Zoo Director Jason Jacobs featured on Zoophoria
Jason Jacobs began directing Reid Park Zoo in summer of 2013. In his second year, the Zoo welcomed the birth of Nandi, the first African elephant ever born in Arizona.
“One of the highlights of my life was seeing the mother bring her over to the other members of the herd,” Jacobs said. “The community still lovers her.”
The Zoo has also had great success working with giant anteaters and lesser anteaters, known as tamanduas. “Our staff trains tamanduas as education ambassadors for other zoos,” Jacobs said.
He also acknowledges he could not have such a great zoo without the staff.
“You can have the best habitats, animals and supporters but if you don’t have the best people taking care of your zoo you can’t have a great zoo,” Jacobs said. “Our staff creates amazing experiences for our guests. I’m also fortunate to have the support of the City of Tucson and the Reid Park Zoological Society. Both of those groups have helped make Reid Park Zoo successful.”
Jacobs discussed some of the challenges of being a zoo director.
“Being the final decision maker- you realize very quickly you rely on your staff since they’re the experts in their divisions within the operation,” he said. “It’s obviously a lot of work and a job you have to have the passion to be successful. You have to have a diverse skill set. You have to know about the animals, the guests, the finances and the operations. What I’ve learned is sometimes patience when you want to get something done is part of the difficult part. When times are good they’re great but you also have your bad days they can make you feel down. Even on my gloomy days I can walk around the Zoo and see happy visitors enjoying the zoo and the experiences we provide for them. I sometimes walk around the Zoo after it closes with the park all to myself- it’s like having my own secret garden.”
During his four years at Reid Park Zoo, Jacobs has continued the momentum from Expedition Tanzania with new habitats and guest amenities. Recently, the Zoo has transformed a former bear grotto into a beautiful habitat for lemurs, and opened a new meerkat habitat, adding a new species to the zoo. The Reid Park Zoo has also added camel rides and a carousel, which are important because, the “revenue goes straight towards supporting the mission of the zoo.” The zoo also broke ground on a new animal health center.
“We’re constantly looking at what we can do to improve the zoo,” Jacobs said. “We have a number of future plans including a climate-controlled building for reptiles, amphibians and small mammals, a new tiger habitat and bringing in either pygmy or river hippos. One of our goals is to have a stronger commitment to conservation. We want kids to learn and our educators do a great job facilitating our conservation messaging.
“In the past we supported a bunch of different projects while now we’re going to focus on 2-3 projects and fund to a great amount. We support elephant conservation in Tarangarie National Park in Tanzania and giant anteater conservation in Brazil. Conservation is also building capacity to house populations of endangered species within zoological parks. I believe we’re there to help train the next generation of zoo professionals and my goal is to help them just as countless professionals have assisted me with my career.”