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Published: Sunday, 9/2/2012

Visitors encounter zoo's new director

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Visitors meet wolf fur, a polar bear foot, and Jeff Sailer. From left are Elena Gojcaj, Maria Gojcevic, Olivia Gojcaj, and Amanda and Antonio Sagar, all of Macomb Township, Michigan. Visitors meet wolf fur, a polar bear foot, and Jeff Sailer. From left are Elena Gojcaj, Maria Gojcevic, Olivia Gojcaj, and Amanda and Antonio Sagar, all of Macomb Township, Michigan.
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The Toledo Zoo’s new executive director got to know many zoo attendees Saturday during a meet-and-greet at the Arctic Encounter exhibit.

With gray and harbor seals as his backdrop, Jeff Sailer sat at a table from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and shared two pieces from the zoo’s biofact collection to engage visitors: the fur of a wolf and the foot of a small polar bear. “It’s interesting how some kids will run right up and want to touch them, and others are a little more leery,” Mr. Sailer said.

He engaged with the younger visitors, asking them which zoo animals were their favorites.

“Giraffes and monkeys seem to be in the lead, along with elephants,” he said. “A lot of them say seals and polar bears, but I wonder if that’s because they are right here.”

Mr. Sailer didn’t get a lot of questions, with most visitors simply welcoming him to Toledo. One person asked what the zoo’s aquarium would be like after imminent renovations, voicing hope that the building’s historical nature could be preserved. The exhibit is to close in October and will not reopen until spring/summer 2015, Mr. Sailer said.

“We are actually going to be moving the building’s entrance back to the middle, where it was originally,” he said. “So the reopened exhibit will actually be more historically accurate than it is now.”

Mr. Sailer said he thought the Toledo Zoo draws more childvisitors than the Wildlife Conservation Society’s zoo in New York’s Central Park, of which he is a past director, along with the Prospect Park and Queens zoos. Prior to joining the Wildlife Conservation Society, Mr. Sailer was the curator of birds for the Miami MetroZoo.

David Gauthier, 7, his mom, Mary Gauthier, and grandmother Pat Gauthier, all from Chelsea, Mich., welcomed Mr. Sailer to the zoo and told him how much they enjoy visiting.

“We live a little closer to the Detroit Zoo, but we like the Toledo Zoo so much more,” Mary Gauthier said.

David Gauthier told Mr. Sailer his favorite animal at the zoo is the harbor seal, adding he prefers them to gray seals. When the zoo is quiet and less crowded, the boy lies on the ledge next to the glass and the seals come and lie down right next to him, the zoo director recounted.

Mr. Sailer held the polar bear foot and squatted in front of a baby stroller of 1-year-old Henry Cusack of Grand Rapids, Mich., so he could touch it. Henry was at the zoo with his parents, Lori and Joe Cusack, and grandparents Hope and Mike Bogard of Upper Sandusky.

“We love the zoo. I remember coming here when I was a kid,” Mrs. Cusack said. “I even had my wedding shower here. And now I get to share it with Henry.”

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



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