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Spring River ‘zoo lady’ to retire

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Zoo Superintendent Marge Woods will be retiring at the end of the year, after spending 25 years at Spring River Zoo. (Alison Penn Photo)

With over 25 years at the Spring River Zoo, Zoo Superintendent Marge Woods has announced her retirement from her role as “the zoo lady.”

Zoo Superintendent Marge Woods, right, gets a round of applause at the large cat exhibit groundbreaking on Nov. 23. Parks Director Jim Burress stands to the left of Woods with Mayor Dennis Kintigh in the background. (Alison Penn Photo)

Confidence in the current zoo staff and the support of the Friends of Spring River Zoo and the community for the zoo are some of the reasons that Woods listed in her decision retire. Her last day will be Dec. 31.

“If we were still going to be struggling, I think I would have stayed, but I think now we’re going to be OK,” Woods said. “The zoo is going to go forward. …”

She said her capable, “amazing” staff are ready to take over and continue doing their jobs that they are passionate about.

“I want to see the zoo follow the masterplan,” Woods said of the plan adopted by the Roswell City Council in March 2018. “It’s not written in stone. It is a very well put-together suggestion. I would like to see the zoo continue to be an Americas zoo, which means North, Central and South America, and see the zoo improve — not necessarily get huge.

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“We don’t need to be a huge zoo. I want this zoo to be the best it can be — the very best it can be. I want it to be a premier zoo that people from surrounding areas want to come and see.”

Love for animals

For 33 years, Woods, 69, began her work as an entry-level zookeeper in the beginning at Hillcrest Park Zoo in Clovis and has served as Spring River Zoo’s superintendent for three years.

“I’ve always had a love for animals,” Woods said. “My mother was my biggest mentor. I’ve always taken care of them. I was always the one saving the baby birds or the baby squirrels or whatever. My mom always encouraged me and so I ran with it. …”

When Woods was 16, her mother passed away and Woods didn’t end up going to college. She said her training and experience have amounted to the “equivalent of a master’s degree,” but encourages young people to stay in school because it is “rare” to have the experience Woods had.

Hailing from Sparks, Nevada, Woods’ zoo career started when she was 36, since she was raising a family. Woods has been married for 25 years and is a mother to one son and two daughters and has five grandkids and several great-grandkids.

The zoo’s status as a rescue zoo is something she hopes will continue after she leaves. She said “90%” of the current animals would not be alive since they could not have survived in the wild and are “humanized.” Woods said PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) supports the zoo for their rescuing nature.

Through training coupled with real-life experience, Woods has certifications in pest control, tranquilization, being a veterinary technician, animal dietitian and in supervisory training. She also owned a pet store in the past and served on boards.

Neonatal care, big cats and birds of prey are her specialties and primates are her least favorite to care for. Seven mountain lions, a beaver, African bull elephant, and a golden eagle that survived electrocution are some of the animals that stand out to her.

“When people ask me ‘what’s your favorite animal?,’ it changes because I love them all. I don’t have a favorite animal. … I might like a baby goat one day and the next day it might be an eagle. It just depends.”

The zoo’s mission that she came up with is “education through conservation” and she said each visit to the zoo is a learning opportunity, as well as a chance to have fun.

Rebuilding the zoo

In her time at Spring River Zoo, Woods has witnessed the zoo being “rebuilt from the ground up.” Recently, infrastructure projects were the focus and that progressed to work on the crane, muntjac, bison, longhorn and llama exhibits.

“I think the public is seeing we’re improving and I think they’re behind us,” Woods said. “All the comments that I get are all positive. …”

Making hard decisions, patience and an even deeper respect for life are some of the other lessons she has learned in her career. She said some of her unpopular, but necessary decisions included changing zoo hours, removing “dangerous” play equipment and getting rid of the prairie dogs.

Separating the park and zoo to change admission may be the next unpopular decision, but Woods said “free zoos are a thing of the past.”

For some of her greatest achievements, Woods said creating the education coordinator position, held by Caitlyn Lenz, is one of them, and having “perfect” consecutive USDA inspections were some examples.

“The zoo is transformed and I maintain it’s because of Marge Woods. Marge has provided vision, leadership, tenacity …” Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh said of Woods at the large cat exhibit groundbreaking on Nov. 23.

Future plans

Once she is retired, Woods plans to rest and get back into her hobbies of tracking, camping, sewing and gardening. Some other of her post-retirement goals include being more active, downsizing her home and working on a lake house she and her husband have inherited.

She plans to continue writing a book that is a “collection of short stories about zookeeping,” which she started about three years ago.

“I hope that I made a difference in children’s lives,” she said. “That would be like a legacy — to know that I made a difference in children — because that’s what this is all about. …”

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.