Pottebaum Named New Director at Abilene Zoo

Before he graduated from Loras College, Jesse Pottebaum (‘97) asked a counselor about careers that included things he enjoyed – animals and theater. She directed him to Sea World.

photo credit: City of Abilene

“Being a small town farm boy I physically hadn’t gotten out of the tri-state area,” he recalled. “I mailed out my resume the same month I graduated. SeaWorld San Antonio gave me a phone call in the fall of 1997 and the rest is history.”

Over the next 19 years, Pottebaum worked for Sea World, first in San Antonio, then to Orlando at Discovery Cove, then Sea World Orlando. With over 14 years of experience as a zoological supervisor and curator, he knew he was ready for the next phase of his career as a director.

After stints as director at the Gulf Breeze Zoo in the Florida panhandle and deputy director of the Austin Zoo in Austin, Texas, he has found the right fit at the Abilene Zoo.

“Abilene has everything we wanted for my family and me,” Pottebaum said. “The city atmosphere and the citizens are very comparable to the folks of Dubuque. Hard working, humble and very polite. The city is family-oriented – especially parks and recreations and theater – which was another appealing take for my wife and i since we have three youngsters and one on the way.”

Before his career led him to Abilene, Pottebaum knows he found the foundation he needed to succeed at Loras.

“Loras’ culture of diversity assisted with my discovery of my profession. Loras gave me a strong foundation of stability and direction in the sciences because of the student professor-ratio. At a large university I may have struggled with the amount of studies that go into the biological sciences, but because of those tight and trusted relationships with my professors, they allowed me to thrive and assist in learning.”

“Dr. Tom Davis steered my passion of animals for my senior research thesis working with water turtles along the Mississippi banks and taking our ecology trips throughout our nation (Education of our environment). Other biology professor that made an impact on my sciences were Dr. Grerald Eagleson and the late Dr. Czarneki. These were great mentors and friends for me.”

Beyond the classroom, Pottebaum found additional support and inspiration across the campus.

“Loras College also allowed me to think outside of the box especially when it came to diversity of people and of life. The late Don & Lauretta Stribling (’77) allowed me to showcase my skillset and teach the fundamentals of acting and creativity in order to make people enjoy the show. Very Reverend Mark Ressler (’72), Sister Bernadine Curoe, S.V.M. (’69) and the other theology studies professors were so open-minded to diversity especially in the sciences. These three entities (education, guest satisfaction and open mindedness) were huge contributors to my direction in life.”

In his new role, Pottebaum sees great potential in the Abilene Zoo moving forward.

“The zoo has a great history and support with the city and citizens. It has great bones for exhibit design, enhancement and future development. A lot of zoos don’t have any options for expansion and Abilene does. My goal is to get guests coming back for more.”

“There are numerous studies that reveal when humans experience a magical moment with an animal, it changes us for the better. The endorphins escalate and we want to share that experience with others. This then influences conservation for all of nature, which the goal for all zoos and aquariums to educate and inspire humans to make changes and conserve mother earth.”

Of utmost importance to Pottebaum is making sure conservation and education continue to make strides.

“It is essential for Zoo’s and Aquariums to reach all generations of people in order to educate them on the sensitivities of our animal kingdom (especially conservation) and how humans need to change immediately before we destroy something that has taken millions of years to create. Zoo’s and aquariums are the final frontier of educating and rescuing all species from extinction. Zoo’s and aquariums have come a long way in animal care health and welfare and these species are thriving in zoological care.”