17:49 PM

ZooAmerica Celebrates Retirement of Naturalist, Horticulturalist

Zoo Naturalist and Horticulturalist, Pat McCann, Retires After 42-Year Career

Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (HE&R) is proud to recognize and celebrate the retirement of Zoo naturalist and horticulturalist Pat McCann after a 42-year career at ZooAmerica. What began as a part-time job as a Naturalist Aide at ZooAmerica turned into an inspiring career spanning four decades. In each role held throughout his tenure,  Pat's constants have been horticulture and care of our natural world. We invite you to read Pat's story and join us in celebrating his impressive career!

Before joining the Zoo team, Pat worked at a wholesale nursery and performed landscaping duties. While this laborious work prepared him for his future career, Pat also credits it for why he cannot stand up straight! After his first year of employment with the Zoo, Pat took on a full-time role as a floating keeper and maintained care of the grounds. When another position became available to care for the Grassy Waters area (now the Southern Swamps), Pat accepted that role while also maintaining Zoo grounds. 

Pat’s mentor, Mark Gruin, formerly held the grounds position and imparted a wealth of Zoo horticulture knowledge. Pat also recognizes Mark as one of the guiding forces in his life. Pat credits Longwood Gardens and their seminars with opening his eyes to more possibilities at the Zoo. He became involved with the Association of Zoo Horticulture (AZH) and attended numerous conferences where he met knowledgeable people who knew every plant. Pat regards the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum as being unlike any place on earth. 

In the 1980s, Pat traveled to Tucson, Ariz., to collect live plants, cholla and saguaro skeletons, and brought them to ZooAmerica to re-create its own Desert Garden. Pat did not cut out wild cacti but instead went to the brush dumps of the west to salvage what had falsely been considered waste. Pat’s travels also took him to the Everglades to collect artifacts. Back in Pennsylvania, Pat would knock on doors to ask permission to cut down dead trees that may have an interesting look to add to an animal habitat. 

Pat scoured nurseries for small amounts of native plants, which were scarce several decades ago. Now, people are building their businesses on native plants and are mindful of native planting practices. Due to Pat’s persistent work to create native spaces for each of ZooAmerica’s geographical regions, Audubon and the National Wildlife Federation have certified our wildlife habitat! Through all that he has created, Pat’s goal has always been to connect our guests with and figuratively transport them to each geographical area of the Zoo. 

When asking Pat about some stand-out moments during his long career, he had many - each day held something different, whether it was the first flower of the magnolia tree or removing a fallen branch. During lunch conversations, Pat learned more about conservation and what could be done to foster interest in children. Some days, Pat would trade mowing responsibilities for an animal presentation. He fondly recounted how current ZooAmerica Education Specialist Alicia Snyder told him he had presented animals to her first-grade class. Inspiring the next generation to care for and educate others about the Earth demonstrated how his career has come full circle.  

Pat humbly credits all his colleagues at ZooAmerica and peers in the field for his successful career, both as a naturalist and horticulturalist. He regularly talks about how he learns from everybody and is still learning today. In the words of our wise friend: “Get out in the woods and walk around. Zoos are great with contrived habitats, but there’s nothing like getting out there. Turn off the TV and get outside!” Thank you for sharing your talents and passions with us for over four decades, Pat! 

We invite you to visit ZooAmerica to understand further our team’s commitment to caring for natural resources, the environment, and the species that call North America home.