Asheboro, N.C. — Dr. David Jones, who has headed the North Carolina Zoo for more than two decades, announced Monday that he will retire later this year.
Patricia Simmons, the zoo’s chief operating officer, will take over as director Sept. 1, but Jones will continue as a consultant through October.
"The citizens of North Carolina owe a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Jones for what he’s accomplished in leading our iconic zoo for all these years," Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement. "Tens of millions of visitors have walked the grounds in that time, immensely enjoying what he has helped build."
Jones arrived in Asheboro in 1994 from the Zoological Society of London to oversee the latter building stages of the N.C. Zoo's North America region, including the Rocky Coast complex, with polar bears, seals, sea lions and arctic sea birds. The focus since has been on new exhibits for elephants, rhinos, chimpanzees and, most recently, an expanded polar bear facility and remodeled nature play area for children called KidZone.
"These 22 wonderful years have simply flown past," he said in a statement. "We’ve achieved a lot, but none of it would have happened without the support and hard work of an amazing staff with such a varied range of talents and skills."
Jones, 70, helped pioneer the use of anesthetic drugs in large wild mammals and was one of the first to use fiber optics in animal surgery. During his time at the London Zoo, he built a sizeable zoo consultancy, focusing particularly on the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf regions. He also has consulted in more than 50 countries and has been involved in the design, development and management of approximately 30 zoos during a 47-year zoo career.
He is former chair of the world’s oldest international conservation organization, Fauna and Flora International, and served for many years as the chair of the Brooke Hospital for Animals, now the largest international equine welfare charity in the world. He currently chairs the American branch of that charity, as well as Central Park NC, the most prominent non-government rural development agency in the region, and the state chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund. He recently founded and chairs Wild Welfare, the only zoo-based international animal welfare organization focused on helping substandard zoos around the world.
Simmons, 58, was hired last September to succeed Jones. She had served as president and chief executive of the Akron (Ohio) Zoo for 29 years, where she secured a stable source of funding for the zoo, developed a noted conservation education program and implemented a 14-year master plan that includes adding more than 30 new animal exhibits.
"I can truly say that the North Carolina Zoo is in great hands for many years to come,” Jones said. “Pat’s knowledge, enthusiasm and compassion for our animals and staff are evident every day."