Three Questions with an Alum: Sheri Horiszny ’85, Director of the Melbourne Zoo
Sheri Horiszny ’85 is the director of the Melbourne Zoo in the state of Victoria, Australia. Prior to that appointment at the end of last year, Horiszny held leadership positions at the Santa Barbara Zoo, Oregon Zoo in Portland, Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, and founded the Giraffe Conservation Alliance. Her personal mission is to “Inspire positive action for the planet by developing strong, collaborative teams with a culture of inclusivity, respect, gratitude, and fun.”
When did you first become interested in animal management and species conservation as a profession?
It was not a straight line! After Greenhills, I studied business psychology at Miami University in Ohio (with some ethics, genetics and marketing thrown in) and subsequently started working in the advertising field. After building a successful career in the San Francisco Bay Area with several firms, I made a major pivot. On a Northern California beach New Year’s Day in 2001, I noticed a seagull struggling some distance away in the water. After swimming out to it, I discovered it had four fish hooks stuck in its beak and feet and a fishing line wrapped around its body and wings. Untangling this bird and allowing it to fly free was an incredible experience, and two days later I quit my job to dedicate myself to making a positive difference in the world. Over the next few years, I completed a conservation biology degree and embarked on this incredible journey of working with animals, including people. My marketing and psychology background has served me well since modern zoos are dedicated to inspiring and empowering people of all ages to make behavioral changes to ensure our planet, and the creatures that call it home, thrive into the future.
What are some surprising things about zoos that the average visitor may not realize?
Directing a zoo is like running a city; there are so many different parts—from conservation and research to restaurants and the gift shop. One largely invisible example I often cite is animal nutrition. Imagine hosting a dinner party with over a thousand guests, all with different dietary requirements…EVERY DAY. Plus, some of these “guests” prefer to eat under the table, while others like to dine hanging from a chandelier!
Melbourne Zoo is part of Zoos Victoria, and our focus is to be a world-leading zoo-based conservation organization. So much of what we do, and what inspires us, takes place outside the zoo walls, namely recovering species and protecting ecosystems. A big part of my job is not only to lead in how we care for our animals—maximizing the choice and control that they have at all times—but also to promote the thoughtful changes we make for their welfare and conservation.
We have vowed that ‘No Victorian terrestrial vertebrate species will go extinct on our watch.’ Just a few months ago we rediscovered a lizard species—the Victorian grassland earless dragon—that hasn’t been seen since 1969 and was presumed extinct. I’m still pinching myself! Melbourne is an incredibly diverse and magical city, and we’re so excited to house and interpret these “dragons” for our visitors, while we work to breed them and recover the species in the wild.
What did Greenhills mean to you?
Greenhills was an incredibly formative and powerful experience for me and has shaped who I am today. I am forever grateful for the amazing teachers who were not just intelligent, but also invested and passionate about sharing their knowledge and developing a thirst for continuous learning in every student. Learning to think critically across a broad spectrum of subjects, and having the support to stretch my wings and try new things, has given me the courage to walk through all kinds of different doors. Thank you, Greenhills!