Omaha Zoo names Legacy Endowment after Dr. Lee Simmons
In recognition of his dedication and 40 years of service, the Omaha Zoo named its Legacy Endowment after Dr. Lee Simmons, Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1963.
From the halls of OSU’s Veterinary College, young Dr. Simmons went to work in 1963 as a mammal curator at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. Within six months, he was promoted to staff veterinarian and assistant director. Three and ½ years later in December 1966, Dr. Simmons went to work at the Omaha Zoo in Nebraska.
In the early 1970s, Dr. Simmons became director of the Omaha Zoo and remains there today. Although he does get to practice a little veterinary medicine from time to time, it is the “project of the moment” that drives him from day to day.
“Whether it’s a new exhibit or a new animal or research program that we’re trying to get going, that’s where I put my energy,” explains Dr. Simmons. “I like that you have to go back to school and use your problem solving skills to accomplish new projects. My goal is to get the programs endowed and established so that they will continue to grow and be successful.”
Dr. Simmons is proud of the many cutting edge, world class exhibits that have become synonymous with the Omaha Zoo.
“We are routinely ranked in the top five zoos in North America,” says Dr. Simmons. “We have a first-rate medical program and an aggressive conservation research program. We do much in-situ and ex-situ work and research in medicine, reproductive physiology, cellular genetics, nutrition, and in micropropagation of rare and endangered plant species.”
Not counting Dr. Simmons, the zoo employs two full time clinical veterinarians, one research veterinarian, six PhD’s, interns, residents and students. Projects in the field and/or assisting contacts in 30 countries around the world include large multi year projects in South Africa and Madagascar.
“In addition, we have projects in East Africa, Central and South America, Asia and in Eastern Russia, “continues Dr. Simmons. “We have as many as 160 students a year come to stay in the zoo. Half are from the United States and half are from overseas. Approximately 50 percent are graduate or post-doctoral students.”
Dr. Simmons states that three resident and four overseas Malagasy students finished their Ph.D. and Master degrees in 2006. Also in residence is a post-doctoral student from China and a veterinarian/head of genetics from the University of Seoul, South Korea. A new student housing facility boasts housing capacity of 40 students at a time. Dr. Simmons reports that the zoo just finished adding a new $6 million wing, which has already been endowed, onto their research labs.
“My biggest role has become finding people who have a fire in their bellies to do good work in management, medicine and conservation and then stoke and facilitate those fires,” he says.
“Our medicine and conservation research are the things I am most proud of and am driving the hardest to make sure they happen and are endowed. In December 2007, we will finish a hearing laboratory and large acoustic chamber to test vocalizations and hearing in large cats and eventually primates. It’s all very exciting,” smiles Dr. Simmons.