Get to Know Lisa New
99th AZA Board Chair
As the current Board Chair for AZA, it is important for me to have a space where we can all come together to collaborate. My intention is to provide this space to keep you updated on priorities and allow you to share feedback throughout my year as Board Chair. I am incredibly honored to be in this position and look forward to working alongside all of you.
Lisa’s Message in Connect Magazine
There is a guiding principle that resonates deeply with me – Ikigai. It’s a Japanese concept that aids in aligning our passion, profession, vocation, and mission. If you’re good at it, if the world needs it, if you get paid for it – that’s not just a livelihood. That’s your purpose. That’s your mission.
In college, I discovered my interest in wildlife biology. Unexpected circumstances opened the door for me to be able to explore the oceans through internships researching spinner dolphins and humpback whales. While deciding what to do with my life, I volunteered and was later hired at Zoo Knoxville. While working in animal care, I had the opportunity to hand-raise two orphaned chimpanzees, Mugsy and Lu. That experience changed the trajectory of my life. I decided rather than pursuing a life in academia and on the ocean, I would instead focus my attention on great apes and how they might thrive under our care.
In 2013, I became the fifth zoo director of Zoo Knoxville. I work side-by-side with the team there to turn the zoo around from one that was given provisional accreditation status, struggling with debt and infrastructure decline, to one that experienced significant growth.
And now, as the CEO at the Dallas Zoo, I look forward to leading one of the most well-respected zoos in the country. There are exciting plans for growth and meaningful change on the horizon in Dallas, and I am honored to be the one to help spearhead this next chapter for Dallas.
1. Wellbeing of Our Animals
Animals are who we are, and we are devoted to the wellbeing of animals everywhere. AZA’s new wellbeing initiative launched in 2022 under the leadership of Dr. Scott Terrell.
In supporting that plan, we affirmed that the wellbeing of animals is both our moral responsibility and foundational to AZA’s mission.
I ask you to think about that concept not just from the perspective of individual animals, but to entire populations and their long-term sustainability in our care.
Many of our populations are facing crisis, and the only way to a sustainable future is a paradigm shift.
2. Wellbeing of Our Guests (AZA’s 5th Promise)
We aspire to be places where our guests feel safe, seen, heard, and respected. Zoo and aquariums are for everyone.
Safety is not just a physical attribute, but an emotional sanctuary where all can explore and learn without fear.
To be seen means representation, not just in demographics and advertising, but in our stories and our staff. Regardless of how you identify in the world, you see other who look like you.
We understand that not everyone experiences the world in the same way, and it’s by training through partners like Kulture City and listening to our neurodivergent guests, that we can make simple but thoughtful changes.
Respect is the cornerstone of this promise. We respect the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and cultures that create a richer, more relatable ecosystem. It is critical that our local communities are at the table where decisions are made.
Belonging is a word that carries immense weight. We don’t merely want our visitors to feel welcome; we want them to feel that they belong. In our spaces, in our purpose, and in our shared dreams for a better future.
3. Wellbeing of Our Staff
Our teams are the bedrock upon which our entire endeavor rests. Just as we want our animals to be happy, healthy, and thriving, we realize that our teams need care, too.
If we don’t invest in and train today’s front-line staff, we risk losing the historical and collective expertise of our institutions. This knowledge is the very lifeblood of our animal programs – SAFE, SSPs, Aquatic Sustainability. As we care for animals throughout their circle of life, and we foster a culture where the wellbeing of our team is cherished, we align with the very essence of Ikigai – what we love, what the world needs, what we are good at, and what we can be paid for.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. I’m honored to serve as your chair.