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LEADING QUESTIONS: Zoo's top dog aims to inspire

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Leading Questions

Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.

Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, first realized he wanted to work in the animal kingdom as a 6-year-old, watching the TV program “Zoo Time” in his native England.

“There was a guy by the name of Dr. Desmond Morris who ran the show,” Crowther , 58, said in his lightly tinged British accent. “He worked at the London Zoo. I apparently told my mother that’s who I wanted to be when I grew up. She of course said that was silly and irresponsible, and to go off and be a doctor or something. But I managed to get back to the star that had been drawing me that whole time.”



Crowther immigrated to Pennsylvania with his family as a teenager. Foregoing zoology for training in physics and communications, Crowther first was employed in the theme-park industry. That led to a post at the fledgling New Jersey State Aquarium, which debuted in 1992 and initially struggled with attendance and exhibits that focused only on the less-than-charismatic native New Jersey fishes.

As an executive of the aquarium and its eventual CEO, Crowther helped oversee the creation of new exhibits, the addition of more tropical fish, and a redesign to make visitors feel more a part of the ocean environment.

Named president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society in 2002, Crowther has endeavored to do something similar at the Indianapolis Zoo—break down as many barriers as possible between animals and patrons. The goal is to give visitors a greater sense of empathy for the creatures and hopefully inspire interest in animal conservation.

“The worst thing that we can possibly do is just show an animal in a space and let people look in there and say, ‘Yeah, there’s an animal in a space,’” Crowther said. “We want them to pass through the glass or over the fence or over the moat and think of what that animal’s life is like in the wild and what its story is and what it needs to survive and thrive.”

Notable examples include a “shark-touch” pool in the Oceans exhibit, where patrons are encouraged to pet dog sharks in a shallow pool. The $2 million “Cheetahs: Race for Survival” exhibit, which debuted in 2010, allows visitors to get within a few feet of the cats via fenced or glassed-in enclosures, challenges them to match their running speed on a short track, and emphasizes the efforts of conservationist Laurie Marker to preserve the cheetah population in Africa.

In the video at top, Crowther explains how the Indy Zoo’s approach is part of its overall mission to “save the world.” He also dials in for tight focus on his position at the top of the organization’s food chain, revealing how he hopes to improve as CEO and what he learned from a particular miscalculation.

He continues the conversation in the video below, discussing how he interprets his role as CEO and monitors his own job performance. He also waxes romantically about leopards, the animal he most wishes he could emulate.



 

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  1. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  2. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............

  3. Good try, Mr. Irwin, but I think we all know the primary motivation for pursuing legal action against the BMV is the HUGE FEES you and your firm expect to receive from the same people you claim to be helping ~ taxpayers! Almost all class action lawsuits end up with the victim receiving a pittance and the lawyers receiving a windfall.

  4. Fix the home life. We're not paying for your child to color, learn letters, numbers and possible self control. YOU raise your children...figure it out! We did. Then they'll do fine in elementary school. Weed out the idiots in public schools, send them well behaved kids (no one expects perfection) and watch what happens! Oh, and pray. A mom.

  5. To clarify, the system Cincinnati building is just a streetcar line which is the cheapest option for rail when you consider light rail (Denver, Portland, and Seattle.) The system (streetcar) that Cincy is building is for a downtown, not a city wide thing. With that said, I think the bus plan make sense and something I shouted to the rooftops about. Most cities with low density and low finances will opt for BRT as it makes more financial and logistical sense. If that route grows and finances are in place, then converting the line to a light rail system is easy as you already have the protected lanes in place. I do think however that Indy should build a streetcar system to connect different areas of downtown. This is the same thing that Tucson, Cincy, Kenosha WI, Portland, and Seattle have done. This allows for easy connections to downtown POI, and allows for more dense growth. Connecting the stadiums to the zoo, convention center, future transit center, and the mall would be one streetcar line that makes sense.

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