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Director of Animal Programs

Great Plains Zoo is seeking a Director of Animal Programs. The Zoo is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster a greater understanding of our national world through Education, Conservation, Recreation and Discovery. The Great Plains Zoo cares for more than 1,000 animals from around the world and offers up-close views of animals often not found in larger zoos, including Giraffes, Tigers, Rhinos and a national award-winning Snow Monkey Exhibit.  The Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and sees approximately 300,000 visitors annually.

The 45-acre Great Plains Zoo is located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a growing community with:

  • A metro population of over 268,000 as of July 1, 2018
  • A healthy economy and a robust arts and cultural scene
  • Recognition from Forbes magazine as the second best small metro area in the nation for business and careers.
  • Coverage from the Wall Street Journal in May of 2017 under the headline: “As Many Midwest Cities Slump, Sioux Falls Soars.”

The Zoological Society of Sioux Falls provides competitive pay and a generous benefit package to employees including:

  • Health, dental, vision and long-term disability insurance
  • 401K
  • Eight paid holidays
  • 18 days of paid time off per year, to start

General Statement of Duties

The Director of Animal Programs leads and directs the activities of the Animal Care Department including staff supervision, budgeting, conservation initiatives and collection planning, and oversees the veterinary medicine program. The Director of Animal Programs also serves as a member of the leadership team to contribute to the future growth and operation of the Zoo as a whole. The ideal candidate will possess strong leadership skills, deep animal care knowledge, strong relationships within AZA, creativity, tenacity, and flexibility.



Maintains an enthusiastic, self-reliant and self-starting approach to job responsibilities and accountability.  Strives to anticipate work load and initiate proper acceptable direction for the completion of work with a minimum of supervision or instruction.

Shares knowledge with and advises the President and CEO and VP of Operations (VPO) for mutual and organizational benefit.  Tactfully and respectfully, handles requests, suggestions and complaints from other departments and persons in order to maintain good working relationships within the Zoo and Museum.

Provides the leadership and management oversight to address and accomplish established goals, objectives and strategies related to animal programs and related projects of the Zoo. 

  • Assesses needs and prioritizes resources.
  • Exhibits outstanding knowledge of animal care, insight into animal behavior, and understands and is committed to modern zoological practices.
  • Establishes and maintains effective communications with the President and CEO, and the Vice President of Operations.
  • Works with various staff, departments, and outside vendors to plan future exhibits.
  • Works with federal, state and local agencies to secure and maintain the necessary permits and licenses for Zoo operations.
  • Develops and monitors the departmental budget in consultation with senior management.
  • Is excited to build an even more dynamic and significant conservation effort in cooperation with Zoo leadership.
  • Participates in continuing education programs and maintains professional affiliations to improve professional expertise.
  • The Director of Animal Programs reports directly to the President and CEO and works cooperatively with the CEO, VPO and is part of the leadership team.

Animal Collection

  • Directs and assists in developing the animal husbandry program to ensure the health and enrichment of the animal collection, including making recommendations on animal acquisition and disposition.
  • Supervises veterinary care for the collection in consultation with the staff Veterinarian.
  • Provides general direction to animal care staff in the development and preparation of animal diets, maintenance of exhibits and implementation of safety procedures.
  • Ensures records pertaining to the animal collection are maintained an updated in a timely manner.
  • Ensures capture and restraint equipment is in working order and procedures are current.
  • Administers animal transport activities to, from and within the Zoo’s animal collection.
  • Supervises ordering, storage and maintenance of animal food, equipment and supplies.


The Zoo is implementing a multi-year plan to increase our financial commitment to conservation of endangered species in the wild. With a goal of 3% of our annual operations budget dedicated wildlife conservation, the Zoo is crafting a dynamic plan for significant conservation efforts.  The Director of Animal Programs will play a significant role in shaping our conservation program, and leading efforts through SAFE, SSP leadership, field research and onsite programs.

  • Identifies and recommends worthy and relevant wildlife conservation initiatives on local, national and international levels. 
  • Participates in the formulation and implementation of Zoo conservation initiatives and strategies.
  • Coordinates the Zoo’s participation in SSPs, PMPs, TAGs and SAFE programs.
  • Oversees participation in research projects and animal rehabilitation efforts.


  • Ensures the safety of animals, staff and guests.
  • Prepares monthly activity reports and routine correspondence with regard to animal programs at the Zoo.
  • Maintains contact with other institutions and animal professionals for the purpose of exchanging scientific data and procuring collection animals.
  • Develops and monitors the departmental budget.
  • Serves as a member of the Zoo’s Safety Committee.
  • Ensures compliance with AZA accreditation standards pertaining to animal care and programs.
  • Responsible for ensuring annual emergency drill requirements are satisfied.
  • Coordinates with the Facilities Manager on exhibit and holding area repairs, improvements and maintenance.

Director Level

  • Serves as a champion for optimal animal care for individual animals, and for saving species from extinction.
  • Acts as the leader in ensuring the Zoo upholds the best care and husbandry, in step with or ahead of ever-changing standards, and modern zoological practices.
  • Communicates as part of the management team and presents management decisions to departmental staff in a positive manner.
  • Strong leadership skills with the ability to build consensus among diverse groups.
  • Ability to evaluate operations, identify areas for potential improvement and develop plans to implement suggested improvements.
  • Ability to communicate well with internal staff and external partners.
  • Available to be on-call or ensure on-call coverage 24 hours per day for any animal related emergencies.
  • Performs other tasks as assigned by the Vice President of Operations or the President and CEO.

Reporting and Supervision

The Director of Animal Programs reports directly to the President and CEO. The Director of Animal Programs supervises the Area Supervisors (2) and the Veterinarian.

Education, Experience and Qualifications

Requires a Bachelor’s Degree (BS/BA) in biology, zoology, wildlife management or related field with a demonstrated work history of increasing responsibility in the management of animal programs.  A minimum of five years’ experience at an AZA accredited zoo and three to five years of supervisory experience is required.  AZA leadership and involvement on committees, TAGs, and SSP coordination is preferred, or  a combination of education and experience acceptable to the hiring authority. Requires valid driver’s license and a driving record acceptable to the hiring authority.  Required to pass a pre-employment background check. 


Must be proficient on computers to administer appropriate programs, inventories, record keeping and Microsoft Office programs.  Requires strong communication and organizational skills.  Must be able to work occasional weekends and evenings. 

Health & Safety

Must be able to lift and carry up to 30 pounds.   Must be certified for CPR and to administer AED (training will be provided). Must be TB negative or submit to required monitoring.

Complete the employment application form below, and upload your cover letter and resume:

Proof of U.S. Citizenship or immigration status will be required upon employment. Criminal convictions are not an absolute bar to employment, but will only be considered in relation to specific job requirements.

  • Love this zoo! Great place to get a walk in and the animals are everywhere! The museum/indoor part is very educational too. Has a lot of shade for when it's hot out. Very clean. Friendly staff.

    Taylor F.
  • We love to visit the zoo. They have great outdoor exhibits and lots to do inside as well. Great for kids and adults.

    Robin A.
  • Lots of great exhibits and animals to see! Fun gift shop and learning center.

    Stephanie N.
  • The museum gives you a break from the sun on hot summer days and has a great selection of animal exhibits from around the world. ¬†The zoo keeps growing and adding new animal habitats or improving existing ones. ¬†Membership offers reciprocal benefits to other zoos around the country.

    Bill T.