Director credited with revamping zoo quits after 13 years

September 03, 1994|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Sun Staff Writer

Brian A. Rutledge, the Baltimore Zoo director credited with replacing inhumane cages with open spaces and more naturalistic settings for the park's animals, resigned yesterday after 13 years at his post.

The zoo director left to pursue other professional opportunities, according to a joint statement issued by Mr. Rutledge and the Maryland Zoological Society, the nonprofit agency that manages the zoo.

Michael D. Hankin, the society's president, said Mr. Rutledge had not found another job but was considering "several opportunities in zoos." He said the director's decision to resign was not sparked by any personal or philosophical differences with the society's board.

Mr. Rutledge returned to Baltimore Sunday after two weeks in Africa, where he led tourists on a zoo-sponsored tour of native wildlife. But instead of reporting to work when he returned, he used accumulated vacation time.

After a reporter asked officials to comment on rumors that the director had not gone back to work, they released the prepared statement that Mr. Rutledge had resigned. The 42-year-old director, reached by telephone, would not elaborate on the statement.

"The 13 years I have spent at the Baltimore Zoo have been among the happiest and most rewarding of my life," he said in the release. "I am truly pleased with the progress the zoo has made and delighted with the support that the zoo received from the community and the Board of the Maryland Zoological Society."

Stuart Janney III, chairman of the board, praised the departing director but said disagreements over "philosophic issues" had indeed divided Mr. Rutledge and the board on some occasions. But he declined to characterize those differences and fell short of saying that they sparked the resignation.

"There have been some philosophic issues and he's been here a long time," Mr. Janney said. "Maybe some of those issues grow over time. . . . I would make the general point that sometimes when people have been living with each other for 15 years or something like that, it's time to sort of look around on both sides."

Mr. Rutledge was hired 13 years ago as the zoo's assistant director, and was promoted within a year to the top post. He then presided over the zoo's transformation from a place of dismal, cramped exhibits to one in which animals were increasingly allowed to roam in larger spaces designed to mimic natural habitats.

The zoo added a spacious outdoor elephant exhibit, a Nile hippo display and its popular African watering hole. It also developed an 8 1/2 -acre Children's Zoo, which was ranked by author Allen Nyhuis in "The Zoo Book: A Guide to America's Best" as the best exhibit of its type in the United States.

Recently, Mr. Rutledge said he was two years away from ridding the zoo of its last cages, in which animals appear imprisoned behind iron bars that are grim vestiges of a passing era of American zoos.

During his tenure, attendance swelled to half a million visitors a year. Last month, the zoo established a record of 14,642 guests during a weekend.

Officials yesterday refused to disclose his salary.

Mr. Rutledge, who lives in Woodbine, was married last spring to the former Kathleen Brennan, a model with the Ford agency of New York.

Mr. Hankin said the Zoological Society would establish a search committee "immediately" to find a replacement for Mr. Rutledge. "He's done a great job. We will find a replacement who will do a great job there," Mr. Hankin said.

In the meantime, day-to-day operations are being handled by a committee of curators and business officials, he said.

Mr. Hankin said the resignation had been discussed for several weeks -- well before the African trip -- so yesterday's formal announcement did not come as a surprise.

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