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Gene Peacock

The new Zoo Boise director on groundbreakings, brachiation and that name of his

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When Gene Peacock saw the film Raiders of the Lost Ark in the early 1980s, he knew what he wanted to do for a living.

"I thought being an archeologist was the coolest thing on the planet," he said.

All of that changed when Peacock, while studying anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he spent his weekends working at a nearby zoo. That turned into full-time zoo work during the summers, and he never looked back, spending nearly 30 years in and around zoos. A few weeks ago, he took over as the new director of Zoo Boise.

My apologies, but right up front, I've got to ask the question that you've probably been asked a thousand times.

What's the deal with my last name?

Sorry, but the only Peacocks I've ever known were a Canadian actress and a fictional character in the Clue board game.

Let's just say that I've had some fun moments with it when I'm talking with kids.

Boise had a lot of love for your predecessor Steve Burns. He was here for twenty years [Burns recently became the executive director of Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City].

I knew Steve through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. One of the things I was so impressed with was Steve's mission of conservation.

You've joined Zoo Boise at a historical turning point. Walk us through what will be happening in the coming weeks.

On Friday, April 6, we'll break ground on our magnificent Gorongosa National Park exhibit. We'll be stretching our footprint by another acre or acre and a half behind the current back fence of the zoo. At the same time, we'll turn our attention to the entrance of the zoo and our front plaza. We'll begin demolishing some of our older structures to make room for new exhibits.

Such as?

Our Annamite Mountains exhibit will give our gibbons a nice, new, modern exhibit so they'll have room to brachiate.

Wait a minute. Sorry, but I've never heard of brachiation.

That's how gibbons and orangutans make those wild arm swings from tree limb to tree limb. It's called brachiation. Our new exhibit will promote more of their natural behavior to brachiate.

When will the public get its first look at all the new exhibits?

We're shooting for summer of 2019.

I'd like to talk briefly about the recent death of Zoo Boise's Amur tiger. It's always heartbreaking when we hear such sad news.

We lost Katarina. Last year, she suffered a herniated disc, which resulted in paralysis of her hind legs. She underwent spinal surgery, and she had shown some signs of improvements, but then her ability to walk took a turn for the worse.

Was she showing extreme discomfort?

Wild animals hide it very well. But yes, she had significant quality of life issues.

Can I assume that there's a detailed process that leads to a decision to euthanize?

All AZA zoos have an animal care management team, including our vet, our curators, the director and assistant director. You just don't make these decisions easily. We got a lot of input from our keepers and talked extensively with the veterinarian who had performed the surgery. I can't say enough about the professionalism and quality of our team. We worked through it.

Can I also assume that since many of the children who visit the zoo get to know these animals by name, and they might ask what happened to Katarina?

It's a teaching moment, and a part of what we do. We handle it in a dignified way for the animal, while letting the public know exactly what's going on.

You've worked at several zoos around the nation, so you must have a sense of how much Boise loves its zoo.

This is really a people's zoo, a great jewel right in the middle of the city. And really affordable. A number of zoos charge admissions of $15, $20, $25 and up. We've got an amazing partnership with Friends of Zoo Boise, [which works] so hard to make our zoo so accessible and affordable.