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March 24, 2021

Dr. Jeffrey Bonner to Retire as the Dana Brown President & CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo

Jeffrey Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown President & CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo, today announced his intention to retire at the end of this year after leading the organization for 19 years. The St. Louis Zoological Park Subdistrict Commission has begun the process of an international search to identify Dr. Bonner's successor in the coming months.

"It truly is astonishing to think about all the success the Zoo has achieved under Jeffrey's leadership," said Cynthia J. Brinkley, Chair, St. Louis Zoological Park Subdistrict Commission. "For almost two decades, Jeffrey dedicated his time and talents to preserving the world-class Saint Louis Zoo for generations to come while also continuing the Zoo's phenomenal track record of providing the best possible care for thousands of animals."

Dr. Bonner, 67, started with the Zoo in April 2002. Since then, the Zoo has maintained its premier status as the top local and tourist attraction. Since Dr. Bonner joined the Zoo, over 56 million guests have been introduced to the wonders of the natural world by visiting the Zoo.

"Jeffrey played an instrumental role in modernizing the Zoo's century-old campus with world-class experiences and habitats, much of which was made possible by approximately $150 million raised during The Living Promise Campaign, which launched in 2010," said Alicia S. McDonnell, President, Saint Louis Zoo Association Board. "This resulted in some of the most dynamic experiences and habitats currently at the Zoo, including the Judy and Jerry Kent Family Sea Lion Sound, The Staenberg Group Elephant Woods, Andean Bear Range, Purina Painted Dog Preserve, Robert and Kathy Williams Sun Bear Forest, McDonnell Polar Bear Point and Centene Grizzly Ridge."

Other noteworthy Zoo transformations during Dr. Bonner's tenure include the Mary Ann Lee Conservation Carousel; Edward K. Love Conservation Foundation Cypress Swamp in the 1904 Flight Cage; Animals Always sculpture donated by Thelma Zalk, located in the Steven F. Schankman Family Plaza; Wells Fargo South Arrival Experience; Edward Jones Pavilion; and the Orthwein Animal Nutrition Center.

"Dr. Bonner has been a champion for our Zoo in every way, and his dedication and leadership have positioned the Zoo for sustained success," said Brinkley.

Under Dr. Bonner's leadership, the Zoo created an endowment in 2004. As of January 31, 2021, the endowed fund is valued at $93.2 million. This fund is available to support Zoo operations, positions, camp and preschool scholarships, animal care, and more.

"These funds help create a permanent, reliable source of income for the future, a living promise to future generations," said McDonnell.

In addition to providing a backdrop for countless happy memories for guests, the Zoo has proven to be an invaluable cultural and economic resource for the region. The Zoo typically aids in the generation of over $200 million annually for the regional economy.

"For over 100 years, including under Dr. Bonner's leadership, the Zoo has been a respected and responsible steward of the public and private funding it receives, operating a world-class institution without charging admission," said Brinkley.

As the Dana Brown President & CEO, Dr. Bonner has made sure the Zoo leads the way in conserving animals and their habitats through animal management, research, recreation and educational programs.

"Jeffrey advocates and speaks for animals, as they cannot do it on their own," said McDonnell. "This includes some of the world's smallest creatures, like the often underappreciated American burying beetles, Partula snails or hellbenders, of which he shares tales in his 2006 book, 'Sailing with Noah: Stories from the World of Zoos,' writing, 'They have voices we will never hear. We must speak for them, and we must speak in a voice much louder than we have used in the past.'"

During Dr. Bonner's tenure, the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute was launched in 2004 through a generous $19 million commitment from the Zoo Friends Association (now the Saint Louis Zoo Association). The goal of establishing the WildCare Institute was to have a centralized, identifiable brand of the Zoo's wildlife conservation efforts. With the creation of the WildCare centers, the Zoo's field conservation efforts have grown to include 17 Centers around the globe, all of which are founded on wildlife management and recovery, conservation science with applied conservation action, and working with communities. Five of these Centers focus on wildlife conservation efforts in Missouri.

And with Dr. Bonner at the helm, the Zoo acquired a 425-acre property in north St. Louis County in 2018. This property, named the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park, will be home to conservation breeding programs and wildlife adventures for the public to enjoy and connect with nature and animals.

"The Zoo looks forward to expanding its conservation work and benefiting the region through developing and operating a unique wildlife experience that few places in the world can boast," said Brinkley.

Thanks to the overwhelming public support in the passage of Proposition Z in St. Louis County in 2018, the Zoo has begun to receive funding that is helping it continue to be world-class and continue to provide the best possible care for animals. The Zoo has been able to start on several much-needed repairs and replacements at the Zoo. Additionally, with the sales tax funding, the Zoo is able to begin developing and eventually operate the WildCare Park, scheduled to open to the public as early as 2026.

"I will never believe that I did enough for conservation, for the world of zoos, or for the Saint Louis Zoo," said Dr. Bonner. "I have heard that we should only have life lessons in the place of regrets, but the Saint Louis Zoo is poised to achieve true greatness under new leadership, and I feel that I have made a small, but important contribution in that regard."

Dr. Bonner continued, "I am excited to see what a new era of guidance and leadership from my successor will bring to this amazing place. I strongly believe that she or he will take the Zoo further and faster than I could even dream, and I am delighted at the prospect of a fresh vision. The best days for the Saint Louis Zoo lie ahead!"

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