Daryl Richardson is a high-end caterer turned zookeeper who opened Dallas World Aquarium in downtown’s West End in 1992. The New Republic’s newly published deep dive on him and his menagerie shows how he eschews the normal model for zoos are run (not a nonprofit, unafraid to acquire any desirable animal from the wild), which has resulted in an international attraction for zoo aficionados.
But he also comes off as a hell of a hard man to work for, and some of his questionable practices have angered biologists and conservations. The article centers on the aftermath of Richardson’s failed 2013 attempt to get some rare sloths from Panama, an action that caused an international uproar:
Some zoo officials I spoke with were embarrassed by Richardson’s misadventure, but it does not seem to have caused much damage to his professional standing. In an image-sensitive industry, a rogue who collects and breeds exotic species—animals that can then be traded with more cautious zoos, at scant risk to their own budgets and reputations—plays a useful role. Last year, the AZA said it was looking into the pygmy-sloth controversy, but it never released any findings. It also renewed the Dallas World Aquarium’s accreditation last March, finding that Richardson’s zoo upheld the “practices and philosophies that are commonly accepted as the norm by the profession.”
“My story is really not that different than any other zoos that have their failures and their successes,” Richardson told me. “It’s just I happen to be the independent owner of this facility and I’ve been here for the duration, from day one to day now.”