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Biology alumnus heading up 10,000-acre Ohio zoo facility

December 7, 2012

In his early days at the Audubon Zoo, Rick Dietz worked as a zookeeper in the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit.

Rick Dietz ’94 heard the call of the wild and he couldn’t ignore it. The Loyola University New Orleans biology alumnus, who has been volunteering and working for the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans since his Loyola days, is the new vice president of The Wilds. Part of the Columbus Zoo, The Wilds is a nationally known 10,000-acre safari park and wildlife conservation facility in Southeast Ohio.

The move from New Orleans is bittersweet for Dietz, who cultivated a career of working with animals in the Crescent City. He worked his way up at the Audubon Zoo as a zookeeper in the swamp exhibit, a senior keeper, an assistant curator and finally as vice president and general curator for the Audubon Nature Institute.

“When opportunity is knocking, you have to answer the door,” Dietz said. He started his new job at The Wilds this week.

Loyola professor of biological sciences David White, Ph.D., remembers the promise he saw in Dietz as a student. White remembers when Dietz signed up for a senior-level ecology class and participated in a class field trip to West Texas. “I couldn’t believe Rick on that trip,” White said. “He was a changed person in that field setting.” White has a picture from that trip burning in his memory featuring Dietz holding a deer skull with the biggest smile on his face. It was as if Dietz had found his element, out in the field working with the animals, according to White. It was White who recommended Dietz volunteer at the Audubon Zoo.

Dietz remembers White’s classes, too. “(White) was definitely inspiring and he did a great job at honing in on what that particular student really liked and kind of pushed them toward that direction,” Dietz said.

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