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Zoo Happenings

Zoo's Oldest Resident to be Released Back to the Wild

Zoo Superintendent Gary Ochsenbein to retire after 33 years at the Virginia Zoo

dangerous animalNorfolk, VA (DEC. 29, 2009) - The Virginia Zoo has been home to some beloved animals from the sleek sea lions to infamous chimps Chuck and Judy to the very fertile lion king and queen – Mramba and Zola. Virginia Zoo staff becomes very attached to these residents, and so it is with a mixture of sorrow and joy that they prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime release of its oldest primate – Gary Ochsenbein, Zoo Superintendent, who retires on December 31, 2009.

Academically trained as a geologist, Ochsenbein’s most recent Zoo creation is an authentic cave in the Asia-Trail of the Tiger exhibit under construction.  This yet to be seen by visitors cavern offers unique views into both tiger and orangutan exhibits. Known for his passion for rock and animals, “zookeeper notes” about Ochsenbein also reveal that his favorite animal is the bongo, which the Zoo has not only bred very successfully during Ochsenbein’s tenure but also have been released back to part of their range in Africa where they have become extinct.   

 “Gary is a unique Zoo primate,” notes Greg Bockheim, executive director. “He has adapted professionally to the many changes that have occurred in the Zoo business over the years, maintaining a high level of animal and construction expertise, and demonstrated that experience in his work.  He has made the Virginia Zoo his home for 33 years. In the nearly four decades of his being on exhibit (employment), the Zoo has changed names, changed leadership, enhanced animal exhibits and enhanced the animal collection many times.  His leadership and vision have been instrumental in making this a world class Zoo, and his legacy to the Hampton Roads community is the creation of this wonderful facility that provides excellent care of animals, promotes education and conservation, and creates a safe, exciting and beautiful family atmosphere for all guests.”

Ochsenbein has overseen a wide range of Zoo operations that have touched the lives of staff, animals and guests.  It is likely that the more than 400,000 Zoo visitors annually have touched one of his heaviest Zoo projects -- the 20,000 pound granite globe that floats on a cushion of water in the entrance Water Plaza.       

Ochsenbein was actively involved with the construction of the Zoo’s Africa exhibit which opened in 2002, changing the face and philosophy of the Virginia Zoo. His most recent project has been overseeing the construction of the Asia-Trail of the Tiger exhibit. This three year construction project began in 2008 and will be completed in the fall of 2010. New exotic animals including orangutans, gibbons, tapirs, cassowaries and more will call Hampton Roads home when Asia opens.

 “Gary has been hands on at every stage of the Virginia Zoo’s transformation.  He is the go-to guy for construction; he has provided animal care, overseen the installation of the Zoo train, trained staff, and more,” says Bockheim. “He is our ‘zoo-storian’ and tells us stories about Chuck and Judy, tidal flooding and animal births.”

Ochsenbein will be greatly missed by Zoo staff, board, members and friends. He retires on December 31, 2009. The Virginia Zoo invites all of its friends to come by this week to say farewell to an irreplaceable Zoo institution before he leaves on December 31.

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