Learning about Zoo Miami with Wildlife Expert Ron Magill

Tell us about your upbringing and formal education.

I was born in New York City and moved to Miami in 1972. My father was a Cuban immigrant and my mother the daughter of a Colombian immigrant. I went to school at Cutler Ridge Junior High and then Miami Palmetto Senior High. I finished my schooling at the University of Florida where I majored in zoology.

How did your passion for animals evolve?

Ever since I can remember, I have loved animals. Whether it be interacting with the squirrels and pigeons in New York City or rescuing and rehabilitating owls and opossums as a teenager growing up in the Redland, I have always been around animals and loved caring for them. The love for wildlife was particularly fueled by the television show, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” which I watched every Sunday night at 7:30PM, right before “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

We know that you have the Cheetah Ambassador Program at Zoo Miami. Please tell us about the program and how our readers can get involved.

I began the Cheetah Ambassador Program nearly 20 years ago when I brought a cheetah named, Savannah to the zoo from the De Wildt Cheetah Center in South Africa where she was born under human care. She became Zoo Miami’s most iconic ambassador animal. She was not only brought to a variety of schools and other locations in South Florida, she also traveled to locations around the country to help raise money and awareness for cheetah conservation. After Savannah, a king cheetah named, King George, took over and continued to follow the path Savannah had established. After living long productive lives, Savannah and King George were succeeded by two brothers named Koda and Diesel who still live here at the zoo. Unfortunately, because of changes in the laws and the restrictions of the current pandemic, the cheetahs no longer leave zoo grounds. However, we still support cheetah conservation through the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment which provides thousands of dollars annually to those efforts.

What new attractions are Zoo Miami planning in the new year and how will the pandemic affect these plans?

In January, we opened the Conservation Action Center. It is a state of the art interactive center that incorporates a variety of games and engaging images to connect visitors to conservation efforts and behind-the-scenes work while raising awareness on what they can do to help. Visitors will learn about invasive species, be able to see some live native species, and be able to walk through a larger than life Burmese python replica. The pandemic delayed this opening from its original scheduled date of this past summer but it is now ready to go.

Last year during the pandemic, we were honored to have you as one of our speakers in our virtual classes where many families enjoyed your presentation about the tortoises. Tell us about Zoocademy and how families can continue learning about the animals with this program.

Zoocademy has thankfully been very well received. It is basically a series of short videos that I host to provide interesting facts about individual animals that will hopefully inspire the viewer to want to learn more. Anyone can log onto www.zoomiami.org and see a variety of videos, including the Zoocademy series to learn more about the animals here at the zoo. Zoo Miami also has a YouTube Channel that features all of its videos.

How can people contribute to the Zoo Miami Foundation?

Anyone can go to www.zoomiami.org and click the “donate” button to contribute to the Zoo Miami Foundation. I would greatly appreciate it if they specified that their donation be for the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment because it is what I am most proud of in my entire career. The endowment provides tens of thousands of dollars annually to support the conservation of wildlife in the wild places where they are naturally found as well as providing scholarships for students who have dedicated themselves to a career connected to wildlife conservation.

You are one of the most loved and iconic figures in South Florida. What message would you like to leave to our readers?

The main message is that everyone can make a difference when it comes to wildlife conservation. Whether it be doing things like recycling, planting a butterfly garden, or reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, every bit helps. The bottom line is that we are all connected to wildlife so by protecting and helping wildlife, we are protecting and helping ourselves.


Photographer Enrique Tubio

Location Zoo Miami

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