Leonora Dillon named Salisbury Zoo Director

After serving in an acting capacity for the past four months, Leonora Dillon has been named Director of the Salisbury Zoo.

Leonora Dillon.

Dillon had worked as the Zoo’s Education Curator since 2008, until she was tapped in February to succeed Ralph Piland, who resigned.Dillon was one of a half-dozen applicants from across the country who wanted the top post.

Mayor Jake Day made the announcement Thursday.

“Leonora has been one of this Zoo’s greatest assets for years,” said Day.  “I have the utmost faith in her as an educator, as an ombudsman, and as a leader. I am certain that she is the person to bring Salisbury’s crown jewel into its next chapter.”

That next chapter likely includes steps needed to restore the zoo’s long-vaunted national accreditation, which it lost late last year.

The Association of Zoos & Aquarium said Salisbury’s zoo was not meeting industry standards. Among the criticisms listed in a 2019 evaluation were the zoo’s problems stemming from deferred maintenance, inadequately maintained buildings and the lack of a full-time veterinarian on the premises.

A native of South Carolina, Dillon’s career as an educator led her to Delmarva in 2007, when she took on community outreach for the Chesapeake Girl Scout Council. In 2008, she returned to her first love — education — and was hired as the Zoo’s Education Curator.

She formerly taught art to children in grades Kindergarten through 6th, and coordinated family and community programs, as well as managing education programs for the EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia, SC.

“The zoo has been a popular attraction for generations and has served our citizens as well as communities from all over,” said Ben Baker, the city’s Deputy Director of Service and Field Operations.

“We are excited to share this announcement, as we have the utmost confidence in Leonora’s leadership skills, passion and vision. With this, we will be able to continue to be an exceptional zoo and offer wonderful experiences today and for years to come.” he said.

Day said Dillion is taking over at a difficult and unusual time.

“Leonora’s appointment comes in the midst of a global health crisis which forced us to temporarily close the Zoo to visitors,” he said. “Once we are able to open the gates again, I look forward to officially congratulating Leonora with a formal ceremony. In Leonora Dillon, we have the ideal Zoo Director for this facility, and I’m excited to see what the future holds with her at the helm.”

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