Donna Fernandes, who has guided the Buffalo Zoo to unprecedented growth since arriving in 2000, is retiring.
Fernandes will step down as president and chief executive officer in the spring of 2017.
Fernandes, 57, said in a statement that while she will continue to remain involved with the zoo, she wanted more time to spend with her family and pursue other goals.
“Although I am leaving my position as president of this wonderful organization, I will continue to assist the zoo and my successor with long-term exhibit design and capital fundraising,” Fernandes said.
“I am looking forward to having more flexibility to spend time with my family, to travel and to pursue some of the other goals on my bucket list.”
When Fernandes began work at the zoo, it faced the loss of its professional accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and a steady decline in visitors due to outdated exhibits and aging infrastructure.
Today, the Zoo is thriving with about $50 million in new exhibits and visitor attractions and annual attendance exceeding 500,000. Under Fernandes, a master plan was developed that has continued to transform the third oldest zoo in the country. Otter Creek, Sea Lion Cove, M&T Bank Rainforest Falls, the Vanishing Animals, Ecostation, Delta Sonic Heritage Farm and the Arctic Edge were all completed during her watch.
The Zoo has retained an executive search firm to begin a national search for Fernandes’ successor.
“Our goal is to create a seamless transition from Dr. Fernandes’ leadership to our next president,” said
Jonathan Dandes, chairman of the Zoological Society of Buffalo, praised Fernandes' “significant contribution” to the zoo.
“This board is fully committed to continuing the outstanding progress made by Dr. Fernandes, and to ensure the future of this magnificent community asset.”