It has been a season of change at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse this summer. Visitors have been enjoying recently completed improvements such as a renovated courtyard, Primate Park and the Asian Elephant Preserve. What might not be so obvious to visitors is the change of leadership behind the scenes. Henry “Ted” Fox was appointed zoo director on June 27. He replaces Chuck Doyle, who officially retired last year after a 33-year career with the zoo. Doyle remained in the role on a part-time basis until last month.
A graduate of Cornell University, Fox is no newbie to the zoo staff. He has held a variety of positions since 1991, and was a zoo curator for five years prior to his appointment. William Lansley, commissioner of Onondaga County Parks, which oversees the zoo, said in a statement that Fox’s appointment signified a commitment to retaining local expertise and assured a “seamless transition” for the zoo.
Fox said that zoo administration was always an interest of his, specifically in regard to species-specific conservation and animal management. With the zoo, he can take that interest and run with it. “The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is a multifaceted organization with ties to the county and its park system, as well as Friends of the Zoo,“ Fox said. There are so many components, from education to community partnerships and, of course, all of the local conservation efforts we support”. “In this community, the synergy is obvious. So much of what our commitment and mission are about is preserving natural resources, species of animals and helping people understand the inherent ties we have to one another.”
With all the excitement about the new exhibits, a sizable capital campaign under way, and the summer celebrations at the zoo such as Penguin Palooza and the upcoming Brew at the Zoo on Friday, Aug. 5, Fox hasn’t exactly been able to ease into his new role. He said the fact that he begins his tenure during a clear high point in the zoo’s history has made the transition a rewarding time.
“While it’s been an adjustment transitioning my time from on-grounds animal oversight to time in the office, I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in tandem with Chuck Doyle to learn the ropes,” Fox noted. “I also have the advantage of knowing the facilities, the animals and the staff, which is extremely helpful. Additionally, the support of the county, Friends of the Zoo and the community has really helped me ease into this new role.”
Looking back on his initial perceptions about a career in zoo administration, Fox is pleased with the efforts facilities like the zoo have taken, and continue to nurture, toward optimal care for the animals, as well as educational opportunities for visitors. “When I began my zoo career, I had the common misconception that zoos were primarily focused on entertainment and I was concerned that animal welfare was not as much of a priority and not in line with my beliefs regarding husbandry and animal care,” Fox admitted. “I was excited to learn that accredited zoos, like the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, are extremely conscientious about animal care. They are not just about getting people through the doors. Accredited zoos offer excellent opportunities for education and entertainment and act as barometers for all animal welfare. There is also an overwhelming commitment to the conservation of animals in their home ranges.”
Fox, who lives in Spafford, added that the zoo’s mission—“bringing people close enough to care”—fits well with the values that have guided his own work, and it will inform his role as zoo director. “I hope to continue working with the staff to communicate to our guests the importance of our work at the zoo and how it can directly impact wild populations of animals,” Fox said.
As a curator, Fox was instrumental in developing the Humboldt penguin exhibit, Penguin Coast, a visitor favorite since it opened in 2005. Seeing that growth from an idea, through initial struggles, to unqualified success has been rewarding, Fox admitted. “It’s been wonderful seeing the guests get so much joy from the exhibit. When we built the exhibit in 2005, our colleagues around the country estimated it would be about five years before the birds settled in and began breeding. Of course, our first four chicks arrived the very next year and we have had chicks every year since, bringing our chick count to 29, which is pretty impressive. It’s a great testament to our high standard of care at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.”
As for the future, Fox said he will continue to help the zoo navigate a path of ecological and environmental responsibility. “The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and, as a result, the practices we use to maintain the living collection are constantly improving, with animal welfare being the primary concern,” Fox said. “For the past two years we’ve been taking steps to reduce our water consumption. We take it very seriously that we reside at 1 Conservation Place and I’d like to look into some projects that will help us make a bigger impact in reducing our water use, without negatively impacting the animals. We’re committed to the county’s Save the Rain initiative and, given our mission, I think we need to demonstrate a leadership role in that effort.”
Fox added that the zoo stands to be a key contributor to global research efforts. “Over the years we’ve partnered with organizations across the country and around the globe for research purposes. I think we can be doing more in this area and would like to grow and improve the research opportunities here for the preservation of our threatened and endangered species.”
The physical improvements at the zoo won’t stop with the new elephant preserve. Fox said there are plans to build a new veterinary facility, explaining that while the zoo is fortunate to have access to expert veterinary practitioners and researchers through its relationship with Cornell University, the existing veterinary clinic is outdated. “I’d also like to enhance the domestic animal barn by bringing in new breeds of sheep, goats, chickens and other farm animals,” Fox said, adding that it would enable the zoo to educate visitors on sustainability and the benefits of “eating local” as well as farming and agriculture.
But, first things first. Fox’s initial goal is to reunite the zoo’s elephant herd with the three pachyderms that were temporarily moved to Canada while the new preserve was completed. “Also, I will continue to explore additional ways to improve the facility for the animals and the guests. I’d like to see some enhancements to allow for better viewing opportunities at some of the exhibits.”