Prominent zoological leader Lee Ehmke to head Houston Zoo


The Houston Zoo, a leading zoological center for conservation, education and cultural experiences, announced today that it has named internationally recognized zoological leader Lee Ehmke as its President and Chief Executive. He will officially assume his role as President and CEO of the Houston Zoo on September 8, 2015.

Mr. Ehmke is the current Director/Chief Executive of the Minnesota Zoological Garden and President of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation. There he directs all aspects of the 485-acre zoological park and serves as its primary spokesperson and representative in governmental, community, media, and professional forums. Since arriving in 2000, Ehmke has revitalized the Minnesota Zoo with award-winning new exhibits and facilities; developed a conservation program; grown its annual attendance to 1.25 million. He also generated unprecedented charitable, government, and earned-revenue support for the institution.

Ehmke serves as the elected President of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), a global association of more than 300 member institutions, which serves as a catalyst for their joint action on behalf of biodiversity and habitat conservation and sustainability. Ehmke’s two-year term as President of WAZA will end in October 2015, but he will remain active in national and international zoological and conservation, deepening Houston Zoo’s leadership in these critical efforts.

Prior to coming to the Minnesota Zoo, Ehmke was the Director of Planning and Design at New York’s Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), headquartered at the Bronx Zoo. In his 12 years at WCS, Ehmke led the design and managed construction of numerous award winning Bronx Zoo projects, including its signature Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit. This acclaimed habitat was also home to three of the Houston Zoo’s new western lowland gorillas prior to moving to the Bayou City. Originally trained and practicing as a land use attorney, Ehmke received a masters degree in landscape architecture from the University of California at Berkeley.

“The Board of Directors and I are honored to have someone with Lee Ehmke’s breadth and depth of experience as our next President and CEO. His powerful combination of passion for conservation, visionary leadership, and dedication to the highest quality animal husbandry, education programming, and visitor experience is aligned with our mission at the Houston Zoo,” said Suzanne Nimocks, Chair of the Houston Zoo’s Board of Directors. “We are confident that he will build upon the outstanding achievements of retiring CEO, Deborah Cannon, and help propel us on our journey to ever-improving our regional, national, and international influence and impact on behalf of animals both in our care and in the wild.”

Cannon comments: “I am thrilled to know that our beloved zoo will be in such good hands under the stewardship of my colleague and friend, Lee Ehmke. He is one of the leaders I most admire in the field, and I know that the Zoo will remain fiscally strong and programmatically vibrant with Lee at the helm.”

Cannon herself joined the Houston Zoo in 2005 and led the institution into a new era of growth and financial stability. New and strengthened sources of revenue, enhanced guest services, creative programming, and new and revitalized exhibits – including the recently opened state-of-the-art gorilla habitat – have resulted in revenues and memberships more than doubling over Cannon’s tenure and investments of more than $120 million to enhance and upgrade the quality of the zoo offering and animal welfare. Today, with 2.4 million visitors annually, the Houston Zoo is among the top ten zoos in the country in attendance and is one of Houston’s most visited and cherished cultural attractions.

“It is indeed a privilege and honor to have been chosen as the next President and CEO of the Houston Zoo. I have admired its growth, fiscal strength, and focus on conservation. I am excited to work with the talented and dedicated staff of the Houston Zoo as we prepare for its Centennial in 2022,” said Ehmke. “21st century zoos will increasingly be called upon to help save wildlife and the Houston Zoo is well-positioned to be a global leader in this vital role.”

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