Zoo News: Welcome Home Steve Marshall

by Paul Swen

“One time, when I was kid, I was exploring the creek that ran through our neighborhood. I  came across a promising looking rock. I turned it over to see if there might be something interesting underneath. And wow, there was the coolest salamander I’d ever seen. It was big and black with bright yellow spots. I wanted to catch it. Without thinking, my hand reached out towards it. Then, instinctually I stopped.  Could it be poisonous? I didn’t know. So, I stopped. It was so cool looking. I really wanted to catch it. But I knew I shouldn’t touch it if it was poisonous. I said to myself, ‘The next time, I’ll know.’” And thus began a lifetime of exploration and learning for Steve Marshall, the new president, and CEO of the Caldwell Zoo.

Steve knows that he’s taken on a big role as head of Tyler’s beloved zoo, and he’s spent his entire life getting ready for this moment. “I grew up outdoors,” he reflects. “My dad was an outdoorsman. His dad was an outdoorsman. Our family simply loved experiencing nature and being out in it. If it was daylight and I wasn’t in school, I was doing something outside- fishing, hiking, exploring. And at nighttime, if there was a National Geographic special on TV or an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, it became a family event. There was always more to see and more to learn.” It’s that desire to learn that drove Steve to the position he holds today.

The Marshall family enjoyed many visits to nearby zoos in Birmingham and Atlanta, where Steve’s fascination with nature grew and grew. Gaining real insight about some of nature’s secrets certainly lit the fire for more, in-depth study. 

We’re going to make this zoo the best place to work, with wonderful experiences for our guests and having the most positive impact for wildlife.

First, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Then he went on to gain his master’s in vertebrate zoology at Texas A&M Commerce. While at college, it became clear that Steve had a real knack for sharing his insight and enthusiasm. So, he began to lead biology labs before he even finished school. Also, while in school, Steve started as an intern at the Chattanooga Nature Center. Once his master’s degree was complete, the Nature Center brought him on full time. From there his careered blossomed with positions at the Texas State Aquarium, Zoo Atlanta and the El Paso Zoo. His teaching and zoological talents have now culminated as President and CEO of the Caldwell Zoo.

Now, in Tyler, it feels like all the pieces have come together. “This zoo is so special and this community just feels like family,” Steve shares. “I’m thrilled to be here. Actually, as a scientist, I was compelled to take one of those DNA ancestry tests. It showed that over the years my people migrated through the Southeast to East Texas and went no further west. It’s as if once they found this place, they knew it was home. That’s the way I feel now.” When asked about his plans for the zoo, he intimates that the goal is to continue the legacy of doing great work and creating world-class opportunities for the community. “The Caldwell Zoo has been a tremendous institution for a long time. I don’t need to fix it or change the nature of this place. The staff here is top notch. I get to build upon the strong foundation that’s already here.” When pushed for details, Marshall shares some insight, “I’ve been an active member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for decades and I’ve visited a lot of zoos. When I first saw the African Overlook here, I was blown away. The design of the exhibits and spaciousness allow the animals to simply be themselves and we get to observe them naturally.

It causes some genuine ‘aha moments’. We’re going to carry that magnificence to every aspect of the zoo. The plans for future developments are truly world-class, featuring amazing animals and unique opportunities for guests to connect with the natural world. And we’ll continue to grow from there.”

Steve philosophizes, “It’s all about connectivity and finding balance. The natural world is shrinking, and many animal species are threatened with extinction. But we can make a real, positive impact. AZA zoos have more attendees than all the major sporting events in the US combined. When people are empowered and focused on a goal, there’s no stopping us. We’re going to make this zoo the best place to work, with wonderful experiences for our guests and having the most positive impact for wildlife. I’m inspired to be here.”

It does sound truly inspiring. Welcome aboard Steve. 

It certainly sounds like exciting times are here.