February 15, 2024

As Black girls fascinated by wildlife, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman, Hollis Stewart and Denise Verret, didn’t see many people who looked like them working in wildlife conservation.

But today, they’re inspiring the next generation of Black female conservationists with their prominent careers. Dr. Rae is co-host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild, Mogerman is the CEO of the Philadelphia Zoo, Stewart is a wildlife veterinarian and Verret is the CEO of Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

All have achieved major accomplishments — from hosting award-winning podcasts and groundbreaking wildlife series to being the first woman of color in their roles, as well as saving endangered species and co-founding companies.

In their careers, they’re encouraging more diverse and dynamic portrayals of women in STEM in hopes to motivate more girls and women to consider these careers and emerge as future trailblazers in wildlife conservation and protecting our natural resources.


Meet 4 Black trailblazers in wildlife conservation

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant smiling, standing in front of luscious palm trees.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant

Wildlife Ecologist and Co-Host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild

With a career in the wild spanning two decades, Dr. Rae carved a niche for herself as one of very few Black female wildlife ecologists. She is leading today’s carnivore conservation efforts, building roadmaps for endangered species and supporting environmental justice programs.

On Protecting the Wild, she’s made history as the first Black woman to co-host a network wildlife conservation series, while also fulfilling her childhood dream of hosting a television show.

In addition to Wild Kingdom, Dr. Rae is the award-winning podcast host of “Going Wild” and one of the first Black professors at The Bren School at University of California, Santa Barbara. Her memoir, “Wild Life,” will be released this April.


Did you watch Wild Kingdom growing up? 

Yes, watching Wild Kingdom growing up was my only way to spend time in nature as a city kid. It was my dream to be the host of wildlife TV show, and it’s a full circle moment for me to have that role now.

What did you think of the original series?

I thoroughly enjoyed the original series; it inspired me to pursue a career in wildlife ecology and dedicate my life to wildlife conservation.

What are some tips you have for the future generation of those passionate about wildlife conservation?

For young people, I always advise finding the fun in it early. I don’t think it’s important to get an internship or volunteer — those can be forms of work! And once you’re an adult you’ll have lots of work to do — no need to start early. But finding a fun way to engage with conservation is key. Whether it’s watching your favorite show, following a social media account, spending time in nature with friends or family, all of this positions young people to be leaders in conservation without burning out early.


Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman feeding a giraffe a lettuce leaf at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman

President and CEO of Philadelphia Zoo

Mogerman’s impressive background in wildlife conservation began in 1995 as an outreach programs manager for the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo. She now serves as President and CEO of Philadelphia Zoo, the first woman of color to serve in the zoo’s 164-year history.

This isn’t the first time she’s made history, however. Mogerman served as the first Black female zoo director at the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park, where she built a new safari experience and animal conservation breeding facility. Dedicated to the future generation of scientists, she also teaches an online course at DePaul University that engages students as citizen scientists.


Did you watch Wild Kingdom growing up? 

Yes, my family and I would watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom all the time!

What did you think of the original series?

I’ve always had a love for animals and growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was only really surrounded by urban wildlife. The original series allowed me to immerse myself with different types of wildlife which is something I was very interested in.

What are some tips you have for the future generation of those passionate about wildlife conservation?

I would encourage those passionate about wildlife conservation to network with others who have similar passions and to tap into their strengths.


Hollis Stewart next to a Florida panther who is also looking at the camera.

Hollis Stewart

International Wildlife Veterinarian

Stewart is one of the few Black female wildlife veterinarians specializing in endangered species. She’s lived on four continents helping endangered and threatened animals from cheetahs to Florida panthers. With more than 20 years in the wildlife space, Stewart has worked for notable organizations, including Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Sea Life Park Hawai’i, Wildlife Conservation Society, Dubai Falcon Hospital, Cheetah Conservation Fund and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

In 2023, Stewart co-founded and was named the chief veterinary officer for Quip u Labs, Inc., a database for pet owners to hire vets and trainers, track their pet’s wellness and engage in micro-communities.


Did you watch Wild Kingdom growing up? 

YES! I loved watching Wild Kingdom growing up.

What did you think of the original series?

It was so fascinating to me! It definitely influenced my life trajectory!

What are some tips you have for the future generation of those passionate about wildlife conservation?

My advice is to not give up hope. I understand that the future may look bleak, however we can still make changes. Understanding nature helps us want to save it. I encourage the future generation to get outside! Visit parks, plant native plants in your yard (if you have one) observe the wildlife around you. Learn the names of the plants and animals. Form a conservation group in your neighborhood or school. Encourage recycling and precycling. A little can go a long way. You may not see the impact you are making, but it all adds up.


Denise Verret standing in front of the giraffe exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Denise Verret

CEO and Zoo Director at Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Verret’s role at the LA Zoo has allowed her to save wildlife, enrich communities and create connections to nature. Through her career, she’s been dedicated to mentoring and giving back to people of color. For 20 years, Verret has been actively involved in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She was recently appointed to the association’s executive committee as chair elect.


Did you watch Wild Kingdom growing up? 

Watching Wild Kingdom as a child growing up was a family tradition as it followed our weekly Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ home.  My grandfather would share with me nuggets of animal facts and it became a big part of my childhood and memories that I cherish today.

What did you think of the original series?

I loved the original series because it connected me with animals through storytelling and dramatic scenes that kept me on the edge of my seat.

What are some tips you have for the future generation of those passionate about wildlife conservation?

Wildlife and wild places are in need now, more than ever, of everyone’s passion, concern and action. There are opportunities for everyone to get involved and make a difference, whether it’s through career choices, community habitat clean ups, supporting legislation that protects wildlife or visiting your local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium — there is something for everyone. We need participation from the broad and diverse communities that are the fabric of this country. Everyone can take part in protecting wildlife and the ecosystems so that people and wildlife can thrive together for generations to come.


Why does representation matter in conservation? Because conservation needs more diverse voices and perspectives to ensure a sustainable future for humans and wildlife, Mogerman says. Learn more about Mogerman’s career journey and thoughts on wildlife conservation and representation.

Plus, discover more inspiring women of Wild Kingdom.

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