New zoo CEO focuses on the positive

New zoo CEO focuses on the positive

“We were up at the grizzly bear exhibit and the bears jumped up at us and the parents were all nervous, but all of us kids thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Cope said. “And from there on, I’ve always had a love for zoos and aquariums. So I jumped at the opportunity to work for one.”

Cope has been with the zoo since January 2018, most recently in the role of director of marketing and development. She has worked as a marketing manager for small and large organizations, including Spirit Mountain and Harbor Appraisals. Cope’s background is focused on marketing, development and fundraising.

“I bring a lot of social media experience to the table,” Cope said. “We’ve been able to do a lot of engagement and social media advertising over the past few years since I’ve joined the team.”

When she started, Cope noted the zoo already had an active presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. But through her efforts, the zoo’s Instagram following doubled over the next year. Some of the growth came from a rebranding campaign in coordination with local marketing agency Swim Creative.

“We’ve been able to share our stories and the animals’ stories with our growing audience and that has increased our attendance, helped with awareness of our conservation efforts and even garnered some donations,” Cope said.

“I am very excited to have Haley as our CEO of the Lake Superior Zoo in helping us navigate through the pandemic and into a sustainable partner in conservation for our community,” said Jonathan Ballmer, president of the Lake Superior Zoological Society’s board of directors.

Cope was also able to promote a fundraising effort this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and closed to the zoo during key tourism months. Cope worked with GiveMN during the #GiveAtHome statewide campaign to raise $17,000 for the zoo in eight days.

“We focused on how much it costs to feed our animals, which sits at $80,000 annually and that’s without any other costs connected with the zoo,” Cope said. “And people really connected with that message. People liked being able to say ‘I gave a donation to the zoo and I was able to feed the bears or cougars or a favorite parrot that I like to visit.'”

Haley Cope, the new Lake Superior Zoo CEO, stands in the butterfly garden for a portrait Thursday, August 13. Cope previously worked as the director of marketing and development for the zoo. (Tyler Schank /

Haley Cope, the new Lake Superior Zoo CEO, stands in the butterfly garden for a portrait Thursday, August 13. Cope previously worked as the director of marketing and development for the zoo. (Tyler Schank /

The zoo was able to reopen shortly after the stay-at-home order was lifted, albeit with limited hours and days each week. Despite the limitations, Cope said she’s seen some positive attendance numbers since reopening.

“Of course, we have realized some financial loss, but we’re working hard to make sure we can end the year as strong as possible,” Cope said. “And we’ve seen such positive responses from our visitors, and that’s inspiring.”

As for the future, Cope said she’d like to see the zoo be a stronger partner with the community and host more events, once larger events are allowed to happen again. The zoo also has a bonding request in this year to fund a new main building, though Cope said she’s not sure how that request will play out in the Legislature yet.

“It’s more down-the-road thinking, when we look past the pandemic at the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cope said. “We’d like to have a building with more educational spaces, update exhibits and habitats, larger indoor space in general and indoor play space as well.”

When she’s not working at the zoo, Cope spends time with her husband and 9-year-old son in Proctor, about five minutes away from the zoo. Together as a family, they like to explore Duluth’s natural spaces and have been slowly hiking sections of the Superior Hiking Trail. She describes herself as a lifelong learner who always has a book in her hand and is about to wrap up a master’s degree in communication.

Cope will soon use those communication skills with a new fundraising campaign to be released in a couple of weeks.

“We’re asking the community for support right now. Whether that’s through sharing our Facebook posts, making a donation or coming to visit us,” Cope said. “We’re hoping we can count on our community to be behind us and help us stand strong through this time.”

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