Archive: Ron Kagan, CEO of the DZS, Announces his Upcoming Retirement

January 5, 2021

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

After 28 years of service, Ron Kagan, 69, will retire this summer from his role as Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). DZS board chair Tony Earley has formed a search committee to identify a successor.

“I’ve been in love with DZS and this community from the day I arrived. So many extraordinary employees, volunteers, donors and board members have contributed to creating and securing the future of this amazing organization. There have also been many great civic leaders who have helped DZS survive and thrive through the years that included transitioning the Detroit Zoo from city of Detroit governance and securing the community’s support through two successful millage campaigns. I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of the continuing development of DZS.”

Tony Earley stated, “During Ron’s tenure, the education division has grown from two people to more than 20 professionals, and conservation programs now reach every continent. Ron has been a tireless advocate for diversity in the sector; DZS was recognized with the 2015 diversity award by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). In the same year, the Detroit Zoo was also named the greenest Zoo in the U.S. by AZA and the best managed non-profit by Crain’s Detroit Business. For nine consecutive years, DZS has received the highest rating from Charity Navigator, placing it in the top 3% of all U.S. charities. For those reasons and many more, we appreciate Ron’s visionary leadership.”

During Kagan’s tenure, visitation doubled and membership tripled. He has led the development of numerous iconic facilities including the Arctic Ring of Life, Ford Education Center, National Amphibian Conservation Center, Wildlife Interpretive Gallery, Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness, Mardigian River Otter Habitat, Polk Penguin Conservation Center, Holtzman Wildlife Foundation Red Panda Forest, Australian Outback Adventure, Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex, and Devereaux Tiger Forest. Attractions including the Wildlife Carousel, 4D Theater, Wild Adventure Simulator, Science on a Sphere, Buddy’s Pizza and American Coney Island were also opened.

Similarly, numerous major initiatives were developed including the Berman Academy for Humane Education, Vitamin Z marketing campaign, an internationally award-winning wildlife documentary series, and the “Greenprint” sustainability program which led to the Zoo’s transition to 100 percent renewable energy and the installation of a Solar Flower and anaerobic digester. Successful signature events like WildLights, Dinosauria, and “Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo” (the largest remote, semi-annual shelter-pet adoption event in the U.S.) were also created and remain very popular.

Kagan’s determination to improve the welfare of exotic animals and to advance ethics and compassion in zoos led to the creation of the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics. The Detroit Zoo also became a sanctuary, rescuing hundreds of exotic animals like a polar bear from a circus and lions from a junkyard. In 2004, the Detroit Zoo became the first to decide to no longer keep elephants in captivity for ethical reasons and sent elephants Winky and Wanda to a large sanctuary in California.

Kagan is looking forward to continuing to advance DZS strategic plans over the next several months while helping to prepare the organization for its next leader. He is also leading the international team that is revising the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums code of ethics.