Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society Chairman of the Board, Michele Kessler, announces that Margo McKnight has accepted the position of President and Chief Executive Officer. The former Florida Aquarium Senior Vice President of Conservation, Science and Research, will assume her new post on May 21, 2018.
“While our national search allowed us to meet many exceptional candidates, we are certain Margo is the person to take our Zoo to the next level in achieving our mission to inspire people to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world,” said Kessler. “With more than 37 years of experience leading for-profit and not-for-profit conservation and Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) organizations, Margo brings a wealth of skills, talent, and energy.”
“Of particular importance to our institution is her expertise in building and leading teams, developing impactful conservation programs, and forging strategic partnerships. Additionally, her demonstrated ability to create unique, meaningful, and measurable programs that link ‘doing well in order to do good’ will surely inspire our staff and supporters.”
McKnight’s experience in the government, tourism, fundraising, and public affairs arenas also is expected to further elevate the reach of the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director, Eric Sutton, “I have worked with Margo in a number of different capacities over the past two decades. She has always been a responsive and innovative partner in conservation, and I am pleased that we will be able to continue this important work together in her new position as CEO of the Palm Beach Zoo.”
At The Florida Aquarium, McKnight created the ground-breaking coral conservation collaboration with the National Aquarium of Cuba. She is also credited with designing the organization’s Center for Conservation at Apollo Beach, which focuses on shark, sea turtle, and coral conservation. Prior to that, she served as the Executive Director of the tri-nationally-focused Wildlands Network conservation organization.
Describing McKnight as a visionary with a great passion for wildlife, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Jack Hanna explains, “Margo brings a wealth of design knowledge that enriches the lives of animals in zoological care and elevates the guest experience.”
As Executive Director of the Brevard Zoo from 1998-2004, McKnight created an internationally-recognized conservation program, enabled her Zoo to be the first in the U.S. to create a “kayak through animal habitats” experience, and designed themed classrooms for Title I schools. She has also held numerous positions at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
A Miami native, she has chosen to live, attend school, and work in Florida. McKnight graduated from the University of South Florida, and also pursued field work in ornithology. She is a seasoned spokesperson, artist, and outdoor enthusiast. She will be relocating to the Palm Beach area with her horses and dog.
“This is an exciting time for our Zoo as we celebrate record attendance of more than 330,000 guests in 2017, the recent opening of four new habitats, and begin preparations for our 50th Anniversary in 2019,” said Kessler. “Having Margo at the helm will make us that much more successful.” The Zoo’s CFO and COO, Kathleen Breland, will continue to serve as interim CEO until McKnight arrives.