News Release


Contact: Sondra Katzen, Public Relations, 708.688.8351,


July 22, 2017




Chicago Zoological Society Mourns Loss of Former President Dr. George B. Rabb

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Brookfield, Ill.— It is with deep sadness that the Chicago Zoological Society announces the passing of Dr. George Rabb, 87, former President of the Society. Dr. Rabb worked tirelessly on behalf of wildlife and conservation until a recent illness, and he passed peacefully today while surrounded by friends and loved ones.


Dr. Rabb passionately served the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, for nearly 50 years from 1956 until his retirement in 2004, at which time he was appointed President Emeritus. During his tenure, the Society developed innovative approaches to the science of animal care and welfare, education, and conservation, and Brookfield Zoo enjoyed unprecedented revitalization of its exhibits and dramatic expansion of zoo membership and attendance. His pioneering, collaborative work in developing the field of conservation psychology was incorporated into many exhibits, most notably Hamill Family Play Zoo, and led Brookfield Zoo to its position as a leading conservation center among zoos. Without question, Dr. Rabb was one of the world’s leading conservationists and, as President Emeritus, continued to drive change and pursue important global conservation work in amphibian conservation and other critical issues.


“Dr. George Rabb leaves a deep legacy and lasting impact on the zoo world and the field of conservation. He will be best remembered for his caring ethic; his deep concern and advocacy for animals, people, and the environment; and his unwavering energy and commitment to making a difference for the natural world. His impact is far-reaching and can best be measured by his lifetime of accomplishments, the thousands of individuals he inspired to pursue conservation careers and advocacy, and how deeply he touched the hearts and lives of so many who had the privilege of knowing and working with him,” said Stuart Strahl, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society.


In 1956, Dr. Rabb began his career at Brookfield Zoo as the curator of research, with formal training as a herpetologist. He received an undergraduate degree in biology from the College of Charleston and master’s and doctoral degrees in zoology from the University of Michigan. He was one of the first Ph.D.s to work full-time in any American zoo and was appointed as associate director for research and education in 1964. During this time, Dr. Rabb fostered a growing emphasis on the importance of zoos in education, charting a new course for the role zoos play in a rapidly urbanizing society.


In 1976, 20 years after arriving at Brookfield Zoo, Dr. Rabb took the helm as President of the Chicago Zoological Society and director of the zoo. After his appointment as President, there was steady organizational growth and education and research took on a whole new scale at Brookfield Zoo. He was also instrumental in driving the concept of naturalistic and immersive exhibits, as can be seen by the physical changes in Brookfield Zoo exhibits during his career. His pioneering work led to the eventual establishment of what are known today as the Chicago Zoological Society’s two Centers of Excellence: the Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare and the Center for Conservation Leadership.


Over his career, Dr. Rabb gained prominence globally as a conservation leader. He was associated with many organizations worldwide and was a highly respected spokesman on conservation issues. He received many awards and esteemed recognition, including the 1996 Heini Hediger Award, the 1997 Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London, and the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment. The Chicago Zoological Society's George B. Rabb Conservation Medal is named for him. In addition, a species of frog discovered in 2005 was named in honor of him and his wife, Mary Rabb, for their lifetime work as conservationists and herpetologists.

Dr. Rabb helped start the International Species Information System. He was chairman of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from 1989 to 1996. He served as a board member of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, the Center for Humans and Nature, Chicago Wilderness, and the Illinois State Museum. Throughout his career, Dr. Rabb published widely on many topics, such as the evolutionary relationships of viperid snakes, behavioral development in okapi, social behavior in captive wolf packs, and breeding behavior of pipid frogs. He founded the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force and continued to be active in amphibian conservation issues with the Amphibian Survival Alliance and the Amphibian Ark.


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About the Chicago Zoological Society

The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. Its Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare is at the forefront of animal care that strives to discover and implement innovative approaches to zoo animal management. Brookfield Zoo is the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, meeting American Humane Association’s rigorous certification standards. Open every day of the year, the zoo is located at 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois, between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and is also accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA and PACE bus service. For further information, visit






Sondra Katzen
Media Relations Manager
Office: 708-688-8351
Cell Phone: 708-903-2071


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