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Dr. Michael Hutchins: A Tribute to a ‘Game-Changing’ Zoo & Wildlife Scientist
The recent and sudden passing of Dr. Michael Hutchins in East Africa was as shocking as it was untimely. Astonishment surrounding this profound personal and professional loss has reverberated around the globe for a community of wildlife scientists and conservationists. Michael was on the ground in Tanzania preparing to lead an annually scheduled wildlife viewing expedition when he succumbed to a latent, pre-existing health condition.
Photo: IN CENTRAL SERENGETI WITH DRIVER-GUIDE JOSHUA MONAH. (PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MICHAEL HUTCHINS)
The founding partner, occasional guide, and Director of Conservation and Science at World Safaris was an ardent proponent of responsible tourism and a staunch advocate for the industry-wide implementation of best practices in green and sustainable eco-travel.
As a renowned and progressive authority and prominent figure, if not force, in international zoo and aquarium circles, and as a respected wildlife scientist, environmental policy expert, and nonprofit executive, Michael was uniquely equipped to advance sorta situ (ex situ/in situ) conservation interests. While keenly aware of the challenges zoos face at the nexus of wildlife conservation and animal welfare, he was committed to elevating the status of accredited zoological facilities. Under the auspices of AZA, and along with his mentor and General Director and President Emeritus of the Wildlife Conservation Society William Conway, Michael spearheaded efforts to rededicate the mission of zoos. In many ways, he facilitated a rebranding effort to transform these living natural history institutions into conservation centers. He was as well known to his zoo colleagues representing zoos and zoo associations where ever they exist.
And while his work with World Safaris, was very much a culmination of his passions tended to in his spare time, during his most recent tenure campaigning on behalf of the American Bird Conservancy, responsible tourism afforded him opportunities to reconnect and advance the professional interests of zoo professionals. As an exclusive group travel operator, World Safaris caters specifically to natural history institutions and conservation-minded organizations, including accredited zoological facilities. By design, the outfitter offers unique opportunities for this demographic of nonprofit leaders and affiliated personnel to leverage their roles with science education venues for the purposes of promoting responsible tourism.
Michael was a galvanizing force, bridging the interests of zoo professionals and wildlife science and management professionals. He was widely published, having contributed to scholarly and seminal zoo science and management articles and book chapters, and was widely renowned as an administrative-level zoo professional, nonprofit executive officer, conservationist, and courtesy professor.
As a distinguished leader with an international reputation in the nonprofit sector, and particularly as CEO of the Wildlife Society, he served as an emissary for agency and academic research scientists and wildlife management practitioners. Few were as poised to advance collaborative conservation efforts among a diverse cohort of academics, agency biologists, and wildlife professionals working in museums and on behalf of zoological campus living collections worldwide. Michael was also, in many ways, a relentless advocate and an ethical compass for conservationists on the ground safeguarding free-ranging wildlife populations and those in human care and their DNA.
In this interview for series I conducted with Michael for Nat Geo, he provided a retrospective critique of zoos and discussion of their foreseeable future since his departure from AZA as the organization’s first Director/William Conway Chair of Conservation and Science.
Dr. Hutchins leaves a legacy of unprecedented and profound influence on how we view, respect, and demonstrate stewardship for the natural world.
He was a consummate leader and educator, and his respect and regard for science were immeasurable. He was a powerful and decisive voice for the environmental science profession and touched and inspired many generations of biologists and naturalists the world over. He will be deeply missed.
I extend my heartfelt condolences to Michael’s brother, wife Song, and three daughters and grandchildren, as well as his many acquaintances, friends, and colleagues everywhere.
Thanks to Peter Giljam for the invitation to publish on the Zoospensefull website.