Dr. Fisher Turns 90

Honoring a Lincoln Park Zoo Legend

Dozens of guests gathered in Regenstein Center for African Apes (RCAA) on Thursday morning to wish a happy birthday to a Lincoln Park Zoo legend. Dr. Lester E. Fisher—the zoo’s veterinarian and director for 30 years—was turning 90. The gorilla exhibit contained a banner and several piñata “cakes” and “presents” to mark the occasion. For animals and people alike, it was a day to celebrate.

Lincoln Park Zoo President and CEO Kevin J. Bell opened the party by praising Fisher’s impact on Lincoln Park Zoo and zoos across the country. “It’s not an exaggeration—he’s a true legend, for Lincoln Park Zoo and nationwide.”

The guests showered the guest of honor with several rounds of applause as well as an enthusiastic rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Many had longtime ties to Fisher, including Veterinarian Shelly Rubin, D.V.M., who attended with his wife Paulette. “I’ve known Les for many years—he was my mentor!” he says. “Many years ago, when he was director, little was known about zoo medicine, and I would come in to set legs or do surgery. He’s a terrific inspiration for me and the veterinary profession.”

While Fisher cared for animals throughout the zoo, he was best known for his work with apes. Scientists in the namesake Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes continue the director’s pioneering focus on chimpanzees and gorillas. “Les was the first Species Survival Plan® coordinator for gorillas,” says Bell. “The first physical exams were done on gorillas when we moved gorillas from the Primate House to the Ape House in 1976.”

Gorilla Freddie—the father of current silverback JoJo—was one of the apes that made the move back in 1976. His offspring now inhabit the state-of-the-art RCAA, which features plenty of vines for climbing, perches for napping…and room for a party.

Joining the festivities after the singing, JoJo’s gorilla group quickly scooped up cardboard “cake” and “presents.” The apes were quick to find the greens and popcorn zookeepers and volunteers had packed inside. JoJo took center stage, sitting beneath the birthday banner as he picked through his treats, offering a living connection to Fisher’s Lincoln Park Zoo legacy.

Fisher closed the party by thanking the crowd for coming. In doing so, he was eager to share the spotlight with the animals and their home. “Today we’re celebrating this magnificent setup,” he said. “It’s great to celebrate a birthday here.”


by James Seidler. Photos by Sharon Dewar.