Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo announces new president & CEO

The Omaha Zoo welcomes a new director
Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 10:38 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium has announced its new president and CEO Dr. Luis Padilla shortly after Dennis Pate announced plans to retire earlier this year.

After a national search, Padilla was selected to take on the role upon Dennis Pate’s retirement early next year. Padilla handled St. Louis Zoo for nearly fifteen years and is now thrilled to be a part of Henry Doorly’s new chapter.

“I’m really excited and looking forward to be a part of this community and taking the role that Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo has in this community and taking it to the next level,” Padilla said.

Padilla’s dream was always to be a zoo veterinarian even at a young age. That dream came true at the St Louis zoo when he worked as a veterinarian and took on leadership roles.

“I live love, and breathe zoos,” Padilla said.

Luis Padilla said as the new zoo president one of his ideas is to expand more facilities for veterinary care.

“The first thing we’re going to do is complete the work that is happening in the orangutan habitats that’s all being dictated by animal welfare and animal needs,” Padilla said.

Along with expanding facilities, Padilla wants to modernize these facilities with sufficient resources to provide the best care for animals at the zoo.

“As a veterinarian, I’m very attuned to the need for the behind the scenes, animal care, animal health, applying the science to know how we care for our animals,” Padilla said.

Dennis Pate has mixed emotions about retiring from his longtime job. He has worked in zoos for the past 47 years — 13 of those in Omaha. Under his leadership, Henry Doorly has added several state-of-the-art exhibits including the Scott African Grasslands, Asian Highlands, Bay Family Children’s Adventure Trails and Daugherty Education Center, and Owen Sea Lion Shores.

Pate was also instrumental in bringing elephants back to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in 2016, which has led to two elephant calves born this year.

“It’s a little awkward when someone moves into your office, but the place is in great hands,” Pate said.

However, Pate is excited about the great things Padilla will do.

“I’m actually excited about coming to the zoo and not feeling so responsible for the whole place,” Pate said.