Dallas Zoo hires new female director formerly of Zoo Knoxville
The Dallas Zoo has appointed a new executive director, replacing former Gregg Hudson who passed away in spring 2023.
According to a statement from the zoo, Lisa New has been named the new Chief Executive Officer, following a national executive search. New comes from Zoo Knoxville, where she was president and CEO for the past 10 years.
As the release notes, she will be the Dallas Zoo's first female head.
“Our search committee felt we had an enormous task in front of us back in May when we began a national search for the Dallas Zoo’s next leader," says Chair of the Dallas Zoo Board of Directors Dawn Moore in a statement. "Lisa quickly rose to the top of our list given her impressive career accomplishments that represent everything we were seeking in our new CEO. We found ourselves with the opportunity to bring in a well-respected and recognized leader with the ideal mix of skills to propel our Dallas Zoo to the next level, and we jumped at the chance. We can’t wait to see what Lisa and our talented Dallas Zoo team will achieve!”
New graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1995, which is where she says she discovered an interest in wildlife biology, including internships researching spinner dolphins and humpback whales.
Like many zoo employees, she started as a volunteer, then was eventually hired at Zoo Knoxville. During her tenure, she hand-raised two chimpanzees, Mugsy and Lu, causing her to shift her focus to great apes "and how they might thrive under our care."
Continuing her rise from volunteer to employee, she became the fifth director of Zoo Knoxville in 2013.
New helped oversee the relocation of Jana, an aging African elephant in declining health, to the Elephant Sanctuary in May 2023. Unfortunately, Jana died in October. Zoo Knoxville is also relocating two other aging elephants, Edie and a male named Tonka, to the same sanctuary.
Zoo Knoxville is a 53-acre zoo east of downtown Knoxville which is home to approximately 800 animals. By comparison, the Dallas Zoo claims to have more than 2,000 animals. Zoo Knoxville's operating model is similar to the Dallas Zoo in that it's funded by taxpayers but run by a non-profit contracted by the city of Knoxville.
Former Dallas Zoo president Hudson died in April. He'd been president and CEO since 2006, and was an instrumental figure in the Dallas Zoo's 2016 removal of 18 wild-born elephants from Swaziland, in partnership with the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas, and Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska — a move that drew condemnation from conservationists around the world.
While Zoo Knoxville has not suffered the string of careless animal deaths that has beleaguered the Dallas Zoo, they did experience one mass death of 34 reptiles in 2017, who were mysteriously killed by an unexplained "toxic agent." The death toll included snakes and other reptiles, including several endangered species.
“It is a great honor and responsibility to be entrusted with the legacy that is Dallas Zoo,” New says. “During my initial meetings with the search committee, it quickly became apparent that the Dallas team and I shared the same values. That is, a strong commitment to the wellbeing of our animals, our staff, and our guests to foster a culture that engages our community and protects wildlife. Several years ago, my friend and mentor, the late Gregg Hudson, inspired me to align my passion, profession, vocation and mission; if you are good at it, if the world needs it, and you get paid for it, that’s not a livelihood, that is your purpose. It has guided me ever since, and I am excited to begin this chapter with an iconic institution that has a long history of setting the standard that others follow.”