March 26, 2012
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is not a place I’ve often ventured since childhood. Other than the last year’s Zoofari, which was fantastic btw, and an iSPYCINCY scavenger hunt that required posting a picture with a penguin, I haven’t felt much pull towards the playhouse of the animal kingdom. For whatever reason, however, either it’s an eagerness to return to the youthful innocence of childhood, or the epiphanies that come with the claiming of one’s adulthood, I’ve come to realize the zoo is a place of fun for all ages. Therefore, I figured it would be best to jump back on the train and learn about the zoo’s many offerings from its greatest cheerleader, Thane Maynard.
Born and raised in Florida, Maynard earned his undergraduate degree from Rollins College and his Masters from the University of Michigan. When he moved to Cincinnati in 1977 to follow his wife Kathleen, a Cincinnati native and writer for Cincinnati Magazine, it was a chance meeting with a nun, named Thelma Wurzelbacher, that led him on the path to becoming the Director of the Zoo. The nun in question was the only other alum from Michigan, and she put him in touch with Ed Maruska, the long-time Zoo Director. “The rest somehow worked out,” said Maynard, who has been the Director of the Zoo since 2007.
Sherri Friedman, Julia Wesselkamper, Amy Oyster, Deanna Castellini, Thane Maynard, Alicia Gerlinger, Janel Thompson, Jamie Cusick and Jenn Jackson at Zoofari 2011
I recently caught up with Maynard and put him through the three-ring circus known as an iSPYCINCY interview. To see how he performed, please continue reading:
iSPY: What inspires you and/or who do you count as your greatest inspirations?
Maynard: Working at the Cincinnati Zoo offers daily chances for inspiration. You don’t have to take my word for it, just look into the eyes of Suci, our young Sumatran rhino, who is one of the rarest animals on Earth. Or, Sahara, the cheetah, holder of the all-time world land speed record for an animal. People are inspiring too, such as Ebony Kimble, who grew up near the Zoo, graduated from our Zoo Academy High School, and now is a big success majoring in biology at OSU. Another great example is my friend Cathi Davignon, who brings her daughter, Caitlin, to the zoo in her wheelchair nearly every day, and they have the time of their lives. This funny old zoo makes a difference in people’s lives and animal’s lives all around the world.
iSPY: What are some of the most pressing issues facing public zoos and the Cincinnati Zoo in particular?
Maynard: The Cincinnati Zoo is the great over-achiever of major zoos in America. We receive far less public funding than any of the other top 10 zoos in the U.S., and even less than the other Ohio zoos. So, we bring the classic Cincinnati-style Pete Rose head first slide to the things we do and earn our stripes every day.
iSPY: If you had to describe yourself in one word what would it be and why?
Maynard: Optimistic. It is essential to be an optimist when you are trying to save endangered species or raise money to build major exhibits.
iSPY: What is your favorite animal in the kingdom?
Maynard: For a copule of reasons, my favorite animal is the American alligator. I grew up catching baby gators in the lakes and swamps of Central Florida, so they represent the wild side of the Southeast and my crazy outdoor upbringing. Also, alligators, along with bald eagles, are great American success stories. Both animals were highly endangered 40 years ago, but thanks to important wildlife laws like the Endangered Species Act, they along with dozens of other species are staging dramatic comebacks.
iSPY: If you had to be stranded anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
Maynard: If stranded, please drop me in East Africa. The wildlife, the light, and the people are really welcoming there.
iSPY: All things Cincinnati…
Maynard: Cincinnati is a great community. There are so many active events around our area it’s hard to keep up. The Flying Pig is a nationally renowned race, and the 5k Cheetah Run at the Zoo each September is the No. 1 family run in town. Between Brewster Rhodes, Ohio River Way, and Gary Morgan’s family, this is a paddling town. If anybody has not paddled the Little Miami or Whitewater Rivers, they are in for a treat. And Cincinnati has hidden treasures too. My favorite restaurant has always been Myra’s Dionysus in Clifton, where brown rice and ethnic recipes reign supreme.
iSPY: What is top on your bucket list?
Maynard: On the top of my bucket list is to see Nile hippos swimming behind an outdoor wall of glass at the Zoo’s new Africa exhibit, which is slated to open in June 2015. All we need is another $17 million.
iSPY: Any mottos to live by?
Maynard: Charles Darwin, the great intuitive naturalist, closed his legendary book, “On the Origin of Species,” with the line, “There is grandeur in this view of life.” Nuff said.
Thank you again to Thane Maynard for taking the time to converse with iSPYCINCY, and thank you for all that you do to make the Cincinnati Zoo one of the best in the country.to top ↑