Deborah Jensen, CEO and president of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, has announced her resignation, effective at the end of July.
Woodland Park Zoo Society President and CEO Deborah Jensen, who is credited with establishing the zoo as a leader in education and wildlife conservation even as the zoo faced recent controversy over its aging elephants, announced her resignation Monday.
Jensen’s resignation will take effect at the end of July, the zoo said in a statement. She was the zoo’s leader for 13 years. She will be the distinguished practitioner in residence at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment beginning this fall.
“I am very enthusiastic about where we are, and I really enjoyed working here,” Jensen said. “But I’m also ready to do something else and am looking forward to future opportunities.”
Bruce Bohmke, the zoo’s chief operating officer, will serve as acting president and CEO as the Zoo Society board conducts a nationwide search.
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Under Jensen’s leadership, the zoo transitioned to nonprofit management that included merging city of Seattle and Woodland Park Zoo Society staffs into one team and received 23 awards for various programs and exhibits. Annual attendance grew from 1 million to 1.3 million and the operating budget grew by 63 percent, from $22 million in 2003 to $36 million in 2015, according to a zoo statement.
“On behalf of the Zoo Society, I want to express our deep gratitude for Dr. Jensen’s 13 years of leadership at the zoo through a period of dynamic change and growth,” zoo board Chairwoman Laurie Stewart said. “… On a personal level, I have enjoyed working with Deborah for the past five years and am always impressed with her thoughtful leadership.”
Jensen’s personal awards include the Women of Influence award by the Puget Sound Business Journal in 2009 and the Executive Excellence Award by Seattle Business Magazine.
Jensen said that her resignation is not related to the controversy surrounding the zoo’s decision to move its two elephants, Chai and Bamboo, to the Oklahoma City Zoo in April. Activists advocated for nearly a decade to have the two elephants retired to a sanctuary, rather than another zoo, which they said was inhumane.
Alyne Fortgang, of the Elephant Justice Project and Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo, said she hoped Jensen’s resignation “will bring about Woodland Park Zoo going in a more enlightened direction.”
At the time of the move, Jensen said that Oklahoma City offered a state-of-the-art exhibit, excellent veterinary care and a herd with which Chai and Bamboo would socialize.
“It [the resignation] is not a result of that,” Jensen said Monday afternoon.
The Zoo Society board will begin a nationwide search for a new president and CEO, with the goal of finding a new leader by the end of the year, the zoo said.
Jensen said she’ll miss working with the zoo’s board and volunteer core but is excited about her new venture. “They’re all passionate about the mission of the zoo, and they do a fantastic job every day,” Jensen said. “I’ll have a lot of opportunity to stay in touch with this remarkable group of people.”