One To Watch: Doug Kemper

Doug Kemper Zoo Keeper

By Lori Hutzler Eckert

When Doug Kemper relocated to the Panhandle four years ago to serve as executive director of The ZOO Northwest Florida, he already had spent nearly 40 years in the zoo, aquarium and museum profession. He thought a little time in sunny Florida was in order. However, since taking the reins of the 50-acre park located in Gulf Breeze, Kemper, 62, has met one of the biggest challenges of his highly successful career – keeping the doors of the regional park open.

During a 13-month period beginning in mid-2004, The ZOO experienced damage from several weather-related events, including hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina. As a result, the park was closed for a total of five and a half months and lost $914,000 in projected revenue. The economic impact for the surrounding community likely was much higher, as the University of West Florida’s Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development estimates that The ZOO generates $6.5 million annually for the area.

Kemper – along with the board of the Gulf Coast Zoological Society, the nonprofit organization that manages The ZOO – has taken on the lion’s share of the load to save the park, which he said creates 90 jobs and is visited by 30,000 schoolchildren annually.

A goal to raise $3 million, with $1 million in pledged funds by the end of December, is in place. Kemper plans to raise the funds by encouraging the community to become involved through attendance, membership and participation in promotional events.

Kemper said he believes the people of Northwest Florida will rally and help him save The Zoo.

“I am committed,” he said. “I have to believe we can do this.”

To learn more about The Zoo of Northwest Florida and efforts to save it, visit