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Long-time North Carolina Zoo director announces retirement

Posted on 07/27/15

ASHEBORO, NC – Dr. David Jones has announced he will retire later this year after being at the helm of the North Carolina Zoo for more than two decades. Jones, 70, has served as the zoo’s director since 1994, more than half of the state landmark’s 41 years. He will hand over the reins to Patricia (Pat) Simmons, the zoo’s current chief operating officer, on Sept. 1, but will remain in a supporting role through October.

“The citizens of North Carolina owe a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Jones for what he’s accomplished in leading our iconic zoo for all these years,” said Gov. Pat McCrory. “Tens of millions of visitors have walked the grounds in that time, immensely enjoying what he has helped build.”

During Jones’ tenure, the facility consistently has been lauded as one of the top zoos in the country. He arrived to oversee the latter building stages of the North America region, including the Rocky Coast complex, with polar bears, seals, sea lions and arctic sea birds. The focus since has been on new exhibits for elephants, rhinos, chimpanzees and, most recently, an expanded polar bear facility and remodeled nature play area for children called “KidZone.” Under his leadership, the zoo has gained international recognition for its extensive artwork and for its regional and international conservation and animal welfare efforts. Working with the N.C. Zoo Society, Jones has overseen the zoo’s landholdings increase from approximately 1,400 to 2,200 acres.

“These 22 wonderful years have simply flown past,” said Jones, who came to Asheboro from the Zoological Society of London, where he was chief executive officer and had worked in six capacities over 25 years. “We’ve achieved a lot, but none of it would have happened without the support and hard work of an amazing staff with such a varied range of talents and skills.”

Jones’ accomplishments are vast. Earlier in his career, as one of a very few specialist zoo veterinarians at the time, he helped pioneer the use of anesthetic drugs in large wild mammals and was one of the first to use fiber optics in animal surgery. During his time at the London Zoo, he built a sizeable zoo consultancy, focusing particularly on the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf regions. He also has consulted in more than 50 countries and has been involved in the design, development and management of approximately 30 zoos during a 47-year zoo career. He has written more than 100 reviewed scientific papers and numerous articles.

Jones is former chair of the world’s oldest international conservation organization, Fauna and Flora International and served for many years as the chair of the Brooke Hospital for Animals, now the largest international equine welfare charity in the world. He currently chairs the American branch of that charity. He chaired the Conservation Committee of the World Wildlife Fund in the United Kingdom and was on the council, both of World Wildlife Fund UK and the United States. He currently chairs Central Park NC, the most prominent non-government rural development agency in the region and the Environmental Defense Fund (North Carolina). He recently founded and chairs Wild Welfare, the only zoo-based international animal welfare organization focused on helping substandard zoos around the world.

Simmons, 58, was hired last September to eventually succeed Jones. She had served the past 31 years at the Akron (Ohio) Zoo, including the last 29 as president and CEO.

“When Dr. Jones retires, it will have been a year since I started at the North Carolina Zoo,” said Simmons. “His leadership and vision for this amazing zoo speaks for itself. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about our great zoo from Dr. Jones and the entire zoo staff.”

Simmons has a national reputation in the zoo community, having served on a variety of boards and committees with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), including serving as its board chair in 2012. AZA is North America's preeminent organization of zoo and aquarium professionals. She is currently on the board of directors of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). 

During her career at the Akron Zoo, Simmons secured a stable source of funding for the zoo, developed a top-rate conservation education program and implemented a 14-year master plan that included adding more than 30 new animal exhibits. In 2013, the Akron Zoo set an attendance record with more than 389,000 visitors.

“I can truly say that the North Carolina Zoo is in great hands for many years to come,” Jones said. “Pat’s knowledge, enthusiasm and compassion for our animals and staff are evident every day.” 

A retirement party will be held to celebrate Dr. Jones in early November.

The North Carolina Zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Donald R. van der Vaart, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor.

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