It’s fair to say the Naples Zoo has been a Tetzlaff family institution for more than 40 years.
Tuesday, Naples Zoo Executive Director David Tetzlaff announced he has accepted a position as vice president of zoological operations at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford. He will remain at the Naples Zoo through mid-December.
“I am excited to be going up there. They have a great facility, No. 1, and they have a progressive community,” he said. “It’s a wonderful new opportunity.”
Still, Tetzlaff said it is not easy leaving the Naples Zoo.
“I grew up here. This place is in my DNA,” he said. “It’s been a great training ground, especially to make the move and be part of the move from a family business to a nonprofit and all the things that came with that.”
The Naples Zoo board of directors named EK Consulting President Ellie Krier as the transition director. Krier, who led a group of stakeholders to find a way to preserve the zoo’s lily pond earlier this year, will assist in a national search to find a replacement director.
Krier, whose company specializes in transition management, said she plans to shadow Tetzlaff and learn all she can by December so, if the search for a new director is not complete, she can take the reins.
“It’s a beneficial model because it will not burden the staff with extra duties,” said Krier, who was involved in the 2004 campaign to purchase the land the zoo sits on. “I feel like part of the Zoo family, so I am happy to help.”
Naples Zoo Board President Matt McLean said the board will undertake a national search to identify Tetzlaff’s successor.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for David Tetzlaff to move into this new position,” he said, adding the new director will have big shoes to fill. “He’s done some wonderful things with the Naples Zoo over the years, bringing in new exhibits that have been wonderful additions.”
The Tetzlaff family name has been synonymous with the zoo since Sept. 1, 1969, when David’s parents — “Jungle Larry” Tetzlaff and Nancy Tetzlaff Berens — began leasing the Caribbean Gardens from the Fleischmann family. The Caribbean Gardens served as the winter home for the Tetzlaff family’s animals from Jungle Larry’s at the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio.
David Tetzlaff got involved in the family business at a young age by training animals, particularly the big cats.
“That was how I made my mark,” he said. “We had great animals and great shows. I miss that because it made me part of who I am.”
In 2002, the Fleischmann family members indicated they would be interested in selling the 43 acres of zoo property and the 120 surrounding acres for $67.5 million. The Tetzlaffs met with county commissioners about the county buying the property, an idea voters ultimately approved.
After the sale, the zoo became a nonprofit and was handed over to a Naples Zoo board of directors. David Tetzlaff became the executive director and said he is proud of many of his accomplishments in that role as well.
“I look at the way our animal collection has grown,” he said. “With a relatively limited budget, we have been able to create some great exhibits. And the gratification of our visitors ... the cherry on the cake is making people happy.”
Tetzlaff said his swan song at the Naples Zoo will be the design of the zoo’s new entry plaza in the coming months.
“I want this to be the most unique zoo entry experience in the world, even if I am not here to see it,” he said. Construction will begin in 2013 after he’s left.
Krier said a search committee and goals for the search still have to be determined, but the board of directors will start it’s search as soon as possible.
McLean said the board of directors has not discussed a timeline for the search for the new director, but said he is looking for a person who will “continue to build off the success of the facility.”
“The Naples Zoo has been a success story,” he said.