Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo Celebrates Director Gregg Dancho’s 40 Years of Service

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Dec 142020

How many people get to work at their dream job for four decades? Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo Director Gregg Dancho always knew he wanted to work with animals. His fascination began as a young boy while catching snakes and frogs in the woods behind his Stratford home (and startling his mother when some invariably escaped inside).

The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself” might have been written for him.

Click HERE to see WTNH Anchor Ann Nyberg’s interview with Gregg. He is such a sweet man, I’ve known him for years. 

Fast forward to 2020, marking Dancho’s 40th year serving Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and the wildlife conservation community around the state. From landing his first volunteer position at the Zoo while still in high school to his steady movement up the Zoo ranks, and his actions on behalf of animals from rescued parrots to endangered Amur tigers, his life has been a testament to the value of nature.

The Gregg Dancho Endowed Chair, the first endowed chair for the non-profit facility, was created in 2019 to honor his decades of service.

Under Dancho’s tenure, notable animal welfare protocols were put in place, bringing the Zoo to a new level of professionalism. Educational programming and local, national, and international conservation programs have flourished, and the Zoo has become a cultural and recreational resource for Fairfield County and the region. Most critically, the Zoo achieved national accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an honor held by only 240 zoos and aquariums nationally. Annual visitation has grown from 80,000 in 1983 to nearly 300,000 in 2019.

Board of Directors President Kim Rodney said, “Gregg Dancho has served the Zoo with distinction for four decades and has elevated Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo as a cultural treasure and educational destination for the state and region. Gregg has earned the respect of his Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) peers as well as government and community leaders throughout the region. Under his leadership, the Zoo has achieved the highest level of professionalism.”

Dancho has overseen multiple improvements and renovations to Zoo grounds and habitats including the Rainforest Building, the Peacock Pavilion, the Carousel Building, Professor Beardsley’s Research Station, the Pampas Plains, and most recently, the new animal commissary, the Natt Family Red Panda Habitat, and Spider Monkey Habitat. The Zoo has husbanded the birth of endangered and threatened species, a testament to the professionalism of the staff he directs, and excellent animal and veterinary care.

For information on supporting the Dancho Chair in honor of his 40thanniversary, contact Director of Development Jessica Summers at 203-394-6573, or by email at jsummers@beardsleyzoo.org. Gifts to the Dancho Chair are tax-deductible. Donations can be made online at https://www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/NTA2MDU=

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo Mourns the Loss of Red Panda

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Jul 312020

Meri, the Red Panda (Jack Bradley)

The family at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is saddened to announce the passing of Meri, a seven-year-old female Red panda, on Monday, July 27. The Zoo’s animal care team found that she had passed away in her sleep during the night, with no obvious signs of distress. A post-mortem necropsy showed that the cause was a cardiac condition.

The Zoo sent out this notice today: Born on June 27, 2013, at the Detroit Zoo, Meri came to Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo on January 11, 2018, from the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington, Delaware. She was named for Meriadoc Brandybuck, a character in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. She was a beloved member of the Zoo family.

“Meri will be deeply missed by all of us here at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo,” said Zoo Director Gregg Dancho. “She had a unique personality and related well both to her companion, Rochan and to her animal care staff. It has been our privilege to have known her for the past two years.

The Zoo remains home to Rochan, a six-year-old male Red panda who has been part of the Zoo family since October 2015. The Natt Family Red Panda Habitat opened in October 2018, a gift from Bob and Helen Natt of Easton, also funded by monies raised by supporters and from the Werth Family Foundation.

The Red panda habitat offers indoor and outdoor viewing access for the Red pandas with air-conditioned indoor living quarters and a yard landscaped with bamboo and plenty of treetop spots for sunbathing.

Rochan and Meri were part of the Species Survival Program (SSP), a breeding and management program designed to preserve the long-term sustainability of captive-based animal populations. Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo will work with the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Species Survival Plan to identify another female Red panda as a new companion for Rochan.

A Message From Beardsley Zoo Director Gregg Dancho

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May 022020

Dear Friends,
After 40 years in the Zoo business, I thought I might have seen it all. Never would I have anticipated closing our doors, as spring began, without knowing when we could welcome you back. Never could I have anticipated my staff wearing masks throughout their workday to protect each other and the animals under our care. And never did I ever think I would get so many questions about a Netflix series.
Every day of this quarantine has given me the opportunity to reflect on my career here at the Zoo. What I found was my joy always came from the same place – my interactions with you!
Over the past 7 weeks, I have received calls from people I hadn’t heard from in years offering words of encouragement. The Zoo has received an abundance of cards and well wishes from our friends’ ages 2 to 92. We have received donations of hundreds of dollars and donations pooled from children’s allowances. And we have received donations from every corner of the world. The outpouring of support has made an impact on the entire staff as they continue to come to work each day to care for our animal residents.
I am overwhelmed by how the Zoo has played such a significant role in so many of your lives and how so many of you have asked what you can do to support your Zoo.
With that being said, I want to share with you some incredible news.
The Zoo just received a $100,000 challenge match from Pam Kochiss-Werth. Pam’s generous donation means that every dollar donated to our Emergency Operating Fund will be matched! Being able to raise $200,000 will have a significant impact on our recovery efforts.
As we continue to make hard decisions in order to protect the future of your Zoo, every dollar donated makes a difference. Our operating funds shortfall began on March 17 and continues today. Even once we reopen, many sources of income will remain unavailable to us as we continue social distancing.
As Governor Lamont begins to re-open Connecticut’s economy, it looks like the Zoo will soon be able to welcome you back. Our number one priority is keeping you, our staff, and our animals safe as we move forward. We appreciate your support and patience as we work together to figure out the coming months. Please look at our website for all the up-to-date information.
Please, share this incredible donor match opportunity with your friends and family.
We can’t do this without you!
All my best and please stay safe,
Click HERE to make a donation.

The Beardsley Zoo Shares Some Sad News

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Oct 312019

The family at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is saddened to announce the recent passing of Rizzo, a North American river otter (Lutra canadensis), due to complications from his advanced age.

Rizzo was 16 years old. River otters live to be 10 to 12 years old in the wild, and an average of 17 years in human care. Rizzo’s longtime companion Nessie died last spring from heart disease. The pair was always a favorite of guests and beloved by all who knew them.

The Zoo is currently making long-planned improvements to the habitat in anticipation of new otters arriving.

Zoo Director Gregg Dancho said, “Our river otters have always been some of the most popular animals who make their home here at the Zoo, for their playful nature and intelligence as well as their role as an iconic North American animal. Nessie and Rizzo were the last of several river otters here, and we’ve been proud to have welcomed otter pups in years past. We look forward to a new family of otters here again soon.”

Rizzo and Nessie in 2017

Beardsley Zoo Director Makes Big Announcement At Tiger Cubs’ Birthday Celebration

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Nov 252018

Fans of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo are aware that the two female Amur Tiger Cubs, Reka, and Zeya turned one-year-old on Sunday, Nov. 25.

The birthday celebration included free tiger bookmarks for the first 500 people through the gate, and two encore presentations of Fostering Felines, a presentation from Animal Care Specialist Bethany Thatcher. Tiger Talks, highlighting the plight of Amur tigers in the wild, took place in front of the habitat throughout the day. Proceeds from the sale of Team Reka, Team Zeya, or Team Tiger Cubs t-shirts and tiger cub stuffed animals go to a proposed expanded tiger habitat.

Zoo Director Gregg Dancho, who began working at the zoo in 1975, and earned his way up to his current position, has always yearned to have a larger habitat for the Tigers who live there.

After the rare tigers were born, nurtured by caring human “parents” and thrived in spite of their 25% chance of survival, the zoo began an ambitious fundraising campaign to see Dancho’s dream come true, build a massive, more appropriate habitat for these beautiful cats.

While their caregivers placed the cubs’ birthday presents around their enclosure, Dancho addressed the crowd who’d come to attend the birthday celebration.

He gave a brief history of the tigers at the zoo and described the enormity of the proposed upgrade. Then he made a big announcement. Just in time for the Cubs’ first birthday, the zoo received a $1,000,000 donation for the tiger habitat from longtime zoo supporter, Pamela Hope Kochiss-Werth.

“The existing tiger habitat was built several decades ago and has been on our wish list to expand and renovate. Our intention is to create a habitat more in keeping with 21st century accredited zoo standards,” Dancho said. “We are overwhelmed with gratitude at Pam’s extreme generosity.”
“The Zoo is asking for matching donations,” Dancho said, “Everyone has an opportunity now to help. There’s no donation too small.”

This is the first grant made by Kochiss-Werth’s new foundation and reflects her individual philanthropy. “As a Bridgeport native, I have many fond memories as far back as 1958, of enjoying wonderful times with my family at Beardsley Park and the Zoo,” she said in a press release. “I feel honored and blessed to be able to contribute to the Zoo’s growth, important programs, and life-enriching contributions to Bridgeport and all Connecticut communities.”

And at 12 p.m., after the cubs received their presents, guests were treated to chocolate and vanilla striped cake and hot chocolate and hot apple cider.

FACTS: When these tiger cubs were born, they had only a 25 percent chance of survival and were the only two Amur cubs added to the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Amur tiger population in 2017.

Sadly, tigers are thought to occupy less than 7 percent of their original range, according to the AZA’s statistics. Threatened by poaching, tiger-human conflict, habitat loss and degradation, and loss of prey, four of nine subspecies have disappeared from the wild.

Zoo News: Rochan and Meri’s Habitat Opening Saturday Morning

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Oct 122018

For months frequent visitors of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, 1875 Noble Ave, Bridgeport, have anxiously been awaiting the opening of the new Natt Family Red Panda Habitat.
Rochan, the male red panda came to the zoo as a temporary visitor a couple of years ago, but his popularity led to his permanent residence and the addition of a female companion, Meri.
A brand new larger habitat with better viewing options for visitors has been constructed on the opposite side of the zoo (they are currently in front of the rainforest building) and will be moving to the isolated curved area where the pronghorn used to be (around the corner from the leopards).
The zoo announced today that the grand opening will be on Saturday, Oct. 13, with a ribbon cutting at 10:30 a.m.
Come help celebrate Rochan and Meri’s new home, with paid Zoo admission.

Zoo News: Tiger Habitat Expansion On The Horizon With Your Help

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May 232018

Orange Live has been committed to keeping its promise to limit its coverage area to the town of Orange, crossing into Woodbridge for Amity High School news, as this is where Orange residents send their teens to public high school.

The other place from which we will share information is the Beardsley Zoo. WHY? Because it is Connecticut’s Zoo, just a short car ride from Orange, and a valuable resource for children and adults alike to learn about the many endangered species of animals in the world and because we admire the Zoo’s commitment to conservation and its efforts to keep these animals from becoming extinct.

If you have been to the Orange Business Expo, especially if you are accompanied by a child, you delight in the Beardsley Zoo booth, and whatever creatures they’ve brought with them that day.

If you have visited the zoo recently, you know that Rochan, the Red Panda, has a new girlfriend “Mari,” and together they will soon have a lovely large new habitat. Jabba, the sloth, also has a new girlfriend “Hope,” and you can see them lounging around in the rainforest building.

The one thing that you may have lamented over in past years is the seemingly small Tiger cage. I know that my daughter and I have always wished they had more room. So imagine my delight when I learned a few weeks ago while talking to Zoo Director Gregg Dancho, that the Zoo plans to greatly expand the Tiger habitat.

Here is a press release from the Zoo about this very important project:

On November 25, 2017, the Zoo welcomed two female Amur tiger cubs. Both cubs were hand-reared by their care
staff and are growing up fast. These cubs are significant to the survival of their species as Amur tigers are endangered in the wild.

Amur tigers, once known as Siberian tigers, no longer carry that name since they are extinct in Siberia and are now found primarily near the Amur River in Russia. As zoos across the country work to support all endangered species, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is proud to play a vital role in the survival of Amur tigers.

In January, we asked for support to raise funds to create a concept rendering for a new tiger habitat. A new tiger
habitat is a dream of Zoo staff and we are committed to make this a reality, but we need your help.

The goals for redesigning the Amur tiger habitat are increased indoor and outdoor space, immersive wildlife experiences for guests and additional education space to include presentation opportunities, photo opportunities, and signage.

We just received a $15,000 challenge grant from the Bradshaw-Mack Family Foundation in support of the new
Amur tiger habitat. Every dollar you give today will double and 100% of your support will help us build a
new tiger habitat.

Give today and be a part of the new tiger habitat and your Zoo’s future.

Warm Regards,
Gregg Dancho, Zoo Director

P.S. Donors at the $2,500 level will be showcased on a ‘Founding Families’ plaque at the new habitat!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The zoo is not funded by the state and depends upon admission costs, donations and fundraisers to continue to keep the animals fed, happy and healthy.   


Beardsley Zoo: Have You (and Your Children) Visited The Tiger Cam Yet?

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Feb 132018

On Saturday, Nov. 25, the Beardsley Zoo welcomed a litter of extremely rare babies when their 10-year-old Amur tiger, Changbai, gave birth to four cubs. Only two of the four survived.

According to Zoo Director Gregg Dancho, There are only 500 Amur tigers known in the wild. “They are a sub-species of the Siberian tiger, and because the cubs are both female, they are among the most valuable big-cat cubs in the world.”

According to the zoo, Changbai became uninterested in nursing her kittens after the first one died. Zoo staff took the remaining three into their care, but another one died later that night.

The two surviving cubs, Reka and Zeya, are cared for in the Zoo hospital in a 90-degree ambient temperature enclosure to sustain the cubs’ warmth.

Dancho said, “Reka and Zeya almost never made it, and almost certainly would have died if they had been born in the wild. They were both underweight — just 2.2 pounds — and they were rejected by their mother.”

Now, at almost 3 months old, the cubs are spending most of the time in a playpen inside the zoo’s hospital building, cavorting with one another and exploring cardboard boxes and plastic chew toys. The sisters keep each other company, but, according to the zool if only one cub had survived, a dog would have had to be brought in as a surrogate sibling.

The zoo has set up a tiger cam so everyone can enjoy the girls’ antics from in their nursery every day, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The cubs take a lunch break from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., but you can still watch earlier footage of them during that time!

Difficult Beginning

When the cubs were born, they were underweight as Dancho said. When they are mature, they will weigh about 350 pounds.

The Amur tiger is not doing very well in the wild (just 500). in addition to the wild tigers, there are several hundred in zoos worldwide, including about 130 in North America, according to zoo officials. Only seven surviving cubs were born in the USA in 2017.

It’s important to note that the tigers are not owned by the Beardsley Zoo, but by a zoo collective. The goal is that after they mature, they’ll be able to give birth to several litters of their own.

Dancho said he hopes people will contribute to the zoo to help finance the construction of an expanded tiger exhibit. The project has been on his bucket list for some time.

“The one that we have isn’t bad, but it was opened about 40 years ago and it’s showing its age,” he said.

If you would like to help the zoo with the tiger exhibit, click this LINK.


Beardsley Bart The Prognosticating Prairie Dog Makes His Prediction

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Feb 022017

Who needs Punxsutawney Phil when you have ‘Beardsley Bart?’ Beardsley Bart, Connecticut’s own Prognosticating Prairie Dog, came out early this morning to share his weather forecast with a small gathering of friends. Bart’s closest confidante, Gregg Dancho, director of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, served as his interpreter, along with Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim.

“Beardsley Bart is a very early riser and when he came out this morning, he confirmed that he did not see his shadow,” explained Dancho. “He’s happy to report spring is just around the corner and he looks forward to all his friends coming to visit him soon.”

Mayor Ganim added, “According to Beardsley Bart, spring is coming to Bridgeport, and spring is coming everywhere.” He emphasized that Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is everyone’s zoo. “It’s a great place and it’s the only zoo in the state. We need everyone to come and enjoy it,” he said.

NOTE: Punxsutawney Phil  ‘predicted’ six more weeks of winter, while Connecticut Groundhog Chuckles and Bart both predicted an early spring. — we’re with the local critters.

The Zoo Welcomes Changbai

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Jan 252017

An Amur Tiger

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, 1875 Noble Avenue, Bridgeport, welcomed a new family member this week according to Zoo Director Gregg Dancho.

Changbai, a female Amur Tiger arrived earlier this week from the Philadelphia Zoo.

In the weeks to come, check out the zoo’s Facebook page for the most up-to-date information on when she will make her debut.

About the Amur Tiger

The Amur Tiger is native to Siberia, northern China and Korea.

It’s life span is 12-14 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.

Males and females come together to breed and then separate. Females give birth to 2 to 3 cubs. The cubs may stay with their mom for up to two years.

The Amur Tiger is a critically endangered subspecies of tiger. Only about 350 of these great cats survive in northern Asia. All tigers are endangered and protected worldwide. They suffer from habitat loss and poaching.

NOTE: What does this have to do with Orange? — The Beardsley Zoo is CT’s only public Zoo and it is only about 10 minutes from town. The zoo offers intern and teaching programs for children and teens, in which many Amity High School students participate. The zoo depends on fundraisers and visitor contributions to stay open. We are a vital part of its’ survival, just as the zoo is a vital part of it’s animals’ survival.