series of important steps that should be taken to achieve a major goal (Crittenden and Crittenden, 1997). For example, a major goal might be to repair necessary physical facilities, and the operational plan might prioritize the order of repairs, specify a schedule for completing the repairs, and identify additional funding and human resources that are needed.. The strategic-planning process often involves setting goals for the next 5 years. Actions that the organization plans to take to achieve those goals in the short term (1-2 years) should be described in substantial detail in the operational plan. Those actions should have a detailed timeline and clear delineation of responsibility. The short-term elements of an operational plan should also be accompanied by specific evaluation criteria to assess effectiveness, efficiency, and cost. For example, the Perth (Australia) Zoo measures annual performance by effectiveness and efficiency indicators in three categories (Perth Zoo, 2003): wildlife conservation, customer awareness of conservation, and customer service. Other zoos have used a variety of objective, performance, and activity measures (City of Philadelphia, 1997; Metro, 2000; Auckland Regional Council, 2003; City of Topeka, 2003; Woodland Park Zoological Society, 2003). Actions that the organization plans to take in the long term (2-5 years), need not be as detailed initially but should be updated as time progresses. It is important to recognize that clear, objective goals and a detailed operational plan are essential if the strategic plan is to serve as the impetus for organizational change.

Not much has been written specifically on strategic planning in contemporary zoos, but there is little reason to expect the process to differ substantially from that in other contexts. For example, the elements listed below have been cited as important in the strategic-planning process for a zoo, and they were all cited earlier as key components of existing strategic-planning models (adapted from Pensacola Junior College, 2004):

  • Defining the mission.

  • Describing its organization.

  • Outlining its vision for the future.

  • Detailing primary strategies to address the main issues.

  • Setting goals and implementation strategies.

  • Stating specific expected results in support of the goals.

  • Stating performance measures.

Obviously, however, the strategic planning process in zoos will need to focus on the specific challenges and issues that zoos face. For example, contemporary zoos are guided by five basic principles that should be considered in a strategic plan: conservation, education, science (research), animal welfare, and entertainment (Maple, 2003). In some cases, conservation goals may be inconsistent with animal-welfare concerns when captive breeding programs produce surplus animals that are not needed for exhibition or breeding (Cohn, 1992). Finally, captive animals often live longer (owing to improved medical care, animal husbandry, facilities, and social grouping), and consideration must be given to the care and management of geriatric animals (Maple, 2003).

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) requires a strategic plan to be in place in all accredited institutions. However, the zoo has operated without a strategic plan or its equivalent for the last 10 years. That deficiency was stressed in the 1992 accreditation report by AZA, but Smithsonian leadership did not promote the initiation of such a plan until recently. Accordingly, the zoo had functioned for many years without a firm sense of direction. The lack of purpose probably contributed to the decline in the animal collection and facilities during the 1990s.


The final version of the strategic plan was provided to committee on May 28, 2004. It is a relatively short but ambitious document, written in the present tense and active voice. The elements of the plan are a mission statement, a description of core values of the zoo, a 10-year vision statement, 1-year and 5-year goals for achieving the mission and 10-year vision, and six strategies for achieving the goals.

The 1- and 5-year goals are in seven goal categories similar to those of the strategic planning process of other zoos:

  • Animal management.

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