Detroit Zoo leader to retire after nearly three decades of achievement


The Detroit Zoo director will retire this summer after 28 years at the helm of the Royal Oak Institution.

Ron Kagan, 69, saw double and triple visits to the zoo while serving as executive director of the Detroit Zoological Society.

“I was in love with DZS and this community from the start,” he said. “I am incredibly grateful to have been part of the further development of DZS.”

The zoo has set up a search committee to find a replacement, zoo officials said.

Observers praised Kagan for developing conservation programs that have reached every continent and for expanding the zoo’s education department from two to 20 people.

Tony Earley, former CEO of DTE Energy and chairman of the company’s board of directors, pointed to two accomplishments Kagan made in 2015.

That year, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums named Detroit the greenest zoo in the United States and awarded it an award for its diversity efforts.

Detroit Zoo executive director Ron Kagan will step down after 28 years this summer.

“For these reasons and many more, we value Ron’s visionary leadership,” said Earley.

Others praised Kagan for helping develop zoo events like WildLights and Dinosauria, facilities like the Arctic Ring of Life and the National Amphibian Conservation Center, attractions like the Wildlife Carousel and the 4D Theater, and initiatives like the Berman Academy for Humane Education and an internationally recognized wildlife documentary series.

His efforts to improve the welfare of exotic animals led to the establishment of the Center for Animal Welfare and Ethics for Zoo and Aquarium Animals, according to zoo officials.

Kagan said the praise should be shared with the zoo’s staff and supporters.

“So many exceptional employees, volunteers, donors and board members have helped shape and secure the future of this amazing organization,” he said.

Together, they helped turn the zoo into a sanctuary for hundreds of rescued exotic animals, such as a polar bear from a circus and lions from a junkyard.

In 2004, Detroit became the first zoo to stop captive elephants for ethical reasons. It sent its elephants Winky and Wanda to a sanctuary in California.

Kagan said he will help prepare the organization for its next head and also leads an international team that is revising the code of ethics for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.