Leading with Heart: A Conversation with Jackie Ogden, Retired Vice President of Animals, Science and

Since it opened Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998, the Walt Disney Company has been a global leader in animal science and conservation. From 2007 until early 2017, the company’s Vice President of Animals, Science and Environment for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts was Dr. Jackie Ogden. Until her recent retirement, she steered Disney’s Parks and Resorts team to provide top notch animal welfare, save species from extinction around the world and nurture the conservation leaders of tomorrow. Ogden is regarded as a compassionate leader in the zoo profession, served as Chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and mentored several important zoo professionals. Here is her story.

@ Disney

Jackie Ogden found herself on the path to the zoo world when she did her masters at Georgia Tech. “I was very lucky to have Dr. Terry Maple (zoo legend credited with saving Zoo Atlanta and helping advance the science of animal behavior in zoos) as my major professor,” she recalled. “I wanted to go into administration at a zoo or other conservation organization and Terry was looking for someone who wanted that. I learned an incredible amount from him and he continues to be my mentor and friend, which I really value.” Maple has been credited for mentoring a large number of zoo directors and other leaders in the profession. “One of the things I learned from him was the importance of science and psychology when it comes to working with animals,” Ogden commented.

@ Zoo Atlanta

Ogden began to do research at the zoo. “My work was focused on gorillas but I did other projects as well such as helping the head of herpetology publish a manuscript on crocodile predation in the Okeefenokee Swamp, studying orangutan behavior and doing a good bit of visitor research,” she elaborated. “I was amazingly lucky to join Zoo Atlanta at a time when Terry was in the middle of completely transforming it from a horrible zoo to a beautiful zoo. Part of that included providing new habitats for gorillas and orangutans. The zoo’s gorilla ‘Willie B.’ had been brought from Africa when he was three or four years old and spent his next 27 years of life alone in what we lovingly refer to as a ‘bathroom style’ exhibit with no outdoor space at all. The new gorilla habitats included one for Willie B. and I was privileged to do research on Willie B’s transition from when he was still indoors to when he went outside to when he met female gorillas. That was pretty incredible. I also observed all the transitions of a number of gorillas that moved from Yerkes Primate Research Center to Zoo Atlanta and how they adjusted to their new habitats.”

@ Zoo Atlanta

@ Zoo Atlanta

Jackie Ogden observed up close the progression of Willie B. from a solitary animal who didn’t know how to act like other gorillas to an integrated part of gorilla society. The gorilla’s adjustment was incredible. “Willie B. was amazing,” Ogden reflected. “It would have been very easy for him to have a number of idiosyncrasies but he didn’t. He was initially very cautious of going outside but he made the transition first to an outdoor space alone and then to living in a family group and then to breeding. I give credit for this at least in part to Charles Horton, who had been Willie B’s caregiver throughout his time at Zoo Atlanta. Charles provided ‘friendship’ to him, if you will, and did so in ways that promoted normal gorilla behavior. I believe that this helped Willie B be as well adjusted as he was.” Ogden’s research would come to be influential in the study of gorilla behavior in zoos.

@ Zoo Atlanta

The gorillas from Yerkes also had to adjust as well. “They hadn’t been in large naturalistic habitats so it took them quite awhile to adjust,” Ogden remarked. “They did very well in their social groups and it was not long until we had successful births. We did research on the impact of different environmental variables on their behavior, which helped us understand their behaviors.”

@ Zoo Atlanta

After completing her masters’ degree , Terry Maple arranged for Ogden to do her dissertation at the San Diego Zoo. “It was truly a dream come true to have the opportunity to do my dissertation at the San Diego Zoo,” she remembered. “I had grown up in San Diego, and in fact went to junior high school in the school adjacent to the zoo’s property. It had always been a dream to work there. They were just getting ready to open Gorilla Tropics so they wanted someone to evaluate it from both a gorilla and visitor perspective. As part of the habitat design, they incorporated a sound system that projected rainforest sounds to visitors and were curious to find out if it added to the experience. I did an evaluation of that and determined that it did make a positive impact on visitor behavior. For my dissertation, I continued the work I had done at Zoo Atlanta and looked at the impact of environmental variables on behavior at the zoo and what is now called the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.” After she graduated, Ogden stayed on as a postdoc with the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES), continuing research with gorillas but also doing more research with visitors and supporting ongoing research projects such as that with California condors.

@ San Diego Zoo

@ San Diego Zoo

Ogden eventually became Curator of the Children’s Zoo at the San Diego Zoo. “As I had been doing visitor studies, I begun to care deeply about the impact zoos and aquariums have on our guests, especially when it comes to caring for animals and wild places,” she elaborated. “The joy of the Children’s Zoo was it was all about inspiring people. That enabled me to see firsthand what it takes to create a positive visitor experience and what things impacted people to care about wildlife and wild place. It also was the first time I had managed a large team, which was an incredible experience. I learned a lot from it- including from the mistakes I made.”

@ San Diego Zoo

While there had been talk about building a new Children’s Zoo, the decision was made to instead make the current experience better. “We were able to make some changes to really positively affect the aesthetic experience including providing better habitats for many of the ‘ambassador animals’,” Jackie Ogden stated. “The staff had always focused on doing animal demonstrations but we took the opportunity to enhance the messaging even more. There was a small theater where we developed a show that integrated science education, humor and conservation messaging. It was great fun to put together, and we were able to demonstrate that not only did the guests enjoy it, but that they retained the messages of the show.”

@ San Diego Zoo

In 1997, Ogden was recruited to be part of the opening team for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “I thought I would stay forever at San Diego and retire there,” she remarked. “Everyone knew Disney was building this new park and I knew a number of colleagues that were moving there. Although I was very happy at San Diego, I made the decision to join to join the team at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It was a horribly difficult decision but I knew they were putting together an incredible team. I also knew that Disney has always been known for leadership and excellence and that I would learn a great deal. Of course, I knew they would do right by animals. And finally I knew we could really influence people to care for wildlife. We would have opportunities to touch millions of people a year and Disney was very serious about that.” In fact, Ogden’s mentor Terry Maple was on the Advisory Board for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

@ Disney

In preparation for Animal Kingdom, Disney had to achieve the highest levels of animal science and perform the enormous task of putting together thousands of animals. “One of the best parts about being at Disney was having this big animal business they didn’t have before,” Jackie Ogden reflected. “It was a life experience [being part of the opening team.] I don’t know if I would have the stamina to do it again but it was incredible. We brought together a large group of animal experts from over 80 zoological institutions. You had people coming from all their different cultures and ways of doing things but now they were working together to implement a giant park and integrating into Disney culture. It was an incredible opportunity to develop a culture and hire people wanting to work in that culture.”

@ Disney

One of the biggest advantages of opening a new park was being able to put in place top-notch animal care programs and behavioral training. “It wasn’t as commonplace back then to talk about training for husbandry behaviors,” Ogden remarked. “Many zoos struggled with folks who had never used training in that way and might even be opposed to it. At Disney we were able to select people supportive of training for husbandry practices. A lot of the obstacles were removed in that way as we put together a very strong team of animal experts.”

@ Disney

This focus on animal care was reinforced as the parks’ populations were put together. “As we were bringing animals in and introducing them into new habitats, the curators worked with all the SSPs {Species Survival Plans} and TAGs [Taxon Advisory Groups] to identify the animals that would come,” Jackie Ogden explained. “We were intentionally conservative about many things. As an example, we were conservative about our ‘animal ambassador’ or ‘demonstration animal’ program. Of course, many zoos use animals as demonstration animals and we know that this can have positive impacts with our guests but there is a tremendous range of what species people think are appropriate for this use and we were very conservative in that respect. We focused on smaller species and excluded all primates. We were always focused on ensuring the way we treated animals was with great respect.”

@ Disney

@ Disney

While it may seem hard to imagine now, the park was controversial with both the public and zoo world when it first opened. “Disney always knew there was a risk something would happen from a media perspective,” Ogden recollected. “Also, we had a number of doubters in the zoo world who were skeptical of what this park would be like. Some thought animal welfare would fall off in favor of the guest experience. They knew Disney was initially serious about doing something for conservation but many were skeptical that as soon as the park opened, that conservation support would drop off.” Doubters were proven wrong as the Disney Conservation Fund has actually grown in stature over time. “It took years to turn [the perception] around,” Ogden added. “During the first five years, there might have been a few Disney jokes at conferences. Luckily we all had a good sense of humor.”

@ Disney

This was only part of the work that went into opening such a large park. “Opening a new park brings a certain amount of chaos,” Jackie Ogden elaborated. “That’s the case with any opening process- you’re doing a great deal in a short time with a lot of pressure. Whenever you open something like this, there’s also this belief that when we finally open it will get easier. Of course, that can’t possibly be true.”

@ Disney

“The first few years were figuring out how to run an animal business at Disney- helping Disney leaders understand the realities of working with animals and helping the animal leaders adjust to Disney,” Ogden remarked. “The Disney Company is different from some non-profit zoos and aquariums. The focus is on the guest experience and constant pursuit of excellence. It’s also a very collaborative, team-based culture. If you were a star at your previous zoo or aquarium, you’re suddenly moving into a team that’s very successful but does not have as many accolades for individual successes. Suddenly you were a great but small fish in a big pond. Also, Disney is a culture that’s a very extroverted and, of course, many animal people are introverts.”

@ Disney

@ Disney

Over time, the Animal Kingdom team- led for much of this time by Dr. Beth Stevens, helped high standards of animal welfare and conservation become part of the Disney Company. “Beth deserves a great deal of credit for the reputation and work of Disney in both the animal and environmental arenas,” Jackie Ogden remarked. “We worked hard to educate the rest of the operation about animals and how we cared for them. We taught them all animals had to be treated respectfully. Disney as a company is very sound ethically, sot this approach always fit well within their culture. To the credit of the leaders, and company as a whole, animal welfare was always respected. Even during some of the worst economic times, we never made a decision that compromised animal welfare or conservation work.

@Scott Richardson

Jackie Ogden started her Disney career as Curator of the Conservation Station, which “really tells the story of how Disney cares for animals.” She was then promoted to Director of Conservation and Science, then to Vice President of Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives for Walt Disney World and finally to Vice President of Animals, Science and Environment for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “As a result, we needed someone to focus on the environmental strategy for Walt Disney World,” Ogden said. “My scope eventually went to being responsible for all the environmental work and animal operations at the Disney parks and resorts around the world. Due to the nature of the business, the parks and resorts operations make up the vast majority of the company’s environmental footprint, making our environmental efforts particularly crucial.”

@ Disney

@ Disney

Although there may have been skepticism early on, Disney began being looked at as a leader in the animal care world. One area of focus was in the area of animal behavioral training and husbandry. “Before I arrived, the team hired Marty McPhee, who had an amazing background in behavioral husbandry,” Ogden stated. “Her role was to establish the husbandry training program. We were able to start from the ground and creating something special. I recall one of the first things Marty did was work with the science team, including Dr. Jill Mellen, the veterinarians and animal care teams, to identify the top species they never wanted to have to anesthetize in order to do an animal exam. This led to the development of comprehensive training programs for those species and eventually virtually all the animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. And this then began being incorporated at The Seas at Epcot, Disney’s accredited aquarium.” Although Disney helped path the way for this work, it’s now common for responsible zoos and aquariums to train animals to voluntarily participate in medical procedures without the use of anesthesia.

@ Disney

Another example of Disney’s training success was getting the animals who lived on Kilimanjaro Safaris to respond to auditory cues. “The animal care team was clear that they wanted to bring as many of the animals in as possible each day so their caregivers could observe and check on them,” Ogden explained. “They had to all be trained to come in. With a number of species, it was quite a feat. Each of the species had a different auditory cue and when it is time for the animals to come in they hear the cues all around Kilimanjaro and they all line up to go in. That type of training on that scale had never happened before. We also wanted to train animals to do things that some said couldn’t be done. For instance, people said it was not possible to train bats to come in every night but the folks who cared for them did it. The Nile crocodiles originally didn’t have a holding area but we built one so we could bring them in in case of a medical issue. They said there’s no way you can train 27 Nile crocodiles to go backstage but the animal care team did it.”

@ Grayson Ponti

@ Disney

“Marty herself deserves a lot of credit for the work we did with training at Animal Kingdom and the Seas, as does the rest of the behavioral husbandry and science team and the animal care team as a whole,” Ogden reflected. “At that point, training was becoming a bigger deal [in the zoo and aquarium world] but Disney helped influence it becoming ubiquitous. I‘ve done a fair amount of accreditation inspections for the AZA and many now borrow on the approach to training and enrichment that Marty and her team developed.”

@ Disney

@ Disney

Another accomplishment of the leadership of Disney’s Animal Kingdom was pushing elephant husbandry. “Beth Stevens was Chair of the AZA when more rigorous elephant husbandry standards were put in place,” Jackie Ogden recounted. “Although you’re never perfect, Disney is rightfully proud of their elephant program. The team ensured that Disney understood from the beginning, that if we’re going to be serious about elephants, we need to focus on maintaining as large of a herd as we can, that it would be resource intensive and that we needed to provide conservation support for elephants in the wild. All of those things happened. Every single time over the years we had a sick or pregnant elephant that needed 24 hour watch or expensive medications Disney leadership supported it.” While Disney’s Animal Kingdom initially received criticism for housing elephants, those critics have been quiet as the program has thrived. “You experience the elephant area and you just have to believe they are happy,” Ogden remarked.

@ Disney

@ Disney

One of Ogden’s favorite memories from her time at Disney was the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the Disney Conservation Fund in 2005. The Conservation Fund was put in place well before the opening of Animal Kingdom under the leadership of Kim Sams and the guidance of the Disney’s Animal Kingdom Advisory Board. “As part of the tenth anniversary, Disney gave five large gifts to folks like Jane Goodall, Iain Douglas Hamilton and John Cleese,” she remembered. “Each of them had the opportunity to make unscripted remarks. As Jane [Goodall] was giving her remarked she said ‘I’m often asked if I like zoos…’ and there was a sharp intake of breath throughout the building. Then she said ‘If I was an animal, I would want to be at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.’ It was wonderful to see how far we had come from the early skepticism.”

@ Disney

@ Disney

Working with Kim Sams and her team, Jackie and her team helped grow Disney’s conservation efforts even more. “We had begun doing direct field conservation work outside of the Conservation Fund but we wanted to grow it even more,” she elaborated. “Anne Savage, who leads Disney Parks conservation efforts, brought to Disney an amazing project on cotton top tamarins but after several years we started doing more direct conservation work. We had to make a business case for it- how critical being involved in conservation was both for recruitment and retention but also from a storytelling perspective. It’s wonderful, but not that compelling to just say we’ve supported many projects in this many countries. The better story is having someone from the sea turtle research program talking to guests and saying how just last week they watched baby sea turtles leave the nest and go into the water.”

@ Disney

@ Disney

“At that point, we had been fairly quiet about it but we started telling more of the conservation stories,” Ogden commented. “Beth Stevens and Kim Sams took Disney leaders to Africa to experience the work of the Conservation Funds. We intentionally brought Disney leaders to visit and to tell them about the conservation work we were involved with. Within not too long, we were able to go from not talking about conservation much to making it something the company was proud of. During a trip to Africa, Bob Iger said ‘I now understand how amazing the work we do is and we need to tell that story.’ Conservation went from something we just did at Animal Kingdom to a corporate initiative.”

@ Disney

@ Disney

“Although we were always proud of what we did, we were determined not to be arrogant,” Ogden reflected. “At one point, I heard a tea member comment that they thought we were the best in animal care. I thought- oh no- the words of somebody that’s complacent.”Working with Dr. Mark Stetter- then Jackie’s “#2, and later with Dr. Mark Penning- who succeeded Stetter, they wanted the staff to continue to get exponentially better. “We initiated a peer review process where we brought people in to look at different aspects of our operation and provide advice,” Ogden stated. “We were clear we were going to show everything and wanted to hear criticism, advice and guidance.”

@ Disney

When asked if Ogden was particularly proud of the work of one particular program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, she struggled to narrow it down. “I think the avian program is really strong,” she reflected. “We were able to add some backstage areas focusing for birds overtime and there is a great avian team who is responsible for our birds (formerly led by Chelle Plasse, who just retired from Disney.) As we discussed, I think one of the things the entire team is proud of is the overall training program. We were the first zoo to do cardiac ultrasounds on gorillas while they were awake. It doesn’t tell you near as much when they’re asleep so the animal care and behavioral husbandry teams were able to get them to hold still and do cardiac ultrasound while sitting there. We even trained many of the fish at the Seas to participate in their veterinary care.”

@ Disney

@ Scott Richardson

“ We also had a female gorilla who got a broken bone and, rather than doing what we would have to do ten years earlier and have her held in a hospital area, we were able to keep her with the gorilla and use a portable X-ray machine to track her overtime,” Ogden continued She never had to be removed from her family group. I’m proud of the entire team [throughout Disney] and the way we worked together to ensure excellent animal care wherever there are animals at Disney. I’m very proud of the conservation program we developed, the guest experience we provide and the conservation message we deliver as well as the environmental sustainability work we implemented across Walt Disney World and the Parks and Resorts teams around the world- now ably led by Dr. Mark Penning and Angie Renner. Several years ago, we also began working closely with the studio folks on animal use in film and TV and that work has been fascinating, challenging and rewarding.”

@ Grayson Ponti

@ Grayson Ponti

In 2014, Jackie Ogden served as President of the Board of Directors for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA.) “I’ve always loved AZA and have been part of it for thirty years,” she said. “I have seen the culture shift to being more collaborative and more focused on animal care and conservation, which I’ve loved watching. When I got the opportunity to be on the board and to be chair, it was an incredible honor. I was just delighted to do whatever I could to push the organization forward- including from a conservation leadership perspective. That was the year we began the SAFE program, with the aim to grow conservation in the AZA. AZA members already do a great deal for conservation but SAFE is making it more strategic and helping us do more and better conservation.”

@ Disney

@ Grayson Ponti

In 2016, Jackie Ogden retired from Disney to devote her time to her husband, who has Alzheimer’s. However, her passion for zoos and aquariums continues and she continues to support the profession in whatever way she can. “Zoos and aquariums are on the cusp of achieving their potential,” Ogden reflected. “There’s more of a focus on animal welfare, conservation, leadership and collaboration than there ever has been. People are ready to work more collaboratively than ever before. I see people being really serious knowing we need to step up. When we work together to save species in our zoos and aquariums around the world, that’s when we really make a difference. When we inspire all 180 million guests [of AZA zoos and aquariums] to change their behavior to help conserve wildlife and wild places, we’ll achieve our potential. We are doing great work but need to do it together.”

@ Disney

“I’ve been so privileged to be able to work in this profession for so long,” Jackie Ogden concluded. “So many of my dearest friends are part of AZA. I think Disney has really helped the profession since they focus on leadership and help grow leadership in the profession. Because of the opportunities I’ve been given, I’ve been able to develop some leadership skills and have been able to lead with my heart. I hope my legacy is I’ve been able to help more people lead with their heart. We’re all in this business because we love it, and love animals, and I want people to celebrate that. I hope I’ve passed on my personal view with the heart and courage piece.”

@ Disney

#DisneysAnimalKingdom #ZooAtlanta #SanDiegoZoo

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