Marc Heinzman remembers the fun he had visiting Niabi Zoo as a child on school field trips.

“I’ve always been a monkey person,” Heinzman, 27, said Friday after he was named the new director of the zoo in Coal Valley. He has been interim director for the past six months.

“I remember the old monkey stands,” he said. “I think that more than anything got me to working in the zoo field. I had wanted to be a veterinarian, but I learned I’d rather work in the zoo with animals rather than when animals are only sick or hurt.”

Dave Johnston, vice president of the Niabi Zoological Society, announced Heinzman was the choice for the post, saying he beat out 37 other candidates for the position.

“I think the biggest thing is he’s a team player,” Johnston said of Heinzman. “Communication between the zoo, the Rock Island County Forest Preserve Commission, which governs the zoo, and the Zoological Society is critical.

“He communicates well with everyone, and he has a good team here. I think he’s going to do really well. The proof is in the pudding. He’s done very well the past six months in guiding changes to the zoo. We’re excited.”

Rock Island County Board chairman Jim Bohnsack said the selection process worked well.

“There was a consensus when it came to making the selection, and when they went around the table, it was ‘Marc, Marc, Marc,’” Bohnsack said.

Heinzman was born in Waterloo. When he was 5, his parents moved to Milan. He graduated from Rock Island High School in 2003 and from St. Ambrose University in 2007 with a degree in biology.

“I’m a product of the Quad-Cities,” Heinzman said. “I grew up here. I just love Niabi Zoo, and I know what it means to the Quad-Cities.”

He has served as interim director since Mark Ryan, who was director of the zoo for 15 months, left in January under a severance agreement with the Rock Island County Forest Preserve.

New projects in the works include enhancing the big cat exhibits, he said. This fall, zoo leaders will start work on redesigning the lion exhibit, and there is the on-going campaign to raise money for the elephant exhibit.

Heinzman said he hopes that as the zoo grows, more Quad-City residents will take the time to enjoy all the facility has to offer.

“If we can draw more visitors from outside the community who come here for the zoo but learn about all the good things the area has to offer, that’s all the better,” he added.

“I owe a lot to the Quad-Cities, and I hope I can give back a bit for all the area has done for me,” Heinzman said.