Sarah Crupi, executive director of the Cleveland Zoological Society, says she never really appreciated baby rhinos until 2018 when two female calves were born at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
“They are so adorable and playful. They stay close to their mothers. And being a mother myself, I can really relate. These rhino moms don’t get a lot of free time. But they’re all doing really well,” says Crupi. “The four females were all socializing by the end of this summer.”
Eastern black rhinos (which are actually gray) weigh about 55 to 100 pounds at birth. At maturity, the rhinos weigh between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds and their head and body length is 10 to 12 feet. The zoo’s “crash” (a group of rhinos) totals five, including a lone male. Seven eastern black rhino calves have been born at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo throughout the years.
Eastern black rhinos are a subspecies of black rhinos found throughout southern and eastern Africa. Considered a critically endangered species, the rhinos’ biggest threats in the wild have been habitat loss and poachers who run illegal markets for rhino horn.
“The zoo has been tremendously successful with breeding eastern black rhinos for years, and we need more space,” says Crupi.
The new space, located in the zoo’s African Savanna area, doubles the current size of the rhino yard. Other improvements include an additional indoor rhino barn, overhead shade, misting area and an all-important wallow where the animals use mud to coat themselves to prevent sunburn, detour parasites and cool off. The project, which began this fall and is expected to be completed in 2020, has a projected price tag of $2.5 million. Typically, projects of this size are funded by Cleveland Metroparks and the Cleveland Zoological Society, the zoo’s nonprofit advocate and partner founded in 1957.
“We have had tremendous fundraising success. The society raised about $2.4 million between May and the end of August. We are thrilled,” says Crupi.
Crupi has another reason to be pleased. The Rhino Yard Expansion is the first capital project for the society’s new leadership team, which has gone through a recent transition. Crupi was named executive director this past July after serving as interim executive director since 2018. She joined the society as director of external relations in 2016.
Crupi is a native of Sagamore Hills in Summit County and graduate of Ohio University. She now lives in Broadview Heights. For 16 years, she advanced her positions at Gannett, a national media company, located in Rochester, New York. There, she frequently took her young son to the city’s Seneca Park Zoo, as well as other zoological parks while traveling. But she never forgot Cleveland’s zoo, which was the family destination of choice when Crupi returned to Northeast Ohio during the Christmas season to visit relatives.
“My son wants to be a zookeeper and has a tremendous love of zoos,” says Crupi. “I think coming back to Cleveland and getting this position was serendipitous.
“The description for my first position, and now this one with the Cleveland Zoological Society, was perfect for me. They were looking for a writer and someone with management and strategic planning experience. I think everything led to this spot in my life. I never thought I’d be running a nonprofit, but it’s completely suited to me.”
Crupi admits she’s a “forward-thinking person and an A-personality type.
“My initial thought was that we had to get it all done right now,” says Crupi. “But I had to learn there is a learning curve and that things take time.”
In 2016, the Rosebrough Tiger Passage opened, and the Society contributed more than $2.5 million toward the $4.1 million cost of the project. Also, in 2018, Asian Highlands debuted, as did the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Welcome Pavilion, both significantly supported by the Society. The Society distributed $6.3 million in total operating and capital support to the zoo in 2018.
“We are so excited that the rhino expansion project was presented to the Society for support,” says Crupi. “When you can improve a habitat, you improve the guest experience, too.”
In addition, 2019 was the first year of the Tails & Cocktails Speaker Series, spotlighting zoo experts and community members discussing issues that impact health and welfare, wildlife conservation and science education.
“We exceeded our attendance goals at all four events,” says Crupi “And about 50 percent of our attendees had never been to one of our events or paid for a ticketed program before. That’s the type of strategic programming that energizes me. Cleveland knows what an amazing place the zoo is, and society members offer such great support.”
Crupi confesses to having several favorite places in the zoo. In the morning, she likes to walk to Asian Highlands, where there is “a great view” and where she watches three “all grown up now!” snow leopards born at the zoo in April 2018 “wrestling and bouncing around and having a good time,” she says. “And, when I need a moment, my office is really close to the African Elephant Crossing, so I will just go there. It’s very serene.”