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Detroit Zoo leader Ron Kagan to retire after 28 years

The Detroit News

The leader of the Detroit Zoo will retire this summer after 28 years at the helm of the Royal Oak institution.

Ron Kagan, 69, saw zoo visits double and membership triple during his time as executive director of the Detroit Zoological Society.

Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan enjoys the penguins as they float overhead in one of the acrylic tunnels in the 326,000 gallon aquatic area at the Polk Penguin Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak on April 13, 2016.

“I’ve been in love with DZS and this community from the day I arrived,” he said. “I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of the continuing development of DZS.”

The zoo has formed a search committee to seek a successor, said zoo officials.

Observers lauded Kagan for developing conservation programs that have reached every continent, and for expanding the zoo’s education division from two people to 20.

Tony Earley, the former DTE Energy chief executive officer who is chairman of the society board, pointed out two feats achieved by Kagan in 2015.

That year, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums named Detroit as the greenest zoo in the U.S., and also presented it with an award for its diversity efforts.

Detroit Zoo executive director Ron Kagan will step down this summer after 28 years.

“For those reasons and many more, we appreciate Ron’s visionary leadership,” said Earley.

Others praised Kagan for helping develop zoo events such as WildLights and Dinosauria, facilities such as the Arctic Ring of Life and National Amphibian Conservation Center, attractions such as the Wildlife Carousel and 4D Theater, and initiatives such as the Berman Academy for Humane Education and an internationally recognized wildlife documentary series.

His drive to improve the welfare of exotic animals led to the creation of the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animals Welfare and Ethics, said zoo officials.

Kagan said the praise should be shared with zoo staff and supporters.

“So many extraordinary employees, volunteers, donors and board members have contributed to creating and securing the future of this amazing organization,” he said.

Together they helped turn the zoo into a sanctuary for hundreds of rescued exotic animals such as a polar bear from a circus and lions from a junkyard.

In 2004, Detroit became the first zoo to no longer keep elephants in captivity for ethical reasons. It sent its elephants, Winky and Wanda, to a sanctuary in California.

Kagan said he’ll be helping to prepare the organization for its next leader, and also is leading an international team that is revising the code of ethics for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.