A fond farewell to the father of Riverbanks Zoo

Riverbanks Zoo president and CEO Satch Krantz
Riverbanks Zoo president and CEO Satch Krantz kkfoster@thestate.com

SATCH KRANTZ HAS become so intertwined with Riverbanks Zoo and Garden that it’s hard to imagine he won’t be leading the Midlands’ premier tourist attraction after June.

Mr. Krantz announced earlier this month that he would retire on June 30 after guiding the zoo for more than 40 years. Through his leadership, Riverbanks has become an economic force in the Midlands and a living classroom for thousands of schoolchildren statewide.


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Local and state leaders correctly praise Mr. Krantz for much of the zoo’s success. Former Columbia mayor Bob Coble says he “made the zoo.” Mary Howard, chair of the Riverbanks Park Commission, called Mr. Krantz a visionary and a leader who will “leave behind a legacy that is second to none.”

A Columbia native and a Clemson University graduate, Mr. Krantz was hired in 1973 to help create Columbia’s zoo. In 1976, the zoo’s first director, John Mehrtens, was forced out after refusing to reign in spending. The commission then turned to Mr. Krantz, who was only 26.

Despite taking over during a tumultuous time, Mr. Krantz began building what would become one of the Southeast’s top tourist attractions. Today, with more than 2,000 animals from 350 species, along with 4,300 plants, Riverbanks is the top ticketed tourist attraction in South Carolina.

During the fiscal year that ended in June, more than 1.2 million people visited the zoo. That was another record for Riverbanks, which also welcomed its 30-millionth visitor in June.

A major reason for the zoo’s success has been its constant evolution. Mr. Krantz has overseen three major renovations, including the latest one, completed in 2016, which involved the opening of an expanded gift shop, Grizzly Ridge, Otter Run, Waterfall Junction and Sea Lion Landing.

That project will surely extend Riverbanks’ economic impact on the Midlands and South Carolina. Mr. Krantz said in 2015 that the zoo generates more than $60 million in sales annually and is responsible for more than 700 local jobs.

Mr. Krantz also is known nationally for his work at Riverbanks. In 2013, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums honored him with its highest honor, the R. Marlin Perkins Award for Professional Excellence. Mr. Krantz is one of only 22 people who have received the award, which was created in 1978.

The honor confirmed what many in the Midlands already knew. Satch Krantz led the way in building a first-class zoo that has taught and inspired millions of people during the last 40 years. A point of pride for most Columbians, the zoo is also a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon bonding with nature.

Thanks to Mr. Krantz for all of his good work during the past four decades. He certainly has earned his retirement. We’re confident he will leave behind a facility well positioned for continued growth and success.

But in July, we suspect the animals will sense that something is amiss. Many humans will too.