First Topeka Zoo director dies at 79

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Topeka Zoo is mourning the death of its first director.

Zoo officials announced Saturday that Gary K. Clarke died at the age of 79 Friday evening.

Clarke came to Topeka in 1963 to serve as Zoo director. In 1974 he opened the first Rain Forest exhibit in the country.

The Zoo says he was known for his innovative approach and desire to advance the standards of animal care throughout the zoological profession.

He left the Zoo in 1989 to focus on his safari business, Cowabunga Safaris. He led 140 safaris there, getting to know the land and the people in Africa.

“In the zoo community, Gary was a leader and an icon,” wrote current Zoo Director Brendan Wiley in a release. “In Africa, he was known by many different names; each showing the affection of how he was revered. In the Topeka community, he was humble, proud and giving. He will be missed.”

His family is making arrangements and preparing an obituary.