George Pond ’88 oversees an expanded Denver Zoo.
Every day at work, George Pond ’88 is surrounded by a bunch of wild animals. Literally. As vice president for design and campus management at the Denver Zoo, his “coworkers” include elephants, polar bears, giraffes and his personal favorite — the blue poison dart frog. Pond has always been interested in landscape and architecture, but majored in English at Kenyon.
“I think I’ve been successful because of my liberal arts education. All of the problems that I’ve been given to solve during my career had lots of interconnected layers, and that’s how I was taught to think at Kenyon,” he said. “To understand English literature, I needed to know history and art, and so on. I took this philosophy and applied it to graduate school, and then to my job.”
Pond moved to Denver after graduation and then completed two master’s degrees, in landscape architecture and architecture. He started his career working for a landscape architecture firm, but realized that a zoo would offer a rare chance to combine his passions for design, management and conservation. He began working at the Denver Zoo in 2004, as director of planning and capital projects, and has worked his way up the ladder. In his current role, Pond oversees the zoo’s master plan, including the construction of new exhibits and facility improvements, the management of grounds and horticulture, and the zoo’s sustainability initiatives.
Under his watchful eye, the Denver Zoo’s 120-year-old campus has undergone several major renovations. The 80-acre zoo is home to buildings and infrastructure that date from the late 1800s, which Pond sees as a three-fold challenge: One, how do you improve the zoo’s campus while operating within it? Two, how do you take care of the animals in the best way possible? And finally, how do you engage guests?
Pond addressed these challenges by building a 10-acre, state-of-the-art elephant exhibit. This new area, the Toyota Elephant Passage, opened in 2012 and includes six large outdoor yards for elephants, rhinos and tapirs, who are able to move from yard to yard with the help of zoo staff, creating a dynamic space that is unique to the Denver Zoo.
“This type of flexible space allows animals to constantly move and interact with other animals, more so than in previous zoo models,” Pond said. “And it offers a very different type of experience for our guests, who could come back every day and still see something new.”
But he isn’t finished yet — Pond and his team are looking toward the future. Up next is the construction of a new animal hospital, a four-season indoor event center, and an exhibit for polar bears and sea lions that mimics the flexible space the elephants now enjoy, but in an aquatic setting. This new master plan is estimated to take 10 years to complete, and will cost the zoo more than $100 million.
For Pond, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
“Our bread and butter is young families — that’s the business model. But we’re educating these families and their children and inspiring them to care about conservation and wild spaces,” he said. “To that end, our work is more focused outside of the zoo — we’re working in more than 50 countries to advance the conservation of animals and protection of wild spaces, and that’s what it’s really about.”