SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – In 2023, the Dickerson Park Zoo will be turning 100, and Zoo Director Mike Crocker has been there for nearly half that time.
He started at the zoo in 1976 and has lived through many funny situations and stories during his tenure.
Crocker decided it was time to write them all down.
“I get asked to tell zoo stories all the time because I’ve got lots of them for 45 years,” explains Crocker.
One memory that quickly comes to mind is the time in 1983 when a tiger escaped.
“I was eating lunch when I got the call the tiger was loose,” remembers Crocker, “I drove up just inside the zoo entrance, and I drove up, and the tiger walked right past my window.”
All ended well with no injuries to humans or animals. It does make for a great story.
But one story that people like to hear the most is the story of the time he drove back from Salt Lake City in 1976 with a car full of wild animals.
Crocker laughs while remembering the story, “I drove a Chevy Suburban back from SLC by myself with a 7 foot long American Crocodile lose in the back of the vehicle. Its mouth was taped shut, but it could go anywhere in the vehicle. I had rattlesnakes and other nonvenomous snakes.”
During the 20 hour commute, Crocker needed sleep. He stopped at a hotel but kept the animals under wraps.
“I had the crocodile, which was all I really could handle by myself. He was about 70 pounds thrashing around as I was trying to carry him in the middle of the night. Every time I heard another noise, I would think the croc was loose in the room because, for some reason, the bathroom didn’t have a door on it. I had to pile all the furniture in the room to keep the croc in the bathroom. I finally gave up. I couldn’t sleep. I woke up at 4:30 and drove the rest of the way back,” explains Crocker.
The more stories Mike wrote down, the more he realized he had pages full of memories he needed to share as a book.
“The book’s got them. It’s got funny stories, sad stories, tragic stories, the whole range.”
Local company Pages and Pie Publishing will be working with Crocker on his upcoming book.