Dr. Jeremy Goodman and a red panda. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

As a kid growing up outside of Chicago, Dr. Jeremy Goodman lived in a house that was like a zoo.

The menagerie included snakes, turtles, birds, guinea pigs, lizards, hermit crabs and other creatures big and small.
“I had a lot of pets, he says, “but never a dog or a cat.”

These days, the new director of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium shares a Squirrel Hill home with his wife and children … and some fish and a cockatiel.

In August, after an international search for a successor to longtime director Dr. Barbara Baker, the Zoological Society of Pittsburgh’s Board of Directors announced Goodman’s appointment.

He officially took the reins on Oct. 1, making him the eighth director since the facility opened in 1898.

Goodman says it’s his dream job.

“It was a good match,” he says. “Personally, I liked and my family liked what the City of Pittsburgh had to offer us. Professionally, this is a larger zoo than I was at, but it is still small enough where the staff is like a family. It’s important to know and understand the people that you’re leading.”

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

Goodman previously served as executive director of the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, where he is credited with reinvigorating the nation’s third oldest zoo since he arrived there in 2013. He strengthened the zoo’s financial position by seeking new sources of revenue through public funding, grants and campaigns.

He also helped improve the finances of the Turtle Back Zoo in Essex County, New Jersey, and the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana. Goodman received his doctorate in veterinary medicine from Tufts University.

One of Goodman’s main objectives in Pittsburgh is helping the zoo achieve national accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), which Goodman calls the gold standard. There are more than 2,000 animal exhibitors in the country that are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Only about 200 of those facilities have AZA accreditation.

For more than 40 years, the AZA has been the primary accrediting body for zoos and aquariums. The organization’s rigorous, scientifically based and publicly available standards examine a zoo or aquarium’s entire operation, including animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, education, guest services, physical facilities, safety, staffing, finance and governing body.

Pittsburgh Zoo is accredited by the Zoological Association of America.

Goodman also wants to shine a light on work that flies under the radar at the zoo, such as its dedication to coral reef restoration and wildlife conservation around the world. The average visitor might not know about the Highland Park facility’s Sea Turtle Second Chance Program or its 1,000-acre International Conservation Center in Somerset County, where a female African elephant calf is being cared for.

Check out the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Asian Lantern Festival through Oct. 30. Photo by Kristy Locklin.
Check out the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Asian Lantern Festival through Oct. 30. Photo by Kristy Locklin.

Currently, Goodman is focused on the human side of things: holding staff meetings, trying to get up to speed with every department, reaching out to donors. But there are moments when he’s reminded that he doesn’t have an average job.

The other day he was going behind the scenes at the lion and leopard building, watching the early morning light bathe the big cats.

“Veterinary medicine was always a means to an end for me,” he says. “As long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was run a zoo.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.