Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan, flanked by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, left, and Macomb County Public Works Commissioner and zoo board member Candice Miller, right, pose with jars of “Vitamin Z” during a press conference at the Macomb County Administration Building in Mount Clemens Feb. 13, 2018. Kagan will retire this summer.

Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan, flanked by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, left, and Macomb County Public Works Commissioner and zoo board member Candice Miller, right, pose with jars of “Vitamin Z” during a press conference at the Macomb County Administration Building in Mount Clemens Feb. 13, 2018. Kagan will retire this summer.

File photo by Sarah Wojcik


Detroit Zoo CEO Ron Kagan to retire this summer

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 7, 2021

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ROYAL OAK — After nearly three decades of steering the Detroit Zoological Society, Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan recently announced his upcoming retirement this summer.

Detroit Zoological Society board chair Tony Earley has formed a search committee to hire a replacement.

Kagan, 69, started the job 28 years ago and will continue to advance strategic plans at the zoo to prepare the nonprofit organization for its new leader. He is also in charge of an international team working to revise the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums code of ethics.

“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,” Kagan said in a prepared statement. “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 the city of Detroit governance and securing the community’s support through two successful millage campaigns.”

Earley praised Kagan’s role in growing the zoo’s education division from two to more than 20 professionals, implementing conservation programs on every continent, and advocating for diversity.

“DZS was recognized with the 2015 diversity award by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 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,” Earley said in a prepared statement. “For nine consecutive years, DZS has received the highest rating from Charity Navigator, placing it in the top 3% of all U.S. charities.”

Visitation doubled and membership tripled during Kagan’s tenure, and he has led the development of 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, according to a press release.

Kagan also oversaw new attractions at the zoo including the Wildlife Carousel, 4D Theater, Wild Adventure Simulator, Science on a Sphere, Buddy’s Pizza and American Coney Island, as well as signature events such as WildLights, Dinosauria and Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo — the largest remote, semiannual shelter animal adoption event in the U.S., according to the release.

Concern for the welfare of exotic animals led Kagan to create the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics. The Detroit Zoo rescued hundreds of exotic animals, such as a polar bear from a circus and lions from a junkyard, and in 2004, the Detroit Zoo became the first zoo to no longer keep elephants in captivity for ethical reasons and sent elephants Winky and Wanda to a sanctuary in California, according to the release.

Kagan also led the zoo in developing an internationally award-winning wildlife documentary series; the “Greenprint” sustainability program, which led to the zoo’s 100% renewable energy and the installation of a solar flower and anaerobic digester; the Vitamin Z marketing campaign; and the Berman Academy for Humane Education, according to the release.

Kagan could not be reached for comment by press time.

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

For more information, call (248) 541-5717 or visit detroitzoo.org.

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