would not agree.

03:43:09 - 03:44:33

The keepers by in large stood by their animals, but the maintenance people did not. The clerical people more or less maintained their positions, the curators, many clerical people came in regularly and cared for the animals when the keepers could not because the keepers had to go and be on the striking lines to show their unity with the union. And we negotiated day after day after day, and mayor Bob Wagner got involved in the negotiations, but he was not able to help very much. And after seven weeks, the union agreed to our demand and said yes, that the animal welfare would not be a subject of strikes, and it’s worked and the union has been responsible and we’ve tried to be responsible to them. And I think the union has been a good thing for everybody, and I think they feel the relationship has been a good one. So that’s the story of our strike as best I can remember it.

03:44:36 - 03:44:52

Quick question, during this time, did other zoos, or did you reach out to other zoos to advice on labor relations or were you all by yourself with the help of these experts you have?

03:44:52 - 03:46:27

Back in 1961 when the Bronx Zoo and all of its facilities were subjected to this AFSCME strike, there was no place to turn, we were by ourselves. There were other institutions in the city of New York who watched with bated breath because most of them had the same union. Some of them however, already had contracts, But our position was unique. Not long after the strike, when it was all closed down, Fairfield Osborn came to me again and asked me to be director. I was not at all sure I wanted to be director. My interest was wild animals, not dealing with labor unions, and not dealing with the problems of politics and fundraising and so on and so forth that zoo directors have to make so much of their work. But I decided to do so. I remember a wonderful exchange with Dr. Osborn.

03:46:29 - 03:47:26

He said, “Bill, I want you to look at it this way, when I’m not here, you’re me.” And I said, “Dr. Osborn, I have real reservations about this position, but I have to say, if I take it when you’re not here, I’m me.” He laughed, thought it was wonderful. I said, that’s great. And we had a wonderful relationship. But Will Beebe didn’t think so. He didn’t think I should be director. And they sent me a telegram, an old fashioned telegram, which we’re not old-fashioned in those days from Simla, Trinidad and said, “A roth for the zoo, alas for the birds.” So that was his view of careers.

03:47:29 - 03:47:34

How did the other staff receive this position?

03:47:35 - 03:48:21

When I became director I was absolutely delighted at the support I received immediately from other staff members of the society. Of course I was not director of the whole society, I was director only of the Bronx Zoo and that was plenty. We’re gonna speak a little more about that in just a moment, but to go on with Fairfield Osborn, he was president of the conservation foundation in addition to being president of the New York Zoo Society.

03:48:23 - 03:48:28

Can you tell us about the relationship of the two organizations and how it changed over time?

03:48:31 - 03:50:08

Fairfield Osborn became present of the New York Zoological Society and it was almost a family tradition. His father, the great paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn had been president of the New York Zoological Society many years before. Fair was a remarkable man in many, many ways with a very active intellect. And he became increasingly concerned pursuant to his book, “Our Plundered Planet” on the way things were going. He early on became especially exercise by the effect of pesticides and wanted to find some way to begin to investigate the damage that he felt they were causing. So based within the New York Zoological Society, he created a branch which was called The Conservation Foundation, and eventually he incorporated it separately, although it included many of the same trustees from the New York Zoological Society. And in fact, some of our staff members at the zoo, our business office, and so on, They brought out the wood chipper. Great.

03:50:08 - 03:51:41

Gosh. Okay, we’re all set. Talking about the conservation foundation and it was incorporated by Fairfield. Fairfield Osborn saw the need to conduct conservation work on such things as the effective pesticides pollution and related matters that he did not feel were the work of the zoological society. So he created a new organization called the Conservation Foundation, which worked for the most part out of the Bronx Zoo’s offices and out of the offices of the society in those days, down on 30 East 40th street, they did some of the earliest really important work on the effect of pesticides. The kind of thing that Rachel Carson eventually wrote about. And in fact, Rachel Carson, who was greatly admired by Osborn and the rest of the society received one of our gold metals. Among the research efforts that they did was one that I found particularly fascinating, see birds in The Bahamas were showing high levels of pesticides in their blood and in their eggs.

03:51:41 - 03:52:19

And this was one of the first indications that we were going to have about the effects of DDT on bald eagles, on pelicans and other species of birds. And the conservation foundation did start some of that early work. Eventually the conservation foundation separated from the New York Zoological Society and moved to Washington. And although we maintain relationships with them for many years, we’ve kind of lost contact with them and I’m not sure how active they are nowadays.

03:52:19 - 03:52:20

What was involved in the split?

03:52:20 - 03:52:27

And do you think that the zoo society lost an opportunity for growth by spinning off this conservation unit?

03:52:32 - 03:54:02

I don’t, their focus was different. So the quick answer is no, I can expand if you wish. I would like you to, please. The conservation foundations increasingly focused on programs of less interest to the zoological society and its staff. The society became increasingly concerned with the loss of wildlife, per se, rather than pollution and even chemical pollution though the society is also, the Wildlife Conservation Society has done pesticides studies, but our concern in those days was relatively modest because the zoological society did not have a major conservation program at that time. It was giving a few grants. It was not until 1966 that we began to build a staff and develop an international conservation program. And I did that as a result of an opportunity that was aimed in a very different direction.

03:54:02 - 03:55:56

I don’t know whether you want to hear that story. I’d love to. Absolutely. In the early 1960s, there was an enormous amount of interest in animal behavior in many universities, overseas, especially in Germany and in England. Detlev Bronk, who was the president of the Rockefeller University here in New York, and Fairfield Osborn happened to be having dinner one evening, talking about animal behavior and the opportunities that each saw in their scientific staffs to advance the understanding of animal behavior. And they thought what a good idea it would be for the zoological society, with its zoo and aquarium to get together with the university, with its very large intellectual resources. So, an institute for research and animal behavior was created, a joint institute and it was agreed that we would make joint staff appointments and the staff would be able to utilize animals at the zoo where that was appropriate, and the staff could also use the laboratory facilities and library facilities, which are fantastic at the Rockefeller University. Indeed, I immediately took advantage of it and met with some of the geneticist at the university and they gave me wonderful background and insights that I could not have gotten any place else.

03:55:56 - 03:57:11

Well, this went along for a while, but eventually a divide appeared, our concern, my concern by that time becoming general director of the society, was with wildlife conservation and I was interested in a muddy boots approach in the field. The kind of work that George Schaller was doing by that time. George had just finished his gorilla work. The people at the university were increasingly interested in experimental animal behavior work some of which we felt inappropriate and most of which was inappropriate for the zoo’s collection. And they wanted to work under controlled laboratory conditions on problems that were not of significance, that did not produce a conservation product. We wanted to do work that would produce a conservation product. The best criteria of a conservation product is number.

03:57:15 - 03:57:18

Did you increase the number of animals?

03:57:18 - 03:57:22

Did you increase the size of their habitat?

03:57:22 - 03:59:31

That is a conservation product. You can’t always do it and sometimes it takes many years. That is the proper criteria in my opinion, and it’s one I’ve applied for a long time to the distress of some who’ve found it did not support grant requests. So these two groups of scientists, although maintaining close personal relationships, eventually divided and Schaller, Roger Payne, Tom Struhsaker, Rich Penny and other biologists who wanted to work in the field and wanted to resolve conservation problems, stayed with zoological society, Fernando Nottebohm and other biologist who wanted to work in the laboratory, Don Griffin, who was the director of the program originally and Peter Marler, Don from Harvard University, we’d stolen him and Peter Marler from University of California, we’d stolen those with the two directors of the effort. They decided to stay with the university though maintaining relationships with the zoological society. And that gave me the opportunity to establish a full-time staff, a field staff, because we took that group of people whose qualifications were beyond question and who had one, the knowledge and understanding of Osborn and others among the trustees and we started our new field program, which eventually became the international program of the zoological society or in 1993, we decided to change our name to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

03:59:33 - 03:59:35

Why did the society decide to change its name?

03:59:38 - 04:01:34

If you are applying for a grant from a Chicago Foundation, the California Foundation as the New York Zoological Society, we were told, “You know, we’re more interested in an international approach.” And we thought we could better portray what we were doing by becoming the Wildlife Conservation Society. Because our focus is all over the world, from Antarctica to the Arctic, from Africa to Asia, we felt that was less confining as a name than New York Zoological Society. So with great, I won’t say reluctance, but with great worry, we changed the name. And that change occurred in this room with a lot of misgivings on the part of the trustees. But it has worked out all right. The difficulty is that conservation organization names are all much alike and are often confused and we’d been the subject of confusion, as has the World Wildlife Fund, which had a lot of trouble with the World Wrestling Foundation, Conservation International, which has had its problems with us among others with confusion. Verbiage is always exciting. Well, let me follow up on that.

04:01:34 - 04:01:42

You say, we decided to change the name, was that we decided or was this your vision?

04:01:43 - 04:02:01

Who proposed this change and how much arm twisting or convincing or intellectual understanding had to occur in this room or outside of this room for that to become memorialized in your bylaws?

04:02:03 - 04:03:42

I proposed the name, Wildlife Conservation Society after a lot of discussion with the societies staff, especially the staff of field biologist who were directly concerned. None of us were completely happy with the name and we experimented with many others over a period of months, but we finally settled on wildlife conservation society and recommended it to the trustees and all hell broke loose. Many of the trustees felt that we would lose the support of our New York supporters, that it would adversely affect the city and all of these were proper concerns. So we entered into a period of investigation and discussion, and eventually, especially with the help of Howard Phipps Jr. who had become president after Fairfield Osborn died in 1969, he was succeeded by Robert Goulet. Remarkable man, enormous helped to the conservation program who had also been, or also became president of the American Museum and the New York Historical Society, a real polymath and Bobby Goulet was tremendously helpful. And Bobby followed Laurence, there was Fairfield Osborn then Laurance Rockefeller, because when Fair died, I felt quite desperate. He’d been such a wonderful, powerful president.

04:03:44 - 04:05:11

And Laurence had been such a wonderful chairman of the board. And Laurence agreed to take it for a while. He’d been associated with the society for 40 years and it was a part of his life and his world. And he cares very deeply and was very, here’s a man with a vision, the way he’s given parks and help the nation create parks, won the presidential medal of honor some years ago. To have him as our leader was my fondest dream. And he agreed to do so although he said, “Bill, as president of the society, I’ll be in the position of helping you with a lot of fundraising.” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Nobody is going to give Laurance Rockefeller any money.” He was wrong. And he was an absolutely marvelous president and he did a lot more for the society and for conservation in this nation, in general than most people realize and we were just darn lucky. And when Laurence felt he should begin to step down, he helped convince Howard Phipps Jr.

04:05:11 - 04:05:43

to become our precedent. Marvelous president. He was president here for almost 22 years and we worked together on everything from conservation in Spain, Argentina to creating the Congo Gorilla Exhibit, changing the society’s name. And without Howard Phipps’ help, we would not have been able to affect it.

04:05:45 - 04:05:59

You said that you were, I’ll use my words, reluctantly recruited to become director, but had you considered that position before you were approached?

04:05:59 - 04:06:15

And when you were approached, as you thought about it, did it interest you because now you would be able to make change or help affect change and did you want the zoo to be different?

04:06:20 - 04:08:14

When I was offered the directorship, I was not entirely surprised although John Tee-Vans illness which led to my Ascension was quite unexpected. But I had certainly seen the opportunity to do things and to realize a developing vision, which were impossible as a curator. But I also had a vision as a curator, as things I wanted to do as a scientist. I wanted to work more in the field, a lot more, with the animals that, have become so larger part of my life. But I saw the zoo as a tool and an enabling tool that could address conservation in a way that was not being done anywhere else. Yes, we had a world wildlife fund which had come into being a few years before, and there were a few other conservation efforts. It was the Audubon society, wonderful organization, largely focused on birds. There was no organization that really was dealing directly with wildlife, with its care.

04:08:16 - 04:10:02

If you are in a conservation organization, studying wildlife, not related to a zoo, and an animal that you are studying dies, of course you’re saddened. It’s not your fault it died in nature. If you were studying an animal in the zoo and it dies it’s your fault, whether it is or not, whether it’s superannuated or not, you feel that your fault, you got to know more, you’ve got to enable it to live longer. There’s a depth of responsibility in the zoo biologist that isn’t quite seen the same in the individual. Who’s trying to get a law passed that may be enormously important for the life of many animals as say the Audubon societies. I was wondering if that wasn’t more important than had heretofore been realized. I also felt the muddy boots approach that many biologists were pioneering, especially George Schaller had a lot to teach us and had a degree of effectiveness that had not been fully provided for. And I had George Schaller, he was my close friend and associate and a grantee and now I could make him a salary person, and get a lot of his ideas and the ideas of others that were working in the field.

04:10:02 - 04:10:22

So the combination of field conservationist with zoo conservationist, was something that just wasn’t being done. And today this society has the largest muddy boots program in the world.

04:10:22 - 04:10:29

Now explain, I understand, but explain, when you say muddy boots, you mean exactly what?

04:10:31 - 04:10:33

What do I mean when I say muddy boots?

04:10:35 - 04:12:15

If you’re working in the field, studying what prevents an animal’s population from increasing or what is causing it to decrease, you’re likely to get your feet muddy. So this, a shorthand for working directly with wild animals, whether they be up in trees or whether you’re scrambling through the swamp to study a crocodile is muddy boots. So this was something you wanted to do and felt you could do as the director or the general director. What other items did you wanna address or enhance about the zoo operation aside from the conservation end of that, when you took this position. I felt that many zoos were ugly as sin. Not the sin is always ugly, I’m told, but, I felt that there should be a new effort at the Bronx Zoo to do away with ugliness, to present animals as beautiful, to provide exhibits that were as stunningly, beautiful as possible. To make the exhibits, a background. To make the zoo a more wonderful place.

04:12:15 - 04:14:04

We’re a long way from doing it. We’ve done it in some places, but we haven’t yet got Gene Kelly dancing in the rain. On the other hand, we’re beginning to make some breakthroughs. For example, when we did Congo, we made a specific effort, we did a thing I’d been wanting to do for 20 years, to combine a film of the animal in nature with the exhibit in the zoo. To show the animal in the context of its habitat of the human impacts upon its life, which you can’t do in a zoo exhibit very well, and how it’s behaving in nature, and then suddenly bring you to the animal itself. So in one of the most important features in Congo, and I think it will be, and is being widely imitated, when you’re partially through the exhibit, you come to a theater, you go in, you sit down, there’s a big curtain screen and a film comes on and the film is short, 7 1/2 minutes. And it shows what is happening to the forest that the gorilla lives in, and the other animals that are shown in the Congo exhibit. Hornbills and, (clears throat) various primates and birds, colobus monkeys, and you see the forest being cut down, masses of it.

04:14:04 - 04:16:19

And you see two wildlife conservation scientists going through the forest and they’re commenting upon what is happening, on everything from gorilla dung to cut huge trees. And you’ll see a seed sprouting from the gorilla dung and it’s explained. You see a wildlife conservation society airplane cruising over the forest and the scientists in it, talking about the road being cut through the forest below it, and the people coming in, and you see massive crowds of people, and their poverty going into these areas. And finally, you come to a secluded park within the forest, and in this area is a family of gorillas. And you’ll see these at peace in this forested area and the camera focuses on the eye of one of our investigators and it gets closer and closer to her eye and it switches to the gorilla’s eye, the same view and then the screen closes, the curtain goes up and there are live gorillas in a forest. I was absolutely delighted when the director of the Disney exhibit in Orlando came to see it and broke out in tears. And I had a wonderful experience there not so long ago, I was going through, taking some guests, and we have this usher who takes the people in, young boys in uniform. And he came over and he said, “Dr. Conway, I have people come over and thank me after this performance very often.

04:16:19 - 04:17:27

Then they go to see another gorilla after that, then another one that goes on, they’re surrounded by gorillas but,” he said, “They often come over and I have this lady hug me. What should I do?” I said, “keep quiet, don’t hug her back.” So I think we have ways of reaching the visitor that we have not yet employed that new technologies give us. We can show views of the animal and connect them with the live animal, at the same time, propagate that animal, we’ve bred 54 gorillas. That’s a lot of gorillas. And we’re just at the start of it. I think zoo exhibits in the future are going to make what we’ve done look pretty ugly and primitive. But there won’t be much outside so we’d better be prepared to help what there is. So during your time with this vision, when you first came in, you were closing a number of buildings.

04:17:27 - 04:18:23

Yes, I closed a lot of buildings. And this was because you wanted to start this rebuilding process. Yes. I closed a good many buildings in the Bronx Zoo and when I opened the Congo exhibit, I closed the old ape house and made some choices, and zoos are going to have to make choices, they’re going to have to specialize. The old ape house at the Bronx Zoo, exhibited chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, in a relatively small space. We wanted to give the animals a lot of space. We rarely bred animals in the old great ape house. I don’t think they ever bred any orangs or chimps, they did breed some gorillas.

04:18:25 - 04:19:33

We elected to choose one great ape and to specialize, to focus on it, to give it as much space as we could. And that one exhibit, as I say is bigger than the entire central park zoo. And we can breed as many gorillas as the gorilla species survival plan wishes to have. And there are several others zoos that are also concentrating in this way. And that’s what specialization means, but we cannot provide because of our limited financial resources, the same sort of facilities for chimpanzees and for orangutans, which we’d very much like to do. We had once planned as a part of jungle world to do a similar thing for orangutans but eventually we had to give up because of the financial situation at the time. You talked about this creating of suitable backgrounds to enhance the visitors appreciation.

04:19:35 - 04:19:52

Do you see zoos, other zoos embracing this type of vision on a regular basis or is financing not allowing them to continue that kind of vision?

04:19:52 - 04:21:19

Oh, I think many zoos, let me start again. I think many zoos are attempting to put their animals in exhibits that convey the best possible idea of the environment that the animal lives in, in nature. There are obviously limitations and this is not inexpensive, but there isn’t much question that most zoos are going in that direction. Fortunately, many animals can be exhibited in environments that we find appropriate, that do represent their habitats and which are not difficult to represent. This is true of most ungulates, of a thing like bison or many species of antelope. It becomes more complicated when you’re dealing with tropical animals in a north temperate zoo. If you’re dealing with those tropical animals in a warm area, this is much less of a problem. Thus, the Orlando gorilla exhibits show gorillas in a tropical setting.

04:21:20 - 04:21:49

I don’t think they’re necessarily as powerful as ours, but they’re pretty strong and that’s a big help. So I think that as specialization goes on, we will undoubtedly see some movement of animals in relation to climate. What was, closed buildings, (indistinct) vision.

04:21:50 - 04:21:53

What was your first big development for the zoo society?

04:21:57 - 04:21:59

How did that come about?

04:22:03 - 04:23:38

The first major exhibit that I was able to do at the Bronx Zoo was a remodelment of the 1899 aquatic bird house, which was one of the zoos first two buildings. And, by getting support from the city and earning support in the zoos guest services program, I was able to put enough cash together to pay for a remodelment that brought in a number of new ideas. It was one of the first exhibits to have a series of avian habitats with no fronts on the exhibits. The visitor and the birds are not separated. Now this is common nowadays, but in 1964, it was not. And to have more than one in a single building and in that building, there are four, it was quite unusual. And the habitats given the spaces we had, took some major steps forward in their presentations, conveying a cypress swamp with real cypress, huge logs we brought in from a cutter’s operation we (indistinct) and put in place.

04:23:41 - 04:23:52

As you’re developing this vision for the exhibits, did you have a vision for the educational element that came with it or was part of it and how did that start to develop?

04:23:53 - 04:24:41

The aquatic bird house, the first exhibit I did was tied into wetlands ecology, and the entire exhibit showed a series of habitats. A tropical lagoon, a tropical stream, a shore, sandy shore, a sea cliffs, and several additional swamps. Each of them waterbird habitats with birds that have adapted to different habitats and because they’ve adapted to these habitats are dependent on their existence and this presentation is a whole series of habitats and all of the interpretive signage does exactly that and it works pretty well.

04:24:46 - 04:24:56

Has that educational emphasis changed since then or has it been continued with all of the exhibits that have been put out?

04:24:56 - 04:26:15

It has definitely changed. We’ve taught different lessons to different places, just as the Congo exhibit is a very different lesson. It’s about the tropical African forests and very specific geographically. And it shows a series of habitats that are ecologically different, but it hasn’t made, there’s not a big waterbird habitat or a water habitat there. If you look at jungle world, that’s an Asian habitat, it is more geographic than ecological. You talked about the experiences in the zoo and certainly visitor services are part of the visitor experience. Can you describe the visitor services when you first came to the zoo and what were the changes that you implemented as director. The visitor services, restaurants, souvenir sales, and that sort of thing, when I got to the zoo in 1956, we’re quite modest and not very good and they were having great difficulty dealing with the numbers of people that came to the zoo.

04:26:17 - 04:27:22

So we gradually improved them adding more and more and making them better and better. And in one of the last years I was at the zoo, we built a major new cafeteria, major new guest services, souvenir facility, and book sales place and so on. And I think this has been a common pattern in every zoo and I don’t think we did have done anything nearly as imaginative as we should, but my focus was so strongly on the animals that all I can say about our guest services operations is I think they’re pretty good. And they are making a considerable amount of money for the zoo, which is essential.

04:27:23 - 04:27:27

What was your relationship as director with the staff?

04:27:27 - 04:27:31

Did you change or how did you change and develop their training and upgrading?

04:27:32 - 04:28:41

One of the first things I did was started curatorial training program. I found it difficult to get trained curators. So we brought in a number of young zoologists, those that we could find that had zoo training. For example, James Dougherty came in as a trainee, but he’d worked in two zoos before he came to work for us, but he was not given a curatorial position he was giving a trainee position. We brought in Don Bruning and while working with us at the zoo, Don received his doctorate in ornithology and he became our curator of ornithology. And later on his assistant curator, Christine Shepherd came from Cornell University, she had her doctorate before she came and she was trained by Bruning and others. And so it went through (indistinct). John Baylor, our reptile curator was trained by the preexisting curators and was a very competent field biologist, as well as a curator.

04:28:43 - 04:28:45

Two part question.

04:28:45 - 04:28:55

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

04:28:55 - 04:30:09

I’ve often heard the term management style, I’m not sure I know what it means. When I hear it. I think of an old time, 1950 Chevy with tail fins. I’ve never been able to grow tail fins, it’d probably would be hard to sit with. I suppose my management style is collaborative. If your curator doesn’t know more than you do after a while about his specialty, you’d best get rid of him. If you’re going to do something in an area that affects him, you must collaborate with him carefully and give him the level of responsibility, the highest level of responsibility, which you have found him capable of handling. But I am very much in favor of the team approach.

04:30:11 - 04:31:32

For example, the Congo Gorilla Exhibit was put together by a team. Many of the original concepts are mine, things I wanted to do for years like the movie screen and so on. But there were major contributions from the curator of exhibits. We had a marvelous man named John Gwin and an extraordinary exhibit designer named Walter Desmond who you could express an idea and they could visualize it on paper for you. The curator of mammals, Jim Doherty played a major role. The reptile curator worked on the reptile aspects of it. The bird curators worked on the bird aspects, we met as teams. I think there’re pictures of the whole bunch of us discussing this side of the other thing or no, no, that’s a species that is inappropriate, it doesn’t meet our requirements here, the spaces wrong.

04:31:35 - 04:32:44

We need to do this, we need to revise this part of the buildings to provide better for these animals. These took weeks and weeks and weeks. And of course our construction people looking at this and the architects sitting there somewhat fuddled by all this was going on ’cause we designed it. We don’t believe in building a building and then putting animals in it. We believe if you decide what you want to do for the animals, and then you build the building around it. The constraints of such a thing are a little easier to deal with if you have an animal program that will be quite clear. But eventually you began to run into budget constraints. And then you say, well, we really can’t have pygmy hippos in this building, which we would like to have, and on and on and on.

04:32:44 - 04:33:34

So it’s a long collaborative, interactive, and wonderfully exciting process. And most of the curators and yours truly as a director curator, as I guess to some extent what I am, it’s very, very interesting and educational. It’s been said that many younger professionals certainly have knowledge of the computer and many of the programs that help them do their job, but they have little knowledge of the history or the precepts of Heini Hediger, or Lee Crandall or knowledge of some of the basic texts of the international zoo year book that may help them in the system.

04:33:34 - 04:33:40

How important for the future zoos is to keep this link with the past, or is it not important at all?

04:33:48 - 04:35:02

Well, I think most people, most scientists, most biologists keep a link in their minds with Charles Darwin. Dr. Darwin’s been gone a long time. What he had to teach us does not go out of style. What Heini Hediger had to teach us as a zoo ethologist, a new zoo behaviorist does not go out of style. And much that Lee Crandall had to teach us doesn’t go out of style. And there’s an old saying, if you don’t know, your history are doomed to repeat it. many of the things that Hediger did, or the Lee Crandall did in exhibits. you wouldn’t pass muster today.

04:35:05 - 04:36:00

I am impressed that many of our young curators working for the wildlife conservation society have a wonderful grasp of what I would call the zoo basics, the animal care basics. I went around taking some Argentine acquaintances through the zoo two weeks ago and one of our new young assistant curators was kind enough to show us around. I was very favorably impressed by his understanding and his own vision. I don’t know how many there are like that. But if he’s a sample, I have every hope in the future.

04:36:03 - 04:36:07

As director, what were some of your most frustrating or challenging times?

04:36:12 - 04:37:14

I would guess that almost every zoo director, aquarium director will find dealing with the local polity quite frustrating from time to time. But in all fairness, I’ve found some animal behavior pretty doggone frustrating. I shall not forget a sea lion whose pup fell in the water at the sea lion pool. And the poor little guy was trying to get out and there was an edge, there was a little steep and he didn’t find the shallow edge where he should have gone out. And she sat there right above him, looking at him. And they both talked back and forth. The little fellow was getting desperate and she didn’t help him out. And I said, “You damn fool, take him out.” But she didn’t.

04:37:14 - 04:38:35

That didn’t happen to be within her configuration of behaviors. I forgave her for I’ve seen exactly the same thing with Patagonian sea lions and in nature, a female sitting there shouted, “Pull him out,” and the poor little guy nearly dying. In the event, this pup, she did grab and pull it out. The one in nature didn’t and a little guy finally found his way out but just at the last minute, I think he was close to giving up. That’s really frustrating to a naturalist. Of course, dealing with a politician on an agreement, which I have done repeatedly, they can out do the mother seal lions. Sometimes it’s right there and they don’t pull it out of the water. And this comes about I’ve discovered because they know some other pressures and are under pressures that you were not, because you are not voted by a general election or appointed by somebody who is somebody’s uncle to the position.

04:38:37 - 04:39:58

You should be grateful for that and put up with the frustration. You’ve been involved with many personalities that are well-known within the zoo field, at the Bronx Zoo and New York Zoo Society, can you give me maybe just a capsule, couple of sentences. I know you can’t cover it all regarding some of them, Lee Crandall. Lee Crandall was a delightful human being. Gentle, a very special interest in pigeons and chickens, which he kept as a boy. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of species of birds and mammals, it was very hard to find one that he had not seen or could not identify. When I first came to the Bronx Zoo, animals were still coming in and substantial, especially birds from nature and things would come in you couldn’t identify. I remember a very strange solitaire that came in from Ecuador and Crandall identified it, nobody else could.

04:40:00 - 04:42:01

His knowledge of zoo history, when I say zoo history, I mean the history of animals in zoos, was absolutely outstanding and probably unmatched. Of course, Will Beebe was a remarkable character. He started out as a bird curator, appointed by Hornaday, the first zoo director and gradually developed into a field biologist. He hired Lee Crandall as an assistant, that’s how Lee came to us, and he wrote (indistinct) of books that were so, exciting, so beautifully written that I think he made thousands of followers, wonderful insights. I remember being with Beebe and Trinidad one day and we’d had one mini bus after another coming up with people climbing up the path to the laboratory saying, “Oh, we understand Dr. Beebe is here. We would love to meet him.” And Beebe breaking off his work and being nice. One day I was there and Jocelyn Crane, his assistant came in and said, “Oh, well, there’s a gentleman here who is, he can’t climb up the steps but if you would come and see him, he’s 95 and he’s heard about you and he wants to come and see you.” And Beebe got up and said, “That’s it, I’m not going to have a 95 year old man telling me that he read my books as a child.” And he disappeared into the forest which I thought was worth remembering. There are many other people.

04:42:01 - 04:43:18

Grace Duvall. was a remarkable woman who started counting coins in the visitor services department. And she gradually evolved to become secretary to various of the animal curators. And then the record keeper and eventually assistant curator of mammals and birds. And she did everything from call sleepy curators who had to get up early to go out and meet a shipment coming in at four o’clock in the morning to arranging for their laundry and sending flowers when a curator was afraid that he’d offended a donor, she was an absolutely delightful person and a great resource for the society. Then there was Jean Delacour. Jean Delacour, the famous French ornithologists sat in the chair I eventually occupied at the Bronx Zoo for many years and had an office at the American Museum was an enormous expert and a close personal friend of Lee Crandall and he advised the zoo on the exhibits, mammals, birds, reptiles, everything. And on the development of ideas.

04:43:20 - 04:45:01

of course, there’s also William Beebe, I mean, William Bridges, the famous editor of zoo’s magazine, Animal Kingdom, who wrote the story of the Bronx Zoo and many other books as well, and was a tremendous asset and there was nobody like him and isn’t to this day in the zoo field. There was Christopher Coates at the aquarium, the author of a wonderful book on tropical tropical fishes and he was famous for his studies of electric eels and the first major exhibits of electric eels that lighted bowls and so on and so forth. It was a wonderful group of people. And to get them all in one room gave you a cacophony of intelligent information I don’t think you could find any place else. We were talking about animal collectors, a name comes up of Charles Cordier. Charles and Emmy Cordier were an extraordinary animal collecting team. They specialized in birds, but they also collected okapis. I knew Charles and Emmy very well, but they were not working for the New York Zoological Society when I came here.

04:45:01 - 04:46:46

They did work for the society during a period of the Second World War. Both were Swiss, had wonderful language skills and the ability to virtually charm birds out of a tree. They brought in long-wattled umbrellabirds, some of the most beautiful races of the cock-of-the-rocks, (indistinct) Congo peacocks, wonderful, wonderful creatures, and did this with great sensitivity. They were generally admired around the world and Cordier wrote some very interesting articles. He usually wrote in French or German, but, eventually animal collecting as a profession disappeared. It was time. The few animals that come out of nature nowadays are quite frequently collected by zoos in an area, but having big collecting establishments as there were, when I first came to New York in the 1950s is very rare. The Rui, the German family, Louis Rui Incorporated had a big facility down in the Bowery and Henry Trefflich had another.

04:46:47 - 04:47:06

And it was an astonishing thing. You would go to one of these places and it was like going to a shop and here were all these animals and I’m afraid I was not very much in favor of that, but there they were. And you would try to pick some animals that would fit your collection plan.

04:47:09 - 04:47:20

As you were working as director, what personalities, what other directors affected you that you admire that you learned from?

04:47:24 - 04:48:33

If you are a zoo director, you’re in a very special profession and you quickly find yourself with a made to order group of friends and colleagues. The Europeans, I found particularly interesting, Heini Hediger, the great director of the Zurich Zoo. Special in my life was Benhard Grzimek. Grzimek was the director of the Frankfurt Zoo and a great zoo conservationist. In many ways, he was the leading zoo conservationists of his time. And he played a major role in preserving the The Un’Goro Crater and also the Serengeti. And he was an excellent and thoughtful director. In the United States, well, before going to the United States I should mention Ernst Lang.

04:48:34 - 04:50:03

Ernst Lang was the director of the zoo in Basel, absolutely wonderful and a terrific expert on propagating difficult species. Gorillas, orangutans, rhinos. Very, very educated and competent individual. But there are so many. In the United States, there were directors that I thought very highly of. One of them was Clayton Freiheit who when I first knew him was a curator at the Buffalo Zoo, eventually became the director of the Denver Zoo. There were Ed Maruska at the Cincinnati Zoo, a very distinguished director. Robert Bean of the Brookfield Zoo, extraordinarily kind to me, I was a St. Louis kid and I drove to Chicago with a letter from St. Louis’ general curator to Bob Bean and knocked on his door in the office, went, his secretary let me, he read the letter, spent the rest of the day taking me around and arranged for me to go to dinner with his curator of birds.

04:50:03 - 04:51:48

That was extraordinarily exciting for a teenager, let me tell you, just absolutely wonderful. Charlie Schroeder, the director of the San Diego Zoo was an outstanding director and I think appreciated by the entire profession. And he worked closely with me on a number of projects. Ted Reed of the National Zoo was a special colleague. And we worked together putting, a thing called the wild animal propagation trust, which was a fore runner of the SSP, and the Wild Animal Propagation Trusts was a group of elite zoos that were committing themselves to collaborate with their collections in propagating threatened species. This was before the species survival plan, and Ted and I’ve put it together and we managed to finance it to some extent, personally, at special meetings of the AZA then called the AAZPA and Ted made significant contributions. Oh, there’s so many. and I know I’m forgetting some, George Rabb at the Brookfield Zoo was a special colleague and George and I found ourselves on the board of the AAZPA together a couple of times, and took great pleasure and pushing through the board rules and legislation and efforts to professionalize the AAZPA so that we were considered practically a gang.

04:51:51 - 04:52:55

Getting things across that not everybody was in favor of, but which we felt were essential for the growth of the profession. Gary Clarke was an outstanding director and he was an outstanding president for the AZA. And in fact, Gary backed me up when I was working on the accreditation plan, and without his backup, there wouldn’t have been a zoo accreditation plan. He was very helpful. Belle Benchley I knew Belle Benchley as a kid and hen I was 16, I had the chance to go to the San Diego Zoo. I took a bus there from Los Angeles where I had an uncle and Belle Benchley took this 16-year-old all around the zoo, I don’t know why, but she was terribly, terribly nice. And she introduced me to Si Perkins, the reptile curator and to other people at the zoo. In fact, all of my reception at the San Diego Zoo, every time I’ve gone, there has been marvelous, I feel like I’m going home.

04:52:56 - 04:53:50

One last one, Marlin. Marlin Perkins. Marlin is an old friend and I had the good fortune of visiting him in Chicago a number of times, taking them around on some of his TV shows when he was involved with one of the institutions I had something to do with, and seeing and talking with him. And I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know his daughter and I knew his wife. He was a marvelous man with depths that were not always apparent in a television show. It’s too bad more people didn’t get a chance to see them, but he did something very few people have done on a television show. He was bitten by a poisonous snake on the show. That’s not a thing that many want to imitate.

04:53:52 - 04:54:02

Bringing it back to the Bronx, to the zoos in New York, did you have a docent program or did you put that together when you became director?

04:54:02 - 04:54:03

At Bronx?

04:54:03 - 04:54:35

We put that together and the Central Park Zoo had a lot to do with the volunteer docent program here. Some great members of the society who were Manhattanites helped us put it together and ran it for years and years and years and expanded it up to the Bronx Zoo, and they work closely with our education department and with Annette Berkovits whom I may have mentioned. Annette was the extraordinary curator of education at the Bronx Zoo.

04:54:36 - 04:54:41

How important was this type of program to the things you wanted to have happen in education?

04:54:43 - 04:55:38

I think the docent program is a wonderful two edge sword. It’s not only good for those that they take around, which bring in involvement that those visitors wouldn’t get and a quality of involvement that a school teacher might not have the training to give, unless they’ve been through one of our training programs of which we have a lot, but they also become involved themselves and docents in my experience, and I hear this as true in other zoos, become some of your strongest supporters, politically, economically, if they can, it’s altogether, a wonderful program. As directory you’ve had negative things happen, whatever they might be.

04:55:38 - 04:55:42

Did you have a philosophy for dealing with negative issues?

04:55:46 - 04:56:32

Every zoo has negative things happen. I shall not forget when we had dogs get into one of the antelope enclosures and kill three antelope overnight. I shall not forget having pickpockets appear in the zoo and having a car stolen from one of our parking lots. I would have to say that the strike we had in 1961 was a very negative thing. One doesn’t know where to start.

04:56:35 - 04:56:43

As a director, you had this a zoo society that you worked for, what was your relationship with the zoo society in the beginning?

04:56:44 - 04:56:46

Did it change over the years?

04:56:48 - 04:57:44

The New York Zoological Society now the Wildlife Conservation Society is the operating organization. Thus, I was an employee of the society. And the president that I have referred to Fairfield Osborn and myself eventually became presidents of the society. They were not separate in any way, which is the case in some zoos. In some zoos there is a supportive society, which has its own officers and the employees are employees of another entity or even the city. That is not the case in New York. And all of the employees are employees of the society, and the society operates like any not-for-profit society and elects officers and trustees and so on and so forth.

04:57:45 - 04:57:58

Did you have any influence in recommending trustees that might get it or be favorable to things you wanted to do or was this all out of your hands?

04:57:58 - 04:59:10

The trustees operated in a very open fashion with me. I don’t know whether that’s been true with my successors or those who went before me, but when the trustees were considering a trustee, they would almost always arrange for me to meet with them and render my opinion. And when they were considering structural changes of different officers within the board, they almost always involve me. So I felt that that relationship was just about as wonderfully good as it could be. And conversely, sooner or later, the staff members that I employed though, they didn’t know it had to pass muster with the trustees. I arranged in introductions. I was very keen for our staff members to be involved with the trustees. This is not always the process in not-for-profit organization.

04:59:10 - 05:00:30

Sometimes the administrative staff does not want their employees to be familiar with the trustees. But I felt differently about that. As a specific example, when I became general director, I insisted that the executive of the board add the controller to the board meetings that had never been done before. And the reason I did it is I said, look, I am the executive who’s spending the money. This is the guy that is determining whether I’m spending it according to mission, and properly. And if you’re just going to take my word for it at a board meeting, you’re short circuiting, not only yourself, but me. I don’t want that exposure. I want this controller to be able to say, he’s made a dreadful mistake and won’t listen to me.

05:00:33 - 05:00:43

And so ever since then, I think they still do it since I’ve left as far as I know, the controller sits at the board meetings, or if not, he should, or she should, at the present time it’s she.

05:00:45 - 05:00:51

Did they, when you made recommendations for board members, as they asked you, did they take your recommendations?

05:00:51 - 05:01:12

Pretty much so, in some cases, no. (William laughs) You were involved at a time when the Zoo Association was part of the parks national organization and not alone. National Recreation and Park Association.

05:01:12 - 05:01:25

What was this, as far as your part or your exposure, what was this evolution of this divesting itself of that national organization?

05:01:25 - 05:01:30

And was there opposition to this from zoo directors when this occurred?

05:01:31 - 05:02:40

The change from being one of the tribe of NRPA associations, being lumped in with various recreational and park associations, and instead splitting out as a professional zoo association was a painful one and there were many problems of the economy and structure that had to be resolved. Much of it occurred during the time of my presidency, but not all of it. It occurred over several presidents, when I say presidency, when I was president of the Zoo Association, not of the Wildlife Conservation Society, there were several people who paid major roles. One of them was Karen Sausman. Karen Sausman is the recently retired director of the living desert. And Karen was enormously helpful during this period, personally, writing and putting together our publication and so on and so forth. There were a number of people who were quite important. I spent so long ago, I don’t recall.

05:02:40 - 05:03:41

I think Ted Reed was important, but there are others who will probably remember it better, or it’s written in the history. It was a tough time. We didn’t know that we had the economy worked out. We were very fortunate in that, a wonderful girl who became the executive secretary of the AAZPA who just died. Margaret Dankworth. We were very fortunate in that Margaret Dankworth who had been working for us as a wing of the NRPA agreed to come with the zoo people, and had she not done so, I think the split would have been even more painful. She was enormously helpful, stayed with us for years and helped us. As she would put it, helped you keep your nose clean.

05:03:44 - 05:03:53

You indicated you were president of the– (indistinct) One, I think there were two presidents during that period, but I don’t remember the details.

05:03:53 - 05:04:02

But when you were president, what were the accomplishments of AZA that you were most proud of and that you felt made a difference?

05:04:02 - 05:04:58

You’ve alluded to some. There were a couple of things. I was trying very hard to professionalize the zoo field and this of course was before the accreditation program and before the SSP and the A and D acquisition and disposition policy. And before we decided what we were gonna do about game ranches and before we’d set up a code of ethics. So there was a lot to worry about. I also felt that we should be involving our neighbors to the south. So during my presidency, we held a joint meeting with a Latin American zoo association in Mexico City. It was an enormous success, and I hope that this would continue in following years and it did a lot for the Mexican zoos.

05:04:58 - 05:05:20

And it did a lot for us as Americans zoos, seeing a different view and hearing different views and our fledgling efforts to become more professional, had a most encouraging effect upon them, they’ve said to me. I don’t think they followed up with that and I hope they will in the future.

05:05:23 - 05:05:29

As a national organization, you feel AZA is important and continuing to fulfill its role?

05:05:30 - 05:07:09

I think AZA is essential to the operation of zoos in a professional and ethical fashion. I think, that the zoo world speaking globally is, unfortunate in that it does not have an association with the kind of strength AZA has. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums is doing its best to get there and very seriously working on the problem, but getting people who have very different attitudes and very different political problems to all agree on the same code of ethics, the same species management programs is going to be a long process. Going from international to local. In may of 1971, the New York Zoo Society hosted a AZA meeting, an event known as Bronx Day that featured the secretary general of the United nations and president emeritus of Rockefeller University. What happened that turned what should have been a very festive event into a minor riot by residents of the Bronx and caused a special visit from the IUCN.

05:07:10 - 05:07:13

What did you take away from the experience?

05:07:15 - 05:08:02

No more Bronx Day at the Bronx Zoo. This was an interesting occasion at the request of the then Bronx borough president, the zoological society agreed to make Bronx Day free to everybody at the zoo. And the result was that teenagers were led out of school and there was absolutely no control and they were beyond control. And I had to tell the president of the Bronx that we would not participate in such a thing again. Lessons learned.

05:08:02 - 05:08:16

When we’re talking about the conference between south American zoos and the Mexican zoos and AZA, why was it not followed up?

05:08:16 - 05:08:18

Why was it important in your mind?

05:08:20 - 05:08:21

Why was that important?

05:08:21 - 05:09:06

And you kind of indicated kind of, it did not continue. Ultimately zoos must consider their responsibilities globally. They can’t do it locally. As an example, no one zoo can long sustain any species of animals bigger than that. You can’t do it, you can’t sustain enough of them unless you’re gonna turn your whole zoo over to it. You must treat the animals globally. You must look after them, after their lands, if they have any. You must exchange them genetically demographically.

05:09:06 - 05:10:02

So making a bigger pool of people who would have the same ideas, the same commitment that we were trying to create, was it the base of what I was trying to do, that was early days, I was trying to find out what could be done. And I found that there was a lot that could be done. As to why they didn’t follow up, I don’t know. May be, it’s like asking why there isn’t any ice cream left in the cone when you’ve eaten it. That’s a good question trigger. You’ve written over 250 papers on animals, zoos philosophy, when you first began writing these papers, the topics were more about specific animals and management, and husbandry, in the ’60s, you started writing more about conservation and the value of zoos. These types of papers have increased.

05:10:02 - 05:10:07

What happened to direct your vision and how did that affect your vision of the zoo and its development?

05:10:07 - 05:10:09

Was it gradual?

05:10:11 - 05:10:15

Did you have a calling all of a sudden that you really, epiphany?

05:10:19 - 05:10:29

Why did I begin writing an increasing proportion of papers concerned with wildlife conservation as time went on?

05:10:32 - 05:11:21

I suppose we’d have to say it’s the animal’s fault. They began getting rarer, and rarer. Conservation became more and more of a concern in our world. So it was natural that my focus would turn from the individual animal to the survival of animals. More a change from how to care for a flamingo in the zoo to the survival of flamingos in nature. So I guess that’s what happened. And that’s how I became guilty of writing more conservation. As charged, guilty as charged.

05:11:22 - 05:11:27

I’d like to take a break. Okay.

05:11:29 - 05:11:35

When you became director, how you talk about animals, how did you change the animal handling?

05:11:36 - 05:12:11

What were the challenges and problems when you first came in, as we’ve talked, transferring medical attention, things like that. When I became director at the Bronx Zoo, I was fortunate in that the zoo had had excellent veterinarians, but the zoo’s veterinary facilities were antiquated and we all wanted to improve and change them. The major problems that we face were animal selection.

05:12:16 - 05:12:27

Do we wish to sustain this particular species, do we have a responsibility to bring in another species?

05:12:28 - 05:12:39

The Sheboygan Zoo wants us to make available a young female of this species.

05:12:40 - 05:12:41

Can we do this?

05:12:43 - 05:12:51

Can we get the curators and the veterinarians to work more closely together?

05:12:53 - 05:14:05

When I went to the Bronx Zoo, it was like the old business about Boston, about the cabbits only speaking to God. And at the zoo, curators, there was a definite chasm between the curators and the veterinarians, not that there were very many of either. So I immediately started something, when I became director I started something called the animal management meeting, which meets every Thursday morning at 8:30 for an hour, as long as it takes. And I wanted to tie animal records and I wanted full transparency. So that was the biggest task that I had to deal with. Transparency, accountability. Animal management meeting, all of the curator and veterinary staff, all the aquarium people, all the zoo people had to be there. And each had to report.

05:14:06 - 05:15:44

The recorders, had to pass out a weekly record sheet that showed every single acquisition or birth, every single death, the curators and the veterinarians were expected to talk about any instance of illness or inappropriate behavior on the part of the animals, not the visitors. And this made a truly wonderfully effective change in the way the zoo was operating. And many zoos picked up on it, I suppose, most sues do it now. And one of the first things that happened when I left was that my successors called me up and invited me to a few of the meetings, which I enjoyed very much. I would say that that was the most important single meeting that I made, the most important single adjustment I made to improve animal care. One that was easy to make, it improved everything from diet and housing to animals selection. It made certain that no animal was sent out from the zoo, someplace else, without it being on the sheet and everybody having a chance to comment. That no animal had died without everybody being aware that had died and having a chance to discuss it, if there was any problem that we could have resolved, we would know about it.

05:15:45 - 05:15:51

And it works. You developed animal themes at the zoo.

05:15:52 - 05:15:57

Could you take us kind of through the process of how did this come about the process?

05:15:57 - 05:16:04

What was involved from maybe something, an idea you had seen or carried through to, (indistinct)?

05:16:07 - 05:16:53

I don’t understand what you’re saying, Mark, what animal themes. I want us to talk about Congo specifically, but when you were thinking about the World of Birds, in a sense of a theme that you were going to do, what was the process then after you came up with, yes, I’d like to do something with the world of birds, what was the process of moving through it and who was involved at the various stages of these and how did you get them and decide– Do you mean within the exhibit or creating the, we discussed creating the exhibit. So what are you– you had all of these various components.

05:16:53 - 05:17:00

How did you bring the various thinkers in and the various people who were going to help?

05:17:00 - 05:17:20

I remember I discussed this with Congo at length, with the exhibits, people, the curators, vets, everybody. I can discuss it again if you’d like, but it’s the same story. Okay. number nine. Okay. (indistinct) answer.

05:17:20 - 05:17:36

Let’s talk about the development of an exhibit called World of Darkness, your initial vision of it, dealing with the board, getting the funds, how did the public receive it?

05:17:36 - 05:17:38

Getting animals, deciding what they would be?

05:17:39 - 05:17:40

Easy, difficult?

05:17:43 - 05:17:47

Did it survive the test of time?

05:17:50 - 05:19:13

Almost a majority, perhaps a majority of mammals are nocturnal. Most mammals see the world in shades of gray. The World of Darkness at the Bronx Zoo came about as the vision of the mammal curator, in those days, Joseph Davis. And Joe felt that he could exhibit colorblind animals as virtually all nocturnal animals are by using red light. The story is developed beyond red light, but his concept was a very thoughtful one because most nocturnal animals are particularly red colorblind. So he thought he could use, really, a very intense red light and the animals would be comfortable and feel they were in the dark, and by lighting their exhibits brightly during the night, he could reverse their cycles. It worked. So he took the old small mammal house, which was not a good building.

05:19:13 - 05:20:38

And he changed all the lights to red in one nocturnal section and put them on a reverse light cycle, making them bright white light at night. The building was so successful and so popular that the World of Darkness as a concept came about and Joe Davis led its conception and we all pitched in and put it together. In those days, we had a marvelous curator of exhibition named Jerry Johnson. And Jerry worked on it very specifically with Joe and yours truly gave a direction to some parts of it. And so the building came together with a rather unusual architectural concept. We wanted the people to go in the building, have a one-way circulation and come out near where they went in so that they would not be confused or lost as often happens in a long building where they go in one end and out the other and unaware of the world are they. That was all done. The building won architectural awards, and it was spectacular.

05:20:38 - 05:21:53

When the building opened, we had lines of people, six people wide extending for 1/2 a mile. The first day it opened, we had 62,000 people that one day, and it remained an extremely popular building. It was not without problems in my opinion. Because it was dark, we had to be very careful because it was a great place for pickpockets and we had some instance of incidences of pickpockets. So that required us to keep more guards than we had anticipated. Eventually we learned that if we simply reversed the light cycle, we could achieve much of what we got with the red light. In other words, light them brightly at night and more dimly during the day that made it much more acceptable to the visitor because it isn’t fun to look at red light. So in some ways the original concept that Joe came up with as thoughtful and clever as it was, didn’t work as well as we’d hope.

05:21:53 - 05:22:28

But the building worked very well indeed. And the building is closed now, you know that. When the zoo, this happened, I guess last year or a year before, the zoo close many exhibits because of cutbacks in its budget. And so they closed that building. They wanted to close some others, but I’m not sure what else they did, but I remember they closed that. Which is too bad because of its popularity.

05:22:29 - 05:22:31

Are there still animals physically in it?

05:22:31 - 05:22:44

I don’t know. But it’s an interesting situation because it opened up to the visitor, a whole part of the animal’s world with which they were otherwise unfamiliar.

05:22:46 - 05:22:58

Did this exhibit have a conservation conclusion that you have tried to do then in future buildings that you did, or was this a little earlier in that development?

05:22:58 - 05:23:55

This was earlier, and the effort here was really to interpret for the visitor the behavior of animals who earn their living at night, because it was so little known. And that in itself, I think helps to build a constituency, excitement, which you can turn into conservation, but every building, every exhibit doesn’t have to have conservation and a big sign on it. Getting people really excited about a giraffe can be enough in some instances to make them care if you hear that people are going to put a road across the Serengeti and it’s going to impinge giraffes, or wild beasts.

05:23:58 - 05:24:06

On another exhibit, we had talked about collecting a little, but how difficult was it to collect birds for the World of Birds exhibit?

05:24:08 - 05:24:10

Did they come from the wild?

05:24:10 - 05:24:47

The World of Birds succeeded the old 19 three bird house on Astor Court at the Bronx Zoo. So it was made the old building was maintained until the World of Birds open. So getting birds for the World of Birds was primarily a matter of transferring birds from one building to the other. You made two historic trips for the mossy-throated bellbird and your trip to Laguna, Colorado for the James flamingo, zoos rarely support such trips today.

05:24:48 - 05:24:49

How did you make it happen?

05:24:51 - 05:24:53

Can you describe the hardships?

05:24:55 - 05:26:44

When I became a curator at the Bronx Zoo, it was not unexpected for the curator to go in the field, although I guess not very many did to get particular animals for a particular purpose. Those were early days, the late ’50s, early ’60s, and we were interested, I found the Bronx zoo’s bird collection, poor. The species exhibited were of very mild interest interest, the quality of the exhibits was not very exciting. And if we were to excite people about these animals, I couldn’t see how we could do it with the way the collection stood at that time, I discussed this with will Beebe and Lee Crandall and anybody else who would listen. And we’ll Beebe said, “Why don’t you see if you can catch the mossy-throated or sometimes called the bearded bellbird in Trinidad?” Well, the society had a research station. So he had discovered the nests of this bird, but had never seen one close up. Even though it was a relatively abundant forest bird, it was completely unknown in collections. There were none in zoos.

05:26:46 - 05:28:36

So I said, “Okay.” And I went down and collecting the bird was a fascinating experience. It took me more than a week of watching constantly the tree tops where the birds were calling to even see them. It’s a pigeon sized bird and it would disappear in the leaves and it had this enormous voice. You could hear it a mile away, this (William imitating a bearded bell bird drumming) or sort of a (imitating a bearded bell bird squaking) very, very loud. When you finally located the sound, you could lie there in the grass and worry about the chiggers later and eventually spot them. I finally spotted a bird up in the top of the mora tree, very tall tree in the very dense forest in the Eastern part of the Northern rainforest of Trinidad. Not far from Simla, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s William Beebe Tropical Research Station. I hired a local person appropriately named Armstrong because we had to do a lot of climbing, continued to watch the birds until I found one and was able to trace its behavior over a period of several days, finding that it would call vigorously each morning for a while, and then disappear for half an hour or so and go off for breakfast.

05:28:37 - 05:30:26

Then it would fly back in to the same perches and call again. It would go to perch one, perch two, perch three in two or three different trees. Having seen that, I was able to mark the trajectory of its flight with some little poles I put in the ground and site their tufts. So pretty soon I knew when to expect the bird and where it would fly. I noticed that the bird was flying through openings in the leafy branches of the tall trees and spotted an opening just before its final calling perch, which was about 10 feet square. So I took a mist net, a Japanese mist net made of nylon that looks like a lady’s hairnet, virtually invisible, and re-strung it on nylon cords so that I could fit it in that space and arrange pulleys on its edges so that if the bird flew into it, I could then lower it to the ground where I could get the bird. Well, I had that all worked out in sketches and then Armstrong and I put the net up in the tree, not easy, and the pulleys. After we got it all set, we sat down on the ground, caught our breath and within an hour and a half, we had the bird, it flew in to perch one, to perch two, and then would’ve flew to perch three.

05:30:26 - 05:32:03

It flew into the net, we lowered the net, put it in our caring box and took it back and Will Beebe finally got to see a bearded Bellbird close up. That was followed by quite a lot of interest to the New York Times, which brought a lot of people to the World of Birds, that was before the World of Birds to the old birdhouse to see the bird and a lot more interest in the bird collection and Jeffrey Hammond a writer for The New Yorker characterize and summarize my whole trip by saying, mustache curator catches bearded bellbird after hair racing chase. Now catching James flamingos was a totally different proposition. There are six farms of flamingos. Back in the 50s, it was thought that the sixth farm, the beautiful little James Flamingo had become extinct. None had been seen for 70 years. It was found in the high Andes, very high Andes. In the meantime, a group of Chilean ornithologist had been searching for the bird, they reported in 1958 that they had found a nesting colony in Laguna Colorada in Bolivia at an altitude of 14,200 feet.

05:32:07 - 05:33:51

Roger Tory Peterson, the famous ornithologist and author of so many bird guides that taught many of us everything we ever wanted to know about telling bird A from bird B had, been there. And Roger brought back the first photographs ever of the James flamlingo that were worth having. And that in itself was an interesting story and I heard it in Finland at the international conference of ornithologists from all over the world. He was introduced by the famous British ornithologist James Fisher. And Fisher went on and on about this extraordinary achievement of Peterson actually getting up there, photographing the colony and in fact, having photographed all six species of flamingos. And at that time, Roger Tory Peterson was the only man in the world who’d ever photographed all six species of flamingos as James Fisher drilled into our ears at the conference. And then as he turned the microphone over to Roger Tory Peterson, he turned back to it and said, “Of course, when you’ve seen one Flamingo, you’ve seen them all.” Which was not what Roger expected, but which all his colleagues enjoyed immensely. In any event, Roger was terribly keen that we get a collection of them and from what he told me, I was very interested in the situation with regard to James flamingos.

05:33:51 - 05:33:53

What was his real status?

05:33:53 - 05:33:57

Was this a highly endangered species as appeared to be the case?

05:33:57 - 05:34:00

It was thought to be extinct for years.

05:34:00 - 05:34:04

Did anybody know anything about the status of flamingos?

05:34:04 - 05:34:14

What could we do here to learn something about it and should we be examining the status of the world’s flamingos generally?

05:34:15 - 05:36:45

So I went up there and then a rather difficult trip with the help of the Chilean entomologists, Luis Pena, who had guided Peterson, I was able to get a small collection of James flamingos. The first ever, and to get them to feed and do well and I brought them back to the Bronx. This created a great deal of publicity with the Bolivians and in working with them, I was able to contribute to having Laguna Colorada and the province of La Paz made a reserve, which it is to this day. And it’s becoming, we now know it is the most important breeding space, but we also know that the James flamingo is not all that rare and that there is a population of at least 60,000. The result of all this was not only the exhibition and the new reserve in Bolivia, it was a survey that these psychological society sponsored went on for several years, where we brought in several ornithologists and we looked into the status of the populations of all six farms of flamingo, including those in Africa and Asia and so on, as well as the Latin American birds. Subsequently, we followed that up with a very major conference of Bolivians, Chileans, Argentines and Peruvians, which took place in Chile, which I helped set up and participated in. And this has resulted in a group now called the group for the conservation of flamingos and it’s a part of the flamingo specialist group, which is one of the many specialty groups in the IUCN. There’s now quite a group of Latin Americans working on the preservation of these birds, more reserves have been set up and as a result of our work pursuant to this, we were able to get the Chileans to set up a national flamingo reserve system.

05:36:45 - 05:38:04

And the Chileans are trying to preserve all of their lakes that have any species of flamingo breeding. So sometimes these things can be multiplied and it doesn’t hurt that flamingos are absolutely beautiful and the James flamingo is the most exquisite of them all. A remarkably beautiful bird. But imagine flamingos, we think of them running back and forth in front of bathing beauties in The Bahamas. And there are of course, Caribbean flamingos that range through parts of the Caribbean and out to the Galapagos. But these birds live in high altitude, cold weather, the situation up there where we were trapping the birds, which incidentally, that geographic sent photographers along with me. And they made a movie of the trip, which has been used quite a bit. And there’s an article in July, 1961, National Geographic about the collecting expedition, as well as a longer article in the Zoological Studies Animal Kingdom and various articles I’ve written since having to do with our conservation and care.

05:38:06 - 05:38:18

There’s a multiplier effect or can be, and where there’s going to be collecting in the future, we need to work hard to get that kind of a multiplier effect.

05:38:19 - 05:38:22

Well, will there be collections in the future?

05:38:23 - 05:39:39

In my opinion, there will be more and more, unfortunately, because increasingly zoo biologists are going to be asked to go out and rescue this species and that species and that species and sustain them for a while, just as happened with the last 22 condors, the whooping cranes as has happened with the Hawaiian crow that the San Diego zoo was working so very patiently on. And with a good many other birds throughout the south pacific. The new Zealanders with the saddleback and other species there it’s been incredible. Look at the echo parakeet on Mauritius. That bird was just down to a few pairs. It was captured, bred to substantial numbers in captivity, better nesting facilities arranged for it in the wild, released, now they’re 400. We’re going to see this again and again. In some instances, we are only going to be successful where we modify the habitat.

05:39:40 - 05:41:04

The zoo’s current curator of birds, Dr. Nancy Klam has just been in a project in central America. They’re discovering that the scarlet macaws in that area are doing poorly. That many of their chicks are not surviving, where they have two chicks, often one is lost. Nancy has learned that by taking the chicks and feeding them artificially for a while and getting their strength back up and putting them with pairs that are unsuccessful in breeding, which then rear them, they’re able to increase the population. I just got an email from her last week and the project is going well. We’re going to see projects like this all over the world. It was a wonderful project not long ago on the bald ibis in Italy and Switzerland. I was attending an IUCN meeting in Switzerland when, the chairman of the meeting got a call and said, “Bill, do you know how to handle lammergeiers?” And I said, “What for?” “Well, we’re getting ready to re-introduce some in Switzerland.” Was it Switzerland or the Italian Alps, because we were way up in the Alps.

05:41:04 - 05:41:59

I said, “Yes, I can handle them.” Well, we have to sex them. And the veterinarian is perfectly willing to sex them, but he’s afraid to try and catch them and handle them. A lammergeier is a great big vulture like bird. So I left the meeting and they provided a limousine to drive me up to the big aviaries where they were preparing to release these birds and where we had to sex them. And so I caught six lammergeier by hand, and the veterinarian did an excellent job of sexing them. And it turned out that it was a good thing I did because we had too many males. But anyway, the project went on from there. That was an operation I’d heard nothing about at the time, but they’re underway and the birds are coming back.

05:42:01 - 05:42:17

Even though we have lost habitat, we have chances of restoring it or so modifying it or eliminating hunters in an area. If hunting is the only problem, if the disease is the problem that we can cure, we have a good chance of restoration.

05:42:19 - 05:42:22

Where their hardships on the trip with the flamingos?

05:42:25 - 05:42:33

Where their hardships on the trip to obtain James flamingos?

05:42:33 - 05:43:25

Yes, there were. It was mighty cold. The wind was strong at times. And the worst hardship came when, Luis Pena, who was outfitting it, we were using his trucks and he was providing the food and all for us, for me, I was the only outsider there. When we got down to our first dinner and his primary course was canned anchovies. If there’s anything in this world I can’t stand, it’s canned anchovies. So there I was 14,200 feet in the Andes, snow coming in at times and very little to eat. It was probably good for me.

05:43:26 - 05:43:33

What would you say were the keys to maintaining your visitor’s attention at the various exhibits?

05:43:36 - 05:43:39

How does one maintain a visitor’s attention?

05:43:43 - 05:44:18

In a good zoo exhibit, that’s no problem. The visitor maintains his or her own attention. In some zoo exhibits, the animal maintains the visitor’s attention. I’ve been interested to see gorillas, essentially walk over when they feel visitors aren’t looking and give them the eye and gesture as though they are seeking attention. I think they really want to see the visitor.

05:44:20 - 05:44:38

And I’ve felt sometimes in taking visitors through the Congo Gorilla Exhibit, in fact, I even found myself saying this a week or two ago, “Won’t you come to our gorilla exhibit?

05:44:38 - 05:46:11

I’d like them to see you.” And I suppose that’s true. Many of the animals are quite interested in the visitors. On the other hand, when you see as many visitors as some animals do, in some exhibits, it is very much like a waterfall and one becomes less interested, I suspect, at least I would and I think they do a good exhibit, will interest visitors, an exhibit that does something that gives the animal a chance to do something special, to show some part of its behavioral repertoire can contribute to the visitor’s attention. I believe that more exhibits of social species, which constantly work to get along with their fellows just as humans do to be especially interesting. It’s fascinating to see a big group of baboons taking care of their youngsters, having disagreements and agreements, much more interesting than a relatively solitary species of primate. Lions is a group any the of the big cats are sometimes very difficult to make interesting.

05:46:11 - 05:46:13


05:46:13 - 05:47:51

Because in nature lions sleep or rest as much as 21 hours a day, a fact that few of your visitors understand. And after all, when they see them on television, they’re obviously running and catching and eating something or trying to hurt each other, or what have you. But resting being indolent is most of what a lion does. Dr. George Schaller who’s lion studies in the Serengeti are very famous, said that they could be unbelievably boring and he’d be sitting there in his land rover, watching a pride of lions all day long, and it would go on into the night and they would be resting. So it is perhaps too much to expect to want an animal exhibit, no matter how it’s designed to make things interesting all the time. I tried when we did the World of Birds to have a rain storm there, and it would rain once or twice a day. This was very interesting. It was a normal behavior, it occurred in nature, especially in rainforest and the birds would go through wonderful washing behaviors and generally seemed interested and more active after a rain.

05:47:53 - 05:48:45

I don’t know whether that’s still going there, but it was built into the building and it may be, this has been done in a number of zoos, sometimes very effectively with a sound of thunder and even lightning. Showing a little bit of nature’s activity, reminding people that the wildlife is subject to the climate just as we are, is very appropriate. It needs to be done more often. There are so many things of this kind that can be done. Recently, I saw an exhibit of ducks, diving ducks, I believe it was in San Diego. And instead of looking at the ducks in a pond, they had raised the walls of the pond, made them glass and brought the ducks up to human eye level. You were there, you were with the ducks. It was an absolutely marvelous exhibit.

05:48:45 - 05:49:26

And people crowded all around it with their noses on the glass. Just as much as they were at the wonderful hippo exhibits at San Diego and St. Louis and many other places nowadays to see the hippos underwater, where they spend so much of their life and where they’re likely to be more active is one way to get the visitor’s attention. So this is the kind of challenge that is absolutely delightful and which every curator and director takes great pleasure in resolving. If he has a vision.

05:49:29 - 05:49:33

How did the acquisition of giant pandas affect the zoo?

05:49:37 - 05:49:48

I have to make a confession. I was not very keen about having to bring giant pandas a few years ago to the Bronx Zoo.

05:49:48 - 05:49:49

Why not?

05:49:51 - 05:50:28

The Rent a Panda Program, which China had introduced where upon it was sending out zoos, sending out pandas to zoos for high prices that seem to me to commercialize the wellbeing, the presentation, the whole atmosphere of the giant Panda effort and its conservation in a way that was neither necessary or desirable.

05:50:29 - 05:50:31

Well, necessary?

05:50:32 - 05:50:37

Does anybody think China needs that kind of money even a few years ago?

05:50:40 - 05:50:52

If they really care about their pandas, one would think they do, they are doing a lot of wonderful work with them, why not send out pandas for exhibits in a different way?

05:50:53 - 05:50:59

And where a zoo does pay, are we really sure how the money is being used?

05:50:59 - 05:51:01

Are we sure it’s helping the panda?

05:51:03 - 05:52:23

In any case, pandas came to the Bronx Zoo, mainly through the efforts of Ed Kotch, the mayor. And when he went to China, he felt he would be helping the zoo and helping the panda by arranging a loan and he did. And in the event, he was not far wrong because the panda did bring in a great many people. The panda has the remarkable burden of being neoteric. Most people aren’t going to know what I mean when I say neoteric, I mean, it is baby like. It’s face is foreshorten its eyes appear larger though it has little piggy eyes, and people like that sort of a vicinage on babies on puppies, on kittens. Babies, foreshorten faces, big eyes, small features. And the Panda takes that even to an adult stage, it’s a very famous situation and they do it more spectacularly than any other species on earth.

05:52:26 - 05:52:33

What was the reaction from the politicians and celebrities when the panda came to New York, did you all of a sudden have more friends?

05:52:35 - 05:52:45

A great many people came to see the panda and that included all sorts of friends and politicians and that was good.

05:52:46 - 05:52:52

Did you have the ability to talk conservation with them?

05:52:53 - 05:53:29

We had very little ability to talk with them, there were too many people and we weren’t commonly aware of the fact that they were coming. So it was not the kind of situation that one could develop as a conservation effort, specifically. But on the other hand, it reminded people of where the zoo was, of its reach and what it was doing. So I suspect that Kotch was right and it was worthwhile and I was probably wrong, even though I don’t like the idea of rented pandas.

05:53:33 - 05:53:35

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

05:53:38 - 05:54:21

We have had some horrendous budget problems in the city of New York. And to the extent that the city pays a part of the zoo’s budget, which seems less every year, they were terrible times when I had to reduce staff, drop treasured projects, and plans for others. These were terrible, terrible times. Maintaining, first of all, the welfare of the animals and after that very little else.

05:54:24 - 05:54:27

How involved were you in the day as director?

05:54:27 - 05:54:33

Were you involved in the day-to-day activities and hands-on after you became director?

05:54:33 - 05:54:54

Oh, I was very involved. Ran all the staff meetings, ran all the animal management meetings, ran all the major exhibit planning efforts and (clears throat) the longterm vision programs. I imagine most directors are.

05:54:55 - 05:54:57

Would you make rounds daily?

05:54:57 - 05:55:37

Oh, yes. Not daily. No. There were days when I would concentrate in a particular area. So I couldn’t be counted on to be in every exhibit in every area every day. If I did, I wouldn’t do anything else in a 265 acre zoo. We had talked about animal dealers and their relationship to zoos. One we didn’t touch on just if you have any recollections or any stories with a gentleman named Fred Z. Hondoler. Fred Z. Hondoler was an animal dealer who had an office in New Rochelle.

05:55:39 - 05:56:55

And Mr. Z, Hondoler came out of, originally a fertilizer company. And I became aware of him when I was still in St. Louis. And he traveled all over the world and developed great many connections, which he used to obtain animals and sell them to zoos. My impression of Fred, was that he tried hard to be ethical, and he was appointed by several AZA precedents as special advisor, animal dealer advisor to their programs. Fred was not a naturalist, he was not a conservationist. He was a businessman that happened to be trading in animals. I don’t think there are any Fred Z. Hondolers left in the United States these days. I doubt there’s room for them.

05:56:58 - 05:57:05

It brings up the point then, sometimes animal dealers certainly would take the surplus at times from zoos.

05:57:05 - 05:57:08

How should zoos be dealing with surplus animals today?

05:57:09 - 05:58:23

The problem of dealing with animals surplus is unresolved. We don’t know how to deal with the surplus of large animals. It is a problem of large animals. Nobody’s worrying about a surplus of bearing beetles or frogs, or fishes. I wish I had a quick and easy answer. I suppose that next to the problem of a surplus of human beings, which increasingly we’re all beginning to understand is the most serious surplus we have, a surplus of animals in zoos is the most disheartening. In a park if you have a surplus, the animal dies, it’s killed either by other animals or by park managers. You can’t do that in a zoo, it isn’t that simple.

05:58:25 - 05:59:04

Sometimes you do euthanize them, but almost always for serious health problems. But, eliminating an animal because it is of the wrong sex or genetic line, which happens in nature very hard to do in a zoo. And zoos as they’re still struggling with the problem. We talked about the Congo forest, the gorilla exhibit, and it’s sculpt, it signs, your vision for it.

05:59:06 - 05:59:16

Do you think that type of exhibit would be possible in other zoos today and should they be put together or thought of by others who’s today?

05:59:18 - 06:00:13

I think the Congo exhibit is a very good model. It concentrates on a couple of species that need management and care, gorillas, okapis, for example, and, backs them up ecologically and educationally with smaller or abundant species. It presents the conservation picture in considerable detail, offers the visitor a way to actively contribute to its resolution. I think the Congo model can be greatly improved upon, but as a preliminary skeleton for some kinds of new exhibits, I think it’s a good model.

06:00:13 - 06:00:15

Well, how would you improve upon it now?

06:00:15 - 06:01:10

It depends on the kind of exhibit I was going to make. But I’ll say one thing right off hand, it’s almost impossible to make a zoo exhibit too big. You can’t do it. So I would make it bigger. I would like to have seen the exhibit have, at least one or two more key species. But even without that, I would like to have seen another media presentation where we had a chance to talk to the visitor, bring them in and make them aware of the animal’s life story, the problems that faces and how they might help resolve them.

06:01:12 - 06:01:26

You had a kind of a groundbreaking way of acquiring money and putting the visitor in the mode of deciding where their fun should go, have others zoos followed this lead?

06:01:26 - 06:02:30

I think some are, and others are doing it in different ways. For example, several zoos are doing something I tried years ago and failed, and some zoos are adding a conservation fee to their admission fee. And I think that’s a particularly fruitful program. If you had a $10 admission fee, adding at least a dollar for conservation is a good way to go. I would guess that within the next four or five years, most major zoos will have such a thing or some other more imaginative effort like the one in the Boise Zoo where the Boise Zoo says right from the get go, The purpose of this zoo is to raise support for the conservation of these animals in nature.

06:02:33 - 06:02:41

When we talk about nature, do you feel the importation of primate species is still a threat to population declines?

06:02:43 - 06:03:38

There are several problems. Chimpanzees should not be made subject to private ownership at all. I would have to say that the use of chimpanzees as the laboratory animals is very hard to justify. The use of some primates for some kinds of health research or even more justifiably, for research that leads to their own improved survival, is quite well justified. These things are never simple.

06:03:40 - 06:03:53

We’ve talked about animal reserves, the potential wild zoo that may be out there and zoos, how do we develop this more exchanges, more cooperation between zoos and wildlife reserves?

06:03:56 - 06:05:20

Already that is happening. I forget the name of the reserve, I believe it is in South Africa, but I may be mistaken it might be in Zambia. It’s first rhino birth in many years, I believe it’s white rhino came about through a rhino that was sent from the Disney rhino exhibit in Orlando. And that female was sent over there where all the females who had gone, had been shot out, but there were still some males and she’s just produced the first youngster. We will see a great deal more of that, that’s interchange, but there are many others. Let’s not forget the bird interchanges the cranes and the condors, and what have you. Ibises in Europe and many, many birds of prey, which have all come out of captive programs. The zoo contribution will not be large until zoos revise their species selection.

06:05:21 - 06:06:40

They must begin to emphasize the species that need help. So they have larger collections and can interact with parks in a helpful fashion. If they don’t have the species of concern in the park, they can’t help. Should that interaction be going through some global initiative, clearing house, as you have suggested or zoo to reserve. I think that there really is a multitude of methods and I don’t think that the best one can be singled out yet. And I suspect that we will have to see a series of experiments over a period of time, as we figure out how to do it, and what is going to work in one country, which must deal with one set of national and international laws and then how are we going to work in another country with its laws and problems is only part of the problem. Veterinary concerns are another part of the problem for some species. So this is not a thing that we can go about briefly.

06:06:43 - 06:07:04

It will take a lengthy discussion and a lot of meetings between a lot of people in a lot of countries. I must say I have a whole series of ideas, but I don’t think we want to spend the next few days here. You wanna give me one. You’ve already had it, there’ve been several.

06:07:07 - 06:07:16

If I’m a donor and I wanna donate money and I’m talking about conservation, could you hold up one successful captive breeding program and reintroduction?

06:07:16 - 06:07:19

Would it be the condors or something else internationally?

06:07:24 - 06:08:20

I’m not sure who at all contributed to the Arabian oryx program, but Arabian oryx have been sent from San Diego and Phoenix and elsewhere and I remember that a number of donors made those programs possible. Some of the programs in Madagascar with ring-tailed lemur reintroductions have originated in the United States from a number zoos that were some that were contributed from the Bronx Zoo’s St Catherine’s facility and those animals were all made available by a donor. There are, I suspect many others, but you don’t always hear are the names of donors of other institutions in other parts of the world.

06:08:20 - 06:08:33

You mentioned the ring-tailed lemurs, there was a developments of the society’s offsite breeding facility at St Catherine’s Island, how did the use of St Catherine’s come about and why there?

06:08:34 - 06:09:07

The St Catherine’s Island off the coast of Georgia near Savannah is owned by the, Edward John Noble Foundation and, Mr. Frank Larkin and his wife, June, Frank Larkin, who died recently was a long-term trustee of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the society was looking vigorously for an offsite propagation area.

06:09:09 - 06:09:23

And we had never heard of this island, the St Catherine’s and Mr. Larkin said, “Well, why not come and take a look at this island?

06:09:23 - 06:10:49

Maybe we could make it available.” And I did. And that was about 1973. And we initiated a program there, which was still developing. It was a remarkable program. It bred a great many cranes, radiated tortoises from Madagascar over 300, many antelope, including several species that are now gone, but were bred in large numbers there, they were distributed to other zoos, and some were, sent like the Arabian oryx, were sent back to their site. Lemurs, several species of lemurs were bred they’re in substantial numbers, and the foundation made annual appropriations to cover the society’s cost. So it was a wonderfully generous and extraordinary situation that went on for many years, two or three years ago, I guess that’s right, two or three or three or four years ago, the Zoological Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society decided to close the operation and leave. And the only animals left on the island, as far as I’m aware, are the zebra.

06:10:49 - 06:11:59

I mean, the lemurs, the ring-tailed lemurs, and they are being made available for, observational research, it’s not laboratory research and a lot of it is happening there and the foundation is not only paying for the care of the lemurs, but also for all the research. And some other wonderful things are happening on the island, The first loggerhead tortoises ever to breed in that area has just brought off its young about three weeks ago. That would be in September and loggerhead tortoises are also nesting on the shores of the island, and there’s a considerable amount of native wildlife, but that is the story of St Catherine’s. We talked a little now about community around the Bronx Zoo, specifically and politics, but the Bronx is world famous internationally, but sometimes it can be a little tricky to get to.

06:12:01 - 06:12:07

How did you think about getting people other than those in the neighborhood to get to the Bronx?

06:12:07 - 06:13:01

Did you have a marketing strategy where you just hoping by word of mouth that they would come. Shortly after the Bronx Zoo was founded, William White Niles, who was secretary of the Zoological Society, came up with the idea of a parkway, that parkway became the Bronx River Parkway. He said, that’ll bring people to the zoo. That was the first Parkway in America. So that was real marketing, a long time ago. That’s not enough. There was a subway spur that went to the zoo before my day, when I came there, it was no longer active, it was gone. The zoo runs a major marketing plan.

06:13:02 - 06:13:50

It advertises vigorously on television, on the radio, puts out ads, goes to organizations and so on. And I think it probably does as much as any of the institutions in the New York area do with a constant program of publicity. For example, just a few days ago, the zoo’s director was on television with a lengthy interview. And some days before that it’s general curator. So I think these programs are the same programs that are being used by institutions all over the country.

06:13:50 - 06:13:55

Is there a really super-duper imaginative program?

06:13:57 - 06:14:21

Probably know more than anybody else’s. People are running pretty close to the bone. It costs money to advertise, this is the time of little money I suspect they would be very receptive to new ideas. When you were director, you talked about, you had day to day involvement, you ran the animal management, you involved with this and that.

06:14:21 - 06:14:23

Were you as involved in the marketing?

06:14:23 - 06:14:32

Yes, I was. And I’ll tell you an interesting story in that regard, I started the marketing at the Bronx Zoo. There was no advertising program at all when I came.

06:14:32 - 06:14:43

When I started paid advertising Laurance Rockefeller, who was chairman of the board at that time said, “What? We have to pay advertising to get people to the zoo?

06:14:44 - 06:15:01

That’s no good.” It took me a while to convince him, it had never been necessary before. But what had happened is that there were so many competing opportunities for people, it had become necessary.

06:15:03 - 06:15:08

Did the Bronx community embraced the zoo as their own?

06:15:09 - 06:15:53

But the Bronx community has been highly transitional and the, community that was there when I came was transitioning very rapidly, it was moving out entirely. It was a largely a big old, very zoo oriented Jewish community. And that has been largely replaced by immigrants coming in. On the west side of the zoo, there’s a very old and famous Italian community with some wonderful restaurants and if you go there, you must try them, they’re terrific. A big Italian market. It’s been there many, many years and that’s holding up fine.

06:15:57 - 06:16:01

What role did politicians play in the success of the zoo?

06:16:03 - 06:16:47

The politicians have been exceptionally important to zoo because the city has a long contributed to both its operating and capital budgets, sometimes very generously. Almost every year, the city seems to be in some sort of financial trouble. Then the politicians that care in particular for a particular institutions step forward and lobby on their behalf, the zoo has been very fortunate in having excellent politicians in their area, and they have been more than willing to step forward on the zoo’s behalf. And they’ve helped.

06:16:49 - 06:16:58

It’s sometimes been said that a zoo should be a neutral island in a political sea, Did you try and keep the Bronx Zoo and the others neutral islands?

06:17:01 - 06:17:06

Should the zoo be a neutral island in a sea of polity?

06:17:09 - 06:17:30

I’m afraid the waves coming over such an island would be high, but in fact, we have done so at least in my day. In no way, did the zoo ever declare on behalf of any particular politician. We tried to treat all as well as we could.

06:17:31 - 06:17:35

Did politics ever start to affect the operation of the zoo?

06:17:35 - 06:17:37

Yes, indeed.

06:17:37 - 06:17:40

Did you have to take efforts to avoid that or?

06:17:41 - 06:17:48

Did politics affect the zoo? Of course. Did we have to respond? Of course.

06:17:48 - 06:17:52

Is there anything different about that as a zoo?

06:17:54 - 06:18:12

No. Should there be? Yes. Zoos should be considered above and beyond politics because unlike the other cultural institutions, lives are vulnerable there.

06:18:16 - 06:18:21

If we can’t cat take care of the zoo, what will happen to the animals?

06:18:21 - 06:18:27

If we don’t feel we can provide adequate support for the zoo, what shall we do?

06:18:28 - 06:18:30

Should we have a zoo?

06:18:32 - 06:19:00

These are questions that, will be decided politically and because of that, the zoo must not be a political. And the zoo found itself in that when you said they had to close this building or that building because of budget issues. That’s right. There were some commercials done on that, I believe. I’m sure there were. Your relationship with the press.

06:19:00 - 06:19:02

Did you have a good relationship with the press?

06:19:02 - 06:19:05

Wonderful. Really wonderful. I’m sorry.

06:19:05 - 06:19:08

How did you nurture that relationship?

06:19:12 - 06:20:19

Well, the useful ways, you make stories available to them, you will alert them to news events and they respond. Particular reporters may take a special interest. When I think of the reporter Marie Schumacher, who came to the zoo back in the 1950s, when Jim Oliver was director and Marlin Perkins was visiting, (William clears throat) he was a person who was constantly interested in the zoo, and we didn’t have to call him, he called us. There are reporters like that today, I’m sure though I’m no longer active there and I don’t know who they are, but there always were. When I was at the St. Louis Zoo, there was a marvelous reporter constantly coming for stories. And she sometimes got me in a very embarrassing trouble.

06:20:20 - 06:20:22

How so?

06:20:22 - 06:22:08

Well, one day director of the St. Louis Zoo, George Vierheller said that he was bringing a reporter from the Globe-Democrat, a paper that no longer exist, to the zoo later in the morning, in the meantime, a keeper called me and said the new Darwin’s rhea that Mr. Vierheller managed to obtain from Germany has something wrong with its left eye, it’s all swollen. And because Mr. Vierheller wanted to show this reporter this bird and I was worried about it, I went running up to its area and here was this great big Darwin’s rhea strutting around with his left eye all swollen up. So I went into the enclosure and waltzed around with the Darwin’s rhea for a while, until I was able to get its back for the wings and swing around and throw it to the ground. This was quite a balletic effort. But I was not as balletic as the rhea, who as I swung him around and he swung around me, managed to catch his foot in my trousers. A few minutes later, I was sitting on top of the rhea on the floor with my trousers pulled down, examining its eye and the reporter came in with Mr. Vierheller. It’s not a common thing to see a curator sitting on top of Darwin’s Rhea with his pants down. But thank God she chose not to write about that.

06:22:11 - 06:22:15

Did you plan any special events for them to cover?

06:22:16 - 06:22:17


06:22:17 - 06:23:11

You wanted them to see what was new. You wanted them to see things that were relevant to something was happening in nature, conservation problem. Sometimes you’ll use the zoo, we’ve often used the new Congo Gorilla Exhibit to bring in a group of reporters to discuss a major problem and a new program the society is tempting to establish, to promote conservation. The last one I did while I was still there, it was with Mike Fay. Mike Fay is well known and he’s a WCS biologist and he was working on the problem with the poaching of elephants and the problems with gorillas. And Mike and I went in there and we’re sitting, there were all sorts of pictures of the two of us discussing this problem at the new gorilla exhibit and it got a big crowd of reporters.

06:23:20 - 06:23:31

Did you see the value in using the media in certain ways, were there directions for your vision that you wanted to move them toward?

06:23:34 - 06:24:18

One of the great advantages of the zoo’s position in human population centers, in big cities and most sues are in big cities is its ability to use the media in ways that you just can’t if you’re out in the country. So anytime we could find a way to make a connection that might interest the media and get them to come in or to tie a story with our work in the wild, with our work in the zoo, we did that and I think zoos every place are trying to do that nowadays. Talk about communicating.

06:24:18 - 06:24:23

Have you thought about the new technology and how it could be assisting and promoting zoos?

06:24:23 - 06:25:23

There’s Facebook, there’s Twitter, there’s remote cameras, all these things that might help the zoo, or as we’ve talked, help conservation. Yes, and there are wonderful opportunities. There are also some tough problems that are really scary and most people are not aware of. Rhino horn poachers, elephant poachers are now using cell phones and obscure and coded messages with the various media systems in Africa. And they’re coming in with their own planes and they’re watching what’s going on with very high technology. So this works both ways. Right now, I don’t think we’re even close to the poachers. They’re way ahead of us.

06:25:24 - 06:25:37

When you have a situation where 38,000 African elephants are killed, many of them so young that they’re little tusks are just this big, you’re losing the game.

06:25:40 - 06:25:50

But on the other hand to promote zoos and their conservation strategies, have you thought about the new technology in any way?

06:25:50 - 06:26:15

If I were still actively directing the zoo, I certainly would, but I haven’t really worked on that, personally. We’ve talked a little about fundraising, when you started at the zoo they had an endowment and you probably had a vision to build that endowment to help the zoo.

06:26:17 - 06:26:26

Did you have a strategy for getting those funds to help build the endowment and thus help the conservation projects?

06:26:31 - 06:27:44

Few institutional leaders, especially an experienced one as I was, have a long-term strategy when they take their jobs to build their endowments. In my case, that was (indistinct) so I was not a New Yorker. I didn’t know the environment. I had only come there recently. It took me a while to understand what was possible. But I quickly came to understand that you were highly dependent upon your trustees, their help, their guidance, their connections. After that, it was the quality of your ideas that made a difference, but you can’t paint a fence if there’s no fence. So, convincing the trustees of directions we needed to go, which with our trustees was not hard, and having the trustees help with the connections was basic.

06:27:45 - 06:28:22

In those days, we did not have a development or fundraising department, that did not happen until many years later. When you get professional fundraisers, they do a much better job, not in dealing with the potential donor, but in working out the possibilities and helping to identify donors and helping to identify the connections, trying to find people who really care, who are likely to be interested in contributing to the kinds of things that you are hoping to promote.

06:28:25 - 06:28:28

What would you say your strengths were in implementing this strategy?

06:28:32 - 06:29:00

Well, I had very good luck in coming up with ideas. Ideas were my specialty. And I had doubly good luck in my trustees and in their willingness to listen and to help. And in some cases to lead, so that was wonderful.

06:29:06 - 06:29:08

Did the board help to shape the zoo?

06:29:10 - 06:29:21

How did the personalities like Fairfield Osborn or in this time John Tee-Van or Dr. Oliver influence the direction and development of the zoo?

06:29:23 - 06:30:15

Well, Fairfield Osborn certainly influenced the direction of the zoo in the early days, but it must be remembered that Jim Oliver was only a director there for a year, and that John Tee-Van retired rather quickly after his illness and Osborn died in 1969. So all of these people were wonderful and all contributed to my thinking and they helped me as best they could, but they weren’t there very long. Fair Osborn died only three years after I became general director and Jim Oliver had taken another position at the American Museum and John Tee-Van was gone.

06:30:18 - 06:30:25

As time went on, did your involvement as a fundraiser, as opposed to a zoologist change?

06:30:26 - 06:30:31

Did you become more and more and more involved?

06:30:33 - 06:30:35

Did I become more involved as time went on?

06:30:37 - 06:31:08

My involvement depended on the nature of the project, it’s timing, whether it appeared my particular connections, abilities, or presentation would make a difference or not, and I don’t think there’s anything of great interests that I can add to that.

06:31:11 - 06:31:14

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

06:31:15 - 06:31:25

Yes. Where it came to raising money from the state or the city or the federal government, there’s no other way to raise it except through the political process.

06:31:25 - 06:31:33

And did that involve, again, the board getting to the political people or decision makers, or?

06:31:35 - 06:32:48

Generally speaking the director in the kind of institution that the New York Zoological Society, Wildlife Conservation Society is, you wish to protect your board from politics. You don’t want to put your trustees in the position of being solicited by politicians seeking election. So generally speaking, when it comes to getting the money from government agencies, whether they be city, state, government, or international, the trustees are not involved. There’s some instances where they are, perhaps holding a party or something where a lot of people can get together and talk, but generally speaking, they’re not front and foreground with government agencies, like our big project in Patagonia which is GEF program, none of the trustees were involved at all, all of that was done by myself.

06:32:51 - 06:32:55

How difficult was it to secure city money for your larger projects?

06:32:59 - 06:33:13

The city has to be very careful of its dollars, so it was always very difficult. Was that dependent then on your as opposed to– Let me rephrase that for your tape.

06:33:13 - 06:33:17

Was it difficult to get money from the city for large programs?

06:33:18 - 06:33:41

And the answer is yes, it was very difficult because the city is constantly watching its budget and others who wish its funds are constantly watching them. So any effort wherein you’re seeking money from the city or any of the political bodies is likely to be a difficult one.

06:33:42 - 06:33:48

Were there any surprise donations that just wowed you?

06:33:48 - 06:34:32

All of a sudden I got a letter from a man in San Diego named Elmer Otto. Mr. Otto lived in Bronxville, just north of the zoo in Westchester. And he was leaving us well over a million dollars. He’d retired, he died there, he’d maintained his membership. He was a, I think a $15 a member for years. And he left the same contribution to ourselves, to the American Museum of Natural History and to the San Diego Zoo right out of the blue. And when his wife died, there was more money. And I was delighted to see that we got a million bucks and his brother got 9,000.

06:34:34 - 06:34:54

(William chuckles) So there have been a few wonderful surprises of that kind. Generosity of people like Laila Wallace, Brooke Astor, and Robert Goulet, Howard Phipps, it’s just been outstanding.

06:34:54 - 06:35:03

Did you ever walk into a meeting with one number in your mind with large donors and be surprised to come out with more?

06:35:06 - 06:36:18

Oh yes. Give me one. You don’t have to name. I had a hope of getting five million dollars and got a lot more than that in one particular case. At one point in time, all the zoos merged. Can you tell us about the series of events and years of negotiation that resulted in the closing of the various zoos and they’re reopening under the new management in the 1980s. The city of New York, when I came there in the ’50s was operating in the Central Parks Zoo in Manhattan, the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn and the Queens Zoo, actually that occurred several years later after the world’s fair in Queens, out in Flushing Meadows. All of these zoos were being run unprofessionally and some of them were in terrible condition and being badly run.

06:36:21 - 06:37:32

There were complaints, there were humane organizations, (indistinct) against them. And everybody was saying that the New York Zoological Society should take them over. And we explored various prospects. We said, look, we’ll take over the Central Park Zoo because its position assures its attendance. The other two zoos do not have assured attendance. And that was the beginning of a lot of negotiation. Finally, we agreed that we would try to take them over then we had all sorts of problems about who was going to pay for what, how much make-over we were going to be allowed to make and what the collections would be like. Both the Prospect Park Zoo and the Central Park Zoo had elephants, rhinos and hippos in tiny little spaces, no bigger than this room.

06:37:34 - 06:39:11

And I could not take them over and rebuild them in good conscience with elephants, rhinos and hippos, and proposed a number of options. And that required an awful lot of negotiation. Eventually we came to an agreement and this city agreed to pay for the renovation of the Queens and Prospect Park zoos, which was relatively less expensive than the Central Park Zoo, which is really a major redo, the Central Park Zoo we just rebuilt pretty much from start to finish. And the Central Park Zoo the society would pay a large part of that. And that was made possible by Lila Wallace by Lila Acheson Wallace, who or their husband founded the Reader’s Digest in 1922. The negotiation from that point on did not get less complicated in that we had to meet certain architectural constraints particularly here in Manhattan, because it’s all landmarked. And the space is so small, the Central Park Zoo is only about 5 1/2 acres. So when you take out the spaces for services, and public walks and all there was not a lot of space for animals, never was.

06:39:13 - 06:40:18

We managed to do it by changing the collection, refocusing it, focusing on a series of geo-ecological areas like the Antarctic penguin exhibit and the tropical exhibit and so on and so on. It was a complex difficult project. On August the eighth, 1988, we reopened the Central Park Zoo the first of the three, and it was received with open arms by the public who were quite delighted and overwhelmed. It was a few years later that we opened the rebuilt children’s zoo and that also was very well received. In the meantime, we were working on the Prospect Park Zoo and the Queens Zoo, and eventually we got them remodeled and got them open. They’re all running now quite well. And the public seems to be happy and we’re pretty happy.

06:40:19 - 06:40:31

Did the criticism of the Central Park Zoo and the other zoos by these organizations prompt this changeover or had those talks already been going on prior to this?

06:40:34 - 06:41:00

The criticisms of the, parks department around zoos in those days certainly played a large role in, urging the city to move more rapidly to affect a takeover. Although a takeover had been under discussion for some time. Nevertheless, the details were so complex, it took three years to complete the negotiations.

06:41:02 - 06:41:13

The New York City zoos, They represent a successful expansion of the society’s facilities, could you talk about other potential expansion that did not happen?

06:41:14 - 06:42:47

Was there more than just talk about opening a facility in Westchester County and perhaps acquiring the Catskill Game Reserve. Over the years the society considered a great many possibilities as I suppose any alive institution filled with ideas and hopes would do. We thought about finding a farm up in Westchester County. We looked at state parks that the state was willing to make available to us, but felt limited by the climate constraints in this area and that is one of the reasons we were so keen about St. Catherine’s Island down in Georgia. We considered a major new kind of institution, which was to be called The Great Biosphere that was down across from the World Trade Center. And we thought we had funders for that, but in the event, these funders had very serious problems and had to withdraw from the project and the state was interested, but they were dependent on outside funders so that was the end of that one. We’ve had several opportunities. We thought at the aquarium and they all failed to go forth.

06:42:49 - 06:43:15

But at the present time, the aquarium has a very good chance of rebuilding and enlarging its facility down on Coney Island. We looked at the Catskill Game Farm as a possible facility and did an economic study to see if it would make sense for us. And we concluded that it would not.

06:43:19 - 06:43:24

What does the concept of the mega zoo and are zoos moving in that direction?

06:43:28 - 06:45:39

The mega zoo concept includes the, the globalization of the zoo field. Globalization has become a bad word, it’s causing so much trouble in terms of habitat destruction and loss of natural resources, loss of political responsibility as communities lose their opportunities to use the areas in which they live. The way I’m using globalization, is the cooperative, the collaborative effort of zoos to manage animals at great risk, threatened species, endangered species. They can only do that if they can come closer to agreeing to the same codes of ethics of operation, the same levels of wildlife management. That is going to take a long time. It’s already happening and most of Europe and the United States, but it has a long way to go and it may be that in the long run, the only way to handle such a mega zoo concept, will be in a regional fashion. And I’m beginning to suspect that may be at least the short term answer, but as nature continues to shrink, as animals are forced to live in dwindling remains of areas where they evolved, where they have always lived, either by humans, by climate change caused by humans, by bad luck. Those we wish to sustain are going to have to have intensive care.

06:45:42 - 06:46:59

Working out the best way to do that, the surest way, the most economical way. The ways that will give people a chance to understand them and enjoy them. I say, enjoy them, I don’t say much about sustaining their ecological contribution to the world we live in for a very simple reason, If you reduce a wild animals population to such a point that it is endangered, its ecological value has disappeared with it. It no longer exerts an ecological force. It no longer helps you to purify your environment, to sustain your plants, to sustain the air we live in. By the time it’s endangered, there are too few left to do their jobs. But there are too few zoomen left and they can darn well do their jobs and they can do ’em better if the work closer together. And I think they’re trying very hard to do this, to overcome the national and international barriers, the legislative barriers, the medical barriers.

06:47:00 - 06:47:09

It’s like running down a long field, filled with hurdles, but we’ve got some pretty good jumpers.

About William G. Conway

William G. Conway
In Memoriam
Nov 20, 1929 - Oct 21, 2021
Download Curricula Vitae


Wildlife Conservation Society: New York, New York

Dr. William G. Conway is an American zoologist, ornithologist and conservationist who began his career with the St. Louis Zoo. He joined the New York Zoological Society in 1956 as assistant curator of birds. He was later promoted to director of the society. In 1992 he became President.

During his tenure, Conway was responsible for modernizing the animal exhibits at the Bronx Zoo and he also introduced new attractions, including the World of Darkness exhibit in 1969 and the World of Birds exhibit in 1974. Conway has also been in the forefront of promoting captive breeding programs for endangered species. He was responsible for creating the Wildlife Propagation Trust in 1964, that resulted in the coordination of zoos to pursue the twin goals of preserving at-risk species and eventually reintroducing animals back to the wild. He retired as president in 1999.

In 1999, the National Audubon Society awarded Conway its highest honor, the Audubon Medal.

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