Detroit Zoo appoints first female director

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

The Detroit Zoological Society named on Tuesday Hayley W. Murphy as its director and chief executive officer.

Murphy, a veterinarian, is the first woman in the zoo’s 93-year history to hold the position. She moves to the Royal Oak zoo from Zoo Atlanta in Georgia, where she serves as deputy director.

Murphy replaces executive director and CEO Ron Kagan, who is retiring after 28 years. Murphy is expected to begin her new job on Nov. 1.

The Zoological Society Board and Koya Partners, a recruiting firm, searched for months before the board appointed Murphy, who has more than 30 years of experience in the field.

Hayley W. Murphy, a doctor of veterinary medicine, will serve as the first female director and chief executive officer of the Detroit Zoo.

Before joining Zoo Atlanta in 2009, she worked at Capron Park Zoo in Attleboro, Massachusetts, and Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. She is one of the nation's leading experts in gorilla cardiac health and served as the director of the Great Ape Heart Project, a multi-institution effort investigating and treating cardiac disease in apes living in zoo settings. 

"Hayley is an incredibly successful and respected leader who is often praised for being a strong listener, investing in relationships and showing compassion in all that she does," said board chair Tony Earley in a news release.

"Not only is she a superb zoo executive, her accomplishments as a scientist will allow the DZS to continue growing as a leading animal and environmental research institution."

Murphy is an expert in conservation, animal welfare and education. She serves on the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Ethics Board and professional development committee. She also serves as the national veterinary advisor for the Gorilla Species Survival Plan and the Ape Taxonomic Advisory Group.

She earned her associate in science from State University of New York, a bachelor of science degree and doctor of veterinary medicine from Cornell University

Murphy, who spent her childhood summers in Metro Detroit, said she's thrilled to join the zoo's mission of conservation, education and community engagement.

"Animal welfare, education, research and community engagement are critical to the future of our planet, and I am excited to lead an organization so clearly aligned with this mission,” Murphy said in the release. “My family and I are looking forward to living in the Detroit area and becoming part of this progressive and diverse community.”