By Rudy Arispe
When Tim Morrow arrives to work each day, he’s greeted by some very interesting co-workers: some that can reach 18-feet tall, and others that walk on four legs and growl, hiss and roar.
Morrow is the CEO and executive director of the San Antonio Zoo and the Will Smith Zoo School and is surrounded by giraffes, elephants, lions and slithering reptiles, to name a few. He often takes time to talk to the animals, which represent more than 750 species, during his walks of the 56-acre grounds.
“A couple of reasons that drew me to the zoo is the love I found at SeaWorld for animals and animal care,” he said. “Toward the last years at SeaWorld I got into designing animal habitats and conservation. I came to the San Antonio Zoo as a kid and I also brought my kids to the zoo, so with all those things combined I felt it was a good match for me to to take what I learned from my previous experiences to take our zoo into the next 100 years.”
Morrow touts the San Antonio Zoo, which opened in 1914, as one of the best in the U.S., which he can rightfully claim after much extensive homework.
“I have probably visited more than 30 zoos since being here the past three years, and this zoo stands out among other zoos,” he said. “No other zoo has the charm that the San Antonio Zoo has. We have these beautiful limestone walls that say ‘San Antonio’ and a lot of it came out of our quarry. We also have the (waters of the) Riverwalk flowing through and all these beautiful trees. It feels very intimate with a lot of small pathways that guests can explore.”
Morrow mentions that the zoo recently received several local and national accolades. Among them are a Top 10 ranking of best zoos by a national magazine, as well as recognition by a local magazine as the No. 1 attraction for families to visit. Most recently TripAdvisor named San Antonio Zoo top 10 most popular experiences in the world. Additionally, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums recognized the San Antonio Zoo for its conservation efforts, while the Education Department received the Champion Award by the Texas Children in Nature Network. To add to that they are on the same top 10 list as Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Rome’s ancient ruins, and Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House!
The CEO also has big plans for the San Antonio Zoo, including expansion and renovation, all for the benefit of locals and visitors, whose annual attendance numbers more than 1 million. “One of the things we’re working on is expansion of our hospital, including a new surgical suite, a lab and a pharmacy,” he said. “Inside the zoo, we’re working on an overhead, jaguar catwalk, as well as offering events like the (Halloween) Zoo Boo and other new events.”
A major initiative for 2018, Morrow said, is the Montessori-inspired Will Smith Zoo School, which offers outdoor, hands-on learning for preschoolers, ages 3 to 5. It opened in 2014 with four kids and now has an enrollment of 220.
“It’s about kids learning outdoors through nature,” Morrow said. “The kids are outside at least half the day. They’re getting muddy, playing in sand, climbing trees and going outside in the rain. Many of us played outdoors. Today, many kids are in front of a screen up to seven hours a day and outside with unstructured play less than seven minutes. Hopefully, (children attending Zoo School) will grow up to be future conservationists.”
Prior to becoming CEO of the San Antonio Zoo, Morrow was worked at SeaWorld for 19 years before a job search firm contacted him about the position at the zoo.
“I started with Fiesta Texas when it opened in 1992 while I was still in college at UTSA,” he said, adding that at the time he was earning a degree in criminal justice. “I fell in love with the theme park industry, and I never imagined it would end up being my career.”