In July 2019, when I was first appointed chief executive officer and director of the Los Angeles Zoo, I had a clear direction for the Zoo and many ideas for positive change. But, life had its own plan. Together, we have witnessed worldwide upheaval through a life-altering pandemic, and racial inequity in our country has ignited demand for change and caused us to reflect on ourselves as humans.
By the second half of the year, I found myself changing course and becoming the kind of leader I didn’t know my Zoo would ever need me to be. I certainly didn’t see myself leading a Zoo that was closed to the public with much of my staff working from home. I found myself asking tough questions like how do I keep the staff and animals safe during an evolving public health crisis? How do I help my employees understand that I value each and every one of them and their unique differences and that I am committed to diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice? And, rather than tell them, how do I show them through thoughtful action?
While we tackled these issues as a Zoo family, day-to-day life on campus continued as we found our new normal, and, in some areas, even thrived. We saw milestones met in two of our cornerstone conservation programs with a record number of California condor eggs laid in a single breeding season and more southern mountain yellow-legged frog egg masses laid than ever during our involvement in the program. We welcomed a new chief veterinarian and director of animal health and wellness, who arrived just as we closed our Zoo to the public. Dr. Dominique Keller jumped right in and applied her expertise to adapting our animal health program as we saw this pandemic starting to affect animals.
We continued to watch our western lowland gorilla baby, Angela, become stronger by the day as she continues to become a shining example of her species, which is critically endangered in the wild.
People are resilient and constantly evolving. I’ve seen my staff transform their interactions from in-person meetings to virtual settings. We’ve learned to wear masks and gloves and stand apart from the people we used to shake hands with or hug upon greeting. We have seen our society march in the streets to demand the changes we deserve. We are listening, reflecting, learning, and having the difficult conversations that need to be had in order to promote honest growth. We’ve seen the void in our communities’ resources, and we’ve challenged ourselves as an organization to meet these needs in new and unique ways.
As we enter the second half of the year, I choose to take a glass-half-full approach. This pandemic and these extraordinary, uncertain times, have shown me how strong our Zoo family is and how much we can grow in the face of adversity. As we re-emerge, the Zoo will continue our efforts to achieve the highest level of animal welfare and to save species from extinction, all through the lens of racial, social, and environmental justice. There will be no returning to “normal.” I believe that the Los Angeles Zoo can inspire the groundwork for a future that is much better than normal ever was. We look forward to the day when we can safely reopen and welcome you back.