Harrison Edell of the Dallas Zoo Photography by Billy Surface

The Beastmaster

R. Harrison Edell oversees every animal at the Dallas Zoo, even some humans.

Your official title is senior director of living collections. Explain what that means.

The Dallas Zoo is the largest and oldest zoo in Texas. So I’m the guy who oversees the daily care of 2,000 animals. 

How many humans do you oversee? Those are animals, too.

They’re animals, too, indeed. I sometimes simplify it to: I’m the zookeeper keeper. I’m the one who keeps the zookeepers happy and content. 

The zoo is bringing in a number of dinosaurs for a new exhibit. Have you never seen Jurassic Park?

I love Jurassic Park. It’s one of my favorite movies. Luckily, these dinosaurs are animatronic, so I think we’ve got it under control. But those might be the worst last words ever. If this goes totally wrong, I apologize. 

When the robot dinosaurs lay waste to the Dallas Zoo, you’re going to eat those words.

I will eat those words. But dinosaurs are a great case study. It’s a great starting point for us to talk about the zoo’s mission and what we’re doing with conservation of wildlife. We hope when little kids are confronted by a moving, roaring dinosaur, that inspires them to learn more about dinosaurs, which then feeds into learning more about wildlife conservation and extinction. If we get a little kid excited about living things, that’s our mission. If it takes a dinosaur to spark that imagination, I’m happy with that. 

You guys are hosting an anteater named MJ from New York who is basically in Dallas on a sex tourism jaunt. How’s that going?

I actually manage the breeding program for tamanduas, the little anteaters. So I’m the guy who pretty much knows every tamandua in the U.S. I keep what’s called a stud book. 

That sounds so dirty.

It sounds dirtier than it is. It’s way nerdier than you might guess. The stud book lists every single tamandua in the U.S. and tracks who is related to whom and how old they are. It’s Match.com for anteaters. We picked just the right female in
Dallas to be MJ’s lady love. They are getting along, but he’s still pretty young. We’re getting a Mrs. Robinson thing going right now. He’ll get there. We keep our fingers crossed for a tamandua pup.

An anonymous donor recently paid $50,000 to name a baby giraffe at the zoo. Let’s say you get that cute little baby anteater. How much would someone need to donate to name it Lee Harvey Oswald?

That is an interesting question. First, all of that money for naming the giraffe went to conservation, not the Dallas Zoo. But we try to find a name that is appropriate for the animal, something representative of the
animal’s individual story. So for MJ’s first pup, we would want to find a South American name. Lee Harvey Oswald might not really fit the bill. We would encourage our donor to find a Spanish name that had some meaning to the animal. 

What’s your favorite animal?

Most PR directors I’ve worked with would tease me and say, “Harrison’s favorite animal is whichever animal he’s standing closest to when you ask him that question.” To be honest, okapis are some of the most spectacular animals on earth. I’ve been in love with okapis since I was a kid.  

We won’t let the other animals at the zoo read this Q&A, to avoid any jealousy.

Yes, don’t tell them. 

The 20 dinosaurs in “Giants of the Jurassic” exhibit will be at the Dallas Zoo through September 7. 


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