Because a red wolf, spotted frog or pygmy rabbit can’t sign and send a thank you note, we thought we’d do so on their behalf.
The recipient of appreciation is Gary Geddes, who recently left Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Northwest Trek after 35 years in the role of zoological and environmental education director.
Take a look at the list of the combined parks’ accomplishments, and it’s easy to get a sense of Geddes’ modus operandi as director: He had a conservationist’s heart with good business sense.
The numbers tell the story: Point Defiance had its best year in 2015 with 732,208 visitors, and since Geddes came to Northwest Trek in 1981, annual visitors have more than doubled.
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Local visitors come to Northwest Trek, the 635-acre park near Eatonville, for a better look at animals that may be living in their own backyard; many species in the park are native to the Pacific Northwest.
Free-roaming areas are a signature feature; visitors can look up and see bighorn sheep, bison and elk grazing on the hills. They get close to grizzlies and wolves without having to turn tail and hide, but the enclosures, exhibits, shopping and shows are not the only reasons such places exist.
Geddes helped perpetuate a worldwide paradigm shift regarding zoos, one that says animals are not just there for the public, but rather, the public for the animals.
He’s been a consistent and sane voice in the realm of wildlife conservation. Under his guidance, Point Defiance Zoo partnered with several international efforts to save endangered species, including the red wolf, Sumatran tigers and clouded leopards.
And he walked the talk, or more specifically, he cycled it: In 1998, Geddes took off from Washington on a 2,500-mile bike trip to Peoria, Illinois. His purpose was to call attention to the Endangered Species Act for native species and raise money for youth education at Northwest Trek.
Some of the planet’s most precious and endangered species have found an advocate in him. In 2007, Geddes had a hand in saving the dwindling population of Washington pygmy rabbits — and when we say dwindling, we mean it: There were only two purebred female Washington pygmy rabbits left in the world.
Northwest Trek teamed up with the Oregon Zoo and Washington State University in an effort that saved the tiny rabbit from extinction.
Whether it’s the smallest rabbit on the continent or the 10,000 migrating toads that make Northwest Trek part of their journey from wetlands to underbrush, many species have found a safe haven thanks to Geddes’ unwavering mission.
Though he’s putting zoo work behind him, he plans to spend his retirement doing what he’s done most of his life: thinking about animals and their conservation, giving his time to the Morse Wildlife Preserve near his home in Graham.
Even as we look forward to the zoo’s newest chapter — one that includes a new $52 million, 35,000-square-foot aquarium — his legacy at Metro Parks Tacoma won’t be forgotten.
Rabbits, toads, red wolves and bears are not the only beneficiaries of Geddes’ good work; thousands of visitors have passed through the turnstiles and left with a deeper appreciation for the creatures that share our planet.