Metro names new zoo director

December 28, 2009 - 8:00am

Metro has announced that Kimberly A. Smith will serve as the Oregon Zoo's new director beginning March 1. Smith has 25 years of comprehensive zoo experience, most recently serving as the vice president of animal care at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. She will lead Oregon's No. 1 paid tourist attraction as it undertakes $125 million worth of bond-related improvements over the next 10 to 15 years.

"As the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi, the Oregon Zoo is truly the crown jewel of our community," said Michael Jordan, Metro's chief operating officer. "We are very pleased to have recruited such an outstanding zoo director. She is a proven community leader, manager, conservationist and educator – and is well positioned to lead us into a new era of excellence."

Smith has a strong conservation ethic, believing that local wildlife conservation programs should come first, serving as a solid foundation before taking on international efforts.

"When involved in global preservation efforts, the first thing local community leaders will ask is 'What are you doing at home?'" Smith said. "If the answer is little or nothing, you lose all credibility - you have to walk your talk by taking care of endangered or threatened species in your own back yard."

Smith has built her exceptional reputation in the zoo community because of her collaborative approach to conservation. Her highest profile efforts came when she was curator of birds at the Milwaukee Zoo. She worked closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with state and local wildlife officials, on several local conservation initiatives including: successfully releasing trumpeter swans to the wild and participating in recovery efforts for piping plovers and whooping cranes.  

Smith has a solid track record in overseeing and implementing strategic and master plans. She is also adept at successfully completing large and complex capital construction projects, including the design and construction of the $27 million Great Bear Wilderness and a $4 million dolphinarium renovation at Brookfield. She also designed and managed the $1.3 million expansion of Brookfield's outdoor elephant habitat.

"Smith is absolutely a perfect fit," Jordan said. "We're thrilled that she will continue the important conservation work we've become known for, while overseeing capital construction projects that will make our great zoo even better."

A proven leader within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Smith has chaired and vice chaired many conservation-related committees for the national organization. She currently serves on the prestigious Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee and the Ethics Board. Also noteworthy are her conservation partnerships with state and federal wildlife officials on numerous native-species recovery efforts.

Metro, the zoo and The Oregon Zoo Foundation began the national search for a zoo director in July.

"All of our candidates were highly qualified and each of them brought different strengths to the position," said Jordan.

Smith rose to the top of the list for many reasons, including her:

  • strong advocacy for conservation
  • tireless dedication to improving and enhancing animal welfare in accredited zoos
  • leadership role in creating Brookfield's comprehensive strategic plan and implementing the master plan
  • adeptness at managing complex capital construction projects, completing them on time and on budget
  • proven track record working with community leaders, partners and donors.

Smith stated that she is "excited to be part of a zoo that is so clearly supported by its community." 

"This is my dream job," she said. "The Oregon Zoo is renowned for its recovery and reintroduction efforts with California condors and many Northwest species. I look forward to working with the zoo's dedicated team of professionals – a team that is committed to conservation and environmental stewardship. 

Smith began her career at the Phoenix Zoo and has worked at several accredited museums and zoos, including the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Dallas Zoo and the Milwaukee County Zoo. She holds a master's degree in science from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee and a bachelor's of science in zoology from Arizona State University.

Metro, the regional government that serves 1.5 million people who live in the 25 cities and three counties of the Portland metropolitan region, provides planning and other services that protect the nature and livability of the region. The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission to inspire the community to create a better future for wildlife.