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Published: Thursday, 6/28/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

New director's love of animals began early

Sailer plans worldwide promotions

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jeff Sailer, the new executive director of the Toledo Zoo, most recently worked in New York, overseeing the Central Park, Prospect Park, and Queens zoos, with their combined 1.6 million visitors per year. Jeff Sailer, the new executive director of the Toledo Zoo, most recently worked in New York, overseeing the Central Park, Prospect Park, and Queens zoos, with their combined 1.6 million visitors per year.
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One of the earliest childhood memories of new Toledo Zoo Executive Director Jeff Sailer involves a trip to the zoo.

"I couldn't have been more than 24 or 30 months old, but I still remember the feeling of going up the ramp to the elephant exhibit," said Mr. Sailer, who officially takes over Aug. 1.

"I remember that I could feel their presence, which I know now was their infrasonic communication," he said, referring to the ways elephants communicate over many miles using high-pitched sounds that humans can't hear but can sometimes feel, like sensing a throbbing in the air.

The many visits to the Mesker Park Zoo in his hometown of Evansville, Ind., including enrollment in zoo camp as a child, helped him form his early attachment and appreciations for zoos, he said.

Those experiences, coupled with his education and career in the zoological field will now be utilized at the Toledo Zoo.

It's already apparent to him that Toledoans -- and even metro-Detroiters he has encountered -- share that appreciation, he said. During his limited exposure to the city, he has observed how important the zoo is to the community.

"The 'I Love My Zoo' campaign couldn't spell it out any better," he said of the zoo's marketing campaign.

However, Mr. Sailer, 37, has aspirations for expanding the zoo's fame.

"We will be promoting the Toledo Zoo worldwide," he said.

He is director of city zoos with New York City's Wildlife Conservation Society, a position he has held since 2006 and will continue to hold for a few more weeks before returning to the Glass City. There, he oversees the Central Park, Prospect Park, and Queens zoos, which combined draw more than 1.6 million visitors each year.

While that might be an impressive figure, Mr. Sailer noted during an exclusive interview with The Blade on Wednesday the high number of visitors the Toledo Zoo draws in annually. Annual attendance in 2011 was about 875,000, which more than triples the city's population.

"When I was at the Detroit airport at the rental car counter, the people I spoke with said they visit the Toledo Zoo and consider it to be their zoo," he said. "I asked them why they don't go to the Detroit Zoo, and they said they had always gone to the Toledo Zoo."

Continuing to increase attendance numbers and, in turn, increase revenue will be one of his focuses as director, he said. So will increasing educational programs.

"I know the zoo already does a lot of work with the local schools," Mr. Sailer said. "But I will be looking at options and opportunities for expanding educational programs. I feel very strongly about educational aspects of zoos."

Making contacts and forming partnerships with local universities are something he'd like to pursue, he said. Getting involved in the community beyond the zoo is something he is looking forward to doing as well, he added.

Mr. Sailer is also a dedicated conservationist and spoke extensively about the positive aspects of the species survival program, which is organized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is a mandatory program for zoos to maintain their accreditation.

"There's a lot of science but also a lot of art that goes into these recommendations" for moving animals, he said. "Ultimately [a zoo] gets out of it what it puts into it."

Mr. Sailer will be paid $180,000 annually, and becomes the Toledo Zoo's seventh director, zoo officials said. Mr. Sailer will succeed Anne Baker, a PhD primatologist who in 2006 became the zoo's sixth director and first female chief. She informed the zoo board's executive committee in February that she planned to retire from her $177,735-a-year post.

Mr. Sailer has a master's degree in zoology from the University of Florida and a bachelor's degree in biology from Ball State University.

He grew up in Indiana and from a young age had a love for wildlife, keeping pheasants in aviaries that he built with his father. Part of the attraction of the Toledo Zoo job is being closer to his family, which is largely still in southern Indiana.

"I have several nephews and I can't wait to show them the Toledo Zoo," he said. "They are going to be so excited."

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066.



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