Get Involved with the Zoo

Touch the Heart to Teach the Mind

In June 2009, the Zoo lost its executive director, Jeff Swanagan. He was a visionary leader, an inspiring teacher and friend, and a tireless advocate for conservation and animals. While he was executive director for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for only a year, his extraordinary vision and leadership during his tenure will ensure his legacy lives on for years to come.

Jeff had an unwavering belief that zoos and aquariums are about people as much as they are about animals. He knew that people visit zoos not just to see animals, but to spend time together, and, within that truth, Jeff saw endless potential - both to touch the lives of people and to save the lives of animals. He wanted the Zoo to be a place to connect to one another, a place of once-in-a-lifetime memories and experiences.

To capture this idea, he coined the phrase “touch the heart to teach the mind” and then infused that spirit into everything he did. Simply getting people into the Zoo wasn’t enough - he wanted to inspire and engage them, to get them invested in each other, animals, and conservation. Jeff knew that without inspiring people, without touching their hearts, you cannot teach their minds or hope to make the world a better place.

Animal Encounters Village

 This whimsically themed area in Jungle Jack’s Landing gives you, the guest, the chance to engage with Zoo animals up close and personal. From the prickly touch of a hedgehog to being nearly nose-to-nose with an American Alligator, there’s an extraordinary experience waiting for you at Animal Encounters Village. And you never know what you will see - one day a turkey vulture, the next a cheetah – but one thing is for sure – you and your family will leave with the memories of a lifetime.

Animals on Safari

 Animals on Safari debuted on 6 July 2009, at the newly-renovated the Activity Pavilion in the Zoo’s entryway. Created as an educational and entertaining animal show, Animals on Safari was produced specifically for the Zoo by internationally-known animal trainer Joel Slaven. Renowned for his ability to train animals from binturongs to beagles, Mr. Slaven currently is best known for his shows that feature mostly domestic animals like dogs and cats – the majority of which are rescued from local shelters and groups. It is this unique and vital component of his shows that inspired the Zoo to bring his show to Columbus.

Taking place in a set created to look like Jack Hanna’s base camp from the Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild show, Animals on Safari features tricks and performances by more than 100 animals, as they “prepare” the base camp for filming. The animals perform both with and without the trainers onstage. The mixture of animals is approximately 60 percent domestic and 40 percent exotic/wild; all of the animals are rescues and many are rescues from local organizations.