April 19th 2015 | General Curator

William Xanten

Bill’s roots with the National Zoo run deep. As a young boy interested in reptiles he would visit with National Zoo director William Mann. His dream of working at the zoo came to pass when in 1956 he was hired as an animal keeper.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

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My name is William Albert Xanten. I was born in Washington, DC in 1937. I grew up, I spent most of my life in Washington and since then I’ve lived in Virginia, Maryland, now, I live in Maryland.

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What was your childhood like?

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I had a really good childhood. I was the oldest of all my siblings and I’d like to think that I was born liking animals, particularly reptiles and amphibians. And I can remember as a youngster and my mother would take me to the zoo pretty much 2 or 3 times a week. And when I got older and I was like, I guess, 8 or 9 years old, she would take me with my bucket and net out to the C&O Canal and drop me off. This was in like 1948. So I was pretty young and you wouldn’t do that today, and I’d spend 4 or 5 hours out there catching turtles and frogs and whatevers. And then she would come and pick me up and I take everything home. And then two days later when we went back out, I had to take them out and let them go and then catch other ones because my mother didn’t want them in the house.

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And the other thing was when I reached, I guess I was in my 8, 10, 11 years old, I would go to the zoo. And at that time, Dr. William Mann was director. And I don’t know if he had an open door policy, but every time I would go up to what was at the time instill is called Holt House, which was up in the back of the zoo and pretty remote from the main part of the park. His office was up on the second floor and I would just come, basically walk in with the jar full of frog eggs, or toad eggs, or whatever. And I didn’t know what they were, and I’d walk up and walk into his office and he’d say, “Hello, Bill, sit down. What do you have for me?” And I joined the eggs and he’d say, “All these a toad eggs.” And I would go and see him on a number of occasions where I’d bring a rabbit down. And I say, “I had this rabbit for Easter. but I don’t wanna keep it anymore.

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Can I curate it?

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I’d like to get a turtle.” And he would say, “Sure,” he said, “Will you take it over to Reptile House and you tell the curator at the, well, the head keeper at the Reptile House that you want a turtle and I’ll call over there.” And so I’d go over and he forget to call and I’d walk up to the man who was actually general curator, I mean, head keeper at that time was Jack DePrato. I never dreamed that at one point I would be working for him, but at the time I would go in and say, “I have a rabbit and I want a turtle.” And he says, “Well here,” and he’d go out and bring me a painted turtle, I’d say, “I don’t want a paint a trail, I want a wood turtle.” “Well, you can’t have a wood turtle.” I said, “Well, Dr. Mann said, I could have a wood turtle.” And DePrato would just kind of glare at me and go, “Okay, here’s your wood turtle.” And then I’d leave and I would do that on a pretty much regular basis. And I think I really wore out my welcome with DePrato and so when I graduated from, I don’t know whether I should continue to talk, you want me to… Let me ask one question here.

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What’d your parents do?

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My mother was a registered nurse and my father was in charge of the sanitation department in the District of Columbia in Washington, DC. In fact, I have a letter from John F. Kennedy for his inauguration, where there was a huge, I don’t know if anybody remembered the inauguration of Kennedy, but there was a massive snow storm. And my father was in charge of the snow removal operations too. And I remember he was up all night trying to get, I mean, they were towing cars, bulldozing cars out of the way off of Pennsylvania Avenue. And they finally got it clear because he was actually, Kennedy was gonna to be inaugurated basically at his house because he couldn’t get to the Capitol. And he wrote my father a really, really nice letter on the White House stationary. I think it was probably one of the first letters that ever went out on white house stationary that was signed by Kennedy, thanking him and his men for the wonderful job they did that allowed him to be inaugurated at the Capitol and get to the White House.

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Do you still have that letter?

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Yes, I do. Now, you said that you would go and talk to the then director, William Mann.

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How did you first get entry, you just walked in and when you were at the zoo all these times, what are your early memories of what the zoo looked like or what interested you?

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Was it just the reptiles or other things?

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No, it was pretty much everything. I mean, I spent a lot of time in the Reptile House, but I remember there was a building that we used to call, I think it was even when I was young called the Antelope Pows, but it was right across the walkway from the current Reptile House. And it held just kind of a hodgepodge of hoofstock, and peccaries, and warthogs. But it was a real mess and it was full of rats. And I can remember going down and again, I’m like 10 or 11 years old and the keeper gives me a slingshot and sit me on the railing and pay me 5 cents for every rat I would shoot. And I wasn’t a very good shot, so I didn’t really make it make too much money. But I mean, even when I went back to work there, that building was still there and it was still full of rats. In fact, it was so bad that when you put the food down for the animals, the rats would come out and eat most of it before the animals would even come in to get any food.

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I mean, it was a really, really nasty, terrible building and was actually one of the first buildings that came down when Ted Reed took over as director. So you’re collecting all these animals and bringing them to the zoo. Your parents know that you have this love of reptiles. Absolutely, yes.

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They support it?

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Yeah, I mean, in fact, I used to go out and collect box turtles and we had a garage and during the summer months I’d built this box in the garage that was probably 12 feet by 12 feet and it was full of dirt. And I put all these box turtles and mostly, I had probably 15, 20 box turtles in this garage, within this box. And they laid eggs and I never knew what to do with the eggs. And then at the end of the summer, I put them all in baskets and I took them up to the woods and I turned them loose. And I always wondered what must be going through somebody’s mind if they’d walked into the woods and seen 20 box turtles all in this one grouping but I did that for a number of years and I’d kept snapping turtles, bring them back, put them in the garage. And then I collected snakes. I always had snakes in the house, down the basement.

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So when did you think that I wanna work in the zoo?

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Always wanted to, well, I mean, literally when I graduated from high school, I went and I tried to get a job. They didn’t have any openings. So I started working, I think my first job was at a picture framing company in Downtown Washington. And then I went and I worked for an auto parts store and went to a gardening place and worked. And then I told my father, I said, “Look you know Dr. Mann, you know Earnest Walker,” which he did. And Ernest Walker was the assistant director at the zoo at the time. And I said, “Ought to be some way you can call and get him to at least talk to me.” So my father called and I got an interview, they still didn’t have any keeper openings, but they hired me as a temporary gardener. So I worked as a temporary gardener for three months.

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And then in August of ’56, they had an opening and I went and took the exam and got hired.

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So were you in school when you were doing this gardening?

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No. in high school. I’d graduated high school. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I mean, I wanted to work at the zoo, but I wasn’t sure, I mean, college wasn’t really on my horizon at the time. But about a year later after I started working there, I did go to American University and unfortunately I flunked chemistry, so I just dropped out. And at that time, Dr. Mann had retired. This was in probably ’57, ’58.

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And Dr. Mann had retired, Walker retired shortly after Dr. Reed was appointed as acting director because I think he got very angry over the fact that he was passed over. I think he was expecting to get the directorship. So he left and Ted hired, Lear Grimmer from Lincoln Park and between Dr. Reed and Lear, and to this day, I really don’t know what was going through their minds with me, but for some reason they both really took an interest in my future. And I remember they called me down to the restaurant one day for lunch, and I got down there and here’s both Reed and Grimmer. And they said, “Look, we wanna talk to you about your future here.” And Grimmer said, “You should go to college.” And I said, “Well, I did, but I dropped out of college and I wanna try to enroll in Montgomery College, which was in junior college, they wouldn’t take me.” He said, “I’ll get you in.” And he did. And so I went and got my degree at Montgomery College, and then I started, and the thing is the time, I couldn’t do it during the day. So this was all night school. And it took me four years to get through a two year night school degree at Montgomery College.

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And I went to Maryland and again at night and it turned out, I was in my third year at Maryland and the courses I needed, I couldn’t get at night, I’d get during the day. And I tried it and it just wasn’t working. I mean, this was actually by that time, this was in the mid ‘6Os. So I never got my degree from the University of Maryland. And as I went forward with my career with the National Zoo, I finally realized, look, it’s probably a good thing if finished my degree, but right now, I didn’t need it and I didn’t think it was worth it that to take the time. But both Grimmer and Reed really pushed me. And I always have told you to Block, I said, “We’re both really, really lucky. We both came into the National Zoo at the right time with the right people.

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And if it had been five years later, it would have been a totally different situation as far as our careers concerned.” ‘Cause Block moved up the same way. I mean, she was good, she started out in as a supply secretary down in the supply office and then moved up into the records department, which was very small. It was up on top of the Lion House. And this was when this was in when Deetline line came in. And I’m gonna forget this guy’s name, at the time, if I can digress about the zoo in the ’50s, the zoo was a total disaster. The buildings were falling apart, the collection were huge. We had no education department. We didn’t have a veterinarian, a full-time veterinarian, Don Ted was actually a part-time vet, well, actually he had just been hired as a full-time vet before that they had part-time vets and no graphics department, nothing.

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And that was what Reed was handed when he started as director. And I mean, I was able to see a zoo that could only move forward. And I was fortunate enough to be involved in that, but I forget what I was going now. (chuckles loudly) Well, let me, let me ask you the question about, you’d mentioned your father obviously was connected to a couple of people and he knew your love of animals. You wanted to work at the zoo. He got you the interview, you were hired in 1956 as an animal keeper. Yes, as an animal keeper. The zoo was similar to what you’ve just described and an old time zoo, tell me about your first day, this is something you wanna do, you remember the first day you got there and what you were told to do.

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it was funny except for the Bird House and the Reptile House, all the mammal departments, and they weren’t even departments, they were just areas had to report in the morning first thing to the basement of the Reptile House and the head keeper at the time would tell us where we were gonna work. And so they would send you, like, I wanted to work in the Reptile House. I never got a chance to work in the Reptile House. They sent me to the Bird House, but I’d go up to the Bird House and be working there and I’d be there for four hours. And then they’d get a call sends Xanten down to the Elephant House. So you never really knew where you were gonna be on any set day when he came in. They finally just decide, I think about three months after I’d started, they assign me permanently to the Bird House. And I can remember, I mean, I was so happy being at the zoo that I would have worked for free.

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I mean, I really would have, I mean, they didn’t know what a volunteer was at that time, but I mean, I would have certainly been tickled to death being able to volunteer, but fortunately, I was hired and I spent a year in the Bird House. A year that was, I don’t know how long I can talk on this stuff, but I mean, the Bird House was full of these old timekeepers. I mean, and every Wednesday, I don’t know if I should say this or not, but I wanna say it, every Wednesday they would all jump into cars and go up to Adams Morgan area to a whorehouse. And then they come back to work and they kept asking me, they said, “Come on, go with us.” “No, no, no, no, I’m not going.” And they said, “We’ll pay for it.” “No, I’m not.” So that was my first introduction to what these guys were all going about. And there was a lot of drinking that used to take place, there was a lot of drinking that took place throughout the zoo, but you’d go down in the basement to where they stored the seeds for the birds and you’d be dipping your thing into the seed bed and you’d hear a clank and it’s a bottle. And this was just the climate of the times and we would play jokes on everybody. I remember that one guy that was going out of town and they opened his trunk and they put a 300 pound rock in his trunk and he was going up in the mountains, his car burned up because it was overloaded. And I don’t know how we didn’t realize that he was carrying a 300 pound rock in his trunk.

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But anyway, and we did had an old guy that was blind in one eye. And at that time they had what they called a sand cart and a trash cart. So you’d clean the cages by scraping out the sand into one side of the cart. And then there was a section where it was full of sand and you just throw the sand in and moved to the next cage. So we had some humus and they went out and one of the guys went out and got a humu pile, dug out the sand, put it in, covered it over with sand. And I mean, this stuff went on all the time, but I mean, this guy comes in, rolls the cart out, and we’re all watching. He reaches in grabs the palm full of sand and he got a glob of animal poop in his hand. And he can’t see, well, he’s looking like, he smells it and then nobody got angry.

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It was just, you’d go into an exhibit. And the next thing you know, you’d hear a click and they’d lock you in. And I was in with a harpy eagle for two hours sitting on the floor of the cage ’cause you couldn’t get through to unlock the lock and the public would come through and they’d kind of look at you. And so I started taking the locks in with me, so I wouldn’t get caught, well, and they take a lock off another cage and just lock me in.

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So was this your baptism?

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That was my baptism by fire, yeah. And it was always, they take me out and train me on some of the outside yards and the guy would say, “Well, this is what you’re supposed to do. Okay, you have to close just like this. You have to make sure that all the locks are locked, but you really don’t have to do that. if you’re busy and don’t worry about it, just drop the holus.” And I’m thinking, okay, I remember one day it had snowed really bad. And me and this other guy climbed up on the roof and rolled a snowball that was probably as big as this. And one of the keepers that was coming in early in the morning to do the feeding was coming through the door and getting ready to go through the snowball over the edge of the parapet and hit him dead on and buried him basically. And he knew what was going on and you had to get to the roof by climbing up a ladder and pulling a chain to open a trap door, and he comes in before we could get down, closes the trap door, wraps chain around the ladder.

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So we stuck up there for an hour and a half. Well, what kind of keeper for us now, so you’re a young kid, these were all older farm people. Yeah, mostly older farm people, predominantly African-American for the most part. But they knew their animals, they really did. I mean I think they knew their birds. They knew their hoofstock. When I finally ended up back in the Reptile House a year later, I was working with a guy that I really believed was a deaf, not deaf, but was a mute because he never talked to anybody. I mean, I’d walk in, in the morning, I’d say, “Charlie, how’s it going?” And the reason he never said anything was he was really afraid he was gonna say the wrong thing and get the head keeper of the building at that point angry at him.

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But he actually was a very nice guy. And he finally loosened just before I was moved out of the Reptile House. And I think back about those days, and there’s so much that went on with me in all these different areas that I just, I don’t know where to begin really. Well, when you first came into the zoo as this young kid and you saw the things that were going on, you’re experiencing them, did you have thoughts about it could be better, or this is great, I’m glad I’m here.

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What was your thinking as you were starting your job and progressing as a keeper?

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I don’t think that really hit me until the very late ’50s, early ’60s because at the time I was still getting used to working there and getting to know the people that I was working with. I spent a year in the Bird House. I spent 2 1/2 years in the Reptile House. And DePrato remembered me from when I was a little kid, it came down as to be a real pain to him. And so I wasn’t too welcome in the Reptile House by him. And it eventually got to a point where it was so bad that I got transferred out, but I managed to work with a number of people, Jack Armstrong worked with me in the Reptile House. And I don’t know, Jim Murphy wrote an article about this ’cause I was sitting there one night talking to him about our escapades in the Reptile House, which today looking back was just insanity on our part. But I used to bet with Jack, we had a back area back line, which had mostly North American pit vipers in it.

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So they had cottonmouth, and rattlesnakes, and copperheads, and then a few Asiatic vipers. And just, I don’t know, at one point, Armstrong said, “Could you pick up that copperhead?” And I said, “Are you crazy?” He said, “No.” He says, “I’ll do it.” So he reaches in, picks up the copperhead. I said, “Okay.” So he said, “Well, tomorrow you got to pick up the cottonmouth.” So the next day, same thing. reached in, picked up the cottonmouth. And we did this for about a week, just back and forth, back and forth. And finally, we’d kind of exhausted what we were doing with these three species. And we went to the next exhibit and it was, there were tree vipers. And I said, “I’m not gonna mess with these things.” So that was the end of it. But when I told Murphy about this and actually Steve Monfort read this article and he called me, I remember he called me and he said, “Are you crazy, did you really do that kind of stuff back then?” I said, “Yeah.” And Armstrong with nuts, just as crazy as I was because we would go in at the time, we had a full-time vet at that point, Jim Wright.

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But there was no way to restrain these animals except by hand or with net, because they hadn’t gotten to the capture gun, which I’ll talk about later. But so we would go in with mountain lions, the two of us with the net and net these guys and hold them down, the vets would come over and give them a shot or whatever they’re gonna do. We’d go in with baboons, same thing. And I look back on that and it was like, it’s almost like here’s a kid in his mid ’20s with absolutely no idea what the consequences could have been if something had gone wrong. But we did it, and we would go in the Reptile House, for instance, and we’d have to go in with the crocodiles. And there were two crocodiles, a North American and an African in the same exhibit, and they’d actually come after you. And you just have to ward them off with a broom, push them out of the way. And this happened every single day we go in there, you have to fight these animals often in order to clean some of the cages.

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Now, let me read you, you said something I wanna kind of jump ahead, just as a tan, you said about you play practical jokes and people seem to enjoy it and so forth.

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You’ve been at the National Zoo in the profession a very long time, from a philosophical or an animal keeper point of view, do you think in your later years at the zoo, the keeper force did those kinds of things, enjoyed their job the same way from when you started, were they more serious and not jokeful?

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Did the evolution of the keepers as you started and when you kind of finished, did you see a difference in that maybe enjoyment of the job, or was it different?

00:28:14 - 00:29:57

It was definitely different. I mean, some of the stuff that we did, if we’d done it 15 years later, we probably would have been fired for it because, I mean, I don’t wanna start as far as practical jokes are concerned, but I’ll tell a couple of stories in small animals with Jean Malania, who was the senior keeper in that building. And Jean was a very, very methodical individual. And every single morning, he would come in, and he would walk past and check every single exhibit to make sure that everything was alive and kicking. So at the time we had an echidna and it was in a fairly small exhibit and we had a wooden box with some dirt in it. So again, this is Armstrong and I and he says, “We’re gonna get Jean this morning.” So we went back there, opened the echidna cage and took a hens egg and stuck it in the box and came out where Jean comes in and we’re walking with him. And I stayed in the back, and so Jack’s walking with him and Jean walked by the echidna and stops. And Jack says, “Oh my God,” and Jean goes, “Oh my God, she laid an egg.” And Jack says, “Ah,” and he opens the gate, goes in to the back.

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And at the time I’m standing there and Jack says, “echidna laid an egg.” And I said, “You’re kidding me,” and I opened the door and Jean’s coming around and I take the egg out. And I say, “This is amazing, Jean, look at this.” And Jack says, “Let me see, let me see.” And I hand it and I go like this and the egg falls on the floor. Well, I can’t even begin to describe the expression on Malania’s face when that happened. And then we had to explain to him that it wasn’t an echidna egg. And then a few months would go by and we had had an aardvark, which had almost monthly problem with constipation and in this one particular week was really bad and Jean kept writing on the back of the card, aardvark didn’t defecate today, didn’t defecate today, didn’t defecate today, probably needed to contact the vets. So Jack and I came in that morning and this aardvark had defecated. So we cleaned the cage. And at the time we were using this diet A, I don’t know whether you were familiar with that, but it was a dough that consisted of a highly vitaminized.

00:31:26 - 00:32:58

You feed it as a kind of a pancake, but it was like dough and it was brown. So we took a big chunk of this stuff and rolled it out on the table this long and put it in aardvark cage. And Jean same thing comes walking down and he goes, “My God.” And he starts to run to around and Jackson, already back there. And Jack says, opens the door. And he says, “My heavens, look at that, Bill.” And I said, “Yeah.” He says, “No, that looks so good, I think I could eat it.” And he reaches in and he breaks his thing off and starts eating it. And Malania comes back there and it’s just the expression on his face at the time and then we had to explain to him that actually Jean, he did defecate, it’s here, it’s in the basket, or whatever. And I guess a few months later, we kinda tried to do this so it wouldn’t get too bad, but we lost a fairly rare squirrel that we had just gotten in back in the nocturnal area. I went back there and this squirrel was dead and I came back and I said, “Jean, the squirrel’s dead.” And he says, “No, it’s not.” I said, “Yeah, it is.” He said, “No, it’s not.” I had to go back and get the squirrel and come out.

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And I said, “Here, it’s really dead, it’s not moving at all.” And then at that point, we just decided enough was enough.

00:33:07 - 00:33:09

But you never got in trouble for it?

00:33:09 - 00:33:24

I never got in trouble and Jean never reported us or anything like that. I mean, he took it and really good humor. When you started, the director was not William Mann, it became Ted Reed. No, it was William Mann.

00:33:24 - 00:33:25

When you started?

00:33:25 - 00:33:30

When I started, yes, and Walker were still assistant director.

00:33:30 - 00:33:38

Now, you’re in a different level now, you’re a keeper, not a kid coming in with reptiles, did you have contact with the then director Mann?

00:33:42 - 00:34:39

I didn’t really have that much contact because he never really came into the zoo. I think the last time I saw Dr. Mann was right after he retired and he retired, I think, I wanna say, four months after I started. And they brought him down about, I don’t know, six, seven months after he’d retired, he was in a wheelchair right in front of the Reptile House and I said, hello to him then, but I still had contact with Walker and kept contact with Walker because when he retired, he started to write his book “Mammals of the World” and he was working up in the top of the Reptile House. So we would kind of work with him to help him take photographs and whatever.

00:34:41 - 00:34:44

Who’s running the zoo, Mann or Walker?

00:34:44 - 00:35:55

Walker, yeah. He’s running it. Yeah, and I tell you, one of the things that was going on back then is that the National Zoo even though it was under the federal government and under Smithsonian, the salaries and operating budget came from the District of Columbia. So what Walker was doing in order to make his position, I guess, seem more important in he was doing a really great job, was every year he would return money that had been budgeted so that it said we can run the zoo, we don’t have to use all this money. And so the following year, they go to ask for more money and they’d cut them. And so the money started to dwindle pretty badly and when Ted took over, I mean, he had a really major issue on how to deal with both the Smithsonian and the district government in budgetary matters. And the keepers were being paid lousy wages.

00:35:55 - 00:36:02

I mean, I remember when I started out, I think it was with GS3 and I don’t– What does that translate to?

00:36:02 - 00:37:47

About $2500 a year, which was not very much money. And what Ted did was he was able to convince the district government that was to their advantage to give up the zoo because it was draining money from them and put it under totally under Smithsonian. And at the time, I’m trying to think of the secretary that was there, it was before Ripley took over. And he was there for only about less than a year after when I started working, when Ripley came in, and when Ripley came in, it literally between Ripley Downtown and Reed out at the zoo, it was kind of the perfect storm because he had a real ally in Ripley because he was an ornithologist. He was interested in wildlife. He was smart as a whip and he was able to work with Reed and get the zoo out from under the district government. As soon as that happened, they switched all the keepers from a GS level to a wage grade level, which was, I don’t wanna say it, it was a non kind of a non-professional grading into a more working class of employees. But we got a huge pay raise because of that switch.

00:37:47 - 00:37:51

So Ernest Walker was running the zoo?

00:37:52 - 00:38:16

Yes, he was the– De facto. Well, I mean, he was assistant director, so he was basically in charge of hiring of getting the budget and everything and Mann was at that point almost was a really old man. He was putting informed and I think he left it up to Walker to run it.

00:38:17 - 00:38:20

What kind of management style did Walker have?

00:38:25 - 00:39:27

I think he was pretty hard nosed. I mean, we had some incidents that took place and he was I think he was pretty tough. He didn’t spend a lot of time in the zoo, but when he found out about things that were going on that shouldn’t have been going on, I mean, he did act on them. I remember we had a keeper that was really not a very nice individual and we had an annex down behind the Reptile House, we kept a lot of excess animals and mostly primates and evidently, he was caught really hurting this one monkey. I don’t know where it was. I think it was in a cappuccino or something. And Walker came down, owl monkey. Okay, it was an owl monkey.

00:39:27 - 00:40:09

Okay. So anyway, and Walker knew this animal and Walker came down, walked in the building, went up to the exhibit, the cage and started making noises, and this owl money monkey responded to him and he came back out and he said, “I want this man fired.” And I said, “How did you?” He says, “The monkey told me, and it was like, now I think maybe he saw the reaction of the monkey when the guy was in there. But still, I mean, that was pretty impressive when he said that and they fired him. They fired that guy right on the spot.

00:40:09 - 00:40:14

Did you learn anything from Walker that stood you in good stead later?

00:40:16 - 00:40:38

(Bill sighing) Not really. I didn’t have that much contact with Walker, not when he was director. I had more contact with him and even not that much when he was writing his book. In 1958, there was a mauling of a toddler by a lion.

00:40:39 - 00:40:40

What was the impact on the zoo?

00:40:40 - 00:40:41

You were there?

00:40:41 - 00:40:43

Was I there?

00:40:43 - 00:42:38

I was off that day and I came in, and at that time, you could drive right into the center of the zoo and park. And I drove in, there’s an ambulance, there’s Scott’s squad cars up at the top of the hill at the Lion House and I saw one of the keepers come out of the rep, I said, “What in the world’s going on over there?” And he said, “A girl just got killed by lion.” And I said, “My God,” I got back in my car and went home. And it did have a huge impact on the zoo, positively actually, even though it was a really tragic death. But Reed was able to go to Congress and say that the reason this happened was because the zoo had deteriorated to such a point that the guardrails were not ample and there was always an issue as to whether that child slipped through the bars of the guardrail or was placed over the bars. And from the witnesses’ accounts, the grandfather very likely put her over the railing and she went up to the bars of the cage and the cat grabbed her. But I remember talking to the then curator of birds and he had to go in there to retrieve the body. And it was just, it was horrible, it really was, it was a horrible, horrible accident. And so what Reed was able to do was to get Congress to understand that the zoo had deteriorated over a period of over 20 years.

00:42:38 - 00:44:23

And because the last building that was completed was the Small Mammal Building, and that was in WPA period, which was in the mid 30s, the Elephant House was built during that period, the Bird House was built during the mid 20s, the Monkey House was built in the early 20s, the Lion House was built in 1898. So, I mean, they were all these buildings that were not only old, but the money that was available couldn’t pay for the repairs that were needed to a lot of the buildings. And so the money started to come in, not only for the physical plant, but also to staff the zoo with more professional people. I think his first hire was an educator, Mary McGrain, and then we hired our first general curator. I mean, the zoo was run by a head keeper who had been there for ages. Actually, when I started, there was another head keeper who I can’t remember the name of, but then he retired and Ralph Norris took over and they knew their collections, but they weren’t very good at managing people. We had some people that were in charge of groups of people up in the hoofstock area that were illiterate. I mean, they could not read or write, so they couldn’t write reports, and this is what Reed was dealing with.

00:44:23 - 00:45:25

And it took a long time for him to start to bring in adequate personnel. And part of it was that he couldn’t get decent keepers to come in because the pay grades were so low. And so once he got everybody switched over to wage grades system, then the salaries went up and we started hiring younger, the high school educated keeper staff. He hired a full-time pathologist. And I mean, it’s just on and on. I mean, the zoo really started to turn around in the late 50s, 58, 59, and in the end of the 60s. And I looked at the 60s and it was the rebirth of the zoo. And we’ll talk about that.

00:45:25 - 00:46:35

Just I don’t want to back up just a second and say, explain the relationship now, when the District of Columbia was out of the picture between the Smithsonian and the National Zoo, give me the big picture of how they’re involved with each other. Well, okay. Leonard Carmichael was the secretary of Smithsonian when Ted Reed took over as director or acting director. The interest in the zoo from the standpoint of the Smithsonian was not very good. And I think Walker probably kept it that way ’cause I don’t think he wanted to be involved with Smithsonian and have the interference of the Smithsonian, but the zoo suffered dramatically because of that. When we took over, when Ripley was hired, it was a totally different situation. The response from Downtown under Ripley was extremely positive. I mean, Reed worked very well with Ripley, with David Challoner, who was assistant secretary for science.

00:46:37 - 00:47:47

And so when Ted wanted something, he usually got it or got part of it to build up either the staff or the physical plant. The collection at that time was huge anyway, but it was made up of a number of single species, older species. And so he not only had to build the staff, but he had to build the physical structure and he had to build the collection back up. And it took a long time. Most of the major renovations that took place, took place in the late 60s. And I mean, up in the upper part of the zoo, the buildings that held hoofstock were all wooden shacks with wire mesh enclosures. Most of them were pretty, pretty small. That whole area up there got totally bulldozed.

00:47:48 - 00:47:53

So Dr. Reed had a vision for the zoo. Yes.

00:47:53 - 00:48:01

Did he share it with you as a keeper, or did he share it with his staff, or did you just glean this from what was going on?

00:48:07 - 00:48:19

I think he shared it with his senior staff, and I don’t wanna blow my own horn here, but he shared it with me and so did Grimmer.

00:48:25 - 00:48:30

Did they ask your input or were they just telling you what was going on?

00:48:30 - 00:50:08

In a sense they did because Ted had, I mean, by this time in the early 60s, Grimmer had left and I can’t really remember what his reason was, but it had to do with he wanted to get promoted to a different position. I can’t really remember what it was and Reed didn’t do it, and so Grimmer left and they hired, you’re gonna have to help me here, John, and I should know his name ’cause he was really a forward-looking individual, John Perry. And I don’t even know if you recognize the name. Perry was hired as an assistant director and his primary job was to administer the zoo, the budget and everything, and take some of the load off of Reed. But Perry was also involved not only with the personnel issues and building up the staff, but he also got very heavily involved with AZA and with a lot of the species that were in severe trouble. He actually started the Wild Animal Propagation Trust, which probably today, if you mentioned it to anybody, they probably won’t even know what you’re talking about.

00:50:08 - 00:50:09

What are you talking about?

00:50:09 - 00:51:46

It was a trust for orangutans, and it was set up to protect not only the orangutans in the wild, but also to locate and bring together the captive population of orangs. And he also worked with then, I can’t remember her name. There was a woman in Hong Kong, I believe, that was really, really involved in orang conservation and they work with her. I mean she would go out and bring orangs out of the animal trade from Singapore and Hong Kong and Jakarta. And then he would work with her and try to place these animals within zoos because they will they were being sold to private individuals and whatever. He also was involved with the tigers. And in fact, I remember that his efforts in trying to get the zoos to really start to concentrate on what they were doing with the tiger population, the captive tiger population in the states. And it was almost what would be considered now an SSP on Siberians and in Bangles and even the few Samaritans that were available and AZA got to the directors that were members of AZA got really angry about his meddling in their collections.

00:51:46 - 00:52:07

And so he was more or less persona non grata with a number of people because of that. But he was a far thinking individual because a lot of what he had started carried on into the SSPs and the whole cop population management situation.

00:52:08 - 00:52:26

And you indicated that Ernest walker and Ted Reed were interested in you and were you involved in any of these renovations of these exhibits that you said were going on?

00:52:26 - 00:52:28

Were you part of it or were you just observing them?

00:52:30 - 00:53:41

I wasn’t part of it in the first master plan projects, which was renovating the upper hoofstock area, and also when they built what they called Hardy Hoff and delicate hoofstock buildings, which currently now ha has the panthers and the first renovation of the Elephant House, the first renovation of the Monkey House, I didn’t get into actually working with architects on design until the renovation of Lion Tiger Building, which took place in the early 70s. Now, you had talked about, you were involved in capturing animals as an animal keeper. It was a little more, I’ll use the word rodeo, but that’s the techniques that were there at the time.

00:53:42 - 00:53:45

Do you feel it was dangerous?

00:53:46 - 00:53:49

Were they showing you what to do?

00:53:49 - 00:53:51

Were you just learning on the job?

00:53:57 - 00:54:00

It’s interesting question.

00:54:02 - 00:54:03

Did we learn on the job?

00:54:03 - 00:55:31

I think that the people that I work with, including myself, sort of had a natural bend for how to catch these animals regardless of what they were in a manner that wasn’t gonna cause them any damage. I mean, I remember trying to train some of the keepers, like in small mammals on how to net and it was like, “You don’t throw the net over top of them, you gotta let them run into the net. So you need to know how to manipulate the net so the animal is running into the net and then you drop it down on top of them and they’d still try to bring it down on top of them, they hit their tails or whatever. And it was just kind of a natural, I think, a natural bend on the part of a number of keepers that they had that knowledge. Same thing with catching hoofstock. I mean, I remember going in to catch, seek a deer, which wasn’t that big. And this was years when they were still in these small wooden sheds and everything. And there would be three of us and there’s like 10 of these deer locked in this shed.

00:55:32 - 00:57:47

And you just go in, shut the door behind you, it’s pitch black, and just stand here for a few minutes until they kinda calm down. And then you started grabbing and you grab whatever you could, and you made sure you grabbed an antler and then you grab them and you kicked the door and the vet would open the door and you’d bring them out, treat them, take them down to another shed, put them in, well, put them back in the yard until all the animals and I’d come out of there, sometimes in my uniform would be just done in shreds, but nobody really ever got seriously injured doing that. ‘Cause we just naturally knew what to do. The National Zoo was the training ground for the capture gun. And I don’t know whether Redd Palmer was the one that actually invented the early CO2 charged capture gun. And I think I talked about this when I did my Memorial to Ted Reed, but they had no idea when they were developing this gun, the velocity, the distance that these darts would travel. They didn’t have an idea of what the dosages were because there was no way to actually gauge the weight of the animals. And so I remember Reed calling and Jim Wright was the vet at that time in and said, “We’re looking for some volunteers, and he didn’t actually talk to me, but he talked to one of the head keeper and said, “Get some volunteers, see if they want to come up, and look at this thing we’re try to do with the capture gun.” So I think there were about five of us who went up there and Palmer says, “This is gonna be pretty simple.” He says, “We’ve got the yard marked out in 10 yard increments.

00:57:47 - 00:59:47

And what we want you to do, we’ll pay you 50 bucks is we’ll put a pat on your back and you’re gonna start running and we’re gonna shoot the dart at you.” And I remember I said, “Well, yeah, but you’ve only got the pat on our back, what happens if you hit me in the head accidentally?” And he says, “Well, you could probably be pretty seriously hurt.” And every single guy that was there just turned around and left. And so what they ended up doing was just sticking non-moving ’cause what they wanted was a moving target that they could try to try to nail. They spent months at the zoo developing, they were using nicotine sulfate as a knockdown drug, which was a very, very lethal drug to begin with. And so we lost some animals with overdoses. But the capture gun chains changed the zoo world, it really did. I mean, it allowed. Well, because once they develop the better drugs with the antagonists that they could give to counteract the drug and bring the animals back up, you didn’t have to catch them anymore. You didn’t have to run them into, they know they weren’t gonna run into a fence that you could dart them, they’d go down, you could go in, you could treat them, you could take them up to hospital, put them under normal anesthesia and work on them.

00:59:49 - 01:01:11

And it really made a huge, huge advancement in the way you manage a collection. With great apes, before you’d have to try to train them to come up and get to you. But half the time you couldn’t do that, you had to get them into a squeeze cage if he could, which was really traumatic on them. And even with the capture gun, I mean, I can remember, the vet would come down in a great ape house and it would be pandemonium because they knew why they were coming in there. They were gonna get darted, one of them was gonna get darted. But it certainly made the vet’s job and the keepers’ job a lot easier. However, in the process of that, I think the present day keeper for the most part has lost the ability to lasso an animal, to catch an animal and hold it in the right way. And I could be wrong, but I mean, because at least at national, once that animal was deemed in need of treatment, the vet pretty much took over and the keepers kinda stood by and helped him when necessary.

01:01:11 - 01:01:20

In the initial, you mentioned the initial experimentation at the National Zoo with the capture gun, who was shooting initially?

01:01:20 - 01:01:22

Was at the vets who we’re shooting?

01:01:22 - 01:01:24

Was it the keepers?

01:01:24 - 01:02:19

Always the vets, always the vets, except another interesting story. This was when Clint Gray was vet and they had changed from the CO2 to the 23 cartridge charged guns, which had a much higher velocity, and they had, depending upon what the distance was that the animal was being dotted from, they could adjust the velocity of the dart. And we had worked really, really hard trying to get the vets to allow us the curators to use the capture gun, because we kept saying, if you’re not here or something and we need to use that, we need to know how to do it.

01:02:19 - 01:02:35

And so they finally agreed and the first time we were gonna let one of the curators use it, it was on some Eld’s deer and, was it Eld’s deer?

01:02:38 - 01:03:17

Yeah, it was Eld’s deer. So they go up to the enclosure and they hand the gun to the one of the assistant curators at the time and he fires it. And first, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know whether Clint adjusted the thing wrong or forgot to adjust it or what, but he put the dart right through the animal. And that was the end of that, curators, at least at national, never got a chance to use that capture gun again.

01:03:19 - 01:03:38

You’ve talked about capturing animals at the zoo that you were involved in escapes at the zoo that you had to recapture animals, did you have any stories about escapes that you were involved with and how it was handled?

01:03:39 - 01:05:00

Well now, they’ve got a code green situation at national. And I think in most of those now, so if an animal does escape, there’s a code green and everybody’s alerted, the vets are alerted, the security forces are alerted, and this is, regardless of what it is now, it used to be only if they got out of the building. But now if they get out of the enclosure, like in small mammals, if a mammal say, jumps over your shoulder and gets out in the back area, you still have to declare a code green. We were talking about this at one point where a lot of times the keepers wouldn’t do it. I mean, they just re-grab the animal, put it back and not say anything. But in the 60s, especially in the 60s and to a certain age in the 50s, I wasn’t that much involved in the 50s. But in the 60s, we had animals get out all the time and not just small animals. I mean, we had bears get out, we had snow leopards escape, we had cheetahs get out.

01:05:00 - 01:06:29

I mean, a branch, a tree, fell on a fence, we got both cheetahs got loose, and that happened a couple of times. We had a Tasmanian devil get loose and get run over on the road, down behind the zoo. At some point somebody found it and we’d been looking for it for two days, couldn’t find it, and we had tree kangaroos get loose and get up in the trees. We had red pandas get loose. And I mean, all of these were recaptured, but I mean, it took a lot of time and we were very fortunate in that, I don’t think anybody ever got injured, whether it was the keeper staff or the public in any this escapes. We had an Indian rhino get loose, fell in the moat, actually got pushed over the railing by its mate, fell in the moat, got out of the moat, and was walking down the sidewalk, by the time he got out of the moat, the vets had already been called. So it was walking down the sidewalk from the Elephant House and the vets drove up and dotted it pretty much right away and we were able to get it back into where it was supposed to be. We had a tapir, Brazilian tapir get loose, again from a tree falling on the fence.

01:06:29 - 01:08:19

But nobody knew it was out in until he came up the hill and got on the main walkway through the center of the zoo. And I remember it was in Small Mammal House and got the word that the tapir was out and I walk out and here’s the tapir walking up through the center of this. This was on like a Saturday or Sunday, the place was jammed with people and they’re feeding him, throwing popcorn to him and he’s eating popcorn and just strolling up the zoo. And a cop comes up behind me and draws his pistol and I looked at him, I said, “Whatever you do, don’t shoot because what you’re gonna do is tick him off and then there’s gonna be a real problem. So by that time, the vets had come, we got everybody out of the way and we darted the tapir and got him back into his enclosure. I think the scariest thing I ever experienced was, and this was in the 70s, we had a Kodiak bear with two cubs and I was walking up to lunch with one of the research guys and at that time, you’d been there, the upper bear line was a curved with a walkway going all the way around and then going on down to the valley and the back of the bear line kind of opened up on to Olmsted walk, which was the main walkway in the center of the zoo. And it was a glass grassy plot right next to one of the first exhibits. And around that grassy plot was a chain link fence about four feet high.

01:08:19 - 01:09:02

And there was a huge group of people standing in there when we were walking by. And it was Darrell Bones was with me and I turned to him and I said, “Darrell, what’s going on over there?” And so I walked over and I kinda moved my and look and here’s the female Kodiak with her two cubs sitting up being fed by the visitors. I mean, I immediately thought, this is really gonna be a mess.

01:09:03 - 01:09:14

So I both Darrell and I just walked into the crowd and just said can you step back and step back, call the vets, call the police, can you step back?

01:09:14 - 01:11:02

And as soon as the people stepped back and they weren’t being fed anymore, the mother just turned around, two cubs followed her and went back down around behind the bear enclosure, but we didn’t know where she was. And so somebody had to go down there and find out where she was and get her locked back in. So the vets, Mitch Bush said, “I’ll do it.” And he didn’t get too many people saying, “No, that’s okay, we’ll do it.” But by the time he got around there, they had already gone back into their den and we were able to lock them back in and it was keeper forgot to put the lock on the door. And these were sliding doors and they just pushed the door open. But that’s just, I think that was probably as close as I can remember to what could have been a real disaster. I mean, if somebody had really gotten that female angry or scared to cubs. And the same thing one day was walking by the great a pass, and again, this huge group of people were standing by the orangutans exhibit and again, I walked in and here’s one of the females with her baby sitting in the planner and somebody had left the barrel in the exhibit and they were able to get up on the barrel and get out. But they had been sitting, I don’t know how long they’d been there, but they had a cooler that they taken from somebody, they were eating the sandwich, the kid was eating an apple and there was a Coke land on the, I guess, it was up, and people were just sitting there watching.

01:11:02 - 01:11:56

And it was again, “Okay, step back, this isn’t,” and they were saying, “No, no, she’s got my cooler. I mean, it’s great, can we stay here?” “No, you can’t.” And as soon as they went back, the mother grabbed the cooler, went back into the exhibit with her kid. And again, I keep trying to remember what kind of disciplinary actions were taken against those staff when that happened because it was, in the case of the bear, I think the guy got suspended. I don’t know what happened with the orang. I don’t think anybody knew who left the barrel in there. Well, I know you’ve written on the subject of escapes and safety.

01:11:56 - 01:12:09

How do you feel as you look back in general, would you say zoos are better prepared today for emergency, such as animal escapes than as you were in your formative years?

01:12:12 - 01:13:35

Yeah, I really do. I think escapes today, first of all, are pretty rare. I mean, in fact it sounds like what’s going on today is that the animals aren’t actually getting out, the public is getting in, which is a shame because with all the open exhibits now, I mean, before back in the 60s, we didn’t have openings exhibits. They were mostly all caged exhibits. So the public couldn’t really get physically in. I mean, they could get up to the exhibit, but not physically in. I remember another case where, and this keeper got, I think, fired over it, where well, actually I was standing outside the Lion House and I was talking to another keeper. And this volunteer keeper had just opened the gate to go into the Jaguar exhibit and was in there sweeping up.

01:13:36 - 01:14:56

And the door opens from the inside of the building and out comes to Jaguar. And I wasn’t even paying any attention ’cause I was talking to somebody until I heard this woman say, “Look, he’s creeping up on him.” And I turned around and here’s the Jaguar right behind the guy and it leaps up on his shoulders with both paws over his shoulders. And fortunately, the guy enough sense to kinda twist this body and go out through the door that he’d come in through and knocked the cat off. And then he had enough time to grab the gate and close it. But and the guy that was in the building just forgot that he was out there working and opened the door. And I mean, again, that could have been a real, real serious disaster. ‘Cause if the catty gotten out and this wasn’t a nice cat either. I mean, I’m surprised that even the guy that he jumped on was not seriously hurt, but he wasn’t.

01:14:56 - 01:16:36

So we really were fortunate. I think back in those days there was a lot less, I mean, yeah, we were cognizant of having to make sure that all the gates were locked and the doors were secured, but there was a lot of laxity. And I think I was telling you about the incident with the macaques where we went into the Monkey House first thing in the morning and this male macaques, which was a pretty good size monkey, was sitting on the guardrail. ‘Cause the monkey has had two entries and exits and people were actually coming in and out and we were trying to get to the other end of the building to get the doors closed on that end so we could contain this macaque and somebody opened the door and the macaque got out into the zoo. And we chased that mechanic all over the place. I mean, around the Lion House, down past the restaurant, it went down some steps and there was a supply building down there. The door to the supply building was open. He runs in the door, he runs in and five people come charging out, slam the door, and so we had the macaque contained inside the building.

01:16:36 - 01:16:43

We were able to go in and net it, but again, just really fortunate.

01:16:44 - 01:16:55

Would you say there were different techniques for different types of animals that you learned for grabbing or handling them?

01:16:59 - 01:17:32

Yes. I mean, there was a certain technique on grabbing certain primates and how you held them behind with their arms behind him. And that pretty well contain them. Cats, we’d never grabbed. I mean, we’d always net. hoofstocks, same way. We’d almost always either just get them confined in a small area and then go in and grab them or lasso them. And those techniques actually worked.

01:17:35 - 01:18:50

It was sometimes tough and then sometimes even with the capture gun, we couldn’t get animals moved. And we had a situation. In fact, I gave you a picture of us trying to get that rhino out of the crate. It took us forever to get him in and then he wouldn’t come out and we had to physically pull him out of the crate. I think the hardest situation that I had to deal with was we had the photo of the rhino being pulled out of the crate was up in the delicate hoofstock building. We had moved it from the Elephant House up there and they stayed in that outdoor exhibit for about three years. And then when we got the word that we were gonna get giant pandas in 1972, Ted Reed said, “We gotta get rid of the rhinos.” They just wouldn’t Northern white rhinos. So we contacted San Diego and they agreed to greet to take them.

01:18:50 - 01:20:35

So we had crates built, we set the crates up at the top of the yard. And this was a month before the pandas were supposed to, actually a little bit more than a month because they were doing some work inside on the inside of the exhibit for the inside exhibits for the pandas, but the outside hadn’t been touched. Anyway, long story short, we had set this up and I mean, it was going absolutely perfect. Every day we’d feed the two rhinos in their crates and every day they go in the crate, eat their food, lay down, get up, come out, go back inside. We were shipping with Harry Overball and he was supposed to be there at a particular time. And he called it, and this is, I mean, it was almost predictable that this thing was going to turn south on us because Overball called, he was supposed to be in the day before, and he called and said he’d run into a problem with the Sable antelope or something had gotten loose in the truck and he had, but so he’s gonna be a daylight and it was foggy and it was slowing him down. And we said, “Okay, well, we’ll postpone it today.” And I’m looking at him thinking, boy, that’s gonna make it because now we only have two days left to get these rhinos loaded. The next day we go up Overball pulls in, we’ve got the food in the crates, the doors are up, no problem.

01:20:37 - 01:21:40

But we’d never dropped the doors. Good point to look learn. We’d never drop the doors. So in goes the male, not a problem, and we hadn’t dropped the door on him because he was in, and in goes to the female and the door jams because she evidently twisted its crate a little bit. So the door drops about halfway and jams and she hears the door go down and backs out and takes the entire door framing everything right off the crate. And of course at that time, the male goes out. Now, we’re stuck with two rhinos that aren’t in their crates that are the ones really upset ’cause she had to tear the crate out to get out. We had to rebuild the crate basically.

01:21:40 - 01:21:57

And I’m looking at this thing and I’m thinking, “This is gonna be disaster. We’ve got this big ceremony to everything coming up and we’ve got these two rhinos that now we got to try to get them in and they wouldn’t go in. So we ended up having to knock them down, which we really didn’t wanna do.

01:21:57 - 01:21:59

By knock them down, you mean?

01:21:59 - 01:22:45

Dart them. And even then we gave them the antagonist, the female went in without any problem, the male wouldn’t, he just stood up and just stood there and we’re pushing and pulling and pushing and pulling, and we finally, finally get him into the crate, drop the door, we get to get the crates loaded. And I tell you, that heart had to be probably one of the worst days I ever spent in the zoo having to deal with what was gonna happen if those animals weren’t out of here. But eventually it worked. So you mentioned that there was a technique about always complete the whole thing so the animals are comfortable.

01:22:45 - 01:22:52

Are those the kinds of techniques and things that you would impart on keepers for things that you learned?

01:22:52 - 01:23:03

Were there things about handling animals that you tried to, techniques or principles that you tried to impart and what are some of those principles?

01:23:03 - 01:23:18

Well, I mean, most of the time, we would try to create break any animal that was gonna be moved, whether it was within the zoo or whether it was outside of the zoo.

01:23:18 - 01:23:19

And crate breaks mean?

01:23:19 - 01:24:01

Means you set the crates up, you get the animal used to the crates so that he’s not afraid of it or she’s not afraid of it. So they go, we feed them, they go in every day. Now we close the door on them beforehand. And so they’re in the crate with the door closed. And then they realize that they’re not gonna get injured or hurt. And they actually learned that this is not a scary place to be. And so they go in and they go in willingly. And that’s made a huge difference in how to get get animals created up for shipment.

01:24:01 - 01:25:20

Or even if you’ve got to go in, if you want to get them into a squeeze cage, it’s the same thing. You get them programmed to go in there and nothing happens. And they learn, they can go in, they get fed, door’s close, and then when it’s time to treat them, they go in, they get treated. And most of the time it’s to give them a shot or some non traumatic treatment so that they don’t learn to fear going into this contraption. I don’t think that works in all cases, ’cause especially if you’ve got squeeze cage rotates, where you gotta, for elephants, for instance. I mean, they have to really be careful with how they deal certain animals so that they don’t get traumatized and they learn not to fear the crate. But they all know that when they see the vet, something is gonna happen to them. Well, let me ask in 1960, a tour group from Virginia herpetological group, they said that you gave a terrific presentation on the feeding of the monitor lizard sequence.

01:25:20 - 01:25:23

And that single event they said was well worth the trip.

01:25:23 - 01:25:30

Do you recall any of the details of why it was so wonderful and what happened to make it memorable for those people?

01:25:30 - 01:26:17

(Bill laughing) I’m gonna say, no, I don’t remember that. (Mark laughing) But it would have been, we had a Komodo dragon, and I’m assuming that that’s the animal they’re talking about. We used to feed them rabbits. In fact, it reached a point where we didn’t realize this, but one of the keepers went in one day with white tennis shoes on and literally got attacked by this Komodo dragon because he was going for the white tennis shoes. But I honestly, Mark don’t don’t remember. Okay. Yeah, now, we’ll move on.

01:26:17 - 01:26:32

But do you have any other memories you’d like to share of that initial time when you were before you got promoted that stood out when you were in your formative learning years as an animal keeper?

01:26:32 - 01:27:38

I remember I had a lot of close calls with animals, a lot. And I was extremely lucky. I mean, we had a bull elephant Asian elephant and a female. And this bull was at an age where he was really getting tough to handle. And I remember we would chain them up every night. And I remember going in in the afternoon with this other keeper and I was around the back put trying to put the shackles on the elephant’s back and he would try to sit on you. I mean, you had to really be careful about how you were standing because all of a sudden he just dropped down. And for some reason, before I could get the back shackle on, he attacked the keeper that was up in the front.

01:27:38 - 01:29:20

And he was up standing up in front and the elephant hit him and threw him up in the air against the front bars and the guy just dropped. And I yelled at the elephant and grabbed the hook and ran around the front and stopped the elephant. At that time, I was able to pull him through the bars and get him out of there. And then I went, I said, okay, and I had the bull hook and I started back in the cage and he charged me. So I just backed off and I opened the door to let him out ’cause he was really getting nuts. And so he goes out in the yard, I shut the door, and this one of the senior keepers came up, and he said, “What’s going on?” And I said, I can’t remember the name of the elephant right off the top of my head, but I said, “He attacked Wilbur and then came after me.” And I said, “He’s out in the yard right now.” And I said, “I think we better call the vet because, I mean, I’m not going back in there with him.” And he said, “Give me the hook, I’ll get him.” And it was like, okay. And he opens the door and he goes out and all I hear is his trumpeting and trumpeting, and the next thing I know, in comes the elephant with this guy just beaten him on the rump, gets him into the building, chains him up. So I don’t know what happened that caused that animal to do what he did, but he darn near killed the one keeper that he hit and he was pretty badly bruised up.

01:29:22 - 01:29:29

So every time you had these close calls, you learn something for your future life as a curator?

01:29:37 - 01:31:16

Well, in a sense I did, but with the elephant, there was a totally unexpected attack. I learned at that point, I got off of elephants. I wasn’t gonna work elephants anymore. But I think the closest incident where I came within a hair’s breadth of literally being killed was with the saltwater crocodile. And we used to go in with this crocodile on a routine basis twice a week, but the tank was always dropped and he would just kinda crawl up in a corner and just lay there. But he had been getting pretty aggressive. I remember we had a janitor that used to go in the back and there was a window in this little room that we used to feed this croc from and we’d open the window and you’d hold the fish and he’d come up out of the water and you just kind of throw the fish in his mouth. And this guy was back there, sleeping I think, and he got a phone call and I think it was me because I went to the other end of the crocodile area and I yelled for him and he opened the door and the croc came out of the water and hit him right in the chest and knocked him back into the, and then just went back into the.

01:31:19 - 01:32:19

And he never went back there again. But anyhow, so the crocs in the tank, I’ve got one of the keepers, this older keeper was working in the other crocodile tank. And I went in and I’m sweeping up and there was a couple of palm fronds that was that the tank was designed kind of like this and then on this side, there was a spiked fence, a fence with the overhanging spikes that ran down the four length. And then there was this little spit that came out, which was about this wide, about halfway to the glass and that’s where this trash was. So I just went out like I’d done before and I never really paid much attention to the croc. I knew its head was up in the corner. And I leaned down to pick up the trash and I heard a scrape and I looked up and he had spun around and were starting to come at me.

01:32:22 - 01:32:33

When you say something like that happens, all these things floods through your mind and that’s exactly what happened, I think just a split second, it was, “Should I run to the back?

01:32:33 - 01:32:39

I’ll never make it if I tried to get over the wall, should I fall down?

01:32:39 - 01:33:41

Now I gotta go over the fence.” So I grabbed the fence, facing the crocodile and pulled myself up on the fence and went to pull my leg. My right leg was already laying on the fence. And I went to pull my left leg up and the cuff of my pants got caught on spike. So my legs hanging right out over the pool, he comes up to grab my leg. And I didn’t know, I mean, all I could do was just I laid flat down and I tried to straighten my leg out. And when I did my arm went down and instead of going for my leg, he went from my hand or my arm. And he missed me by about this much and then slid back down to the tank and I was able to get myself off of the spike. And the poor guy in the tank next to me was just, I mean, he was screaming and I went, I got out of there and I went home.

01:33:41 - 01:35:20

It was a bad day. A week later, Jack DePrato says, “Go in and get get the leaves out,” I said, “I’m not going in that tank anymore, Jack.” He says like, “I never tell you to do something I wouldn’t do.” I said, “Well, guess what, I’m not gonna do it.” So he goes in and there’s water in the tank, which nobody ever was supposed to get in and the damn crocodile, just sank to the bottom of the tank, he goes in, picks up the trash, climbs out. We had another incident with our crocodile again, where in the front of the exhibit on the public side was a trap door. And it was just even with the floor of the public area. And when you opened it, it was basically even with the water level in the pool and the same thing that we had an overflow valve, and it was covered with leaves and stuff. And DePrato says to this other keeper that was there “When you get a chance, open that door and get those leaves off of the,” and I said to Tony, I said, “Man, the water’s in the tank, don’t open that door.” He’s, “No, he won’t bother me. He’ll who go sink to the bottom.” He opens the door, crocodile comes right through the door, hits him, knocks him down. And he’s out on the public floor, about four feet of him.

01:35:20 - 01:36:22

And then he just slowly slid back in. And those are things where you really have to stop and think about what’s going on with the safety issues that you have to deal with. They’d never do that today. I mean, you’d never go in with two crocodiles even in an empty pool that were aggressive and you had to fight off every single time you went in or going with a 14 1/2 foot salt water crocodile. I mean, even though he’d been pretty benign for a long, long time, I don’t know. It’s pretty frightening when you stop and think about it and that would never happen today. That would never. We’re gonna go from when you started as an animal keeper.

01:36:22 - 01:36:31

Now, you’re kind of moving up as a leader, 1964, you took a title of a job animal keeper leader.

01:36:33 - 01:36:35

Did your job change?

01:36:35 - 01:36:37

Did you have more responsibilities?

01:36:37 - 01:37:14

I had more responsibilities. It wasn’t really a supervisory position per se. It was more of a someone that could talk to the keepers and report back to the head keeper or the assistant head keeper position and that they would come to the leader to issue directives. So I was more or less a go-between between the assistant head keeper, the head keeper, and the keepers, but with no supervisory responsibility.

01:37:15 - 01:37:23

And was this a job that was offered to you or did you have to take another test to do it?

01:37:24 - 01:37:28

Did you see this as a moving up in the organization?

01:37:28 - 01:37:32

It was definitely moving up, but no, I didn’t have to at that, did I have to take?

01:37:32 - 01:37:36

No, I didn’t have to take a test for that.

01:37:36 - 01:37:37

But did you say Bill you wanna do it?

01:37:37 - 01:37:43

I’d apply, yeah. I mean, the jobs were offered and I applied and I got it.

01:37:45 - 01:37:54

So you were thinking even beyond that, or you were just thinking, okay, this is another job, it’ll be more money or?

01:37:54 - 01:39:35

Well, I certainly wanted to continue to move up. And when I’m trying to think of this timeline here, I was offered, Don Deetline was general curator at the time. And Billie Hamlet, I don’t know if you know who Billie Hamlet was, Billie Hamlet worked with Ernest Walker on mammals of the world and also was hired as a record keeper. And then she left and there was this opening kind of to help Deetline with the records. And at that time he offered it, actually, he offered it to either Jack or I, but we both had to take a test on animal nomenclature, and Armstrong said, “I’m not taking a test.” And I said, “Sure, I’ll take the test.” So I took the test and that was fine. And so Don took me up there, changed my title, put me into a GS position. And shortly after that, the position of head keeper became available. And I took the test for that and it was in the Reptile House.

01:39:35 - 01:41:13

And I had a really difficult decision to make because it was a position with reptiles, which I really liked, but I hadn’t been working in reptiles for years. And I really saw the position I was in as a better position to move up in the administrative aspect of the zoo rather than to stay down completely within the animal operation, which sounds kind of funny, but I think I knew what I was doing because if I was in an administrative position, I had the best of both worlds. I could deal with budgets and personnel and could really make decisions on collections and on other pertinent things that would be coming up. So I turned down the head keeper position, and I stayed with Deetline. When Deetline left, they hired Don Bridgewater and I worked with Bridgewater and he really relied on me. And at that time, and I think I’ve got the timeline straight on this, but he was actually curator of living vertebrates or whatever you wanna call it. And I remember talking to him almost every single night on the phone for hours about all the issues that were facing him. And he sent me up, they were having huge problems in the Elephant House.

01:41:13 - 01:41:47

I went up there for a year to straighten those issues out. I came back, he put me into the supervisory, administrative officer position there to get me another raise. And I mean, I really shot up in my job in that period. you started out after an animal keepers, animal keeper leader, and then that was not a administrative job.

01:41:47 - 01:41:49

You were still a working keeper>?

01:41:49 - 01:41:51

That was a working keeper, yes.

01:41:51 - 01:41:59

Okay, and were you able to make changes or do things while you were doing that particular position?

01:42:00 - 01:42:54

As a matter of fact, I was in, and in fact, I’ll tell you one really interesting story. I was working with Jack a lot and I was in this Small Mammal Building at the time. And at the time the building was, it was full of animals, but they were still in the old wire mesh cages. And there were a few glass fronted cages, but mostly they were barricades with a branch in them and in a nest box and that was it. And we decided we were gonna start trying to do some naturalistic exhibits. And so we go out and find rocks and soil and start building these exhibits. And the keepers in the building at the time would destroy them, literally. I mean, we come in the next morning and they’d host them down.

01:42:54 - 01:44:01

And so all the dirt was muddy and it took us probably a year to get a lot of the exhibits that we thought we needed to get done done. And this one’s Deetline was still there. I’ll tell you this other story ’cause it was an embarrassment, really embarrassing. And it really went to when you make a decision to do something with an animal, you better don’t write, make sure you researched the behavior on the animal before you do something. And neither Jack and I did. And we had an area in the center of the old Lion Tiger House that used to hold some turtles and I think some aquatic otters or whatever, but it had been, the cage had been knocked down, the wire mesh and everything. So it was an open exhibit with a railing around it. And it still had the capability of being filled with water.

01:44:01 - 01:44:27

So we decided, hey, wouldn’t it be really neat if we could put up a bunch of of logs with branches on them, fill the pool up and put sloths that the trees ’cause the water, they’re not gonna cross through water. Good idea. We never told Deetline about it, we just did it.

01:44:29 - 01:44:32

The first night, guess what happened?

01:44:32 - 01:45:58

Sloths could swim. And they swam over, they got out and two of them got killed because they got on top of the Jaguar exhibits and get pulled, I don’t know if I was gonna lose my job then, but I tell you, Deetline was really, really, really not only upset, but disappointed. And I mean, when we just said, look, you do what you had to do with us. I mean, it was our fault. We really screwed it up because I really didn’t think the sloths would go across the water. And obviously that was a major, major mistake and I never made that mistake afterwards, but anyhow, so when Deetline left and Bridgewater came in, he relied on me a lot. And when he took the job at Minnesota, that’s basically when I got promoted to supervisory biologist or whatever, the administrative officer and these were titles that were done to allow me to move up because I didn’t have a college degree. And so they put me in a different series that they could get around this.

01:46:01 - 01:47:35

And then Jaren Horsley was general curator at the time. And he got ill, in fact, he got really ill with hepatitis from eating oysters at the Baltimore AZA convention and was out for a little over a year. And appointed me as acting general curator. And during that time, we had a pretty serious palace coup occur with the scientists and the senior medical staff and I’ll relate the scenario that I had to go through because of the time we were in the process of trying to hire another mammal curator. And I convened this meeting with the scientists and the curator of birds and the pathologist and the veterinarian. And we were meeting up at the hospital and we’re sitting in the meeting room. And I started out by saying, we have three candidates and we just have to make a decision on who we’re gonna hire and Eisenberg who was senior scientists at the time said, well, we’re not gonna talk about the hiring, we’re gonna talk about going Downtown to the castle. Castle meaning.

01:47:35 - 01:48:41

Meaning the castle on the mall, which was basically the Smithsonian, the big management area where the secretaries all were. And we wanna talk to Ripley about getting Reed out. And I said, look I’m not here to talk about that. We’re up here to talk about hiring. And that I remember the pathologist saying, “Xanten, if you’re not with us, you’re against this.” And I said, “Well, I guess, I’m against you.” And Eisenberg stood up and pointed his finger at me and said, “Xanten as long as I’m here, you’ll never, ever be curator at the National Zoo.” Now, you’re general curator at the time. At the time I was general curator, but it was only acting. And as soon as Jaren came back, they never went through with, with coup de tar on Reed. But when Jaren came back, I went back in as a supervisory biologist and they’d hired a new general curator.

01:48:41 - 01:50:16

I mean a new assistant director at the time. And Eisenberg wasn’t really involved in the running of the animal collection. He was still senior scientist, but he evidently was able to convince the assistant director for animal programs at the time to take me up and put me in his trailer and work on records or something. And that’s where I was for almost a year until they hired this other mammal curator who came in and realized that he was having a really bad time and asked me if I could come back down and help him. And I said, “Well, Eisenberg’s not gonna let me come down.” And he finally talked to Eisenberg and Eisenberg agreed that I could come back down into the animal operation. And that basically changed my career again because I worked, by this time Reed retired or was ready to retire. And they were in the process of getting a new director. And I’m not sure whether I should say this, but I think I wanna say it any way because it kind of shows the inner workings of not just the National Zoo, but I think of the Smithsonian to a large extent.

01:50:21 - 01:51:37

When they hired the directors at the National Zoo, I worked under, I think seven directors or acting directors in the time I was there, Ted Reed was never appointed. He was appointed, he was never selected by a group of people that would go through a group of applications and select the best qualified, he was appointed. When Ted retired in ’64, excuse me, in ’84, I was on the selection committee to hire a new director. And we were at a point where we had a short list of three people. And Chris Wemmer was acting director at the time and all of us, I mean, all of us, even the people that weren’t on the selection committee, we all were absolutely sure that Chris was gonna get that job. I mean, he was highly qualified. I mean, he wanted the job. He had been acting for over a year.

01:51:37 - 01:52:07

And I was sitting in his office with Jaren Horsley one morning, and we were just chatting about odds and ends and the phone rings and Chris picks up the phone and I can only say it verbatim cause I’ll never forget it, it was, “Hi Dave. Yes, yes. Well, okay, well, thank you.

01:52:07 - 01:52:20

Okay, bye.” Hangs up the phone, he turns to us, he says, “Well, they just hired a new director for the zoo and it’s not me.” And it was kind of like, “Are you joking?

01:52:21 - 01:53:55

Who did they hire?” “Michael Robinson,” who was then acting, I mean was then assistant director at STRI, which was the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center in Panama. And this guy came right out of the woodwork. I mean, he had never been mentioned. Nobody ever mentioned his name and he became director and he was director for 18 years. And I’ll talk about that later, but the point being is that my career really was kind of it moved in jerks in a way in that things happened that allowed me for what are the circumstances were going on at the time to be in a right position at the right time. And when they hired Robinson, I became assistant associate mammal curator and was working basically directly with the mammal curator at the time who was the one that brought me back from my banishment to the trailer. And we got along really well. And at the time Ben Beck was then general curator.

01:53:58 - 01:55:46

And I had been after Ben to get me a grade raise and he wouldn’t give me a grade raise at, I mean, just would not do it. And I remember they had a major issue that happened in the graphics department, and the head of the graphics department left. And I remember I got a call from Robinson, he said, “Can you come over with my apartment tonight?” He said, “I wanna talk to you.” So I go over and he said, “Look, I really need you to take over the graphics department.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know that much about graphics, but what do you want me to do?” And he says, “I want you to go down there and run it at least for a year, if not longer.” And I said, “Okay, Mike, I’ll do it, but I want a grade raise.” And he said, “Okay, I’ll give you a grade raise.” I said, “But I don’t want it for that. I wanted to apply to the job that I’m holding right now in the animal operation.” And so he agreed and I had to get a number of letters of recommendation. I think one was actually from you Mark, and two other people. And I got the raise, Ben was upset, very, but it was a done deal. And from that point on I was able to, I was involved in everything at that point. I mean, even before Robinson took over, Reed had taken me as a major player in the redesign of the zoo, and this was in the mid ’70s.

01:55:46 - 01:56:55

So I was the primary go to person for the second renovation of the Elephant House and to a lesser degree in the third renovation of the Elephant House. The second renovation of the primate facility, the Monkey House, I earlier work with Miles Roberts on the renovation or the actually the whole new Blind Tiger Building. I worked on the Lower COC Lion and Upper Bear Line Exhibit. And I guess my proudest moment was being given the full responsibility for the Small Mammal Building renovation and the new Monkey Island and those were my projects solely. And I wanna talk about those, maybe a little more depth with philosophy and so forth.

01:56:55 - 01:57:11

I wanna to ask you a question though about under Ted Reed, are you being able to get out and see other zoos and expand your experiential ability to understand about exhibitry and so forth?

01:57:14 - 01:58:19

Yes, and I wanna expand on that too, because Ted was really into his ability to recognize the fact that the people that were working for him really needed to get out and see what was going on in the rest of the zoo world. And we were all sent to US zoos to see new exhibits, to talk to curators, talk to the directors. He sent me to the Wild Animal Park even before it was still being constructed. Where. And I actually went out there, I can’t remember who the director of San Diego that did that. Schroeder. Schroeder, right. Yes, and I went out and talked to him, got a lot of information on what his plans were.

01:58:19 - 01:59:13

And this was before Ted had decided to look for a facility similar to that for the zoo. And I worked with both Ted and John Perry on looking at sites for Front Royal or what was to become Front Royal. And I mean, we looked at all kinds of areas that were excess for the Navy Department. And we were very fortunate that one of the supporters of the zoo brought to the Ted’s attention that this facility, Front Royal, was gonna come up and we were able to get it. we’ll talk about that. Okay. I mean, he would just kind of at the spurred moment say, Xanten, go to go to Philadelphia, go to New York, look at the new nocturnal exhibit, come back and tell me what you think.

01:59:13 - 01:59:16

That helped your professional growth?

01:59:16 - 02:00:37

Yes it not only helped me with my professional growth with the National Zoo, but it also got me into being able to talk to other directors at other zoos. I mean, I talked to Conway, went out to Denver, talked to Fry Height, and we had sent Oranga out there. So sent me to the Sonora Desert Museum. And I mean, I can’t get into all the zoos that he sent me to, but he sent other curators and myself over to Europe. And again, same thing, go over there and come back with some ideas. And I tell you, we did it with keepers. And it was really an effort that paid off in spades because we come back after seeing some of these exhibits and we’d be really, really steamed up about, “Wow, we can do that and we can do it better.” And we did. And it was a period for me where I learned a lot.

02:00:37 - 02:01:52

I mean, not only did I learn a lot, but I met a lot of people. He would send every one of his curatorial staff, almost everyone, every single year to either the regional conferences or to the primary convention for the AZA. And it gave us an opportunity to meet with our peers and talk about mutual things that were both good and bad. And I tell you the truth, Mark, it doesn’t happen now. It just doesn’t happen. I don’t know what goes on in other zoos, but at National, it started to stop when Robinson took over and it hasn’t really improved a whole lot. And I don’t know whether it’s a question of just budgetary issues, but there’s a bit different mindset. The other example is that we started the curatorial intern program at National Zoo, and it was a really good success.

02:01:52 - 02:02:01

I mean, we put people that are now in major positions, in major zoos throughout the US.

02:02:01 - 02:02:04

Explain what that is, what’s the curatorial?

02:02:04 - 02:03:01

The curatorial position was funded by the Friends of the National Zoo. It was for an 18 month period. These people had to apply for the position. They all had PhDs and they would come in and they would work with our curatorial staff and with the keepers. And they would be assigned to certain areas. And I mean, that was their responsibility to run that area and learn about how the animals were cared for, how we acquired animals, to deal with the keepers. And at the end of the 18 months, they were told that, well, actually, they were told from the get-go, we’re not gonna hire you at the end of your program. Okay, you’re gonna have to go out and apply for other positions.

02:03:01 - 02:04:03

Every single one of them went out and got well paid, very, very good positions as curators, general curators. And in some cases, even directors and that program fell apart in the ’90s. And I tried to instigate it again when I came back the second time and we ended up getting one position that we put through, and then they hired her, which they weren’t supposed to do, but anyhow. And I mean, and Reed encouraged that, I mean, it was a big feather in his cap because those people that went out represented the National Zoo in what we were doing. And it really was an incredible program and a very successful program while it was in fact.

02:04:03 - 02:04:26

A question about, as you were under a Dr. Reed and you were doing these trips and so forth to, two parts, did you have mentors at the time, whether it be Dr. Reed or other people who were shaping and talking to you that you respected and who started you on publishing and writing papers and why do you think that’s important?

02:04:26 - 02:04:29

And is it in your opinion continuing today?

02:04:30 - 02:04:31

Who were your mentors?

02:04:36 - 02:05:49

Well, Ted, was certainly my mentor. I mean, he didn’t actually tell me I had to write papers. I think that was something that just happened. And it happened because of things that we were doing in the zoo that were really kind of first time things. I mean, first births, new exhibits. And I felt personally that these were important to get out so that people could see that you could do mixed species exhibits, for instance, you could build this kind of an exhibit in this environment, whatever. And it wasn’t just me, but I mean, we really encouraged the keepers to get involved and they wouldn’t actually write the papers, the curators and myself, we’d write the papers with their input, and then they coauthored the papers. And I wrote a lot of papers for the FONZ Magazine.

02:05:49 - 02:06:58

And these were just kind of vignettes, they were things that were going on and I thought were really interesting. You can’t get people to write papers now. I mean, it just, I don’t know about other zoos, but I’ll tell you the national, it’s like pulling teeth. We have a few keepers that and a few curators that have written some papers, but the vast majority of the staff that used to write papers, the curatorial staff keepers, they don’t do it anymore. And we were talking about this too. I mean, I don’t even think the majority of the curatorial staff even has a decent library in their office, which is I guess in a sense hard for me to understand, but with the advent of the computer and Google and everything else, you can look all this stuff up, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same being able to turn around and pull a book out that was written by a really famous zoo person that talked about behaviors and exhibitry, and the diets and everything else. And it’s right there in front of you.

02:06:58 - 02:07:23

And it’s instantaneous and you don’t have to spend hours searching the web. So anyway, it’s too bad. A bit of a broader question, and as you were again part of the zoo in the ’60s and ’70s, federal legislation, more interest in animals and endangered species, zoos had kind of changed to survive.

02:07:23 - 02:07:29

How did the National Zoo change and continue to respond to those kinds of pressures?

02:07:30 - 02:07:33

Did you feel pressure?

02:07:33 - 02:08:37

The Endangered Species Act in, and I believe it was ’75, but I’m not sure of the exact date, but it changed everything. I mean, it really did. I mean, the acquisition of animals became a very difficult task. And before you could go to, I don’t know how many animal dealers there were before that, but they were in the teams, they were a lot of them. And you could always get animals without a whole lot of trouble and they were expensive, but relatively affordable for the most part. After that, after the Endangered Species Act. And I mean, it became really difficult and the permit issues became difficult. I mean, it took a lot of time to write permits, to get animals in, the price of animals went up dramatically.

02:08:39 - 02:10:14

And it’s still the case today, I mean, a lot of these species that normally were available and you could get them from dealers that brought them in from the wild doesn’t happen anymore. And if it does that, the cost of obtaining a large mammal is just astronomical. So yeah, a lot of things changed and collections had a tendency to get smaller. I think the advent of the species survival plan caused a lot of collection species to disappear because of the restrictions that were put on which ones could be bred. And if they were part of the species survival package within the zoo community, they were managed by an outside party. And you were basically told which animals you could breed or you couldn’t breed the entire species because they were represented. A lot of species were turned off because they couldn’t find homes for the offspring. And I think it’s done a really disservice to the overall captive population in a lot of zoos.

02:10:14 - 02:11:52

Now, I’m sure AZA is gonna disagree with that pretty dramatically, but still, I feel it’s a major problem, and it’s only gonna get worse as time progresses. And most zoos can’t deal with the private sectors because of the AZA restrictions. They’re not dealing with the animal ranches in Texas and New Mexico because of AZA’s restrictions against that. It’s like the solution is out there if you wanna take advantage of it. I mean, the ranches have got huge spaces down there and some of them hunt, yeah, but they do it in a very systematic way. And it’s no different really than going out during hunting season for deer and elk or whatever the case may be. It’s controlled, but they’re breeding down there and they’re producing a lot of animals and we can’t even have access to those animals in the zoos because AZA won’t let you deal with them. So I think there needs some kind of change in mindset if zoos are gonna be able to survive down the road because every zoo in this country has a finite space that they have to deal with.

02:11:52 - 02:12:31

And once they reach that space, they can’t keep producing animals if they don’t have a place to dispose of them. And AZA won’t address the euthanasia issue at all. I mean, it’s been brought up a number of times, and I don’t know if we wanted to go one with that because I’m kind of off the subject. We’ll talk about that a little later. You’ve mentioned though, animal dealers, you mentioned about acquiring animals, so I wanna just hit that. You took a trip to Florida in 1968. Yes.

02:12:31 - 02:12:34

Was this your first trip to acquire animals?

02:12:34 - 02:12:35


02:12:35 - 02:12:37

For the zoo and what was it?

02:12:37 - 02:13:05

It was to acquire reptiles. And I was really surprised that they allowed us to do this. I mean, I remember I went to Eisenberg and got his permission and it was four of us. It was Jack Armstrong, Jack DePreto, Leash Mel who was a keeper in the Reptile House and myself.

02:13:05 - 02:13:07

You were the general curator?

02:13:07 - 02:13:18

No, I was not, no, I think I might’ve been supervised.

02:13:22 - 02:13:23

But you initiated it?

02:13:24 - 02:14:32

I initiated it, yeah. And we went down and we spent two weeks in Florida collecting, we brought back a huge collection of herps and a lot of them, we sent to other zoos. And it was really the first time anybody, I think in the zoo, especially the keepers and curators had actually gone on a collecting trip. I mean, they done it in the ’20s and ’30s, but I don’t think anybody had ever gone out like that. And then I did it again in the late ’80s when I went to Borneo to collect small mammals and I did that twice. And again, nobody had done that. Now the Bird Department had gone out. I think at times they went to New Guinea and collected there.

02:14:32 - 02:14:36

And I think that trip to south America, but that was about it.

02:14:39 - 02:14:51

So when you were, but mostly you were acquiring animals early on, even when you were general curator temporarily, you were acquiring animals from animal dealers?

02:14:51 - 02:14:52


02:14:52 - 02:15:05

And how did animal dealers impact the zoo and what was going on and as your later years in the profession, what did you see their impact was either positive or negative?

02:15:08 - 02:17:17

Well, our ability to acquire, I mean, that’s where we got most of our collections was from animal dealers, I mean, there’s no question about that. And we had a lot of animal dealers that we could go to and we relied on them very, very heavily, especially for the acquisition of large mammals, were specialized animals that we couldn’t ordinarily get on our own from other zoos. And it was expensive, but not only were we able to bring animals into the collections, through the dealers, but we were also able to get surplus animals out of our collections through animal dealers to a large extent if we couldn’t get them into the zoos, but the dealers were pretty aggressive in keeping contact with not just National, but all the zoos to get animals for their businesses. And it was kind of odd where you call around and try to get rid of a draft or some primates or whatever the case may be and nobody was interested. And the reason for that was that they were in hock to the dealers for animals that they had purchased. And so they ended up getting the same. I would sell a giraffe to a dealer who would then turn right around and sell it to the zoo that I had been talking to two weeks before about whether they needed a giraffe, but they would buy it from the dealer in order to even out their books or whatever the case may be, which was really kind of strange, but that’s the way it worked. Today, I mean, you can’t even count the dealers that are out there on one hand.

02:17:17 - 02:17:25

And so it’s all basically done through contact with zoos or through the SSPs.

02:17:27 - 02:17:39

Now, when you were a temporary as general curator, what would you say was one of the more important things that you learned at this time that helped you later on?

02:17:46 - 02:19:55

I think the biggest issue that is with anybody that’s in the zoo profession is that you get into the zoo profession because you really have a affinity and love for animals. But as you get more and more into management, you come to realize that if you don’t have a good feel for how to deal with people and to make people do what you’d like them to do willingly without having to beat them over the head, you never gonna make it as a good curator or director or any position within the zoo profession that requires you to have daily contact with either the public or the staff. And it’s tough, it’s a tough job to manage people. And I think that’s one of the issues that we deal with today in that I think for the most part, the people I work with both at national and also with other zoos in the curatorial field had a pretty good grasp of the staff that they had to work with, and they did a pretty good job. Today, I mean, we’ve got curators at national that have no clue about dealing with people. I mean, they’re focused on the animals and I think the staff comes secondary. and I’m not sure where that’s the case in all zoos, and it’s really, really hard to find curatorial staff now that have the experience both with the collections and also with having a good grasp of what it takes to manage people. And if you can’t manage people, you’re not gonna be able to run your collections.

02:19:57 - 02:20:12

I think it’s a really, really priority that there needs to be in each be people skills involved in any hire that’s gonna deal with the collections and also deal with the people.

02:20:16 - 02:20:29

You talked about experience, how you have to communicate with people, et cetera, during that time, how did your management style evolve and how did it change over time?

02:20:35 - 02:21:26

I don’t really think it did. I think for whatever it was about my abilities early on the people that I work with. I think they recognized it. When I worked for Bridgewater. He used me as a more, I hate to use the word hatchet, man, but that’s what I was doing, when they had problems someplace go up and take care of it. When Don left and I was working for Ed Gould, the same thing. I mean, he used me to do a lot of stuff that he either couldn’t or didn’t wanna get involved in.

02:21:26 - 02:21:33

I had run ins with a lot of people, I’ve run into it Seidensticker Who is?

02:21:33 - 02:23:46

John Seidensticker is a senior scientist now, although I think he’s on sabbatical, but he was at the time a curator in the carnivore collection. And Gould quarreled quite a bit and he really resented the fact that Ed had appointed me as associate curator because basically in Gould’s absence, I was running the mammal operation, which meant I was supervising John and we just didn’t get along at all. But I was I think I had a reputation for dealing with major problems. And when they had problems with a keeper that they couldn’t deal with in one unit, guess who got it, got them, I did. And at some point it got to a stage where I was really getting bent out of shape having to take all these problem people because nobody else would deal with them. And I’ll tell you the story about Bess, this one keeper that she had hired who actually had started out as a volunteer janitor and then became kind of a volunteer keeper in the Elephant House. And the guy had major problems and we had a vacancy and she wanted to hire him. And we had a staff meeting with the other curators, and I remember sitting at the end of the table and I turned the Bess and I said, “This is a really big mistake.” I said, I know this individual and everybody there agreed that this was gonna be a problem.

02:23:46 - 02:25:02

And I said, but I don’t think you should hire him. I really don’t, there’s some good quantified people. And ED Gould said, “Well, if that’s what she wants to do, then it’s her decision.” And I don’t know, I mean, I just basically lost it because I took my fist and I slammed it down on the table. It scared everybody in the room. And I said the Bess, I said, “Okay, you hire him, go ahead.” I said, “But don’t you ever call me and tell me that you wanna transfer him down to my operation ’cause that’s not gonna happen.” And a year later they ended up having to fire him, but my wife tells me I’m intimidating and maybe I am. But I worked for a long time down there. I worked with a lot of different personalities, and I think I did a relatively good job because other than the one time with Eisenberg where I got shoved into a corner, I did pretty good.

02:25:03 - 02:25:14

Well, now, you’re talking about that you held these six different positions at the National Zoo, did you ever think about leaving the zoo, go to somewhere else?

02:25:19 - 02:26:15

Well, yes and no. I mean, there were a of times that I got really discouraged when I was in the keeper force. And it actually applied to the graphics department Downtown at Smithsonian. And I actually even applied to the FBI, believe it or not, but this was in the late ’50s. And I was still trying to I think find myself and things just weren’t going very well at that point. And later on, I got offered the job at the Baltimore Zoo for assistant director. And at that point I was doing pretty well. And I got offered a job at the Salzburg Zoo, which I didn’t take.

02:26:18 - 02:27:01

And it’s six flags, which I didn’t take. There were doing a number of reasons that I didn’t take these positions. One, I really don’t like change. I mean, I’m a pretty steady person. And I mean, I’d spent all my life in Washington, DC. I spent my entire career at the National Zoo, the thought of going someplace else and uprooting my family. The reason I took that position to begin with was it was a safe job and it offered really good long-term benefits. And I didn’t wanna give that up and not for the positions that were offered to me.

02:27:01 - 02:27:39

And I’m also, I am to a certain extent a believer in the Peter principle. And I think everybody reaches a point in their career where you can go higher if you want. But if you’re doing a good job in the job you have, why take a job where you may not make it because you’ve exceeded your abilities. And I didn’t wanna get out of the animal operation. And I knew if I took a job as a director, I’d be totally removed from the animal operation. So I stuck at national and it was a good decision.

02:27:40 - 02:27:48

Now, when you got this position as assistant curator in ’72, they just came and said, do you want it, or do you have to apply for it?

02:27:54 - 02:29:00

I didn’t apply for work. I’m probably giving away secrets here. But in the federal system, you learn to work within the federal system and you learn that you can do a lot of things even though somebody tells you, you can’t do it. If whoever wants to do it has the power, they can do it. And so once I got into the administrative assistant position, it was just a question of changing my position description to get me a higher grade. And they did that because I was doing a good job in the job I was in. And they needed somebody to be with supervisory responsibility. I never could have been acting general curator if I was the administrative assistant, that never would have happened.

02:29:00 - 02:29:51

So they bumped me up and it was, I find, when I look back on my career in those early years, it was an amazing period personally for me because I advanced so rapidly into so many different positions and a lot of it caused some controversy, but I mean, I feel that I never took a position that I didn’t think I was gonna be able to do. And obviously that proved to be the case. Now, the keeper staff is kind of divided, you have your maybe World War II two guys who are still there, you got younger keepers coming in who could probably have more education.

02:29:51 - 02:29:57

How did these two groups, these different cultures, how they work together, any problems?

02:29:57 - 02:31:41

Yeah, there were problems. I mean, there were problems especially with the minorities, the African-Americans that I had to work with and actually supervise later on, there was a lot of resentment toward me. There was a lot of resentment toward the new keepers that were coming in, that were better educated. In fact, it reached a point in the mid ’70s where the curator of reptiles at the time was walking through the park coming back from lunch and one of the keeper leaders in the Small Mammal Building ran out and stabbed him. And it was out of total frustration on this guy’s part because he saw the National Zoo changing dramatically. And he was being left behind because he didn’t have the credentials. And I always said, in order to get fired from the federal government, you actually have to kill somebody because he didn’t get fired, he was allowed to retire. So, but I mean, there was, I mean, there was a lot of resentment because at that point we were hiring college educated people and they were coming in and the older keepers, I guess I could kind of see the handwriting on the wall.

02:31:41 - 02:32:09

And a lot of them were at ages where they were gonna be able to retire. And a lot of them did retire in the mid to late ’70s. And so we basically started out with a totally new slate of keeper and curatorial staff. Well, in the ’70s the first woman keeper was hired. Brenda, was the first woman.

02:32:09 - 02:32:12

How did the first woman to get her job?

02:32:12 - 02:32:16

How was it possible for her to break into the all male society?

02:32:16 - 02:34:00

Well, she was very good friends with the general curator, well, the reptile curator at the time, and Ted always said, I mean, he always said, “I’ll never hire female keepers because it’s gonna just be a total disruption.’ When I started in ’56, there was one woman, no, excuse me, two women, one was Mann’s secretary and the other was an administrative assistant up in the Admin Building, that was it. And it stayed that way for obviously a long time. And I think Ted was just concerned over the fact that I think he didn’t think that they could do their job. A lot of people thought that women would not be able to do the physical work that was required. And I don’t know whether that feeling is still prevalent, but I don’t think it is because I think most of the women that work in the profession now have shown that they can do the physical work or if not, they’re in positions where they can contribute in other ways. But yeah, and right now, the female keepers and even, I mean, not only the female keepers, but the female curators and vets outnumber males in the profession, not across the board in all zoos, but I mean, it’s a major change.

02:34:00 - 02:34:05

Tell me about this groundbreaking woman, Brenda Hall, who was she, I mean?

02:34:05 - 02:34:07

She was the secretary.

02:34:12 - 02:34:13

How’s she do?

02:34:13 - 02:35:10

She did fine. I mean, she really did. And I don’t know whether I should, I mean, she did fine, and it was a… Tell me what, you seem to hesitate. Well, I mean, she was hired and then she ended up living with with the person that hired her and she stayed for quite a while, and then we started bringing in other female keepers. And I honestly don’t think any of the keepers that were hired, I mean, whether male or female during a 20 year period turned out not to be good employees.

02:35:10 - 02:35:13

Was there resentment with the male keepers for this first female?

02:35:13 - 02:36:33

Yeah, I think there was resentment, not only for the first female keeper, but I think there was resentment on the part of a lot of the keepers. And I think to a certain extent, the curatorial staff, I don’t know about Ted, but over the fact that they were taking jobs that traditionally didn’t belong to women, especially in jobs where it required dangerous work, heavy work. I mean, at one time, I mean, every keeper that was working on the elephants was a female. But they’ve all proven themselves able to do the job and do it very well. So, I mean, I really didn’t have a problem, I just thought that the fact that Brenda basically broke the mold on what the keeper force was gonna be, from there on in. And that was a pretty major hire. And I don’t think anybody else had hired any women keepers before that. I don’t know for sure, but it was traditionally a male position.

02:36:33 - 02:36:36

Did you would have concerns?

02:36:36 - 02:36:37

Did I have concerns?

02:36:43 - 02:36:47

Not really, and I mean, what the heck?

02:36:47 - 02:37:35

I mean, I met my second wife there, I met my third wife there, not as a keeper, but my second wife was a keeper, so yeah, and there were a lot of relationships that sprung up between the male and female staff. I mean, it was not so much supervisor to employee, but they were certainly dating other keeper staff.

02:37:40 - 02:37:46

Side question, were the policies established about that kind of thing or not at all?

02:37:50 - 02:38:15

No. I mean, when I married my second wife, she worked for me. So I had to have her supervised by another curator, which was a little awkward. It was even more awkward when I got divorced, but we’ll talk about that way down the road.

02:38:18 - 02:38:26

During that time, can you tell us the story of Shing-Shing and Ling-Ling, the giant pandas from China?

02:38:28 - 02:38:29

How did that come about?

02:38:31 - 02:38:33

Was it craziness?

02:38:33 - 02:39:54

Well, obviously how it came about was it was Nixon’s visit to China that opened the doors for the US and relations with China. And when Nixon went over there, he evidently was able to, or was offered the giant pandas. And we had very little notice, Ted came back and had gotten it. I mean, because we were the National Zoo, we were always being given state gifts that we necessarily didn’t want, of course the pandas were not one of those, but we got elephants donated to us. We got pygmy hippos, we get dorcas gazelles, reindeer, I mean, on and on. And some of these we didn’t want, but we didn’t have any choice and white tigers. So when the pandas were offered to the US, they obviously were gonna to come to the zoo and we were not prepared for that at all. I mean, it came right out of the blue and it was such short notice.

02:39:54 - 02:41:19

And that’s why it was such a chaotic situation when we were trying to get these white rhinos out of their enclosure out to San Diego. And even though they’d been the zoo for many years, and they were a gift from one of our major donors and they were named Bill and Lucy after Bill Mann and Lucy Mann, we didn’t have any choice because there was no other place that we could move them to. And actually, they had white rhinos, Northern white rhinos in San Diego, and none of them had bred. So we thought it was a good idea at least to get them into an area where there was a possibility that maybe they’ll reproduce since we had to get them out of the National Zoo. And it was chaotic, and we had not only to get the animals out, but we had to redo the whole inside of the building to provide them with nice quarters. But in the short term, temporary quarters. And then we were gonna expand that, which we eventually did. I remember the day they came in, Rosalyn Carter was there and no, wait a minute on me.

02:41:22 - 02:41:23

They came in under Nixon.

02:41:23 - 02:41:27

They came in under Nixon, but why am I thinking about Carter?

02:41:30 - 02:41:32

What was your position at the zoo?

02:41:33 - 02:42:43

I was a mammal curator at the time. I remember going up there. It was funny because, and maybe it was Nixon’s wife, but I think it was, honestly, God, I think it was Carter, but anyhow, but Horsley was the general curator at the time and he was late and I’m standing with the Secret Services all over. I mean, there’s Secret Service men everywhere. And he comes running up the center of the Olmsted Walk and so he could see the Secret Service guys, and I yelled at him, I said, ” Horsley, slowed down for Christ sake, I mean, the Secrets Service are here,” and he finally slowed down. I mean, he had probably been shot if he’d had run up there like that. Did you have cart laws from the Smithsonian to build whatever you needed for the pandas. Yes, and we got extra money as well after that to expand it.

02:42:43 - 02:42:45

And we’re still expanding.

02:42:45 - 02:42:49

How important were they to the zoo and to the zoo visitors?

02:42:49 - 02:44:47

Well, we were completely swamped for many years, visitors would come in from all over the place just to see the pandas. I mean, to the point where they’d bring busloads of people in, they’d jump off the bus, they’d run over and they’d look at the pandas they run back and get on the bus and leave. And that went on for a long time. But the pandas were, I mean, they were huge, effort to maintain on our part and a real, real disappointment in the issue as far as the birthing of the cubs because we never got a live birth out of that pair of pandas. And we tried everything and I was up there in ’72 after Larry Collins went to CRC, Conservation Research Center and worked with Devore and just this constant estrous cycle fumbling around on the part of the male, I mean, it just went on and on and on. Actually, they did an article on me on People Magazine, which I forgot to bring, but anyway, and it was a frustrating time and we tried everything. I remember the vets knocking her down when she was close to term and disinfecting her, literally, washing her down with disinfectant soap because we were so concerned about the fact that these cubs were picking up a bacterial infection almost immediately after they were born. And evidently, it was an infection that was in the birth canal that was causing these problems.

02:44:47 - 02:44:59

And I think the longest any of those cubs lived was I think, four days. And so it was a major problem and a major disappointment.

02:45:02 - 02:45:05

Did you have to deal with the media or was that for the staff?

02:45:05 - 02:45:52

Yeah, in fact, I’ll never forget, she had built a nest and one of the keepers had gone in and cleaned it up ’cause he didn’t know what it was. And I had to stand there in front of 15 microphones and try to explain what had happened and that she actually had built this nests and then she kind of abandoned and it was an embarrassment. But I didn’t get on TV that often, but that was one that was national news.

02:45:53 - 02:46:04

Did you have to coordinate these various departments, research, veterinarians, your animal management staff regarding the pandas, I mean, they’re all working together?

02:46:06 - 02:47:13

Yeah, because we had, I mean, there was a huge input on the part of the research department with Devra Kleiman. There was a huge input with the vets because one that they were incredibly important animals and that they had never been maintained in the National Zoo. We sent Larry over to London to try to learn the basic management of giant pandas. They brought someone in from China to also help, and then we were pretty much on our own. And we didn’t really have that much of a problem with the adults, I mean they did pretty well. And, but it was the fact that she would get pregnant, she’d give birth and we’d lose the cub. And these were all AIs.

02:47:15 - 02:47:16

AI meaning?

02:47:16 - 02:48:03

I’m sorry, artificial inseminations. And so that the the vets and the research staff were heavily involved in that. So yeah, it was, I think those two animals were very well attended by pretty much everybody, including our public relations people, FONZ, the Friends of the National Zoo because they brought in a huge amount of visitors, which meant a huge amount of revenue for the zoo, which certainly helped. And it was a plus plus except for the unfortunate deaths of the Cubs.

02:48:05 - 02:48:22

So there was a good working, I’ll say, was there a good working relationship between all these various departments, and forgetting the pandas, how did the research and veterinary, how did they intermesh with the animal collections during your time?

02:48:24 - 02:49:41

Well, we tried very, very hard to get the research department to work with the collection. And actually it wasn’t that easy because they had their own research work that they were doing. And we had a lot of issues that we wanted them to look at, especially stereotypic behavior, for instance, in some of the bears and in some of the primates mating behavior. And we did have input from some of the scientists that wanted to work on a particular species. We had somebody working on sable antelope. We had somebody working on dorcas gazelles. Kathy Rawls, did her work on inbreeding coefficients with the Dorcas gazelles. And interestingly enough, Sunny Stroman and I had plotted the inbreeding issues in five different species of ungulates in our collection at that point.

02:49:41 - 02:50:56

And we’d already pointed out that there was a major problem with the dorcas because we were losing calves from specific females that had been bred to specific males because they were so closely related. Kathy took that information and ran with it. And I know Horsely was really angry about the fact that she had taken a lot of the information from us and we never really got any credit for it. So they were there, I mean, Hawl Buettner worked on rhinos, he worked on sables. Carl Krantz would working with Rawls on a number of woodstock species. Geez. So you brought the problems to them to say, “Can you help us?” Or they came to you and said, “Here’s what we wanna to do.” Both, I mean, especially with the stereotypic behavior, we asked them to please come down and give us some input into what we could do to stop it. And so they were pretty good about working on that.

02:50:59 - 02:51:31

I don’t think that we ever had any major issues with working with the research people and especially with Front Royal, CRC, we worked with them pretty closely, especially with some of the small mammals and with a lot of the hoofstock. Now, the research collection had their own animals that they would do research on.

02:51:31 - 02:51:37

After their research was done, did that come to the collection then?

02:51:37 - 02:52:48

If we wanted it, yes. Especially the small mammals. I mean, we got elephant shrews, we got 10 ricks, we got pacas, wheatears, I believe they were working on. So when they were finished with their work, if we wanted them in the collection, we could get, and oftentimes, they would even come back to us and wanna do some additional followup work with some of the species that we’d gotten from them. So, yeah, it was certainly a joint venture and they would start it and they never really asked us, “Are we gonna bring in tree sharers, Are we gonna to bring in 10 rakes, are you were interested?” Because it was their program. And it was really a question of, okay, that’s great. You bring them in, you work on them when you’re finished with them, they’re not gonna dump them on us because they don’t know what else to do with them. We had the option to take them or not to take them as case may be.

02:52:48 - 02:52:58

And I think we took pretty much every species that they had available. Now, you had mentioned Front Royal and wanna kind of hit on that.

02:52:58 - 02:53:02

Number one, what was your involvement in Front Royal?

02:53:05 - 02:53:10

And can you give us kind of this history of the place?

02:53:11 - 02:54:36

Well, I think I’d mentioned earlier that Ted, I think he was really influenced by what went on at the San Diego Wild Animal Park with Schroeder and he wanted this. I mean, it was something that he had thought about and talked about. And when John Perry came on board, I mean, the two of them started looking at places that they could obtain. And I was involved in the early stages of going with them to look at sites. I wasn’t involved in the actual selection at CRC because it was kind of leaked by a good donor of the zoo that this site was coming up for grabs and they were able to get it, it was an old remount station. It was ideal, I mean, it really was ideal. I mean, the buildings were there, the barns were there, the only thing it didn’t have was a perimeter fence and it didn’t have enough outside paddock area. So all that had to be added.

02:54:39 - 02:55:57

The one guy that was assistant head keeper was one of the first people from the zoo to go up there to work on the fence, which was a huge undertaking. I mean, this area that he had to have fenced in was like 1000 acres, I mean, it was huge. And then they were able to convert a lot of these barns for hoofstock. They converted a lot of the buildings to small mammal and bird facilities. So it took money, but Chris was appointed to run that operation and he did a superb job with the people he had and the herds up there grew to huge sizes. I mean, that was the only place I can remember going to watch Pere David deer in his natural environment as you could find having the stags actually fight each other over the females during breeding season. I mean, it was that big. And we had that many animals and it was a major success story for the National Zoo.

02:55:58 - 02:57:26

And we hired a lot of good people to work up there. And it’s still, I mean, Steve Monfort’s taking that, we’ve got, what’s the university, I just lost it. Anyway, we’re heavily involved with the local university there, and they’ve got dorms, they’ve got research labs that the students can come in and learn about conservation and reproduction, the whole nine yards. Is front Royal conservation center totally separate from the zoo or is there some cross-pollination with moving animals back and forth and so forth. Not now, they’re pretty separate. Before, we always got accused of making it a dumping ground for our surplus, especially our surplus hoofstock. And to a large extent that was true, but they had the space up there. And so it was to our benefit that we had a place to send excess male Oryx or Pere David deer, or Eld’s deer or whatever the case may be.

02:57:27 - 02:58:31

And that continued all the way through until Ted Reed left. And then things started to change dramatically. And I’ll get into that, I guess, later. But yeah, CRC was a real coup and it’s served us very well. And Steve’s done a really incredible job up there, especially with the university. And we wanted to do other things up there, I know I tried really, really hard when we were, when I came back the second time to get them to look at that for elephants. And in fact, we did, and we even got some figures on what it was gonna cost to build a barn up there. And we had some of the areas already scoped out and it just, it never panned out.

02:58:31 - 02:58:38

Now, you’ve mentioned that ’74 or you started or you toured European zoos, how did that come about?

02:58:38 - 02:58:39

You were just told to go?

02:58:41 - 03:00:02

Well, yeah, basically, but what happened was he had sent the then general curator over and one of the educators and he went over and I think he got as far as Barcelona and he turned around and came back and I never really understood what happened, but he just came. And so about six months later, Reed said, “I want you to go back over and finish up where Jaren left off and do more. So I went over with the head of the engineering department and I mean, we went over here basically to look at collections and look at exhibits and talk to staff and find out what they were doing. They had just opened the Small Mammal Facility in, I apologize, my memory is just totally going right now.

03:00:02 - 03:00:08

What things where you learning that you were able to apply to the zoo when you got back?

03:00:11 - 03:00:34

Well, in Munich, they had free ranging tamarins, which we’d never tried. They also had basically free ranging Gibbons, it was the Frankfurt zoo, their Small Mammal Facility, which was really great.

03:00:38 - 03:00:52

I mean, we just were able to pick up new ideas for new exhibits and what it entailed and what the costs were, who was manning it?

03:00:53 - 03:00:54

What were the species?

03:00:54 - 03:00:55

What did you get these things?

03:00:58 - 03:02:16

And then bring it back. And Ted did involve a lot of us and he involved me a lot in a number of projects. And in fact, the assistant director or the director for maintenance and facilities, I worked really closely with him. And he had me involved with also other major exhibits. I mean, I worked with the architects really closely on the gibbon exhibit. And one thing I learned early on with the architects is that they don’t listen to what you tell them. They do what they think is the right thing to do. And I literally had two architectural firms canned because I got so tired of having them bring in plans that we had looked at two weeks earlier and made changes on, which they didn’t include because they didn’t think the changes warranted changing.

03:02:16 - 03:04:28

And I know on the gibbon exhibit, I told them I wanted the gibbon exhibit, it was built on it on the level area, right off Olmsted Walk, but there was a huge embankment behind it I said, “I want that exhibit to extend down the embankment so that you keep the exhibits the same height that is on Olmsted Walk. But when you put it down over the embankment, you’re gonna increase the height of that exhibit for the gibbons.” And they didn’t do it. And I said, “You show me the plans that I just told you, I didn’t want, why?” “Well, it was gonna cost more and we didn’t think it warranted the cost.” I said, “That wasn’t your decision to make, especially not without talking about it first. So do it the right way.” And the same thing with when we did Monkey Island, I got one of the architects off the job because he just wouldn’t listen. And when they were gonna, I’m trying to think, when they were gonna do Amazonia, one of the same guy that I had the problems with on the gibbon exhibit had applied for the job for the Amazonia project. And I remember him coming up to me in the meeting after the meeting and saying, “I hope you’ll take into consideration that I’ve changed and I won’t fight anything that you’re recommending.” And I said, “Yeah, I hear you, but I’m not so sure, you’re a little too late because I think we’ve already made a decision,” but I mean, that was just the nature of the beast that you had to be really careful with who you did business with architectural firms.

03:04:31 - 03:04:38

What was your involvement in the Beaver Valley of that project?

03:04:38 - 03:05:44

The original. And the renovation. The original renovation, I worked with the architects. I work with really closely with the people that did all the rock work, but that was kind of a joint project. I mean, I didn’t have total say over it, but I certainly was involved in all the discussions and suggestions that had to be made to make changes or additions or whatever. The only three projects that I really was involved in on my own and I think I mentioned earlier was the gibbon exhibits, Monkey Island, Small Mammals. I took Small Mammals that were from Miles early on in the process, so I still consider that to be my baby. And then the second renovation of the Monkey House because those were major renovations.

03:05:45 - 03:05:50

And in the Small Mammal House were you able to incorporate philosophies that you’ve seen European zoos?

03:05:50 - 03:05:51


03:05:51 - 03:05:54

Some of the big ones that come to your mind?

03:05:56 - 03:07:20

Actually the facility in Frankfurt does. Bronx, in fact, I mean, it wasn’t their nocturnal facility, but I was really impressed with how they did the Bird House and just how well they did the naturalistic exhibits in the Bird House. And I retained that when we were looking at Small Mammals, I wanted to create an exhibit that allowed kids to get face-to-face with the collections. That’s why the glass came down. The glass was double thick pains, so that sound from the public area wouldn’t get back into the exhibits. We designed it mainly for diurnal, social, small mammals. And I personally think that’s still one of the best small mammal facilities in the country, if not even in the world. And the other thing was we did all the exhibits, the internal exhibits in house.

03:07:20 - 03:08:09

I got a lot of keepers together and they volunteered to do it on their spare time or on their own time. They’d come in and with the exception of the really huge exhibits in the back, all those exhibits would build in house by keeper staff. And I did it for $125,000. And that was for material mainly. Now, in this time period, you were working with a lot of very famous names in the zoo profession, William Mann, Ted Reed, you’ve talked about Clint Gray, Devra Kleiman, and others.

03:08:09 - 03:08:13

Can you tell us a little about these people?

03:08:13 - 03:08:16

What made them special and how did they contribute?

03:08:16 - 03:08:21

So just throwing out a name, Devra Klein, who was she?

03:08:23 - 03:09:03

Her work. Well, obviously she was an extremely important scientists, especially, I mean, not just for the National Zoo, but worldwide. And aside from her in-depth work on giant pandas. I mean, she did a huge amount of research work on golden lion tamarins. And I mean, she worked really closely with Ben Beck on the unit reintroduction programs. And she was a tough cookie. She really was. I mean, she didn’t take anything from anybody.

03:09:03 - 03:10:15

And I mean, you had to be somewhat delicate in working with her. I mean, she wanted to do something, we tried to get some changes in the panda operation and it took a lot of work to get some of the, keeping pandas together longer or not longer as the case may be. We worked at all this stuff out but Devra was really a good person to work with. I didn’t have as much contact with her as I would have liked to because at the time I worked with her for a year and a half, I think, with the pandas. And then I worked with her on golden lion tamarins, but the rest of the time, what I was involved with really didn’t touch on what she was working on. But I kept in touch with her.

03:10:15 - 03:10:18

And who was Clint Gray?

03:10:25 - 03:11:12

I got along with Gray really well, but I mean, as a veterinarian, we had some serious disagreements. And one of the disagreements was that he constantly would come, we’d call him about a problem, and he would constantly come up and then say, “I gotta go back and get,” I mean, we had some waterbuck seriously injured and one killed by a pack of dogs that got in the enclosure, and I called him and I said, “You got to get up here right away.” And he comes up and he has nothing.

03:11:14 - 03:11:22

He said, “I got to go back and get my stuff.” And I said, “For Christ sake Clint, I told you what was wrong?

03:11:22 - 03:11:26

Why in the world did you come up to look at what I told you what happened?

03:11:26 - 03:11:55

Now, you got to go back there and we’ve got animals in there that are hurt.” I mean, I had a number of issues where he wouldn’t come up prepared or he’d come up and he wouldn’t do what I thought should be done. I mean, he was an okay vet, all right, but he didn’t hold a candle to Mitch.

03:11:56 - 03:12:03

And you said you’d worked for many directors, who had the greatest influence on you and why?

03:12:06 - 03:13:53

I’d have to say Reed, obviously, Bill Conway, I mean, I’d go up the Bronx and I would just be amazed at what he did with that zoo, not only the exhibits, but the collection. I mean, Lincoln Park. Lincoln Park, I kind of looked at it as my favorite zoo both because it was a really neat zoo, but that the curatorial staff up there, we just really clicked. And in fact, we used to play a lot of practical jokes on you guys, but San Diego, although I always thought San Diego, it was overblown as far as how it was portrayed by Joan Embery. And I mean, it was the great San Diego zoo, and it was, but I wasn’t really impressed with a lot of the exhibits that were there. Brookfield was a good zoo, St. Louis, I liked, Sonora Desert Museum, right on, small, but I mean what they did was really a class exhibits. I’ve always sang the praises of Singapore. And I still think the Singapore Zoo is probably easily in the top tens zoos in the world.

03:13:53 - 03:14:34

And I haven’t been there for awhile, but I don’t think it’s changed that much since I was there last. So the German zoos were okay, but I don’t know. I just wasn’t that impressed with their exhibits. I thought they could have done a lot better job, at least in the ’70s, ’80s eighties, I guess when I was going over there. And I’m sure there’s a lot of other zoos in the US that I thought were really, really good zoos, St. Louis.

03:14:39 - 03:14:43

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

03:14:54 - 03:16:27

Well, if you’re talking about the first time, I would’ve liked to have seen a lot of the exhibits that needed to be totally knocked down and rebuilt done, and that never happened. I would have liked to have seen the collection change from what it turned into. And that brings me back to what happened to the zoo when Reed left in ’84 and Robinson took over. Mike’s attitude on the zoo was that he only had one interest in his plans. And that was to create exhibits for small things, for invertebrates, insects, whatever. And as a result, he allowed the rest of the zoo to deteriorate to the point where we lost probably 75% our hoofstock. We lost a huge number of our bird collection. Small mammal collection was going downhill.

03:16:27 - 03:16:43

And every time you would talk to Mike about can we bring in this, can we bring in that, he would never say no, but when you went after the resources to get what we were asking for, we couldn’t get the money.

03:16:43 - 03:16:44

What year we’re talking about?

03:16:44 - 03:18:23

We are talking about ’84 through 1999, long time, 18 years. And he did finish Amazonia, which I give him credit for, but that was already on the books. And he built invertebrates, which was a pretty nice exhibit. Beck managed to get his O line, which was the orangutan over the aerial transportation for the orangs. But other than that, I mean, there was very, very little in the way of new exhibits that were even being considered at that point. I don’t know, I mean, Mike was pretty much unapproachable for anything in the way of new ideas if it didn’t fit into what he wanted to do. He hated Front Royal in the entire time, 18 years, he only went to Front Royal twice and he had no interest in mega mammals at all. And when he left in 1999, he wrote a letter to the secretary saying that it was costing too much money to maintain operation out there, that it should be closed down.

03:18:25 - 03:19:49

And when Spelman got the directorship, that’s what she was faced with. And instead of saying, well, we can’t do that, she went along with the secretary’s recommendation based on what Mike had told him. And they were gonna shut down CRC, which really just fractured the zoo in Front Loyal incredibly because the scientists were absolutely livid over the fact that that was being considered. And I spent a lot of time with Spelman and with CRC people that it wasn’t gonna be closed down. There was no reason. And so in the end, it didn’t get shut down, but it was surely on Mike’s shoulders that facility was failing dramatically because it wasn’t supported at all. And Chris left and Monfort took over, but I mean, all he could do was kind of hold things together and it just kept getting worse and worse. So anyway, I don’t know what else to say about Mike.

03:19:49 - 03:20:08

I mean, he was nice guy and everything, but he had his own agenda and it certainly didn’t include maintaining the zoo in a manner that it needed to be maintained and the same thing with Front Royal.

03:20:08 - 03:20:18

Going back to your job on the time you were there, what was your favorite job and the positions?

03:20:21 - 03:21:53

Actually, my favorite job I think was when I was put in charge of this Small Mammal Facility. I mean, I really kind of had an affinity for small mammals anyway as well as her herps, but small mammals was just really, I mean, did something for me and it was, I really felt good about the fact that we were able to create an exhibit, a building that could display small mammals in a manner that did them justice, that allowed the people to see them. They were all out for the most part and active. They were all interesting animals in one respect or another, either in their behavior or their appearance and that lasted for a long time. And then we couldn’t get animals, I didn’t have the money to buy animals. There wasn’t any pressure being put on me to do anything. But that was a period, I mean, when that building opened, I just looked at it and said, that’s mine and that’s something I really wanted to do. The only other exhibit that I worked on that I felt really good about was Monkey Island.

03:21:55 - 03:22:28

And that was again, Reed’s idea. But I designed that thing to kind of look like Gibraltar ’cause we were doing Barbary apes on there. And I thought it turned out really well. And I’ll never forget, we couldn’t figure out, nobody, Mark, could tell us what the jump distance was on a Barbary ape.

03:22:28 - 03:22:30

How far could they leap and how far up could they leap?

03:22:31 - 03:24:29

So we just started playing around with figures and we came up with whatever that thing was, a 14 foot height on the walls and 20 feet from across the moat. We had this shoe celebration to open Monkey Island and Ripley was there. And the assistant secretary for science was there and Reed was there. And we let these Barbary apes out and I’m standing there next to the architects and I’m looking at this male and he’s walking around and he’s looking up and he’s looking up, and I thought, “God, don’t try to jump.” And he jumped, he came that close to the top of the wall and he dropped back down and I mean, it was just like, oh, my God, he never tried it again. That was it, he tried it that one time. And then we put hot wires up. I mean, I never expected to have to put hot wires up on a 14 foot wall, but anyway, and we only had one other Barbary ape get it, actually it wasn’t a Barbary, it was a Celebes youngster that jumped from the top of the rock across the moat and landed in a baby carriage with the baby in it, and then jumped out and took off. But I mean, the other thing that I was really proud of was the fact that the Small Mammal Building was a joint effort on the part of the curatorial staff, myself, and the keepers, and not just keepers that worked in Small Mammals, but it was keepers that would come down from other areas and volunteer to take on a single exhibit and design it.

03:24:30 - 03:24:46

And I said, “Look, we’re gonna put such and such in here.” I started looking up information on what they need and what their exhibits should look at. And they did it. I don’t know if I answered what you asked me.

03:24:46 - 03:24:48

What was your least favorite job?

03:24:51 - 03:25:01

Dealing with Robinson. I mean, we go in his office and start to talk.

03:25:01 - 03:25:15

And as soon as he realized we were talking about something that really didn’t interest him, he would get up and walk across and start feeding a tank of fish and then you just said, that’s it?

03:25:15 - 03:26:37

No, he just get up and walk out. And I mean, he was a very difficult person to understand even though I did well under him. But the other thing he did was in 1996, he had basically through his fiscal mistakes, basically bankrupted the zoo. We didn’t have enough money, we only had 99% of our budget that was allocated for salaries. In ’94, we had 99% , in 96, they recommended that in order to pay the salaries of the staff, they were gonna be unable to do it. They didn’t have enough money to pay the number of staff that was currently in the zoo. They also didn’t have enough money to pay a lot of the basic upkeep monies as well. So Mike’s decision was to get rid of all the top curatorial staff.

03:26:38 - 03:27:02

So in one fellow shoe, he wiped out six curatorial positions that represented something like 210 years of experience. And we never ever have gotten that back. And it was really a disgrace that, that could have happened under his watch.

03:27:04 - 03:27:26

Now, your thoughts on new trends in the zoo for the last quarter of a century, drastic reductions of animal species in the collection at the National Zoo and elsewhere, exhibits such as the zoo special ariel skywalk for rings and the so-called immersion landscaping, these trends, your thoughts on them?

03:27:30 - 03:29:30

Well, I don’t have a problem with the overhead line for the orangs except that it took a lot of work and a lot of changes because those things she kept getting off from the initial design. But I think Beck wanted to do that, but I think there was an awful lot of money and an awful lot of animals that went by the wayside that we could have had in the collection because they turned that entire Primate House over to orangutans, which we already had up in the main building. So it was a nice idea, I mean, it was a very unique idea, as far as I know, hadn’t been tried with orangutans, as far as the immersion, I’m not quite sure what you mean by that, you mean like where you’re actually in with the, I don’t have a problem with that. I think all these buildings that allow you to walk into a rainforest for instance, and feel the heat, the humidity, hear the noise of the animals, hear the water running is a really great, good idea, but there’s not a lot of zoos in a position to build those kind of facilities ’cause they’re extremely expensive. And if you don’t have the wherewithal to get the collections to go in there, it poses a problem. And even in Amazonia, we tried to get more small mammals introduced to that exhibit. And we were told we couldn’t do it, they didn’t have the resources to take care of them. So we still had four species of animals plus a number of birds.

03:29:30 - 03:29:47

But the biggest part of that facility was the fish tanks. But you’ve got a living exhibit that you can walk through and number of zoos have done that.

03:29:47 - 03:29:57

Now, you’ve been involved in a lot of exhibit design, so what would you say is the ideal zoo exhibit design approach, what components are important?

03:30:01 - 03:32:15

Well, I’m really caught in kind of a quagmire to answer that because back in the ’80s and ’90s when these exhibits were really coming to fruition where all the zoos were building open exhibits, or like they were building indoor immersion exhibits, spending a lot of money on them and it wasn’t a lot of money, but today, to build those same exhibits, you’re talking about exhibits that are running into over 0.5 a million, $50 million or more. And in some cases over $100 million, which is a huge amount of money to spend on an exhibit for people to come through that really don’t appreciate it to the extent that they should, I guess because of the amount of money that’s been spent on it When what zoos purport to do is they’re saving dangerous species for the future. And wildlife is being eradicated at such a rapid rate now that there’s no way zoos are gonna be able to stop that. And even with the re-introduction programs, you can’t reintroduce animals now to these countries where they’re being eradicated at a high rate. And whether it’s elephants or rhinos or pangolins or species of reptiles or amphibians and turtles, it’s happening so fast that the money that’s being spent today in zoos on exhibits to get people to come into the zoos because now they’re losing visitation because their collections have dropped off. So they have to depend on new exhibits or new rides or whatever. I mean, we just put a carousel at national. I mean, that would never have been even considered years ago.

03:32:16 - 03:33:13

It’s not part of the zoo feeling when you go into a zoo, you don’t expect to walk in and see a carousel, but they’re starving for money and this was a money-making machine. I expect at some point, you’re gonna see roller coasters in a lot of these facilities ’cause they can’t maintain the visitation while their collections drop-off and they need to consistently come up with new ideas to draw people in which costs millions of dollars for the most part, regardless of what it is, whether it’s an immersion exhibit or whether it’s a overhead tram that takes you over whatever. I really have a serious problem with where zoos are gonna be in another 20 or 30 years.

03:33:13 - 03:33:27

Well, and speaking of that, the zoo business has changed greatly in the years you’ve been at it, knowing what you know today, would you have entered the field when you did and would you enter it today?

03:33:27 - 03:33:31

I would not even consider entering it today.

03:33:31 - 03:33:31


03:33:31 - 03:34:58

Because it’s not the same profession that it was when I became a keeper, but certainly not the one that I was in during the ’60s and ’70s where it was an awakening of what zoos were all about, and we could get the collections that we wanted. We were able to build exhibits that were very nice for a low cost for the most part. You had, I think more interest in zoos by the public. Now, you’ve got all the animal rights groups that are coming after these zoos with a vengeance, to a large degree, I think they’ve got a right to do that because I think a lot of these zoos are making some serious mistakes in a way they’re exhibiting animals and how they’re being exhibited incorrectly or there’s more money being spent on the facilities than it isn’t being spent on, how do you deal with the fact that you’ve only got one elephant or you’ve only got one rhino now ’cause he can’t get any more, but you spent $60 million on an elephant exhibit.

03:34:59 - 03:35:01

And where are you gonna get the elephants now?

03:35:01 - 03:35:57

Because trying to get elephants in, you’re running into not only the federal government, but you’re running into the animal rights groups as well. And I don’t see that easing up anytime. I think it’s gonna just continue to get worse. So if you’re asking me why I wouldn’t wanna go into the zoo business now, I just think I answered it. And when I started in the zoo business in 1956, I mean, the sky was the limit, you could get anything you wanted any time you wanted it regardless of what it was. There were no restrictions. Admittedly, a lot of the animals weren’t being kept in necessarily adequate exhibits, but that changed with the ’70s and certainly changed in the ’80s. So now, you got all these nice exhibits for animals that you can’t even get anymore.

03:36:00 - 03:36:05

It’s kind of insanity in a sense to see what’s going on.

03:36:05 - 03:36:14

Well, how would you say that the role of the curator or even that of the general curator has changed since you entered the profession, has it evolved for the better?

03:36:16 - 03:37:58

No, it hasn’t. And I think part of the reason is that when keepers and curators alike, and including directors, when they were in the profession, I mean, even after the war, the Second World War, they got into the profession because they really wanted to work with wild animals and do as best as they could in order to keep them in conditions that were befitting their needs. And so that evolved to a point where in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and I just stop at the end of the ’70s, all that came together, I mean, the curatorial staffs came together, the directors came together, they all, most of all came out of the ranks. They had worked as keepers, they had worked as curators or something, they took over directorship of the zoos. Not all of them were good because they weren’t used to having to give reports every month to the board of directors or go out and raise large amounts of money. But for the most part, they got by pretty well. Curators, the same way, they were in a situation where they spent their time dealing with two things, the collection and their staff. Now, one of the reasons I left NZP in 2007 was I couldn’t get out of my office because of the paperwork and it kept getting worse and worse and worse.

03:37:58 - 03:38:21

And mean, I went into the profession because I enjoyed it. It was a challenge and it was fun. In 2007, I just looked at myself and I said, this is not what I expected to come back to. And it’s not something I’m gonna wanna stay in and I just left.

03:38:25 - 03:38:33

And in fact, if I can get into, do you want me to start talking about my second or have you got some more?

03:38:36 - 03:38:40

Tell us about how you entered, you retired from the zoo and then came back?

03:38:40 - 03:39:19

Well, I came back, but it was one of these situations where I’ll never forget, we were overseas and I knew Robinson had left and they were looking for a new zoo director. And I think at the time they were actually recruiting to look for a new zoo director and my wife and I, I said, “Why don’t you call back in and check with your staff ’cause she was still working at the zoo. Check with staff, see if they hired or gotten the selection on a new director.

03:39:20 - 03:39:56

So she’s on the phone and she’s saying, “So who’s the new director, what, who?” And I’m saying, “Who is it, who is it?” And she says, “Lucy Spelman,” almost fell over, it was kind of Lucy, who in the hell promoted Lucy Spelman from veterinarian to director, Larry Small did, based on his visit to the hospital and watching her work on a tiger or something, and he said, “She’s gonna be great for fundraising because they can…” Larry Small is?

03:39:56 - 03:40:16

He was secretary, the Smithsonian. So again, they made a selection of the zoo director for the National Zoo without any kind of competition. So, I mean, I basically just wrote off the zoo at that point.

03:40:21 - 03:40:22

And why did I come back?

03:40:22 - 03:41:53

Because of what happened, I mean, I read about everything that happened with the red pandas and the fact that they had allowed Beck to resign and Seidensticker was moved out and up to research again. And the Post was raising holy hell with what was going on down there. And it was like, that’s really too bad. And it kept getting worse. I mean, it really started to get worse and worse and worse. And I was down in a local bar that was right up from the zoo with Judith Block, and my son, and my brother, and another friend of ours playing darts, and the bartender comes over and says, “Your wife’s on the phone.” I said, “Shit,” I picked up the phone and she said, “You got to get home.” I said, “What’s wrong?” She says, “Just come home.” Because she knew I was with people that worked at the zoo. And so anyway, she finally said, “Don’t say anything, but Spelman called and she wants you to call.” So I hung up I said, “I got to go home.” So I got home and I sit down and I said, “All right, I’ll call her.” So I called her and she said, “I’ve got a really serious problem, Bill.

03:41:53 - 03:42:04

And I wanna know if you’ll come back to help me.” And I said, “Can I call you back?

03:42:04 - 03:43:33

‘Cause I really have to think on this.” And then I hung up, Fran said, “Well, what are you gonna to do?” And I said, “Right now, I don’t think I would accept her offer to come back. I don’t need the job and it’s gonna be a real mess.” And Fran said, “Okay, that’s your decision. However, should you decide not to go back, I don’t wanna ever, ever hear the zoo mentioned in this house again.” Because I used to just really complain and complain and complain about hat was going on at the zoo. And she said, “You’ve got a chance to go back in and do something about it, and it’s your choice to do it or not, but don’t talk about the zoo again, if you don’t take the job.” So I called Lucy back and I said, “Okay, I’ll come in and talk,” which I did. And I don’t regret it because I think it was a real challenge for me. And I think I did the best I could in order to get the pressure off of Spelman to a certain extent, but it wasn’t enough because they were never gonna let her alone.

03:43:36 - 03:43:39

So you negotiated terms to come back?

03:43:39 - 03:44:14

Yeah. As general curator. The original title Beck had, was assistant director for animal programs. And I said, “Look I don’t want that, just give me a title of general curator, that’s fine.” So part of the reason you came back was because of these animals, the bald Eagle, the zebras, the red pandas that were dying. No, the bald Eagle died on my watch.

03:44:14 - 03:44:16

Okay, the zebras and the pandas?

03:44:16 - 03:44:23

The zebras, and the pandas, and kangaroos, I mean, I can go on and on and on.

03:44:23 - 03:44:25

Before you got there, what did you think was happening?

03:44:26 - 03:45:28

I thought that the animal care was really in trouble. And when I got back and I had to listen to the excuses that were being given for the deaths of these animals, it was like, I had to go through path reports and keeper reports for I think it was 27 mammal deaths. And it was obvious that there was some real major problems in the reporting of the deaths and that there were a lot of lies that were being told to the post about why these animals died, what the diagnosis was on some of them. Some of them were righteous deaths, okay, but there were some that weren’t. And I told Spelman that and they still tried to cover it up.

03:45:28 - 03:45:33

What did you see as the relationship then between the animal collections department and the medical department?

03:45:36 - 03:47:38

I thought there was a real problem, it wasn’t so much the animal department and the medical department because there was a real click between Spelman, the vet, and the deputy director. I mean, Lucy would come through the zoo with the deputy director, talk to the keepers, give them instructions, bypass the curators and this went on and same thing with the vet. And I think that’s one of the problems that got her into the trouble that she was in because there was nobody that was really in a position to oversee decisions that were being made by Lucy with this deputy director and even with the vet since she was still trying to be a vet, and a director, and oversee the veterinary department. And what actually happened was, is these deaths started to occur. The assistant pathologist started looking at these reports of why the animal died. And there were so many inconsistencies that he was finding in the vet report, in the keeper reports that he was going through, that he was the one that blew the whistle to begin with. And then it just mushroomed after that. And so when I got there and had to work out the problems that had been created, it was tough.

03:47:38 - 03:47:50

When you decided to come back, you negotiated with the director, did you require a carte blanche autonomy to do what you thought needed to be done?

03:47:51 - 03:47:52

Yep, I absolutely did.

03:47:52 - 03:47:56

And I told her, I said, “You want me to do my job?

03:47:56 - 03:49:34

I need to do it, I don’t need any interference from outside.” Even with that, it became difficult, I think I mentioned I had a real issue that came up very, very early. I think I hadn’t been there more than two or three weeks with a promise that had been made by the zoo and by the director to ship a male giraffe out to the zoo in Boston. And at the time that decision was made, we had two animals, this male plus a female, well, the female died. So we had this one male left and she said, “Well, we’re not gonna to send it out.” And I said, “Well, we’ve already committed that animal to them. They’ve made arrangements, they’ve got a female in, we’re sitting here with a single male down. He is not doing us any good at all. We have to send that animal to Boston.” And she said, “No, we’re not gonna be without your ass.” And I said, “Okay, look, I mean, you got one choice, Lucy, either we send the animal to the zoo in Boston, not because it’s something that now you don’t wanna do. It’s something that as the National Zoo, we’ve got a reputation uphold as far as commitments that we make that we have to honor, and I’m not gonna smirch my reputation because now I’m in a position that I have to make that decision too, to send that animal out.

03:49:34 - 03:50:24

And you’re telling me, I can’t, so you’ve got two choice, either it goes to Boston or I go out the gate and that’s where it stands.” And she said, “Well, we’re not gonna send out the giraffe”. And I said, “Okay, well, I’ll see you later.” And I walked out of the office and I was gonna leave and she came after me and said, “Come back in.” And she changed her mind. And we ended up sending the animal up. And I did get giraffes in and I told her I would get giraffes in. So I was in a absolutely unique position because I was basically untouchable at that point. I didn’t care whether I had the job or not, but if I was gonna keep it, I was gonna keep it under my terms.

03:50:24 - 03:50:32

Did people in the department realize that other people and all the other departments that you were gonna make decisions and it was gonna be your decision?

03:50:32 - 03:51:41

Yeah. And I had massive, massive run-ins with the deputy director, not with Lucy, but with her. And it had to do not with the collection, but it had to do with my ability to run my staff the way I thought it needed to be run and to run my budget. And she would lie, and I’d find out about in a staff meeting where I was expecting to get X amount of money for my operating budget and find out it had been cut by 15% without even talking to me about it. And this went on almost consistently. And that was one of the other reasons why at the end of 2007 or the beginning of 2007 after hired Berry to come in to take Spelman’s place. And I got along very well with John, but I still couldn’t deal with the deputy director. And it was like, I think I’ve done all I can do here.

03:51:42 - 03:52:14

I’ve gotten the collection built back up, we’ve got new exhibits opened and it had just, I think I’ve reached the point where I can’t do any more, but if I stay, I’m probably gonna start doing things that I wish I didn’t have to do. And that is, I’m gonna get really nasty with this director, well, the deputy director, which means I’m gonna have conflicts with Berry and everything else.

03:52:14 - 03:52:32

And I just said, “It’s time to go.” So in the successes you had, you weren’t able the job of director of Dr. Spelman, with those successes that wasn’t enough to save her job or she resigned?

03:52:32 - 03:53:36

She resigned because yeah, it was in 2005 and the Post wasn’t letting up. It had nothing to do, I honestly believe it had reached a point where it had nothing to do with the zoo. It was all directed at her and the fact that they just didn’t like her. I mean, the reporters that were going after her just didn’t like her and they didn’t let up. And she finally, I remember she came into the meeting and she said, “I’m tendering my resignation. I mean, this is the only way the zoo’s gonna move forward,” and then that was basically it. Now, was it during this time that you had an interview with the Washington Post, you said, “The zoo has become a stepchild and the Smithsonian was falling apart.” You had attributed to deteriorating facilities and a stagnant collection. Was this story that time.

03:53:37 - 03:54:44

It was true because if I can degress in the history for a moment when Reed was director, he had Ripley as secretary. So everything meshed, I mean, you had a really dynamic director, you had a really dynamic secretary of the Smithsonian and they complimented each other and the zoo grew, and it grew, and it grew. When Reed left, things started to go downhill. Not only because we had basically an effective director, but the two secretaries of Smithsonian that came in after Ripley retired were totally inept. One was absolutely inept. I mean, I can remember sitting in meetings with him when we’re talking about the master plan, he’s asleep. I mean, he had absolutely no interest in the zoo, none. And the budget started to show that.

03:54:44 - 03:56:29

And between the two secretaries not showing any interest in the zoo and Robinson out there not showing the interest in the zoo, in 18 years the zoo literally, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here, the zoo literally went back almost to 1956 in the fact that the exhibits were deteriorating, the collection, it fell off to almost 1/2 of what it used to be, the staff was in bad shape. It was just a total mess. And when Spelman came in, she had a really tough job on her hands. And I really think that if this thing with the collection and the death of the red pandas and everything, she probably would have turned in to be a pretty good director if given another couple of years, but it didn’t happen. And so when Spelman resigned, we started searching for, well, we had another acting director and Dave Evans who was assistant secretary for science, and he wasn’t much better than Robinson ’cause he really didn’t care about the zoo that much. And he was there just kind of a stop gap. But we got a committee organized, selecting committee, and we interviewed a lot of directors of zoos and a lot of scientists. And it was kinda like, I don’t know, nobody could agree on any of them.

03:56:29 - 03:57:41

And then John Berry’s name came up and we started looking at John and I mean, it was kinda like Jeez, here’s a guy that grew up in Washington, really knew the zoo, worked for the federal government, really knew the FEDs, worked for private industry and fundraising. He sounded really good, and I said “I think we ought to interview him.” And I was going out of town. And I said, “It’s gonna have to wait ’cause I wanna be back when we get the interview.” So I sat down in Evans’ office Downtown in Smithsonian for 2 1/2 hours interviewing Berry. And I mean, it was kind of like old home week in a way ’cause he knew me, he knew the district government, he knew the federal government. He was really an exciting person to talk to. And he was really excited about where the zoo could go. And it was kind of like, so when we came back, I said, “Well, if you everybody’s good on Berry, then I think we should bring him on.” And we did.

03:57:41 - 03:57:49

Now, when you came back to the zoo, how did the curatorial staff react to you coming back?

03:57:49 - 03:57:53

Was there cheers, geers. Yeah.

03:57:53 - 03:57:55

Which ones?

03:57:55 - 03:57:56

Both, no, there was cheers.

03:57:56 - 03:58:25

I mean, when I got introduced, I mean, all the keeper staff, everybody was there, and I mean, I had people coming up and saying, “God, it’s so good to see you come back.” Everybody I had not, I didn’t have anybody say, some said, “Why did you come back?” But I mean, none of them said, “I’m sorry, you’re here, we don’t want you or whatever.” Now, did you give your staff your vision of what was gonna happen or was it the vision of somebody else telling you what was gonna happen?

03:58:25 - 03:59:28

No, I talked to my staff and told them what was gonna happen. I gave every single curator that was under my responsibility a carte blanche to go out and get animals. I said, “I don’t care how much they cost. I don’t care where you have to get them as long as they’re legal, but go get them.” And especially the birds, I used to call the Bird House. I got, it was like the silent spring in the Bird House, there were no birds. I mean, that curator built that collection up beautifully. Same thing with small mammals, same thing with hoofstock and primates, we were really kind of stuck with primates, the larger monkeys ’cause we didn’t police put them. But I think they did a really exemplary job of taking the fact that they were given a free hand to do this.

03:59:28 - 04:00:31

And I didn’t even ask them to tell me what they were getting. I said, “I don’t care what you get as long as it fits into the theme of the building and in the collection plans, but just do it and don’t bother me with, is okay, if I go get this.” And at the time Spelman was fine with that. She knew what you were gonna do. Yep. And I promoted three of the curators, I gave them grade raises. I brought in the two senior curators when I reorganized the animal operation, I wanted two senior curators. And I brought in Jack Grisham and and Brawny Caskey. And one, because Grisham was a good mammal person, and Ed was a really top-notch water quality expert.

04:00:32 - 04:01:15

And he was gonna be running Amazonia in the valley and everything else, all which had really complicated water systems to deal with plus the collection too. And that worked out pretty well. Grisham, I had some problems with Jack at points and I think it was just his management style and mine was totally different in dealing with the keepers. So I think when he had the opportunity to take the job in St. Louis and I talked to him, I said, “Look, I don’t wanna lose you, but I’ll tell you right now, I’m not gonna be here that long.

04:01:15 - 04:01:42

So if you’ve got a job to get position that they’re offering you, I’d be a fool to tell you, don’t take it, stay here.” So when you came in during this time, there was this public reaction or public relations issues, did you have to handle the pressure with the media and the governmental forces, did it fall on you or there after?

04:01:42 - 04:02:29

No, it fell on me for the most part. Even my wife told me when that bald Eagle got killed, I made some assumptions that I probably shouldn’t have made as to how it was killed, what killed it. And I mean, it turned out in the long run, it was a Fox. And I thought it was probably a Bobcat. And I remember Fran saying, “And why in the world did you say that in that press interview?” And I said, “Because I thought at the time that was the right thing to say, hindsight, I probably jumped the gun ’cause we really weren’t sure although we’d seen footprints that looked like a cat, it wasn’t actually a cat footprint.

04:02:31 - 04:02:32

What was it?

04:02:32 - 04:03:56

It was a fox. Yeah, but other than that, I was there for the birth of the first Panda that survived, which was, I mean, an incredible thing to be a part of. And I looked back in that and I was heavily involved in all the decisions that were being made on whether we should do an actual breeding whether we should go at AI, do both and some of it got pretty heavily arguable with the scientists over the curator, which was Lisa Stevens. And she didn’t wanna do the AI, she wanted to do the natural breeding. And she did it without talking to me, bred them together. So we never really knew whether or not we were dealing with a natural birth through natural breeding or whether it was from the AI. And she really caught it from me. And I really caught it from Monfort ’cause he was livid with me because I had not been more careful on what she was doing up there.

04:03:56 - 04:04:02

But in the long run, it worked out. You say, you made good on your promise to bring giraffes back.

04:04:02 - 04:04:05

Did you make good to get some Eagles?

04:04:07 - 04:04:32

We talked about getting a yoke back in and the decision was not to because that exhibit was ancient. I mean, it was falling apart and the thought was, it didn’t make any sense to bring in Eagles and put them into an exhibit that had already allowed a fox to get in. And that was gonna be torn down and it was torn down.

04:04:35 - 04:04:38

Were you there when Dolly Parton donated Eagles?

04:04:39 - 04:04:51

Those went to the Valley, okay. They didn’t go up the Bird House. No, actually I was off that day, so I didn’t meet Dolly Parton and I was kind of ticked off about their… You we working. Yeah, I was. Yeah.

04:04:52 - 04:04:55

You were instrumental in getting them?

04:04:55 - 04:06:22

No, I’m trying to remember now, I don’t even have a date on when those Eagles came in, but I think it was probably in 2005 or 2006. So Berry may have been involved in that if he wasn’t, it was Spelman that did it, I mean, she was still there. So you said you gave your curators carte blanche to get animals, did you also tell your curators that they needed to work with the species survival program coordinators and be part of all of that. Yeah, in fact, a lot of them were on SSPs, especially with the birds and the small mammals. And I mean, don’t ask me what species they were working with ’cause I’m not really sure I remember, but I know with the birds, we had Sara Hallenger was a bio tech up there and she was really into the kori bustards and spent time over in Africa with the vet working on them and wrote papers on them and was heavily involved in the SSP on them. And she now is the curator in the birds unit. So you mentioned different things you wanted your curators to be knowledgeable about.

04:06:22 - 04:06:28

Today, sometimes directors say they are looking for good curators, what do you think the problem is now?

04:06:30 - 04:08:57

I think the problem is that they come in ’cause it sounds like a pretty good job. And curatorial pay is getting better all the time, but I don’t think they have, I mean, unless they’ve come out of the keeper ranks and they’ve actually worked with the collections and the understand the ins and outs of keeping a living collection, if they’re coming out of a college or a research facility or something like that, and they come into the zoo profession, they really don’t know what it takes to run a living collection like that. And they don’t know how to deal with the staff and they don’t know how to deal with getting exhibits built and getting the right species in for exhibit. And I remember I was at a conference, it might’ve been Chicago and I was sitting at the bar and these two guys were sitting down from me and all they were talking about was dealing with the coefficients in this species and that species and how many animals that they could hold in the collection and where they were gonna and I’m looking at, and I’m thinking, “That’s what they’re talking about, and it’s all based on computer work.” And I found that the more complex the zoos got, the more paperwork was being shoved on the shoulders of the management to the point where you had so much junk coming in that you had to respond to one way or another, that you really didn’t have time to get out and deal with the collection and deal with your staff. Hell at National, they were spending, well, I was spending probably 50% of my time in meetings. And we would just talking about just inane stuff, I mean, it was mostly administrative stuff.

04:09:00 - 04:09:02

Zoofari is coming up, how are we gonna do that?

04:09:02 - 04:09:53

We’ve got a holiday coming up and so-and-so is coming in from somewhere, we got to give him a tour and on and on and on. And it took my time, it took the time of the curators to have to organize a lot of the stuff. And so I think, and they tended not to get out of their offices that much. They were on the computer. They were on their phone. So yeah, it had changed. And even now trying to find, I was talking to Jim Murphy, who had been curator of reptiles there for five years. He’s been trying to find a reptile curator for the last two years and he can’t find anybody.

04:09:54 - 04:10:10

Now, let me ask that question then, if you were interviewing the curators for the position Jim’s looking for, or mammal, or bird, what would be the top three qualities that you would wanna see in the a curator today?

04:10:10 - 04:10:14

What’s your background with animal management?

04:10:14 - 04:10:15

Have you worked in a zoo?

04:10:16 - 04:10:18

Why do you wanna work in the zoo?

04:10:19 - 04:10:23

What’s your background as far as wildlife is concerned?

04:10:23 - 04:10:25

Do you have a degree?

04:10:25 - 04:10:26

What is it?

04:10:26 - 04:10:36

If they say I’ve got a PhD, as far as I’m concerned, that pretty much puts them on the bottom of the list.

04:10:36 - 04:10:36


04:10:36 - 04:11:27

Because they’re not interested really in dealing with the living collection, they’re more interested, I mean, if you want them to write papers, that’s great, but you can’t have them in a situation where they’re more concerned with getting a paper written than they are in dealing with the issues that come up on a daily basis with the collection and with the staff that they’re working with. And I think that’s one of the problems. I don’t see any reason in the world why the National Zoo has to hire curatorial staff only if they have a PhD, that’s the criteria. And we fought that for a long time.

04:11:27 - 04:11:33

I mean, even before I left, it was why are we hiring PhDs?

04:11:33 - 04:12:55

Well, we’re a professional organization with Smithsonian. I said, “Yeah, but we’ve got a science department. You wanna hire PhDs, hire them in the science department, don’t hire me in the animal operation.” Because every single PhD that we had working in the animal operations failed at one point or another. I mean, we had them come out of research and come into into the animal operation and they either couldn’t deal with the collection, they couldn’t deal with the staff or they couldn’t deal with either one. And so they either left or they went back into the research department. And I mean, I’m not saying that that’s across the board. I think there are some people with advanced degrees that have a good head on being able to work with captive animals and with staff, but at least in my experience that hadn’t worked very well at the zoo. And we just hired another PhD to replace the senior curator position, see if it works.

04:12:56 - 04:13:15

You indicated that you gave your curators carte blanche to get animals, do you think that that’s the case in a lot of zoos or should it be for the curatorial staff to in a sense make the animal deals, or have you found maybe the directors want more of a say?

04:13:22 - 04:14:08

Well, I never really had a problem when I was working for Reed. I mean, unless it was a major purchase, I mean, unless I was gonna go out and buy a giraffe for $25,000 or something, I mean, if I was bringing in small mammals or having the reptile guide bring in reptiles and birds, it wasn’t really an issue. I mean, Ted was very happy to have animals coming in and we had a lot of animals going out too. And I mean, I used to make deals was the handler and hunting at the regional meetings and also at the nationals. Yeah, dealers.

04:14:10 - 04:14:17

Do you feel that animal keepers today and maybe senior staff know their profession history and if not, why?

04:14:21 - 04:14:39

I think that nobody in the zoo today whether it’s keepers, curators, and even directors, I think they’ve lost the historical knowledge of the facility that they’re working for.

04:14:40 - 04:14:50

I mean, I could guarantee that you could walk up to any keeper in the National Zoo and ask him, who’s DR. Reed?

04:14:52 - 04:14:54

Who’s Dr. Mann?

04:14:54 - 04:14:55

Who’s Dillon Ripley?

04:14:57 - 04:14:59

Have no idea.

04:14:59 - 04:15:04

It’s like, why do I need to know that?

04:15:04 - 04:16:37

Doesn’t affect me who ran the zoo 30 years ago, but it does, if you’re working for an institution, you need to know where it came from in order to know kind of where it’s gonna go. And if you can’t learn from your past, you tend to repeat the same mistakes that have been already repeated before. And if you can’t do that, it means that you’d really don’t care about what the institution stands for because it’s historical. It’s like we were talking about, I mean, when you’ve got a collection of a particular species that has been what the institution is known for and has been part of the collection for 70 years, but you don’t know anything about, now, I’ll mention pygmy hippos for an example. When the new director came in and they were gonna build the elephant facility, he didn’t talk to anybody about, and the people that were there. I mean, I don’t think they really cared one way or another about pygmy hippos, but the fact that we were the first zoo in the US to bring pygmy hippos in the captivity. And for 70 years, we supplied pygmy hippos to every zoo in the world. And now, we don’t have any more pygmy hippos.

04:16:37 - 04:17:14

And it’s a legacy that another 10 years down the road, people won’t even know that the National Zoo even had a pygmy hippo or what is a pygmy hippo because they’ve never seen one and they don’t care. And the same thing happens when you’ve got curators that are interested in a particular species because it’s something that really interests them. And they put a lot of energy and work into setting up exhibits, bringing the animals in, breeding them, working with the SSP to really improve the species.

04:17:16 - 04:17:24

And then that curator goes, and somebody says, Privost’s squirrels, why are we exhibiting Privost’s?

04:17:24 - 04:17:26

Well, we’ve had them for us, so what?

04:17:26 - 04:18:04

so the Privost’s squirrels go away and it’s happening more, and more, and more, and we’re losing species in zoos that we’ll never see again because they’re gone from the zoo collections and they’re rapidly disappearing in the wild. Then we were talking about curators having time on the computers and a lot of paperwork and stuff, but today, many curators are not aware of how to do paperwork for permits or international shipment. And this job has been kind of farmed out to people outside of the profession.

04:18:05 - 04:18:14

How do you think that this of evolve that they don’t know or at least many don’t seem to know the basics of the animal management part?

04:18:18 - 04:18:31

Because, I don’t think they really have a understanding of what it takes to run and manage a living collection in a zoo.

04:18:31 - 04:18:41

And in that entails, not just how do you get animals in and what’s required to do it, but what does it take for you to get this animal in?

04:18:41 - 04:18:47

I mean, how much keeper time is it gonna take, what’s it gonna cost to feed this particular animal?

04:18:48 - 04:18:51

What’s it gonna cost to build the exhibit for the animal?

04:18:51 - 04:19:32

And if you don’t have all that information in your head, when you go out to try to find something because it looks like it might be a neat species to bring in, and then you find out you got to do a permit, but you’ve never done a permit ’cause you’ve never gotten a species. And maybe that requires a permit. At National, we used to do permits. Okay, and then the registrar took it over. I don’t think any of the curators complained over the fact that they didn’t have to do permits anymore because it was done by the registrar and it was done very well.

04:19:32 - 04:19:39

And she kept on our butts all the time about the information that she needed, where’s it coming from?

04:19:39 - 04:19:41

Who is this guy you’re getting it from?

04:19:44 - 04:19:46

Did you get the proper documentation?

04:19:46 - 04:19:48

And has it been whatever?

04:19:48 - 04:20:15

So in to a certain extent, it also became a problem, at least with me and in the registrar at the zoo because I was running into problems even writing species acquisition proposals, because she would question where are you gonna get this thing?

04:20:15 - 04:20:16

Why are you getting it in?

04:20:17 - 04:20:18

Is it in the collection plan?

04:20:18 - 04:20:22

Well, no, but why does it have to be in the collection plan?

04:20:22 - 04:22:01

It’s a bivariate, I’ve got bivariates, but it’s not listed as a particular species. And we went round and round on this thing, you got to broaden the collection plan. So I’m given at least enough leeway that I don’t have to ask you because I’m bringing in a particular species that I want, but it’s not on the collection plan, but it’s a bivariate and we’ve got four already and I just wanna add and they finally changed it. So it broadened it up a bit. The other thing I wanted to bring up was when I came in the second time, the zoo was being accused of not educating the keeper staff, not sending them to classes, not sending them to conferences. And they brought in that science, I’m trying to think of the name of the science group, but it was made up of mostly very, very important PhDs that were gonna oversee how the zoo had run and what the problems were. And I remember sitting there with the guy, the head of the chairmanship of this committee sitting up on the stage and saying, well, one of the problems is the keepers say that they’re not getting any education training. They don’t go to conferences and everything.

04:22:01 - 04:23:19

And I did, I stood up and I said, “Excuse me, but that is absolutely not true. I don’t know where you got that information, but it’s not true. And I resent the fact that you’re standing up in front of this entire audience here and telling something that is absolutely not true.” And I said, “After the discussion here, I will show you what we’ve done in the last three years, we have sent lots of keepers to the AZA meetings. We’ve got them in classes, they’re taking classes now in management and whatever.” And I showed him afterwards. And when he came back the second time I remember, and he was gonna do another presentation, he came up to me and he said, “Please don’t do that to me again, I guarantee you, I won’t make a mistake again.” And so he was very humble, but I mean, that report was just totally full of untruths. And it made the zoo look really, really bad and it killed Spelman. I mean, it really did on top of what was going on with the Washington Post, so anyway.

04:23:19 - 04:23:31

Well, when you’re talking about truths, can you tell me in your opinion, what’s a major professional problem facing zoos today and what can we do to correct the problem, politics?

04:23:40 - 04:24:57

Well, I think we’ve just gone over a lot. I mean, I think the quality of the curatorial staff needs to improve. I think the quality of the keeper staff is okay. But I think that when you manage a collection of wild, you have to keep in the back of your mind that these are in fact, even though they’re captive, they’re still wild animals, and they’re not your household pet. You can’t deal with a collection of living animals like you would with a pet, they’ve all got names. So right there you’ve turned them into something other than wild animals, you call it tiger one or tiger two or lion one, or number 25 or something, it’s Leon or it’s whatever. And so you start to bond with this animal. And so you’re treated differently in how you deal with it.

04:24:57 - 04:25:55

It becomes a pet. And we’ve had keepers that have gotten their hands bitten, their hair torn out because, “Well, I was just patting, he likes to be patted,” but then he bit off your finger. It’s not a pet. You don’t go up and stick your head in the bars at the gorilla exhibit and expect that something is not gonna grab your hair. It’s not a pet. It’s hard to convince a lot of these keepers that they’re not dealing with a collection of wild animals and that they’re not pets. And when they have to be treated or they have to be put down for whatever reason, it’s not something that anybody wants to do, but it has to be done. And you give them reasonably enough time that they can consider the actions that are gonna have to be taken.

04:25:55 - 04:26:48

But at the end, it’s not their decision. Really, it isn’t. I mean, especially if after you’ve talked to them and put them on the same page you are. And then after all that, they still say, “Well, she can still live another five years or something if you treat her correctly,” it’s not gonna happen. You can’t look at it that way. You’re not looking at it from the standpoint of the animal. He can’t talk to you or she can’t talk to you to tell you that she’s really in agony, it can’t walk right, which can’t see because you’re looking at it from a totally different aspect of your job with this animal that you’re responsible for. And I think that’s something that’s getting worse and worse as we get these younger staff in here, and they’re there because they love animals.

04:26:48 - 04:27:53

Well before, I mean, I had favorites too, and I felt bad when one of them died, but if we had to ship them out or something, it was part of the job, they went out of the zoo. That was it or they died. Well, we lost babies. That’s part of the job of maintaining a collection of wild animals in a captive situation. And they shouldn’t become your pets and they shouldn’t become put on a different level than what they actually are in the vets in the same way. I mean, you send animals up, I’d sent out the most up to be euthanized because they’d broken a leg or they lost an eye or whatever the case may be. And I get them back minus a leg, well, with one eye or one ear missing or whatever. And it’s like, we sent these up because they were seriously injured.

04:27:53 - 04:28:11

They were surplus anyway, we had a lot of them, we don’t need to have these back. They were set up to be euthanized and you’re telling me that that wasn’t right that we can fix them, we can take care of the broken leg, but now, I’ve got a three legged animal that I really didn’t want.

04:28:11 - 04:28:11

What am I gonna do?

04:28:11 - 04:28:17

Put it in one exhibit with a sign saying, you know why it’s running around with three legs?

04:28:17 - 04:28:30

And I’m sure the vet, I guess it’s like the doctor’s oath do no harm, but you have to look at the reality of what’s going on.

04:28:30 - 04:28:53

And I mean, I talked to a lot of people, a lot of friends of mine in the zoo profession about euthanasia, and it’s a word that is absolutely an anthima with AZA, they’ve been talked about and talked to about, what are you gonna do about euthanasia?

04:28:53 - 04:28:55

What are you gonna do with the animal rights groups?

04:28:55 - 04:29:25

Because it’s something that is gonna face us constantly. And especially with the finite resources that zoos have today, and the fact that it’s hard to get animals in to begin with. You can’t breed some of them ’cause you don’t have the space. So they sit there and take up space that could be used for other animals, or they take up incredible amounts of time and money from the keeper staff, the vet staff.

04:29:26 - 04:29:27


04:29:27 - 04:30:17

Because we feel responsible for them, because we brought them into this situation. Yeah, we did, but you have to look in the longterm and this animal is keeping other animals from maintaining their status within the captive collections because you don’t have room for their offspring. And it’s a tough, tough situation to have to deal with, but somebody has got up eventually say and I look at AZA for this, at some point, they’re gonna have to say, look, there’s got to be some process that we can go through that allows us to practice a humane euthanasia for a reason, we talk about saving the species. That’s our job, and we’re doing it with the SSPs.

04:30:17 - 04:30:26

But when the SSPs decide to shut off the breeding program because they don’t have anything to do with the offspring, what does that say about the SSPs?

04:30:26 - 04:31:09

Then you get species that go post reproductive or go into reproductive senescence, and you can never turn it around so that it’s lost completely then. And it’s happened with primates, it’s happened with hoofstock. It’s a tough, tough situation that we find ourselves in now. And it’s certainly a situation that 30 years ago, nobody would ever have thought about that because we had the wherewithal to deal with the issue of surplus animals, either getting rid of them or getting them in. It’s not the case anymore, Mark.

04:31:09 - 04:31:17

Well, you’re giving some advice, but what’s the most important piece of advice that you received that stayed with you throughout your career?

04:31:23 - 04:31:24

Do your job.

04:31:27 - 04:31:29

Somebody give you that advice?

04:31:29 - 04:31:33

Yeah. A couple of times. Who was it, your boss.

04:31:35 - 04:31:47

Yeah, when I was like, I’m talking to you right now and they’d say, “That’s not your job, do your job.” You told that to other people?

04:31:47 - 04:32:10

I’ve told that to other people too, yeah. I don’t wanna hear from you about that. It’s not your job, it’s my job, I’ve got to deal with that. So you go back and do your job and let me worry about doing mine. And I’m sure I’m gonna get the director telling me that’s not your job, Bill, go back and do your job. I’ll take care of this, anyway.

04:32:10 - 04:32:28

You were in a big organization, National Zoo, but what do you think smaller or medium size, and this simple zoos can do today to be in involved with wildlife conservation, either nationally or internationally, you were at a big firm, what can those other zoos do?

04:32:28 - 04:34:01

I think that the small to medium-sized zoos in this country right now are in serious difficulty. They don’t have the revenue to do everything they need to do with their own operation, which means with their collection, with their infrastructure, with their staff. And the fact that they’re a small zoo, their revenue is probably not that high. And they’re probably try to find whatever they can find monetarily in order to keep themselves operational from year-to-year. And I think that a lot of these small municipals zoos, they’re in competition with the fire department, the police department, the schools, I mean, and when somebody says, “Well, what about the zoo?” It’s like, we don’t let them raise their own money. we can’t afford, we got them on the budget and that’s all they’re gonna get. It’s a tough decision as far as we’re gonna send $20,000 to Indonesia to protect the Asian rhino, where are they gonna get $20,000 unless they can get it from the society. You couldn’t even get money out of the National Zoo to pay for me to come up here.

04:34:01 - 04:34:14

You think they’re gonna send money over to Kenya to buy a airplane or an AK 47 to shoot the poachers?

04:34:14 - 04:35:03

And even the larger zoos. I mean, when you spend 60 or $70 million to build a penguin exhibit or a polar bear exhibit, and then when somebody says, “Wow, we really need money to prevent these poachers from doing what they’re doing. Or we really need somebody to the US Senator, whatever, to try to pass a legislation to keep the Chinese from wiping out every species on earth within the next 50 years.” Nobody’s doing that. AZA’s not doing that. I was seeing any legislation coming out of AZA that’s pushing the federal government to do something about what’s going on with world wildlife.

04:35:03 - 04:35:05

Do you?

04:35:05 - 04:35:13

I mean, maybe, I don’t know, but I don’t think so. It’s all they can do to pay for their own operations.

04:35:13 - 04:35:16

Should all zoos have breeding programs?

04:35:16 - 04:35:17

Should they or do they?

04:35:17 - 04:35:19

Should they?

04:35:19 - 04:36:21

Well, if they don’t, they’re more or less violating what they say they’re supposed to be doing, which is maintaining a population for the future to eventually put back into the wild. And that’s what the SSPs are for, Species Survival Plan. It’s tough to do a Species Survival Plan when you don’t have any places to put the animals that are produced by that plan. And then it’s either reduced or it’s cut back or eliminated completely. I mean, I don’t even pretend to have a solution for the problems that face zoos in this country much less zoos worldwide. But I do know that there’s gotta be some serious thought given to where they’re going and where they’re gonna be 10, 15, 20 years down the road.

04:36:22 - 04:36:32

Well, you’ve had to deal with the press, and what would you say to those people in the press or otherwise who still believe that zoos are nothing more than places where they cage animals?

04:36:34 - 04:37:41

Well, I wouldn’t necessarily use the term cage, but I think you can certainly say zoos are nothing more than places where they keep collections of captive animals. Some in conditions that are excellent. Some that are not necessarily good, but none that are very bad because they’re controlled too much. So I don’t think that’s ever gonna change. I think, as long as the animal rights groups are out there, the press is gonna jump on the bandwagon because the animal rights groups are, I mean, look, what’s going on with the elephants. I mean, it is a serious, serious situation. AZA doesn’t have a solution to it. Zoos now are getting so scared and they’re being pressured so much.

04:37:41 - 04:37:57

And AZA is now saying that if you don’t have three animals, you can’t keep elephants. Okay, so what do you do with the one or two elephants that you’ve got, either bring in another elephant or two or you got to get rid of the elephant.

04:37:57 - 04:37:59

What do you do with it?

04:37:59 - 04:38:04

You send it to one of the sanctuaries. It’s not that easy anymore.

04:38:04 - 04:38:08

I mean, look, what happened to the facility down in Florida?

04:38:08 - 04:38:21

It’s almost shut down now because I’m not sure what the consequences were of the decisions that were made for that, but my understanding was that was supposed to be for surplus males.

04:38:23 - 04:38:25

And the facility you’re talking about is?

04:38:26 - 04:38:49

It’s the one that was, I guess it was sponsored or supported by AZA and it was also supported by Disney, but it was kind of a quasi private organization. And now, they’re down to one elephant, I think, and the people that were running it are gone. I don’t know what they’re gonna do with that thing.

04:38:49 - 04:38:53

So what’s your view about zoos housing elephants?

04:39:00 - 04:40:11

I think it’s just an effort to make zoos feel good that they’re trying to maintain elephants. I think it’s a losing battle. I think that the elephant collections in this country, they’re short on females. They’re absolutely short on females that are young enough to produce young. They’ve lost a lot of offspring. The only zoos that are doing any kind of major breeding, you can count on one hand, if less, I mean, hell, Ringling Brothers is the only major facilities doing any major breeding of elephants right now and producing them in a large number. But I don’t know what they’re gonna do with those elephants if they keep breeding them successfully. I think if they’re really serious about saving elephants in this country, they ought to tell every zoo in the country that’s got elephants that they’re gonna have to send them to a single facility where they can be managed and possibly bred.

04:40:11 - 04:40:47

And they’ve got the space that they can handle a large number of elephants, especially elephants that are naturally in the wild, very, very social. They’re keeping them in twos and threes or fours. They’re mostly aging. Most of them are gonna produce. They’re dangerous. I mean, we’ve more keepers who’ve been killed in zoos by elephants than any other species of captive animal. I think, that’s true. It’s a real dilemma.

04:40:53 - 04:41:37

I always talked to my friends that have been in the zoo business and I’ve done this consistently, I said, “Thank God that we came into this profession when we did because it’s gone as we knew it and when it was functional and it was doing a really good job of what was being supposed to do. It got better support from AZA, I think during that period of time,” I just think that today there are so many issues, so many problems facing ensues, it’s never gonna change. It’s only gonna get worse.

04:41:37 - 04:41:42

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

04:41:46 - 04:41:57

I would like them to start addressing where they’re gonna be in 20 or 30 years. I mean, and I don’t think that’s something that zoos in it of themselves need to talk about.

04:41:57 - 04:42:08

I think the organization that represents zoos has to get the zoos together and start talking about where are they gonna be in 20 years, what are the collections gonna look like?

04:42:08 - 04:42:10

what do we do?

04:42:10 - 04:42:12

What do we do with our surplus animals?

04:42:12 - 04:42:26

How do we handle the SSPs when they get shut down because there’s no place to put the offspring of these animals that you claim are really important and need to be managed because you wanna save the species?

04:42:28 - 04:43:59

I mean, you kind of talking out of both sides of your mouth when you say that. And start to address what’s going on with the animal rights groups and to start seriously looking at the issue of euthanasia of collection animals because they are taking up valuable space and they’re not putting back valuable assets, so to speak. And these are important questions, and unfortunately, a lot of the zoos don’t wanna deal with them and AZA certainly doesn’t wanna deal with them. And the main reason is that there’s, I think a different mindset in a lot of the staff now that works in zoos where you talk about euthanasia, it’s no way, you talk to AZA now, no way. And animal rights groups are not gonna go away. And it’s easy to ignore a major issue because you don’t wanna deal with the animal rights groups. But the other thing is AZA as an organization needs to, at some point put together a war chest that allows them to counteract the charges that are being brought against them by the animal rights groups. They can come after AZA with impunity and all AZA does is back down.

04:43:59 - 04:45:01

We’re not wanting to do anything that’s gonna cause a problem. If they had a large war chest put together with good lawyers, they could put together a good case for whatever the heck they wanna do in fighting these animal rights groups at least to the point where they maybe get them to understand more about what they think zoos are gonna have to do in the future. And that some of these issues are gonna have to be addressed. And if they are gonna fight them on them, then we’ll take you to court. But I honestly can’t see that happening. I honestly can’t, but I think it’s something that really needs to be discussed and considered because if they can’t deal with the surplus issue, they’re never gonna be able to maintain long-term collections of anything. If they won’t deal with the Texas game ranches, they won’t deal with the private sector.

04:45:03 - 04:45:06

What do they expect to do?

04:45:06 - 04:45:11

Do you have any suggestions for those aspiring to make a difference in the zoo world?

04:45:17 - 04:45:22

Well, I think first of all, they have to look back and find out what the zoo world’s all about.

04:45:23 - 04:45:25

Where are we and where did we come from?

04:45:25 - 04:45:39

And where are you gonna go and do you wanna be part of that, whatever it is, but they’re gonna have to figure out why we’re here, how we got here and what the problems are that are facing zoos today?

04:45:39 - 04:45:55

Because if they wanna get into the profession, man, they’re gonna have to deal with it one way or the other. And if they don’t understand the history, they’re never gonna be able to deal with the future, I just can’t see that happening.

04:46:00 - 04:46:05

Does the curatorial staff have a function in fundraising for the zoo or aquarium?

04:46:11 - 04:47:11

I think that they have a supportive role in fundraising because when you get your donors, I mean, you have to wine them and dine them and you take them into the zoo and you take them through to the recollections. And the keepers are the first line that are gonna be talking to them about the animals they take care of and what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, et cetera. So they need to know what’s going on with the collections that they’re responsible for that they’re bringing these donors around because they wanna raise some money. It may not be for necessarily for their operation, but it’s for the zoo, and they wanna see tigers, maybe they can talk them into the fact that we could probably use some money to, sir. And then the director is gonna say to them, that’s not your job. You had to do that. Yeah, absolutely. Sure, yeah.

04:47:12 - 04:47:15

How did you find it, enjoy it, didn’t enjoy it, necessarily you?

04:47:19 - 04:47:49

I found it enjoyable because I liked the people that I was dealing with. They liked me. I had a lot of dealings with Adrian Morris when I came back, I’ll never forget, I was in the Elephant House when she came in ’cause we were getting ready to start the renovation. And she was a big part of that money that was provided.

04:47:49 - 04:47:56

And she ran up to me and she hugged me and she said, “Bill, I’m so glad you’re back. I’m so glad you’re back.” And who was that individual?

04:47:56 - 04:47:59

Adrian Morris is Morris candy.

04:48:01 - 04:48:12

So anyway, and she was a very, very staunch supporter of the zoo and of the elephant exhibit among others?

04:48:13 - 04:48:14

Is she still alive?

04:48:14 - 04:48:15


04:48:15 - 04:48:16

And she knows you?

04:48:16 - 04:48:30

And she knows me, she knows Fran very well to. Many zoo personnel have after retired continued to be active in the cause for animal welfare.

04:48:31 - 04:48:33

Are you involved?

04:48:33 - 04:48:34

How are you involved?

04:48:34 - 04:48:35

Are you still involved in the zoo community?

04:48:35 - 04:49:58

No, I did some consulting work after I retired and we tried to set up a series of classes in Borneo for tourists. And that basically fell through because the company that I was working with went bankrupt. And I did consulting work in Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Zoo. But other than that, I basically, to be honest, I hardly ever now go to zoos. I mean, it’s just that, I just can’t get up the interest to go in and Fran won’t go in a zoo, period. So if I walk by, I mean, we were in Berlin. I wanted to really go into Berlin’s Zoo just ’cause I really liked it and she wouldn’t go in. She said, “You go in, I’m not going in, but when you come out, I’m not gonna be here, so you’ll have to find me.” So we didn’t go in and it’s a shame that I’ve been soured to a certain extent on zoos, but I was there in the good times and I was there in a bad times and I left in the bad times in both cases.

04:49:58 - 04:51:40

And I don’t honestly think that there’s really gonna be good times again. And that’s just the way I feel because I think there’s so many things that need to be changed in how zoos are looked at and how zoos are run and where the money goes and what they’re doing. And if they profess as a major part of their message that they’re there to save animals for the future and that’s their job, they’re not doing a very good job of it. And especially with the rapid extinction of a lot of species out there, the money be worth much better span when trying to take care of international conservation efforts in these countries where they’re really hurting. We talk about this when we go out, we go out once a week, every week with Jim Murphy, and Judith Block, and Brawny Caskey, and my son, and he gets tired of listening to us. He’s a detective in Washington, DC, and he gets really tired of listening to about zoo stories. But anyway, I always say, 20 years, 20 years, there’s not gonna be a rhinoceros left, probably worldwide, but certainly in Africa and I don’t care how much protection they give. It’s gotten so out of hand that the same thing is gonna happen to the African elephant.

04:51:40 - 04:52:01

And eventually, it’s gonna happen to the Asian elephant. And until somebody starts to really take the issue of what’s going on with these countries that are causing the demise of these species, it’s not gonna stop. It’s only gonna continue to get worse.

04:52:01 - 04:52:03

But do we still need zoos?

04:52:05 - 04:52:41

Well, I don’t think the zoo’s 20 years down the road are gonna be the zoos that they are today. I think they’re gonna be like Busch Gardens or Disneyland, or I mean, they’re gonna have a collection of animals, but it’s gonna be a theme park because they’re either not gonna have a collection or the collections are all gonna be the same because that’s the only way they’re gonna maintain certain species is to make rooms so that all zoos can contribute space for 12 species, whatever they are.

04:52:43 - 04:53:05

And maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I just can’t see the zoos trying to maintain large groups, breeding groups of animals where San Diego doesn’t want waterbuck, but San Antonio is breeding the heck out of waterbuck, but they can’t find homes for them, so what do they do?

04:53:05 - 04:53:06

it’s not in our collection plan.

04:53:06 - 04:53:11

We don’t want waterbuck, I mean, so San Antonio, what do they do?

04:53:11 - 04:54:06

They shut the program down. And once they shut the program down, that pretty well is the demise of that species. And when you look at these gamer inches and hear the stories about there’s more plat book in Texas than there is in India. I mean, that says something. I mean, and it’s been like that for years, and years, and years. So they’re doing something right down there. And if they have to hunt them to call the herds of excess males and older females that aren’t productive anymore, so be it, I mean, nobody runs out, well, I shouldn’t say this because I mean, you talk about the issue with hunting of deer in Washington area, something, I mean, these people get up in arms over the fact that they’re calling deer. They’re so cute.

04:54:06 - 04:55:10

Well, yeah, they are, but they’re destroying the undergrowth dramatically. For the first time, you can really see the understory in the parks in the Washington, Maryland, and Virginia area. Before you could look into these parks and you couldn’t see through through the woods because there was so much undergrowth. The deer have totally, I mean, totally eaten every single twig and leaf out of the understory. It takes away all the nesting for the wild birds. It’s devastating. And the only people that really care is the people that own property where the deer eat about $3,000 worth of shrubbery every night when they come through and they don’t have a problem with, they decide to call the deer, but it’s a tough job and nobody knows what to do. And they try contraception, they try sterilizations.

04:55:10 - 04:56:06

I mean, it’s an expensive proposition and even hunting. I mean, if I had to say I’d open up deer season for 12 months and just tell them to just go out and shoot everything. Well, bring back to the zoo as opposed to the wild. But the zeroes face the same problem. I mean, they’re in a situation where they wanna have a collection. They need to breed in order to keep the collection going, but they can’t breed if they have no place to place the offspring. So the solution is they either get rid of the species and send it to somebody else is gonna have the same problem, or they just stopped breeding them. And then they hope maybe down the road in 3, or 4, or 5 years that, now there’s an interest in treeshrews, or now there’s an interest in waterbuck, maybe we should start breeding them again.

04:56:07 - 04:56:39

All of a sudden they find, well, these animals haven’t been bred five years and it’s tough to get them back into estrous. And in some cases, you can’t get them back there. They’re done, it is a real problem. And I honestly, I don’t have the solution because I’m not sure there is a solution. I have some ideas that they have to look at, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

04:56:40 - 04:56:42

Ideas for the deer or for the zoos?

04:56:42 - 04:56:43

For the zoos.

04:56:43 - 04:56:44

What are those ideas?

04:56:44 - 04:56:47

Give me a couple of or we’ve already discussed?

04:56:47 - 04:56:54

That we’ve already discussed. I mean, they’ve got to start looking at the long range plans and the reality of what’s facing them.

04:56:57 - 04:57:14

Now, you mentioned that when you came to the zoo the second time and tried to move things along, you were involved in public relations and other things, how important is community support for the zoo and can a zoo survive without the community support?

04:57:20 - 04:58:46

I would say if you wanna use the National Zoo as an example of that, I’d say that as much as we need the community support and we would be crazy to lose it, that we’d survive without the community support because we’re a major destination for tourists. And the zoo’s always gonna be on the tourist bus agenda to go see. And especially as we have pandas and whatever they’re gonna come in, but these others zoos, these other municipals zoos, they lose community support, they’re dead. I mean, if they don’t have the community support and that includes the schools and all the other organizations within the community that provide funds or provide visitation to the zoos. And that’s where they’re getting their funding to run the operations. They’re not gonna last in a lot of the solutions to these zoos that are starting to lose a tenants. They raise their rates and that’s not good because when you bring in a family of four or something in, and you’ve got to pay, I don’t know how they do it in San Diego. I mean, I don’t know what they’re charging now at San Diego, but it costs you $200 to take a family of four into the San Diego zoo, I think, unless you joined you the society.

04:58:46 - 04:59:10

and if you join the society, that’s community support. So if they don’t wanna spend the money to be part of the society, they’re not gonna go to the zoo. What do you know about the profession that you devoted so many years of your life to. Yeah, I’m not sure I can answer that ’cause I’m not sure what…

04:59:10 - 04:59:12

Well, what do you know about this profession?

04:59:12 - 04:59:15

You’ve been in it for over 40 years?

04:59:17 - 05:01:25

Well, I know it’s a profession that was established many years BC in Egypt. And then over in Europe, I mean, people have always been interested in exotic looking animals and exotic looking animals are usually wild animals for the most part. So I mean, zoos have been in existence for eons and it’s a place where you can go and kind of immerse yourself in an environment where you’re seeing animals that you could never see otherwise except on TV. And unless you go to Africa, or South America, or Southeast Asia, or the Arctic, or Antarctic, you’re never gonna see the same animals that you can see in a captive environment and hopefully, with today’s exhibits and everything, in a fairly nice, realistic setting, that’s what zoos are for. Before when I started working in the zoo, there wasn’t one message about conservation. None, all we had was signs saying this is an elephant or whatever, and it comes from such and such. The conservation efforts in zoos didn’t really start until I think probably the early 70s and that has grown from there. And now, they’re using the conservation effort as a means to justify their existence, before they didn’t worry about justifying their existence.

05:01:25 - 05:02:16

They were zoo, people came in to see the animals. They had a good time. There wasn’t any talk about the demise of the elephants or we couldn’t get this in because they weren’t available. They were available. The scary thing about it is it’s only been 40 years, 50 years, some of these animals we used to display in the zoos in DC for instance, they’re gone, they are gone. They’re extinct, that’s pretty scary when you stop and think about it. And that the populations of a lot of these species that we used to be able to get in display can’t get anymore and they’re on the edge of extinction. And it really is frightening when you stop and think about it.

05:02:18 - 05:04:05

That’s where I think if zoos are really serious about what they’re doing, they ought to start turning their energies into really doing something to try to stop what’s taking place with the wild populations. And until they do that, whether they do it with their own money, or they’d trying to get our government and other governments to take a big step back and look at what is happening in and how fast it’s happening. I mean, when you started talking about extinction of a mega vertebrate like an elephant or a rhino that’s gonna happen possibly in the next 20 years, that is really frightening for a species has been in existence for hundreds of thousands or thousands of years. And it’s interesting because the Russians just found that almost perfectly preserved carcass of a mastodon mammoth, wooly mammoth, and they wanna try to clone it. And I look at that and I think you’re gonna clone a wooly mammoth, why don’t you start cloning an African elephant or an Asian elephant because what are you gonna do with a wooly mammoth if you happen to get one that you’ve cloned with an Asian elephant, for instance, where are you gonna put it in a zoo, okay, I guess, draw a lot of people, I guess, but you still don’t have any elephants now in the wild, that’s why I go back and say if I had to go into the zoo business today, I wouldn’t do it.

05:04:05 - 05:04:12

Although you’ve identified a number of challenges for zoos, are you proud that you were part of the profession?

05:04:12 - 05:05:13

Absolutely, yes. Yeah, absolutely. I think I contributed my share to captive populations in zoos and to better their conditions, and to make it a more exciting visit that they go to because of some of the exhibits said I was involved in designing and having built because of some of the species that we brought in for people to look at, the papers that I’ve written, those all contributed to my period working in my profession, but it’s not the same profession now and everybody I talk to and I’m not, I mean, they all feel the same way. If they’ve been in the profession for more than 10 years, it’s not the same.

05:05:13 - 05:05:15

How would you like to be remembered?

05:05:18 - 05:05:51

You know what I’d really like to be remembered for is this Small Mammal Building, I like to have them put my name on that building because that was a labor of love for me. And I think it, it turned into a really, really nice facility and I know Reed was very happy with it and everybody that goes in there, so yeah. But they were gonna tear it down and turn it into an education facility.

05:05:53 - 05:06:05

I don’t think that’s gonna happen, but again, that’s somebody looks at that building and say small mammals, I mean, who wants to look at small mammals?

05:06:05 - 05:06:28

they’re just a bunch of little furry things. But we can turn this into a good educational building on conservation, that would really be great. That’s where the mindset goes in a lot of these places. Let me take you back to 1992 kind of through 1996.

05:06:29 - 05:06:38

Can you tell me about that time period and what was evolving and how it ended for you and why?

05:06:40 - 05:08:06

Well, we’re talking about a four year period that had already been functioning since 1984, under a new director. In 1992, we were struggling very badly. I mean everything had basically not ground to a halt, but certainly, had slowed down dramatically. I mean, the collection had fallen off greatly. Our facility at our conservation research center was in bad shape and not getting very much support. The zoo wasn’t getting that much support from Downtown. We could see where our budget was getting smaller and smaller, and that we weren’t really seeing much in the way of major improvements taking place. I mean, some of the facilities had been opened, but I think that was probably prior to ’92.

05:08:09 - 05:08:38

So yeah, it wasn’t a very happy place to work. And I think a lot of us could see the handwriting on the wall. I mean, Mike’s plan to turn the zoo into a bio park. I mean, it sounded good, but it was just a word. It was just the title.

05:08:38 - 05:08:43

It didn’t really, I mean, nobody really knew what is a bio park?

05:08:43 - 05:08:45

I mean, what does that mean?

05:08:45 - 05:10:12

We’re a zoo, we have plants, and we have water and we’ve got animals, but I guess if you wanna call it a bio park, that’s fine, but we’re really a zoological park. And we have ancillary exhibits of plants, but if you wanna call it that, that’s fine, but we’re a zoo and the zoo has animals and we’re not getting animals anymore, we’re losing animals more rapidly than we’re bringing in new animals. And it was a problem. It was and then in ’96, I mean, the careers of five people were gone just like that. And it wasn’t because we weren’t doing our jobs. It was because the zoo was mismanaged to a point where it ran out of money to pay salaries. And we were the highest paid people in the animal operation. So we were basically told, we’re giving you a buyout.

05:10:12 - 05:11:56

You either take it and retire, or we’re gonna abolish your job and you get nothing. I remember going in the back and saying, “I’ve got 40 years in, Ben. I’ve worked in every single place in the zoo in the time I’ve been here. If it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t wanna stay here anymore, I could cause you total agony if I started bumping because I could bump all the way down to a gardener if I wanted to, and guess what, you’re still gonna have to pay me my salary.” And he said, “Well, is that what you wanna do?” And I said, “yeah,” it wasn’t for the fact that I’d be giving up $25,000 that you can offer me to get out of here. And I’ve got 40 years in, 41 and 40, almost 41 years in, I’m guaranteed my retirement right now. And I’ll get a pretty good retirement. So I’d be crazy not to go, thanks very much. But when you’ve got four other curators or was it five, it Gould, Horsley, Picket, who am I forgetting myself, Larry Collins that with the exception, I think of of Collins, none of them had more than 15 or 20 years in.

05:11:57 - 05:12:52

So like Gould was taking a huge hit to get to go out. So it was Horsley, Dale Marceline was the other one because they hadn’t been there that long. It was a disaster, an absolute disaster. And I’ll say to this day, the zoo never recovered from the loss of that curatorial crucifixion, if you wanna call it that. But I mean, it just 200 and some years of experience went out the door. And I mean, when it went out the door, it went out the door just like that. So, I mean, these guys never had a chance to train the people that they had working under them. I mean, it was just, they were gone, and I don’t think it bothered Mike at all.

05:12:55 - 05:13:22

I mean, he stayed another four years and things didn’t get any better. And then his last, if my friends see this tape, they’re gonna kill me for saying this stuff. I know they are, anyway, but I know it’s not nice to talk ill of the past, but anyhow.

05:13:24 - 05:13:26

So you made a decision to leave?

05:13:26 - 05:14:08

I made a decision to leave, and as I said, in Mike’s last decision when he left in 2000 was to get rid of Front Royal. I mean, it was just insanity to do that. And there was no reason for it. I mean, he was leaving. So he had no, wasn’t gonna hurt him to keep, keep that facility. It was gonna get up to the next director to deal with. And what was your title when you left. My title when I left was deputy curator of mammals.

05:14:12 - 05:15:18

But ultimately you had the opportunity to come back. Yes, I did. To in a way help the zoo, which you did. Which I did, and I honestly think that I did what I was being paid to do. I honestly felt sorry that Lucy could not maintain the job that she held because the Post would not let go. Because I think I said earlier that I think she would have turned out to be a pretty good director. I mean, if she’d stayed, but that didn’t happen. And I just feel bad, what I do feel badly about is that I hired, I was instrumental in hiring John Berry and I thought he was gonna be a really good director.

05:15:18 - 05:16:03

And he was for the first couple of years. And then I don’t know what was going on, but I think he started to look around for another job. I know he wanted to become secretary of the interior and he was really pushing for that. And he had some kind of, he had some crazy ideas. I remember toward the end and we were sitting and the whole issue of animal deaths came up in a meeting and John said well, I’ve made a decision, we’re gonna report every death to the Washington Post weekly. Every death that occurred in the zoo weekly.

05:16:03 - 05:16:08

And I said, “Well, what do you mean by every death?

05:16:08 - 05:17:17

Are you talking about every animal that goes up the pathology to be posted?” “Yes.” Well that includes a fish, it includes a frog. It could even include a spider or something if it was, but when you report that you’re gonna report numbers of deaths not what the numbers represented. So the Post is gonna be putting in the paper every week. The zoo lost 25 animals this week. When in fact they really didn’t lose anything except 15 fish in a couple of tadpoles. I said, You can’t do that, John.” And I was adamant about it. I mean, I almost did the desk kit, but, he finally backed off, but again, I was in a really unique position in that I didn’t need the job. And I could say a lot of things that normally somebody wouldn’t say that needed to keep the job.

05:17:17 - 05:18:24

And I did it with Spelman that time with the giraffe, I did it with John a couple of times. And I did it on issues that I I felt very strongly about in, but I think I turned this around. I think I hired some good people while I was there on the second go round. Well, one of them is still there and I hired good keepers too. When I was on my first tour, I got some good keepers and a lot of them were women and they were good. And a lot of them went on to good positions, but I had some good males too. And I do it all again. And if you asked me if I change anything that I did in my entire career, I’d say, no, nothing.

About William Xanten

William Xanten
Download Curricula Vitae

General Curator

Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Washington, DC

General Curator, Retired

Bill’s roots with the National Zoo run deep. As a young boy interested in reptiles he would visit with National Zoo director William Mann. His dream of working at the zoo came to pass when in 1956 he was hired as an animal keeper. Over the years Bill held a variety of supervisory positions including associate mammal curator, mammal curator and general curator.

He retired in 1996 but was asked to return in 2003 as Director of Animal Programs. In 2007 he again retired capping off a 44-year career working with animals. During his tenure he visited, consulted, published and taught zoo management around the world. From Giant Pandas to small mammals he has gathered a wealth of practical experience in managing a major collection.

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