Mark B. McHugh President & CEO, Gatorland
He stands beside the murky water. Suddenly, a crocodile explodes from the deep and chases him on the shore, hoping to make him lunch. Not your typical staff meeting, but this isn’t your typical corporate executive either. Mark McHugh, President and Chief Executive Officer, knows that most of the residents at Gatorland would just as soon eat him as look at him.
At the age of 36, McHugh took over the reins at Gatorland and has since introduced over 35 new attractions and exhibits at Orlando’s only attraction with bite and attitude. They range from one of the world’s largest collection of giant white alligators to free-flying lorikeets, new shows, animal encounters, and the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. Each is a typical Mark McHugh project: exciting, entertaining, and unprecedented!
McHugh’s goal is to provide an up-close, personalized experience. “Gatorland is a close family of employees, and our guests recognize and appreciate that old, Florida-style hospitality. We’re one of the few theme parks where visitors can watch an exciting show, then take a leisurely stroll on our boardwalk where thousands of wild wading birds are raising their babies,” he says. “We want our guests to experience Florida’s natural beauty, just an arm’s reach away.”
Before joining Gatorland, McHugh served as animal trainer, curator, researcher and spokesperson for Sea World. During his twelve years there, he worked with 13 different species of marine mammals, including dolphins, sea lions, and killer whales. McHugh also performed in numerous popular shows for the attraction. He appeared in Sea World films and served as spokesperson for Shamu TV, an educational program for children airing on hundreds of network affiliated stations nationwide.
He also wrote several scientific papers on the behavior and learning of marine mammals. Following his research interests, McHugh helped develop a unique auditory cueing system to communicate with killer whales. “Dolphins respond to a variety of rewards, but the only way to train crocodiles is with raw meat. They’re not big on hugging,” he says of his transition from marine mammals to reptiles.
McHugh holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Central Florida. In addition, he has a Master’s degree in Marine Science from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology from Texas State University. While at the University of Texas, he conducted one of the state’s first formal, academic research projects on marine mammals. His Master’s thesis on the population dynamics of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins serves as the foundation for current research on marine mammals in Texas.
Today, McHugh volunteers on numerous industry and charity boards throughout the central Florida region, and is dedicated to helping our community leaders explore solutions to the region’s growth needs and economic diversity.
At Gatorland, McHugh continues the unparalleled growth of this family owned business, known internationally as the “Alligator Capital of the World.” At 67 years of age, this family-owned business continues to exhibit its Bite & Attitude… so when you visit Gatorland, Expect the Unexpected!