Alejandro Grajal, PhD

President and CEO

Alejandro became the eighth leader of Woodland Park Zoo in its 117 year history, assuming the helm in May, 2016. He is internationally known for his vision to define a new relationship between humans and nature by helping to restore the deep, affective bond between people and animals. He advocates for zoos as the best community institutions to create a social movement for conservation, to foster science learning beyond the classroom, and to ensure that all people have access to nature, regardless of socioeconomic background.

Reporting to the zoo’s Board of Directors and overseeing more than 350 full-time and seasonal staff, Alejandro is responsible for leading all zoo operations, programs, and exhibits as well as facilities, fundraising and partnership development to increase WPZ’s positive impact in the community and world.

Before joining the zoo, Alejandro served as senior vice president for conservation, education and training at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo, where he headed the Center for Conservation Leadership, oversaw field conservation and research programs for the Center for the Science of Animal Welfare, and supervised education programs. Previously, he had served as executive director of international programs for the National Audubon Society and director of Latin American programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.

A noted author, Alejandro’s publications include 45 peer-reviewed books, chapters, and scientific and popular articles covering topics which span the psychology of conservation, measuring the impact of environmental education, the sustainable use of natural resources and ornithology, among others. He leads the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CliZEN), a coalition of zoological institutions, universities and NGOs. He has also participated in protected-area planning and conservation policy with the United States Agency for International Development, the Global Environment Fund, the World Bank and the European Union.  In 2016, Trustees of the Chicago Zoological Society awarded him the prestigious George B. Raab Medal for Conservation Leadership, recognizing his lifelong contributions to environmental and species protection, and inspiring future generations of scientists and leaders to tackle big questions about living harmoniously with all beings on the planet.  In his spare time, he is an accomplished wildlife artist whose work has been exhibited in galleries in major cities.

Alejandro earned his undergraduate degree in ecology from Simón Bolívar University in Caracas, Venezuela and his PhD in zoology from the University of Florida.


Sheri Horiszny

Chief Operations Officer

Chief Operations Officer, Sheri Horiszny, joined Woodland Park Zoo in 2021, where she oversees Animal Care, Health & Welfare, Capital Projects and Facilities, Security, Sustainability and Purchasing. During the past two decades, Sheri has worked with animals, conservationists and zoo professionals to inspire positive action for the planet. Previously, Sheri has served as Deputy Director at the Oregon Zoo and Director of Animal Care at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Sheri has launched two giraffe conservation initiatives and founded one of the first non-profit organizations in the United States focused on giraffe conservation. Sheri is committed to advancing the impact of conservation strategies through her leadership, and currently serves as the Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinator for giraffes and as a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group. Sheri is also an accreditation inspector for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and in this national role upholds the highest standards of animal care, conservation stewardship and community engagement. In her free time, Sheri is an avid hiker and photographer, and is often accompanied by her Rhodesian ridgeback, Cooper.

Michele Smith

Chief Financial Officer

Michele joined Woodland Park Zoo in September 2017. She brings more than 20 years of experience driving new and existing business development revenue streams for corporations and building relationships in the corporate and luxury markets across the globe. Most recently at Vistatec, she led a team to achieve new business targets and created a strategic partnership to drive the best of breed in technology for the organization. Before that, she was the business development director for the Travel and Hospitality Practice at Lionbridge and has worked in various travel and hospitality companies, including Living Social, Generali Global Assistance, Royal Caribbean and United Airlines.

As the Chief Financial Officer at Woodland Park Zoo, Michele is responsible for providing strategic direction and leadership for all new and ongoing business and earned revenue opportunities. She leads the departments of Finance and Budget Management, Human Resources, Information Services, Guest Services including admissions, retail sales, merchandising and events.

Michele is committed to fostering advancement and inclusion for people worldwide. She is also dedicated to educating the travel and hospitality industry on Woodland Park Zoo’s mission of opening eyes and educating people through conservation leadership and engaging experiences. In 2009, Smith served as an executive board member for the Pacific Asia Travel Association whose members are catalysts for the responsible development of the Asia Pacific travel and tourism industry.

Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors and chairs the global expansion committee for Women in Localization, a leading professional organization aimed at fostering a global community for the advancement of women in the localization industry with chapters throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Americas. Michele is also on the Board of Directors of Mary’s Place, providing a welcoming and safe environment where women, children, and families experiencing homelessness can build community and find the resources to move into stable housing, and an advisory member of the Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Business Group.

Sarah K. Valentine, CFRE

Vice President of Development

After beginning her career in public relations and public affairs in the Seattle offices of Hill & Knowlton, managing strategic communications initiatives for a diverse cross-section of clients, Sarah transitioned to nonprofit fundraising. Over the course of her fundraising career, she has worked in a variety of national and regional/local environments honing high-level skills in all key areas that contribute to building organizational capacity. Sarah joined the development team at Woodland Park Zoo in 2012, and now serves as vice president of development, after helping WPZ complete its milestone More Wonder More Wild Campaign in 2013. Prior to the zoo, Sarah was director of stewardship and donor relations during a $200 million campaign at American University in Washington, D.C., where she built a thriving donor relations and donor communications program at one of our nation’s capital’s flagship universities while playing a key role on the leadership team of its Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

Sarah serves as a board member of the Washington Planned Giving Council and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Washington Chapter, the Association of Donor Relations Professionals, and Leave 10. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University.

Rebecca Whitham, MA

Vice President of Engagement

In 2020, Rebecca joined the Executive Leadership Team as Vice President of Engagement at Woodland Park Zoo, where she has led content strategy since 2008. With 15 years of experience in the nonprofit zoo and museum world and a Master’s degree in Museology from the University of Washington, Rebecca oversees the communications, marketing, content, creative, public affairs and membership divisions of the zoo. She leads teams to use the power of storytelling to drive significant impact for the zoo’s conservation mission, and their collaborations have earned top awards from the Public Relations Society of America Puget Sound and the national Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Rebecca’s passion is to activate the zoo’s audiences—including 1.4 million annual zoo visitors and tens of millions of people reached through the zoo’s digital channels—to join the movement for wildlife conservation, and to build capacity in other zoos and aquaria to do the same with their collective annual visitation of 195 million. She previously worked at the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture and volunteered at Central Park Zoo, and is a current member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the AIGA Professional Association of Design.

Peter Zahler

Vice President of Conservation Initiatives

Peter joined Woodland Park Zoo in 2018 with more than 30 years of conservation leadership experience, from Arizona and Alaska to Venezuela and Peru. Before coming to Seattle, he served as the Asia regional director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a non-profit that works with conservation programs around the world and operates New York’s signature zoos including the Bronx Zoo. He designed and implemented three full-sized country programs in Pakistan, Mongolia and Afghanistan, which are considered cutting-edge examples of community-based conservation projects that work with local people, governments, and businesses to achieve lasting conservation impacts. Peter also helped create the WCS Arctic Beringia Program, and supervised and supported programs and projects in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Russian Far East, Central Asia, and Tibet.

Peter also served as coordinator for the WCS snow leopard program and senior advisor of conservation strategy for the health program. He was the director of training and capacity building for WCS and was responsible for managing the Graduate Scholarship Program, which provides Masters and PhD scholarships for young conservation leaders from developing nations.

Peter serves on multiple specialist groups for the International Union for Conservation of Nature Commission and the World Commission on Protected Areas. He has authored over 60 scientific publications and book chapters, and he regularly publishes about wildlife and conservation for the general public in magazines, blogs, national newspapers and other media outlets. When he’s not at Woodland Park Zoo, Peter enjoys reading, writing, running, and spending time with his family.

Erica Johnson, PhD

Vice President of Learning & Innovation

Erica joined Woodland Park Zoo in 2021. As the Vice President of Learning & Innovation, Erica leads the team responsible for the zoo’s on-site, community-based, and virtual educational programs, volunteer and guest engagement, and the Advancing Conservation through Empathy (ACE) for Wildlife learning network. Erica has created and improved educational experiences for young people from cradle to career for over 20 years. Before joining the zoo, Erica served as the Mayor’s Education and Youth Policy Advisor in Seattle, where she facilitated the City’s efforts to support children, youth, and families before and during the pandemic. Prior to that, Erica was instrumental in the development of the Seattle Preschool Program (SPP). Funded by a $58 million levy, and delivered in partnership with community-based organizations, family child care providers, and schools, SPP has provided affordable, high-quality preschool for thousands of children since its launch in 2015. In 2020, Erica was honored to be selected by the National League of Cities as part of its inaugural cohort of Early Childhood Municipal Fellows. Erica’s commitments to racial equity, youth opportunity, and community partnership, along with her love of nature and dedication to the well-being of wildlife, led her to Woodland Park Zoo. She earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her free time, Erica enjoys hiking with her family and taking her prancy Italian Greyhound, Lukie, to dog parks.

Our Mission

Woodland Park Zoo saves wildlife and inspires everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives.

Land Acknowledgment

Woodland Park Zoo recognizes that these are the lands of the Tribal signatories of the Treaty of Point Elliott. We acknowledge their stewardship of this place continues to this day and that it is our responsibility to join them to restore the relationship with the living world around us.

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Association of Zoos & Aquariums

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5500 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98103   |  206.548.2500  |   zooinfo@zoo.org