Robert Bean was born into a zoo family. His grandfather was Edward Bean who was director of the Brookfield Zoo and his father Robert Bean Sr. followed his grandfather as director of the same zoo. His father’s sister Mary Bean married George Speidel who became director of the Milwaukee Zoo. Bob Jr.’s zoo career started as an animal keeper at Brookfield Zoo. Positions at Birmingham Zoo, curator and Bush Gardens, assistant director honed his skill in the profession. Ultimately he took the job as director at Bush Gardens owned by the Anheuser-Busch company.
Louisville zoo was his next director position. His greatest brush with conservation came in 1974 when while driving through the swamps of southern Louisiana a large woodpecker flew in front of his car. When he described it to ornithologists at the University of Louisville, the preliminary identification was the rare Ivory-billed Woodpecker