The nation’s top zoo keeper has died at the age of 76. Robert “Bob” Owen Wagner, Sr. of St. Clairsville, Ohio, died Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at Wheeling Hospital.
Evansville native, Bob Wagner, served as Executive Director of the American Zoological Association for nearly 20-years.
After studying at Purdue University, Bob enjoyed a long and prestigious career in the zoo business. He began his career as a zoo keeper at Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Ind. in 1955, later becoming Head Keeper and then Assistant Director. Bob then became the Director at Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City, IN. and the Director at Jackson Zoological Park in Jackson, Miss.
In 1975, Bob was chosen as Executive Director of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. He remained in this position until 1992 when he became the Chief Administrative Officer, a position he held until his retirement in 1996. One of the many highlights of Bob’s career came in 1994 when he was honored with the R. Marlin Perkins Award for Professional Excellence.
Wagner is credited with growing the AZA from 600 to 6-thousand members before retiring in 1996. The AZA recognizes top zoos across the country.
Please note, Bob Wagner was involved in zoos for most of his life, and, as such, was interested in the problem of escaped animals. As an early member of the AAZPA in the 1970s, I would often correspond with Wagner and other AAZPA executives and members about the overlapping news involving zoo escapees and cryptids. I did two studies of zoo animals: one involving every melanistic felid in captivity and the other of established populations of escaped former zoo specimens of primates (mostly feral monkeys). Some of my notes and requests for information were published in Wagner’s organization’s newsletters and publications. He was a helpful and open-minded executive. However, Bob Wagner was not deeply involved with cryptozoology, per se, and should not be confused with Dr. Robert Wagner, an expert on the subject of the cryptozoologically-related expeditions of painter Thomas Ender (1793-1875) in Brazil. Ender was the official recorder attached to the Austrian Expedition to Brazil (1817-1835), which collected over 133,000 objects that were exhibited in a 13-room museum in Austria until 1836.