James P. Bacon, general manager of the San Diego Zoo, was found dead in his apartment Friday. He was 46.
Bacon had been curator of reptiles at the zoo since 1975 and was appointed general manager in January after Terry A. Winnick resigned.
It appears that Bacon died of natural causes, although a coroner's investigation into the precise cause of death is continuing, a coroner's deputy said.
A noted authority on reptiles and amphibians, Bacon had frequently helped local, state and federal officials identify skins of endangered reptiles that had been made into clothing or leather goods and were being sold.
Bacon was found Friday afternoon lying on the floor of his apartment by zoo staff members who became concerned after he failed to show up for work, said Jeff Jouett, a spokesman for the zoo.
Jouett said that neighbors reported seeing Bacon jogging in Balboa Park earlier that morning.
Before his death, Bacon was responsible for formulating long-range plans and goals for the zoo, said Douglas Myers, the zoo's executive director. Most recently Bacon had assembled a team of zoologists within the park to oversee new exhibits and remodeling.
"Jim showed a tremendous amount of vision and leadership," Myers said. "He leaves the zoo with such a tremendous void, but at the same time leaves it with a team poised for the future."
"I lost a friend," he added.
The flag at the zoo was flown at half-mast Saturday in memory of Bacon.
Born in Pennsylvania, Bacon was a research associate to the San Diego Society of Natural History, a field associate to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and a professor of zoology at San Diego State University. He had a master's degree in fisheries and wildlife from Michigan State University and a doctorate in biology from the University of Chicago.
Bacon was recognized for his contributions to herpetology in 1985 when he received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Assn. of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.
He is survived by his wife, Betty Rae Paske; daughters Alison Elisabeth, 22, and Sarah Ellen, 18; his mother, Maureen Bacon of Barrington, Ill., and a brother, Gary of Woodbridge, Va.
Funeral arrangements are pending.