A former Minnesota Zoo zookeeper is now its director

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More than a quarter century ago, John Frawley took a job as a zookeeper at the Minnesota Zoo.

Now, he's leading the whole thing.

The Minnesota native has been officially named the new director and president of the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, according to a news release.

He was selected as the final candidate for the role unanimously by the zoo's search committee, and his appointment was signed off by the board of directors on Wednesday.

"It’s been 26 years since I was a zookeeper at the Minnesota Zoo," Frawley said in the release. "But I’m coming home to more than just the Zoo; I’m coming home to Minnesota where I grew up exploring the state’s great outdoors."

Frawley went to Red Wing High School and Minnesota State University. He held a zookeeper gig with the Minnesota Zoo from 1988-1992, after which he went to the Mall of America to help plan and develop what was then Camp Snoopy and Underwater World.

In 1996 he moved to San Francisco (where he's been since) to take a job with Aquarium of the Bay. It eventually turned into a leadership role with Bay.org, a conservation and restoration group that brought together multiple agencies in the area.

Peter Maritz, chair of the Minnesota Zoo Board of Director, said they went through 200 potential candidates, noting Frawley brings a "compelling background and skill set."

First actions include legislative pitch

According to the release, Frawley will be "actively engaged" in the zoo's legislative activities, which includes working to secure funding help.

Gov. Mark Dayton's most recent bonding bill proposal (which is basically him laying out what he would like to do with the money) includes $21.8 million for the zoo, some of which would go to "asset preservation."

That comes after a difficult financial period.

In late 2014, the zoo said layoffs would be coming amid slumping attendance. A few months later, it asked for $1.5 million in emergency funding to help keep things going.

In June, the previous director and president, Lee Ehmke, left to join the Houston Zoo.

For the 2015 fiscal year, the zoo says about 30 percent of its revenue came from state appropriations or the state's Legacy Fund.

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