Zoo News

Jul 31, 2023

Zoo Board Appoints Lisa Smith New President/CEO – Smith served as interim President/CEO at the Zoo for almost a year

The Board of Directors of the Zoological Society of Buffalo Inc. today announced the appointment of interim CEO Lisa Smith as the Buffalo Zoo’s new President/CEO.

Smith was chief zoological officer when she was named the Zoo’s interim President/CEO in September 2022 when Norah B. Fletchall departed after five-plus years leading the nation’s third-oldest zoo. The Zoo hired a national search firm in late 2022 that reviewed 105 candidates. Three were brought to Buffalo for visits and interviews, and Smith stood out.

Looking ahead, the board charged Smith with maintaining the Zoo’s exceptional animal care, implementing the Zoo’s new strategic and master plans, and raising money to see them through.

Smith joined the Buffalo Zoo in 2018 after posts at zoos in Santa Barbara, Cleveland, Atlanta and Sioux Falls, SD. Smith has 27 years as a zoo professional, with 13 of those at the senior staff level. She is an expert in animal care, husbandry and welfare, change management, budgeting, and personnel management.

“The board had the rare ability to witness our new President and CEO in action for almost a year and given Lisa’s high level of achievement, her staff’s respect for her leadership and the innovations she brought to the operation during her time as interim, we had an easy choice,” said Board Chair David Flynn. “We were further reinforced by the impressive group of candidates who applied, and the strong finalists we carefully reviewed.”

Smith began her career in 1995 in Crescent City, CA at what is now Ocean World, before moving to the Santa Barbara [CA] Zoo for a year as an animal-care specialist. From there, she moved to Cleveland Metroparks as a zoo keeper from 1998-2002, and then to the Atlanta Zoo as a curator of large mammals until 2009. Smith spent the next eight years at the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum in Sioux Falls as senior director of animal programs.

Smith joined the Buffalo Zoo as general curator in May 2018, becoming chief zoological officer in 2021 and then interim CEO.

“I’ve enjoyed every stop in my career, and I am thrilled to become President and CEO of the Buffalo Zoo, a place I’ve come to see as most special, a zoo with history, tradition and character not found in many other places,” Smith said. “I want to thank the board, our wonderful staff, supporters and all the patrons who find time to visit the Zoo, see and learn about the animals and spread the mission of care, conservation and sustainability.”

In late 2022, The Buffalo Zoo received its latest accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the industry’s oversight organization, after a detailed inspection in June 2022. AZA accreditation is the “gold standard” for zoos and aquariums in all aspects of animal care and welfare, education, conservation, and operations.

Smith, who is the Black Rhino Species Survival Plan Coordinator with the AZA, is currently also in the AZA management program for industry leaders. AZA’s Executive Leadership Development Program is a unique, year-long cohort program designed to develop executive talent and leadership for individuals who demonstrate the ability and interest to advance to the role of director within an AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium.

“We are pleased that Lisa came through a very rigorous search, and interviews with four finalists,” said Jon Dandes, head of the board’s search committee. “What the search demonstrated clearly is that there are many highly qualified candidates, and we have the best among them.”

Smith, who graduated with a B.S. in 1993 from the University of Akron, is only the third CEO at the Buffalo Zoo in the last 23 years. Before Fletchall, Donna Fernandes held the post twice from 2000 to 2017.

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