In time for its 100th anniversary in 2022, the new Houston Zoo CEO, Lee Ehmke, wants to make our zoo world-class, both in design and function. He has been a part of the Houston Zoo since September, though he was not involved in the $28 million dollar gorilla exhibit, he hopes that the rest of the zoo will follow suit. A benefit both for the guests and the zoo’s precious animals.
First on the list, Ehmke, who is also a landscape architect, wants to update the 1970s feel of the zoo’s main entrance. Of course, in addition to making the entrance more natural and engaging, the ticket lines will be addressed to make them shorter for guests. Next, Ehmke hopes to completely revamp the Macaw Café just insides the zoo’s entrance. There are plans to relocate the eatery near the zoo’s reflection pool where guest typically enjoy picnics. Continuing, the sea lion exhibit has a very small pool and even smaller lookout point. This exhibit gathers much attention when the sea lions are playing, and there is just not enough room for guests to enjoy the view. Ehmke will expand the pool, as well as the lookout area.
The above are just a few of the key points outlined in Ehmke’s world class vision for the Houston Zoo. The 55 acre zoo calls for much improvement in order to become a class of its own. There are roughly 6,000 animals in the zoo, and Ehmke hopes to trim these numbers while also vastly improving the habitats for the animals that remain. Much of the aging infrastructure needs to be replaced to ensure the longevity of the zoo.
Ehmke even wants there to be a satellite zoo outside of the city! His grandeur plans do not stop with a few structure improvements and updated conservation programs. Ehmke wishes for more land, more along the lines of a safari park. He references San Diego that has a 100 acre zoo inside the city with another 1800 acres in the suburb area.
Think this is all wishful thinking? Well, if anyone could transform the zoo into such a vision, it’s Lee Ehmke. He grew up in San Francisco Bay, and although his mid-20s consisted of practicing law, Ehmke had always dreamed of being a landscape architect to build functional and beautiful habitats for animals. This led him back to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, where his new degree landed him a job at the Bronx Zoo in New York as an exhibit designer in 1988. Over a twelve year stent in New York, Ehmke dedicated his efforts namely to the $43 million dollar exhibit that housed 22 gorillas.
As soon as that project was finished, Ehmke was recruited by Peter Maritz, board member of the Minnesota Zoo, to revamp the massive zoo- that was encased by concrete. He spent fifteen years at the Minnesota Zoo, also serving as the president of the World Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums, making him more than a zoo exhibit designer. He was a global diplomat.
Needless to say, with his history of success and ingenuity, Ehmke was a promising contender to create a new face for the Houston Zoo. The Houston Zoo’s board of directors considered over two dozen candidates worldwide, and Ehmke was chosen. Welcome to Houston Mr. Ehmke!