A Lifelong Love of Animals Led Elmwood Park Zoo General Curator to Norristown
Marina Haynes reshaped the children's zoo in Philadelphia. Now she's ready to move Elmwood forward while keeping the zoo's appeal to families with young kids.
Marina Haynes started as an artist, and a love for animals led her to study their behavior. She spent a dozen years rethinking what a children’s zoo should be, and helped create an acclaimed attraction at the Philadelphia Zoo.
In her new role as Elmwood Park Zoo’s general curator, she’s combining all of her passions into a singular mission: to make the Norristown zoo better, for both the animals and the visitors.
“I want to start to take Elmwood to the next level,” said Haynes, an exuberant woman whose face lights up when she starts talking about what’s coming to the zoo.
Elmwood kicked off its new look in spring 2017, when the innovative “Trail of the Jaguar” exhibit gave the zoo’s jaguars (including two new cubs) more room to roam. Haynes’ job now is to help sketch out similar makeovers for the habitats of other animals, including the otters, cougars, bobcats, and porcupines.
For Haynes, that means making sure the animals have the space and opportunity to do at least some of what they might do in the wild. But it also means brainstorming ways for visitors to get in on the action, whether it’s helping a zookeeper train an animal or feeding them.
“These exhibits have to be designed for the animals, but how can I make sure that the guest experience is part of that too?” she said. “My goal is to turn the zoo experience from a passive experience to an active one.”
Her background makes her a natural fit at Elmwood. Haynes has spent her entire career at zoos: she started out volunteering at the Brandywine Zoo in college and worked at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo while she did her master’s degree at the University of Maryland.
“It was a great combination of being able to educate and work with people and animals,” Haynes said. “I’m passionate about making a change in the world.”
She spent nearly 20 years at the Philadelphia Zoo, 15 of them heading up the children’s zoo. She shepherded the development and opening of KidZooU, an overhaul of the children’s zoo that drew raves — the Association of Zoos and Aquariums named it the top new exhibit in 2014 — and crowds.
At Elmwood, where she arrived in summer 2017, she knows the key is helping kids (and their parents) make connections with the animals — connections that help build awareness of environmental issues and an understanding of their place in the world.
“I certainly want to have a generation of kids who see Elmwood as the zoo they grew up with,” she said.
The Elmwood Park Zoo is at 1661 Harding Blvd. in Norristown.
Want to see the zoo in a whole new light? Come for Zoo Snooze, a fun-filled camping experience! This summer, try it out on June 15, July 20, and August 17, with additional dates in September and October. Click here to register.
Visit the zoo’s website for more information.
Photographs by Ivory Tree Portraits.