Not many people can say they enjoy their first cup of coffee in the morning while listening to a lion’s roar echo in the distance. But that’s how Randy Johnson’s day starts off.
Randy’s been the horticulture manager at the Dallas Zoo for just over a year, and he’s made quite an impression. With a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M, a job managing private estate gardens for just over three years in the Dallas area, and working as Director of Horticulture at Texas Discovery Gardens in Fair Park, Randy was more than qualified for the job of caring for the Zoo’s plant life.
He also began his own consulting business, Randy Johnson Organics, where he grows and sells native Texas plants as well as other ecotypes throughout North Texas. To top it all off, he serves on the Board of Directors at Lakeland Community Garden in Dallas and is the current president of the Dallas chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. The man bleeds chlorophyll.
His tall, wiry frame and shoulder-length hair, coupled with an Asian sun hat perched atop his head, make him instantly recognizable. Not only that, but he’s the very definition of “southern charm” when his country singer drawl emanates from staff radios throughout the Zoo. (Check out the audio file and you’ll see what we mean.)
Randy’s day-to-day responsibilities include “all things botanical.” He supervises eight people, and their work encompasses anything that emits oxygen. From the blades of grass on Picnic Ridge to the huge trees in ZooNorth and the shrubs of the Savanna, Randy and his team ensure that the Zoo’s plant life thrives, as well as making the park beautiful and shady for guests.
“There are lots of challenges,” he says. “But my goal is to make the Zoo a 100% organic ecosystem.” One of the reasons Randy wanted to work here is his philosophy of strengthening the Zoo’s native fauna, while reducing its invasive plant species.
“If a bird eats something invasive and poops it out somewhere else, we can’t have that,” he explains. “We have to be concerned with how we affect our surrounding environment.”
One of his favorite things: creating habitats that make animals feel at home. “We owe it to them,” he says with conviction. “It’s our job to provide the best quality of life for these animals. An elephant can’t raise money [for conservation], but we can.” These creatures may not be in their native lands, but Randy and his crew make them think they are.
One of Randy’s wildest experiences involved the time a massive tree collapsed into the flamingo pond. You’d think David Blaine was involved, from the way the entire staff cleaned up the mess and made it seem like it never happened. “It was awesome watching all these departments come together under this bad experience,” he said.
That’s the thing about the Dallas Zoo. It’s not only full of hundreds of interesting animals … hundreds of talented and fascinating individuals like Randy work here, too.