From the Editor: New & Hot at the Zoo
Naples Zoo President and CEO Jack Mulvena sheds light on his mission for his animal kingdom.
If you’re hearing about a sloth hanging around in a local school or a hedgehog appearing in a senior community center, blame Jack Mulvena. The new president and CEO of the Naples Zoo since early May, he is on a mission to be sure. Not only does he wish to lure more people to his 43-acre domain, but he also wants to take some of its treasures out to the community (not including lions and tigers).
It’s all part of his plan going forward, building on what he believes is a pretty great place to begin with. During a recent visit with Jack, I asked him to tell us what we don’t know about the zoo—and should, how a visit brings his animal kingdom alive for guests and what advances we should see, say, a year from now.
This fit, dashing man of steely resolve comes to us after 20 years as executive director of the very successful Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, R.I., and his resume includes an MBA from the University of Rhode Island. To my first inquiry on little-known attributes, he replies: “As an educational and family resource, we draw 350,000 visitors a year—more than the Naples Botanical Garden, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples and the Conservancy combined. Out of the 50 or 60 zoos I’ve visited, we have one of the best staffs around. We’ve got one of the premier onsite educational programs, and we’re completely self-sufficient, with no public funding. With 12 free Saturdays annually, half-price memberships for Collier County residents and 15,000 free admissions to various worthy groups, the zoo, in effect, offers $1.5 million in free admissions each year.”
And what do you get out of your visit? Jack’s not too enthusiastic about what he calls “the underwhelming entrance,” but, once inside, “we’ve got some extraordinary animals. We have the fastest (cheetah), the tallest (giraffes), the rarest (two Malayan tigers) and are one of four zoos with honey badgers.” A boat adventure on Lake Victoria will take you to monkeys, gibbons, lemurs and more.
Being a zoo master has had its moments for Jack. Once, telling pre-schoolers about a Red Milk snake, he got it curled up and ensnared in his shirt collar. The kids had to help him extract it. In another experience he calls “humbling”—a trial run to perform artificial insemination on an elephant—he donned a fingertip-to-shoulder glove and had to practice through the backside of the huge animal. His proudest moment? When the publishers of the legendary primatologist Jane Goodall called to do a chapter on his Providence zoo’s work with American burying beetles.
Now, in Naples, he’s aiming to make the zoo a fount of education programs, mobile enough to reach out to schools and community centers and homey enough to run summer camps for preschoolers and parents on the premises. He says there’ll be some upgrading of several of the zoo’s existing exhibits and—guaranteed—he eventually will create an entrance worthy of his expansive paradise. Longer-term, there’s a plan to expand the African Collection.
Jack is a proactive guy. During his years in Rhode Island—a hotbed of Boston Red Sox passion—he had an exhibit in 2004 where African elephants smashed volumes of illuminated pumpkins with New York Yankee logos on them. At the time, the Red Sox trailed the Yankees 0-3 in games in the fight for the pennant. After that pumpkin smashing, Boston swept to four straight victories and ultimately went on to win the World Series. “We take some credit for that,” Jack says, smiling. It was, indeed, a miracle, and we’ll expect more of the same from Jack as he continues to step up his game on our behalf. (Note to Jack: But keep it to zoological magic … and leave my Yankees alone.)
Also New and Hot
We love giving you our very best in words and images, and you’ll notice some refreshing on the visual front in this issue. We’ve stepped up to a whiter, heavier paper stock and introduced new type fonts for stories and headlines along with a changed color scheme throughout. The mission, as ever, is to deliver an elegant, sophisticated, contemporary look and feel, and we hope you’re sharing our enthusiasm for the current upgrades.