Updated on February 05, 2024

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, president and CEO of Philadelphia Zoo. “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.

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

Why new perspectives are important to conservation

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 she offered a different perspective when it came 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, Mogerman may have only been surrounded by urban wildlife but always had a love for animals.

“My family and I would watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom together. I had 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. Her career brought her to zoos and aquariums in the Chicago area before becoming director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park.

Today, as president and CEO of Philadelphia Zoo, 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.

Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman smiling in front of the zebra exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo.

All voices needed in wildlife conservation careers

Mogerman encourages those pursuing a career in wildlife 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 suggests, “Do not dismiss them. Do not discourage them.”

She encourages youth to look at organizations like Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, Association of Minority Zoo and Aquarium Professionals, Minorities in Aquarium and Zoo Science, 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, including Co-Host Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant. Dr. Rae is not only a skilled and knowledgeable wildlife ecologist, but also an outspoken champion for Black women and youth interested in STEM.

Read what Dr. Rae says conservation looks like — hint, it’s a place for anyone and everyone.

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