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Zoo Director Search Begins Anew

Smithsonian Deputy Will Take Charge in Meantime

By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2004; Page B08

The Smithsonian Institution has reopened its search for a National Zoo director and will put one of its top managers in charge of the animal park until a replacement is found for departing Director Lucy H. Spelman, officials said.

David L. Evans, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for science, said in an e-mail to zoo employees Wednesday evening that he will serve as interim director because the search committee he heads has not found a successor to Spelman, who is leaving this month.

David L. Evans, a Smithsonian undersecretary, will take over for National Zoo Director Lucy H. Spelman. (Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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The Smithsonian, which oversees the zoo, had hoped to have a new director in place by Jan. 1.

"I believe that it is more important to find the right person to serve as director than to meet an arbitrary deadline," Evans said in the e-mail.

A 10-member advisory search panel has interviewed several of the strongest applicants for zoo director, Evans said, but "none had the combination of experience and skills that we are seeking. . . . Therefore, the search will continue."

The Smithsonian plans to hire a professional firm to help expand the scope of its search, said Evans, who will become interim zoo director Jan. 1.

Spelman, the zoo's former head veterinarian, was named director in 2000 of the 163-acre animal park in Northwest Washington. She was picked by Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence M. Small to revitalize the zoo, even though she was not among the original applicants screened by a Smithsonian search committee.

During her tenure, Spelman became a polarizing figure. Supporters credited her with improving the zoo after inheriting a stagnant animal collection and deteriorating facilities. Detractors said she had scant managerial experience and criticized her management style and animal care.

Spelman announced in February that she would step down at the end of the year. The announcement came hours after a congressionally ordered study of the zoo was made public, flagging problems with animal care, record-keeping and pest control.

The National Academy of Sciences, which did the study, concluded in its interim report that the once world-renowned facility had failed to follow its own procedures and policies, fell behind on annual animal exams and had widespread lapses that threatened the well-being of its 2,600 animals.

The academy's final report has been delayed several times and is not expected to be released until next month.

In October, Evans said the search committee was considering several "excellent candidates" for zoo director from diverse backgrounds, including two from within the Smithsonian.

The new director, he said, would need to have a strong background in science, animal care and fundraising.

Linda St. Thomas, a Smithsonian spokeswoman, said yesterday that the search committee never offered the job to any of the applicants it interviewed. She said the committee is looking at a couple of new candidates and will continue its search through early next year.

Evans, St. Thomas said, expects to spend two days a week at the zoo while juggling his other Smithsonian duties. He will work closely with Mary Tanner, deputy zoo director, and other senior zoo managers.

Spelman, 41, attended her official farewell party last week. A spokeswoman for U.S. Networks, which includes several cable channels, said yesterday that Spelman has been hired as a consultant for a possible Travel Channel show about endangered species around the world.

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