Racine Zoological Society President, CEO leaving to work on the state's first ever safari park

RACINE (WITI) -- Racine Zoological Society President and CEO Jay Christie will leave his post next month to begin work on the state’s first ever safari park.  He anticipates the new park will open to the public in June of next year.

Christie, whose first job in the zoological park industry was at one of North America’s largest safari parks, said “This will be the fulfillment of a dream I have had since I was ten years old,” adding, “I’m elated that this project will allow me to stay in the Dairy State.”

Christie took over for the retiring Tom Torhorst, DVM in May of 1998 after being chosen through a national search. His tenure as head of the zoo was the second longest in the 91-year history of the Racine Zoological Gardens.

“I have loved my time here in Racine,” Christie said, “and I will miss the zoo and, in particular, the animals and the tremendous team of dedicated staff members and volunteers.”

Commenting on today’s announcement, Chris Eperjesy, RZS board chair, stated, “I would like to thank Jay for his 16 years of service to the zoo and the Racine Community.  I personally wish Jay success in his next, exciting adventure to establish Wisconsin’s first ever safari park.”

Past RZS Board Chair Gretchen Romanshek was on the search committee that chose Christie. Asked if she thought the Zoo would keep him 16 years, Romanshek said, “A lot of people thought he would use the Racine Zoo as a stepping stone and move along to a larger zoo but I always he hoped he would stay long enough to make a real change and he did so in spades.  The zoo has come a long way over the last 16 years,” she added, “he was definitely the right fit for us during those transformative years.”

Also remarking on the zoo’s transformation under Christie’s leadership was RZS Secretary Dave Lucht, who serves on the board’s executive committee.  “He brokered millions of dollars in donations to help make the zoo what it is today,” Lucht said. “He brought a tremendous amount of talent and vision to the Zoo and we will miss him.”

Van Wanggaard, a longstanding RZS board member, praised Christie for the work he’s done, citing the creation of the Upper Midwest’s first interactive giraffe exhibit and the region’s largest interactive aviary as examples. “He has worked very, very hard, and we appreciate everything he’s done for us,” Wanggaard said.