Alumnus Leads World-Famous San Diego Zoo

Dwight Scott to receive the UMKC Alumnus of the Year Award

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes the achievements of outstanding alumni with an awards celebration. In 2019, UMKC is honoring Dwight Scott (B.L.A. ’94) as Alumnus of the Year.

Dwight Scott
Dwight Scott (B.L.A. '94)
Director, San Diego Zoo

As director of the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Scott has helped the 102-year old organization grow into a leading force in conservation worldwide. Scott is responsible for daily operations of all departments including admissions, education and animal care. Through science-based, collaborative projects and cutting-edge, immersive exhibits, the organization strives to lead the fight against extinction and connect people with wildlife.

Scott also serves as a mentor for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ executive leadership development program and on the advisory board of the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. He recently spoke with us about his career.

You started your career as a primate keeper at the Kansas City Zoo. Has your interaction with animals decreased since you’ve become director of the San Diego Zoo?

Relationships with animals is a special bond. They learn to trust the people they see daily, so I can’t just walk by the gorillas and expect them to come over and say hello. I miss that. But now I get to admire our great animal keepers and the bond they form with the animals. I walk the zoo early in the morning and run into our horticulture staff and I always learn something from them. It’s not just about animals, plants are critical, too.

Where do you hope to see zoos go in the future?

The future of zoos is important as more and more plant and animal species are threatened with extinction every day. In Africa, what people think of as “the wild” is different than “running free.” Poaching is one of the gravest threats to wildlife. The last two northern white rhinos on the planet are under armed guard 24/7. I am grateful to have the chance to collaborate with like-minded organizations to save species from extinction. It is noble, humbling and inspiring. I’m fortunate to work in an industry that makes a difference for wildlife.

What advice do you have for students who’d like to follow in your footsteps?

When I started, I was attracted by animals but what I’ve learned is that to save the animals, you have to work well with people. Collaborations are key—be able to develop relationships. Be prepared to work well and effectively with people.

About the Alumni Awards
Scott will be honored at the 2019 UMKC Alumni Awards on March 15. Proceeds from the event will support student scholarships. In the last decade, the Alumni Awards events have raised more than $1 million in scholarships and immediate aid for students.

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Published: Feb 27, 2019

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