After more than 25 years serving as the head of Lincoln Park Zoo, President & CEO Kevin J. Bell has announced his retirement and the Board of Directors shares their selection of his successor, current Zoo Director Megan Ross, Ph.D. Bell will retire at the end of 2021.
“Dr. Ross is committed to the very highest standards of animal care and to ensuring zoos continue to build a strong future as conservation organizations. Never complacent, Dr. Ross will ensure the zoo’s culture of improvement makes us better and better every day,” said Bell. “A valued member of the worldwide zoo and conservation community, I am thrilled she has accepted this role right here at home.”
Dr. Ross was selected to lead the zoo after a multi-year succession process facilitated by the Board of Trustees. Ross first joined the zoo in 2000 as the Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds and since then has focused on developing the zoo’s commitments to conservation and animal care. Other titles held by Ross at the zoo include General Curator, where she oversaw all animal areas and records; Vice President of Animal Care & Education; and Executive Vice President, where she sustained the zoo’s conservation mission and promise to animal welfare and community engagement. She was also the second Ph.D. to be hired for animal care. Today, the zoo has grown a team of more than 40 scientists on staff to further its understanding of animals.
“I’m thrilled and honored to lead one of Chicago’s greatest cultural, scientific and educational institutions,” said Dr. Ross. “As an admitted science nerd, I love the learning opportunities that a zoo provides. We’re opening a door to nature and bringing children and families in to enjoy it, learn from it, and see their place in the natural world. I’m eager to build on Kevin’s vision of being the very best urban zoo and science center.”
Dr. Ross has been at the forefront of many projects and innovative initiatives made at the zoo. In 2016, Ross launched ZooMonitor, an animal behavior monitoring app that caters to understanding animals’ preferences and serves to optimize welfare for animals in human care. She has helped create comprehensive animal welfare and conservation science programs over her last 25 years at the zoo, and she puts research and science at the core of everything she does.
“Dr. Ross has impressed the Board since day one,” said Chairman of the Board of Trustees John Mostofi. “I am thankful to my predecessors, John Ettelson and Biff Bowman, for establishing our succession plan and leading such a comprehensive process. Through it, we discovered a strong leader and scientist with a clear vision for the future — for people, animals and the zoo itself. Dr. Ross was the clear choice for the zoo’s next chief executive and I have the utmost confidence in her as the leader of Lincoln Park Zoo.”
Outside of the zoo, Ross is a board member-elect of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and former chair of the ethics board, responsible for enforcing the Code of Professional Ethics, which sets standards of conduct throughout the AZA. She completed AZA’s Executive Leadership Development Program and participated in Leadership Greater Chicago’s inaugural Daniel Burnham Fellowship cohort. Ross also serves on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group which focuses on songbird conservation.
“Knowing both Kevin Bell and Dr. Ross on a personal and professional level has been extremely humbling,” said former Zoo Director Dr. Lester Fisher. “I was a zoo vet, Kevin built on that to improve education and conservation, and Dr. Ross will take the zoo to the next level by bringing a scientific approach to all aspects of the zoo.”
Bell leaves behind a longstanding legacy that has left a monumental impact on the zoo. From his earliest days growing up in the Bronx Zoo to 45 years here in Chicago with Lincoln Park Zoo, Kevin Bell has set a precedent for animal care and conservation that has made a profound impact on Chicago and the world.