October 5th 2014 | Director

Charles H. Hoessle

Charlie’s first experience with exotic animals was not at a zoo but in the pet shop industry. His passion was with the reptiles and in 1963 joined the Saint Louis Zoo as a reptile keeper.

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I’m Charlie Hoessle. Born in south St. Louis on March 20th, 1931.

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What kinda childhood did you have growing up?

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Well my parents were German immigrants and I was the firstborn. Actually, my sister first and then I was second. And my parents loved the Ozarks and they went off in the Ozarks. And they loved the beautiful rocks they would bring back for a rock garden and to put perimeter between the lawn and the flower garden. My mother always had a rose garden. And my mother told me that growing up crawling around the backyard, one of my second words. The first one was, “Mama.” The second one was, “Mama, bug. Mama, bug.” Because I would lift the rocks and there would be bugs underneath. So I was always fascinated with things that were alive.

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I went to public grade school, Mount Pleasant School in south St. Louis and it was real close to the Bluffs. The Mississippi River, south St. Louis. And I would go along the empty lots and the high weeds and look for critters and I found frogs and toads and snakes. In the early days, I would go to the library then. We had a bookmobile came to our school every day. And I’d get the books outtta the library and I’d learn all about the frogs and the toads and the snakes that I seen. And I take the books out so much the librarian would say, “Charles, you can’t take that book out anymore. You have to give other students a chance to take the book out.” And my mother told me, “Charlie, if you would spend as much time with your schoolbooks as you do with your animal books, you might amount to something.” But I did learn a great deal.

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I would bring a lotta snakes back and bring ’em on my front porch and have all the kids in the neighborhood, I’d give ’em demonstrations. Because most of the kids hated snakes, were afraid of ’em and I was always tryin’ to improve the snakes’ reputation, so I’d be tellin’ ’em all about the snakes and trying to get them to touch it. It was just sort of a hobby growing up as a child on. And then in high school at 13 years old, I graduated from grade school and I took freshmen biology and I caught a snake down at the lots near the river Bluffs. I wasn’t sure what kind it was. So I took the snake to school, took it to my biology class and I went up to the teacher Mr. White. I have a snake. I’m not sure what kind it is.

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I thought he’d help me identify it. He was deathly afraid of snakes. Kicked me outta class. Told me to go out, get rid of the snake. I had it in the sack of coffee can. I didn’t know what to do with it. But there was this young lady in my advisory that I had kind of a sweet interest in. She had no interest in me, but she did smile at me once in awhile and I knew where her locker was.

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That was Marilyn, my wife. I put the snake in her locker and I knew her locker was never locked and some of her girlfriends shared her locker. And so I waited around and sure enough when she came with her girlfriends to go to the locker, she opened up the can, saw the snakes. And ‘course all the girls are screamin’. A school monitor came, a teacher and found out what the commotion was. She grabbed me. It was a big teacher. She grabbed me by the collar, took me to the principal’s office and the principal said, “Mister, you’re in trouble. You’re in big trouble.” And so he proceeded to suspend me from school.

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And another teacher came by, saw me in the principal’s office. He also knew that I was a nature boy. And he came in and said, “Charlie, what in the world are you doing in the principal’s office?” And the principal said, “He’s about to be kicked outta school. We’re gonna suspend him.” And he said, “Well wait a minute. I know that he’s interested in nature. Put him in my responsibility. I’ll have him report to me in the morning. I’ll have him report to me at night and we’ll keep him outta trouble.

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Please put him on probation. Don’t kick him out. He’s a good student.” So there was a teacher, believed in me, had faith in me. And as we walked down the hall, he said, “Charlie, keep your nose clean. You don’t have to report me. Just stay outta trouble and keep up with your studies.” So that’s how I got to really meet my wife. She knew what she was getting into. We dated off and on all through high school.

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She was also my graduation partner from high school. We both ended up going to Harris Teachers College which was a teachers college in St. Louis. The only state school that we could afford to and we went two years there and got our two-year degree. And so I’m the product of the public school system because grade school, high school and even college was at that time public school. So that brings me up to that date. Lemme back up a bit.

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What did your parents do for a living?

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My father was a master tailor and he was managing a tailor shop in downtown and my mother was strictly a homemaker. And my dad died when I was about 13 years old and then my mother went to work at a clothing store as a seamstress. She was a trained seamstress.

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Well now when you said you were bringing snakes home, they let you kept the snakes at home?

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My dad never allowed me to keep any snakes at home. But after he died, I did sneak ’em in and I hid ’em in the basement, kept ’em in the basement. My mother sooner or later became aware of it. In fact, one got loose one time and she took a dust pan and a shovel, picked it up and put it in a bushel basket and put a lid on it and put a couple bricks on top so it couldn’t get out. When I got home she said, “You take these back to the river and turn ’em loose.” Well now you mentioned that your first word after mom was bug. “Bug.” So you obviously were interested in the insects. Anything that moved.

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How did you become?

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What sparked your interest specifically in snakes or reptiles?

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Well I think I got specifically interested in snakes because everybody was so afraid of ’em and I became so familiar with the superstitions and that most of the facts that people thought were facts were based on misinformation. So I started out tryin’ to improve the reputation of snakes. And instead, I improved my own.

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Now what were your earliest recollections of zoos?

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Well my parents, we would go to Forest Park in winter and go sleigh riding and then we’d get cold. We’d go in the buildings to warm up. The zoo was nearby. We’d go into the reptile house or the monkey house or the bird house. It was heated. Sometimes we went to the art museum but my favorite was the reptile house and I was just fascinated with the snakes. But also while I was growing up on the Bluffs, I would sometimes catch frogs and toads and snakes and take ’em to the zoo or take ’em on the bus which was about a 45 minute bus ride. Take ’em to the zoo and bring ’em to the reptile house.

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Moody Lentz was the general curator then. And Moody would like to have particularly the toads because they needed them to feed the hog-nosed snakes and he would gimme a little behind-the-scenes tour. 15-minute, 20-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the reptile house, so I got to know Moody even as a kid.

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How old were you this time?

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I was probably around 10. 10, 11 years old, still in grade school. That’s your first recollection, you liked the snakes.

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Were there other animals you were drawn to?

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Well my dad tried to get me interested in natural history and he bought Hardy’s Encyclopedia of Animal History. So I was reading about gorillas and mammals and birds and little bit of everything else, so I had some bird books. He was tryin’ to spread my interest away from the reptiles. So I got sort of a general interest in animals of every kind as well. It’s just that the snakes were something that I could collect and keep and feed and watch and learn about their behavior. It was an easy animal to keep in captivity. You mentioned your father died young.

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What did he impart to you?

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What lessons that have stood you good stead?

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Well he was a very, very proud person. He walked with dignity. He was very strict. I had a very strict. As a father, I had to follow all the rules. I guess he was very disciplined. And I think I learned a certain amount of self-discipline from him to be virtuous and always do the right thing, be honorable. I think I got that both from my mother and my father.

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You talked about your beginning schooling in the St. Louis area.

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Did you go on to college?

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I went to Harris Teachers College and I took every biology class. There’s only limited courses available to freshmen and sophomores, but I managed to get study halls in advanced biology courses. So I sat in vertebrate biology. It was study hall and I wasn’t supposed to participate in. But most of the students or teachers that were in the teacher’s college were women and they didn’t like dissecting cats and studying the anatomy of these vertebrate animals. So I had a chance to get up there and do the dissecting. They had big trays of wax that you took the parts, all the organs apart and the skeleton apart and then lay ’em out on this wax tray. I almost got credit for the course because the teacher kept saying, “Charlie, you’re not in this course.

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Get back in the back of the room where you’re supposed to be studying.” But I had a chance to learn a lot. So in the beginning, Marilyn was in the same school you were at. Marilyn’s at the same school, but she didn’t take as many biology courses that I did. She was more into social studies. But yet your unique approach to meeting her didn’t turn her off.

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So how would you say she impacted you in your career path?

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She tolerated you?

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She barely tolerated me. In fact, she always thought I would outgrow it. She thought I would grow up and calm down, settle down a little bit and be like other normal people, I think. I was always interested in going steady with her, but she never wanted to go steady. She you know, didn’t wanna make any commitments. It wasn’t ’til we graduated from Harris Teachers College I got my draft notice that was her idea that we get married. In 1960. It was 1952.

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That you were married. That we got married. I got drafted. I got my draft notice. We were married just about three weeks when I got shipped off to Fort Bliss, Texas.

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What did you serve?

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You were serving for how long?

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I was in the army. I was drafted in the army at Fort Bliss, Texas. I was served two years. And I had eight weeks infantry training and then eight weeks artillery training, basic training. And then I was assigned to radar and electronics school which is a nine-month school. And when I knew I was gonna be there for some time, then I sent for Marilyn. She came down and stayed with us and we end up living down there together for 17 months of the two years. I never did get shipped out of Fort Bliss.

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I was training after I finished school, training academy. But I spent almost every other week out in the desert on bivouac where we would be firing our antiaircraft guns. And then the officers would go home for the weekend and we’d have to stay out there and I’d go out snake huntin’, go up in the valleys and in the canyons looking for rattlesnakes and bullsnakes and horned lizards. And then when I get back in town, I’d go to the library and study all about the local reptiles and amphibians. In fact, it was a course on desert ecology because I learned all about what makes a desert and what kinda plants live in the desert. And so it was just furthering my education. I also caught my first rattlesnake. Marilyn even helped me out.

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We were out drivin’ up into a canyon and there was a black-tail rattlesnake crossin’ the road and I knew that was quite rare and I caught it. I had several rattlesnakes: green rattlesnakes, prairie rattlesnake, diamondback rattlesnake. All indigenous to that area and I brought ’em back. At that time, we were living in a trailer and I had the snakes. We had a paint shed, an outdoor shed for storing paint and kerosene and fuel and I had the snakes in that shed. The forecast was for a northern storm coming in. Temperatures dropping, so I was concerned about the snakes getting too cold. So I brought ’em in, I snuck ’em in when Marilyn wasn’t there and I put ’em under the bed.

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And about 3:00 in the morning, the storm came in, the wind blew. The trailer started rocking. Rattlesnakes started rattling. Marilyn sat up said, “You got those damn snakes under the bed. Get rid of ’em.” So I had to take ’em out, took ’em to the shower house which was heated. And then the next day, I went to my sergeant and I said, “Sarge, I need a pass.

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I have to have a pass.” He said, “What do you need a pass for?

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You can’t get a pass in the middle of the week.” I said, “Well I’ve got a rattlesnake. I have to get rid of it. He said, “AW, bull.” He says, “You just wanna go to Juarez.” Fort Bliss is right on the Mexican border. And Juarez where the boys went for entertainment. He says, “You just wanna go to Juarez. I said, “No, really. I got a rattlesnake. I gotta take it down the reptile gardens.” El Paso Zoo. He says, “Show me.

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You go home and get it.” So I went home, got the snake, brought it back, had it in the trunk of my car in a cage. He came out and looked at it. He says, “I couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe it.” He went back in, he got the battery commander and he come out and looked at it. They just couldn’t get over it. It was a rattlesnake. So I gotten my pass, but they also had me stop at the headquarters. There was a lieutenant colonel they had called, happened to be from St. Joseph, Missouri.

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He wanted to see a rattlesnake too. So it turns out that they wanted me to start training. GIs are being shipped, particularly officers being shipped over to Korea on snakebite prevention identification of venomous snakes. But I did go to the El Paso Zoo. Jerry Tordt was the operator of the reptile gardens at that time. It was a private endeavor within a public zoo. He had the reptile gardens. He had a snake pit, rattlesnake pit with a lotta rattlesnakes.

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But he didn’t have any black. He didn’t have any green. He was really glad to get ’em. So he took the snakes, but he gave me a five-foot boa constrictor and a couple other snakes in exchange. So I came home, I didn’t have the rattlesnakes, but I had a pet boa constrictor. And I also began giving lectures on treatment of snakebite, snakebite prevention.

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How do I identify harmless from venomous snakes?

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And I gave several lectures at the zoo at Fort Bliss at the army post. So that was further my lecture circuit. Made my military career a lot more fun, a lot more interesting than just going out on bivouac all the time with the guns. Now this was the first snake, first rattlesnake you ever caught was this- First rattlesnake I ever caught was the black-tail rattlesnake.

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So tell me, what were you feeling?

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You’ve never handled poisonous snakes before. Well I had caught copperheads before. I had caught smaller venomous snakes, copperheads. But in fact, we were in a car when the rattlesnake crossed the road and I jumped out and I pinned it down with a snake hook and then called for Marilyn. And she grabbed the snake sack and brought it out. And she held the sack open while I put the snake in there. So she actually helped me catch my first venomous snake for my first copperhead rattlesnake. True love, yeah.

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She’s put up with a lot over 63 years, almost 63 years. After you get out of the army, you’re married.

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What do you do next?

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Well when we got outta the army, we came home in a car. We had a ’50 Ford. I had my wife, a three month old baby, a five-foot boa constrictor, a collared lizard, a cockatiel, a parakeet, a pet ground squirrel, a pet jackrabbit, a box of kangaroo rats. And so we were surrounded with pets from the very beginning. We came home. I had got a job in a pet shop and I worked in the pet shop for about a year and I had a chance to open up my own pet shop. And so I was branched out and opened up a pet shop which was mostly tropical fish. It was an aquarium.

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It was called Modern Aquarium & Bird Shop and I featured ’bout 200 varieties of tropical fish, canaries, parakeets. Ultimately I added parakeets, parrots and even a few monkeys once in a while. But I had a collection of snakes in the backroom. And I had so many people going in the backroom to see the snakes, I decided to put ’em out on display. And then people started buying snakes. And so I ran an ad in the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Snakes: buy, sell and trade.” And that brought people in from hundreds of miles to see my pet shop and of course to buy snakes. So my snakes start really bringin’ attention to my pet shop and givin’ me a certain amount of notoriety.

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But I also was a little bit of a ham and I told you I used to give talks on my front porch. Well I also gave talks to boy scout troops, girl scout troops, PTA meetings. And I had school groups come to my pet shop and I’d give ’em a tour. I had a pet alligator they got the touch and they touched a snake. And I was invited to give a talk at the Women’s Auxiliary of the Museum of Natural History in the St Louis area. And there was 100 women in the audience. It was sponsored by the Academy of Science. And I gave a talk and I had to be kinda humorous because women were not too keen on snakes, so I had to give a good humorous aspect.

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So I told ’em that snakes really are very superstitious. They’re afraid of people. They hate people. Every time they see people, they throw rocks at ’em. They hit ’em with sticks. Snakes really go crawling down in their hole in great fear and then they go to sleep and they have nightmares. They dream about people. In fact, they think people are slimy. Of course they all laughed.

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They thought it was pretty funny. So I gave a talk about they can’t see very well. They see movement. They don’t see much more. They don’t hear very good. They don’t have any ears and they use their tongue for sense of smell, so it’s constantly going out. When they stick their tongue out at you, they don’t mean anything personal. That’s how they taste and that’s how they find their food.

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At the end of my lecture I said, “Now if you’d like to touch a snake, you don’t have to. I have a very tame boa constrictor. He’s been touched by thousands of students and you’ll have a chance to touch this.” And so I stood by the door and every single one of those 100 women touched the snake. And most of them, it was the first time they ever touched a snake. And some of ’em actually wanted to hold it. Some of ’em wanted to have their picture taken with it. But there was one woman that left early that didn’t touch the snake. And I thought oh, I must have offended her.

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And so the woman that invited me I told her, I said, “I hope that one gray-haired lady. She took notes all through my whole talk, but then she left early.” I said, “I hope I didn’t offend her.” She says, “You know who that was?” I said, “No.” She said, “That’s Mrs. Marlin Perkins.” I said, “Oh really?” So a couple days later, I got a call from Marlin Perkins. He said, “Mr. Hoessle, my wife tells me you gave an interesting talk to the ladies at the science museum. And she said she thought that I should be working for you at the zoo.” And he says, “Wonder if you’d like to come out and visit with me.” I told him, “I’d love to. I’d love to.” And I said, “By the way, I’m a friend of Moody Lentz. I’ve known Moody for a long time.” He says, “Well I know. I mentioned it to Moody.” He said, “We have an opening at the zoo.” Well at that time, I had three kids. The discount stores were all gettin’ the pet departments and department stores putting in pets. Some of ’em were selling birdcages cheaper than I could buy ’em.

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And I was tryin’ to figure out how I’m gonna send three kids to college and how I’m gonna educate ’em and pay their medical bills. So I went out to the zoo, talked to Marlin Perkins. There was an opening as a beginning reptile keeper in the snake house. I’d be workin’ for Moody Lentz who was my hero. I would get a nice salary to start with, two weeks vacation. I think 10 paid holidays and a pension and all my medical and hospitalization all paid for. That was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, plus I’d be doin’ somethin’ I really love to do. I sold my pet shop and started workin’ at the zoo, workin’ for Moody Lentz.

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Let’s back up. We’ll get to that. Lemme back up and ask you about your animal business, the exotic animal business. You started with fishes. You said- Tropical fish at 200.

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or you just knew they would sell?

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I raised fish as a kid. That was another hobby I had. I raised guppy. I started with guppies, but I also bred Siamese fighting fish. I bred some barbs, raised angelfish. I had some egg-laying fish that I had success in breeding. Now I probably had about eight or 10 aquariums in my room at one time. That’s one thing my mother did. At that time, tropical fish was the second-most popular hobby and my mother and dad both did indulge in me in that way and let me have quite a nice collection of tropical fish.

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So it was an easy move in to the aquarium business. So you liked the fish, but you really liked the reptiles. Reptiles. I liked them all. I liked them all. The snakes became my feature. You mentioned that you had other exotics in the pet shop and you even mentioned you had some monkeys.

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How easy were animals to acquire when you started?

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Well when I was out in the pet business, there was a tremendous amount of exotic animals available from dealers that were supplying zoos and pet shops. Because at that time, the concept was the forests, the jungles had to be tamed. There was a demand for sugar, sugar cane. There was a demand for bananas. So forests were being cleared to plant plantations of sugar, bananas. And the indigenous people that were around either helping to clear the land or are being displaced by the clearing of the land discovered that they could collect animals and sell ’em to animal dealers. There were animal dealers goin’ up and down the Amazon River buying animals from the indigenous people to ship off for the pet trade. You could buy baby caiman freshly outta the jungle.

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They weren’t captive bred in those days, but they were like $12 a dozen. Baby iguanas, $12 a dozen. Even cotton-top marmosets were $120. $10 a piece for cotton-top marmosets which today are practically endangered. Squirrel monkeys, $25 wholesale. Because they were a byproduct of clearing of the forest. Now you were dealing with these animal dealers to acquire your animals. Yes.

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Your exotics. Well Trudie Jerkins who I met in 1961 when she came to St. Louis for a zoo conference, I met her there and I did import animals from her. Actually, she did the importing but shipped ’em from Florida. She had someone she worked with, Ralph Curtis, at that time worked in conjunction with her. We’d pick the animals up at the Miami airport and then ship ’em back to zoos or the pet shops that were dealing with exotic animals at the time. That was after my tropical fish business was pretty established and I began getting kinda adventurous by going into the more exotic animals. I didn’t sell a lotta monkeys because it didn’t take me long to find out that you have to really find the right customer that deserved having and given the right care. And I ultimately came to the conclusion that they weren’t really suitable as pets.

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I mean I wouldn’t in any way advocate that today. But you had to go through that experience to learn that.

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Was the pet business a good business to give you a good income?

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It was a fair income. But there were like 60 mom and pop pet shops in St. Louis area at the time. I bet there were hundreds of ’em in Chicago back in the ’50s. This was in 1954 in the ’50s and ’60s, but they were slowly replaced by discount stores, department stores and the big chains. It was a living. It wasn’t a lucrative living, but it was living. But it became less and less so as the big chain stores entered in into that and started merchandising in great quantity. That’s kind of a little off the subject that you were in the business.

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Lotta pet shops today do sell exotic animals, more in the reptiles.

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What’s your feeling about that today?

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Does it have a place today?

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Well the big pet chains do have a big collection of reptiles for sale, particularly snakes. They’re very popular in pet shops now. Most of these are captive bred. Captive breeding reptiles is commercial. In fact, many of these snakes are now called designer snakes. They’ve crossed six or eight different subspecies to produce color varieties that don’t occur in the wild. I was against that when I first became aware of it because I felt that the snakes should be kept in their purity as natural as they could be. But quite honestly, the captive-bred specimens and designer snakes had become so competitive in price that it’s taken the pressure off of collecting in the wild.

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There used to be professional hunters going through Arizona, California and west Texas to collect like the Blair’s milk snake and the Arizona mountain king. There’s less financial attraction there because the captive bred are cheaper than the cost of going out and collecting. So I think it’s added to the conservation of the habitat, preservation of habitat. There’s not so many professional collectors turning over every log and every rock and disturbing the habitat. Now we’ll jump a little ahead, but you’ve opened up the subject here. When you were at the zoo and as you progressed and became director, animal dealers were still selling animals to zoos. Today, there are very few, if any established animal dealers.

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Do animal dealers today within the zoo community, do they have a place and what was their place when you were in a position to deal with them?

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Well when I first went into the zoo business, animal dealers were the only source of animals for zoos. And again, many of the animals that were available to zoos at that time, again were the byproduct of the destruction of their natural habitat. Because in the Third World countries: Africa, India, South America, Mexico, the whole concept was get rid of the wilderness and turn it into productive crops and crop land. So a lotta these animals were byproducts of that. There were a lot of animal dealers and they were the only source. If you wanted a number of antelope or carnivores, lions, tigers, you bought ’em from a dealer. And it was the way that the world worked at that time. It wasn’t until the ’60s after World War II that people began being aware that some of the pristine wilderness areas of the world were disappearing, that some of the animals are becoming endangered and that there needs to be more conservation and that even zoos and some zoo directors and the concept at the AZA meetings was we need to begin breeding programs for the most endangered species like Galapagos tortoises, orangutans, gorillas.

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Instead of keep taking ’em from the wild, we have to take the ones we already have in captivity and putting them in the right social order in the social groups so that we can begin breeding our own and not taking any outta the wild. That was just the beginning. In the ’60s, that was just beginning. Today, that’s a totally accepted concept where we manage all the animals of the world in zoos are managed as one breeding population so that we prevent inbreeding, so that we keep genetic spread within the population. And we rarely take anything from the wild unless we add a new specie that needs to be protected in captivity because it’s so gravely endangered in the wild. But there’s still animal dealers today. There are not. I’m not familiar with many animal dealers today.

00:29:41 - 00:30:13

I’ve been so much outta zoo business, I don’t know of any. I’m not that familiar with animal dealers that are available today. I know there’s some animal shipping companies that ship animals for zoos on contract. I think the hunts are still in business, but I’m not quite sure how that business works today. I’m not familiar with it today. You talked about in the pet shop business, you had to make sure that with the primates you were getting the right people with the animal because of the uniqueness.

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Did that business start to tell you differences on how people approached animals that you might carry on when you started working at the zoo?

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Well by the time I start working at the zoo, I had lost completely divorced from the thought of a monkey as a pet. By that time, I felt that the monkeys should be in a social group of their own with their own kind, not imprinted on people and not living in a home. I had completely changed my whole philosophy by the time I came to the zoo.

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Any good pet shop stories?

00:30:51 - 00:30:54

Somethin’ got out and you couldn’t find it for two weeks?

00:30:56 - 00:31:38

Besides my collection at the shop, I also had a turtle pen in my backyard which I kept a group of water turtles and land turtles. I had a pool. I had a baby alligator ’bout two feet long. I always had baby alligators and baby caiman. And once in a while baby croc which I got from Ralph Curtis. I had a baby alligator, but I think it was between two and three feet long. Apparently it got out of the pen, climbed outta the pen. And my mother called me and said, “Have you seen the paper this morning?” I said, “No, I hadn’t seen it.” And in the newspaper, it said a 10 or 11-foot alligator was on Dakota Street attacking automobiles.

00:31:38 - 00:32:07

And a police car came and it attacked it and bit the tire and got a flat tire. And they had to call the Humane Society. It was 10 or 11 feet long. And in fact, it was 2 1/2 feet long. But the newspaper said 10 or 11 feet and that it had punctured a tire which it didn’t do. It got exaggerated, but it was my alligator. I happened to know the head of the Humane Society at that time. The Humane Society picked up the snake and Martin Schweig was kind of an amateur herpetologist who was head of the Humane Society.

00:32:07 - 00:32:30

So I called him up and very reluctantly said “You know, I’m sorry. But that’s my alligator.” And he laughed. He couldn’t stop laughing. He said, “Well come and get it.” So I was able to retrieve it, but it made a lotta publicity in the paper. So you leave the pet shop business. You get your job and Marlin was director then. Right.

00:32:30 - 00:32:31

And what year was that?

00:32:31 - 00:32:41

I went to the zoo on April Fool’s Day 1963. So now you’re a keeper. I started a reptile keeper.

00:32:43 - 00:32:46

Ultimately, what were your first responsibilities there?

00:32:46 - 00:33:17

Well beginning reptile keeper of the reptile house. The first year on the job, you take care of the turtle pits. No venomous snakes. You take care of the turtle pits. At that time you climb down in these big pools, drain the pools and scrub it with kitchen cleanser and a brush on your hands and knees. You scrub all the algae off the pool, clean it completely. Hose everything back down, then fill the pool up. And you had to mix hot and cold water.

00:33:17 - 00:34:02

You had a hot water valve and a cold water valve and make sure the water was just the right temperature so that it wouldn’t give ’em a chill and you wouldn’t cook ’em. Today, they have all automated systems where they don’t have to do that anymore, but we had to do it. And I took care of frogs and toads and lizards. And then after about six months then I was allowed to begin taking care of snakes. Within a year, I was taking care of venomous snakes, rattlesnakes, cobras. I had a very conservative approach. Safety is pounded into our head as keeper in the reptile house in the beginning anyway. Every venomous cage is locked twice and you make sure before you open it that you’d open it carefully.

00:34:02 - 00:34:44

You have a shovel, a small shovel in one hand and a snake hook in the other so that you never expose a snakebite. You have a long pair of forceps to take the water dish out, change their water every day. Give ’em fresh water, pick up the stool, make sure the cage is always clean. So there was a daily routine taking care of that. Well being a little bit of a ham and having worked with kids at the pet shop, every time a school group came to the front door of the reptiles, I had my pet boa. I had a pet alligator. I made sure the kids all got to touch the snake, feel the scales on the snake. And then the teacher would be so embarrassed she’d have to touch the snake too.

00:34:44 - 00:35:29

And then I’d get the alligator and they’d get to feel the armored skin on an alligator. And then I got my pet bullfrog out and hold this big bullfrog up and they’d all get to feel the wet skin and learn the difference between amphibians and reptiles. One difference is that reptiles have scales and the amphibians have wet skin. And pretty soon teachers started calling the zoo and tried to make an appointment with me. And we did more and more of those kinds of things. And one day Marlin came to me and he said, “I think we’re gonna have to give you a title because the teachers are asking for you. We’re gonna call you education coordinator. Now there’s no money for this at this time and you have to continue your keeper role.

00:35:29 - 00:36:32

But if you don’t mind working with the students, we’d like you to keep doin’ that. And someday I’d like you to meet with someone from the St. Louis Board of Education and help develop a more formal program.” So that was my step. To me, a big step in my career because I was now a reptile keeper and education coordinator. So I made an appointment with the head of the school district curriculum and I went to see how we could enhance the zoo to get more teachers to bring their class for part of their training. Because up ’til now to the visit the zoo is like a day off. They went screaming and running. They didn’t learn very much and we thought maybe work with a worksheet so the students would have some kind of a formal program. So from that, we met with the science supervisor for the Board of Education and he suggested we do classes for gifted students, seventh and eighth gifted students.

00:36:32 - 00:37:00

That these students needed something more than the average student. So we developed a program for the gifted students. We sat down and we wanted 10-week classes, four hours every Saturday. The only place we had was a basement of the antelope house. It was a dark dingy place. So we brightened it up a little bit. We changed the light bulbs, put 200-watt light bulbs, made a little brighter. And then we divided up the curator.

00:37:00 - 00:37:25

At that time, couple of ’em were promoted to assistant curator. Jerry Lentz was assistant curator and Bob Fru was assistant curator and Mike Fleig was a bird keeper. I was a reptile keeper. Jerry and I divided the reptiles. Jerry took snakes. I took amphibians. Bob Fru took mammals. Mike Fleig took birds and we did what we call introduction to amphibians and fish.

00:37:25 - 00:38:05

I took the fish too. Introduction to fish, introduction to amphibians, introduction to reptiles, introduction to birds so that each of us took a Saturday morning and the first two hours would be in the classroom. And the next two hours, we’d take ’em to that part of the zoo. That was the lab part of the class and see the animals that we just talked about in the classroom. Of course I could bring lots of snakes and lizards and fish to the classroom. And Mike brought birds to the classroom, but we couldn’t bring mammals. So that field trip was very important. We did that with two groups of the seventh and eighth grade students.

00:38:05 - 00:38:52

And then one day, the science supervisor said, “You know, these students are getting training that our science teachers in grade schools haven’t had that training. I think we should do a teachers workshop.” And he was a graduate of Harris Teachers College as Marilyn and I had both associate of art certificates from Harris. So he arranged for Harris to sponsor a teachers workshop. And we did the same thing only with the teachers. It was eight hour every Saturday for 10 Saturdays in a row. The same group, Mike Fleig and I, Jerry Lentz and Bob Fru, we taught these teachers introduction to the animal kingdom. Many of them had college biology, but they got nothing more than leopard frog, rana pipiens. Maybe they dissected that if they did.

00:38:54 - 00:39:24

Few of ’em had vertebrate biology. If they did, they dissected a cat. They knew nothin’ about the ungulates and the carnivores. And so our animal courses were very popular. Our teachers workshop the very first year, we had 100. We only had 100. We got by then a classroom. But when we started with the seventh and eighth gifted students, we went around Forest Park and borrowed all the green park benches so we had enough for the 40 students that we had in the basement of the antelope house.

00:39:24 - 00:39:57

From the success of that program, our Zoo Friends Association outfitted a classroom. We had folding chairs with sidearm desks. We had 100 chairs, so we limited the teachers workshop to 100 students. And the first year, we had a 150 signups. So we had 100 students and 50 on a waiting list. So we did that two or three years in a row, had the teachers workshop. And then I got certified by Harris Teachers College so that the teachers all got three hours’ credit for that course.

00:39:57 - 00:40:01

So you were then still the education coordinator?

00:40:01 - 00:40:01

Coordinator.

00:40:01 - 00:40:06

And you were working for Moody Lentz who was the curator of reptiles?

00:40:06 - 00:40:41

Moody Lentz was the curator of reptiles and general curator. And he reported to Marlin Perkins who was the director. And then our assistant director was Henry Sanders who also was curator of birds. So then as a result of all our exercises, Mike, Jerry Lentz and Bob Fru had already been promoted to assistant curators. But as a result of this program, Mike Fleig was promoted to assistant curator of birds and I was promoted to assistant curator, mostly education and reptiles. Kind of a dual question.

00:40:41 - 00:40:49

When you first started out at the zoo, can you tell me what was the zoo like when you first started out?

00:40:49 - 00:40:54

And then can you gimme just a little capsule history of the zoo?

00:40:54 - 00:40:59

Because Marlin was director, but you had met the director before Marlin Perkins.

00:40:59 - 00:41:01

So what was the zoo like when you started?

00:41:01 - 00:41:49

Well when I started the zoo in 1963, Marlin Perkins had just been at the zoo about six months and he followed George Vierheller who had been at the zoo for about 40 years. The St. Louis Zoo was in Forest Park. The Forest Park was established about 1875. And at that time, it was established as a city zoo, but it was really way out in the country. City of St. Louis at that time was part of St. Louis County. St. Louis County is a very, very big county. Later the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County split and the City of St. Louis became a county in itself and then Forest Park was included in the city. There were animals in Forest Park, but there were animals in two or three other parks.

00:41:49 - 00:42:53

St. Louis was founded by fur trappers, early fur trappers and hunters. And so there were a lotta baby animals who were brought in from the trappers and kept. Baby bears. There were bears. There were wolves, there were coyotes, foxes, skunks in many of the city parks including Forest Park. But it wasn’t until 1904, there was a Louisiana Purchase Exposition which is the World’s Fair. It was established in the city of St. Louis. And the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC as their contribution to the fair, they built the flight cage and it was put together with bolts and washers so that after the fair, it was gonna be dismantled and shipped by railroad to National Zoo in Washington, DC for the first-ever walkthrough flight cage for what was gonna be then the National Zoo in 1904. But after the World’s Fair, the people of St. Louis rallied and persuaded the federal government to sell the cage and they bought the cage for $3,500.

00:42:53 - 00:43:53

For the fair, there were 1,000 birds that belonged to the National Zoo that were in that cage. After the fair closed, they did ship those birds to National Zoo and St. Louis had to catch a whole new collection of birds. But at that time, the flight cage was the first largest walkthrough bird cage in the world. And that established a place for the zoo. But it wasn’t until 1931 that a mill tax was passed that created a free zoo to be forever free so long it is supported by a raw property tax. So every resident in the city of Saint Louis was charged 1/5 of a mill tax on their real estate to support a free zoo. And that was patterned after the art museum that was established the year before. The art museum also has chiseled in limestone over the front door, “To be forever free.” So that’s how St. Louis got to be one of the three free zoos of North America.

00:43:53 - 00:44:02

Lincoln Park and the National Zoo being the other two. Now Marlin loves snakes. He hired you. Moody loves snakes. You’re workin’ for him.

00:44:02 - 00:44:12

Did Marlon show up at the reptile house on a regular basis and was he able to impart any life lessons to you?

00:44:12 - 00:44:53

Well Marlin was a frequent visitor to the reptile house. By now Marlin, not only was he director of the zoo, but he was very heavily involved in Wild Kingdom. So he traveled a lot. But when he was in town, he spent a lotta nighttime hours in his office. He let the young people at the zoo like Bob Fru, Mike Fleig, Jerry Lentz and I. He let us know that anytime he is in his office, we are always welcome to come up and talk to him and ask him questions. And so we had an opportunity to visit with him. And he visited the reptile house frequently.

00:44:53 - 00:45:39

Now since moody Lentz was also the general curator, also we raised all the baby animals that were born or orphaned like baby lions, baby wolves. And sometimes when Marlin would buy animals for the children’s zoo, they would be sent to the reptile house and we’d have to hand take care of ’em. We raised a baby siamang, a uakari, a red-faced uakari. So quite unusual animals. I’m tryin’ to remember. The howler monkey. A baby howler monkey. Jerry Lentz and Bob Fru and I would be the advocate mothers for them and we would bottle raise ’em. And sometimes we came in for night bottles.

00:45:39 - 00:46:13

Marlin Perkins and Carol would come out to the zoo at night and they’d see the light on in the kitchen of the reptile house. And they would come in. And when they’d see us takin’ care of these animals, they always had advice on how to clean the nipples properly and how to clean the baby bottles and make sure we’re sterilizing proper. Well since I had already helped raise children at home, I had a lot of experience. So I was given a lot of opportunity to help take care of the baby animals. And that also gave me extra exposure to both Marlin and Carol.

00:46:13 - 00:46:16

Any unique experiences with Marlin?

00:46:19 - 00:46:55

Yes, I can tell you one. Well we were not allowed ever to open a venomous snake box. When it came in, we had to call Marlin and he had to come over and open it up. And he came over one time and we had this crate sittin’ on the kitchen and it was all wrapped up with twine. And he said, “Gimme your pocket knife.” And I said, “Mr. Perkins, I don’t have a pocket knife.” And he looked at me he says, “A good keeper always has a pocket knife in his pocket.” That night I went and bought a brand-new pocket knife and I always had it in my pocket after that.

00:46:55 - 00:46:57

Got one on ya now?

00:46:57 - 00:47:07

No. (chuckles) Now Marlin was doing Wild Kingdom. He had come from zoo parade. He was doing Wild Kingdom at the zoo.

00:47:07 - 00:47:10

Did that impact the zoo in any way or you?

00:47:10 - 00:47:12

Were you part of this?

00:47:13 - 00:48:10

It impacted us in a lotta ways. First of all, Marlin Perkins loved to inspire young keepers. And if he recognized ambition in a keeper, he encouraged to read all he could, learn all he could and invited us to write signed copy, invite us the right information bulletins. There were a lot of letters would come to the zoo asking how to take care of various pet animals because of Wild Kingdom. They would write ’em to Marlin Perkins. So he would encourage to write information bulletins on how to raise baby animals, how to take care of pets and publish ’em. They were mimeographed for notes. He also asked us to help write answers to the letters that he got.

00:48:10 - 00:48:39

So we would get the letters that were written to Marlin Perkins. That’s how I learned how to type. We had to type out the answer. A lotta times we had to go to library and learn because we didn’t know the answers so we had to research it. And then we’d make a yellow-skin copy with carbon paper. That was before we had any other way of copying things. And then he would get the onion skin when he was back in town. And before they went out in the mail, he would critique ’em.

00:48:39 - 00:49:05

And if they’re okay, they went out in the mail. If they weren’t, he’d call us up and yell at us and tell us what we did wrong and what we should do right. And we had to go back and rewrite the letter. So it was a training program. It really was a training program. And then after awhile, I got to answer all his mail because I was always willing to do the next step. And so I got to be his exclusive mail answerer and that was a great training program for me. Because of what I didn’t know, I had to go to the library and research.

00:49:06 - 00:49:11

Now Marlin was a pretty famous figure in St. Louis with his TV shows.

00:49:11 - 00:49:14

Did that impact him moving around the zoo?

00:49:15 - 00:50:12

Well because he was out of town a lot, it was his intention to train a larger cadre of staff. That’s where he was training Bob Fru and Jerry Lentz and Mike Fleig and I to help Moody Lentz and Henry Sanders manage the zoo so that he could be gone and the zoo would carry on. Hattie Ettinger who was the administrative assistant to George Vierheller was also Marlin Perkins’ administrative assistant. She also was the PR marketing director, HR director. She did most of the hiring and most of the firing and she was kinda the strong arm for George Vierheller. And she was sort of that for Marlin too. But whenever Marlin was outta town, Henry Sanders and Hattie Ettinger did what they kinda wanted to do to run the zoo. So sometimes things slowed down when Marlin was gone.

00:50:12 - 00:50:43

There was some animosity between the governing body that kinda resented Marlin being gone quite a bit. But if he would’ve allowed the developing staff as we gradually got more authority and were able to operate the zoo, it would’ve been a smooth operation. But that was his intention to build up a team to run the zoo that could run with him or without him and still follow the right procedures.

00:50:43 - 00:50:52

Were you learnin’ anything about the media that would stand you in good stead later from either Marlin or his experiences or maybe Hattie?

00:50:52 - 00:51:52

Well for one thing, Marlin always said. First of all, he loved animals and he wanted everybody else to love and appreciate animals as much as he did. And he felt that the best way he could do that was to make them very familiar. So he encouraged all of us to learn as much as we could and to share that knowledge and that we should speak and speak in an eloquent way that people could understand us, not to speak over the head but don’t speak under their ability and give ’em as much possible. I think he was a little bit of a ham and I think the people that have a little ham in ’em make the best public relations representatives for the zoo. Particularly if they’re a director or member of the curator staff, they have to have that awareness of how to deal with the public. It was very important.

00:51:54 - 00:51:56

Were there things at the zoo?

00:51:56 - 00:52:03

You work at the zoo. This is a job. Obviously you said, “I want this job.” It helped you out a great deal with the family.

00:52:03 - 00:52:07

Were there things that surprised you about working at the zoo that you didn’t expect?

00:52:10 - 00:52:52

I can’t think of anything that I would necessarily call as a surprise. It was all a lot of eye-opening. I learned a lotta new things. There was in the very beginning we were under the city of St. Louis. And so some of the people that were hired was influenced by city politics. But ultimately the zoo became part of the Zoo Museum District and then it became an autonomous divorce from city or county power so that it was more professional after that. We could hire people that were trained or trainable. We didn’t have to hire anybody because they were related to anybody.

00:52:53 - 00:53:07

So you were the curator or we’ll say you were the education coordinator, but then you were promoted or was the title changed to assistant curator and how did that come about?

00:53:09 - 00:54:20

Well I was acting as education coordinator doing our teachers workshop. And Marlin came to me one day and said, “Now we’re goin’ to call you assistant curator and that does give you a little raise.” And so that was later of course because now I had a title. I got a title along with Jerry Lentz, Bob Fru and Mike Fleig also was promoted to assistant curator of birds. You know, more opportunity given a job of setting our diets. Marlin was a big trainer. I would say a trainer. He put the assistant curators all in charge of studying the zoo diets. The mammal, bird, reptile diets, determining what we were feeding our animals and then looking in the literature and in the published books. Management of mammals in captivity, what the diets were at the various zoos and compare their diets with what we were feeding and if we were doing the right thing and if we had any recommendations.

00:54:20 - 00:55:09

‘Cause recommendations had to be made to Marlin and then he would determine if the recommendations were good and he would in turn turn those back over to Moody Lentz to follow through across the zoo. But that gave the curators another opportunity to self-educate. It was like getting advanced training to make us much more professional. So Marlin is known for that at Lincoln Park and he started zoologists I think at Lincoln Park and then promoted them to assistant curator, curator. Many who became curators and directors at other zoos. Well then the same thing happened at St. Louis. We began being a training zoo. So we had a lot of our keepers become zoologists.

00:55:09 - 00:55:33

Zoologist became curators and curators went on. We had at one time from St. Louis about 15 zoo directors around the country and I think Lincoln Park had the same reputation. That was Marlin Perkins. That was his philosophy. So when you were assistant curator, you didn’t have to clean the snake cages then. No, still had to clean the snake cages. Still had four hours of chores to do in the morning. Had to do the dirty work in the morning and do the curating in the afternoon.

00:55:34 - 00:55:41

When you got this promotion, did you have then in mind any career path?

00:55:41 - 00:56:10

Well quite honestly, when I started working at the zoo, a surprise I did have is that most of the zookeepers were not interested in animals. They got the job because they were politically connected. Most of ’em had a six or eighth-grade education. They weren’t well-educated. And they were told what to do and how to do it. And they weren’t allowed to make any decisions whatsoever. Moody Lentz told ’em when to let the animals out. It was warm enough for the antelope to go outside.

00:56:10 - 00:56:48

When it was warm enough, the cage to the lion house. At that time, we had animals behind bars. They were inside durin’ the day on cold days and they had outdoor sections they went on nice days. Moody told ’em when to let ’em out and when to let ’em back in. No decisions were made out in the zoo. All the decisions were made by Moody Lentz and Henry Sanders. Well that was surprising to me and that’s changed greatly today. So that Bob Fru and Mike Fleig, Jerry Lentz and I were probably the only college-trained people at the staff.

00:56:48 - 00:57:55

All the rest of ’em were not well-educated. Some of ’em even were supervisor or head keepers only because they had years in seniority. They didn’t have any particular. That was a shock to me that they had now no interest in animals or any sense of sanitary procedures or basic, basic biology. So as I became the assistant curator of education, I did start a keepers training program where we would try to get the trainers, the keepers in the education department in the classroom and teach ’em basic sanitary procedure. We also teamed up with the Laboratory Animal Science organization in St. Louis that had a cadre of instructors and we brought them in and help us do training program. But mostly what we could do is get the younger, newer teachers, newer keepers that were coming in, had some college and definitely had high school education. And so we were able to achieve a great deal more with the young keepers.

00:57:55 - 00:58:18

With the old keepers, we almost had to give up and wait ’til they left the zoo as they retired. But we became more active in interviewing the new young keepers so that we would able to screen and hire people that had better background and a professional interest in the trade.

00:58:18 - 00:58:22

I was gonna say how would those classes go with those older keepers?

00:58:22 - 00:58:43

Not well at all. We had a hard time forcing them to attend. And if they did, they wouldn’t pay attention. But with the younger generation of keepers we brought in, they were eager to learn. So your boss was still Moody Lentz. Moody Lentz. And you were learning things from Marlin.

00:58:43 - 00:58:45

But what did you pick up from Moody?

00:58:45 - 00:59:28

Well first of all, I had known Moody Lentz from childhood days from bringing specimens there. And when I had pet shop, Moody did come out. He loved baby turtles and I always had exotic baby turtles which I got from Trudy Jergens. Yellow-neck and orange-neck, spine-neck turtles and even some South American red ears which were different from the North American red ear. Always has some unusual baby turtles and Moody loved to have them. He invited me to go down to the Snakedens in southern Illinois with him. He had been going down to the Snakedens in the early ’26. In fact, Marlin Perkins, Moody Lentz and George Vierheller took Raymond L. Ditmars who was the curator of herpetology at the Bronx Zoo.

00:59:28 - 01:00:56

They took him down to southern Illinois and that was written up in the New York papers where the snakes carpeted the Bluffs of southern Illinois and Raymond Ditmars went down there with the people from St. Louis and collected ’em. And pictures of some of those dens are in his books “Reptiles of the World” which were by the way my first textbooks that I memorized every common Latin name that was in the reptiles of North America and snakes of North America. But anyway, southern Illinois was a famous place and Moody took me down to those dens when I had the pet shop. So when I started workin’ at the zoo, I had had a lotta field trips with Moody that I had learned a great deal from Moody about when snakes come outta hibernation, when they go into hibernation, where they have the babies, how the babies behave, where to look for ’em. And then at the zoo, I learned how to maintain ’em in captivity beyond where I had learned on my own before. I learned a lot both from Moody and from Marlin on how to handle ’em and how to teach other people to handle snakes and how to instill caution that snakebite was an absolute forbidden. In fact, it was an act of carelessness for a reptile keeper to be bit. So we were always told that if we were bitten by a venomous snake, it would be automatic dismissal if we survived.

01:00:56 - 01:01:14

Now you mentioned the collecting trips to southern Illinois. Marlin when he was at Lincoln Park did a lot of these collecting trips and then at St. Louis for specimens to bring them back. Jump ahead a little bit.

01:01:14 - 01:01:17

What’s your opinion of that kinda collecting trip?

01:01:17 - 01:01:21

Does it have a place today or not?

01:01:22 - 01:02:11

In the early days of the zoo business, the heating and ventilating systems of the reptile houses was nothing like we have today. They were originally wood-fired or coal-fired and then they banked the fires at night so the buildings were drafty. They were cold. So there was a high mortality in some of the tropical creatures, particularly with snakes and lizards. And so the collections were bolstered with native snakes. You got a lotta native snakes. Well they may have a boa or a python, a cobra, some exotic snakes. They try to have representative collection of the snakes in Missouri and Illinois, both Lincoln Park and St. Louis reptile houses were famous for having a representative collection of all the snakes indigenous to their state.

01:02:11 - 01:02:56

Well the mortality rate durin’ the winter was very high. So every spring, there was an annual snake hunt to replenish the stocks. You would get the copperheads, the cottonmouth, water moccasins, the timber rattlesnake of southern Illinois and then also watersnakes. But also the king cobra which was a featured snake in the reptile house was mostly a snake-eater. So the king cobra had to have a supply of snakes to feed all season. So the spring snake hunts also brought back 50 to 100 watersnakes. And those watersnakes were usually kept in the basement or in a large cage and then fed fish to keep them alive. And then the king cobra would get one watersnake a week.

01:02:56 - 01:04:14

That king cobra fed on those snakes. So the snakes were also the supply food for the king snakes and other cannibalistic steaks. As the technology improved and reptile houses began having humidity control, temperature control and concentration on breeding efforts, captive-bred specimens became the norm where it was rare back in the ’30s or ’40s if somethin’ was born at the zoo, it was a result of having been bred in the wild. But now zookeepers were beginning to be more refined and the efforts were in captive breeding. Today, almost the entire reptile collection are captive bred either in our zoo or by training surplus with other zoos so that you don’t have to replenish from the wild. And besides, the environment is so well, so good in the average reptile house that snakes live much longer in captivity than they do in the wild. It’s not unusual for a snake to live 25 to 30 years in captivity. And breeding ’em in captivity, sometimes you have many generations of captive bred and you trade with other zoos.

01:04:16 - 01:04:28

The need to collect from the wild is gone. So these annual snake hunts don’t even exist anymore. You had talked about when you became assistant curator, you still had your regular duties to do.

01:04:29 - 01:04:34

Were you still doing education work also?

01:04:34 - 01:05:20

As I became more and more involved in education, it was a one-man department. So I cleaned cages in the morning and the afternoon. Sometimes I would stop at 10:00 and start doin’ the school tours. And then after 2:30 when the school buses left, then I go back and finish my duties. As the education department staff began growing, my first assistant was a part-time secretary who took care of the phone calls from the teachers and booked the classes for me and mailing the confirmation for the school visits and began helping me make schedules. Then I was added an assistant curator. We had a zookeeper Ed Schmidt who was a reptile keeper at that time at the zoo. He was promoted to assistant curator of education, then there were two of us.

01:05:20 - 01:06:00

And about that time, I was relieved for my keeper duties in the reptile house. But I still kept a working relationship in the reptile house. Maybe there was some prized specimen I still took care of on the side. Maybe these were the reptiles that I used in the classroom. By the time Ed came, we had a full-time secretary. Ultimately we had a staff of about five in the education department. By then I was pretty well completely free of any keeper duties and got more involved in administration. But I was still assistant curator of reptiles, so I did the annual census.

01:06:00 - 01:06:17

We did an annual census which was published, the census. That was making sure that we had every animal accounted for by common name and scientific name classified under family. So that kept my fingers in the herpetological aspect of the zoo.

01:06:19 - 01:06:26

Were you responsible in the education aspect of putting together new programs?

01:06:26 - 01:07:18

By then we had programs for first, second and third graders which is basic introduction to animals. Then we had introduction to primates and animal behavior for third to fifth graders. So we became a more sophisticated program working with the curriculum developers at the school so that what we did for the students when they came to the zoo, it fit in their class studies. Once they had a zoo visit, they could follow up and then their classroom work would be more interesting because it was related to something they experienced at the zoo. So you were marketing these classes through the public school system. Through the public school system and also there was an organization of all the schools in St. Louis county and St. Charles county. So we covered the entire metropolitan area as well as some from east St. Louis, Illinois.

01:07:20 - 01:07:22

What was the most popular one?

01:07:22 - 01:07:25

What was the one that you were most proud of?

01:07:26 - 01:07:51

Well I would have to say the introduction to reptiles because they all got to hold the boa constrictor and squeal and scream. That was before cameras were really. You know, you didn’t have the cellphone you could take pictures with. So sometimes somebody would have a camera in the class and they’d all take turns gettin’ their picture taken with a boa constrictor around their shoulders. Now you mentioned the boa constrictor, some of the frog and so forth.

01:07:51 - 01:07:53

These weren’t your personal pets, were they now?

01:07:53 - 01:08:18

Or were they- Some of ’em were personal pets I took to the zoo with me when I went and some of ’em were that I adopted from zoo animals. But also sometimes I used the baby animals like we had a baby jaguar that I could hold and let the students touch it. Once in awhile, we had a cheetah that we could take out on a leash. So we used whatever hand-raised animals that were available to make it a little more exciting for the students.

01:08:18 - 01:08:19

Full-grown cheetah?

01:08:19 - 01:08:34

Oh yeah, full-grown cheetah. We had a full-grown cheetah who was quite gentle. This must’ve been one of the earlier encounters of that kind. It was a earlier hand-raised. It had been hand-raised that Marlin brought to the zoo for such purposes.

01:08:34 - 01:08:36

What was the kids’ drawer?

01:08:36 - 01:08:39

I’m sorry?

01:08:40 - 01:08:44

Does that ring a bell, kids’ drawer?

01:08:44 - 01:09:13

No. That must’ve been Lincoln Park. In your opinion- I did have a drawer in my office where I always kept plush animals and little things. And every time anybody came to the zoo that had children with ’em, I’d open that door and let ’em pick somethin’ out of it. I had the little plush animals, different kinds. Little leopards and primates, things of that nature. Plush animals. I’d give ’em away.

01:09:13 - 01:09:15

Okay, was that when you were director?

01:09:15 - 01:09:27

That was when I was zoo director. Education in zoo is based on your experience main element of the zoo.

01:09:27 - 01:09:29

Why, not the main element?

01:09:30 - 01:10:18

When I started the education program at the zoo, it was kind of a hobby. But Marlin was very keen in developing education program that education was a strong component of the zoo. And there was a time when he and Carol were supposed to go to Colorado Springs for AZA National Zoo Association conference. And the last minute, Marlin and Carol had to go to Africa for Wild Kingdom. So Marlin came to Moody and said, “We already have a room at the conference. I want you to take Charlie, go to the conference and make sure that he meets the lady who runs the education department for the San Diego Zoo,” who was a volunteer. It was all docent-run program. “But also meet Roger Conant’s wife Isabelle,” who ran an education program outta Philadelphia Zoo.

01:10:18 - 01:10:58

“Let him find out how they’re doing it, what they’re doing it.” And so I got a chance to go to my first national meeting taking a train from St. Louis to Denver, Denver to Colorado Springs. We stayed at Broadmoor Hotel which was a very impressive hotel. I got to meet a lotta great zoo people. I did talk to people that had zoo programs that were just in their infancy really. At San Diego Zoo, it was all-volunteer program. They had docents that took all the classes, took the school groups around. At the Philadelphia Zoo, they had a zoo mobile which was a Volkswagen bus all painted up with animals on it. Isabelle Conant would go to the schools and she’d give a talk.

01:10:58 - 01:11:28

She had animals. She had a snake. She had a kitten of some sort. I don’t remember, maybe a fennec fox and a llama and she would go to the school. But then she would get out and she’d do a zoo presentation, but then she would give out applications to the Philadelphia Zoological Society for the parents to join. So it was mostly a program. While it was called an education program, it was actually a membership program to develop memberships for the zoo. But it gave me an idea.

01:11:28 - 01:12:22

I wanted to start a docent program at St. Louis. With Marlin’s support, we started a little docent program and I trained, I personally trained the docents and Jerry and Bob Fru and Mike Fleig helped me with classes to make them knowledgeable, to help take some of the school groups or to assist with the school groups. That was kinda frowned upon by some of the old timers at the zoo. Quite frankly, Henry Sanders and Hattie Ettinger didn’t like the idea of volunteers around. So that program kind of died. But when I became director, I was able to start it up again and got a docent program goin’. Our education department at the St. Louis Zoo is beyond my dreams. We have a whole big visitors center with auditorium and many classrooms and a staff of probably about 25 people in the education department.

01:12:22 - 01:12:51

And education is probably one of the most biggest components of the zoo. We say in St. Louis there are four basic components of a zoo. Recreation is number one. People come to the zoo to have fun. Education, number two. You educate ’em. They don’t mind being educated. So while they’re there, you educate ’em. Conservation is important because the world is changing and we need to preserve wilderness places, habitat, wild places.

01:12:51 - 01:13:17

And conservation has to begin at the zoo. We have to have conservation programs. And fourth of all, we have to have research programs. Those are the four dimensions of the zoo: recreation, education, conservation and research. So we do research learning about medical aspects. That’s through the veterinarian department. We have reproductive physiologists. We have people studying hormones.

01:13:17 - 01:13:44

We have people studying behavior. We have programs going on in the Galapagos, Africa, India, all over the world. All of these things are a role of the zoo. But also doing these good things help in fundraising. Fundraising not only for conservation and for our research but fundraising for infrastructure and for physical aspects. So doing all these things is what a modern zoo is today.

01:13:46 - 01:13:54

Can you tell us a little about your talk in continued education, that the story of Marlin giving you a camera and how that came about?

01:13:56 - 01:14:40

In the early ’60s which would’ve been about ’64, Marlin called me up to his office and he said, “I want you to build up a slide. When you give your lectures, you should be able to have a slide collection to enhance your lectures. So I want you to go around the zoo and take pictures of animals, the animals that you can’t bring to the classroom. Here is a Pentax camera. This is my favorite camera. And I want you to go out and take a roll of pictures and then bring ’em back and I’ll critique ’em for you.” And I said, “Okay.” He said, “You can start. You can take my picture right here.” So I took his picture. He’s there at his desk with zebra skin on the back.

01:14:40 - 01:15:25

And that picture by the way is used in St. Louis publications quite often. I went out, took pictures around the zoo and I brought ’em back and he critiqued them. He told me which ones were good, which ones were bad composition. I didn’t have the light in the right direction or I should make sure the animals are lookin’ at me, get the eyes. And then he said, “I’ll tell you another tip. Anytime when you have your pictures and you wanna show anybody, you take your very, very best pictures, throw all the rest of ’em away. And then when you show somebody, you say, ‘These are all the pictures I took,’ so they don’t think you took any bad ones.” And that was an interesting lesson I got from him. But he told me which ones I should’ve thrown away and not even shown him.

01:15:25 - 01:15:27

You get photo credit on that picture of Marlin when they use it?

01:15:27 - 01:15:52

No, I don’t think so. To this day, I don’t think I have. By the way, he did have an eight-by-10 copy made and wrote on it with a felt pen, “To Charlie Hoessle, a great zoo professional who I know will get even better.” And I have that somewhere in my collection if I can find it. You talked about education. Some zoos have libraries, some zoos don’t.

01:15:52 - 01:15:56

How important do you think a library is to a zoo?

01:15:59 - 01:16:23

I’ve watched our library grow and develop at our zoo. It was a resource for me as I developed. I went to it often. We established a library in our education department. We made it available for staff at any time, but we also made it available to teachers. It was part of our teachers resource center. We call it teachers resource center. Our library was part of it.

01:16:24 - 01:16:56

When I worked as a keeper at the reptile house, we were also responsible for keeping the hospital clean. We didn’t have a full-time veterinarian. He only came one day a week, four hours a day. Four hours in that one day. Any animal died, we had to go pick it up, take it up to the hospital and put it in the cooler. Cut it open to make sure the body parts got preserved. Then when the veterinarian came after he made his rounds with the live animals, we went to the hospital and we would go up there with him. Reptile keepers had that job and he’d say, “Okay, take out the liver.

01:16:57 - 01:17:21

Let me see it. Lemme see that,” and he would diagnose it. Write down his autopsy form and he say, “Okay, throw that away.” Well we’d cut off the head and save the skull. Sometimes if it was a giraffe, we’d saved the neck bone. We’d save the femur from the giraffe. We’d clean these things and we use ’em as teachers resource in classroom. We use ’em for teaching. Well now the zoo has a resource center.

01:17:21 - 01:17:54

We have bones, skulls, furs, all kinds of things that a teacher can come like a library and take out one of these plastic boxes. A mammal box, bird box, reptile box they can take to their school, use it in the classroom and then bring it back. So that library is more than just books. It’s also artifacts. I think it’s extremely important function of the zoo. All right, so you’re assistant curator of education. Now you move up in the chain.

01:17:54 - 01:17:56

How did that come about?

01:17:57 - 01:18:01

Was Marlin still director and what was your title?

01:18:01 - 01:18:27

Well during my role as curator, the assistant director Henry Sanders got sick. He spent some time in the hospital. He bought all the food for the animals, the fish and ran the commissary. When he was out sick, Moody had to take it over and Moody wasn’t really happy with that. And he said, “Charlie you know, you had your experience with your pet shop buying and selling things.

01:18:27 - 01:18:29

Would you mind helpin’ me with the commissary?

01:18:29 - 01:19:03

Would you mind helping me with the fish?” So I started buying fish. At that time, there was a big seafood company in St. Louis. We were buying our frozen fish every week. I forgotten. 10,000-pound lots of feed. We had a walrus, sea lions, all the penguins. Well I found out I could ship fish in from the east coast to west coast for probably 20% of what we were paying and ship it into cold storage. So I started buying fish by the truckload. 40,000 pounds, put it in cold storage, then we’d go down and get it as we need it.

01:19:03 - 01:19:52

I also found out that we could negotiate our produce by wheeling and dealing with the produce suppliers. We’d find someone give us a more competitive price, so we start buying bananas in big quantity and oranges in big quantity. I was able to save a lotta money in commissary. So Henry Sanders came back. He took that over again. But then he got sick again and then Marlin said, “I think we’re gonna have you run the commissary, take care of the buying because you were savin’ us some money.” So I took that job over. ‘Bout that time, I think I got kind of a title of assistant general curator and I continued buying and selling. At the same time, Moody also took me to AZA meetings and asked me to take over the surplus list.

01:19:52 - 01:20:37

At that time, the buying and selling of animals was a cocktail party event. It was more fun than it was science. And during the cocktail party, you take turns getting up at a microphone and reading off your surplus list. And the other zoo directors of the audience would say, “Oh, I’ll take that,” or “I’ll take this,” and “I’ll take that.” They would be buying sight unseen. I mean that’s unheard of today, but that’s the way surplus animals were marketed at that time. So I got the opportunity to start selling animals and then ultimately help in the buying of animals as well. But you moved from assistant curator to curator of reptiles. I went from assistant curator to curator and then from curator of reptiles to kind of assistant general curator.

01:20:38 - 01:20:39

What year?

01:20:40 - 01:21:12

I have to look at my biography. I don’t remember what year. But probably in the late ’60s, ’68 maybe. Then I became general curator, deputy director. I was deputy director for some time. So when you were made assistant general curator, Marlin was still there. Yes, Marlin was still there when I was assistant general. Marlin was really the one that gave me a lot of the responsibility that Moody didn’t want, that Moody didn’t wanna do.

01:21:14 - 01:21:58

I mean Moody actually shared his responsibility with me willingly and helped groom me. He helped me to become the best that I could be. There was never any jealousy of any part on his side. Now there are these other assistant curators who are moving up. You mentioned Jerry Lentz was his son. Jerry Lentz was Moody Lentz’s son and Jerry was anxious to move up. Actually Moody Lentz was offered a position under at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Moody didn’t wanna move and he suggested that his son might take the job.

01:21:58 - 01:22:03

So he took the job at Oklahoma City. It was the director that preceded Lawrence Curtis.

01:22:06 - 01:22:07

Phil Ogilvie?

01:22:07 - 01:22:45

Phil Ogilvie offered Moody Lentz a job and Moody suggested that Jerry take that job. So Jerry went to Oklahoma City as assistant director. And he wanted to get out from under his dad’s wing. He really wanted to spread his own wings and do something on his own. So he went out there, but he was on the phone with his dad all the time for advice and guidance because he had limited experience handling hooved animals. Oklahoma City at that time was a big collection of hooved animals. Because of the ranchers’ interest in antelope, they had a big collection of antelope. So that’s where Jerry went.

01:22:45 - 01:23:16

Then of course Jerry went from Oklahoma City to Busch Gardens in Houston, Texas when they opened up a new zoo in Houston, Texas. That didn’t last very long. And when it closed up, he was transferred to Tampa and ultimately became director at Tampa. Meanwhile, Lawrence Curtis arrived at Oklahoma City and Jerry didn’t get along with Lawrence. That’s what took Jerry to Houston. You talked about Marlin and his television show.

01:23:16 - 01:23:19

Was there another television program at the St. Louis Zoo?

01:23:19 - 01:24:22

Yes. By the way, I have to mention that while Marlin was doing Wild Kingdom, he did the intros at his studio in St. Louis, downtown St. Louis, so that we would bring baby chimpanzees, baby lion cubs. So that when he did his introduction to his commercials or introduction to the show, he was sitting at a desk and then the animals would suddenly appear on the desk. Well often I was sitting underneath the desk and someone would hand me the animal under the desk and I would have it ready to put it on Marlin’s lap. Then Marlin would put the animal was a baby chimp or baby lion. So I got a chance to work behind the scenes with Wild Kingdom. When Marlin left St. Louis, he was replaced by Bill Hoff who had started out in Lincoln Park Zoo and went from Lincoln Park to Cincinnati and Cincinnati to St. Louis. So he was familiar with Marlin Perkins and I think our zoo board thought that he was up-and-coming professional, so he was brought in as being zoo director.

01:24:22 - 01:25:14

He had had a zoo show at Cincinnati Zoo patterned after the old “Zoo Parade” where they would bring animals from the zoo to the studio and then talk about each animal with a theme, birds or mammals or reptiles. So when he came to St. Louis, the producer from his TV show was transferred to St. Louis as well. And he approached Bill Hoff and said, “Let’s do the St. Louis Zoo ahow.” So Bill Hoff became the host of the St. Louis Zoo show. And at that time as education curator at the zoo, he asked me to be the co-host. So I was the co-host, so I was the animal handler. So I was the one that was on camera though handing the animals to Bill and he would talk about it, then I’d talk to him a little bit. And we had people off camera that handled ’em. Well that was for about a year and then Bill Hoff left.

01:25:14 - 01:25:36

And so then I became. He was replaced by a man named Bob Briggs who was a PR person. And he didn’t wanna get in the show business, so I became the host of that show. So that show ran from 1968 to 1978, so I carried on for the rest of that show’s life as host of the St. Louis Zoo show. You had animals on the show.

01:25:36 - 01:25:37

What was it like?

01:25:37 - 01:26:24

It was patterned after “Zoo Parade” actually where we had a theme. It might be an introduction to snakes and we’d have about 20 different kinds of snakes. We’d tell you the difference between venomous snakes and harmless snakes. The difference between hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom, basic information. Then we may have one on just animal eyes or animal teeth and we’d have animals that we could show the teeth, the difference between a carnivore and undulate. There would be some theme: animals of Africa or animals of South America or animals of India. And we would be using animals that we could get from the children’s zoo or baby animals that were handable. And we have a cadre of people off camera with the animals in cages and they would hand ’em to me and then I’d talk about ’em and then hand ’em off.

01:26:24 - 01:26:25

Did you have guests?

01:26:25 - 01:26:48

And then I would bring assistant curators and curators in as my guest. I had Ed Schmidt, Dave Thompson, Ron Gildner who were all curators, assistant curators coming up through the ranks as my guest. And Diane Hodel became the education department, she was my co-host at times. So we had sometimes outside guests.

01:26:48 - 01:26:51

Did Marlin’s influence help you?

01:26:51 - 01:27:01

Absolutely. Because he always said, “Speak distinctly and make sure that you talk in terms that everybody could understand.” Was the show well-received?

01:27:01 - 01:27:09

Very well. It was popular for 10 years and our sponsors was like Ralston Purina. We had a big-name sponsors.

01:27:09 - 01:27:10

Any stories?

01:27:10 - 01:27:15

I know that there are some Marlin stories about “Zoo Parade” when he was sick and other issues.

01:27:15 - 01:27:20

Were there any memorable situations or surprises on television?

01:27:20 - 01:27:50

I’m gonna tell you a really interesting story about the St. Louis Zoo show. Dave Thompson who was a zoologist at that time was holding a baby caiman. It was about 2 1/2 feet long. It had been in a cloth sack. And he was gettin’ ready to hand it to me and we were gonna talk about this caiman. And as you looked at it, he noticed it had some lint between the teeth. So he took it and he blew on the mouth of the caiman. He blew it.

01:27:50 - 01:28:21

And just as he blew, the caiman clamped down on both lips, clamped his mouth closed and the blood started streamin’ down. And ‘course we all started bust out laughin’. And of course the television crew. He bled like a stuck pig. He handed me the caiman and so we went on with the show. And while we were doin’ the show, he’s down there bleeding, puttin’ his handkerchief on there. We had to take him to a local hospital. He had seven stitches.

01:28:21 - 01:28:43

Some of ’em on the inside of his lip, some on the outside of his lips. And that was somethin’. That’s kind of unusual. Another time he had a baby chimpanzee. Right in the middle of the show, urinated and defecated all over me. In those days, we used the kinda recording it had to use. They didn’t edit it. They had to use it.

01:28:43 - 01:29:00

It was taped live and there was no editing. At the end of the show, they used that on a program, then it was erased. And the next week, they used the same tape again. They used it over and over again, so none of those were kept. There’s no archives. For any of them.

01:29:00 - 01:29:01

I’m sorry?

01:29:01 - 01:29:08

For any of them. So Briggs is the director.

01:29:09 - 01:29:10

You are?

01:29:10 - 01:29:11

What’s your title?

01:29:11 - 01:29:49

When Bob Briggs was director, he followed Bill Hoff. I was deputy director. But I also was the animal man because Bob Briggs was a marketing person, a former Post-Dispatch reporter, former photographer and had worked in public relations who knew nothing about animals. His only claim to fame is he helped sell the Zoo Museum District and they thought he would help raise the public image of the zoo. But I was allowed to run the animal collection, buy and sell the animals. I managed all the curators. I was in charge of maintenance. I was in charge of building the grounds.

01:29:49 - 01:30:01

I was really in charge of running the zoo, so I was still learning to be zoo director. Not realizing it but that’s what I was doing. Okay, just to make my timeline.

01:30:01 - 01:30:03

Who appointed you deputy director?

01:30:03 - 01:30:28

Actually I got my appointment of deputy director under Marlin Perkins when Henry Sanders left the zoo. Moody Lentz was made deputy director. And then Moody died, then I was made deputy director. And then Hoff came in. And then Hoff came in. I was deputy director under Bill Hoff and deputy director then when Bill Hoff left. Bob Briggs who was the marketing person.

01:30:28 - 01:30:31

So how did it work?

01:30:31 - 01:30:41

Did he say take over or was there a conflict between a animal person and I’ll say a business-type person?

01:30:44 - 01:31:18

Bob Briggs was PR person mostly. He had the role of zoo director. He was the chief executive officer. We had a finance officer at the time. We had a business manager at the time. The business manager ran the railroad, the gift shops and the food stands. I was responsible for the operation of the grounds, the animals, the animal collection, maintenance department, the horticulture department. Anything having to do with the animal collection in the public exhibits’ education department.

01:31:18 - 01:31:27

But the businessman took care of the gift shops. At that time, we had big souvenir shops, gift shops and also the railroad.

01:31:27 - 01:31:39

Based on your experience in this world over a period of time, do you believe it’s better to have a business person running the zoo with an animal person, in a sense, second?

01:31:39 - 01:31:44

Or is it better to have the animal person with the business person second?

01:31:45 - 01:32:39

My honest answer is that I believe that the zoo director should be as close to a scientist as possible. I would think that you want a person who is an animal person, a scientist running the zoo with the assistance of a capable team. You need a business manager, you need a financial executive. You need public relations, you need marketing. You need a team of people that can take care of all the dimensions of the zoo while you’re responsible for the overall management. That’s my personal feeling. I think that there’s been times when there’s been businessmen or marketing people or development people that became zoo directors. They had to have a very good animal man taking care of the collection or the zoo went downhill.

01:32:39 - 01:32:46

Did you learn public relations, things or tricks of the trade from Briggs?

01:32:46 - 01:33:21

I learned from every director I worked under. When there was a public relations director, I learned a lot. How to deal with the media, how to deal with the press, how to deal with the public. What you should talk about, what you shouldn’t talk about. Following him, we had a finance officer who was director of the zoo. I learned how to prepare budgets. I learned how to be responsible for money coming in and money going out. How to buy in the best way and how to report to the public and how to report to a commission. I learned that from a finance officer when he was director.

01:33:21 - 01:34:09

So I learned from every director that I worked under, but I still feel the best team is under the direction of a biologist, a naturalist, a zoologist who has in his culture the animals and the relationship with animals in the public, to be able to deal with the public and answer their questions about the animals. The same with the botanical garden. It’s hard for me to manage a botanical garden not run by a great botanist. Like our botanical garden in St. Louis is run by Peter Raven who’s a world-known botanist. He retired and they brought a world-known botanist from Ireland to take over his position. They have a businessman to run the business aspect of the garden. I feel the zoo is the same thing. It should be a scientific institution.

01:34:09 - 01:34:14

Again backpedaling a bit to the TV show.

01:34:14 - 01:34:16

Do you think that you were involved?

01:34:16 - 01:34:17

Was it important to the zoo?

01:34:17 - 01:34:19

Do you feel it was important?

01:34:19 - 01:34:59

I think the St. Louis Zoo show was an extension of our education role of the zoo in that we would able to get beyond our visitors to the zoo that we were able to reach people within 200-mile radius which is at that time was the radius that the Channel 2 went about 200 miles. We were able to educate people about animals but also to inspire people to come to St. Louis and visit the zoo as a result of the TV show. You had indicated that you had tried to do some things with docents and volunteers, but you kind of got pushed down a bit. You’re now the deputy director.

01:34:59 - 01:35:05

Did you have more influence or did it still have to wait ’til you were the power?

01:35:05 - 01:36:10

Well both directors, the marketing director and the finance man when he was director, neither one recognized the value of volunteers. It wasn’t until I became zoo director in 1982 that one of the early trainees that I had as a docent came to me, “It’s okay, Charlie. You’re director. Can we have a docent program?” And I made her chairman of the docent program and we started a new training program and we trained a cadre of docents. And today, I think the zoo has about 200 docents. These are trained docents that help with the education program that give skilled zoo tours to the students, but they also monitor what we call touch tables. In front of the reptile house, there’s a touch table monitored by a docent that has animal skins and skulls, turtle shells, lot of artifacts that students but also the general public are encouraged to pick up and feel and ask the docent questions. In front of the bird house, they have feathers. They have mounted birds.

01:36:10 - 01:37:02

They have bird beaks. You can learn a lot about different bird behavior by their beak. Whether they’re a frugivorous bird, whether they’re a carnivorous bird, they all have a different shaped beak and they also have different shaped feet and the feet for perching or for climbing or for wading or for pedaling like a webbed foot. So they have samples of these feet on the table in front of the bird house. And in front of the cat exhibit are skulls showing the teeth of the carnivores and pelts of stripes from a tiger or spots from a leopard or spots from a cheetah which are different from a leopard’s. And jaguar pelts. So they have pieces of the things that we used to use in the classroom as teaching aids. The whole public, the general public is invited to touch and learn and ask the docents questions.

01:37:02 - 01:37:54

So we have docent stations all over the zoo. So they play both informal and formal role in educating our public. Now you mentioned that there was the marketing guy, Briggs, and he was followed by another non-animal guy. He was followed. At the same time, they thought that he would bring better public image to the zoo. But they were also concerned about financial stability, so they brought in a retired Pricewaterhouse CPO financial expert to manage the books and the budgeting. His name was Richard Schultz. He worked under Bob Briggs for two years and then Bob Briggs was released and Dick Schultz was appointed director.

01:37:54 - 01:38:33

Because they felt with the influx of money from the Zoo Museum District, they wanted to make sure that the public funds were managed properly. So they thought the finance officer would make a good zoo director. Meanwhile, some of the members of the commission would call me aside and say, “Charlie, you’re gonna be next. You’re gonna be the next director. Prepare yourself, be ready because when Dick Schultz retires, you’re gonna be the director. Make sure you’re ready.” So I learned all I could. I never really thought it was ever gonna happen, but I learned about budgeting and managing the budget. And then when he retired, then I was promoted in 1982 as zoo director.

01:38:33 - 01:39:04

But I did learn from everybody I ever worked under. Not only from those I worked under, I also learned from my fellow employees. I learned from Bob Fru. I learned from Jerry Lentz. I learned from Mike Fleig. Because when we were teaching classes, we’d get tired of teaching same class. So we’d switch and I’d teach the bird introduction or the mammal introduction and we all became much more versatile that way, got outside of our areas of expertise. So I was the zoo director then.

01:39:04 - 01:39:21

By then, I had a pretty well-rounded background. I also bought the textbooks. Ornithology, mammalogy textbooks so that I was educating myself to the disciplines that I did not have the opportunity to study in college.

01:39:21 - 01:39:25

What was your relationship with Schultz?

01:39:26 - 01:40:00

In the beginning, he needed me very badly ’cause he knew absolutely nothing about animals. But as his five-year term that he reigned. You know, we went to AZA meetings and nobody would have anything to do with him. They didn’t like him, so I would be trying to introduce him to people. He was so different from the animal curators, from the directors that he had a difficult time getting to be well-known. Whereas I had been attending zoo conferences since 1960s. I was well-known. He became kind of jealous of my popularity.

01:40:00 - 01:40:25

And so in the beginning, he needed me. He treated me very well. But towards the end, he began resenting me. He kept encouraging me to find another zoo. He thought I oughta be a director of a smaller zoo somewhere and he kept encouraging me to apply. But I just waited it out. I was gonna say on one hand, you have the director kinda tryin’ to move you out ’cause he perceives you as a threat, my words.

01:40:25 - 01:40:34

And you have people on the board who are supporters of yours who are saying what, “Hang in there ’cause you’re gonna be the guy”?

01:40:34 - 01:40:43

Right. Bit of a conflict. Well when he was 65, they made him retire. He did not retire. He thought he would work until he was 70.

01:40:44 - 01:40:46

So he was?

01:40:46 - 01:40:53

He sorta tolerated me. I guess he had a feeling he’d have a hard time firing me. Okay.

01:40:54 - 01:40:57

Were you able to make changes?

01:40:57 - 01:41:00

How was the zoo changing at this time?

01:41:00 - 01:41:07

‘Cause you were the deputy director and kinda runnin’ everything, were you sayin’ to people, “Here’s what we’re gonna do”?

01:41:07 - 01:42:03

Durin’ this time of both Bob Briggs and Dick Schultz, I had the opportunity to be part of changing zoo philosophy. Up until that time, up until the late ’60s, early ’70s, the St. Louis Zoo was famous for the animal shows. Chimpanzee show was the most popular show anywhere, followed by the big cat show with Jules Jacot as the trainer and the elephant show with Floyd Smith as the trainer. At the same time, it began to be aware that these animals were becoming endangered. Chimpanzees were becoming endangered. It was well-known that the source of baby chimps was when natives killed adult chimps for food. They would take the babies and hand raise ’em and sell ’em to dealers. And then these were the chimps who were being supplied to zoos.

01:42:03 - 01:43:08

The concept of animals breeding in captivity and maintaining our population in captivity but also exhibiting ’em in more dignity in a natural environment. I had that opportunity to play a role of phasing the St. Louis Zoo out of show business. We also had more money from the Zoo Museum District. We were able to tear down the old lion house that was concrete cubicles with iron bars and replace that with Big Cat Country which was big open yards separated with a boat for lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. So we went from show business to a naturalist environment. We began planning the Jungle of the Apes which was an outdoor exhibit for the great apes where instead of being dressed as clowns, we would have a family of chimpanzees with the male in his group of females with babies being born. People could watch their natural behavior in a natural environment. So we had also phasing out the elephant show because elephants were getting endangered in the wild, both in Africa and India.

01:43:09 - 01:43:41

We took one of our show elephant. First we tried artificial insemination. We weren’t successful. We sent two of our cows to Kansas City, actually three of our cows to Kansas City for a honeymoon with the male that they had. And as a result of that, we had a baby elephant born. We built a brand-new outdoor exhibit for elephants which we have since enlarged even more so. And that baby elephant now has grown up to be a full-grown male. And he sired four more babies with another one on the way.

01:43:41 - 01:44:22

So now we have elephants in a natural environment. Baby in a natural manner in a beautiful environment and we’re educating the public. These elephants, chimpanzees and lions are ambassadors of the animals in the wild. We try to tell as much of a conservation story we can to make people aware of the dilemma of these species in the wild and we have research programs to back that up. So we’ve gone from show business to natural behavior, natural environment in a scientific institution rather than being in the circus business. Now let’s talk about the shows for a minute.

01:44:22 - 01:44:26

You said you helped phase them out when you were deputy director or director?

01:44:26 - 01:45:10

As I was deputy director and director during that time. It happened a little bit at a time to phase them out. It became difficult getting chimps because they were now endangered. We wanted a new exhibit. I have to say the cat collection was phased out first. That was easy because the trainer had a whip, a gun. The animals were trained with force and the young aspiring zoologists really don’t like to put animals through unnatural behaviors using force, so that was an easy one to phase out. And Big Cat Country was the first outdoor natural environment cage we were able to build.

01:45:10 - 01:45:41

That was 1975. It took us a little longer to phase out the chimp show, but we couldn’t get any more chimps. One year under Schultz, we had to bring in a private act. We had a guy named Lil’ brought in from California with four chimps for a couple years and that was kinda slowly phased out. And we decided to plan a brand-new Jungle of the Apes with a new chimp out and that was natural. So the chimp show was phased out. There was a petition passed around St. Louis. Over like 10,000 people signed it.

01:45:41 - 01:46:19

“Get rid of the zoo director, bring the monkey show back.” But the commission threw that petition away and stuck with me and people began falling in love with the Jungle of the Apes watchin’ baby orangutans being born, watchin’ chimps being born, watchin’ baby gorillas being born. So today, it’s a very popular exhibit. So there was some resistance. There was resistance from the public. Now lemme ask you the follow-up question then. Today, there are still animal shows. They’re different. The Birds of Flight show that show different aspects.

01:46:21 - 01:46:25

The stingray touch tank.

01:46:25 - 01:46:30

What are your opinion of these different kind of one?

01:46:30 - 01:46:58

I’ll give you three things: shows that are now proliferating, the type of temporary exhibits that come to zoos and animal rides: camel rides, elephant rides, pony rides within that genre of I’ll say as you mentioned entertainment which is certainly recreation. So let’s start with the animal shows that are now today going on.

01:46:58 - 01:47:00

Good, bad?

01:47:00 - 01:47:52

Well I think in general, animal acts don’t belong in the zoo. But I will make an exception with such as where the animals are not endangered, that there’s no threat to their natural environment as a result of the shows, that the shows have an absolute educational value and that the animals that are trained with a reward system and no punitive aspects to the training. With the sea lion training or sea lion shows, the animals are rewarded with food and they enjoy performing. They seem to enjoy performing. They don’t mind it. They’re not forced. They’re not coerced. There’s no force. There’s no threat. There’s no pain involved.

01:47:52 - 01:48:50

It’s humane. I don’t have a problem. I don’t have a problem with bird shows where these mostly are hand-reared birds that can’t be released back in the wild. These shows are ambassadors for the wildlife. It’s an opportunity to train people, to educate people in a fun one-on-one way that you otherwise may not reach. I see the same way with touch tanks whether it’s sharks or the manta ray or the invertebrates outta the ocean. These are species that are not endangered, they’re readily available and it’s a chance to inspire and excite through the personal interaction. I feel the same way with a docent table where they use a live boa or a fennec fox in an education manner in a children’s zoo where live animals are used for contact in an educational way.

01:48:50 - 01:49:19

But again, most of these animals are captive-raised. Many of ’em are even part of a captive breeding program and they are ambassadors and they are playing a role in education. So those are exceptions. It’s a matter of individual case on how that’s handled. And animal rides. Animal rights? I feel that first of all zoo people are number one animal rights advocates. Animal rides. Oh, rides.

01:49:19 - 01:49:22

Oh, I’m sorry. Forget the other one.

01:49:22 - 01:49:24

Animal rides?

01:49:24 - 01:49:57

In the use of domestic animals, I have no problem with ponies and I think a camel ride is a domesticated animal. I’m afraid I have a hard time accepting elephants anymore as elephant ride. I think any elephant in captivity oughta be part of an organized, coordinated breeding program. Unless it’s absolutely not possible to use it in a breeding program, then it should be used in an educational exhibit of some sort. Since I have an expert here, I’ve always wanted to ask this question.

01:49:57 - 01:50:07

Why do you think there have never really been reptile, I won’t say show but demonstrations like a bird show and so forth?

01:50:07 - 01:51:01

I’ve never seen that. First of all at the reptile house in El Paso, Texas, there was a reptile contract, reptile garden run by a guy named Jerry Tordt. And he had in this reptile house a snake pit that was a brick wall surrounding a moat and there was about 200 diamondback rattlesnakes in there. He had hourly shows, pit shows where they would take and give a lecture on the difference between a venomous snake and a harmless snake. And they would pick the snake up on the hook and let it slide down until the head was close to the ground. Then he would pick it up by the tail and hold it out. And it was kind of a showy, carnival-type show. But it had an educational aspect to it, but it was a show.

01:51:01 - 01:51:49

And there were similar shows in Florida. Ross Allen did regular reptile shows where they would actually milk rattlesnakes and the venom was sold to manufacturers of antivenin where they would inject snake venom into a horse and then take the horse serum and make antivenin. So there were demonstrations. Bill Haast at his reptile garden had regular shows. When we first phased out some of our shows, an elephant got sick. They had to close out the show. Jim Alexander and I did a reptile and bird show where I brought out a boa and a python and a alligator and I’d put the alligator on his back, rub his belly and put him to sleep. And then explained what the gator was really doing and talked about the value of reptiles.

01:51:49 - 01:52:14

And Jim Alexander came out. He had an eagle trained to the gauntlet and an owl and he would tell the difference between the owls, nocturnal birds of prey and the hawks and eagles as diurnal birds of prey and the value of the predator/prey relationship. So there have been some reptile shows, they just haven’t been as broadly accepted as more popular bird shows.

01:52:14 - 01:52:25

Now when you were deputy director and you were working for these other directors, were you communicating with other zoos at the time?

01:52:27 - 01:53:42

My entire zoo career at St. Louis Zoo, I had the opportunity to attend the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, their national conferences and many of the regional conferences. In fact as a curator, I served on the Board of Regents the first time with Denny Merritt and Mike McCloskey and Bill Braker and Gordy Hubbell and Bob Bean. And then my second, I went back. Then later as director, I had a second term of seven years AZA where I went up to all the offices including president from 1990, ’91. So my entire zoo career as a curator and all the way up the ladder, I was active on committee work in AZA. I was on the antivenom committee, snakebite committee. I was on the special interest committee that was dealing with the animal rights people back in those days. I don’t remember all the committees I served on, but I was active in AZA committee.

01:53:42 - 01:53:51

So I always introduced my new director to AZA. I brought him for the first time to the zoo conference and introduced him to other zoo people.

01:53:51 - 01:54:07

When you were again deputy director, did you have mentors who you were kind of leaning on for advice or any of that that you had met or respected in the profession and what were they tellin’ ya?

01:54:07 - 01:55:13

Well as I came up through the ranks, I met George Rabb of course listening to his presentations and Bill Conway and Clayton Freiheit from Denver and Gary Clarke at Topeka. These were all colleagues that I could call up and ask for advice and guidance. And of course, many discussions at the bar. A lotta times with Clayton Freiheit at the bar, we would discuss zoo issues and philosophical aspects. And Roger Conant in Philadelphia. Those were all my mentors besides Marlin Perkins and Moody Lentz. And then later Uly Seal with the Captive Breeding Survival Group which I got active in that organization as a member when I was still curator ranks before I was director. The changing philosophy of zoos, both nationally and internationally was available to me and I was able to take that back to my zoo and I think bring my zoo.

01:55:13 - 01:55:40

My greatest achievement I feel was bringin’ the zoo from show business to scientific aspect conservation research. The four dimensions that the zoo is today: recreation, conservation, research and education. Those are the four dimensions I think our zoo kinda represents and I think most of the major zoos today do. So 1982, you become zoo director.

01:55:44 - 01:55:47

Were you very excited about this?

01:55:47 - 01:55:53

You said, “Now I could do stuff I want.” What was the first thing you did?

01:55:56 - 01:56:32

I was scared to death because suddenly I had the responsibility for everything and I knew I had some limitations. Because you know, I came up through the ranks. I only had two years of college, but I had worked with University of Missouri. I had worked with St. Louis University. I had worked with the Harris Teachers College. So I had a lotta contacts that I was able to continue programs to get the curators involved. I had my curators. I surrounded myself with people and hired people that had strengths where I knew I had weaknesses.

01:56:32 - 01:57:21

So I hired a good finance. My director that I followed was a finance officer, he was no longer there. I hired a young but retired finance officer that was a CPO, certified accountant. I brought him in as my assistant director because I knew I needed a good, strong fiscal support. And I promoted the business manager who had been the railroad manager. So I mean I surrounded myself with people that had skills that I didn’t. I also took all my curators and gave them the opportunity to enhance. They all went to management school at Wheeling which I had attended.

01:57:21 - 01:58:00

I made sure all my curators got to go to management school, take advantage of any HR training in the area that was available to them. There’s several private programs for executive training. And so I made sure that I surrounded myself with a capable staff and gave them the support. I didn’t tell ’em how to do it. I let ’em do what they did best and I gave them the support. So I think part of my success as director was that I had a great team that I helped develop, that I gave support to. And the people that ran the zoo when I was zoo director. I’ve retired 13 years.

01:58:00 - 01:58:39

They’re still there running the zoo. So there’s a new person who’s called president replace me. Jeff Bonner who came from Indianapolis Zoo, he’s doing an outstanding job. But he kept in place all the reports that I had and they’re still reporting to him and they’re still running the zoo. The zoo is running very smoothly and it gives Jeff the opportunity to focus on fundraising which he does very well. In fact, our zoo has just completed $130 billion capital endowment campaign of which I helped work on that as well. I still help the zoo in friend-raising and fundraising. New director.

01:58:39 - 01:58:41

What’s the first thing you wanted to do?

01:58:41 - 01:58:45

You’re the new director, what’s the first thing you wanted to do?

01:58:45 - 01:59:21

First thing I wanted do is develop the education department and the children’s zoo even further than it had ’cause now I had the opportunity. That’s with the docent program and began planning a education senate which had new classrooms, new auditorium. That came about in 1985, took three years to get that. But that was one of my goals. It was to have an education center that had an auditorium so we could educate our members. That had classrooms so we could have better organized school programs and develop an education department with the whole staff.

01:59:21 - 01:59:31

How would you describe your management style and how is it different from the past directors you worked for and did it evolve?

01:59:31 - 01:59:45

Delegation. Enhancing staff and delegating. Enhancing the staff and delegating responsibilities to them and then giving the support they needed to use that delegation, give ’em the support.

01:59:45 - 01:59:47

From the past people you worked for?

01:59:47 - 02:00:31

Yeah, the past people I worked for were more micro-managers I felt. I also groomed as many keepers as I could to be potential curators, gave the opportunity to our keepers to become all they could. Just as Marlin had encouraged me, I tried to be the best encouragement I could to the rank and file keepers that they be the best they could. And then if they could, we created zoologist positions. That was kinda new but that Marlin had had at Lincoln Park. Zoologist is a position that’s a curator-in-training. And they go from zoologist to assistant curator to curator. We spun many of ’em off that went off to other zoos.

02:00:31 - 02:00:38

Now you mentioned that because as we talked, many directors have backgrounds in zoology or biology.

02:00:38 - 02:00:44

So do you think these things that you’ve mentioned made you a good zoo director?

02:00:44 - 02:00:48

What were those little things that made you a good zoo director?

02:00:48 - 02:01:24

I think being a good zoo director, for me was to recognize other people’s talents and utilize ’em and let them shine. Have a lotta stars on the team and not try to be the only star. Because I did know from historically, the first director was very, very good, George Vierheller. He put the zoo on the map, but he was a star. He was always in the newspaper. He was always quoted. He made all decisions. And it was kind of a one-man role and the world was changing.

02:01:24 - 02:02:08

I learned that from Marlin and I think Marlon wanted to create a team because he wanted to be able to run the zoo. He also wanted to be able to go away and do Wild Kingdom. He could only do that if he had a responsible team. But I think that was good zoo management and I think I followed that pattern by developing staff and having the staff run the zoo. And also enhancing the collection in every way, having good breeding programs in place and being professionally. I made sure that every curator was a member in the zoo. I made sure we paid the membership in the national organization for every curator. That was part of their job specification.

02:02:08 - 02:02:22

They got a paid membership and they participated in committees, SSPs. By that participation, they were further developing in their own careers.

02:02:24 - 02:02:34

During your time as director, if I was to talk to your curatorial staff, your professional staff, how would they say, how would they describe your management style?

02:02:38 - 02:03:17

From what they tell me today, they felt that my first interest was always the zoo and not myself. I think they always thought I was fair. They didn’t always agree with me. But they always thought that whatever I dictated, it was in the best interest of the zoo. They also felt that I was concerned about their welfare in most of my decisions I made. So they always felt like I was very supportive. So when I go back to the zoo, they always treat me like family. I mean we still hug.

02:03:20 - 02:03:22

Guess you couldn’t say that for a lotta the directors.

02:03:22 - 02:03:49

You had indicated that when you were coming up, there were people that you worked with that essentially were hires because someone said, “Hire this guy.” What kind of pressure as a director did you have, if ever, from your board to hire individuals and how did you handle that?

02:03:51 - 02:04:25

By the time I came director, we were a political subdivision of the state of Missouri. The Zoo Museum District. So I was no longer beholding to either the county executive or the mayor. So they did not have the authority to call me up and ask me to hire anybody. I happened to know both of ’em and I was on good terms. Neither of ’em ever asked me to hire anybody. But I did have some lower-level people call me up and say, “Hey, the mayor wants you to hire so-and-so.” I would give them the courtesy of an interview. We would interview them, but we never felt compelled to hire ’em.

02:04:27 - 02:04:29

Did you have that pressure from board members?

02:04:30 - 02:05:16

Very rarely. And if I did, I gave them the interview, a courtesy of the interview. But there was always a reason why I didn’t have to hire ’em. I had some board members that were businessmen that once in a while would try to use your influence on me, but I also had a board member who was a judge and his name was Tom McGuire. Tom McGuire was a very strong mentor for me. He taught me a lot about the legal issues having to do with anything legal in the zoo. Any legal problem whether it was HR or with the public, I could always go for advice. And if I ever got pressure from any member of the board, I would confided in the judge and he would usually have really good advice.

02:05:16 - 02:05:31

Like tell ’em to put it in writing and they really would. Very good advice. Very good advice. Some zoos’ directors have lived on the property.

02:05:33 - 02:05:35

Was that ever offered to you?

02:05:35 - 02:05:58

That was never an option, never an option. You knew people that lived on the property. I knew quite a few zoos. San Antonio had residents on the property. I think at one time, Oklahoma City. I know Kansas City did it one time, residents on the property. I have no objection to it. I mean I think that’s part of the compensation package.

02:05:58 - 02:06:12

But if a director’s expected to host receptions in his home for fundraising, having you on a property would have a big advantage. It’d be nice to be able to get away from it at night.

02:06:12 - 02:06:15

I was gonna say did you ever aspire to have a home on the grounds?

02:06:15 - 02:06:30

Well my wife would tell you I did live at the grounds ’cause I spent a lotta time at night. I was on 24-hour call. Just again follow up here. You talked about Marilyn helping you with your first reptile capture of a rattlesnake.

02:06:30 - 02:06:35

How involved was she or your children during your time at the zoo?

02:06:38 - 02:06:43

Fundraising or things or meeting donors or field trips?

02:06:45 - 02:07:16

My children, actually when they were really little, I still had the pet shop and they helped raise a lotta baby animals. Wolves and coyotes. And so they grew up with animals before I went to the zoo. By the time I got to the zoo, they were already teenagers. They did come out to the zoo often. They took some of the classes at the zoo. Marilyn did accompany me to all zoo functions, so she got to be well-known. In fact, in my capacity as a friend-raiser as a curator going up the ranks.

02:07:16 - 02:07:48

When the zoo had a fundraising party, I would be at the gate with big boa or python around my shoulders, making sure everybody that came to the party if they wanted to, they got the chance to touch a snake. Marilyn was often sitting at my side greeting people, meeting people. And she also attended most of the national conferences that she could get away when the kids were small. She attended conference with me. So she got to know a lotta the zoo directors’ wives and zoo directors as well. Like Bill Braker, they’re old friends.

02:07:51 - 02:08:03

In your capacity as director because the zoo was growing, did you ever have the opportunity or desire to bring animals home and take care of ’em or were there circumstances like that?

02:08:03 - 02:08:17

I did bring animals home once in a while to give a bottle. But often I went to the zoo at night, especially with baby orangs, gorillas and apes. We never took them home. They were at the zoo. We’d go to the zoo at night and give the bottle.

02:08:20 - 02:08:31

Was there a master plan for the St Louis Zoo before you became director that you were following or did you want to initiate a master plan?

02:08:31 - 02:08:38

And the followup to that is how long should a master plan be a master plan?

02:08:38 - 02:09:26

Well I initiated the first master plan. The zoo did not have one. I initiated one ’bout maybe my second or third year with the assistant of the Board of Directors. And we had a five-year master plan that was to upgrade the infrastructure of the zoo using the money from the Zoo Museum District and also to plan new exhibits. And I think we followed that with maybe a 10-year plan. You evaluate your plan every year and you may have to readjust it every year because technology changes. And when you create a five-year master plan five years from now, it may no longer be dated. Timely.

02:09:26 - 02:09:45

So I think you have to re-examine your master plan and make adjustments as you go. I think our current master plan that they’re working on our zoo now is a 50-year master plan but with five-year increments for the first five, the second five and the 50 year is more of a dream plan.

02:09:46 - 02:09:53

How would you tell me or would you, how did your style of directing evolve and change or did it?

02:09:56 - 02:10:38

I think my style improved as I went through the ranks and was influenced by different people. But I think probably by the time I got to be director, I was so unsure of my capability of doing the thorough job, I realized how much I would depend on other talented people and developing that talent around me, surrounding myself with people that had skills that I didn’t have. I think that carried me through my entire career.

02:10:40 - 02:10:53

How important would you say the Species Survival Plan was and how did you as director of the zoo make it an important part of the zoo philosophy at your zoo?

02:10:53 - 02:11:53

Well as my zoo staff developed, I made sure that every curator was involved with AZA and that their collection became part of AZA Species Survival Plans that most of them were on committees and so on. Many became chairman of the committee. Because we thought it was extremely important that our zoo play a strong role in conservation and only a collaborative program would be successful. But also it became apparent that our visitors were becoming more sophisticated and that they appreciated that the zoo was involved in conservation. There were more people that would give money to the zoo for its conservation programs than they would for the collection. So I think the zoos of the world have evolved in that regard from collections of animals to conservation centers.

02:11:53 - 02:12:10

Were there attitudes that you had to try and change when people were coming from the animal show philosophy that you were kinda phasing out to this survival conservation philosophy?

02:12:10 - 02:12:15

Was it hard to move people in that direction or did you have a plan?

02:12:15 - 02:12:41

The big problem that I had in moving from show business to conservation was with the general public. The people loved the animal shows. They loved the monkey show. Even though it was chimpanzees to the public, it was the monkey show. But my curatorial staff were young people. They had college degrees, they had bachelor’s degrees. They were conservation and science-oriented. They were not only supportive.

02:12:41 - 02:13:06

They were part of that movement. So we had to convince our public through our public relations, press relations, our interviews with the press so that we slowly would educate our public on what our zoo was trying to do and why it was important that we do it. And I think the public ultimately accepted that, but it was difficult at first.

02:13:08 - 02:13:13

Did your managing or management strategies change over the years?

02:13:13 - 02:13:18

You’ve indicated you had been micromanaged or there were people who micromanage.

02:13:18 - 02:13:20

Did you have an open-door policy?

02:13:22 - 02:13:23

Did these things evolve?

02:13:23 - 02:14:00

Well since I came up through the ranks, most of the people or the staff knew me when I was nothing. And so I was nice to the people that I went up through the ranks with. I shared as much as I could of my benefits. I shared with my staff. I made sure that all my staff got active at AZA goin’ to zoo conferences. I shared my staff in a travel program. I not only led safaris, all my curators led safaris. So they had a great deal of opportunity to improve themselves professionally at the same time.

02:14:04 - 02:14:11

What was your relationship with Bob Hyland and how significant was he in development of the zoo?

02:14:11 - 02:15:04

Well Bob Hyland actually was chairman of the commission and appointed me as zoo director. He also had a lot of influence from a couple members of the commission: Howard Baer who was the civic leader and Judge McGuire who had been president. Both of ’em had been president of the zoo commission before and they had a strong influence on me. And he was a very powerful man in St. Louis. He was the vice-president of KMOX, of CBS and locally manager of KMOX radio and one of the 12 most powerful people in St. Louis which included August Busch from Anheuser-Busch and Chuck Knight from Emerson and all the major leaders of corporations in the area. And they worked together for the betterment of St. Louis. So he was a very powerful person. In the very beginning, he was extremely supportive.

02:15:04 - 02:15:23

But there were times when he could become rather dictatorial and sometimes a little bit hard to get along with, but I managed to survive mostly because I always had the support of Howard Baer and Judge McGuire who he had a high regard for them as well. I always came out okay.

02:15:25 - 02:15:32

Were other people in the community or local politicians involved with the zoo in helping it?

02:15:32 - 02:15:46

Well since the zoo was part of the Zoo Museum District, it was not really under either the city or the county. But we always had a warm, friendly relationship with both the mayor and the county executive. So it was one of cooperation.

02:15:46 - 02:15:49

Were you ever seeking their help or not really?

02:15:49 - 02:15:53

Not really. Only the cooperation which we usually had.

02:15:53 - 02:15:58

And as a director, what were some of your big challenges?

02:16:00 - 02:16:22

I guess in the early days was fundraising. Fundraising. I’m sorry. I can’t go beyond any challenges. I’m sorry, I can’t think of any or call ’em great challenges. Just being accepted, I guess. Well let’s just talk about fundraising for a second.

02:16:22 - 02:16:26

Did you take to it easily?

02:16:27 - 02:16:30

Were they making you the point guy?

02:16:31 - 02:17:19

By the time we got into serious fundraising, we had a foundation of executives from the St. Louis area that were not only donors to the zoo but also very familiar with the people in St. Louis that had either the corporate foundation or family money behind. And so I was usually part of the storytellers saying, “Here’s the history of the zoo. This is where we have been in the past. Here’s where we are now and this is where we’d like to go in the future.” And then the major corporate head would make the ask. It was someone who had already made a big contribution and say, “I made my $500,000 donation. How about you join me with another 500,000?” That’s the way they ask usually when I told a story, they made the ask.

02:17:19 - 02:17:22

Okay, so did you ever have to do the ask?

02:17:22 - 02:17:25

Once in a while, I did. It was someone that I had influence with.

02:17:28 - 02:17:38

Were there any big surprises to you that you walked into a meeting and you were asking for 500,000 and they gave 7 million?

02:17:40 - 02:18:28

No, I wouldn’t say surprise. But there was a gentleman in St. Louis named Dana Brown who owned Dana Brown Coffee company later called Tiger Brand Coffee. And I got to meet him at a dinner once and I invited him out for a behind-the-scenes tour. And he came out to the zoo and I gave him a tour on a cart. A couple days later, he sent me a check for $5,000. And a couple times, he’d send me a can of coffee with animals on the can. And another time, he sent $10,000 check. And then when he died, there was an article in the paper that had left a big foundation of about $55 million and that there was a trust established by Dana Brown that he would support the charities in his death that he supported in his life.

02:18:28 - 02:18:37

So I got our development director together and we called the foundation and we reminded them that Dana Brown had sent several checks to the zoo.

02:18:37 - 02:18:41

“So did we qualify as a recipient?

02:18:41 - 02:18:54

We had the benefit of his gifts in the past.” And he said, “Yes, why don’t you prepare a proposal and make it substantial, couple several million dollars?

02:18:54 - 02:19:21

Because we have that capability. The weight of your proposal depends on the merit of the proposal.” So we wrote up a proposal and we were awarded 2 1/2 million which we were really surprised to get. But the trust has consistently supported the zoo to large-numbered gifts. But that’s one much greater than we ever anticipated.

02:19:21 - 02:19:25

Did you feel it was important to get those people to the zoo?

02:19:25 - 02:20:06

I think the behind-the-scenes tour is what got us interested in the zoo, absolutely. In fact, our travel program, we started out taking members on safari. Many of the people that went on safari in the early days were upcoming executives and civic leaders. And today, they’re among our major donors. So our travel program was really a friend-raising program. I think part of fundraising is friend-raising first to get people familiar with the good things you’re doing and getting ’em excited and interested in it. And then when they have the capabilities, they wanna be part of it.

02:20:07 - 02:20:10

And the board, you had to answer to a board?

02:20:10 - 02:20:30

I answered to the chairman of the board. It was a board of 10 members. Five from the city, five from the county that were nominated by the committee. The city members had to have the mayor approval. The county had to have the county executives’ approval, but they nominated from within the board.

02:20:30 - 02:20:33

So the chairman was part of that?

02:20:33 - 02:20:47

They then elected the chairman and so I reported to the chairman. But all decisions of the chairman had to be ratified by the board of 10. So you had to have a real good relationship with the chairman. I had to have a good relationship with him, hopefully all 10.

02:20:49 - 02:20:55

(chuckles) Were there ever any challenges working with a group of those people?

02:20:55 - 02:21:01

There were at times. But if three or four were good strong supporters, they usually convinced the others.

02:21:01 - 02:21:06

Okay, and how was Howard Baer a help?

02:21:06 - 02:22:01

Well Howard Baer was a civic leader that was very powerful in the Republican circles and he had the dream about the Zoo Museum District and was always confidant of mine and a mentor. Had a good feel for all the public institutions in St. Louis. And the judge was well-connected in the Democratic machine. Was a judge, a lawyer before that and had been city counselor and advisor to Vierheller in Vierheller days. So he wrote the legislation. So it was Howard Baer and Judge McGuire that actually created the Zoo Museum District and planned it so that it went through the legislature and then through a public referendum. So they were very great advisors to me and supporters. Whenever I got in trouble with any of the other commissioners, they always came to my defense.

02:22:02 - 02:22:06

But you never got in trouble. Not serious trouble, no.

02:22:08 - 02:22:10

Did Howard Baer?

02:22:13 - 02:22:23

Hang on, I had a question. It escapes me here. You’d mentioned that recreation and conservation, education were important.

02:22:23 - 02:22:32

When you became director, was research something that was high on your list or how did you start to develop that concept?

02:22:33 - 02:23:36

Well because of my relationship with AZA and working with the Captive Breeding Survival Group, research became very important to me. And so I did make sure that all of my curatorial staff were involved in some research program. But with emphasis out of the veterinary hospital, we added a reproductive physiologist to the staff. We began to do not only emphasis on breeding endangered species but also conception, planning so that we were not producing unnecessary animals as well. We start using animal conception, birth conception in certain populations so we didn’t produce animal surplus. By then, we no longer were trying to sell animals to any animal dealer or private entities. We only sold to established zoos’ members of AZA. And so we were only trying to produce just the right number of animals to maintain the breeding population without producing.

02:23:36 - 02:23:48

So our research began emphasizing not just on good fertility but also on contraception. So our zoo became a center for contraception research.

02:23:51 - 02:23:55

Did you have particular research things that you wanted to champion?

02:23:58 - 02:25:00

Well for one thing, we’re tryin’ to do research on breeding elephants in captivity. So we did some experimental work with collecting semen from a bull elephant in Kansas City and shipping it by Greyhound bus. And then taking the semen was in capsules and the veterinarians would take the capsules and put ’em through, enter ’em into the female elephants and mash the capsule and try to impregnate the elephants. And we sent a reproductive biologist to Africa where they were culling elephants. And so the elephants that were culled, she autopsied the females and removed their female tract in order to find out how long they were, how deep they were. And apparently our arms weren’t long enough to impregnate an elephant and that’s when we learned that. By then, we were able to measure the cycle. We knew when our female elephants were cycling in estrus.

02:25:00 - 02:25:35

So we know when the best time that they were fertile so that we sent them for a honeymoon with the bull in Kansas City. And outta the three, one in full-term and produced Raja the elephant. But that was one of my high priorities in research was elephant reproduction. We talked about research and maybe volatile situations or difficult ones. In 1991, you euthanized the gaur, an endangered species.

02:25:36 - 02:25:37

Can you tell us what happened?

02:25:37 - 02:25:42

How did you handle this kinda volatile situation?

02:25:42 - 02:25:44

Was it necessary?

02:25:44 - 02:26:30

The gaur, I don’t remember exact details. But they had infirmities due to old age and yet we suspected or we hoped that perhaps they had viable semen. So we did have to euthanize ’em. But before they euthanized ’em, they electroejaculated them and collected the semen. And then that semen was used for artificial insemination projects with other gaur. I don’t remember the details on that. But at one time Lee Simmons, the director of the Omaha Zoo took an inventory of all the gaur in captivity and produced a stud book and a chart showing all the gaur that were in captivity and which ones should be bred. At that time, they were at Lincoln Park.

02:26:30 - 02:26:54

I’m tryin’ to remember at Nebraska Zoo, I think Oklahoma City, Brownsville, St. Louis. There were only a handful of zoos that had gaur. And he felt that if they were gonna survive, they had to be managed, just one herd. I think that’s one of the forerunners of our species survival center. That was just a hobby of Lee Simmons at that time if I remember correctly.

02:26:54 - 02:26:58

Did you have any public relations problems because of having to do this?

02:26:58 - 02:27:12

I can’t remember that. No, not at that time. And we’re talkin’ about education also as part of the big four, so to speak. And you had indicated you now were able to do the docents and move them ahead.

02:27:12 - 02:27:16

Was there other visions for education that you wanted to develop?

02:27:19 - 02:28:46

I had hoped to have quite honestly an education center which we were able to build, a living world and go deeper into public education. So we developed exhibits. One was the diversity of life showing the great diversity from the animal kingdom from the invertebrates to the fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and finally the highest order in the animal kingdom: man. And so we had a reproduction of the prehistoric man, Australopithecus on display. And we also had an (mutters), whatever they call a mechanical man who was Darwin, Charles Darwin who stood there and talked about his theory of heredity and evolution. That was a Discovery of Life exhibit. And then we also had live animals, fish in aquariums and mammals, birds, everything represented in one room. And then we also had an Ozark stream, a living stream, where we had a reproduction aquarium about 60-feet long that had all the native fish, minnows, small mouth bass, rock bass, goggle-eye.

02:28:46 - 02:29:18

All the different minnows that are found in Missouri as an educational ecological exhibit from Missouri. And that was part of public education with the graphics and audios, videos. We also got a grant from Apple and had about 30 computers so that for the first time people could use computers to get information about the animal kingdom. Now you mentioned the animatronics.

02:29:20 - 02:29:24

How did Darwin play in St. Louis, Missouri?

02:29:25 - 02:30:12

It was well-received. We only had a few people who complained because they felt that we should have a creation exhibit as well. But it wasn’t a big enough objection that ever took place. The display has since been taken down and replaced because everything really wore out and they’ve created new spaces, education spaces in its place. They have early childhood center now and other teachers resource centers have taken the place of both these exhibits. You mentioned education. Help me out with the exhibit. There was a major exhibit, you may have mentioned just don’t know the name where you had many, many, many what I’ll call electronic displays.

02:30:13 - 02:30:19

And then you also had I believe a Marlin Perkins animatronic that welcomed you.

02:30:19 - 02:30:20

Am I correct?

02:30:20 - 02:30:48

No, we didn’t have Marlin Perkins. That was Darwin. Darwin. But we did have a computer station with about 20 or 30 Apple computers where you could learn all you wanted to learn about tigers or lions or zebras or any kind of animal. But that was in the early days of computer when most people didn’t have a computer at home. And we had hoped that teachers would bring their students there and introduce their students to computers as a learning and teaching resource.

02:30:48 - 02:30:51

Did it work the way you thought it would?

02:30:51 - 02:31:00

The technology advanced so fast that within a couple years, schools had their own computers in the classroom. They didn’t have to come to the zoo to use ours.

02:31:01 - 02:31:16

Did space constraints within either inside or the physical plant of St. Louis Zoo, did it ever hinder your ability to plan exhibits or did you have enough room?

02:31:16 - 02:32:02

Well we had 91 acres at the zoo grounds including the parking lots. I had always wanted a breeding farm. In an interview with a newspaper one time, they asked me what my dreams was. And I said, “Well someday I hope we would have a breeding farm, an outlying area where we could breed some of the endangered species. Because now we had two or three yards with Speke’s gazelle and two or three yards with lesser kudu and multiple exhibits in order to have the breeding population. I was hoping we’d have a breeding farm where we could expand our populations and have just one family of each on display. A lady read that in the newspaper and she called me up. Of course we had many offers, people wanting to sell us property.

02:32:02 - 02:32:28

But she called me up and said, “I’ve got 350 acres. It’s a wildlife sanctuary. Would you be interested in that?” So I went out and looked at it. It was 350 acres of wilderness. Her husband had bought two or three farms, combined it and was gonna build a summer home there and never did. And she just kept it and maintained it as a bird sanctuary. So we liked it. We accepted it and she donated.

02:32:28 - 02:33:01

It was 350 acres in an adjoining county. And there was no natural water there. We brought in some fence builders outta Texas that were accustomed to putting up game fences around Texas ranches. They put a game fence around the entire 350 acres. There was only intermittent streams. And one of the neighbors said, “You know, if those streams dry up in winter, there’s no place for wildlife or water.” So we decided to dam up the stream. So we built a dam. We built a 12-acre lake.

02:33:01 - 02:33:42

So we had a 12-acre lake. We also cleared a lotta the cedar trees. We cleared an area that would be good enough for our barns and paddock areas. The finances weren’t available to take it beyond that, but we did harvest some of the cedar and use it for structures in the zoo. And the reptile department began releasing captive-hatched alligator snapping turtles in the lake. And to this day, they still survive there. So there’s hopefully a breeding program for alligator snappers which are endangered both in Missouri and Illinois. But the rest of the farm has never been developed beyond that.

02:33:42 - 02:34:13

The zoo is maintaining at this time just as a wilderness track. The possibility of it as a breeding farm was my dream. If ever anything happens with that track in the future at this point in time, it’s not in the master plan. So we’ll see. So there’s 350 acres ready to be developed. It’s there. It’s on reserve if they ever need it. By the way, the zoo did buy a hospital across the highway from the zoo, 13-acre hospital that was condemned.

02:34:13 - 02:34:41

And they tore the hospital down and they’re putting deck parking and ultimately they hope to move maintenance department, some of the research facilities, maybe the hospital. Other areas of facilities that are using up space on the 90 acres now could be vacated and moved over to the hospital location and make room for new exhibits at the zoo. So that is in the long-range plan at the zoo is expand the zoo exhibits.

02:34:43 - 02:34:46

When you were director, what mistakes?

02:34:46 - 02:34:50

You were looking and you were at these conferences and talkin’ to people.

02:34:50 - 02:35:02

What mistakes did you see zoos making in exhibiting the animals and allowing people to see them and how did that affect how you wanted to do it?

02:35:03 - 02:36:04

I don’t think anybody else’s mistakes ever affected me except my main concern was giving the animals the most humane care we possibly could, most natural environment and make sure that we had cooperative breeding programs. And I think the zoos that I admired most were those that were ahead of me in that regard. At that time, I always idolized the Bronx Zoo, the Brookfield Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, the National Zoo. They all had great conservation programs, research programs. They were all involved in more than just a menagerie of animals. So those were my ideals that I try to pattern our zoo after. But also our Missouri botanical garden in St. Louis was a botanical garden of vivarium, a center for scientific research and I hoped that our zoo could become more of that kind of a scientific institution rather than just a circus with animal performers. And as zoo director, you were meeting lots of people.

02:36:05 - 02:36:09

Some of them famous.

02:36:11 - 02:36:15

How did that affect the zoo?

02:36:15 - 02:36:18

Did they help raise money?

02:36:18 - 02:36:24

Who were some of the people that made big impressions on you, that surprised you, that you had the opportunity to meet?

02:36:26 - 02:36:30

Were they helpful in any way to the zoo other than coming to see the zoo?

02:36:33 - 02:37:09

You know, I have a hard time answering that one. I’ll throw out one, which was Jane Goodall. Okay, we did have the opportunity to invite Jane Goodall to speak to our association members. And in fact, our auditorium wasn’t big enough. We had to rent Powell Hall which is the orchestra symphony hall. So Jane Goodall came and talked about her experiences with chimps and that helped with our zoo image. We also brought Jim Holden’s partner. Can’t think of her name.

02:37:09 - 02:37:26

Stephanie Parze. We brought her to St. Louis and she talked about her animal orphanage in Africa. I’m tryin’ to think other people we brought. We also had Grzimek visit one time and we had him read some of our members.

02:37:27 - 02:37:29

Would you explain who he is?

02:37:29 - 02:37:31

Would you explain who he is?

02:37:31 - 02:38:08

Grzimek, Bernhard Grzimek was director of the Frankfurt Zoo and also established the Serengeti Research Station in Tanzania. And so a well-known biologist and he was the Marlin Perkins of Africa, of Europe because he had a TV show in Germany that went all over Europe. And he also was the author of the “Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom”. Of which at the time he was a guest in St. Louis, they had only one volume. The Volume of Mammals was in the market and I happen to have a copy which he autographed which I have.

02:38:10 - 02:38:13

Was Betty White a friend of the zoo and how was she friend?

02:38:13 - 02:38:56

Well Betty White was a personal friend of Marlin and Carol Perkins. Apparently she was a fan of Wild Kingdom. And one time when Marlin was visiting in California, they met Betty White. And Betty White, Carol Perkins became very, very close friends. Later when Marlin Perkins and Carol Perkins, after he retired from the zoo, he established the Wild Captive Survival Center which at that time was called the Wolf Center. And they had some fundraisers. They invited Betty White as a guest and she came to the fundraisers, gave a speech, gave a talk. And then later she made the same kind of visits to the St. Louis Zoo and did some assistance with the St Louis Zoo in fundraising.

02:38:56 - 02:39:22

She is a avid, avid zoo fan and a friend of any zoo. And of course she’s now the oldest performing Hollywood movie actress still active in TV and movies and doing a great job and still an advocate for zoos. Now the zoo’s made up of many parts. And not only animals, visitor services are important for people to come to the zoo.

02:39:22 - 02:39:32

When you first got to the zoo, can you talk about what the zoo had as far as visitor services?

02:39:32 - 02:39:40

And then when you were director, how did you want to change that visitor service experience?

02:39:44 - 02:40:29

When I came to the zoo, they had souvenir stands that sold whips and spears. The kids were buyin’ ’em for a buck and then they stab at the animals. They’d come to the reptile house. They’d lean over the pits. We had open pits. They’d try to stab the gators with the rubber-tipped spears and they see the trainer snapping his whip at the cats and lions and tigers. So they’d try snap across the bars to the chimpanzees. And I resented that. I hated that. And I told Moody, I said, “You know, I don’t think it’s right that they sell these things.” He says, “Well I want you to go tell Mr. Sanders because he’s in charge of the souvenir stands.

02:40:29 - 02:41:05

I have no control over that.” So I went to see Mr. Sanders in his office. Henry Sanders was the assistant director. And I told him, I said, “You know, these kids have these spears and these whips and they’re teasin’ the animals. And I just don’t think it’s professional and I just don’t think it’s right.” And he said, “Well how many animals have you lost?” I said, “Well I don’t think we’ve lost any yet.” He says, “Well I’ll tell you what. You bring me a list of animals that you’ve lost and I’ll buy ’em for you because those cost us 10 cents a piece. We sell ’em for a dollar. We make a lotta money. Go back to your office.

02:41:05 - 02:41:39

Go back to your reptiles.” And so that stuck with me. When I became director, I knew I wasn’t a merchandiser. I wasn’t a businessman. And I went to Bob Hyland and I said, “I’d like to bring in a consultant to look at our food service, business operation.” And see, I didn’t wanna hire anybody. But I wanted to pay somebody. I didn’t want a marriage. I just wanted a partnership to evaluate it and we brought in Jerry Ward. And Jerry Ward who was active member of AZA was in food service and gift shops.

02:41:39 - 02:42:24

He came in and did a research study and wrote a proposal where he suggested that. We had combination food stands and souvenir stands all in one roof. They had hotdogs, hamburgers, popcorn and cheap chintzy, made in Japan souvenirs. He said, “You should have upgraded apparel, nice things for a nice price. People come from all over the country. It’s a free zoo, but they got money to spend. You should have nice things. You oughta have gift shop, but you oughta have a merchandisers running the gift shop and you oughta have a better-quality food stand and you oughta have a trained food service manager doin’ that.” So I went back with that proposal to Bob Hyland.

02:42:24 - 02:43:05

I got a budget. I used Jerry Ward as a consultant. We interviewed people. We brought in a woman who had been a chief merchandiser for one of the St. Louis department stores, put her in charge of merchandise and gift shops. We hired a food service manager who’s trained in food service. And then we got a financing budget to build new refreshment stands. We built a central refreshment stand and we improved the quality of the food and we built separate gift shops. And we put in apparel and fine, nice plush animals, much better quality.

02:43:05 - 02:43:44

We had some inexpensive things, but we went upscale because the philosophy was grandma and grandpa will buy something nice for the grandchildren and so we oughta have something nice. You have the nickel-and-dime things for those people that can’t afford anything else because we’re a free zoo. The poor parts of town are part of our audience. We have to have something for them too. The volume that both our food and gift shops went up fantastic, grade up. We upgraded greatly. The volume went up. And quite honestly, my image with my commission went up too because the improvement with the zoo.

02:43:44 - 02:43:46

And our public acceptance went along with it.

02:43:50 - 02:43:53

Was the Living World part of this?

02:43:53 - 02:44:16

The Living World was part of it. When we built the Living World, we put in a painted giraffe, upscale restaurant with fine food, fine dining, salad bar. All kinds of food was never available before and a big gift shop, originally run by the Zoo Friends Association. But now it’s run by professional staff, but it used to be run 100% by volunteers and now it’s run by professional staff.

02:44:17 - 02:44:27

During your career, what would you consider to be major events that affected not only your zoo but other zoos?

02:44:32 - 02:45:29

Main events. One strong influence where there were some animal rights people concerned about the welfare of animals in zoos. And I think about that time, zoos also were concerned about the welfare of their animals and their collection where they tried to be as humane as possible with the collection we have, makin’ their exhibits much more comfortable for the animals. The environment comfortable for the visitors but also to make sure that the visitor felt like the animal was happy. So the animals were taken from behind bars and put out in open environmental groups. And I think giving ’em larger space, more room, big yards for the cheetahs to run in, outdoor enclosures for great apes and for the cats. I think all that was part of being more humane to the animals that we have in our trust.

02:45:31 - 02:45:37

Were there major events though that encompassed all zoos, that not only affected your zoo?

02:45:39 - 02:46:03

I think the disappearing wilderness areas a threat to the habitat and the plight of endangered species influenced all zoos to become breeding centers from endangered species and conservation centers as opposed to animal collections. That was a phenomenon that went by zoo-wide in the last 10 years probably stronger than ever.

02:46:04 - 02:46:06

Did you have frustrating times as zoo director?

02:46:08 - 02:46:37

Frustrating time as zoo director. Probably. I just can’t think of ’em today anymore. Probably if you had asked me 15 years ago, I could’ve told you all of ’em. The good times far outnumber the bad times, so I only remember the good times. We had talked about management style and so forth. Some people have said that your style was not always gentle but always fair and direct.

02:46:39 - 02:46:42

Would you say that’s how you saw yourself?

02:46:42 - 02:47:13

My curators have told me that I was like a bear, 90% teddy bear and 10% grizzly bear. Everybody loved the teddy bear and they were scared to death of the griz. Yeah, I chewed ’em out pretty hard. But I always forgave ’em and they gave me credit for that. I never held a grudge and every day was fresh. You’ve talked about volunteers and docents and something you wanna develop.

02:47:15 - 02:47:22

Would you say that in any zoo or certainly in your zoo that helps to fill a need and has been a very successful thing?

02:47:24 - 02:48:07

I think that our docent program and volunteer program. I’m sorry. Our volunteer program at the zoo is so strong. It probably brings in about a couple million dollars of labor a year. The volunteers, I think we have 2,000. They volunteer on a regular basis. They serve a big function at the zoo. Quite honestly, our volunteers are a big donor part of our zoo. They give to our capital campaign as well and they give their time and they really serve the public.

02:48:07 - 02:48:38

They make the zoo a much friendlier place because of their function. It’s absolutely critical. I think it’s unique to America. Well we had zoo directors visit from Europe. They can’t believe that there are people who will volunteer with enthusiasm and they don’t expect to be paid. It’s a concept unique to America. Today, a person coming into the zoo profession today.

02:48:38 - 02:48:51

Should they be able to move up the ladder in a sense as you did to potentially become a zoo director or is that avenue less than it was when you started?

02:48:56 - 02:49:39

I started at the zoo at a time when the average zookeeper had a fifth or sixth-grade education. That has changed so much today. 95% of the keepers, applicants, people who apply for a job as keeper at St. Louis. 95% have a degree. That degree is so common that just recently they’ve changed the requirements for keeper that now a bachelor’s degree is mandatory or they don’t even accept the application. That wasn’t always the case. So someone without a degree hoping to come in and work your way up for the top, probably not gonna happen. It seems like they need that degree.

02:49:39 - 02:50:21

And emphasis also people who have not only a degree but some experience. And a lot of ’em come in having had an internship or working experience with some animal collection somewhere. And those are the ones that have the most going for ’em. After all, there are only 350 employees at the zoo. Only a fraction of them are keepers. There are a lot more people graduating from college than there are opportunities for employment. So the opportunities to advance are probably a lot slimmer today than they were in my time. But I think the most patient and persevering can still be successful if they keep tryin’.

02:50:21 - 02:50:30

Do you agree that you have to have a degree to become an animal keeper?

02:50:30 - 02:51:06

I don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy, but that’s what the zoo policy is today. They have adopted that policy. Maybe if I were in a management position, I would understand it and agree with it. But I always have a problem. But there are people that are self-educated in spite of not having a degree. They may have the knowledge and the wherewithal. Marlin Perkins didn’t have a degree either. Marlin Perkins never graduated from college.

02:51:06 - 02:51:28

He waived degree and he told me this. In my case, he wish I had degree, but I didn’t. But he waived it because of my experience and knowledge. And so since I had that benefit, he didn’t have the degree. I would always hope that there was a chance for exceptions.

02:51:29 - 02:51:40

In all the years that you’ve worked at the zoo, did you ever have a special favorite animal, individual animal?

02:51:41 - 02:51:43

I mean I realize you love reptiles.

02:51:43 - 02:51:48

But was there a unique animal that was a favorite of yours?

02:51:50 - 02:52:28

I helped raise a baby orangutan. When you raise a baby animal and watch it develop. In fact, I raised him at the same time we had my youngest son Brad at home. So always watchin’ the facial expression as both of these infants nursed on the bottle. In the first month or two, the eyes are blank. They just looking into space, nothing. And about the third month, they focus on you ’cause you’re their surrogate mother. Both my son and the orangutan focused on me within the same week.

02:52:28 - 02:53:16

They were about the same age. And later on, they both erupted a left lower tooth first and then left lower right and then the upper left and the upper right. Same time. Their expressions, their attitudes devolved same time. They started grabbing more with their hands. But when the change came when the orang started grabbing with his feat, Brad never tried to do that. But then the human infant progressed much more rapidly and the orang progressed much more slower and the differences became greater. And if you look at the skeleton of a baby chimp, orang and a human baby, the skull is almost identical.

02:53:16 - 02:53:43

If you look at the skull of a human adult, the brain case is really big and the face is real small. And you look at the great ape, the face is very big and the brain case is very little. So the brain continues to develop as everything else develops with the human. Or with the ape, it’s limited. The big difference is in that capability. But the similarities of the infants is outstanding.

02:53:43 - 02:53:45

And what was that orang’s name?

02:53:45 - 02:54:03

Henry. I got very fond of that animal. When he graduated from the reptile house and he went to the monkey house and I went to see him often, he always recognized me. He always came by, wanted to lick and interact. Animal handling.

02:54:03 - 02:54:11

Has it changed from when you started to when you became and progressed during your tenure as director?

02:54:11 - 02:55:15

Well I think in animal handling, the concept of hand raising animals and having tame animals was a big thing. And in fact, we hand raised a baby lesser kudu and that female became so tame she tamed on the entire herd. So it really played a role in our captive breeding program. But today, I think hands-off is more important. Because now the animals are not imprinted on people, but they interact among themselves in their own way. And I think the whole concept of animal management today is without as little human interference at all in their normal behavior so that they produce, reproduce as naturally as possible. And also if you wanna reintroduce ’em back in the wild, you hope that they maintain that capability of living as a wild animal and not dependent on human life.

02:55:15 - 02:55:26

Would you say that certain skills of animal management and handling have been lost and is that a bad or good thing?

02:55:26 - 02:56:13

I think they’ve just changed because you’re managing animals in a more sophisticated way. In fact, there’s a whole new science called animal enrichment where the keepers are thinking of new ways to get the animals to behave in a natural way by hiding food in hollow trees and hollow logs and scattering food around the yard, instead of dumping it one place to make the animals search, to give ’em the ability to use their natural talent finding their food. Hopefully giving ’em a much more enriched life rather than being bored to death. So I think the keepers are much more sophisticated. I think they’re far superior animal managers today than they were 10, 15 years ago.

02:56:14 - 02:56:17

Can you tell us a story about the spitting cobra?

02:56:21 - 02:57:03

We had a spitting cobra in the reptile house and a keeper named Jerry McNeal was taking care of the big cages at the time. He was cleaning the spitting cobra. At that time the cages were a large cage with a door in the back and a pool. And there was a pipe where the drain hole’s on top. That was the overflow pipe for that pool. Well he would unscrew that pipe to drain it, drain it down, screw it back in, fill the pool back up. Well he had just drained it when the phone rang and he went to answer the phone and he may have had to run an errand or something, forgot to put the pipe back in. And when he came back, the cobra was gone.

02:57:03 - 02:57:29

So we had to lock up the building. The pool led to a keeper passage. I mean a closed-in passage, so we thought it was confined there. But it also led to a similar passage under cages in the basement. We locked the building down. We even closed the zoo. We really had to tell the people about it, but we were a nervous wreck. We did find it days later.

02:57:29 - 02:58:01

I’ve forgotten how many days later. But we sprinkled talcum powder and diatomaceous earth on the floor, all hallway, keeper passages, everywhere in the whole building. And then we knew where every cockroach was in the building. The only place we saw tracks was in the holding crawlspace under the cages, so we were sure that’s where he was. So we put a trap. We made like a minnow trap with a funnel at each end and put a mouse in it. We put that against the closed area. Ron Geller and I out there one night.

02:58:01 - 02:58:34

We had flashlights and there was the spitting cobra. He was in the trap, but he turned around and went back out. But I had to grabber with me and I grabbed him and Ron had to run up and get a welding mask because these are spitting cobras. I put the welding mask on, got the snake, put him back in his cage and then I called Jerry McNeal. I said, “Guess what, Jerry. We found the snake.” So we fixed up the cage. Ultimately, we redesigned the whole reptile house and made it escape-proof. Put wire covers on every drain in the building and changed the drain procedure.

02:58:34 - 02:58:59

But anyway, I called Jerry up to my office. And at that time, we always said, “Any act of careless, you’re fired.” And I called Jerry up. He thought she was gonna be fired. I said, “Jerry. You know, everybody’s entitled to one mistake. One mistake only and you’ve had your one mistake. Don’t make any more.” He worked 40 years before he retired. And he still credits me for saving his job.

02:58:59 - 02:59:01

He thought he was gonna be fired.

02:59:02 - 02:59:04

Was that the grizzly bear part saying that?

02:59:06 - 02:59:43

No, that was the teddy bear. You had a snake called the Big Sucker. Okay. We had an occasion in St. Louis where a man had a python. It was a Burmese python and it was about 12-feet long and he would take it out and handle it. (coughs) It strangled him one time and they found him dead in his bedroom. He had just his pajama pants on and he was bare from the waist-up. But the snake had strangled him.

02:59:43 - 03:00:34

And the proof of it, I found out from the coroner. The coroner called me the next day and said, “We just want you to know that that man did die from asphyxiation by the snake. How common is that?” I said, “Well really unusual. The snake must’ve panicked or somethin’.” I said, “How do you know the snake kill him?” He says, “Well when a man dies, rigor mortis sets in real quick and the snake continued his constriction, so that under his neck, all across his chest were imprints of the scale. Each scale left its imprint. And then as he exhaled, the snake tightened up. Exhale, he kept and he died of asphyxiation. And then the snake crawled off.

03:00:34 - 03:01:31

But when he’s sittin’ there layin’ back, every scale mark was around his neck that he died from asphyxiation by the snake. The snake was it.” He asked me, “How big was that snake?” I said, “Well we haven’t measured it yet.” They brought the snake to the zoo, police did and we put it in a cage. I said, “We didn’t measure it, but he’s a big sucker.” That quote was in the newspaper the next day and I got a lot of flack about that, but we did take the snake out and measure him. He’s 12-feet long. And then we took him outside the reptile house. We had six keepers lined up, took his picture and that picture went out all over the country on APS News where the picture showed up. I got people sendin’ me the picture from Germany and Australia and Africa. Dr. George Johnson who was a writer on science website.

03:01:31 - 03:02:03

He wrote that when he visited the St. Louis Zoo as kid, he remembers and you probably do too that the big cats would pace back and forth. When you visit the big cats now at St. Louis, you’re not seeing them as easily because of the exhibitry, no pacing or you’re helping that out. They’re not free, but yet you’ve given ’em a wonderful space.

03:02:03 - 03:02:04

What was your intent?

03:02:04 - 03:02:08

Was that it, when you were building Big Cat Country?

03:02:10 - 03:02:17

Were you trying to answer critics or did you already have this in the mind of what you wanted to do?

03:02:17 - 03:02:59

When we went on a Zoo Museum District campaign going from a city zoo to a zoo district, we said that the lion house was falling apart. The concrete was cracked. The iron bars, we had a picture of iron bar rusting out at the bottom where there’s a space. The plaster was fallin’ down. Though we had to replace the lion house. That’s why we needed the money for the Zoo Museum District and that we would give the animals an open outdoor exhibit. By then, I had seen some outdoor exhibits at the National Zoo, at Brownsville, at Omaha, in Europe. I’ve seen some great outdoor exhibits.

03:02:59 - 03:03:47

I also remembered in Europe where they have very limited space. They have outdoor yards for primates and cats up on an upper level and the winter housing and night housing is down underneath because they don’t have space behind it. So we picked the space that the lion house took. Next to the lion house used to be the old cat arena too. So we took all the space that the lion house took and the cat arena. And we wrote down on the tablecloth one time at lunch, we could have a yard here, a yard here, a yard here. And underground, we put the holding cages and feed the animals into the holding cages. And then on top, we have covered cages for mountain lions and leopards.

03:03:47 - 03:04:02

And the architect took that tablecloth, went back and made Big Cat Country. That’s what Big Cat Country is. Came from a drawing on a tablecloth, paper tablecloth. Now the River’s Edge required a lot of land.

03:04:02 - 03:04:05

How did this unique idea come about?

03:04:05 - 03:04:47

Well the River’s Edge was the western end of the zoo and we wanted to have… Raja now has been born. We wanted to have a larger outdoor environment for Raja, so we wanted to have elephant area. We always wanted some underwater viewing of animals and we saw Toledo’s underwater view of hippos, copy off of Zima springs in Africa. A nature preserve where you go down underwater, look through glass at the hippos. So we had the concept for the hippos. We had a concept for outdoor for the hyenas and we incorporated. It was our cheetah survival center, our cheetah exhibit.

03:04:47 - 03:05:35

We had other dreams too, but we ran outta money. But we did do the River’s Edge. We had underwater viewing of hippos, outdoor cheetahs, outdoor hyenas. We also had a exhibit for the mongoose, dwarf mongoose outdoor exhibit and then a great big yard for the elephants and a big yard for rhinos, black rhinos which we wanted to breed very badly as part of our breeding program. So that was the River’s Edge at that time and that was very successful. We had a fundraising campaign which we raised over $70 million. In fact, when I was 65 years old, I thought I was gonna retire. But they came to me and said, “You know, we’ve only raised 80% of the capital campaign but the money’s coming in so easy.

03:05:35 - 03:06:00

It’s also gonna cost more. We originally had a $55 million goal. We have to raise it to 70 million. We know we can do it, but it’s gonna take us three more years. We’re asking you to stay three more years. We’ll give you an option for three more. We’re contract for three more and we’ll sweeten the pot.” My pension depended on my last three year’s salary. I would’ve been scratchin’ with the chickens.

03:06:00 - 03:06:25

It wouldn’t have been very much. I was pretty well underpaid. I said, “Okay, I’ll stay three more years.” We stayed three more years. We did raise the money. Then they came to me and they’d say, “We’d like you to stay just three more years and then you can retire.” We were well on the way of raising 70 million, so I stayed on. And then at 71, I retired. I said, “I’m outta here. Time for me to retire.” But we were successful.

03:06:25 - 03:06:28

We raised all the money to pay for the River’s Edge.

03:06:35 - 03:06:42

Can you tell us about your concept of developing exhibits and acquiring animals?

03:06:42 - 03:06:44

Was there a master plan to doing that?

03:06:46 - 03:06:47

Did you just wanna follow?

03:06:47 - 03:06:50

Were you just following species survival guidelines?

03:06:51 - 03:06:52

Did you have favorites?

03:06:52 - 03:07:33

You said, “No, we need to have this type of animal here.” Well we always wanted to have our collection represented. So we wanted to have most of the kinds of birds, most of the kinds of mammals, most of the kinds of reptiles to be represented. But we wanted to concentrate our breeding programs on those breeding programs that either CBSG, AZA or WAZA suggested needed to be concentrated on, so that we’d be part of a cooperative effort. So most of our exhibits were based on what our wishlist, those species, that we wanted to be most successful in breeding. Those were the ones we wanted to be able to exhibit.

03:07:33 - 03:07:42

So any plans were really based on what was the concept for the time: “the industry.” Can you explain what CBSG is?

03:07:42 - 03:08:43

Captive, I’m sorry. The Captive Breeding Survival Group was an organization established by Uly Seal. Uly Seal is the father of our Species Survival System, Inventory System. Inventory of all zoo animals, that was Uly Seal’s concept. And then he developed that concept further that not only do you keep track of all the animals in zoos, but we get the zoos to work together among the zoos. We also work with scientists at the universities who are doing research. We also work with government entities that are involved in conservation in the countries where our animals come from. So he had a concept of having an organization where all scientists across the board could interact with the zoos being the focus point of where the captive management tab takes place in zoos but that it be related to management of wild animals in the wild.

03:08:43 - 03:09:06

And that was US Seals, Uly Seal who happened to be a scientist that worked I think University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Zoo. Now you mentioned that St. Louis Zoo is a free zoo. One of the few. But your zoo and others do have features that you ask money for.

03:09:08 - 03:09:15

What has been the reaction to the Safari Pass or the need to pay to see special exhibits?

03:09:15 - 03:09:46

Well the zoo is free. It’s ordained to be free so long as we receive the property tax to support it. But we can charge for special exhibits. So we do charge for the children’s zoo. But the first hour every day is free. We charge for the railroad and that’s a major transportation system. We did charge for the Insectarium, but they waived that now and that’s free. And once in a while, there are special exhibits or special events that there’s a fee for.

03:09:46 - 03:10:12

But most things like the children’s zoo is free for the first hour of every day, so people aren’t prevented from it. We also charge for parking, but there’s free parking all through Forest Park. So you’re not compelled to use our parking lot. At your zoo at one point, there was surprise deaths of some exotic birds when a boiler malfunctioned.

03:10:14 - 03:10:15

Remember that?

03:10:21 - 03:10:26

No, I don’t. A boiler malfunctioned. Movin’ on.

03:10:27 - 03:10:29

Did it affect a specie?

03:10:29 - 03:10:39

Some exotic birds died. We wanna know how you got the story out. Lemme go to a second question.

03:10:39 - 03:10:49

When things at the zoo happened that were bad or good, how did you get the story out?

03:10:49 - 03:10:55

Especially if a prized animal, the community loved that died or you had to put it to sleep or whatever the circumstances.

03:10:55 - 03:10:58

What was your philosophy about getting that story out?

03:10:59 - 03:11:43

Well first of all, we always told the truth. We didn’t hide the information because we wanted to have a friendly relationship with the media and we wanted to have a friendly relationship with the public. So things that were good or bad, we always put the word out in an honest and a straightforward manner. It was bad news that we did the best job we could to make sure whatever it was that was bad would never happen again and that we did whatever the next right thing to do. That’s the only comment I would have is that we always tried to be honest with the media, with the press. We had great relationships with the press and they were very supportive always.

03:11:46 - 03:11:49

How did you nurture that relationship with the press?

03:11:49 - 03:12:21

We used to have periodic behind-the-scenes tours. We invite the TV, the radio and TV announcers. We invited newspaper reporters, even those the ones that were friendly and even the ones that were unfriendly. We invite ’em to the zoo, give ’em behind-the-scenes tour, make sure they had a great experience, an animal experience. Get to touch some of the animals, meet some of them and then fed ’em some good food and good drinks. We did that couple times a year, a reception for the media. So this was like special events for them. Yes.

03:12:24 - 03:12:27

As director, did you see the value of using the press?

03:12:28 - 03:13:02

Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. We also circulated press releases frequently about new arrivals. They loved to have pictures of baby animals for the front page of the Post-Dispatch or for TV program. So we would call them when we had somethin’ special. They were glad to have it. But sometimes they’d call us on a slow day, slow news day and say, “Have you got anything else?” We’d think of somethin’. We’d think of somethin’ even if it was just movin’ an animal to an outdoor enclosure for the first time.

03:13:03 - 03:13:11

So ultimately, you had good relation or you tried to make sure relations with the press. We actually had very good relations with the press.

03:13:13 - 03:13:20

In the many exhibits that you created while you were director, was there one that you were the most proud of?

03:13:20 - 03:13:21

I’m sure they’re all great.

03:13:21 - 03:13:23

But was there one that really?

03:13:24 - 03:14:03

I think early in my career, we created the concept for the cheetah survival center. We had a pair of cheetahs in the old lion house that never bred. There’s been some success on very few zoos, but some private breeding ranches where they had cheetahs in large outdoor enclosures where they had some breeding. We had a buffalo, a bison, an American buffalo exhibit at the west end of the zoo. Took over an acre and a half of land. We thought that would be the best place for a cheetah yard. So we went to the zoo director. I wasn’t director yet.

03:14:03 - 03:14:38

And I said, “We have this idea that we’d like to take.” We had two pair of cheetah. Pair of cheetahs at the lion house and a pair of cheetahs at the small mammal house. We thought we’d like to move ’em out to where the buffalo are, get rid of the buffalo. Well that didn’t go very good at all. ‘Cause they said, “Well look how important bison were to the native Americans. We gotta have ’em.” But at the same time, there was a county park out on Highway 66, the old Highway 66. Flyway 44. I made a proposal where you donate the buffalo to the county parks, so we did.

03:14:38 - 03:15:27

Then we retrofitted the bison yard, made a cheetah survival center out of it. And then we bought two cheetahs from Amanda Blake, Miss Kitty from “Gunsmoke”. She and her husband had a ranch near Phoenix, Arizona and they were successful in breeding cheetahs. And we bought two female cheetahs, brought them to St. Louis and added them to the group of cheetahs we had. Our breeding program started in fact 1974. I think we opened the cheetah survival center and reproduced over 30 cheetahs within the next several years. So that was where we created a breeding program from nothing and were successful. Many directors say that they do the rounds, did the rounds.

03:15:27 - 03:15:33

How involved were you in the day-to-day activities and hands-on when you were director?

03:15:33 - 03:15:34

Did you make rounds?

03:15:34 - 03:16:01

I make rounds as often as possible. Maybe not to the same department each day, but I make sure that in a week’s time I went to every department and visit with each curator. And the appropriate keepers that were on there, went to visit ’em. Looked at the exhibits. Looked at the exhibits from the standpoint of being like a visitor and just to stay familiar myself but also address any problems that they might bring to me that I could help solve the problems.

03:16:01 - 03:16:03

How important you think that is?

03:16:03 - 03:16:45

I think it’s very important. I think an ongoing relationship with the keepers, the grounds crew, the maintenance people with the director. And the way I operated was an open door. Anybody could come to me, even the volunteers could come to me with a complaint. And very often when they came to me with a complaint, it was a very valid complaint that actually made no sense at all. A zoo policy that supposedly came from the director that made absolutely no sense that I was in a position to change that policy. All policies oughta be based on common sense, practicality. Over the years as director and potentially as deputy, you had the opportunity to travel.

03:16:45 - 03:16:53

Were you able to see animals in the wild and how did it help ultimately your zoo philosophy?

03:16:53 - 03:17:37

I had a lot of opportunity to travel. My first opportunity to travel was actually at the invitation of Bob Dooley who was the assistant director of the Houston Zoo and Jim Doherty from the Bronx Zoo, curator of mammals. We went to Mexico to collect vampire bats and we had to get the necessary federal permits to bring these vampire bats into the United States and also bring ’em to our respective zoos. And we went down to a cave about 300 miles south of Brownsville and collected the bats and brought ’em back. And then I borrowed my wife’s overnight bag to fly my clothes down there. We decided I got 12 bats outta the collection. Jim Doherty I think got about 20. Houston Zoo got about 20.

03:17:37 - 03:18:19

I didn’t have anything to carry the bats in. So I took her overnight bag and punched holes in it for ventilation, put my own clothes in a knapsack, put the bats in that suitcase and I carried that under the seat and brought the bats back to St. Louis. And Marilyn has never forgiven me for ruining her overnight bag. That was my first trip. Then we had the opportunity to escort Zoo Friends’ sponsored safari. My first trip was to Botswana in 1976 and Marilyn went with me and we got to see African elephants, giraffes, rhino, elephant in the wild. Was a wonderful experience. I was lucky enough to escort a trip almost every year after that.

03:18:19 - 03:18:52

Got to Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 1978. Got to Borneo and Sumatra and New Zealand and Australia and the Amazon, Brazilian Amazon and the Peruvian Amazon. Lots of parts of the world that made me appreciate how important it is to save the wilderness area and how important it is to give the animals a habitat that looks like the home from where they came.

03:18:53 - 03:18:56

And was this important in fundraising?

03:18:56 - 03:19:26

Many of the people that accompanied us on our safaris were people who were members of Zoo Friends. There were climbers in the community, both financially and socially. These are people that later became big donors to the zoo. They get excited and inspire the animals in the wild that made them to love what the zoo and what the zoo did even more. They became big financial supporters to the zoo. Another subject just came to mind though. Talked about travel.

03:19:27 - 03:19:39

How important do you feel it is for animal keepers and curators to see other zoo exhibits in the United States or around the world as part of their professional growth?

03:19:41 - 03:20:18

I think it’s very important that the curators participate in the North American Zoo Association and that they visit as many zoos as possible. I feel the same way with the keepers. Every time we buy or sell or ship animals. If we can ship ’em ourselves and let our keepers deliver ’em and pickin’ ’em up, that gives ’em an opportunity to visit other zoos. That was part of my development and I think it’s equally important for all professional development to visit other zoos. Every zoo has something unique to offer. Every zoo does something different than you do. They don’t all have to be the same and you can learn from all of ’em.

03:20:19 - 03:20:25

What had you hoped to accomplish at the St. Louis Zoo, but you were unable to finish it?

03:20:28 - 03:21:01

I guess my biggest dream was underwater viewing of polar bears but the zoo is now accomplishing that. It’s under construction as we speak. Be another year before it’s completed. The only problem would be finding polar bears, but they’ve been pretty well assured that there will be captive polar bears available by the time the exhibit opens. We had hoped to do that. Budget constraints prevented. We weren’t successful, but I’m glad to see the zoo doing it now. The only thing I’d hoped to do was to develop the breeding farm in the adjoining county.

03:21:01 - 03:21:12

And I don’t know that that’s a high priority with the administration at this time or not. Time will tell. People in zoos.

03:21:12 - 03:21:26

Are there any ideas, new ideas, old ideas to go about getting people to come to zoos that you particularly like or would endorse or they work for you?

03:21:27 - 03:22:09

In the case of St. Louis Zoo, our attendance has constantly increased. They’re in the neighborhood of about 3 1/2 million visitors. I won’t say they’re saturated. I think everything has been done since I retired. But even while I was workin’ at the zoo, every year was better than the year before. So whatever we’ve been doin’ has been successful. I don’t know of anything more you could do except to reach people. There’s only 225 zoos in AZA if I remember correctly.

03:22:09 - 03:22:17

Maybe I’m wrong. But that’s the only 225 communities. There are a lot more communities in the country that don’t have zoos.

03:22:17 - 03:22:24

So what we have to do is find out how can our zoo influence people in communities that don’t have access to a zoo?

03:22:25 - 03:22:31

I don’t know the answer to that. But maybe it’s through the internet and television.

03:22:31 - 03:22:35

How do you capture children to come to the zoo?

03:22:35 - 03:23:28

And I’m specifically thinking the teenage group. School groups come in organized school groups at all grade levels. It’s probably more heavily used for the primary level. By the time they get teenagers in high school, their programs are sophisticated and concentrated that it’s hard to have time out from any one class to visit the zoo. I think you lose people at that age group. You pick ’em up again when they become young adults. I think you lose. There’s so much competition for high school students’ time: sports, music, extracurricular activities is probably the most difficult time to try to get them interested in the zoo.

03:23:28 - 03:23:39

You might as well not waste your resources on ’em but spend your time on people that are most accessible. You had mentioned one exhibit, the children’s zoo.

03:23:39 - 03:23:47

When you first got there, what was the children’s zoo like and how did you think about what you wanted to change in it?

03:23:52 - 03:24:41

The children’s zoo was in existence, but it was mostly touchy-feely, exciting, oh wow. I wanted to add a stronger educational component to the children’s zoo, so the children’s zoo would be used more by school groups. So I took the children’s zoo which was a freestanding entity and put it under the direction of the education department so that it would be part of the education program at the zoo to make the children’s zoo more educational so that the animals that were on exhibit and the interpretation, the graphics, the volunteers and docents that help interpret the exhibits were attuned educating the visitors, either school groups or the public. So it’d become much more educational rather than a entertainment value.

03:24:44 - 03:24:51

Did you have any successful strategies that you implemented for getting the community involved in the zoo?

03:24:56 - 03:26:07

I did some involvement with the university. I approached all the universities in the area and arranged and encouraged the curators to become guest lecturers. They would become guest lecturers at University of Missouri, at St. Louis University, Washington University. As a result of that as I progressed up the ladder at the zoo, I was honored by Maryville University with an honorary degree. And shortly after that, St. Louis University honored me with a doctorate, honorary doctorate. I have four honorary doctorate as a result of my work with the universities and I served two terms on the Harris-Stowe Board of Regents. The old Harris Teachers College is now Harris-Stowe State University grants ’bout 15 degrees now. I have an honorary doctorate from all four of those as a result of the work I did with those universities.

03:26:07 - 03:26:28

And so that’s how I got my staff professionally involved and the zoo involved with the education and scientific institutions. Many of the curators now have adjunct professor associations with these schools, in addition to the veterinary school at University of Missouri-Columbia.

03:26:29 - 03:26:36

What were some of the marketing strengths that you tried to focus on at the zoo to promote your zoo?

03:26:38 - 03:27:15

Other than the TV show was a marketing role and regular press releases and development of a marketing department that concentrated on marketing the zoo. We also opened a catering department at the zoo to attract banquets and other activities from professional people as a way of thinking that might be the only way they ever visit the zoo was participate in a function at the zoo, a banquet or awards ceremony. When we’re talking about the zoo overall and the director’s role in fundraising.

03:27:20 - 03:27:29

When you finished as director, how would you say fundraising has changed and the director’s involvement in it?

03:27:29 - 03:27:52

Well in the beginning, it was a individual effort where a director might call on a donor or a corporation to look for a gift, but it expanded to where the development department with an entire staff devoted to fundraising where the director only played one role in it.

03:27:52 - 03:27:55

There was a whole department researching where’s the money?

03:27:57 - 03:28:00

Who’s giving money away and for what purpose?

03:28:00 - 03:28:06

What is their favorite purposes for their funding and how do you go about approaching ’em?

03:28:06 - 03:28:23

You have a staff, a whole staff devoted to that. It’s not just the director’s duty anymore. He’s just one player in the whole role. Most zoos have developed a foundation board or development board that assists in fundraising.

03:28:27 - 03:28:28

It’s there?

03:28:31 - 03:28:40

Ask him. Question about animals just in philosophies.

03:28:41 - 03:28:50

You at the St. Louis Zoo have had or still have a tuatara exhibit, is that correct?

03:28:53 - 03:29:45

We have a tuatara exhibit, but we have off-exhibit two pairs of tuataras in an environmental-controlled room where we maintain a physical environment. The temperature is equivalent to that of Stephens Island in New Zealand where they’re from. We have attempted to breed them in captivity. We have not been successful in breeding ’em in captivity. I don’t think yet they’ve been ever successfully bred in captivity. There have been some hatched in captivity from eggs that were dug up, but they have yet to be bred even in New Zealand in captivity. But it’s one of the ongoing research programs at the zoo has yet to be successful. Philosophical question now.

03:29:45 - 03:30:11

That what you’ve just explained involves a fair amount of funding to do this type of thing which is not seen by the public at all where you have one on display. Tuataras as I understand it mature very late in life. They’re long-lived reptiles. The New Zealand government certainly has a vested interest in their survival.

03:30:12 - 03:30:32

Is it worth a zoo’s monetary involvement to the degree St. Louis has done it to put forth that kind of energy in financing and resources and why would you say that’s a good thing that your zoo?

03:30:34 - 03:31:29

‘Cause you initiated the program. Right. First of all, we wanted to have a representative collection of reptiles and we have a representative collection of crocodilians, snakes, lizards, turtles, amphibians of every description. And the tuatara alone is in a separate order of its own. And so to be totally comprehensive, we wanted the tuatara in a collection and the New Zealand government allowed us one male with the stipulation that if we could keep that male happy and alive for several years, we would then be qualified for a pair. And if we did get a pair, it would be for breeding research program purposes. And so we fulfilled that by keeping it healthy for that time. We applied for a permit and we ultimately got two pair.

03:31:29 - 03:32:03

So the purpose of the two pair was to have a comprehensive collection but also to establish a breeding program. We use an existing room in the reptile house and we used our own staff to create and do the wiring and the electricity. It took very little funding. It was probably one of the least expensive breeding programs we’ve undertaken. It requires no keeper time. You only feed ’em once a week, if that. You only clean the cage once every two or three weeks, if that. It’s naturally planted.

03:32:03 - 03:32:56

It has live plants. It requires minimal hours of labor and it’s probably the least expensive program we’ve ever had. And there’s no reason why we should give it up because it’s not preventing us from doing anything else. Meanwhile, we established a hellbender breeding program for the state’s endangered Ozark hellbender which is now extinct in Arkansas and only found in southern Missouri. And the population in the wild is rapidly diminishing. I think it’s estimated there may only be a few hundred left in the wild. And with permission from the State of Missouri and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the St. Louis Zoo has collected adult hellbenders. We have two indoor raceways in the basement of the reptile house with refrigerated water, simulated environment as we did for the tuataras.

03:32:56 - 03:34:24

They have since built two raceways outdoors with refrigerated water. And now for the third year have been successful in hatching captive-bred Ozark hellbenders and are in the process of reintroducing these hellbenders back into the wild. This has been a very costly research program because it involved building very expensive infrastructure, facilities, large pools 50, 60 feet long, refrigerated water. But we got financial support, both from the State of Missouri and from the Fish and Wildlife Service. And now we’re reintroducing hellbenders back in the wild and they have transmitters so that we can track ’em. We have staff participating, the Department of Conservation staff involved in it and they’re tracking the success and the migratory habits of the introduced species. And we’ll know, within a year or two whether they are breeding in captivity and if in fact the reintroduction program is successful or not. Meanwhile, the state and the federal government are also tryin’ to further determine why they became so endangered, studying the water qualities very, very carefully to determine with whether it’s septic tank overflow or fluid from nearby cabins or if it’s floaters, the several hundred canoers a day on the rivers.

03:34:24 - 03:35:08

If their pollution is contributed to the water quality, they’re making an effort to improve water quality overall so that the environment is improved besides the reintroduction to make hellbenders part of the environment. But that’s a much more costly program that initiated under my rule, but it’s gone way beyond. Ever since I retired, it’s been much more successful and a much greater magnitude. I mean there’s several thousand hellbenders, more hellbenders in the basement of the reptile house than there are probably in the wild. Different subject about the American Zoo Association. You were president of the association.

03:35:11 - 03:35:17

What was AZA, the association like at the time you were president?

03:35:22 - 03:36:04

I was the president from 1991. And by that time, I think AZA was well involved with the species survival plans and were much more conservation-oriented than they had been in the past. I felt that the people involved with the board at that time were some of the leaders in the zoo. I think they had contributed greatly to the AZA and I felt it was a very important professional development for me but also for my zoo staff to be involved with AZA at the time. And I feel that was a very positive influence on the staff.

03:36:04 - 03:36:10

How’d you see your role as president in changing or directing the organization?

03:36:10 - 03:37:14

Well my goal. Each president has asked to name his chief aspirations during his reign. I believe what I said I was most interested in was in education and training and I meant as regard our zoo professionals. And we established an elephant management school in St. Louis as a result of that. But I had a lotta help from people like Bruce Reed and Bruce Carr. Bruce Carr was curator of education and Bruce Reed had a big background in reproductive physiology, was very much interested in managing animals, artificial insemination, building herds, breeding elephants, breeding antelope. We did begin an elephant management program at St. Louis. We had it there I think for a couple years and then it was transferred to Wheeling where the AZA school continues to this day elephant management.

03:37:14 - 03:37:59

And that was a hands-off management procedure where elephants are managed without using bull hooks or without using any discipline mentors of any kind but using rewards system to transfer from area to area. Most zoos are practicing there. There are still some that have a hands-on restraint policy, but I think most zoos are getting away from it as you try to get into a breeding program with herds of elephant. You manage the elephants in a lot different ways than you would say, in a circus environment. Some personal reflections. You hosted a conference that occurred during 9/11. Right.

03:37:59 - 03:38:01

What was it like?

03:38:01 - 03:38:03

How did people react?

03:38:04 - 03:38:06

What are your personal recollections?

03:38:08 - 03:39:15

When we hosted that AZA conferences durin’ 9/11, I was really excited about a panel I put together. I had Peter Raven who’s the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a worldwide recognized botanist, scientist. Bill Conway who was one of the most eloquent representatives we have from the zoo profession. I had these two to sit and have a two-way dialogue on the scientific aspects of zoos and botanical gardens and how they may fit in the world of the future. Unfortunately, that dialogue didn’t take place because of 9/11. I hadn’t heard it. I didn’t have the radio on. And that morning, I got a call from Kris Viers and said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “What are you gonna do about what?” She says, “You haven’t had the TV on?” I said, “No.” She says, “Come down to the lobby.” I came down to the lobby, the TV was on and the World Trade session was inflamed.

03:39:15 - 03:39:40

Everybody was in shock. Peter Raven and Bill Conway were sittin’ in the front row. I went down, I talked to them. They had already heard about it. They both looked at me and said, “We can’t go on.” It was a shock. Really didn’t know what to do. We had people from all over the country staying there at the hotel. They were captive.

03:39:40 - 03:39:42

What were we gonna do with them?

03:39:42 - 03:40:23

We couldn’t go on with the conference. Nobody could speak. Everybody was all upset. So we just got up on the podium and said, “Under the circumstances, no one can continue this.” The hotel was gonna have videos where people could go to their room to watch or they could go down to the lobby and watch. All the people wanted to see what was goin’ on because it was an ongoing saga. So the conference pretty well came to a halt. We had people. When their room ran out, they were only supposed to be there for a couple days.

03:40:23 - 03:40:46

But they couldn’t leave. The airport was closed. We had docents takin’ guests home as personal guests. We had keepers and curators takin’ other keepers and curators home, putting ’em up. It was just kind of a camaraderie. Everybody came together, but it was a sad occasion. It’s one of total shock. We were totally disorganized.

03:40:46 - 03:41:09

Nothing happened except mourning and concern and concern for the people in the area. I think we lost a member of the Bronx staff that we all had at management school. He taught HR course. He was in the World Trade Center, went down with it. Lotta people were touched directly or indirectly.

03:41:09 - 03:41:12

How long had the conference been going on before this happened?

03:41:14 - 03:41:16

I don’t think it was goin’ on more than a day or so.

03:41:16 - 03:41:19

I just don’t remember that much more about it, you know?

03:41:22 - 03:41:37

As a member of AZA when you were say president beyond, what would you like to see AZA going toward at this time if you could make suggestions?

03:41:40 - 03:42:16

I’ve only been to two conferences since I retired. That’s almost 13 years. I can’t say that I know the direction that AZA is going today. It’s hard for me to make any statement about what I think they should be doing. I’m just not familiar enough with what they are doing. The only thing that I sometimes wish they might consider doing is to have a regional meeting for retired zoo directors and zoo professionals on a regional basis. It’s hard for everybody. We would go to a national meeting if we could.

03:42:16 - 03:42:31

But there’s so much going on there. There’s 1,200, 1,500 people there. But the retired zoo directors that are still alive, two curators, it’s a very small handful. You could have west coast regional meeting, east coast regional meeting and a central regional meeting.

03:42:31 - 03:42:36

Maybe the first meeting would be more social than anything else, you know?

03:42:36 - 03:43:05

You sit around a table and you talk about old times. But maybe outta that would come a suggestion for more formal program for a following year that would tap the resources that are still available from the zoo directors like you’re doing here with taping the old-timers. There may be an ongoing benefit for AZA to keep those retired zoo professionals occasionally together.

03:43:07 - 03:43:20

How has the discussion changed since you were the AZA representative to the species survival commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in Costa Rica?

03:43:20 - 03:43:22

Has discussion moved forward?

03:43:22 - 03:43:25

Have you been knowledgeable about what’s been going on?

03:43:28 - 03:43:51

I forgotten what year it was. I’m not sure what year it was. There’s an interesting way how I got involved in that. AZA would represent the zoo profession at the IUCN meetings annually usually by two or three of the outstanding zoo directors.

03:43:51 - 03:43:54

And one year, George Rabb said, “You know what?

03:43:54 - 03:44:30

We have two or three zoo directors go there. There’s a lot going on. We need a curator, an animal person. Person that’s hands-on with the animals who knows a different aspect than what we as zoo directors know. Let’s have a curator represent AZA.” And so then I was nominated to do that. I wasn’t an officer at that time and I went and represented. I worked with George Rabb, Uly Seal. Can’t remember the director of research for the National Zoo that ran their off-site program.

03:44:32 - 03:44:34

George Shelley?

03:44:34 - 03:44:51

Can’t remember his name. That was Bronx. (indistinct) No. No, he’s a young guy. He was PhD director of the Wild Animal Park. National Zoo. Chris Rimmer. Chris Rimmer. And it was in Costa Rica.

03:44:53 - 03:45:22

We went to the sessions and participated. I have no idea if this goes on today. I have no idea. I’m outta touch. It was a real opportunity for me because there were university professors from all over the world. There were few zoo people, most of the European zoo people. But people from government entities, wildlife conservation department people, a lotta people outside of the zoo world where it was a eye-opener.

03:45:25 - 03:45:38

You said, “When I retire, I don’t wanna shrivel up and grow old.” How active do you remain in various animal things?

03:45:38 - 03:46:08

Well when I retired, I was ready to retire. I was 71 years old and I felt it was time for a younger, more energetic, more imaginative, brighter person to take over. So when they brought in Jeff Bonner, I made a commitment. I told the curators. I said, “Give him all your support. Always do the right thing. I’m around if anybody needs me, but I’m gonna stay outta the way. I’m not gonna second guess the new management.

03:46:08 - 03:46:34

I’m not gonna critique it. I’m gonna support it. If they need me, I’m here. If they don’t need me, I’m gonna stay outta the way.” I had been in all seven continents. My wife has been at six. We had been all over the world, had never been to most of the national parks. Made up my mind. We’re gonna buy a camper van. We’re gonna visit all the national parks from Acadia National Park in Maine to Yosemite in Death Valley in California and everything in between and we’ve done that.

03:46:34 - 03:46:56

We sometimes visit zoos but not too many. Usually the Arizona Desert Museum, I can’t pass that up. That’s one of my favorites zoos. We go to a zoo once in a while but basically Marilyn is all zooed out. She doesn’t wanna see any more zoos. We do go to our zoo. We go to all the social functions. We’re supporters as the Marlin Perkins Society which is the highest level of membership.

03:46:56 - 03:47:26

And our Zoo Friends, we belong to that. We’re also zoo donors. I told you before I got an honorary doctorate from Harris-Stowe. I was on their Board of Directors, 2 six-year terms. Marilyn and I both attended the old Harris Teachers College which later combined Stowe Teachers College which trained Black teachers for the school system, Harris trained white teachers for the school system. They’re integrated. Well later they were put together. They were segregated originally.

03:47:26 - 03:47:58

They were put together. Now it’s a university with 12 degrees. Marilyn and I both benefited from that school. We benefited from the zoo. We wanted to give somethin’ back. So with the zoo’s Endowment Program, we made a contribution. We made a tax transfer from IRA, from my IRA to the zoo for an endowment fund for an internship student from Harris-Stowe. Today, Harris-Stowe is the most affordable, most accessible university in the St. Louis area.

03:47:58 - 03:48:35

It serves underserved people. It serves inner city kids. It serves kids from the outer suburbs that don’t have the money, can’t afford St. Louis U or Washington U. But we wanna make it easy for students of livin’ means to get a work study program at the zoo. So we have endowed a work-study student. We made a stock transfer and that gives that student $1,500 a year school assistance for tuition, books, whatever. It’s between the university and the zoo to work out the details. And that’s starting not right now, it’s in place.

03:48:35 - 03:48:45

So we felt so strongly about our success, what the zoo has done for me and what Harris does. We wanted to give somethin’ back and that’s how we gave it back.

03:48:45 - 03:48:51

So you mentioned to the zoo board you made a decision of when you wanted to retire?

03:48:51 - 03:49:07

Well actually I thought I was gonna retire at 65. They came and asked me to stay on three more years twice. And when I left, I left. They knew I was gonna leave ’cause I was 71 years old. That was time for me to leave. That was time for a young, strong person to come in.

03:49:09 - 03:49:13

And there’s a statue at the zoo in your honor, is that correct?

03:49:13 - 03:49:58

When I retired- I spent so much of my time in my career from starting reptile keeper, meeting kids at the door with a snake, going to the fundraiser parties, black tie affairs, greeting people with a snake. That was my trademark. There’s pictures of me in a lotta newspapers or things with a snake around my shoulder. So when I retired they said, “We’re gonna make a statue of you holding snake with the kids touching it.” And I was honored. I was kind of embarrassed, kinda flattered. Well when the budget came in, the two kids was kind of expensive. They said, “Oh, we’re gonna just make it a statue with you with the snake.” So the statue’s with me and the snake. But it was totally financed with contributions.

03:49:59 - 03:50:17

All the money for the statue was contributed before the statue was ever built. Charlie, in the zoo profession, there are not a lot of minorities whether they be women or African-American or different people.

03:50:19 - 03:50:28

How can a zoo or the zoo association think about doing this and bringing more people into the profession?

03:50:28 - 03:50:30

Do you have any opinion on it?

03:50:30 - 03:51:23

Yes, I do. In fact, my experience visiting zoo conferences, national conferences where we have couple thousand people there. There really are very, very few people of color. I can only think of one zoo director that’s Black and that’s Morris Amos who originally came outta St. Louis. There are few in marketing and few in other departments but not working with animals. And there’s also a national effort to try and promote not just the people of color but all these children be more interested in math and science. And so there has been an effort by the federal government to expand that program. And one of the things zoos are doing is having job fairs in the Black community.

03:51:23 - 03:52:35

One of the things that Marilyn and I have done we hope in St. Louis is that the Harris Teachers College which is predominantly African-American students, about 80% is African American and 96% are first generation ever to attend school. We’ve endowed a internship program with the St. Louis Zoo with a stock transfer. We’ve established a program where there’ll be a student each semester going to the zoo, working in an animal department, probably the children’s zoo where they could expose on many different species. And this endowment will help pay for their education, but we hope that will help in our own way. Also one of the biggest problems we have in St. Louis and big cities across the country is poverty in the inner city and education and training is part of that solution. I know this is just a little bit, but it’s our way of giving back both to the zoo and to a school and hopefully helpin’ the community. I think the women have become more and more as it’s obvious there are more and more women director and more and more women curators. Still not nearly as many as they were.

03:52:35 - 03:53:11

But when I came in the zoo business in 1963, the keeper force was 100% male. There weren’t any ladies in it. And the men said, “A woman can’t do this job. They don’t have the strength.” Well the women are doing this job. They’re doing an outstanding job. And in fact, majority of our applicants today are women with college degrees. I think we have more women keepers at St. Louis Zoo than we have men right now. They’re expanding in the professional forces as well as you see the director of the Disney Animal Kingdom is a woman.

03:53:11 - 03:53:22

We have a lotta women on the AZA board and I think that’ll continue in the future. I need some questions about your opinion on things.

03:53:22 - 03:53:24

What made you a good zoo director?

03:53:24 - 03:53:26

What made me a good zoo director?

03:53:27 - 03:53:53

Enthusiasm, curiosity, willing to do whatever had to be done without getting recognition or pay. I mean I was always doin’ something that needed to be done, whether they gave me the pay for it or not. But if I felt it was a learning experience, I did it. I think attention to detail. What skillset? You’ve answered a little bit.

03:53:53 - 03:54:01

But what skillset qualities does a zoo director need today as compared to when you started as a zoo director?

03:54:01 - 03:54:23

Well zoos are much more sophisticated and I think I had to learn managing people. I had to learn managing budgets. I guess a zoo director today has to have more training in those skills. But definitely has to have good skills for hiring people who support him.

03:54:26 - 03:54:33

In the United States, what would you say is the largest professional problem facing zoos today?

03:54:33 - 03:54:39

And if you can identify a problem, what would might be your solution to it?

03:54:44 - 03:55:14

The only problem I can think of is getting minority participation in the zoo. And I think you have to identify in your particular area what you can do to enhance that, whether it’s career fairs and the minority communities. But hopefully work study programs, education programs would not only help the community, help the zoo as well. You’ve had mentors in your zoo career and they’ve given you all kinds of advice.

03:55:14 - 03:55:22

Is there any one piece of advice that you’ve consumed that has stayed with you your entire career?

03:55:22 - 03:55:25

Always do the right thing. Be fair.

03:55:27 - 03:55:30

What do you think of smaller?

03:55:30 - 03:55:32

Again, St. Louis is a large zoo.

03:55:32 - 03:55:43

What can a small or medium zoo do today to be involved in wildlife conservation either nationally or internationally?

03:55:43 - 03:56:22

Well I think if it’s a real small zoo with limited budget, they should try to have some conservation program that involves species in their community or in their state whether if it’s an insect, a butterfly or a burying beetle or an amphibian or a frog. But be proactive within your own community with the means that which you have. The larger the zoo, the more ambitious it could be. But even a small zoo, I think having a conservation program would help win support from the community, financial support for all of its activities.

03:56:24 - 03:56:27

Should every zoo have a breeding program?

03:56:27 - 03:56:53

I would think every zoo. If they’re a zoo and they have any animals at all, they definitely should have some kind of a breeding program and it should be part of the AZA. An integrated breeding program and not an individual on its own. At times, zoos have worked with the species survival program and direct this from the national organization of certain species and so forth.

03:56:53 - 03:57:05

Is their place in today’s zoo for a zoo director to put forth their own idea of what species should be reproduced?

03:57:06 - 03:57:12

For example, the tuatara’s not a national breeding program. Right. it was important enough to wanna do it.

03:57:12 - 03:57:17

Is there still a place for that kinda thing and should it go on or just follow the dictum of the national?

03:57:17 - 03:57:46

Well I think as long as they’re tying all the resources into some individual private program, then I see no problem with them having an area of special interest. Might be somethin’ that’s local interest but has insignificance nationally. Zoos in many cases are afraid to confront animal welfare, animal rights groups that are against zoos.

03:57:46 - 03:57:51

Can you give us your thoughts of how best to deal with these groups or how you did?

03:57:54 - 03:58:49

I’ll tell you my personal experience in animal rights while I was president, while I was director of the zoo. And in fact, president of AZA. I was also on the Board of Directors of the Animal Protective Association which is the biggest humane organization in the metropolitan St. Louis area, only second to the Humane Society of Missouri. And I was very active in the humane movement, not fanatically so. But I also did my best to make sure that at the zoo, we always did the right thing. And I also invited people from the humane community to the zoo, explained how and why we did anything they may have objected to. And so we found that we really had no problem with the humane movement. And even when we had some outta-towners come in from PETA, our community came to our support.

03:58:49 - 03:59:14

And so that they really represented no threat to the St Louis Zoo whatsoever because the public defended us. So I think every zoo should look at themselves as being a humane act and then make sure they are doing the right thing with their animals so that it’s free from criticism as possible. A complaint today from some zoo director.

03:59:14 - 03:59:18

Is it there are too few good curators in the community today?

03:59:20 - 03:59:22

Is that a problem and how do you believe?

03:59:22 - 03:59:29

You touched upon it a little, should curators be trained and what do you think is expected of them?

03:59:29 - 04:00:24

Well I think it’s a zoo director’s responsibility and his opportunity to encourage every keeper under his umbrella to become the best that they can possibly be, to encourage ’em to develop professionally, give them the opportunity, give them the support to reach that goal. Train curators to be keepers, train keepers to be potential curators and then train curators to be potential zoo directors. And if you follow that philosophy, I learned that from Marlin Perkins. If you follow that philosophy, you’ll be producing curators. There won’t be a shortage of curators. I think it’s a director problem and not a curator problem. At times and you’ve indicated that at the St Louis Zoo, many of the curators have longevity in their jobs.

04:00:24 - 04:00:40

Is there a plus and a minus to having longevity in the sense of no new blood comes in or new ideas or that curators become complacent because they’ve been there so long?

04:00:42 - 04:00:45

Is there a good and bad to that or not?

04:00:45 - 04:01:37

Well my personal experience at St. Louis. As we trained, we picked the best trained or trainable people, help them become curators. And then as curators, help them develop to the utmost. Encourage them to be involved nationally, international with conservation endeavors. That they would continue to be motivated so that they became better. And many of them continued with their education and received master’s degrees and even PhD. A lot of our keepers, curators rather, been with us for 20 or 30 years. But we also have some keepers in the sidelines that are capable of moving up the ladder should we have need for replacements.

04:01:37 - 04:02:21

But we’re not beyond bringing people in. We brought curators in from outta town to fill in. So we have a combination of homegrown and some outside trained people on the staff. As long as they stay motivated and they’re subject to annual appraisal by their supervisor, by the general curator. If they weren’t productive, they’d be gone. And quite frankly, we’ve been very fortunate that we don’t have a turnover. So the fact that many of ’em are there for a long, long time makes it a very, very strong team. The management of these curators also is such that they’re all treated as a team.

04:02:21 - 04:02:45

None of the curators work in a vacuum, none of the curators run a empire of their own. They’re all part of a team and they all interact and they all participate in the overall management of the zoo. So I think keeping that in that manner keeps ’em motivated and productive. (interviewer sneezing) Bless you. Thank you for finishing the question.

04:02:47 - 04:02:56

What changes have you seen during your years in the zoo field regarding visitor attitudes and administration at the national level?

04:02:59 - 04:03:31

In the last 20 years, 30 years, I think our visitors to the zoo have become more sophisticated. In fact, when I started in 1963, we were told write, sign, copy to appeal to a six year old ’cause that’s what the adult average mentality would be. But in fact, today people are much more sophisticated because television and the internet. They want a great deal more. They want much more sophisticated exhibits and they want more sophisticated information. I think they are much more comprehensive than the visitor of the past.

04:03:35 - 04:03:46

What issues caused you the most concern during your career and how do you see the future regarding those concerns or are they been taken care of?

04:03:47 - 04:03:59

I can’t think of any issues that weren’t addressed. I can’t think of anything that I was totally frustrated or that I left feeling man, I wish I could’ve done that. Can’t recall anything.

04:03:59 - 04:04:14

Were there things that were no big concerns during your career that you had to deal with, whether they were within your zoo or nationally?

04:04:14 - 04:04:15

I can’t think of any.

04:04:18 - 04:04:22

What issues would you like to see zoos in general address in the future?

04:04:33 - 04:05:00

Well I’d like to see ’em do more for saving habitat and the Indigenous people that live within the habitat where species are most at risk. But with the political situation internationally, it’s right now pretty grim. We gotta solve some social problems of the world. I don’t know how we do that.

04:05:05 - 04:05:08

How effective do you think temporary exhibits are?

04:05:08 - 04:05:19

I know that there are some zoos that have the World of Frogs and it’s a temporary exhibit or the World of Seahorses or things like that.

04:05:19 - 04:05:20

How effective are they?

04:05:20 - 04:05:44

Well they are very effective at the gate. We brought in a white tiger one time from the National Zoo and we had a big, big attendance increase. We brought it in during the slow time of the year. We brought in a white alligator one time. That was a temporary exhibit. It was very popular. So I think temporary exhibits have a place case-by-case.

04:05:48 - 04:05:58

When you have these small and these mediums zoos, should there be a focus of collection for these small and medium zoos?

04:05:58 - 04:06:12

Should it be just regional or should it be endangered or should just be holding species that are endangered but can’t breed for SSP or should they have the same kinda collection philosophy as has a large?

04:06:12 - 04:07:02

I think that each of possibilities would be suitable for any one zoo. A small zoo like the Arizona Desert Museum is exhibiting animals only of the Sonoran Desert from Arizona and Mexico, no place else. It doesn’t have worldwide collection. The Topeka Zoo is really a small zoo, yet they have a big emphasis on African animals and I think they do it very successfully. And I do know of some zoos that are using animals that are not part of any breeding program and they’re just on loan. So they have the opportunity for their community to see some exotic animals that they otherwise may not have. So I don’t think there’s any one rule that any zoo has to follow. I think whatever works for that particular zoo is fine.

04:07:04 - 04:07:13

Is education doing any good particularly in boosting the images zoos among the public in the face of anti-zoo groups?

04:07:15 - 04:07:54

Well in St. Louis, the anti-zoo group is invisible. It’s not there. So I can’t speak from a national level. Because in St. Louis, we’re not exposed to it. It’s not a problem whatsoever. You talked about individual animals but elephants.

04:07:54 - 04:08:02

What’s your view regarding zoos maintaining elephants and how it should be done correctly, if possible?

04:08:02 - 04:08:13

And the second part of that is zoos spend multi-millions, tens of millions of dollars on some of these elephant exhibits.

04:08:13 - 04:08:16

Is it worthwhile to do that?

04:08:16 - 04:08:24

Whereas potentially, as some people might say that money could go toward helping animals in the wild?

04:08:26 - 04:09:25

Well I think zoos should do both. I don’t think every zoo has to have elephants. But I think if the zoo does have elephants and choose to have elephants, then they should give ’em the largest holding area that they can and that they should participate in a national or international breeding program and actively try to increase the captive herd, participate in any research programs, give them the best they have. And these elephants are ambassadors for those that are in wild. Those that are wild or gravely in peril with the value of the tusks being what it is, both the African and Asian elephants are constantly being harassed. The future is really questionable. So therefore, I think elephants in captivity play a role in bringing this to the public’s attention and has a positive influence hopefully on their survival in the wild. So I think in spite of the cost of maintaining it, I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor if the zoo can afford it.

04:09:25 - 04:09:30

And if they can’t afford it, then they should send their elephants to a zoo that can.

04:09:30 - 04:09:37

Do you think zoos are doing enough to help and conserve the wild as they should be doing?

04:09:40 - 04:10:19

I’m aware of St. Louis Zoo doin’ more than they’ve ever had. They’ve got 12 research centers in the country or wilderness areas. And each year, there’s more money gettin’ thrown in that direction and I think that is a national phenomena and I hope that it continues. But I think it’s important a zoo justifies its existence as a zoo by playing some role in international conservation. I definitely think it helps in fundraising. There are a lotta people that contribute to the zoo because of its conservation endeavor rather than just because it was an exciting animal collection.

04:10:22 - 04:10:29

How would you say AZA today compares with the AAZPA of 30 years ago?

04:10:30 - 04:11:02

Well since I’m not active in it anymore in the last 13 years, only having attended two conference. I can’t really address it honestly. I know it’s much more complex. The old AAZPA was mostly animal people, directors, curators. And today, it’s marketing, fundraising, development, human resources, legal aspects, very complex and much more cumbersome. And it’s harder to participate in everything.

04:11:07 - 04:11:13

Are there any zoos in the world that you particularly admire?

04:11:14 - 04:11:17

Who are they and why do you admire them?

04:11:17 - 04:12:05

Well the Arizona Desert Museum is my favorite zoo. It’s specifically concentrates on the Sonoran Desert. It’s a museum, botanical garden, aquarium, weather station, science, center of research, everything but devoted just to one environment. The Monterey Aquarium is devoted just to the Fisher Monterey Bay. Everything you wanna learn about the Monterey Bay: fish, mammals, birds, everything is on display at the Monterey Aquarium. And they’ve also played a big role in educating the public on what fish you should eat, what fish you shouldn’t eat. In the regard of fish being endangered or in the regard of the fish being poisoned with mercury, what’s healthy and what’s not healthy. That’s beyond their aquarium.

04:12:05 - 04:12:45

They do that on a national basis to an education program. And I guess the Singapore Zoo is one of my favorite zoos because it’s a country on an island and a city all in one. There’s no natural water in Singapore, so they built a big reservoir. It’s a beautiful reservoir and the zoo’s built on the edge of the reservoir. And as you circle the zoo, the animals are separated from you by moats. They’re naturally presented, natural habitat and the water reservoir with the palm trees is the background. You can take photographs of the animals and come back and say, “I took these pictures in the jungle,” and everybody would believe you. So Singapore is one of my favorite zoos.

04:12:45 - 04:12:47

Those are three that come to mind.

04:12:49 - 04:13:12

What can US zoos or what should US zoos be doing or aquariums to help and upgrade developing countries with their zoos where the zoos may not have the information needed to do as good a job?

04:13:12 - 04:13:18

How can the US zoos support their sister zoos in these underdeveloped areas?

04:13:18 - 04:14:40

Well I think it would be nice if a zoo could adopt a sister zoo in a foreign country in need and have some fundraising program within their own community to raise money, to send to help train the people in that foreign zoo and perhaps provide some money for improving the structures and infrastructure so the zoo becomes more humane and more sanitary and better for the welfare of the animals. But also more of an educational function for the people in school that live in that community. Now a small zoo might have to team up with another small zoo to adopt a zoo in a country maybe that has a similar environment as it does. A larger zoo can afford a bigger zoo, et cetera, where the big zoo taking on a bigger role. But I would think adopting a zoo in a sister city or a sister zoo program where there’s fundraising potential. It’d be one way that they could help ’em. In the past and you may be familiar with it, there was an adopt a national park program that I think the Minnesota Zoo put forward. And I thought it was very good, but it never seemed to catch on with zoos.

04:14:42 - 04:14:46

Do you think you have an opinion of why that didn’t catch on?

04:14:46 - 04:15:18

No, I don’t think I have opinion. But I think a national park, it seems pretty lofty. I guess the zoos are limited in how much fundraising they can do and it’s easier to get people to give money where they can see the results in their own community. But to develop a national park in a foreign country is pretty remote. Especially if they think they’re ever gonna have a chance to go over and see it, benefit from it.

04:15:20 - 04:15:24

Any suggestions for those aspiring to make a difference in the zoo world?

04:15:25 - 04:15:26

Go for it.

04:15:33 - 04:15:36

How would you describe the conventional zoos now?

04:15:36 - 04:15:40

What would you like to see them become in the future?

04:15:40 - 04:15:41

What is a zoo for?

04:15:44 - 04:16:11

Well basically a zoo is to bring people and animals together to inspire, excite, educate. That’s basic role of the zoo. And beyond that, a center for conservation, education, research. All the dimensions of the zoo, all of those things. But basically give people a chance to see animals up close.

04:16:19 - 04:16:24

What do you know about the profession that you devoted so many years of your life to?

04:16:27 - 04:16:28

What comes to mind?

04:16:30 - 04:16:44

It’s become much more complicated and much more restrictive. We didn’t have nearly the laws or restrictions to be aware of. It’s become more complicated. Probably a lot less fun.

04:16:46 - 04:16:50

How would you like to be remembered within the zoo community?

04:16:51 - 04:17:14

I’d probably like most to be remembered to be part of that team that brought the St. Louis Zoo from show business to conservation, from a center of three shows to a large naturalistic exhibit with great breeding programs, research programs and a great staff. That’s probably my legacy is the staff that was behind me after I left that are still there.

About Charles H. Hoessle

Charles H. Hoessle
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Director

Saint Louis Zoo: St. Louis, Missouri

Director Emeritus

Charlie’s first experience with exotic animals was not at a zoo but in the pet shop industry. His passion was with the reptiles and in 1963 joined the Saint Louis Zoo as a reptile keeper. He moved up the ranks as an assistant curator, curator, general curator and deputy director.

In 1982 he accepted the position as director of the zoo where he started his career. Charlie served in this position until his retirement in 2002. During that time he served as president of the American Zoo Association and the association’s representative to the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and of Natural Resources (IUCN) in Costa Rica. He is a recipient of the American Zoo and Aquariums R. Marlin Perkins award.

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The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Zoo & Aquarium Video Archive or those acting under their authority.