Correction to This Article
Michael Meadows was incorrectly identified in a July 29 Metro article as director of the Dallas Zoo. He is president and chief executive of the Dallas Zoological Society, which supports the zoo.

Smithsonian Names New Zoo Director

By D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 29, 2005

John Berry, a former Interior Department official who runs a multimillion-dollar wildlife conservation foundation, will become the next director of the National Zoo, officials announced yesterday.

The announcement by the Smithsonian Institution ended a search that began more than a year ago with the hope of finding a strong manager with a background in science and animal care to renew the zoo after turmoil over management and deteriorating facilities.

Berry is executive director of the congressionally chartered National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which raises federal and corporate money for a broad range of projects to save wild lands and creatures. He was an assistant secretary in the Clinton administration's Interior Department, a longtime legislative aide to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and a senior policy adviser at the Smithsonian.

"Because it is the nation's zoo, it has to hold itself to the highest standards of quality," Berry, 46, said last night in an interview. "I believe we can achieve those standards. I'm looking forward to assuming those responsibilities and getting to work."

Although the animal park "has been through some rough times," it has continued to do outstanding work, Berry said, adding that he is impressed with its "passionate, committed" employees. He said that one of his first goals will be to follow the recommendations of a recent National Academy of Sciences panel, which urged reforms to zoo operations and management.

Berry was the top choice of a search committee named in June 2004 to replace Lucy H. Spelman, who resigned after the academy's preliminary report was released. In October, the committee narrowed the list to a half-dozen candidates. Berry was not one of them; he had been approached, but Smithsonian official David L. Evans said committee members did not think Berry wanted the job.

About six weeks ago, Berry said, he got word to Evans that he would be very interested, adding: "It's been a quick six weeks."

Evans, the Smithsonian undersecretary for science, has been acting zoo director since Spelman's departure in December. He said the search process was lengthy because it was difficult to find someone who had strong management credentials as well as either a scientific or animal-care background.

"We were committed to finding a terrific zoo director and not just an adequate one," Evans said. He also praised Berry's "terrific political connections to both sides of the aisle."

Berry, whose salary will be more than $195,000, will begin his job full time in October, overseeing the zoo's 163-acre facility in Rock Creek Park and its Conservation Research Center in Front Royal.

George Rabb, retired director of the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois who served on the search committee, and Michael Meadows, director of the Dallas Zoo who serves on the wildlife foundation board, said Berry's lack of experience in zoo management should not disqualify him from running the zoo. "He's got good people there," Rabb said.

Meadows noted that Berry joined an organization that had been through upheaval when he took over the foundation, which he headed after his predecessor resigned under pressure.

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