Robyn Barfoot leaves Cougar Mountain Zoo after eight years

July 15, 2014

By Peter Clark

After eight years as general curator of the Cougar Mountain Zoo, Robyn Barfoot left to talk about tigers.

The move follows the same passions she displayed while overseeing the addition of new exhibits and community fund-raising to bring more to the local attraction. During her time there, four tigers were added in a large, central enclosure. Barfoot remains proud of giving the big cats a loving place to live, but says its time to extend that education.

“I want to be more involved in tiger conservation,” she said. “And also change is good.”

By Greg Farrar Robyn Barfoot, former general curator of Cougar Mountain Zoo, gets a kiss from 11-month-old Taj, the golden Bengal tiger, on March 13, 2008, after his weigh-in where he reached the 200-pound milestone.

By Greg Farrar
Robyn Barfoot, former general curator of Cougar Mountain Zoo, gets a kiss from 11-month-old Taj, the golden Bengal tiger, on March 13, 2008, after his weigh-in where he reached the 200-pound milestone.

Barfoot said she was sad to leave her position, but knew she needed to chase her dream.

“I still absolutely adore that zoo,” she said, but the call to conservation drew her away. “I never thought I would ever leave, and there’s a large part of me that’s mourning that loss, but I wanted to be true to that conservationist side of me.”

She moved to Issaquah from Phoenix, Ariz., for the job of mammal keeper in 2005 and received the promotion to general curator in 2006.

Barfoot, whose last day was July 11, is moving on to tiger conservation involvement through the establishment of a new blog — Tales of the Tiger.

Planning to launch it July 29, Global Tiger Day, she said she wants the blog to allow direct impact with readers, continuing education on the state of tiger conservation and also a large dose of tiger appreciation.

“It’s a great way to get my voice heard,” Barfoot said. “I can share all the funky stories I have and just talk about tigers. They’re extravagant and amazing, and let me tell you why.”

She is starting her own licensed company on which to build the blog and hopes to expand it into larger education opportunities to spread throughout the community and world. However, she does not want to dedicate the whole site to the tragic side of tiger conservation.

“If people focus on the endangerment and the tragic, then that’s all they see,” she said. “I want to give them a life.”

Tales of the Tiger will provide an action page that allows readers to donate to conservation efforts as well as providing information about other organizations with the same mission as Barfoot’s blog.

Though her departure from the zoo means change, the longtime facility may not experience any large shift in management or exhibits.

“I managed it for 42 years,” Cougar Mountain Zoo founder and Zoological Society of Washington President Peter Rittler said. “I’ll just keep managing it for another 42.”

He said he appreciated the eight years Barfoot spent as the general curator, saying that she joined the rest of the staff in turning the zoo into the attraction it has become.

“Robyn’s a great person,” Rittler said. “I think she had definitely made some contributions to the zoo, but so have other members on the team.”

He said the current managing structure, which has been used for months, will not necessitate find a replacement for Barfoot.

“What we’re doing is nothing new,” Rittler said of the zoo’s leadership. “When someone leaves, institutions like this keep on going.”

Fittingly, Barfoot is most proud of her work bringing tigers to the zoo.

“The tigers are my legacy,” she said. “When I got there, I said, ‘We need tigers.’”

She is also proud of the accreditation earned through the Zoological Association of America and the zoo’s outreach to the community.

“When I first started, the zoo kept the community at arms length, in my opinion,” she said. “I completely embraced it. Everyone’s been so kind and generous and supportive.”

Barfoot served as the Chamber of Commerce’s Queen of Issaquah in 2012, and she said she hopes to continue to work with the Downtown Issaquah Association and the community at large.

She will also continue to regularly visit the zoo.

“I will always support the zoo, and I think it holds so much for the future,” she said.

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