Dr. Lester Fisher, former director of Lincoln Park Zoo, dead at 100

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Dr. Lester Fisher, the former director of the Lincoln Park Zoo who helped turn the old facility into a renowned institution centered around animal education and care, has passed away.

He was 100 years old.

Appointed by Fisher in 1976, Lincoln Park President and CEO Kevin Bell has served as the CEO and President of Lincoln Park Zoo for the past 26 years. Bell, who has described Fisher as a mentor and friend, plans to step down in January.

“I lost a huge piece of my heart. Les has turned ‘Old Zoo’ into an international leader in both exhibitions and programmes,” Bell said on Thursday. Chicago, was a rock star. Walking around the zoo with him meant constantly stopping to sign autographs.”

C said. John Mostofi, Chairman of the Lincoln Park Zoo Board of Trustees: “Fischer laid the foundation for the Lincoln Park Zoo Foundation today.” “As director of the zoo, Dr. Fisher transformed the zoo from an old facility into a center for care and conservation. He built the first great ape home, with exhibits designed to mimic natural habitats, and today bears his name the Dr. Lester E. Fisher Ape Study and Conservation Center, one of the science centers leading ape behavior in the world.”

Fisher worked at Lincoln Park Zoo for nearly 45 years, from first joining a vet in 1947, then serving as director of the zoo from 1962 until his retirement in 1992. He was the zoo’s first vet.

Dr. Lester Fisher, with two baby gorillas, 1974.

Dr. Lester Fisher, with two baby gorillas, 1974.
Sun Times profile

Fisher is credited with transforming Lincoln Park Zoo into a “state of the art institution” by improving buildings and animal habitats, and improving education about animals and conservation efforts.

He was especially known for his closeness to gorillas, which he spent time studying in Africa. In 1976, the zoo opened the Lester E. Fisher Great Ape House, where it continues its work today with lowland gorillas. Under Fisher’s leadership, Lincoln Park Zoo was “home to the largest population of gorillas in North America.”

It was replaced by the Regenstein Center for African Monkeys in 2004.

“Thanks to Dr. Fisher’s initial efforts, the Great Ape Facility at Lincoln Park Zoo remains one of the finest of its kind and globally recognized,” a zoo spokesperson said. “Dr. Fisher also built the nation’s first zoo pet farm, bringing farming to a large urban population. Farm-in-the-Zoo continues to be loved by Chicago adults and young adults alike.”

Fisher’s work made him well known outside of the zoo, particularly through his appearance in the clip for “Ark in the Park” during Ray Rayner and His Friends’ morning show on WGN-TV, which was taped at the zoo.

During these parts, Fisher would walk viewers through what’s new at the Lincoln Park Zoo, showing off the different animals and learning about each animal’s natural habitats. It will also bring animals – like baby chimpanzees and a sugar glider – to another Chicago staple, The Bozo Show.

“During his 30-year tenure, Fisher has emphasized the importance of educating the public about the role that zoos serve in society as conservation forces,” the zoo said in a statement. “Visiting the zoo has become an educational journey.”

Lincoln Park Zoo hosted the 90th birthday celebration of Dr. Lester E. Fisher, former zoo director, on February 24, 2011 at Lincoln Park Zoo, where the gorillas were treated to cookies, peanuts, popcorn and other goodies for the celebration.
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Before working at the zoo, Fisher served in the military during World War II, tending to 5,000 hourly pigeons, as well as keeping an eye on General George Patton’s bulldog “Willie,” according to the zoo.

Fisher also encouraged animal welfare staff to continue their education and brought in experts to conduct staff training.

Although Fisher has gone beyond his leadership role at the zoo, he has remained involved as recently as this month by providing guidance to Bill and Megan Ross, the incoming CEO and president of Lincoln Park Zoo.

“I will be forever grateful to him for meeting with me and Kevin as three generations of zoo managers, sharing his vision of the excitement and challenges of running an institution that includes animals in our care, and sharing his stories from just the sixties and seventies at Lincoln Park Zoo,” Ross said.

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