Being born the son of Jungle Larry & Safari Jane
(Lawrence and Nancy Jane Tetzlaff), David Tetzlaff was almost destined
to a life among wild animals.
His father performed stunt work for Weissmuller
in the Tarzan movies, milked venomous snakes to be made into serum
during the second world war, filmed wildlife on four continents, and educated
thousands of school children and millions of adults at Cedar Point theme
park in Ohio and later at Naples Zoo. David's
mother, Nancy Jane traveled with Larry on many safaris and complemented
his films with still photography. Together Larry and Nancy cared for their
population of wild animals and operated both Ohio and Florida zoological
In addition to growing up in the zoo environment, David Tetzlaff
also accompanied his parents on trips to Africa where his experiences
ranged from playing along rivers in western Africa to witnessing stacks
of leopard skins confiscated from poachers.
with the Big Cats
As David was working at Cedar Point and Naples Zoo during the
1980s and early 1990s, he became one of the country's most accomplished
big cat trainers with a focus on leopards. Unlike many American trainers
who highlighted the ferocity of the animals, Tetzlaff trained in the European
style keeping very close contact with the cats and focusing on the relationship
between man and cat. That contact was perhaps best seen when Tetzlaff
was covered in a living blanket of seven-leopards - each cat possessing
all its teeth and claws (as all cats in the Tetzlaff's operations have
always had). Tetzlaff's extraordinary relationship with the cats received
attention in national magazines, European journals, and even internationally
on Japanese television.
But during those years, Tetzlaff began to see that even when he talked
about the plight of tigers in the wild or other endangered species, audiences
frequently walked away with a different perspective on animals than Tetzlaff
would like them to have. To resolve this, Tetzlaff started a revolution
in shows at Naples Zoo - a revolution that returned the zoo to
the educational roots of his parents.
What emerged was the Safari Canyon Open-Air Theater.
It showcases the first and still only presentations of their kind in the U.S. featuring
living animals complemented by stunning wildlife footage giving audiences
an accurate understanding of the animals and the issues affecting them
in the wild.
Trainer to Zoo Director
As zoo director, Tetzlaff spearheads the creation of new exhibits and
improvements of existing facilities and methodologies. This is exemplified
by his initiative to have Naples Zoo accredited by the prestigious
Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Founded in 1924, the AZA requires
rigorous standards for member zoos and has an intensive application process
involving multi-day inspections by zoo professionals and veterinarians.
Each zoo undergoes the complete accreditation process every five years
or before if any concerns arise. Beginning in 1998, Tetzlaff and staff
began the intensive work required to prepare the application and prepare
the facility for its first inspection. Their work was rewarded with AZA
accreditation being granted in 2001 and again in 2006 and 2011. As an accredited institution, Naples Zoo is able to be even more involved in conservation outside the wild
and zoo guests will be able to enjoy an increasing diversity of exotic
David and his brother Tim recently enjoyed a thrilling trip to Namibia's northern Kalahari where they spent an unforgettable few weeks traveling and enjoying the hospitality of a former warden of Etosha National Park and his family. As Tetzlaff looks to the future, he continues to interact with the wild animals and speaks to audiences
in and outside the Zoo about the wonder of wildlife and the value of conservation.
David recently hosted a sold out tour to South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2011. He hosted another thrilling sold out safari to Tanzania in October of 2012.
Leaving Naples Zoo
Following his return from Africa, David transitioned to a new position he accepted as Vice President of Zoological Operations at Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford.
In his message to the Zoo Board of Directors, David said, “It has been a privilege to be part of the team that has successfully transitioned a beloved family business into a highly successful nonprofit that is recognized both locally and nationally as an imaginative and trend-setting institution. I am very proud of what we have accomplished together in regards to our incredible growth, continuing attendance records, public support, growing our donor base and creating wonderful attractions within the Zoo.”
Matt McLean, President of the Zoo Board, said, “This is a wonderful opportunity for David, and of course we now have very big shoes to fill at the Naples Zoo. David’s lifelong involvement, his passion for our animals and his unique approach to creating exciting exhibits has led the Naples Zoo to become a world-class destination for residents and visitors to the area.”
The Board has named EK Consulting President Ellie Krier as transition director to assist with a national search to identify a successor for David.
To the Zoo family, David said, “I sincerely appreciate the incredible and enthusiastic support we’ve received over the years, especially during this past decade of exponential growth. We’ve added a new exhibit every year, increased our animal collection and worked every day to make your Zoo a unique experience. None of this would have been possible without you.”