David Jones, who has led the N.C. Zoo for more than 20 years, said Monday he will retire from his post in September, making way for Patricia Simmons to take over the job of promoting and expanding the world-renowned park.
Jones announced last year that he would retire but did not set a date. Shortly after, the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources said it would bring on Simmons as a deputy director and chief operating officer, so she could spend a year or so working at the zoo before taking over.
Jones, 70, was hired as director in 1994 after 25 years at the Zoological Society of London, where he was chief executive officer. One of few veterinarians at the time who specialized in the care of zoo animals, he had helped pioneer the use of anesthetics in large wild mammals and was one of the first to use fiber optics in animal surgery. During his career, he has served as a consultant in the design, development and management of zoos all over the world.
He arrived at the N.C. Zoo when its North America region was nearing completion. After state lawmakers said they could not promise funding to complete the original plan for exhibits on all seven continents, Jones, working with the non-profit N.C. Zoo Society and the park staff, found ways to draw new visitors and keep regulars coming back year after year. The zoo added animals and revamped aging exhibits as money was available, including those for elephants, rhinos, chimps and polar bears.
Jones helped the zoo get international recognition for its artwork and its conservation work. During his tenure, the zoo also has added acreage, expanding from 1,400 to 2,200 acres.
“These 22 wonderful years have simply flown past,” Jones said in a statement Monday. “We’ve achieved a lot, but none of it would have happened without the support and hard work of an amazing staff with such a varied range of talents and skills.”
His successor, Simmons, 58, worked 31 years at the Akron Zoo in Ohio before coming to North Carolina last September. She spent 29 years as that zoo’s president and CEO and is credited with helping it secure a stable source of funding and add more than 30 new animal exhibits.
Jones will remain at the zoo through October to help with Simmons’ transition.