William Conway, Who Reimagined America’s Zoos, Is Dead at 91


William G. Conway, an animal conservationist who redefined (however didn’t rename) the Bronx Zoo, and who helped recast America’s city wildlife parks into crowd-pleasing pure habitats designed to generate assist for endangered species worldwide, died on Oct. 21 in New Rochelle, N.Y. He was 91.

His demise, in a hospital, was introduced by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the place he had spent nearly his whole profession. He joined the society in 1956 as an assistant chicken curator and retired in 1999 as president and normal director.

Dr. Conway single-mindedly reworked the society’s signature attraction within the Bronx from a well-known however fusty cloister for neurotic caged specimens into a set of lush pure environments the place the animals presumably felt extra at dwelling, and the place guests benefited from a extra genuine instructional expertise.

On his watch, the Bronx Zoo opened the Children’s Zoo and reveals together with World of Birds, JungleWorld, the Baboon Reserve and the 6.5-acre Congo Gorilla Forest.

“Today the Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Park contains more examples of progressive zoo exhibit design than any other, almost all of them based on concepts by William Conway,” David Hancocks, an architect and designer of zoos and nature facilities, wrote in “A Different Nature: The Paradoxical World of Zoos and Their Uncertain Future” (2002).

Dr. Conway’s tweedy apparel, and his use of Britishisms like “cheerio,” urged that he hailed from the Midlands relatively than the Midwest (he was born in St. Louis).

But New York officers found that there was a flinty negotiator behind that facade within the Eighties, when the conservation society assumed duty from the town authorities for managing and renovating the impoverished municipal zoos in Central Park, Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Flushing Meadows (*91*) Park in Queens, in addition to the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.

By the time Dr. Conway retired after 43 years, the society was concerned in additional than 300 conservation initiatives in 52 international locations. In the previous decade, attendance at the town’s zoos and aquarium had grown to 4.4 million from 3.1 million; the society’s funds had greater than doubled, to $78 million; membership had tripled, to almost 95,000; and personal fund-raising had doubled, to $21 million.

Dr. Conway tactfully named animals after wealthy benefactors: Astor the elephant for the society matron Brooke Astor; 11 giraffes for James Walter Carter, a coal mogul. Asked in 1999 whether or not solely oligarchs get naming rights, he instructed The New York Times, “I confess there are a pair of gibbons at JungleWorld named for my wife and myself.”

Dr. Conway “redefined what zoos and aquariums should be and how they should operate,” Jim Breheny, the director of the Bronx Zoo, mentioned in an announcement after Dr. Conway’s demise, including that at the society, and as president of the American Zoological Association, Dr. Conway centered on “care, ethics, integrity and conservation,” together with swapping animals between zoos to enhance the chance for breeding and genetic variety.

One metric that has not elevated at New York’s zoos is the variety of elephants, now down to 2 within the Bronx. (When one gave delivery in 1981 to a 180-pound bull calf, Dr. Conway proudly declared, “It’s the first elephant born in the New York area in about 9,500 years, although I guess that was a mammoth.”)

In 2006, after a number of elephants at the zoo had died of illness or accidents, Mr. Breheny introduced that no extra could be acquired. (Dr. Conway mentioned flamingoes and penguins have been his favourite animals, anyway.) Instead, the society would dedicate its sources to conserving them within the wild.

“The justification for removing an animal from the wild for exhibition,” Dr. Conway mentioned in an early report, “must be judged by the value of that exhibition in terms of human education and appreciation, and the suitability and effectiveness of the exhibition in terms of each wild creature’s contentment and continued welfare.”

In latest years, the Nonhuman Rights Project, an animal-rights group, has been pursuing a habeas corpus case to liberate one of many two elephants nonetheless within the Bronx, a feminine named Happy, on the grounds that she isn’t.

While Dr. Conway was acclaimed by his colleagues as a conservationist, he exasperated the general public when he stepped into one other area: semantics.

In 1993, changed the phrase “zoo” (too evocative of confusion and dysfunction, he mentioned) and rebranded the famend establishment within the Bronx because the International Wildlife Conservation Park (it was formally the New York Zoological Park).

The title change prompted Daniel Berger to jot down in The Baltimore Sun, “Endangered species cry out for preservation, as does the language.” In his On Language column in The New York Times Magazine, William Safire responded extra succinctly by delivering a proverbial “Bronx cheer.”

Eventually, demonstrating that language and reasoning distinguish people from different animals, officers retained the title “Bronx Zoo” atop a smaller signal that learn, “Bronx Wildlife Conservation Park.”

“One in 10 voters in the United States lives within 50 miles of this zoo, and most will never see any wildlife but starlings, pigeons, roaches and rats,” Dr. Conway instructed The Times in 1972. “We want to convince city people that wildlife is worth preserving.”

Dr. Conway was not celebrated for his humorousness, however neither was he routinely unsmiling. In 1968, he wrote a paper titled “How to Exhibit a Bullfrog: A Bed-Time Story for Zoo Men.” He as soon as described architects as essentially the most harmful animals in captivity.

In 1962, he gamely appeared on the CBS-TV present “To Tell the Truth,” alongside two impostors additionally claiming to be the youngest director of any zoo within the United States. The actress and journalist Betty Furness was the only panelist who guessed that he was the true William Conway.

In 1982, he printed a plaintive letter, supposedly written by a chimpanzee, that concluded: “I have been made aware of the fact that not all human beings are insensitive to the need to find substitutes for monkeys and apes as experimental animals. A colleague called to my attention a recent address by the dean of a prominent Eastern medical school which states in part, ‘Those who would enter the field of medical science should prepare themselves for self -sacrifice.’”

William Gaylord Conway was born on Nov. 20, 1929, in St. Louis to Frederick and Alice (Gaylord) Conway. His father was an artist.

When Bill was 4, he started assembling a private menagerie by accumulating butterflies, which he introduced to his elementary faculty upon graduating. As a young person he volunteered at the St. Louis Zoo.

After incomes a level in zoology from Washington University in St. Louis in 1951, he labored at the St. Louis Zoo and helped set up the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs earlier than transferring to the grounds of the Bronx Zoo together with his spouse, Christa Berthoud, a wildlife photographer. They lived there for a time with a parrot named Jimmy, who, Dr. Conway mentioned, possessed “an absolutely marvelous disreputable vocabulary.” They later moved to New Rochelle.

His spouse is his solely speedy survivor.

In 1961, when Mr. Conway was 32, he was named director of the Bronx Zoo. Five years later, he turned normal director of the New York Zoological Society, because the Wildlife Conservation Society was identified at the time. He was appointed the society’s president in 1992.

In 1999, he mentioned he was leaving as a result of he had instructed the society’s chairman that 70 appeared like a correct retirement age. “I made a terrible mistake,” he instructed The Times. “I should have said 95.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.