Zoo Names New Executive Director

Rolling Hills Zoo has a new leader at the top.

According to the zoo, Ryan VanZant has been selected as the new Executive Director.  VanZant will succeed Bob Jenkins who retired as the zoo’s Executive Director after eight years leading the organization.

“The Board of Directors of Rolling Hills Zoo (RHZ) is excited to welcome Ryan VanZant, as our new Executive Director,” said Sandy Walker, RHZ Board President.  “Following a nationwide search, Ryan was chosen for his diverse body of experience and his self-described “roll up your shirt sleeves and get it done” approach.  Ryan has a warm and engaging presence and is experienced in, among other things, zoo management, exhibit design and construction, and fundraising.  We are confident that he will make a significant contribution to our zoo.”

“At Rolling Hills Zoo, my focus will be on the visitor experience and the institution’s continued success,” shared VanZant.  “The biggest accomplishment of RHZ to me is how it came to be.  I spent time at the zoo’s fantastic 20th anniversary exhibit in 2019, absorbing every word about its creation through Mr. Walker’s vision and “go big” enthusiasm to create a top notch zoological and cultural institution.  The  Zoo’s mission, physical and prairie location, and its built “by its own bootstraps” history make it an easy place for me to fall in love with.  I am honored to have the opportunity to lead Rolling Hills Zoo into its next twenty years.”

Prior to joining Rolling Hills Zoo, VanZant served as the Director at  Hutchinson Zoo where he made significant improvements in the company culture, completed long awaited capital projects, and achieved reaccreditation through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).

VanZant has also served as the Director of Education at the Sutton the Avian Research Center at the University of Oklahoma, and as a trainer with Natural Encounters, Inc. for Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Flights of Wonder.

With a Master of Arts from the University of Oklahoma in Museum Studies, whose primarily focus was leadership and management of natural history museums, VanZant has a refreshed perspective on the effectiveness and importance of this segment of public trust.

VanZant is also looking forward to his move to Salina, which in his eyes is a growing hub, literally at the crossroads of central Kansas, with a strong representation of arts and humanities, entertainment, education and health care.

On a final note VanZant shared, “many find it odd, but the tall grass prairie is where I feel most at home.  I have set foot on most continents and experienced many different ecosystems in the name of conservation throughout my career, but my most fulfilling times have been spent at sunrise listening to the prairie chickens boom in the light fog among the sea of grass.  Each time I visited Rolling Hills Zoo I am enamored by the landscape.  Additionally, the wildlife museum is as exciting as the zoo.”

VanZant will begin his role as Executive Director at Rolling Hills Zoo on February 1, 2021.