Dec 6, 2021 - News

Columbus Zoo leader reflects on difficult year

Columbus Zoo director emeritus Jerry Borin and his wife Lois, sit in a tugboat in a zoo play area named after him
Jerry Borin and his wife, Lois, in a boat named after him at the zoo. Photo: Columbus Zoo and Acquarium

Longtime Columbus Zoo director Jerry Borin retired for the second time today after stepping in to lead the zoo through its most tumultuous period in history.

Why it matters: In March, former president and CEO Tom Stalf resigned amid allegations he used zoo assets personally. Stalf and other former officials are now the subject of a state investigation.

  • When the board of directors asked Borin to come out of retirement after 13 years, Borin says he didn't hesitate.

What he's saying: "He's very much a people's general," Borin says. "He's very much that type of leader, out with the people. And that's exactly what they need right now."

Catch up quick: Borin is no stranger to a tough assignment. He was tasked with filling celebrity zoo director Jack Hanna's shoes in 1992 and aced it, expanding the zoo into an even larger powerhouse before retiring in 2008.

  • The zoo's "director emeritus" title is reserved for only Hanna and Borin.
  • There's also a boat in the Shores play area and a zoo access road named after Borin.

The intrigue: Soon after his return, Borin's famous predecessor became the subject of an even bigger controversy than Stalf.

  • Hanna is accused of working with unaccredited breeders to obtain big cat cubs he brought on TV — which led the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to strip the zoo of its accreditation for the first time in October.

Yes, but: Borin says the zoo has made many changes and hopes the AZA will reconsider.

What's next: Zoo officials have been granted an opportunity to appeal the accreditation decision and present their case Dec. 13.

  • A decision is expected soon after, zoo spokeswoman Jen Fields tells Axios.

Borin bonus fact: While it's hard to pick his favorite animal, Borin says he bonded in the '90s with a bonobo named Susie who remembers him after all these years.

  • The ape would tease him by poking a piece of straw through her exhibit fence and then pulling it away before he could grab it. The cat-and-mouse game continued this year.
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