Savannah’s overgrown molars ached so much she couldn’t chew her food. As a team of veterinarians planned how to reach way back into the 65-year old elephant’s mouth, Savannah’s handler at the El Paso Zoo prepared her with reassurance and conditioned her to be around strangers. It wouldn’t be easy to carefully place this large animal on its side, because breathing at that age is difficult under full anesthesia. Then there was the intubation tube—so big its tote bag could hold a pair of snow skis. The procedure went well, but afterward Savannah’s mouth hurt about as much as her feelings. She wouldn’t even look at her handler she was so annoyed with him.
Savannah’s surgery was memorable for UTC alumnus Steve Marshall ’81, Director of the El Paso Zoo, home for 600 animals from around the world.
His love of nature began as a boy, when he hiked and canoed with his dad. Long before Animal Planet, a Jacques Cousteau special or National Geographic was captivating to Marshall.
“It was a family event to sit down and watch those programs. Years later when I met Jim Fowler of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, I was star struck!” he said.
Marshall took the advice of his favorite UTC biology professors Dr. Maurice Edwards and Dr. Charlie Nelson and included education in his career plans. He began with an internship at the Chattanooga Nature Center, where he later held a staff position. He worked at the Texas State Aquarium, he led the creation of the giant panda exhibit at Zoo Atlanta, and he served as a consultant for a science museum construction project in China.
When Marshall accepted the job in El Paso, the city had already embraced the zoo and committed to funding for expansion.
“The city understands the importance of accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which the zoo has maintained for many years. Of the 2,500 zoos or aquariums in the United States, only 200 are accredited and those 200 host half of the U.S. population annually,” Marshall explained. He says El Paso Zoo focuses on preventative care of animals—annual examinations, nutrition, and blood work.
Marshall received a master’s degree in animal behavior at East Texas State University, he’s a professional fellow of AZA, and he served as a member of the AZA Board of Regents, which oversees professional zoo and aquarium management training nationwide. Marshall was also elected to the AZA Board of Directors in 2014, becoming involved in all aspects of the organization, including accreditation, ethics, animal welfare, and conservation.
Marshall was honored with the prestigious Tim O’Sullivan Award for longtime individual achievement and decades of teaching AZA professional development programs. O’Sullivan, an inspirational AZA instructor and former Regent who influenced Marshall as a student, died on 9/11 in the World Trade Center attack. Marshall received the award on September 11, 2013.
“It was the highlight of my career. It was very moving and it meant so much to me. Tim made sure we all believed in what we were doing.”
Marshall believes there is so much destruction, compromise, and elimination of species around the world that the zoo offers a visitor the chance to be a better citizen of the planet and to “rediscover their connection to nature.”
“I feel we have an obligation to these animals to get the word out. Right now planet Earth isn’t a very good place to be an animal in the wild. So goes the animals, so goes us,” he said. “There are limited resources on the planet, and we aren’t acting like we know that.”