Hamilton Zoo announces new director

calendar iconPosted 14 September 2020

The Hamilton Zoo team are excited to announce the arrival of new Zoo Director Dr Baird Fleming.

Dr Fleming starts his new role at the Zoo today (Monday 14 September) after arriving from the United States in late August and completing managed isolation in Auckland.

Hamilton City Council Visitor Destinations Manager Lee-Ann Jordan, who oversees Waikato Museum, Hamilton Gardens and Hamilton Zoo-Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park, says she is “thrilled” to announce Dr Fleming’s appointment.

The Council undertook an international search to find the right person for the specialised role and Ms Jordan was delighted to secure a director with Dr Fleming’s level of experience.

“The level of interest in the role internationally has been amazing. The uniqueness of the Zoo-Waiwhakareke combination and New Zealand’s reputation as a great place to live seemed to be key drivers for applicants,” she says.

“The director position is a big role and diverse expertise is needed to ensure high-quality care for our animals and that we meet all the health and safety and compliance standards that keep our staff and visitors safe. Equally important is continuing to attract, educate and delight visitors.”

General Manager Community Lance Vervoort says Dr Fleming was a standout in a field of high-calibre applicants.

“Baird comes to us from America with a unique skill set and experience that we are confident will take Hamilton Zoo and Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park to the next level as we head into a crucial new phase.”

Management of Waiwhakareke transferred to the Zoo recently and with the widely anticipated start of stage one of the $24.8M combined Zoo-Waiwhakareke entry precinct project imminent, Mr Vervoort says the timing of Dr Fleming’s appointment could not be better.

Dr Fleming has been Director at ABQ BioPark in Albuquerque, New Mexico since early 2018, after being promoted from the deputy chief executive position. The BioPark covers an aquarium, botanic gardens, Tingley Beach and the zoo and welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors annually.

Dr Fleming guided a large team responsible for the BioPark’s daily operations and the welfare of animals, plants and fish, conservation and education initiatives, and implemented the park’s master plan. He was Director of Honolulu Zoo before joining the BioPark.

A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Dr Fleming has worked in zoos as a director, assistant director, wildlife veterinarian, trainer, keeper and volunteer.

He grew up in the coastal city of La Ceiba, Honduras, and has spent his life working with wildlife and focusing on conservation. He gained an undergraduate degree in biology from Emory University in Atlanta, then returned to Honduras to work on dolphin research at the Institute of Marine Sciences before relocating to Tampa in Florida where he gained his veterinary degree and worked at Lowry Park Zoo.

Dr Fleming returned to Honduras as director and veterinarian at the Roatan Zoo and Island Adventure, followed by time as director of wildlife and veterinary care at Maya Kay and then Austin Savanna, a research facility in Texas.

“My lifelong passion for animals started with the rescue of my first orphaned river otter,” he says.

“This led me through my studies and into roles in zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, wildlife rehab centres, marine science centres and research facilities.”

Dr Fleming describes conservation as another major passion. Working with Dr Kira Mileham, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, he helped champion their signature assess-plan-act programme and World Plan model.

He says he is looking forward to joining the Hamilton Zoo team. “I’m intrigued by the unique combination of a zoo and natural heritage park. It’s going to be exciting working with the team to maximise the Zoo’s conservation impact and to help realise the extraordinary vision of Waiwhakareke.”

Ms Jordan says Dr Fleming will play a key role in further developing and promoting the education, conservation and biodiversity goals shared by the Zoo and Waiwhakareke.

“We support both native and exotic species and are committed to ecological restoration work at Waiwhakareke. Educating students and the public about these conservation initiatives and conservation in general is at the heart of our purpose, and I am confident Baird’s contribution to progressing and communicating this work will be huge.”

Ms Jordan says the Hamilton Zoo-Waiwhakareke Director role and future development at both sites is important for the liveability of Hamilton and the recovery of tourism in the Waikato region.

Hamilton Zoo is home to over 650 native and exotic animals and covers 25ha in Rotokauri on the outskirts of Hamilton. Across the road, Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park stretches over 65.5ha and is dedicated to reconstruction of the natural forest, wetland and lake ecosystems present in pre-European times.