Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is internationally known for his innovation and dedication to wildlife preservation, research and education. Maynard is also an author of more than a dozen books, including “Hope for Animals and Their World,” which he co-authored with Jane Goodall.
As a radio show host of his nationally-syndicated program, “The 90-Second Naturalist,” he provides science and environmental news on radio stations across the country, including stations like WVXU and WGUC, locally. As one of America’s top zookeepers, he has been featured on Good Morning America, The Today Show, CBS This Morning, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, among others.
Maynard will be the special guest at Fitton Center’s “Celebrating Self” luncheon series on Wednesday, Nov. 1. For tickets and more information, go to www.fittoncenter.org. Fitton Center officials have confirmed that Maynard’s upcoming speaking engagement is the highest-selling “Celebrating Self” event ever.
We talked to Mr. Maynard to find out more about what motivates him. He shared about everything from the famous animals at the zoo like Fiona and Fendi to what it’s like to be a green zoo, and how millions of people come from all over to visit the Cincinnati Zoo, annually.
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Q: Tell us about what you’ve been working on and what’s new at the Cincinnati Zoo?
A: We’ll we’ve had quite a year in 2017, as I think everybody knows, because of Fiona and the phenomenon of her story, making a comeback from the brink, as well as her incredible popularity throughout the internet. I’ve traveled all over the world this year from West Africa to Central America and East Africa, and everybody knows about Fiona. I’ve never seen anything like it. At least for one year, she must be the most famous animal in the world. So, that’s been fun, and she’s terrific. But, we’ve had a lot of other animal births, and other animal successes here as well. We’ve got a lot going on. And, as you know, the zoo is involved in many conservation programs around the world.
Q: What’s it been like for you watching Fiona. Did you think she would be such a phenomenon?
A: From the very beginning, she was born on January 24th, the interest was daily. It’s the good side of social media, where people can get information and share information. A couple different times over the past nine months, we’ve tried to tell people via Facebook or Instagram, “Okay, we’re not going to do a daily update,” and we’d get buried, by hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people saying, “No, no, no, we have to hear about Fiona.”
So, it has been a social media phenomenon, but also such a heartening story. The specialized nurses from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital came over to put an IV in, which was literally what turned her around, when she was starting to lose weight, and get dehydrated when she was little. And, that may sound like a simple procedure, because on you and me, you can look at your arm and see a lot of veins, but hippos are kind of chubby, and it’s hard to hit a vein. But, these nurses had amazing ultrasound equipment, so it looked like a river system under her arm. And, they saved Fiona.
It takes a village to raise a baby hippo that’s for sure. It has been a neat thing. There’s also lots of interest in other animals here at the zoo, too. We have a famous black rhino baby that was born this summer, named Kendi, and that’s significant. There are far fewer rhino’s than there were 30 years ago.
Q: Can you touch on any other things that are new at the zoo?
A: We have our new indoor gorilla facility, a 13-million-dollar facility that will accent our outdoor area that people are familiar with, and that opens in December, in time for Festival of Lights. That will be a lot of fun. It’s a great big facility – 48,000-sq. ft., and 29 ft. high, so you’ll be able to see the gorilla’s as a family group. Even in the winter time when you come, or at night when we have events, so that’s fun. Gorillas are one of our most popular animals, so it’s great to be able to share what they are doing. We’re open every day, so you can see them every day… It’s neat. This new facility more than doubles our flexibility of how we can manage our gorilla’s.
Q: The Cincinnati Zoo also has a new male Western Lowland Silverback Gorilla. Can you tell us about him?
A: Mshindi, is our new male. He came from the Louisville Zoo, and he has fit in great. He has the smaller group, so he is with two adult females. At times, the three of them will be in the new indoor facility, and at other times, they will be in the outdoor facility. It’s good to give animals a lot of choices, on where to move, so they are not doing the exact same thing every day. Then, we have another family group of eight gorillas, which is made up of Jomo, who is the breeder, and his four girlfriends, and their three offspring.
Q: For you personally, what are some of your favorite things about the Cincinnati Zoo?
A: Our zoo is well known among other zoos as the greenest zoo in America. What that means is eleven years ago, we hired a civil engineer from Turner Construction, Mark Fisher, and he came to run our facilities, and build our new facilities, but what he learned on his very first day was we were wasting a lot of money, water and energy, because we had very old systems.
So, since that time, we’ve saved over a billion gallons of water, and we’ve saved over $11 million dollars on utilities, compared to the way we used to do it, and we’ve done that by putting in giant water catchment systems underground, so we can use rainwater for irrigation, and rain water for polar bears to swim in, and hippos to swim in, saving us millions of gallons per year. We only use about twenty percent of the water that we used eleven years ago, even though there are more water elements, and the zoo has grown by 25 percent. So, we’re doing it by being smarter as well as with our energy program.
Our solar array that people park under when they come that provides 25 percent of our electricity. We are showing that you can do things smarter and still thrive. Mark currently serves as our Vice President for Sustainability and Planning.
Of course, the other thing that our zoo is known for is we are a great overachiever. Cincinnati’s not a tourist town. It’s not always a good weather town, and yet, we outdraw the Cincinnati Reds. This year, we are going to have more than 1.8 million visitors come right here in the heart of the city. Certainly, it’s heartening to me, how not just Cincinnati, but Hamilton and the entire region really embraces the zoo. In fact, we’re the zoo for Dayton as well as all the way down to Lexington Kentucky. So, people come from all over to see the Cincinnati Zoo.