Presenters: Mike Berger
Rick Barongi

Commission Agenda Item No. 3
Houston Zoo - A Vital Community and Conservation Asset
August 21, 2008

I. Executive Summary: Provide an update on the progress and improvements at the Houston Zoo since privatization in 2002. Rick Barongi, Zoo Director, will explain the role and impact of the zoo in the community and its vision for the future. He will highlight the business plan along with their significant conservation programs. The Zoo currently has an annual operating budget of $25 million and welcomed a record 1.61 million guests in FY 2008.

II. Discussion: Established in 1922, the Houston Zoo is a beloved city treasure that has entertained and educated countless millions. In 2002 the Zoo transitioned from a city to a private non-profit operation governed by a volunteer Board. As a result of this privatization the Houston Zoo has made remarkable strides towards meeting its objectives in the four cornerstones of the Houston Zoo's mission - animal care, conservation, education and guest service. The zoo employs just over 300 staff that includes four full time zoo veterinarians and over 80 zookeepers. Since privatization the zoo has earned many significant awards, including an AZA Exhibit Award for its Natural Encounters buildings, AMA 2007 Marketing award, a best website award and special awards for the zoo's annual reports. As one of the premier zoo conservation organizations in the country the Houston Zoo is directly involved in over 30 projects worldwide. Its signature programs involve the Attwater's prairie chicken, sea turtles, Panamanian amphibians, Borneo elephants and orangutans, primates in Gabon, West Africa, and black rhinos in southern Africa. It is hosting its second consecutive Zoo's and Aquariums Committing to Conservation (ZACC) in January 2009, which will bring over 200 speakers and field biologists from over 20 countries to Houston. On the home front the zoo continues to make improvements to the guest service at the zoo and will begin construction on the first phase of a 13 acre African Forest Experience later this year. This naturalistic immersion experience will be an authentic window into the heart of Africa, a place that less then one in a 100,000 Americans will ever visit.