How do we conserve wildlife and wild spaces? By focusing on people and their different perspectives and insights.
That’s the philosophy of Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman, director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park. “While all the missions of the organizations I have worked for have animals and wildlife at their core, they recognize that people are the key to ensure safe places.”
“People are critical to finding solutions,” Mogerman said. “Often the people who live the closest to the issue have really valuable perspectives which lead to sustainable solutions.”
Many problems for animals, their habitats and ecosystems lead back to people. So, if we work together, we can create a better world for both humans and animals.
Different perspectives in conservation can affect solution
Zoos and aquariums come into play with conservation by acting as “storefronts,” giving guests a firsthand glimpse into wildlife which can lead to solutions.
“You never know the knowledge or talent or insight a guest might have, which leads them to see things differently and can lead to cool solutions or compounding action for wildlife,” Mogerman said.
In college, Mogerman discovered her perspective was different to issues related to habitat loss and animal population decline, leading to a successful career in conservation biology.
“As an African American woman and a conservation biologist, I see things differently, ask different questions and can share different perspectives,” Mogerman said. “These skills and perspectives as well as with mentors and sponsors along the way led to roles with more progressive responsibility and organizational influence.”
Building a career in conservation
Growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman may have only been surrounded by urban wildlife but always had a love of animals.
“My family and I would watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom together. I had a dogs and fish growing up. I’d go to the zoo on field trips,” Mogerman said.
She earned her undergraduate degree in biology at Macalester College, her master’s from the University of Minnesota and her PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Now the director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park, Mogerman is passionate about wildlife and how conservation, community and guest engagement intersect.
“Especially nowadays, kids need to feel there is something larger and more magical than the world they live in. They and we all need the respite that nature provides,” Mogerman said.
Representation in wildlife care and conservation
For those wanting a career in wildlife, Mogerman encourages them to network and look to their strengths.
“Triangulate on what you are good at, what you enjoy and what someone will pay you to do,” Mogerman said.
As a leader in wildlife conservation, Mogerman is working to mentor, guide and coach others to navigate these spaces to create a wider road for others who have been discounted or excluded.
Mogerman served as the chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) diversity committee. In her tenure, the committee brought to light discrepancies between committee bylaws and practice, leading to a more diverse AZA board. Today, she continues her work as an advisor to the committee.
“Being outside of the majority culture, you see things differently,” Mogerman said. “You see how systems are set up to favor a few groups and exclude others.”
For Black youth interested in wildlife, Mogerman says “do not dismiss them, do not discourage them.”
She encourages youth to look at organizations like Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), Association of Minority Zoo and Aquarium Professionals (AMZAP), Minorities in Aquarium and Zoo Science (MIAZS), Outdoor Afro and others.
“We need all voices and perspectives. That is how you innovate sustainably to ensure wildlife and humans will thrive,” Mogerman said.
Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom is committed to highlighting the stories and expertise of many people. We were excited to include Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant in the first episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild and plan to continue our mission to use our platform to highlight representation. Dr. Wynn-Grant is not only a skilled and knowledgeable wildlife ecologist, she’s also an outspoken champion for Black women and youth interested in STEM. Learn more about Dr. Wynn-Grant in this short meet and greet video.