Brookfield Zoo Names New CEO Dr. Michael Adkesson to Lead Renowned Conservation Institution
October 15, 2021
Brookfield, Ill.—The Board of Trustees of the Chicago Zoological Society announced today that Michael Adkesson, DVM, MBA, Dipl. ACZM & ECZM, has been named president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society and director of Brookfield Zoo, completing an intensive search for a successor to Dr. Stuart D. Strahl, who led the organization through dramatic change over the past 18 years. Dr. Adkesson’s appointment will begin October 15, 2021.
“We are absolutely delighted Dr. Adkesson has accepted the leadership of the Society and Brookfield Zoo,” Cherryl Thomas, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said. “With his strong background in veterinary medicine, science, research, and conservation, and his training and experience in business and management, we are confident he will ensure Brookfield Zoo stays at the forefront of conservation, that it continues to be a beloved place in the hearts and minds of our visitors, and that he will take the organization forward into the future. Although it is impossible to replace someone of the stature of Dr. Strahl, Dr. Adkesson has the vision, qualities, skills, and experience the Board was looking for to lead Brookfield Zoo to new heights.”
“To be chosen as the president and CEO of a world-renowned institution of the significance of the Chicago Zoological Society is an absolute honor,” Dr. Adkesson said. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this great organization and build upon the zoo’s rich history of success in animal care and conservation. As one of Chicagoland’s top cultural institutions, Brookfield Zoo touches the lives of millions of people every year, inspiring them to conserve and protect animals and habitats. I will remain steadfast in the Society’s commitment to providing the best in animal care and supporting its dedicated and passionate staff. I look forward to continuing to transform Brookfield Zoo through new animal habitats and memorable experiences that engage guests of all ages. With species vanishing from this earth every day, zoos play a critical role in conservation today more than ever.”
Dr. Adkesson’s conservation and zoo leadership experience has deep roots. Dr. Adkesson started his career as a zookeeper at the Scovill Zoo in Decatur, Illinois. He attended the University of Illinois and completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery there, followed by a residency in zoological medicine at the Saint Louis Zoo and University of Missouri, prior to accepting an associate veterinarian position at Brookfield Zoo in 2008. Dr. Adkesson was promoted to vice president of clinical medicine in 2012, a role in which he oversaw the Society’s veterinary programs and hospital operations, before being recently appointed as president and CEO. In addition to overseeing the care of the animals at Brookfield Zoo, Dr. Adkesson has also spent more than a decade working in the field and overseeing conservation programs in Peru focused on Humboldt penguins, Peruvian fur seals, and other coastal marine wildlife.
As an adjunct clinical professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, he has trained hundreds of veterinary students, interns, and residents. With a passion for growing local capacity for wildlife conservation, Dr. Adkesson also holds an associate position with Cayetano Heredia University in Peru, where he also provides student mentorship.
Dr. Adkesson is a board-certified specialist in zoological medicine by both the American College of Veterinary Medicine and the European College of Zoological Medicine. He is Professional Fellow of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and a past-president of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. Among other professional roles and affiliations, he is also a member of the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians and International Association of Aquatic Animal Medicine. Dr. Adkesson’s achievements have been recognized with many awards. Dr. Adkesson is a prolific researcher as well, having authored or co-authored over 60 peer-reviewed publications and over 75 abstracts and conference presentations, to name a few.
Dr. Adkesson is a tireless advocate for the importance of zoos in today’s society and believes zoos are uniquely positioned to inspire the public to care more about wildlife and nature. In addition to being a board-certified veterinarian, Dr. Adkesson holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Illinois, Gies College of Business.
“In Dr. Adkesson, we have found an outstanding and committed leader who is dedicated to the conservation of wildlife, who is an experienced manager, and who is widely respected by the staff and by professional colleagues for his work in the zoological field,” Dr. Strahl said. “There are many challenges facing zoos today, as well as the wild creatures and wild places of the world, and I am confident that Dr. Adkesson is committed to working to meet those challenges and keep Brookfield Zoo at the forefront. Dr. Adkesson’s background, skills, training, and experience also ensure he will be the kind of leader who will succeed. I am pleased to be transitioning leadership of our beloved institution over to an established professional of his caliber and background who has already demonstrated his capacity and commitment.”
Dr. Stuart Strahl has been CEO and president of the Chicago Zoological Society and director of Brookfield Zoo since 2003. During that time, he has led the Society’s pursuit of its mission to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people and communities with wildlife and nature on local, national, and international levels. He spearheaded the creation of two new Centers of Excellence—the Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare, which has enhanced high-level animal care in zoos by applying a broad range of sciences to evaluate and improve animal well-being and the Center for Conservation Leadership, which serves as a nexus for coordinating fieldwork, zoo-based education, and outreach. Through his vision, Dr. Strahl has developed enduring partnerships that provide service to urban communities of color, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and other populations.
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About the Chicago Zoological Society
The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people and communities with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. Its Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare is at the forefront of animal care that strives to discover and implement innovative approaches to zoo animal management. Brookfield Zoo is the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, meeting American Humane Association’s rigorous certification standards. The zoo is located at 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois, between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and also is accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, and CTA and PACE bus service. For further information, visit CZS.org.