New York, Oct. 22, 2021 — The Wildlife Conservation Society is deeply saddened by the death of William G. Conway, who was with WCS for 43 years, starting in 1956 as assistant bird curator and retiring as its chief executive, President and General Director, in 1999. He died on Oct. 21, 2021.
In 1961 at the age of 32, he was named the Director of the Bronx Zoo and by 1966 he had risen to General Director of the New York Zoological Society, the previous name of WCS. In 1992, he was appointed President of WCS. Through his career at WCS, Conway redefined what zoos and aquariums should be and how they should operate, including the important role of zoological parks in saving wildlife in nature.
At the Bronx Zoo, he incorporated deep knowledge and understanding of animals and animal behavior into exhibit design, creating some of the most cutting edge and best zoo exhibits in the world, such as World of Darkness, World of Birds, Wild Asia, Children’s Zoo, JungleWorld and Congo Gorilla Forest. His genius and vision transformed the Bronx Zoo and his influence can be seen in zoos and aquariums across the globe.
Conway was a prolific author, publishing approximately 200 papers and one book, Act III in Patagonia.
Under his leadership, WCS transformed into a conservation organization operating in more than 50 countries. During his tenure, WCS helped to establish or expand 60 protected areas across the globe.
Influential in the early years of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), including serving as its President, Conway focused on animal care, ethics, integrity, and conservation. He was one of the principal architects of the Species Survival Plan (SSP), AZA’s premiere animal management program. He initiated AZA’s Wildlife Conservation Committee in 1992 to support effective and sustained wildlife and habitat conservation by zoos and aquariums. Further, the AZA created the William G. Conway International Conservation Award to recognize exceptional efforts by its member organizations toward habitat preservation, species restoration, and biodiversity support in the wild.
His honors were many, including the National Audubon Society’s highest honor, the Audubon Medal; AZA’s Outstanding Service Award and the R. Marlin Perkins Award for Professional Excellence; the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Sir Peter Scott Award; the Society for Conservation Biology’s Distinguished Service Award; Commander of the Order of the Golden Ark, presented by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands; and from St. Lawrence and Fordham Universities and Trinity College, he received Honorary Doctor of Science degrees.
In 1951, he graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in zoology, after which he began working at the Saint Louis Zoo and helped to establish the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. Conway is survived by his wife Christa. Please send notes for Mrs. Conway in care of Director at the Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Blvd, Bronx NY 10460. There will be no services.