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Oakland Zoo has a new CEO with a long track record of success

Photo: Nik Dehejia/Oakland Zoo
By MJ Carter - Published on April 22, 2021.

Nik Dehejia took over as Oakland Zoo’s new Chief Executive Officer earlier this month, and he’s already making moves. 

The zoo has had its share of challenges due to the pandemic, but they’re now open at 50% capacity with safety guidelines in place, and ticket purchases can be made by reservation only. 

Hoodline spoke with Dehejia, who took the helm as CEO on April 3, to find out how they’re staying connected to the community, what programs are dear to his heart, and what his plans for Oakland Zoo are going forward. 

"The zoo exists and thrives because of the community,” says Dehejia.

“We’re so directly connected. The memories that people have built at the zoo," Dehejia added. "We see those adults that used to come as kids that are now bringing their families."

Dehejia says that he and the zoo staff wants to create awareness around saving wildlife. "We want to create awareness and create the next conservation leaders through our educational programs. All of that.”

But, he adds, “Coming to the zoo and just being there, having a love for seeing the animals, having a really good time is just as important than doing all the other things that we hope people will connect with us on."

"Especially during the pandemic, the community came out and supported us," he says. "They supported us with their stories of love of the zoo. Supported us with funding. And really we are so incredibly thankful and heart-warmed that the community loves the Oakland Zoo.”

Dehejia sees an increasing role within the community because not everyone in the community can afford to visit the zoo. As CEO he wants to change that in the near future. 

In terms of programming, the zoo is hosting an in-person ZooCamp this summer, which is sold out. Also, they are really working toward reopening fully. 

Also, they just launched an Illegal Wildlife Trade Campaign and Center.

"That’s a whole big story around our relationship with nature," Dehejia says, "how animals are being senselessly killed for the illegal wildlife trade."

According to the Oakland Zoo’s press release, Dehejia was selected after the zoo conducted a nationwide search. 

“After we canvassed the country for a new CEO, the Board of Trustees unanimously selected Nik Dehejia – he was clearly the best candidate," said Nancy Clark, Co-Chair of the zoo's Board of Trustees. "We could not be more delighted to have someone who understands our community, history, and vision for the future. His commitment to wildlife conservation, education, and access is unquestionable. We are fortunate to have such an outstanding leader who is ready to guide the organization to the next level."

Dehejia first joined the Zoo in 2006 as Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Business Affairs, and helped develop the new California Trail exhibit. 

"That opportunity to really engage deeply in a project really connected me to the zoo — not just from a construction and building standpoint but really deeply engaging in the stories, the conservation stories and we have such a unique opportunity to create educational awareness and action in a way that many others can't," he says.

Dehijia became Executive Vice President in December 2019, prior to this latest promotion. A 24-year-old resident of the Bay Area who attended business school at UC Berkeley, Dehijia says he's up to this new challenge. "Our ecosystem and the world we all live in is complex and diverse, and I stand ready to be a voice for all who need our help," he says. "We are all living things, human and animal, and our collective future is in our hands."

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