WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Waynesboro native Steve Graham has a dog and cat at home, which is a far cry from the years he spent with 400 large exotic animals outside his bedroom window.
On some of the nights he spent living at the Detroit Zoo, Graham would mimic the squeal of a tapir to answer one that cried out. The tapir, which resembles a pig, was just one creature within the zoo’s 200 acres.
Graham retired as director of the Detroit Zoo 20 years ago. On Thursday, he will share some of his memories during a Renfrew Institute program about the role of zoos in conservation efforts.
“I’m not very happy with the way zoos treat animals,” Graham said in a phone interview.
Graham, who moved back to the Waynesboro area five years ago, said he had controversial views and policies when he worked in the field. Many of those views dealt with the issue of surplus animals.
Breeding leads to surplus animals at zoos, and many facilities work with animal dealers to get rid of them, Graham said. He said he drew criticism, including a lawsuit from PETA, for having Detroit’s extra antelope fed to the big cats, feeding snakes to other snakes, trying to euthanize three tigers, and selling primates for biomedical research under contracts that stipulated protocol.
Detroit Zoo always first tried to sell its surplus animals to accredited, well-run zoos, Graham said.
“The major function of zoos today is education, and we can educate very well,” Graham said, adding that something about seeing a live animal makes a connection with people.
Operating a zoo is an expensive endeavor, so many facilities sell surplus animals as an opportunity to supplement their incomes, according to Graham. He disagrees with that practice and said many exotic animals end up on hunting ranges.
“You don’t prostitute what you’re trying to save by selling it,” he said.
Graham graduated from then Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., and worked at the Catoctin Mountain Zoo. He later worked at zoos in Salisbury, Md., and Baltimore before going to Detroit.
If you go
What: “Conservation Challenges in a Changing Environment,” the second in a three-part lecture series
Who: Steve Graham, former director of the Detroit Zoo
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Renfrew Park’s visitors center at the intersection of South Welty Road and Pa. 16 in Waynesboro, Pa.
The program is free and open to the public, and registration is not required. For more information, call 717-762-0373.