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Dennis W. Kelly

Director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo

Dennis W. Kelly is the director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, a position he has held since 2010. Kelly oversees the 163-acre Zoo in Washington, D.C., and the 3,200-acre Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia.

Kelly is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Zoo, which has more than 2 million visitors a year, and manages the Zoo's research programs, including groundbreaking work by Zoo scientists in conservation biology around the world. He also oversees membership and education programs coordinated by the Zoo's support organization, Friends of the National Zoo. The Zoo has more than 450 full-time staff, including keepers, curators and scientists, and a combined budget for fiscal year 2016 of about $70 million. Kelly has overseen significant improvements to visitor experience at the Zoo, as well as to the research capacity, educational programs and financial resources of the Zoo and SCBI. 

In 2010 Kelly launched an $80 million capital campaign, which is nearing its successful completion. Kelly has overseen the opening of three major exhibit projects since starting at the Zoo, and is currently planning for "Experience Migration," a major $55 million, first-of-its-kind experience which involves the renovation of the Zoo's historic 1928 Bird House.

In 2012, he oversaw the opening of the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel—one of only a handful of solar-powered carousels in the world—featuring key animals in the Zoo's mission to save species.

In 2013, Kelly supervised the complete, eco-friendly renovation of the Zoo's American Trail. The exhibit underscores how scientists and the public can work together on conservation to bring species back from the brink of extinction. Nearly every animal in the exhibit has been on the endangered species list, but most have experienced significant recoveries since conservation efforts began.

Also in 2013, Kelly completed the seven-year, $56 million Elephant Trails exhibit, including the construction of the Elephant Community Center—both a state of the art facility for elephant care and for immersing visitors in the world of elephants and the science of conservation.

In 2011, Kelly was elected to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) board of directors and currently serves as the chair of that board through September, 2017. AZA ensures that North American zoos meet high standards and best practices in animal care, wildlife conservation and science, conservation education, guest experience, and community engagement. Kelly's opening remarks from the 2016 AZA Conference can be read here.

Prior to his time at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, Kelly served as president of Zoo Atlanta for six years, where he enhanced scientific and animal welfare programs, visitor experience, and rebuilt Zoo Atlanta's marketing, government relations and fundraising capabilities.

Kelly earned a bachelor's degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a master's degree from Harvard University and is a veteran of the United States Army.