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St. Louis Zoo President Jeffrey Bonner To Retire After Years Of Leading Growth

 St. Louis Zoo President and CEO Jeffrey Bonner will retire at the end of the year. Bonner has served as president since 2002.
St. Louis Zoo
Jeffrey Bonner will retire as president and CEO of the St. Louis Zoo at the end of the year. Bonner started his tenure at the zoo in 2002.

Jeffrey Bonner will step down as president and CEO of the St. Louis Zoo at the end of the year.

Bonner, 67, has been the zoo’s president since 2002. During his tenure, the zoo established a $150 million fundraising campaign to update its attractions, including the Judy and Jerry Kent Family Sea Lion Sound, the Staenberg Group Elephant Woods and the Andean Bear Range exhibits.

Zoo officials credit Bonner for leading the organization's fundraising endeavors and for establishing an endowment in 2004 that has reached $93.2 million. The fund supports camps, preschool scholarships, animal care and zoo operations.

"Jeffrey played an instrumental role in modernizing the zoo's century-old campus with world-class experiences and habitats, much of which was made possible by approximately $150 million raised during The Living Promise Campaign, which launched in 2010," St. Louis Zoo Association Board President Alicia S. McDonnell said in a statement.

Before coming to the zoo, Bonner served as director of exhibits and a vice president for the St. Louis Science Center. He also has served as president of the Indianapolis Zoo.

Bonner said he is proud of his work and the work of his staff in St. Louis. He said it was time to leave as the zoo is tackling new projects. Bonner said he’s confident that the zoo has a stable future.

“This was the perfect time for the zoo,” Bonner said. “Somebody can come in right at the beginning of a campaign that can make all of this possible. It’s just the perfect time to hand over the reins, and I can’t wait to see what the next generation brings.”

During his time leading the zoo, Bonner also focused on zoo expansion and conservation efforts. The St. Louis Zoo Association purchased a425-acre plot in north St. Louis County in 2018 for the St. Louis Zoo WildCare Park. The park will breed endangered and at-risk animals and is expected to open as early as 2026. The St. Louis Zoo WildCare Institute also launched during Bonner’s tenure. Officials said the program established 17 centers throughout the world to aid in wildlife conservation.

Zoo officials said Bonner’s emphasis on conservation and fundraising abilities helped strengthen the organization and make it better known outside the St. Louis region.

"What he’s done is really put the St. Louis Zoo on the map in regards to conservation and doing this from a worldwide perspective,” St. Louis Zoological Park Subdistrict Commission Chair Cindy Brinkley said. “He’s had the ability to really raise the profile, not only locally with the exhibits and all of the things that’s been created for the animals, but also through what’s been done internationally with the conservation efforts.”

The St. Louis Zoological Park Subdistrict Commission is conducting an international search for the organization’s next president.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.