Evanston resident set to become Lincoln Park Zoo CEO, President

For the first time in the Lincoln Park Zoo’s history, a female scientist will serve as the next President and CEO. Megan Ross, who has a doctorate in animal behavior and psychology is set to take over as president and CEO beginning in Jan. 2022. Ross has spent the bulk of her career observing animal behavior patterns in birds and mammals, as well as working on conservation efforts to protect animal wellbeing. 

Since she initially started at the Lincoln Park Zoo in 2000, Ross has held positions including the Curator of Birds in 2000, General Curator, Vice President of Animal Care and Welfare and Zoo Director since 2018. While working as Director, Ross focused on the internal operations of the zoo, making sure that animal welfare operations were running smoothly and helping to oversee public education programs. 

“I really oversaw operations like how we operate, what the animal programs [are] doing, what we [are] doing in conservation, [and] what we [are] doing in education,” Ross said. 

As the CEO and President-elect, she will be in charge of operations both inside and outside of the zoo gates. 

“I’m running the zoo, but I’m also looking at how we are doing, [and] how we are partnering with different organizations across Chicago. I’ve been very focused on the inside running of the zoo, and now I’m going to be a little bit more on the outside, looking out of the zoo, as well as looking into the zoo,” Ross explained. 

The promotion for Ross comes as the current President and CEO of the Lincoln Park Zoo, Kevin Bell, steps down after 26 years. In a heartfelt letter addressed to zoo visitors, Bell wrote, “It is, as such, with tremendous gratitude and excitement for the future—the zoo’s and my own—that I write to share I am retiring as of the end of this year. While my time leading the zoo is coming to an end, my love for this work, this organization, and the people I’ve worked with will stay with me. I am deeply grateful and honored to have led this organization and be a part of this community.”

As Bell prepared for retirement, Ross was selected to step up as President and CEO of the zoo, bringing strong leadership and a vision for the zoo’s future. As the new President and CEO, Ross hopes to expand the zoo’s efforts in understanding and responding to animal behavior, global conservation efforts and reconnecting people with their natural environment. 

“I’m very excited about how we can expand on what we know animals need and how we can provide more of that to them. In the past, we’ve developed an app to monitor where we’re collecting behavioral data,” Ross described, commenting on an app called ZooMonitor that allows zoologists and researchers to gain a better understanding of the needs and care of animals. 

Becoming the CEO and President of the Lincoln Park Zoo is part of a 10-year succession plan that was created to help forward the Zoo’s plan of becoming a leader as a global urban zoo and science center with an emphasis on animal care and conservation. 

“I’m looking forward to expanding our reach for conservation around the globe. We have conservation efforts that we’re doing in the [Democratic] Republic of Congo, and we’re also doing some work in Southeast Asia,” Ross said. “I’m excited about those programs, getting a little bit deeper, using a little bit more science, and really partnering with us to ensure that they are not just coming in and doing conservation, but we are partnering with local communities to really affect change [that is] going to be long lasting and both beneficial for humans and for wildlife.” 

As the zoo begins to reopen from the height of its COVID-19 regulations, Ross wants to work to help reconnect people with nature and the environment that is pushed aside in urban environments. Part of this effort is expanding the work of a program called the Urban Wildlife Institute, which focuses on using research analysis to better understand how future cities can be created that benefit humans and wildlife. 

“We’re already in 36 cities in North America, and we’re looking to expand into different continents in the coming year. I’m very excited about that program, expanding, [and] getting more community buy-in, especially from the next generation of conservationists,” Ross explained. 

Since the Lincoln Park Zoo first opened in 1868, Ross will be both the first female and first scientist to hold the President and CEO title. This is a monumental milestone for future female zoologists and conservationists who hope to someday hold leadership positions. 

“I think the significance for me is [that] perhaps I can open with somebody else. Knowing that there are so many different ways that you could study animals or have a career doing something with conservation—that’s the part that I’m most excited about with being the first,” Ross explained in reference to being the first female and first scientist in these positions. 

The official change in leadership is set to happen at the start of 2022, an exciting event for the zoo staff, visitors and animals.