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Niabi Zoo acting director talks staffing changes, zoo future

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Niabi Zoo is quiet during it’s winter off-season. There’s no sign of the exotic animals that call it home.
But among the staff here, a shake-up has caused some changes in the office.

“That’s the one thing about working with animals,” said Marc Heinzman. You have to adapt to changes working with animals that are different everyday.”

Heinzman is the new acting director at Niabi. The former, Mark Ryan, left this week under circumstances that are still unclear. The zoo would only confirm his departure.

“We have no comment beyond that,” he said.

Ryan was recruited from a zoo in Kansas, but was only at Niabi for a little more than a year. He left during a massive fund-raising effort. The zoo has raised only a fraction of the five million dollars needed for a new elephant exhibit.

“We take it seriously because we are the only zoo in Illinois to have elephants,” he said. “So we are lucky to have these wonderful animals.”

Heinzman says that project is still a priority for him, and doesn’t believe this will affect fund-raising efforts.

“I feel being here in the community my whole life, I know there is a trust in the zoo,” Heinzman explained.

He’s been at the zoo since 2008, first as a zookeeper and most recently as assistant director. He’s reluctant to say if he’s interested in the director job permanently.

“It’s almost intimidating to be in charge of this great facility here,” he said.