Meet Lindsay Hutchison – Zoo Day Every Day
As a child, Lindsay Hutchison and her brother spent countless hours at the Tulsa Zoo; they explored the beautiful grounds, observed the animals and developed a deep interest in learning about them. She credits her dad’s personal involvement as a board member for influencing her interest in the zoo at a young age. Therefore, it seemed a natural fit when, in 2005, she took a position there as the development coordinator where she played an integral role in the zoo’s growth.
Lindsay Hutchison and family
Hutchison was recently named President and CEO of Tulsa Zoo Management, Inc. Assuming this role in the midst of a global pandemic has not deterred her dedication and desire to successfully lead the zoo. Her sights are set on the future with a vested interest – both professionally and personally – in providing an outstanding experience for each guest who visits the zoo, including her husband and two young children. Hutchison and her team welcome guests with open arms and a clear message – the zoo continues to offer a safe experience in a family friendly environment.
TK: Tell us a little about your background:
Hutchison: I was born and raised in Tulsa and went to Jenks schools. Both my parents were actively involved in the community and served on multiple boards throughout town as well as gave much of their time to volunteer. They emphasized to both my brother and I the need to committing to helping those less fortunate than us and to give back when possible. I think that is why a career at a non-profit always appealed to me.
TK: When did you join the Tulsa Zoo?
Hutchison: I joined the Tulsa Zoo in 2005 as a development coordinator, and from there, led fundraising, guest relations and external engagement. My passion for a zoo career began right here in Tulsa. My father [Lex Anderson] was a long-time zoo supporter and board member, which meant I got to spend my free time at the zoo with my brother. It was this experience that shaped my career goals and helped me understand the ways zoos can help people want to do more for animals worldwide.
I met my husband while attending Jenks. We reconnected after college and now have two young children that adore the zoo. Watching the way they react to our animals in their new habitats continues to motivate me to continue to build a bigger and better zoo.
TK: When you were young, what did you dream about becoming?
Hutchison: I have always had a deep love for animals. Besides wanting to work at a zoo or aquarium, I also dreamed about opening an animal rescue center. I would often bring stray and injured animals home to ensure they were taken care of. I am still passionate about responsible pet ownership today, and I am proud of the rehabilitation efforts our zoo participates in year after year.
TK: Why does the Tulsa Zoo hold a special place in your heart?
Hutchison: I was 4 years old when I had the opportunity to meet an elephant named Gunda, which started my lifelong obsession with her and for zoos. Gunda had a wonderful personality and the elephant manager did an excellent job educating me about elephants’ social intelligence. Gunda’s ability to display compassion and her agility for her size stuck with me.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Gunda’s story, she came to our zoo in 1954. The boat carrying her to the United States broke down in Bermuda. That chance event allowed so many children to see an elephant for the first time. She was just as beloved here. The Tulsa community immediately embraced Gunda and even helped raise money to support her care and feeding. Gunda touched the lives of millions of Tulsa Zoo guests until her passing in 2018 at the age of 67.
TK: What is your favorite animal at the zoo?
Hutchison: My favorite animal is whichever animal I’m spending time with! I love all of our animals and enjoy different things about each of them. Obviously, because of Gunda, our Asian elephants hold a special place for me. Part of the joy of that experience was that personal connection, the fact someone took the time to tell me more and inspire me to want to do something for Gunda and her herd. Any time I’m on zoo grounds listening to keepers talk about one of our ambassador species, I’m reinvigorated, and that spark returns. These are the experiences I’m looking to create for our guests.
TK: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Hutchison: When my friends talk about having a rough day at the office and needing to get away, I can’t relate. When I need a break, I head out of my office and on grounds. This is where I recharge and draw inspiration.
TK: What insider tips can you share with our readers?
Hutchison: I always encourage our guests to check the daily schedule. Feedings and enrichment offer fun opportunities to learn more about natural behaviors and the various ways our zookeepers see to our animals’ wellbeing.
I do enjoy mornings at the zoo. The animals are usually active in their exhibits trying to discover what enrichment the keepers have put out for the day.
TK: Now that you’ve been in the President/CEO role for a few months, what ideas are you working on/excited about introducing?
Hutchison: I am excited to have the chance to build on our former president, Terrie Correll’s, legacy. Terrie led Tulsa Zoo’s transition from an underfunded facility to completion of the first phase of the master plan to completely rebuild the 90-plus-year-old zoo. In only eight years, the zoo was able to complete Phase 1 of the master plan by delivering $26 million in fully funded and completed improvements. Because of her efforts, the zoo has raised more than half of the funds needed to complete the second phase of our master plan. I am in awe of her accomplishments and proud to lead the zoo into the next phase.
We have opened the first project of Phase 2, the Helmerich Behaving Like Animals playground. I look forward to continuing the fundraising efforts for our African Wilds: Carnivores exhibit and working to break ground on this exhibit and our new elephant expansion by the end of 2021. I am so thankful to our zoo donors for believing in the zoo mission and helping us continue to build a bigger, better zoo.
TK: How has COVID changed the growth trajectory of the zoo?
Hutchison: The Tulsa Zoo began 2020 on track to complete fundraising for our next major exhibit complex, African Wilds; our new playground was ready to open, and we were preparing for a busy Spring Break, which is a time we typically see 10 percent of our annual attendance.
No destination was untouched by the pandemic. In our case, the care we provide our animals never changes, open or closed. While some businesses were able to close their doors to reduce costs, we continued to spend about $34,000 a day to care for our facilities and animals. I’m grateful to everyone who contributed to our emergency operating fund, and for our staff who shouldered much of the cost through furloughs and taking on additional responsibilities.
After a 10-week closure, we reopened to reservation-only tickets and limited zoo attendance. Thankfully, our zoo fans have been supportive of the changes.
TK: What are some ways people can get involved or volunteer?
Hutchison: There are a number of ways you can support our zoo, from visiting, to contributing to our fundraising efforts. While our on-grounds volunteer program is on pause, I encourage people to check our website to learn about other ways to support our animal conservation and education mission.
TK: What would you like people to know about the Tulsa Zoo?
Hutchison: I would like for your readers to know the zoo is operated by a nonprofit organization, Tulsa Zoo Management Inc. Tulsa Zoo is owned by the City of Tulsa and operates through a public-private partnership. TZMI is responsible for day-to-day operations, including animal care, staffing and fundraising, which is why our fundraising events and public funding opportunities like Vision and Improve Our Tulsa are essential to our zoo’s growth.
And I want the kids to know our lions, Kalu and Shatari, are sharing an exhibit now so come see them together.
TK: What is your hope for zoo visitors to take away from the visit?
Hutchison: My hope is everyone who spends time at our zoo is inspired to support our ambassador animals’ wild counterparts. There are so many simple ways to support animal conservation like switching to sustainable palm oil and seafood products.
TK: I know you are busy planning for 2021 – even better than ever! What fundraising event is most important to the zoo and what does it help with?
Hutchison: We have big changes planned for our three major fundraisers, which help us build new exhibits and support zoo operations. ZooRun is moving to March 27. Our hope is moving the race to the end of the school year will make it easier for more schools to participate. WALTZ on the Wild Side, our 21-plus fundraiser, moves to Sept. 17, which should offer a break in temperatures compared with our usual June date. HallowZOOeen this year moved to a daytime event with nine available weekend dates in October. We’re deciding whether to continue this new tradition, and guest feedback will be an important factor in our decision. All fundraisers are vital to our continued growth whether they support our general operations or a new capital project.
TK: Will there be any events during the holidays?
Hutchison: I am so excited to share that reindeer are returning to the zoo this year. Zoo guests can meet real reindeer on the first two Saturdays in December thanks to a generous sponsor. We’re finalizing the plans, so be sure to check our website or social media for the latest.
TK: What else would you like to mention?
Hutchison: Come to the zoo! The upside of a generally mild winter is you can find plenty of days to enjoy unplugged, relaxed family fun. And, P.S., we have a new giraffe, rhino and elephant.
Visit tulsazoo.org for more information, to schedule a visit, or purchase tickets.