Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
Guest Host: Todd Kliman
Zoos play a major role in preserving and protecting the animals that call them home. But during the past few years, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore had to scrape and claw to fight off its own extinction. The zoo’s president and CEO joins us in the studio to reflect on its recent challenges and explore where it fits into the fabric of the Mid-Atlantic region.
- Don Hutchinson President and CEO, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
MR. TODD KLIMANFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, D.C. welcome to "the Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Todd Kliman sitting in for Kojo. Conservation is part of the core mission of most any zoo, caring for animals that are often dangerously close to extinction. This work of conservation is ongoing at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. But during the past few years its CEO carried the additional responsibility of a very different kind of conservation, preserving the zoo itself.
MR. TODD KLIMANDon Hutchinson took over as CEO in 2007 and has since helped the zoo weather a global financial crisis in the epic winter storm known as snowpocalypse. And he's breathing new life into efforts like its fight to conserve endangered African penguins. Thank you very much for joining us.
MR. DON HUTCHINSONThank you for inviting me.
KLIMANThe Mid-Atlantic region is so rich. We have such a variety and such a wealth of great things to see when we go out to a zoo. We can see the giant pandas at the National Zoo. We can go to the aquarium and see the exotic sea creatures. Many people don't know about the Maryland Zoo. It's been around since 1876. Make the case for us to head north and see something different.
HUTCHINSONYeah, it is the third oldest zoo in the United States. Philadelphia and Buffalo are older. Cincinnati and Baltimore are probably the same age, 1876. The zoo started out as just sort of a way for city fathers to invite people in to see exotic animals that they would never see. And the missions have changed. You actually got right into it with your introduction when you said that conservation is such a major part.
HUTCHINSONIf people really want to see others who are doing great work in conservation initiatives, all they need to do is go to a zoo, any zoo, any accredited zoo in the United States. We're all a part of major breeding programs. We're all participating in trying to save specific species. And Baltimore is no other -- not unlike any of the others. In our case we have some very unique exhibits. We're about to open a world class exhibit with South African penguins. That's going to happen on September 27.
HUTCHINSONBaltimore -- the Maryland zoo in Baltimore, the old historical Baltimore Zoo is the preeminent breeder of South African penguins in North America. And we send penguins all over the United States to other accredited zoos who want to show them and they are endangered in the Arctic. So we are very proud of our current program but we have a very old worn out, burned out exhibit, if you will. Not burned out literally but just worn out. And we're replacing it.
HUTCHINSONAnd people will be able to see it from -- see animals from above ground, below water, see from -- now we have 50 penguins. We're going to have 100 after all of our breeding seasons are completed. And the exhibit is going to be different than anybody's ever seen anywhere in the United States. So zoos are constantly trying to upgrade their facilities. We're, in some cases, required to do that. But in other cases we want to have people have experience that comes close to an experience that they might have if they were actually on a beach somewhere in South Africa.
KLIMANYou've served as the executive in Baltimore County. You've been a delegate and a senator in the State House. Now you're in this role. How is it different or how it is similar to some of the other work you've done?
HUTCHINSONYeah, it's an interesting question. This was a let's-get-healthy proposition. I had been on the zoo board years ago. I have been president of Sun Trust Bank in Baltimore in Maryland. And I had been on the board. And this was sort of a workout situation because the zoo was in financial trouble. Zoos have extremely difficult time making money on a day-to-day basis, making its daily nut.
HUTCHINSONWhat people don't quite realize about zoos -- in our case, it costs us $35,000 a day to operate our zoo, whether one person walks in the door or whether or not 5,000 people walk through. It doesn't matter. It still costs me $35,000 a day to operate it. Animals are expensive, taking care of the animals, taking care of the health of the animals. We have a full scale veterinarian hospital at our zoo that no one ever sees performing surgeries on a regular basis and life-saving endeavors all of the time.
HUTCHINSONSo they're expensive. And in our case our zoo had deteriorated. Cash flow was a little tough. And I was asked to come in actually originally on a short-term basis to see if I could help turn it around. And we've been very successful. The zoo cash flows now, we don't have any debt. We have $14 million of construction we're about to complete, most of it in penguin but not all of it. We have other things going on. We have a new aviary being built. We have a new exhibit for flamingos that will be coming up at the same time the penguins come up.
HUTCHINSONSo it's going to be kind of a neat thing. And it's fund -- from my perspective, having been placed in a position where you're in a rescues situation, has been kind of fun to watch how it's unfolded and see the new initiatives that you can undertake with a little bit of enthusiasm and a little bit of hard work by dozens and dozens of people.
KLIMANWell, you came in in 2007. The zoo was in kind of a unstable place, let's say. There was the fight to keep it accreditation. There was the financial burden of low attendance. And then you had limitations of having access to fewer resources than a place like the National Zoo which has funding from the Smithsonian. What were your immediate priorities on taking over?
HUTCHINSONWell, the first thing you had to do of course is to make sure that you were spending money the right way. And like, you know, the things that happen in so many businesses, so many not-for-profits, sometimes the money that you're spending kind of gets away from you a little bit. So we had to pare back some of our costs. And we did that. We got rid of some contracts we didn't need.
HUTCHINSONI laugh when the first day I had an $80,000 contract that I turned into a $60,000 contract in a week. And that -- on top -- just, you know, on surface level was $120,000 in savings. So there were things like that that we had to do. And then we had to make a case before the state. This is the Maryland zoo in Baltimore. The State of Maryland has a 40-year lease with the City of Baltimore to operate the zoo in their behalf. They contract with the Maryland Zoological Society that I and all of our employees work for, and not for profit, to operate the zoo in behalf of the state.
HUTCHINSONI had to convince the state that they had a dog in the hunt, that they had a real reason to care about it. And I told one simple story and it's so simple but I think it's the easiest thing for people to understand. I said to the state legislature, and I did, I served ten years in the legislature. I had been in the Senate a long time ago but I'd been in the Senate. And I looked at some of my former colleagues and looked at some guys that I knew very well and I looked and I said, look, if you want me to close an art gallery, give me 1500 pieces of plastic and a lock. And if you want me to reopen it five years from now, give me five rooms and key to that lock and everything almost stays the same.
HUTCHINSONNow, of course that's an exaggeration. Of course that's an oversimplification. But I looked at them square in the eye and said, if you want me to close an art gallery, fine. This is what I can do and how easy it is to reopen it five years from now. You want to close a zoo, it takes me four years. Nobody wants my 50-year-old rhinoceros. And you can just play that out with animal after animal. You have the responsibility of taking care of animals that are living creatures that share this earth with all of us. And if you don't think that's a responsibility, then you just don't believe that you have a responsibility almost for anything. Particularly after you've created it.
HUTCHINSONYou know, if I were trying to establish a new entrepreneurial initiative, I would not open a zoo. I would not. It's so hard to cash flow. But once you have it, you have, in my opinion, a moral responsibility to keep it healthy. And that message resonated. And as a result we've been able to get some private sector money. We've been able to get some government money. And the governor and the state legislature became very sympathetic to what we were trying to do.
KLIMANWell, your passion is infectious and it sounds like your financial savvy and wherewithal to get things moving is going to put the zoo into good shape for the future. We want to hear from you. What draws you to a zoo when you decide to go? What have you seen when you visited the Baltimore Zoo? And where are you headed next in zoo-going and taking in the exhibits in the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore? We have a call from Sidney in Adelphi. Sidney, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SIDNEYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I love going to zoos. Actually I'm an environmental educator and have taught at zoos. And I wanted to -- I have a comment and a question. The comment is, I'm familiar with the public zoo in Colorado which not only has had a very successful breeding program with African penguins, they also have the oldest female in captivity, at least in the Western Hemisphere. So I didn't know if the director was familiar with that zoo or not.
HUTCHINSONI've not been to that zoo but I am somewhat familiar with their program. And it's a nice program.
SIDNEYIt's outstanding actually. And they're also a really tiny zoo. They have -- maybe their budget is maybe 1.5 million but they have done a great job with breeding endangered species. They also have an amazing education program. So I wondered -- I would like for you to talk a little bit about the importance of education as opposed to entertainment in zoos.
HUTCHINSONYeah, and that's one of the bigger changes. And it's kind of hard to talk about because, you know, when a mom and dad comes to the zoo and they bring their son or their daughter, their son and daughter want to be entertained. So change in a way you talk about zoos is sort of an interesting little process. But you're correct. I mean, we have a dozen educators in our education department that work both on the campus and they work both external -- as well as external to the campus.
HUTCHINSONThat means that we have what we call our zoo mobile. We have a couple that take animals out. We have what we call an embassy of about 55 traveling animals that we take to schools. The State of Maryland gives us $800,000 -- or actually they give us $800,000 to let school students come to the zoo for free with a class -- in a class environment. But we, on our own, with some private support send the zoo mobile out to schools all over the State of Maryland to bring educators -- volunteer educators as well as professional paid educators on our staff to talk about the animals, to talk about the environment that they come from, to talk about the threats of the environment.
HUTCHINSONAnd mostly to try to connect the person -- this child in their seat to the role that they can play to environmental protection of animals universally both locally as well as internationally. And I think that message resonates. So education has become more and more important to all zoos around the -- at least all accredited zoos around the United States.
KLIMANWe've come a long way from the time when people saw zoos as just places that existed for us to go and gawk at animals. And I was hoping you could talk a little bit about some of the partnerships that you're involved with.
HUTCHINSONYeah, I mean, you're right. That's interesting. The first partnership really is established within the American Zoological Association. And actually it's the American Zoological and Aquarium Association. And there are over 200 accredited organizations, about -- I think it's about 175 accredited zoos and another couple of dozen aquariums. Our first partnerships being with them. That's where we get our collection of animals, generally. Not always, but I would venture to say 80 to 90 percent of the animals that are moving around the country are coming from one accredited zoo to another accredited zoo.
HUTCHINSONAnd mostly that's for breeding purposes. And this is literally how it worked in our case when I first came to the zoo. We had a male and female polar bear at our zoo that we were trying to breed. And we had had one miscarriage with our female animal. The AZA came back and said, "Hey, look, we have a genetically compatible animal, polar bear, female, in Albuquerque. We think it should be matched with your male in Baltimore."
HUTCHINSONWe sent a keeper out, a keeper -- really, a manager of our keepers, went out, looked at the animal, made sure the animal was healthy, made a determination as to whether or not the animal could be healthfully transported into Baltimore. We brought it into Baltimore. And it is now a part of our permanent exhibit. And that's an Albuquerque polar bear, of all things. Those kinds of partnerships exist and they're very, very substantial.
HUTCHINSONWe also have partnerships with corporations all over the metropolitan Baltimore who give us financial support to take our ZOOmobile out and to allow for educational programs all around metropolitan area.
KLIMANWe're talking with Don Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Maryland Zoon in Baltimore. And we'll take a short break and continue our conversation. Stay tuned.
KLIMANWe're back talking with Don Hutchinson. He is the president and CEO of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. We just got a very lively tweet from Amy, who says, "We were at the Maryland Zoo recently. Loved it. My sons had such fun and loved the rhinos, giraffes, polar bear and the cave."
KLIMANTalk to us about the cave.
HUTCHINSONYeah, the cave's interesting. It's in our Maryland Wilderness area of the zoo. We have three areas in the zoo. We have the Artic and then we have Africa, which is the predominant part of our zoo. And then we have Maryland Wilderness. That's where we're putting a new aviary. We had two aviaries destroyed during those double blizzards that we had back four years ago. And it's taken us that long to handle insurance issues and get the thing rebuilt.
HUTCHINSONAnd we're going to open that up the same time we open up the penguin exhibit. But in the cave, in the Maryland Wilderness, we have mostly native species of reptiles and other animals. It's one of -- it's very interesting that young people -- and I'm not one of these. You know, I'm the first -- the zoo professionals will laugh because -- and I shouldn't say this. They're going to be so angry. I'm not a snake fan. You put me around snakes and I'm a little bit…
HUTCHINSON…skittish. And they will say to you, probably more than a little bit skittish. But young people love things like salamanders. And they love things like snakes. And they love things like lizard. Things that crawl on the ground.
KLIMANWell, my two kids do, for sure.
HUTCHINSONOh, yeah. Yeah, it's really interesting. And we have them. And we have them, in part, in Maryland Wilderness and also -- and the cave is part of that.
KLIMANI want to go back to Snowpocalypse. And this was a very powerfully emotional moment for you to go back into your zoo after all this damage caused by the storm. What was it like for you? What were the emotions going through you?
HUTCHINSONWell, I mean, first of all, it was awful. I brought a couple of professionals in before the snow. Obviously the snow had been predicted. And I say, "Hey, look," and I particularly went to the aviaries. I said, "Tell me what we can withstand." And nobody expected what we had. Nobody. And they said, "Well, we should be all right. We'll able to go in and we'll be able to shake the netting and make sure that the snow comes through." Well, nobody thought that we were going to have, in two different storms, and within six days, 50 inches of snow.
HUTCHINSONThat's literally what we had at the Maryland Zoo. And it totally destroyed our Maryland aviary. I mean, we had our animals out. The birds weren't affected. In the African aviary, the destruction came down to -- but a lot of it was in place that we could put it back up relatively quickly. But in the Maryland aviary we were just lost. And the way that it was originally designed -- it's not designed that -- it's not going to be designed that way in the future.
HUTCHINSONBut you had to walk through the aviary to get to our otters, to get to the cave, to get to our Western Maryland salamanders, our so-called hell benders.
KLIMANIt's really the gateway.
HUTCHINSONYes, the gateway. And suddenly it's gone. It's destroyed. And, again, we were only two years away from a financial disaster at the zoo. We have two years past. So now we had to figure out how we were going to handle the capital expense. And we had to figure out how much of our insurance was going to cover. Well, through our finance officer, a woman named Nancy Noppenberger -- she and her staff did a marvelous job working with the insurance company, working with Baltimore City and other officials that were involved in all of it, including our third-party carriers.
HUTCHINSONWe were able to handle the finance side and rebuild it. But, no, it was a very, very weary moment for all of us. And, again, here's one of those days, in the middle of 50-inch blizzard, 100 people were at the zoo taking care of the animals. We were closed to the public at that time. At that time we were closed in January and February because we didn't have the money to keep it open during the winter. Now, we are open in the winter. But then we were going to open up on March 1st. We didn't reopen the zoo until the end of March that year.
HUTCHINSONAnd our keepers were still at work. We had keepers who came and slept at the zoo for three, four, five nights because they had to get up in the morning to take care of the animals. We had road crews -- I called the mayor and said to the mayor, "Can you get me road crews over here? I know you're in a jam. I know you're trying to clean up the streets. But can you afford anybody to come out here? We have to get to our animals. Our people can't get us there." It was a very difficult time.
KLIMANSuch a devastating day, and yet, all those people coming in to work and help out.
KLIMANAnd it must have just made you feel…
KLIMANAt the same time that you feel crushed about this, you feel -- you felt lifted.
HUTCHINSONYeah, yeah, you almost want to cry when you see the people. I mean the animals were fine. The animals were protected. It was the people that had to come in and get to the animals and make sure that they were being fed and cared for and remain healthy. And, again, that happened in zoos all over the country.
HUTCHINSONThere are zoos -- we're not. But there are zoos that are affected by floods all over the country. Affected by tornados all over the country. And the people who deal with animals are a special type of person that I think most of us don't quite appreciate enough.
KLIMANWe have a call from Anthony, in Port Tobacco. Anthony, you're on the air. Thank you for joining the conversation. Go ahead.
ANTHONYThank you. First, I'd like to thank the zoo president for doing such a great job. I have a friend that got the Perkins Award with the AVA and we call her mayor because a zoo director does everything a mayor does, plus with animals (unintelligible) …
HUTCHINSONThat's true. There's truth to that. Thank you.
ANTHONYYou're welcome. And the second thing is that I raise and show cats and have friends that raise and show dogs. And people come to dog shows and cat shows and they always fawn all over the dogs and cats, talk about how they really wish they could have the lions, but they recognize that they shouldn't. And I thought it's just such a great opportunity to have some outreach for the zoo. Do you guys have any plans or do you have program to reach out to people who go to dog shows or cat shows or bird shows with how they can support the zoo?
HUTCHINSONActually, I'd be lying if I said we had a program specifically for that group of potential clients. Actually, it's a great idea. And as you might imagine, we do have big cats. In fact, we have three lion cubs as we speak, and two adults on our campus. We have a cheetah -- actually we had two cheetahs. One has passed. We had two leopards. One has passed. But we will go back and multiple cats, once these elderly cats that we have or the elderly leopard and elderly cheetah pass. Your idea is a good idea.
HUTCHINSONWe, of course, try to appeal through our social network and through social media to people who have special interest in animals. And we try to tell stories about our animals and let people understand what it means for an animal to survive and thrive inside the environment that zoos create. And the zoo environments -- I can speak for mine. I'm a zoo visitor. I go to other zoos whenever I can. I just visited the Pittsburgh Zoo a month and a half ago.
HUTCHINSONZoo environments for animals has changed so much. Those of us that are of an older age, who remember the small cages with small showings -- small exhibits, when we go back to a new zoo today we're so impressed because of the open areas that are available for the animals, almost to an animal.
KLIMANIt's a wonderful development. We're going to take another call. This one from Dennis, in Chevy Chase. Dennis, thank you for joining the conversation. Please go ahead.
DENNISHi. I am critically concerned about protection of our environment and protection of our species. I know that there's been a huge number of species that have gone extinct in the last 10, 20, 30, 50 years. And I see the zoo as the highest vehicle for training children about what these dilemmas are and for correcting many of the myths that a substantial number of our public have about, you know, some lack of global warming. So I wonder if the zoo can really afford to enhance that kind of training and make it paramount for students.
HUTCHINSONYeah, you know, it's interesting. When our ZOOmobiles go out schools, we have a captured audience in an education environment. So the students expect to learn something while we're there. And we think we're very successful. And some of our programs are fairly unique. And I won't go in -- it would take me too long to talk about them. But the challenge really is what happens on the zoo campus. Even with the classes that come, I mean, we have 70,000 kids that come into our zoo every year, free.
HUTCHINSONThe come in with a class. It doesn't matter if they're in a private school or a public school. If they're in a school environment we let them come in free. The state of Maryland gives us money to do that. Each teacher treats that class environment and that class encounter at the zoo differently. Hardly anybody treats it the same. And some teachers come in and they keep their class together and they want to look at the educational signage that we have around the zoo.
HUTCHINSONThey want to look at the interactives. They want to talk to our educators. They want to have lessons. But there are others who walk in and who look at it as the old entertainment opportunity. And the kids get released and they're over the zoo, they're tourists again. And trying to capture them -- they want to be entertained. They want to see animals. They want to see animals move. And they're not always necessarily interested in the interactive or in the lesson.
HUTCHINSONSo we are always talking about it constantly. Our educators are always challenged by it and trying to figure out the best way to educate that child and capture that moment. We realize that it is a very exclusive opportunity for us. Because we do have kids who are looking at animals and we like to tell them something that they might not know. Some of it's trivial. Some of it's not. I mean I have fun with it. The leopard exhibit and our cheetah exhibit are side-by-side. One's covered with netting, one's not.
HUTCHINSONAnd whenever I see a kid around that's looking with mom and dad, I'll say, "Can you tell the difference between the exhibits?" And they'll look at it and none of them ever see it. None of them ever see the difference. And I'll say, "Well, look, the leopard exhibit's got a cover on it. It's got a net on it. The cheetah exhibit doesn't. Why?" Well, the leopards are the greatest climbers in Africa, you know -- other than the great apes and the monkeys. But they're great, great climbers. And they like to be in trees.
HUTCHINSONAnd, you know, this leopard would be out of our exhibit in a New York minute -- because we have a big tree right in the middle of it. But that cheetah over there, its muscles are built for speed. And we don't expect it to climb very much. We expect it to run very much. And that's sort of, "Oh, well, we didn't know that." Now is that trivial? Might be. But on the other hand, is it informative at the moment, is it something more than they might have had? The answer is yes. And I like to do that. I don't do it a lot. I'm not the educator. But in that case it's kind of how I like to have fun with the kid.
KLIMANDo your educators and guides make a point of talking to any group -- particularly children -- but any group about climate change?
HUTCHINSONAbsolutely. And climate change is a constant message. I mean, we don't force the science on them. But we certainly let them know that animals around the universe are -- around the Earth are affected by climate change. You know, we don't make judgments as to what's causing climate change, but we want people to understand that climate change is clearly here. We're experiencing it on a regular basis at our zoo -- and all zoos are. And animals in the wild are certainly experiencing it. And there has to be attention paid to it at all levels.
KLIMANYou mentioned at the top of the segment the African penguin exhibit, which is going to open soon in conjunction with the Marsh Aviary in September. Why is this such a big undertaking for your, this project?
HUTCHINSONWell, it is such a big deal for us. First of all, I go back to what we're doing with breeding. We are breeding these animals. We're going to be able breed more. We're going to be able to take our own holdings from 50 birds to 100 birds. Penguins mate for life. And we have breeding pairs. We have about 20 breeding pairs right now within our group. We're going to take that to as many as 50 breeding pair. So for zoos around the world and for the species itself, we're an important part of that.
HUTCHINSONBut from a visitor perspective, there's going to be -- it's going to be so contemporary. It's going to be so new. It's going to be this 1876-built zoo, with a state-of-the-art, world-class, different kind of exhibit that we haven't been able to show at our zoo. We have great exhibits. If you go and see -- someone mentioned the rhinoceros and the zebras and our ostriches. We have them all in one big open area that's marvelous. But it's an open area.
HUTCHINSONThis is going to be an interactive location with birds that are going to be able to be seen swimming, going to be able to see climbing on ground. It's going to be so different for our visitors. And we think it's going to be the exhibit of the country, to be honest with you.
KLIMANDon Hutchinson, thank you so much for joining us. He is the…
KLIMAN…president and CEO of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Please go. I'm Todd Kliman, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Please stay with us.
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