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Editorial: Buffalo Zoo remains in capable hands with the hiring of Norah Fletchall

Newly announced Buffalo Zoo President Norah Fletchall has a lot recommending her, including accolades from the highly respected outgoing predecessor and a wealth of top-level experience as the financial steward of a major institution.

Buffalo continues to draw – and keep – some of the best-caliber leaders at its cultural institutions. Fletchall, armed with impeccable credentials, stands to be the latest.

She spent the last seven years at the Indianapolis Zoo as the senior vice president and chief operating officer, and prior to that, as supervising vice president of operations and vice president of conservation.

Fletchall’s experience as fiscal steward of the much larger Indianapolis Zoo – at 64 acres – will benefit Buffalo.  So, too, will her educational background. She holds a bachelor’s degree in animal studies from the University at Missouri, and a master’s degree in business from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.

These are attributes praised by much-respected outgoing zoo president Donna Fernandes, who is credited with setting the institution on the right track when she arrived in 2000. Under her influence, the zoo developed $50 million in new exhibits and visitor attractions, enrolled more than 18,000 households as members and set a 30-year attendance high of 538,000 last year. The zoo also received AZA accreditation for an eighth consecutive time, as reported in The News.

When a leader of Fernandes’ standing heaps praise on her successor – “I was cheering for her, and I am glad they made the choice I would have made …” – people should pay close attention.
Fletchall joins good company in the cultural community, which boasts top-notch leadership: Michael G. Murphy, president and CEO of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, who also had big shoes to fill in replacing the incomparable Anthony Conte, Janne Sirén at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Marisa Wigglesworth at the Buffalo Museum of Science, Melissa Brown at the Buffalo History Museum, Mary Roberts at the Darwin Martin House and Stephanie Crockatt at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. Stakeholders will have to cast as wide a net in replacing Anthony Bannon at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, who will retire on July 1.

An international search firm funded by M&T Bank was employed in the case of a new Buffalo Zoo president. More than 100 people applied and the search committee drilled down to 12 finalists, then six, then three and, finally, Fletchall.

Buffalo can take heart in Fernandes’ assessment: “I can sleep at night knowing that Norah is going to be a wonderful leader at the Buffalo Zoo.”

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