Always Opportunities to Get Better: A Conversation with Jerry Borin, Retired Director of the Columbu

The Columbus Zoo has been one of the frontrunners of the zoo field ever since Jack Hanna made it famous through his television appearance. While Jack was the one who put the zoo on the map, Jerry Borrin took charge when Jack became Director Emeritus. Borin was Executive Director of the Columbus Zoo from 1993 to 2008 and led the zoo through a massive expansion. During his tenure, not only did several new exhibits open but also acquired 200 acres of land and a water park, golf course and The Wilds were added to zoo operations. Borin’s time saw the zoo transform into a major conservation partner. Here is his story.

@ Jerry Borin

Borin actually didn’t come from an animal background but rather a business and finance one. It was the zoo’s desire to run better from a business model that recruited him. “In 1985, Franklin County passed a property tax to support the zoo, which gave the zoo a pretty big boost,” Borin recalled. “They wanted to bring someone on board who had experience with public money. Before coming to the zoo, I worked with the city of Columbus doing budgets and managing large amounts of money. Somehow my name got in the process and the offered me the job as general manger. It took me like five seconds to say yes.”

@ Columbus Zoo

At the time, the zoo’s director Jack Hanna was already a local celebrity but just beginning to get national recognition. “Jack led with enthusiasm,” Borin explained. “He worked on giving uniforms out for all the keepers and staff and upgraded everyone’s positive attitude. If Jack walked around the zoo and saw trash, he picked it up. In the early days, he ran some of the concessions. People said ‘wow, this director does things’ and they followed him. Jack changed the atmosphere of the zoo.”

@ Columbus Zoo

However, Jerry Borin noted an unsung hero’s involvement in the rise of the Columbus Zoo: Melvin Dodge, the Recreation and Parks Director of Columbus. “It really started with Mel’s involvement,” he noted. “He really deserves a lot of credit for getting things started. He began our animal ambassador program by going into businesses and talking about the zoo. he raised lion and cheetah cubs at his home. Even after Jack came, Mel helped him get a lot of things done behind the scenes in the early years.” Dodge stayed involved in the zoo until 1991, when he passed away.

@ Columbus Zoo

From the moment Jerry Borin walked into the zoo, it was in the early part of a massive redevelopment. “From 1986 on, we were redeveloping the existing zoo,” he stated. “The only exhibits that are still there from when I started are the North America area, the outdoor gorilla habitat, the reptile house and the elephant building. That’s all that’s still there [although] the elephant house and reptile house have been modernized. We took out a lot of old facilities. We were reorganizing how we exhibited animals and overtime we took a section of the zoo, rebuilt it and did it again and again until we had rebuilt the entire zoo.”

@ Columbus Zoo

In 1992, the Columbus Zoo housed giant pandas on loan from China. “They were located where the bonobos are now,” Borin said. “The indoor area for bonobos was built for the 100 day stay of giant pandas knowing it would house primates. When we had the pandas, part of the agreement was any excess money we generated from pandas had to be restricted to conservation purposes. At the end of the year we had close to a million dollars in excess revenue and started the first ever conservation fund at the zoo.”

@ Columbus Zoo

However, by this time, Jack Hanna’s career as a media personality and public face animals and zoos was taking up more and more of his time. “Jack’s career was starting to take him away from the zoo,” Borin recalled. “People realized Jack’s strength was being out there promoting the zoo. He always did local TV programs and his first big national break came on Good Morning America. They started making Jack a regular on that show and pretty soon he was on CNN and a lot of other media outlets. When they wanted to do something about zoos and the exotic animal world, Jack became the go to person. Then the opportunity came for Jack to do his own TV show, which took him away from the zoo even more.”

@ Columbus Zoo

In 1993, Hanna switched over to being Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo. “He decided it was time to change roles,” Borin remembered. “Jack proposed continuing having his own role at the zoo but being free to pursue his own interest. Me being in the number two position, I was approached by the board to become director. It was a pretty smooth transition since I’d been doing day to day operations at the zoo since 1987. Jack’s national exposure and ability to talk to the general public about the need for conservation helped propel the Columbus Zoo into national recognition and promote our brand.”

@ Columbus Zoo

In 1993, Jerry Borin officially became Director of the Columbus Zoo. “I approached from the standpoint it had to be more business-like as we were growing,” he explained. “We needed to get simple things done so we could spend time working on the tough problems. It was mostly putting systems in place. We needed more donors, more concessions and more efficiency. I came into the zoo from a management business background so that was my strength. I wasn’t hired for animal knowledge, I was hired for organization skills. The fun part of my job was I got to interact with the animal keepers and it was wonderful to learn from them.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

Borin immediately aspired to increase the Columbus Zoo’s funding. He capitalized on the zoo’s strong community support to get things done. “1994 was the first time we passed a ten year levy for the zoo,” Borin said. “That was a big deal since we had ten years worth of money to plan the future.” For the next decade, the Columbus Zoo opened a new major exhibit almost annually. The first area developed with this levy was Shores, which used the Discovery Reef Aquarium built during Jack Hanna’s last year as a cornerstone. “Shores was about life in and around water,” Borin remarked. “We did alligators and flamingos by the reptile building as well as penguins.”

@ Columbus Zoo

A few years later, Shores became home to a state-of-the-art rescue and rehabilitation center for manatees. Since 1999, dozens of manatees have been rehabilitated at the center. “In our master plan, that area was destined for a polar bear exhibit,” Borin explained. “Through a contact, maybe Jack, we learned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was having trouble finding places to put injured and orphaned manatees in Florida. All the Florida facilities were full so they decided to approve places for manatees outside of Florida if zoos could build a proper habitat. We switched from polar bears to manatees and have had several manatees go through our system, get rehabilitated and go back to Florida. It’s pretty unique for people in this part of Ohio to experience manatees. That exhibit has worked very well. We designed the building so we can quarantine them and the manatees are easy to ship in and out.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

Next came building a better home for the zoo’s Asian elephants. “At one time, the Pachyderm House had African and Asian elephants, rhinos, tapirs and pygmy hippos in all it,” Jerry Borin said. “We had a building where the animals had very small indoor and outdoor areas while people had a huge indoor space. We decided that doesn’t make sense so we reversed it. We put more room indoors for the pachyderms and reconfigured the outdoor space to give the elephants a much bigger outdoor yard. There was a picnic area we gave over to elephants."

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

“We had an outstanding group of elephant keepers led by Harry Peachey,” Borin continued. “I relied a lot on Harry’s expertise and experience in what we should do for the outdoor space- the pool, what enrichment devices to construct. My philosophy was that I involved the key staff in the design of animal habitats since they had the experience. We recreated the normal family structure of Asian elephants and have had two successful elephant births.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

Similarly, the zoo upgraded its reptile house. “We used to have very tiny displays of a lot of reptiles so we decided to focus more on endangered species and give the reptiles improved habitats,” Borin said. “You’ve now got larger and better displays. The graphics and signage are better as well.” Also during Borin’s time was the beginning of a partnership between the Columbus Zoo and its future sister facility the Wilds, a massive wildlife park with vast spaces and large herds of animals. “The Wilds came about in the late 1970s and was put together by a group of prominent business people in the state of Ohio,” he explained. “Back then, it was pretty much its own organization. The Columbus Zoo became one of its support organizations and eventually took over its operations. We became the sole member of that organization and it became fully under the zoo fairly late in my tenure.”

@ The Wilds

Borin found demographic and development changes in the surrounding neighborhoods worked in the zoo’s favor. “We were growing and expanding but it took time and resources,” he elaborated. “That doesn’t happen overnight- i’s a 20-25 year timespan. The Columbus Zoo was built on its present site in 1930 and was in this very remote rural area but that has become one of the hottest areas of development in Central Ohio. The zoo benefited from development coming to us. That brought more people, more interests, more members and more support. That all went hand and hand. We attracted many more volunteers and docents who would do things out in the community and in the zoo.”

@ Columbus Zoo

The Columbus Zoo also began to be more proactive in conservation. “We had three volunteers and a staff member named Charlene Jendry who started a program called Partners in Conservation,” Borin stated. “These people started raising money to help mountain gorillas in Rwanda and the amount of money they’ve raised over the years is staggering. The zoo has moved into realizing modern conservations programs have to help the local people live with animals if you’re going to be successful. Their program helps local people do less to destroy their environment. That’s one of the biggest conservation success stories at any zoo. In the early 1990s, we held the first ever zoo conference for Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation (ZACC). It was started by Beth Armstrong and to this day it is held every other year. It’s become an internationally attended event.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

The Columbus Zoo’s conservation fund gave the zoo the resources to support a grant program. Today, the zoo does over 70 conservation projects in thirty different countries. “Our conservation program grew from the individual initiative of staff members who had ideas the zoo's administration supported,” Borin remarked. "We took a risk. Investing in those programs paid off in big ways in wildlife conservation.”

@ Columbus Zoo

In the late 1990s, the Columbus Zoo updated one of its most outdated sections by transforming it into a slice of the Congo. “Before African Forest, [that area] was one of the oldest parts of the zoo without a doubt,” Borin stated. “We used to have a Wendy’s restaurant over there by the original gorilla building. We decided to do an African forest region feature gorillas, bonobos, leopards, okapis and colobus monkeys. We kept some of the old building and reworked them. That’s also where we put a major food court to serve visitors.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

While the outdoor gorilla habitat remained the same, the renovation entirely remodeled the indoor area. “We took the original indoor area and made it the behind the scenes indoor area,” Borin explained. “We built the new indoor gorilla exhibits next to it. We were inspired by a habitat from a zoo in the Netherlands that did a smaller version of what we created. The theory was the animals and zoo staff could move 360 degrees around the indoor area. Gorillas have always been associated with us over the years because we’ve done a lot of work with them, particularly raising babies abandoned by their mothers. We’ve developed the protocols of how you hand raise an abandoned gorilla and introduce them back to their family at the right age. That’s one species we’ve really concentrated on and had a lot of success with.”

@ Columbus Zoo

Additionally, the area featured a state-of-the-art outdoor habitat for bonobos, also known as pygmy chimps. The zoo is one of only seven in the United States to house the endangered apes. “Thee was a private individual in Belgium who had four bonobos he never kept together,” Jerry Borin recalled. “We approached him and he was willing to sell the bonobos to us. Those two males and females ended up having several babies after we properly housed them. Where the bonobo outdoor yard is now used to be our polar bear exhibit. We decided to put them outside with high walls and lots of natural space with trees. I think that’s one of the best habitats we ever constructed at the Columbus Zoo. the views were such you weren’t looking at other people but these natural animals in this lush green area. There was much vegetation the bonobos couldn’t destroy it.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Scott Richardson

Next, Borin and his staff turned an area of the zoo into the Islands of Southeast Asia and Australia featuring kangaroos, koalas, orangutans, gibbons, Komodo dragons and Asian small-clawed otters. “We wanted to give our visitors experiences of many parts of the world,” Borin said. “Instead of going to the old feline house you’re going to an area of the world with a variety of wildlife. We did a nocturnal building since so many Australian animals are active at night. We let the visitors walk in with the kangaroos. When you think of Australia, kangaroos come to mind. We already had koalas so we incorporated them into it.”

@ Columbus Zoo

“We wanted a better home for our orangutans so we also did gibbons, siamangs and Komodo dragons so visitors could experience many different animals from that part of the world,” Borin continued. “The old orangutan exhibit was much smaller than the new one and we gave them much more vertical space. Orangutans spend a lot of their time in the trees so we let them spend more time off the ground.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

One of the biggest achievements of Jerry Borin’s tenure was acquiring additional property for the zoo and developing additional attractions. “The golf course became available in the late 80s and we jumped on the opportunity to get that 265 acres,” he elaborated. “So much development was coming our way we knew if we didn’t get land now others would develop it. For awhile, we thought that would be our future African area.” The decision eventually was made to continue to use it as a golf course after we acquired additional real estate.”

@ Columbus Zoo

Later Borin saw another opportunity. “There was a water park next door as well that was privately owned and it’s last owner was Six Flags,” he explained. “They were interested in us buying out their lease to take over that property. We wanted to relocate a major highway around the zoo but needed that property to make it happen. I told the board new exhibits would cost a lot to operate so we needed new ways to generate income. We did projections and the decision was made to construct a brand new waterpark we would operate (Zoombezi Bay.) Some of it was timing, some of it was luck. These things for the Columbus Zoo all came together in pieces. We became more than a zoo but a business holding company. It’s a little unique among zoos to have that many different things.” Borin also acquired 165 acres of farmland that would later be home to the award-winning Polar Frontier and Heart of Africa expansions.

@ Columbus Zoo

The last major expansion done during Jerry Borin’s time at the Columbus Zoo was Asia Quest. It replaced Herbivore-Carnivore, an older area of the zoo featuring predators and prey in close proximity. Asia Quest focuses on endangered species such as Amur tiger, sloth and sun bears, langurs, red pandas and Pallas cats. “Amur tigers are very endangered,” Borin said. “If you’re going to spend money on a species in a zoo you should be working with endangered animals so you can educate the public and protect the species.” The decision was made not to tear down the old holding building from Herbivore Carnivore. “We kept the building but reconfigured the visitor’s experience,” Borin said. “Before, you could only see things on the outside but now we had a walkthrough area inside with fruit bats, pythons and small primates.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

Asia Quest articulately tells the story of Asian species and their fight to extinction. Several interpretive elements discuss the illegal wildlife trade and how it threatens the animals on display. “A lot of our regions have a sort of visitor area with graphics, signage and monitors that tell the story,” Borin remarked. “You have the opportunity to learn more. Some visitors want to spend a lot of time learning more while others just want to move on and see the animals.”

@ Columbus Zoo

@ Columbus Zoo

Outside of being director at the Columbus Zoo, Jerry Borin was very active in the broader zoo and conservation world. “I spent time on the AZA Board of Directors and served on their ethics committee,” he said. “I also served on the WAZA Board. That was extremely interesting as you go to interact with your colleagues around the world and learn how things are done in Europe, Australia, Japan and elsewhere. I was on the board for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Species360 as well.”

@ Columbus Zoo

In 2008, Jerry Borin retired as Director of the Columbus Zoo. “I was there 23 years and felt very good about everything I had done,” he recalled. “My energy had changed a bit and I had done so many things I felt now is the time to transition out. My career ended on a very high note. I feel very proud of the job the current staff has done. I worked with a talented team of people. The zoo keeps getting better and better.” Borin feels proud for helping the zoo grow and develop. “I remember going to the board in 1987 and asking for thousands of Christmas lights to keep the zoo open in December,” Borin said. “That holiday Christmas thing is one of the biggest events of the year in the area.”

@ Columbus Zoo

“One things zoos have to do is remain socially and culturally relevant to their community,” Jerry Borin concluded. “If you stay relevant, you keep the support of the community. Education and conservation are the two key products of the zoo of the future. Watching a video of an animal is never the same as a zoo visit. When I operated the zoo, we had a healthy fear of the future. Nothing can hurt you more than a sense of complacency. At the Columbus Zoo, you never run out of opportunities. There are always opportunities to be better.”

@ Jerry Borin

#ColumbusZoo

You Might Also Like:
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
0824BZ_3117TA
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
maruska
charlie
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-pos
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-post/2017/05/14/A-Life-Devoted-to-the-ModernConservation-Zoo-A-Cons
https://www.zoophoria.net/single-post/2017/08/03/Connecting-People-to-Living-Things-in-an-Emotional-

I'm a 23-year old wildlife enthusiast, conservation and animal welfare advocate, environmental activist and zoo fanatic who aspires to work in zoo public relations or education. I am here to share some insight into the world's best zoos to show all the great things they are doing. 

 

About Me
Search by Tags
No tags yet.

© 2017 by Grayson Ponti