What drives a young man to want to dedicate his life to animal conservation? In the case of Gary Lunsford, the new director of New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park Zoo, blame the wild turtles.
“As a kid in the Oklahoma City area, I was kind of bonkers, and I can’t even explain it,” he said with a smile. “I think it was the passion to learn more about turtles that led me to 27 years of experience in zoos and aquariums.”
Lunsford moved to New Bedford via the Milwaukee County Zoo, and before that he was in Manitoba.
“When I went to Canada, my zoo career focused on polar bears, and it became an exciting time for me,” he said.
The master plan that Lunsford is eager to work on and bring to fruition with the zoo team and leaders makes no mention of polar bears. He assures that they would not mix well at the Buttonwood Park Zoo.
Lunsford said he found New Bedford to be a very warm and welcoming community, and a beautiful one.
“One of the things that struck me the most about this zoo is the beautiful city that surrounds it, which clearly loves and supports the zoo,” he said.
Speaking of families who love the zoo, Lunsford credits her father, a naturalist, for instilling in their family a respect and admiration for nature.
“That connection is compelling,” he said. “It’s also one of the roles that a zoo plays, to cultivate a connection between people and nature, so that people want to support wildlife conservation with pleasure.”
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