Omaha Zoo

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium Announces New President and CEO

Omaha’s Zoo & Aquarium announces Luis Padilla, DVM Dipl. ACZM, as its next President and CEO. Dr. Padilla will succeed Dennis Pate after his retirement in late 2022.

Dr. Padilla is currently the Vice President of Animal Collections for the Saint Louis Zoo, where he is responsible for the overall oversight of the Saint Louis Zoo’s Animal Division, including the animal collection, facilities and the animal care teams. He also serves as an accreditation commissioner for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Prior to this position, Dr. Padilla served as the Saint Louis Zoo’s Director of Animal Health. His first day at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium will be November 14, 2022.

“I am extremely excited and humbled to lead the amazing Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and its talented team,” said Dr. Padilla. “I look forward to serving the Zoo and the Omaha community, while continuing the legacy of being one of the top zoos in the world.”

Dr. Padilla continued, “Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is a globally recognized leader that is proudly beloved by its local community. To lead this organization, and to inspire, educate and engage in impactful conservation efforts, is the pinnacle of professional achievement. A visit to Omaha’s Zoo and Aquarium is a transformational experience that connects people to animals and wild places. It is special to make that happen through innovation, creativity and science.”

Dr. Padilla also served in veterinary roles and supervisory roles at the Saint Louis Zoo, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and the Oklahoma City Zoo. Dr. Padilla received his doctorate in veterinary medicine from Cornell University. He also completed his residency in zoological medicine at the Saint Louis Zoo and is a board-certified zoo veterinarian under the American College of Zoological Medicine.

Mogens Bay, Chair of the Board of Directors, Omaha Zoological Society, said, “Dennis Pate has been a visionary leader for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium for almost 14 years. His master plan transformed the Zoo and Aquarium into an immersive experience and living classroom for visitors. We are so grateful for his inspiration and leadership.”

Bay continued, “Our challenge was to find someone who could build on the legacy of Dennis Pate. We are confident that Dr. Padilla is that person. He was chosen after an extensive and thorough process by the search committee and is the next right leader for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.” Bay said, “Dr. Padilla is a Mission-driven leader who values collaboration, innovation, staff development, resiliency and wildlife conservation. His background as a veterinarian ensures that the highest quality of care for Omaha’s animals and their habitats will remain a top priority and commitment.”

Dr. Padilla added, “I, like everyone in the zoo community, am familiar with the stellar reputation of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and the revolutionary projects Dennis Pate has completed.” He continued, “I am looking forward to working with Dennis on a smooth leadership transition and building on his legacy.”

Dennis Pate announced his intention to retire this past February after 48 years working in zoos, 14 of those years in Omaha. Pate joined Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium as the President and CEO in 2009 and has maintained the state’s top accolade as Nebraska’s most visited attraction. Pate created and completed a 10-year master plan which consisted of improved guest services and amenities, and state-of-the-art exhibits including: Scott African Grasslands, Asian Highlands, Bay Family Children’s Adventure Trails, the Daugherty Education Center, Owen Sea Lion Shores, Glacier Bay Landing, Alaskan Adventure Splash grounds, Stingray Beach and the Harper Event Center. Other major projects included the main entrance and ticketing area, along with the Scott Aquarium renovation.

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