April 15th 2023 | Curator

Elizabeth “Bess” Frank

During her zoo career Bess dealt with a wide variety of animals, from elephants to giant pandas. She brings both a zoologists experience as well as that of a historian to her knowledge of the zoo profession.

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My name is Elizabeth Frank. I’m called Bess. I was born in Rochester, New York. My birthdate is November 21st, 1951.

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And what was your childhood like?

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You know, just a traditional childhood. We moved to Washington, DC when I was seven, so I grew up in Washington, DC. Lived there until I left for Milwaukee.

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And what did your parents do?

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My mother was a homemaker and my father was a lawyer, a government lawyer.

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So he was a government lawyer in Rochester?

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In Rochester, he was the district attorney. And then the Republicans got voted out and he went back to his law school to get career advice and was told about a job in Washington and he started at the National Science Foundation and then moved on to the, he was the first general counsel at the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities and retired from there.

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So what are your earliest memories of zoos from Rochester?

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Oh yeah, Seneca Park Zoo, got pictures of my sister and I in our matching Easter outfits, visiting the zoo and visited the zoo regularly, zoos and mus. And when we moved to Washington, it was soon after the disaster at the National Zoo where the little girl was killed by a lion. And so everybody wanted to go see where the little girl was killed and that’s when Ted Reed was able to get the money to really fix up the National Zoo. But we spent, every weekend we went down to a museum since the museums were free in Washington. So, you know, it was the art galleries, the zoo.

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So what do you remember about your first zoo, the Seneca Park?

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Seneca- was it memories?

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I just remember going to the zoo. I always liked going to the zoo. My memories are just from looking at the pictures, you know, of us standing in front of the cat cages or whatever. As I said, I was seven when we moved, so most of my memories are from the National Zoo.

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And when you were at the National Zoo as a visitor, what were your, you were still a young girl?

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What were some of your memories as you recollect them?

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Well, back then, most of the buildings were the WPA buildings. And so I remember the artwork on the outside, the beautiful artwork on the old buildings that they’ve pretty much kept. Remember the old Elephant House, the small mammal house. Yeah, taking bread to feed the ducks at the duck pond. I mean, that, both at Seneca Park and at the National Zoo, that was, you always save the crusts of bread to go feed the duck pond, which made me cringe later on (chuckles) as we tried to discourage people from doing that.

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Now were there any animals that you were drawn to or groups of animals that fascinated you?

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Not particularly, that I remember.

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When did you first start to think, “I might like to work in a zoo”?

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Oh, I decided I wanted to work in a zoo in high school. I went to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and Mark Reed was a year in front of me and I was in school with Alice Reed, his sister. And so, you know, learning about who were the children of Ted Reed, the director of the zoo. I had always, I went through a phase where I wanted to be a botanist. I wanted to be a chemist. I always wanted to be a scientist when I grew up. Terrible at math, so all the math-related sciences quickly went out the window. Yeah, then I decided I wanted to be a keeper, work at a zoo when I was in high school.

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You told your parents, “I wanna work in a zoo”?

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And they said?

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Well, they thought I’d don’t outgrow it, probably.

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And were you encouraged by your high school teachers?

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Not particularly, I don’t remember. I don’t even remember talking to a guidance counselor at school.

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So you knew the son and daughter of the director of the National Zoo?

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Yes. Right. Did… Weren’t great friends. I knew them and would talk to them, but, you know, I didn’t really ask them about it. So you graduate from high school. Mm-hmm.

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And you move on to college?

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Yep, went to the University of Maryland.

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And received a degree in?

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Animal science, and went to the School of Agriculture, because at the University of Maryland, most of the zoology department was related to Chesapeake Bay. So invertebrate zoology was the main thing there. And I figured if I wanted to work with live animals, animal science was a better choice.

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And did you think or were you guided that a degree was the way to go if you wanted to enter the zoo profession?

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No, I just, I wanted to go to college. And my father really didn’t believe in college for women, ’cause he thought, you know, you’re just gonna get married and you were taking the place of a man. So I originally wanted to go to Cornell University where most of my, where my father went and his sisters, and so more sort of a family tradition. But my father said he’d pay for either the University of Maryland or any Catholic women’s school within 200 miles of home. So I went to Maryland and that was actually fine with me. It was, I mean, at that point, I mean, it was so large. I had to live at home because I lived within 25 miles of the university and there was no space in the dorms. So I never lived in a dorm.

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I always lived either at home or I had an apartment with friends while I was at school. And learned a lot.

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So you had brothers and sisters?

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I have a sister and two brothers.

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What did they think of your aspirations?

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I don’t remember ever talking to them about it. I mean, we’re very different people, and I’m the oldest of the four, so I was always the first to do things.

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So you had no one guiding your career or recommending or mentoring you as you were in high school or college?

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No, not really. Got a job working for a vet. You know, when I was in college during the summers and, you know, a neighbor across the street introduced me to her vet and so I went to work with her. So that was really the only direct animal experience I had while I was in college, other than I milked my first cow, you know, poultry sciences, you start with eggs and you end up with a barbecue. So (chuckles) you learn a lot about birds.

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And when you were, did you go on beyond your bachelor’s?

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Not then, you know, I got a job. I went to look for a job. At that point, I, well, and then my parents did help me with that. I was trying to find out how to get a job at the National Zoo and my mother talked to Mrs. Middendorf, ’cause her kids worked in the food service at the zoo as a summer job. So they asked the keepers and I found out that I had to get on the laborers and dishwashers list in the federal government to become a zookeeper. Got on the list and I got hired off the list.

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Well, tell me a little more about how does, you just put a name on the list?

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There’s no tests?

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Not for laborers and dishwashers, there wasn’t any tests. You just filled out the form and you got on the list and they sent, when the zoo was looking for zookeepers, they would get a list from the federal government. And your name was on the list.

00:09:08 - 00:09:13

So when did you start then, what year did you start?

00:09:13 - 00:09:54

What was your… Oh, let’s see. I graduated from college in December of ’72. I got married in ’73 and I started at the National Zoo in February of ’74. I had my first interview with Miles Roberts. And I was looking for a job in large mammals, ’cause I liked, I figured with animal science, large mammals would be where I’d go. And Miles said I’d be perfect for the job if I were a man and then he put it in writing. (chuckles) So my second interview was with Bill Xanten and he said, “I understand Miles told you that, you know, you’d be perfect for the job if you were a man.” I said, “Yep, he did.” And he said, “Oh, well, I have to assure you that that is not the case.” And that was my interview and the next thing I knew I got hired.

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As an animal keeper?

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As an animal keeper. So your first job at the National Zoo was- Animal keeper. Animal keeper, $3 and 25 cents an hour.

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So you learned about the opportunity through friends to get on the list?

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Get on the list, exactly.

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Okay, and there was no testing or?

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No testing, nothing. I mean, at that point, all the zookeepers, and probably the same when you started, were World War II vets. Most of them had, you know, if they had finished high school, they were considered educated, you know, some of them had difficulty reading and writing.

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And it was all these young kids who were suddenly interested in wildlife getting jobs at the zoo and they just didn’t, they just went, you know, “What are you doing here?

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You have a college degree. You can get a real job.” So yeah, it was different.

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So the job didn’t state you had to be a man or?

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No, no. Okay. No, I was not the first woman hired at the National Zoo. I was fifth or sixth. So, but it was, and it wasn’t so much being a woman, that was one thing, but it was just the whole thing of college education. The National Zoo had started a program with the labor department to try to recruit people to be zookeepers and teach them, ’cause they thought they would be hiring people who had no education or just a high school diploma. So they were teaching them about science and the rest, and that happened several years before I started at the zoo. So you’re an animal keeper and they hired you as a keeper at the..

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In large mammals. Yeah, north mammals, north mammal.

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What kind of animals did that include?

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Basically the zoo was divided. It was large mammals, which was North mammals. And that was basically from the Elephant House to Connecticut Avenue, everything in that section. The bird house was a separate area. Small mammals and primates was an area. And then the Lion House was a another area.

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What kind of zoo did you find when you first started?

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How would you describe the National Zoo when you first started?

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Well, the large mammal, when I started in ’74, the large mammals included the Elephant House, which was basically the, was built during, in the 30s during the depression. They had converted an area that was built for rhinos for the giant pandas. I mean, they had, because the presidential gifts, animal presidential gifts always go to the National Zoo. So I think Bill was heavily involved in that and reconfiguring this area that was built for rhinos for the giant pandas. And then it was considered, then there was a hardy hoof area, which had wildebeest, zebras, Cape buffalo.

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What else was there?

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We had an area with kangaroos. We had delicate hoof, which had dorcas gazelles, dik-dik. And then we had muntjac. Then there there’s a large hill, the sable antelope. We had a number of reindeer, because the National Zoo provided reindeer for the Christmas pageant down on the mall, so we had to have Santa’s reindeer would go down to the mall every year and into a pen for the Christmas pageant. And then Pere David’s deer, Eld’s deer. Tell me about the staff. You said you were interviewed by Miles Roberts.

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Who was he?

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He had just been promoted. I think he was, I don’t know whether he’s an assistant curator or a curator. He wasn’t the curator of the area. Larry Collins was the curator of the large mammal area when I was there. Bill, I don’t remember. I can’t remember their titles, but Bill was, I think Bill had small mammals in another area, so.

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And who was the director and the deputy?

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deputy director?

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Boy, I don’t know who was the deputy director at the time. Most of the names I can think of were not there when I started. Jaren Horsley was the general curator and he was the reptile guy.

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So did you have interaction?

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Who were you interacting with from the senior staff?

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Obviously not the director. Not the director. No, I didn’t. I interacted with the animal supervisor. Sonny Stroman was the supervisor of the large mammal area. So I interacted with Sonny.

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Remember your first day on the job?

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Yes, I do. We had to do something with a reindeer and Frosty the reindeer, she was a white reindeer. And the vet was there. Mitch Bush was the vet at the time. Mitch Bush and and Clint Gray. And Clint Gray came down and he was, you know, he had been vet for years. I guess, when Ted became director, Clint became, and, you know, he had a cigarettes to always smoke while he was working with the animals and all the rest and yeah, so that was my first day on the job.

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And you were living at home?

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Oh, you were married. Yeah. No. Now during your time, and we’ll kinda break it up, but during your time at the National Zoo, you’ve held more than just the title of animal keeper. Correct.

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And what were all your titles that you held and how did you progress upward in management?

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Well, I worked at large mammals and then I became a keeper at the hospital. I worked with Mitch Bush up there. And then the Smithsonian decreed that there weren’t enough women in management, so I applied for a job in management and it was between me and another woman who worked in birds and someone else, I think, well, anyway, I got the job, and became the supervisor. I think the title was supervisory zoologist, was the federal title. I was known as a collection manager, because at that point, the Smithsonian said in order to be a curator, you had to have a PhD. I didn’t have a PhD, but when I got the job as supervisory zoologist, they told me I had to get a master’s degree. So I got a master’s degree from George Washington University and I chose museum studies, ’cause that seems, the zoo is a museum. So that seemed the most practical degree for me to get.

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And when you started as an animal keeper, Miles had indicated to you that if you were a man, it’d be good, but how were you received in this position as a woman?

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I didn’t, well, it was odd. I mean, I remember when I was first assigned to the hoofstock area with the sable antelope, I was working with a keeper who later left the zoo to become an Arizona State Trooper, but he informed me that I was gonna have difficulty, because I wouldn’t be able to handle, you know, the male sable antelope would attack me as soon as I, if I was there when, if I ever had my period. And I wasn’t able to, ’cause he managed the animals by marking his territory. Every morning he’d go round and urinate in all the male stalls so he would have his dominance and I wasn’t physically capable of doing that. And I just laughed. I mean, I didn’t laugh at him, but I was just, it was just an interesting take on animal management as far as I was concerned.

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But you were one of few women who were working in the zoo, there weren’t many?

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Not many, and I was the only female in the large mammal area. And most of older men, you know, treating me like their daughters or their granddaughters, I mean, they warned me, you know, you never, you know, you never scoop out something without checking to make sure that there’s not a bottle in there or, you know, and you did a pat down when you looked for coveralls, ’cause keepers would put their bottles and tie it up on the bottom and so, yeah, no, there was, it was a different era in zoo management.

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Did you commiserate with the other women?

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I mean, did you… Well, we all knew each other and we would hang, yeah, we would probably exchange stories of what happened to you today and, you know, whatever it was, again, it just was the nature of the beast. You know, it didn’t really phase you. It wasn’t overt, you know, it just was, you knew you were an oddity. But I think the young men who had college degrees were going through the same thing, had difficulties.

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What was your biggest concern when you started working at the zoo in the back of your mind?

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I didn’t have any concerns. I was just excited to get a job that I wanted. And I enjoyed it.

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And so your responsibilities were animal keeper, taking care of the animals in that area?

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When you went to the hospital, you were still an animal keeper?

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Responsibilities were same, different?

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Same, well, taking care of, I had a wider variety of animals there, you know, and I would help out when they did, you know, you would help the vet or if we would take x-rays or whatever. All the animals went through quarantine. I do remember Mitch built a new quarantine facility and, remember Mitch, he’s a tall man and he put all the eye holes at his height. And I’m five foot three. So, you know, it’s kinda like I’m here every day, checking animals and I’ve gotta walk around with a stool (chuckles) so I can see what’s going on inside, but, you know, that was never a consideration as to how does anything work.

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In the back of your mind, were you thinking, I want to move forward and higher at the National Zoo?

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It was just a question of how, and then this opportunity came up, or?

00:21:44 - 00:22:15

No, the opportunity came up and I thought, “Well, I’d like to try this. Yeah, I mean, there’s so many people who go to work in zoos who wanna work with the animals. ’cause they don’t wanna work with people. I actually liked working with people, so I thought management would suit my abilities. When you became collection manager or zoologist. Right.

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What were your new responsibilities?

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Well, I supervised the keepers, did schedules, learned about, you know, responsible for the animals and the collection, breeding plans, that sort of thing. Getting new animals in, sending animals out. Did you have more relationship and interaction with Bill Xanten or- Oh yeah.

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of these people?

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Well, and I would go to meetings. One interaction I remember with Ted Reed is we had a group called Zoo East. It was Philadelphia, Baltimore, National, and New York were starting cooperative programs. And they were the most boring meetings in the world and, you know, all the guys are doodling and all the rest, well, and I brought my knitting once, so, ’cause I can knit and pay attention to what’s going on. And after that, Ted pulled me aside and said, “If I ever catch you knitting in one of my meetings again, I’ll paddle you.” So I never knit in a meeting that Ted Reed was doing. But when I started in Milwaukee, I brought my knitting with me to the first meeting and no one said a word.

00:23:31 - 00:23:45

(Elizabeth laughing) When you first started and as you progressed at the National Zoo to the management, what kind of issues was the National Zoo facing?

00:23:49 - 00:24:01

Well, I don’t know what kind of issues the, I mean, since the pandas were part of my area, I mean, I just remember pandas were front and center.

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I mean, it was just trying to breed, are you gonna breed pandas?

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How are you gonna breed pandas?

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And it was, so, I think, so I spent more time working with pandas than anything else. Elephants, elephants were a concern. I remember my first construction project was redoing one with the Elephant House and we ended up, that one just was basic. Just you could, we had Asian elephants and African elephants and rhinos in the middle. And you couldn’t move the animals back and forth, because they were rhino sized doors for rhinos and elephant sized doors for elephants, so we just made all the doors, so elephants, you could move anything anywhere. And then the big complaint was, well, you didn’t do anything in it. But the building was certainly more functional when I was done. I learned then that I can’t, I’m not a visual thinker.

00:25:09 - 00:25:26

I couldn’t read a blueprint to save my life. I had no idea what was going on. I went to the library and got a book on blueprints, (blows raspberry) So I’ve always had difficulty with doing a construction. Now you talked about the pandas, so let’s talk about the pandas at the National Zoo.

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Can you give me a general history quickly about how the pandas came there and then what your responsibility was when you got the job that involved the pandas?

00:25:45 - 00:26:16

And then we’ll talk about some of the other issues just that revolved around that unique species. Okay, the pandas arrived, I wanna say 1972 or 1973. President Nixon went to China, and opened up China. And presidential animals were always part of the presidential gifts. I mean, we had a number of animals who were presidential gifts.

00:26:16 - 00:26:24

I had a dorcas gazelle that was given to Eisenhower and, I think, was one of the elephants?

00:26:24 - 00:27:23

Well, we got an elephant when I was there. But so the giant pandas came to the National Zoo and there was, pandas were, I mean, there hadn’t been pandas since St. Louis’s last panda died in the 40s. So it was a big deal. I know Milwaukee tried to, I mean, zoos all over the country wanted to say, “Well, we can house the pandas better.” But they came to the National Zoo and they redid the facility. When I was a keeper, when I started as a keeper, there were three keepers, four keepers, three or four keepers who were just panda keepers. That’s all they did. They worked with the two pandas and, you know, had days off. And in order to get bamboo to feed the pandas, we went out and cut bamboo in people’s backyards.

00:27:23 - 00:28:24

You know, bamboo grows well in Washington, DC and so once a week you’d go out with the truck and load up and bring back the bamboo. So I filled in a couple of times with the pandas. You’d cook rice, get carrots and apples and bamboo on a regular basis. So now you are, this is such a high profile animal. Right. You’re now the collection manager and they are under your purview. Animal care was under my purview. I mean, basically Devra Kleiman and, ’cause there was this research department, and Devra was in charge of pandas and then when Ed Gould became general curator, he got heavily involved in pandas too.

00:28:24 - 00:28:27

And the big deal was how do you breed pandas?

00:28:27 - 00:29:13

And they followed the instructions that they got from the Chinese. At the time when the pandas came, a Chinese delegation came with them. But I think even the Chinese were learning about pandas. This was really just a diplomatic exchange. The science of pandas wasn’t really known either by the Chinese or the Americans. And so what Devra was told was, you know, the, I mean, pandas are a species that’s trying to go extinct. I mean, females come into heat once a year for, what, 36 hours, and you’re supposed to get the animals together right at that time and keep ’em separate. Other than that, and trying to judge that was impossible.

00:29:14 - 00:29:21

I mean, female would start bleeding and the male might be whatever, but they did, you know, no one knew how to do it.

00:29:21 - 00:29:24

And so it was kinda like, okay, do we put them together?

00:29:24 - 00:29:29

Do we not put them together and, you know, are they breeding?

00:29:29 - 00:29:30

Have they bred?

00:29:31 - 00:30:18

It was a nightmare. When Ed Gould started, he said, “Well, you know, if you’re gonna breed animals, they should be together more than, you know, a couple of days a year. Get them used to each other.” So they did that, and we started doing that. And finally when they did mate, everything was different. The sound was different, you know, it was kinda like, ah, that’s what we needed, (chuckles) that’s what we needed to know, so we were fine after that. It’s kinda like, okay, then we can ignore all this other stuff. But we had, you know, they brought in Chia-Chia, the male panda from England to breed, ’cause they thought maybe he, Hsing-Hsing, wasn’t able to breed. And that was a disaster.

00:30:18 - 00:31:16

I mean, that was the worst animal fight I’ve ever seen, was when we’d introduced them and we had terrible time separating the pandas, finally did, And I think Ling had scars, I mean, had bite marks all over her body when they finally got together and Chia-Chia got sent back to London in disgrace. But, I mean, there were political cartoons about the pandas. It was on the news every night. It was in the paper. And this was every year. You know, you knew you had a panda story, so. You did make a comment at one time in one of the publications regarding the giant pandas where you said it certainly wasn’t like caring for any other animal. Well, nobody cared what I did with any other animal. I mean, you had everybody watching everything you did.

00:31:16 - 00:32:14

I mean, one of my keepers that was off that weekend, and, you know, Ling-Ling was asleep at the bottom of the exhibit and he was going to pick up the bamboo and he said, oh, you know, she’s asleep. And so he just decided he’d go in and reach it and got it. She was on him like a… She came and she bit him in the leg. And so the next day, you know, on front page of the Washington Post was, you know, “Edwin Jacobs was bit by the giant panda.” I mean, and they knew that because, I mean, there was a keeper at the Brookfield Zoo who lost an arm to Su Lin when she was here. And, so anyway, no one made that mistake again. But then I got calls at home and had to, you know, you’d had to talk to the press and see what’s going on, so.

00:32:17 - 00:32:26

So you would have to commiserate with Devra Kleiman or other people before you did things, ’cause everybody had to know?

00:32:26 - 00:32:51

Oh, everybody was there. You know, if you were gonna be putting the pandas together, all the researchers were there. The general curator was there. I don’t think Dr. Reed came down, you know, at that time. But, yeah, no, it was a production. And lots of meetings. Lots of memos. We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that, yeah. Now there was a lot of, you talked about controversy.

00:32:51 - 00:32:54

There was a lot of controversy with the pandas and reproduction.

00:32:54 - 00:33:00

When you saw the second panda baby born, were you still working at the zoo?

00:33:02 - 00:33:15

Well, I’m trying to, I remember when the first baby panda was born and died. Maybe the sec, I don’t remember the second. I mean, I could’ve been.

00:33:17 - 00:33:22

So you saw the first panda baby born or you heard it or?

00:33:22 - 00:34:49

Oh, no, we were, oh no, when they thought Ling was pregnant, we had a panda watch, it was, we had volunteers who, you know, there were cameras set up, keepers. So we had 24-hour watch. And when the first baby panda was born, I don’t remember whether they did blood work to know that she was pregnant or what, but they just assumed, you always just assumed that she was pregnant if she’d bred. And Barbara Bingham was the keeper in the area at the time and she and I were looking at Ling and she just wasn’t acting right. And so I decided to stay and Barbara decided to stay and Devra said, “Oh no, you know, it’s not time yet. Don’t call unless something, you know, don’t call unless something important happens.” And I wasn’t, I was going in to sort of check on Ling on the inside and I heard this gasp from the watcher and Barbara in the control room and went back to see and she had a baby. Ling had a baby. And so I called Devra and just said, “She’s had a baby.” That was important enough to call (chuckles) and so she called Mitch and she called everybody and everybody descended on us that night.

00:34:50 - 00:35:28

And then the baby didn’t live. I mean, none of Ling’s babies lived. Turned out that she had, I think Mitch decided that she had some sort of infection, vaginal infection. And so the babies died soon after birth because of the infection. She was a great mother holding the baby, and all the rest. So it was a happy time and a sad time. I just, I mean, that was my 15 minutes of fame. I was on the national news every, we had, Chris Wemmer was, Chris Wemmer was the acting director.

00:35:28 - 00:35:41

I’d forgotten that. Yeah, Ted must’ve retired. And so I, and I slept through the whole thing and then they said, “Well, you know, you were on the Nightly News last night.” (chuckles) I didn’t.

00:35:41 - 00:35:46

Did this responsibility weigh heavy on you or just part of your job?

00:35:46 - 00:35:52

It was part of my job. I mean, you can only do what you can do. So, you know, I didn’t.

00:35:56 - 00:36:14

Did this experience or maybe any others that, when you were at the National Zoo, change your notion about what a zoo should be like or how things might start to be changed or things that now you’re thinking of, ’cause you’re gaining a lot of experience?

00:36:16 - 00:36:36

(Elizabeth sighs) Well, I mean, the other big thing when I was at the National Zoo was we, during the Reagan, when Reagan was up for reelection, he got a gift from the president of Sri Lanka who was running for reelection and elephants were their symbol too.

00:36:36 - 00:36:43

So we got a baby elephant from, now was it Sri Lanka?

00:36:43 - 00:37:36

I think it was Sri Lanka. And that was really difficult because the baby, she didn’t survive. She had some sort of parasite. And, I mean, it caused an international incident, I mean, Richard Montali was the pathologist at the zoo at the time. And, you know, he did the autopsy on the baby. But, I mean, they had to explain what happened, because the Sri Lankans wanted to know whether Tamil separatists had bribed the keepers to poison the baby elephant to embarrass the president of Sri Lanka. I mean, and that was, the keepers were devastated. I mean, they had spent hours trying to, with this tiny little elephant and trying to get her through and so that was probably the hardest thing I had to deal with.

00:37:38 - 00:38:03

She had been down at the, she’d been down to the White House all dressed up in her finery with Jim Jones, our primary elephant keeper, to meet President Reagan and was in Time Magazine, and all the rest. So it was, I got to go to my first and only embassy party (chuckles) as a result of that, but, no, that was hard.

00:38:05 - 00:38:11

Is it true that the National Zoo cannot reject a diplomatic gift?

00:38:12 - 00:38:49

I mean, you took all of these diplomat, the zoo took all of these animals. I don’t ever remember them rejecting a diplomatic gift. But it’s not done now. You know, I think, I can’t remember one after Ling and, well, no, Reagan, that was the last one. So that was ’84 and I left in ’87, so. You had mentioned the renovations of the Elephant House. Yes.

00:38:51 - 00:39:01

Were you thinking, when you were involved in that, were you thinking about zoo exhibit design philosophy?

00:39:01 - 00:39:03

Oh, I was just thinking practicality.

00:39:05 - 00:39:11

I mean, if you’ve got to separate animals and you can’t get them through the doors, what use is it?

00:39:11 - 00:40:03

You know, if you, you know, you’ve gotta keep one outside. You gotta keep one inside. I mean, we had, one of my jobs as a keeper, when I discovered I really couldn’t work nights was, I spent four months watching the Indian rhinos they were trying to breed, Falkner, well, I’ve forgotten, was a researcher up at the National Zoo, wanted to know what the rhinos were doing between, I think it was 08:00 AM to 08:00 PM in the morning. And I can tell you, rhinos sleep. I had to feed ’em at 05:00, but, I mean, I couldn’t stay awake. I took a nap between 04:00 and 05:00 (chuckles) on the bench in the Elephant House, just ’cause I couldn’t stay awake. But, yeah, so, and it would’ve been nice to be able to move things around.

00:40:04 - 00:40:19

In 1992 in a zoo magazine, you said, “It feels good to be connected to an international community of captive and wild animal population managers.” Remember saying that?

00:40:19 - 00:40:23

No. But I believe I probably did.

00:40:24 - 00:40:28

So this was related to Brazil?

00:40:28 - 00:40:31

It was in a magazine in 1992. Okay.

00:40:31 - 00:40:42

But during your time at the National Zoo, did you receive or were you able to have international experience?

00:40:42 - 00:41:03

Were you able to visit other zoos, when you were a collection manager and higher. I visited other zoos, but I did it when I was on vacation. I never traveled internationally when I was with the National Zoo, no. Now what did you consider, you talked about a low point at the National Zoo with the elephant baby.

00:41:03 - 00:41:08

What would you consider your professional high point working at the National Zoo?

00:41:08 - 00:41:53

Oh, I think the birth of the panda, you know, that had worked, so they’d worked so long and so hard with that that that was… Oh, I shouldn’t say that, because I did, I did go to, I did a trip for the Friends of the National Zoo. Went to China and went to Wolong in ’84. And so that was very interesting, ’cause at that point, Wolong wasn’t what it is today. I mean, I remember the beds were basically stones with a stone pillow, most uncomfortable bed I’ve ever slept in, but it was just fascinating to be there. They were just, the Chinese were just developing the Wolong Preserve.

00:41:55 - 00:42:00

How were you picked to take this trip among all the senior staff?

00:42:01 - 00:42:09

I don’t know. The Friends of the National Zoo asked me if I wanted to go and I said yes. Probably ’cause the pandas were part of my area.

00:42:10 - 00:42:13

And can you explain who they are, that group?

00:42:13 - 00:42:14

The Friends of the National Zoo?

00:42:14 - 00:42:44

It was a support group that was there to raise money and support the zoo. They produce the zoo magazine and most zoos have Friends groups. Friends of the National Zoo is no longer in business. I think the Smithsonian decided to terminate the relationship within the last five years or so. 10 years maybe.

00:42:46 - 00:42:53

And just as the structure, where does the National, the National Zoo is the only federal zoo?

00:42:53 - 00:42:54


00:42:54 - 00:42:58

And where does that sit in the hierarchy?

00:42:58 - 00:43:54

It’s a branch of the Smithsonian Institution, Institute, excuse me, it’s not the Smithsonian Institution. It’s the Smithsonian Institute, yeah. So this, and when I was there, the National Zoo also developed the Front Royal Preserve. It’s a 3,000 acre preserve in Front Royal, Virginia. It used to be a remount center. It was built for horses, provide horses for World War, World War I and World War II and when the… And so John Perry was the assistant director at the zoo when that land became available and they wanted to develop a conservation center there. And so in the 70s, that land was given to the National Zoo and they developed the Conservation and Research Center.

00:43:54 - 00:43:59

Did you have any relationship with it when you were there at the National Zoo?

00:43:59 - 00:44:11

I did, but mostly transferring animals back and forth, you know, that they had a collection of sable antelope, the Pere David deer moved to Front Royal, yeah.

00:44:16 - 00:44:18

So you moved there, but you didn’t stay out there?

00:44:18 - 00:44:48

No, well, I worked one weekend, because there was a congressional delegation coming down and they didn’t have enough keepers, so I went to work the weekend, worked with the birds. Why I didn’t work with birds, I still have a scar from a scarlet macaws that they said, “Oh no, you just, you know, just put the padding against it and move out of the way.” Well, it didn’t move out of the way. (chuckles) So (chuckles) when you were…

00:44:48 - 00:44:52

(Elizabeth chuckles) You became a mammal person for sure then?

00:44:52 - 00:44:55

I knew I was a mammal person all along, yeah.

00:44:56 - 00:45:05

And when you left the National Zoo, what was your title?

00:45:05 - 00:45:06

What were you?

00:45:07 - 00:45:10

I was a collection manager when I left the National Zoo.

00:45:12 - 00:45:23

Why did you decide to leave the National Zoo for another zoo and how did Milwaukee, how did that happen?

00:45:23 - 00:45:26

What were the years, what was going on?

00:45:32 - 00:46:37

There were a couple of things why I left the National Zoo. Well, there were a lot of reasons. My husband was diagnosed with cancer in 1984 and he was successfully treated, but he was finding the hot humid summers in Washington difficult, so we started talking about moving somewhere else up north and picked out a couple of places that I would look. The National Zoo hired someone who had been at the Cleveland Aquarium and didn’t even have a college degree and were paying him $5,000 a year more than I was making. And I had to get a master’s degree that I paid for myself, so I asked Ed Gould for a raise. And he said, “No, you know, you need more responsibility.” And then I got the interview in Milwaukee and decided, well, we’ll move to Milwaukee.

00:46:38 - 00:46:53

And I got offered the raise after I had accepted the job in Milwaukee and I said, “Well, nope.” So it was that and, who as it, Robinson?

00:46:53 - 00:46:55

Was that the director at the time?

00:46:55 - 00:47:13

We had a new director who came from STRI. And I knew I was going to have to go to China with him and I’d had some difficulty with him and personnel matters before. And I didn’t wanna go to China with this man. And so that was another reason I left.

00:47:16 - 00:47:21

But how did you decide that Milwaukee, they had an opening?

00:47:21 - 00:47:27

Oh yeah, they- at other places. Milwaukee offered me a job and I said yes. (chuckles) I mean, that basically was it.

00:47:28 - 00:47:34

So through the professional organization, you knew there was a job available as a?

00:47:36 - 00:47:43

It was a job as assistant general curator. So I had got the job as assistant general curator.

00:47:43 - 00:47:47

What was the process? Who’d you have to talk to?

00:47:47 - 00:48:18

I was interviewed by Bruce Beehler, who was the assistant director, Ken Kawata was the general curator. I don’t think he was part of the process. Dennis Merritt was there from Lincoln Park at that point, Milwaukee, when they hired curators. They were just developing their first set of curators. They would bring in people from other zoos to help them with the interview process.

00:48:18 - 00:48:19

Who was the third?

00:48:19 - 00:48:46

I can’t remember who the third one was who interviewed me. It was a very strange process ’cause you went to the interview. All the three, there were three finalists there. We all interviewed the same day. They offered me the job that day and I had to say yes or no then. And so I said yes and that was it. So you were hired as an assistant. General curator.

00:48:46 - 00:48:58

Ken Kawata was the general curator at the time. And Dr. Boese, Gil Boese was the director, but he was in China at that time, so I didn’t meet Boese until six months after I started.

00:49:00 - 00:49:05

And what were your new responsibilities?

00:49:08 - 00:49:09

Different from the National Zoo?

00:49:11 - 00:50:17

Yes, because at that point, they had a curator of birds and a curator of reptiles. And then the, so I basically had all the mammals at that point. And I scheduled all the keepers, and this is before computers, so that was, you know, sitting there with pieces of paper, and Milwaukee has a very unique scheduling system. Keepers have rotating schedules. And this obviously had been in place for over a hundred years, so, the keepers, there were like six different schedules. So, you know, you’re off Monday, Tuesday one week, Tuesday, Wednesday the next, Wednesday, Thursday the next, Thursday, Friday, and then Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. So every five to six weeks, you get a three-day weekend. And you’re assigned a schedule when you’re hired and that’s your schedule.

00:50:17 - 00:50:32

And so that was a big learning curve (chuckles) on how to schedule and make sure that every area was covered. They had keepers who worked different units and then keepers who were known as rovers who went in between all the units.

00:50:34 - 00:50:37

What number of staff did you now manage approximately?

00:50:40 - 00:50:46

Hmm, God, I don’t know. A lot of ’em. Let’s see, probably 30, 40 people.

00:50:48 - 00:50:49

All union?

00:50:51 - 00:51:05

Yeah, there was a, that’s a, yes, the county sup, they were all unionized. So. But the federal keepers were unionized too. There was a federal union.

00:51:06 - 00:51:11

So did the older staff accept you as their boss?

00:51:11 - 00:51:15

Were there issues you had to overcome?

00:51:15 - 00:51:16

And if so, how did you do that?

00:51:16 - 00:52:01

Not really. The keepers, it was a very different group of keepers because when I started, in order to be hired as a keeper at the Milwaukee County Zoo, you had to live within Milwaukee County. So most of them had no animal experience at all. I mean, they just, it was a good county job. And I was used to keepers at the National Zoo who were invested in their animals and could tell them all apart being, when I would go in the primate unit, the supervisor knew all the animals, but, you know, it was, one Colobus monkey was like another.

00:52:01 - 00:52:04

You’d say, well, which animal is that?

00:52:04 - 00:52:56

They couldn’t tell their animals apart. I wasn’t used to that. That was difficult to get used to. But no, Ken Kawata was not a popular general curator, so I think the fact that I wasn’t Ken and I was coming around, helped, helped me. Everybody thought Ken, that Dr. Boese had hired Ken to be the hatchet man to come fire all these people. He had that reputation. So no, I don’t remember any difficulties. And the assistant director, Bruce Beehler, I’d worked with Bruce at the National Zoo, ’cause he was one of the intern, he did a residency, not a, it was before residencies, but he had worked with Mitch at the hospital for six months or whatever before he got his job in Milwaukee.

00:52:56 - 00:52:58

And I’d worked with Bruce as a vet when he was a vet.

00:53:00 - 00:53:03

Were there other women in senior staff positions?

00:53:04 - 00:53:39

At at that point, there were, yes. There was a female registrar. When Bruce became assistant director, he thought he could be both assistant director and vet, and when he ended up in the hospital, he realized they needed to hire somebody else and so the head vet was a woman too at the time. But she worked for, she and the registrar worked for the Zoological Society. Milwaukee’s got a very strange history and very strange way of doing things, or did at the time.

00:53:42 - 00:53:51

So were you, when you were there, getting used to things, were you learning from anybody specifically, leaning on anybody?

00:53:51 - 00:53:53

Did you have any mentors there?

00:53:55 - 00:54:12

Not really, I mean, I just, well, my experience from the National Zoo worked well for most of it, yeah. And as the, well, you were then the assistant general curator. Correct.

00:54:12 - 00:54:19

And at what point did you change titles and responsibilities?

00:54:20 - 00:54:45

Let’s see, I started in February and Ken was asked to resign soon after I started. And so, but he signed a letter of resignation, thinking that he was going to get a job just by making some phone calls. And he didn’t.

00:54:45 - 00:54:53

And he left in December of that year and I became acting general curator, was it?

00:54:54 - 00:55:38

And ’cause I wanted to be assistant general curator. I didn’t know how to be a curator over, you know, my experience with reptiles and birds was minimal. And maybe he left early. Anyway, so they left the acting, the assistant general curator job open. I became acting general curator. And then the county decided to abolish the assistant general curator job, because it was open and they needed a position. So I was acting general curator. So I was, once they hired a general curator, I was out of a job. (chuckles) So I had to start looking for another job again.

00:55:38 - 00:55:43

This was a year after I had started, so.

00:55:47 - 00:55:48

Did you apply for the job?

00:55:48 - 00:56:20

Well, I had to apply for the job. So, yeah, I did apply for the job, but I started interviewing around in case, you know, I didn’t get the job. So I interviewed at Central Park Zoo, Jim Murtaugh, who I had worked with at the, who was a keeper at the National Zoo when I was at the National Zoo. He needed an assistant. So I went up and interviewed there. I did get the job at Milwaukee and stayed there, but.

00:56:22 - 00:56:23

So you had the title as general curator?

00:56:23 - 00:56:24

I was general curator.

00:56:26 - 00:56:29

And, let’s see, when did the change happen?

00:56:31 - 00:56:33

(Elizabeth sighs) Was it after?

00:56:36 - 00:57:17

May have been after Boese left as director. They reorganized and I became, they abolished the title of general curator and I became the curator of large mammals, which was great, because as general curator, I was, you know, I was, they could fire me, gimme 30 days notice and I would be gone, so I became, I had protection under the county regulations. I had less responsibility and I got a raise. It was great.

00:57:17 - 00:57:27

(Elizabeth chuckles) So as the curator of large mammals, you were in a different position regarding your job?

00:57:27 - 00:58:15

Yeah, I was just in charge of large mammal, of large mammals at the time. I think, I don’t know, but, they hired a curator of primates and small mammals. And I don’t remember where that was before. That must’ve been before I became curator of large mammals, ’cause that was my title was curator of large mammals. So I did large mammals, Jan Rafert was a curator of primates and small mammals, Rich Sajdak was a curator of reptiles and the aquarium, and Ed Diebold was the curator of birds. So they had a full compliment of curators at that point. So when you became general curator, Ken had been on the job.

00:58:15 - 00:58:23

When you got there, how long after you got there were you acting general curator?

00:58:23 - 00:58:24

Within a year.

00:58:25 - 00:58:33

And when you were acting general curator and then general curator, were you able to make changes?

00:58:33 - 00:58:49

Did you see, now I can implement some things that I think should be happening, ’cause I’ve been at the place a little while, or from my experience at National Zoo, or was it difficult?

00:58:49 - 00:59:46

I don’t, well, I was still responsible for all the scheduling of everybody. Bruce was in charge of all the construction, so they were getting ready to redo the, build the Great Ape House and redo the primate house at the time. I was still just getting my feet wet. The only change I think I made was that the registrar, they started ARCS at that point, and the registrar was just using paper records and I started putting all the animals into the ARCS program. Now you had mentioned that the director you started with, Gil Boese.

00:59:47 - 00:59:53

Then left the position and then a new director came in?

00:59:53 - 01:00:53

Yes, well, I mean, I knew going into Milwaukee that it was going to be a difficult, they had a very strange organizational structure. The Milwaukee County Zoo started in 1910. Well, no, started in the late 1800s. And when the zoo started, it was part of the City of Milwaukee. And the City of Milwaukee said, “Well, yeah, we’d love to have a zoo. But the parks department, the park board decided that they would provide structures and staff, but they couldn’t use tax money to buy animals. So a group of citizens got together and started the Washington Park Zoological Society in, yeah, 1910, 1911. And they provided all the animals for the zoo.

01:00:54 - 01:02:27

Basically, before then, they had just taken donations when they did the, and mostly birds and small things. And they, Washington Park, boy, Washington Park was annexed to the City of Milwaukee. Boy, it’s complicated, but it was just an old farm, so, they were just taking care of the animals in the farm. And they finally accepted a bear cub and then the bear hibernated and then when it ate its way out of the barn the next spring, they decided that they needed to build for substantial caging, so they built the bear line. And at that point, the citizens were involved. 1907, they hired Ed Bean as the director of the Milwaukee, of the, what was called the Washington Park Zoo at the time. And so the first board of directors for the Washington Park Zoological Society included the director, several aldermen and basically interested naturalists. There were two, there were a lot of smaller, smaller groups before the 19th board zoo club donated sea lions and, you know, another group donated pelicans.

01:02:27 - 01:03:44

And there were two zoological societies competing for a while, I guess, and both German. And didn’t get along and never got along. And the Washington Park Zoological Society was the one that finally became primary. So they provided all the animals for the zoo up until the 50s or 60s. So the zoo wouldn’t exist without the zoological society, yeah and before I started at Milwaukee, they had, the zoo became part of the county during the depression when the county took over all, the county had its own parks department and then took over many of the city parks within the county just because they couldn’t afford them anymore. So in 1936 is when the county, it became, Washington Parks had became part of the county structure. So going back that far, after World War II, the Society, the zoo had outgrown Washington Park. The buildings, they had three buildings.

01:03:44 - 01:04:44

The last building was, three major buildings, last building was built in 1929. So the buildings were not in great shape. The county couldn’t afford to upgrade them and had to decide what to do with the zoo and they couldn’t expand in Washington Park, because so many other activities took place in the park. So the Zoological Society decided that they really needed to move the zoo and they were, Otto Kuehn was the name of the first society president. His son was the Society president when they wanted to move the zoo. So they formed a joint committee with the county and the Society and the Greater Milwaukee and found a place where they wanted to move the zoo. George Speidel was the director at that point. He became director in 1947.

01:04:44 - 01:05:52

His father-in-law was Ed Bean. (chuckles) And Ed had left Milwaukee after 20 years and became director here at Brookfield, at the Brookfield Zoo and helped build the Brookfield Zoo, which is why many of the exhibits look very much like those in the Milwaukee Zoo. So George and so the son-in-law of the first director of the Washington Park Zoo and the son of the first president of the Society were instrumental in moving and developing the zoo, the zoo at its current location. And, I mean, it really was political because if you look at a map of Milwaukee, the mayor of Milwaukee at the time said the zoo had to be in the City of Milwaukee. So they annexed a small strip of land along Blue Mound Road to where the zoo is. And so the zoo is officially in the City of Milwaukee, but across the street is Wauwatosa, out the back gate is West Allis.

01:05:52 - 01:06:05

And so whenever we had to do anything with, you know, animal escape drills, you had three different groups that you have to deal with, because it depends on if the animal’s gonna get out, where is it gonna go?

01:06:05 - 01:06:06

Is it gonna be in Milwaukee?

01:06:06 - 01:06:09

is it gonna be in Wauwatosa? Is it gonna be in West Allis?

01:06:10 - 01:06:49

It was fun. And I’ve obviously, what was the question again? (laughing) Well, you’re bringing this up to the various directors. So George Speidel ultimately leaves. He ultimately left, yes. And Boese was hired as the new director. He was here at Brookfield. And, I guess, George Rabb, he and George Rabb were competing to become director here. And George Rabb got the job and Boese decided to go to, became director at Milwaukee.

01:06:52 - 01:07:37

And I remember he was one of the, Boese was one of the finalists at the, when Ted retired from the National Zoo, because I remember his name on the list. And that created problems for him later, (sighs) oh God, this is a complicated thing. Okay, I knew that there was going to be problems, because the Milwaukee County was responsible for a number of cultural organizations. And in the late 70s and early 80s was a difficult time in terms of, you know, with the tax base was going down, and all the rest.

01:07:37 - 01:08:10

So the county board decided that they, or cultural organizations needed to be more proactive in raising money and voted for the Milwaukee Public Museum, that the top, the director and all the assistant directors had to, how did they put it?

01:08:10 - 01:09:20

It was known in the museum community as the Wednesday afternoon massacre, because they were told that they had to start raising more money. And were not gonna get the, didn’t discuss this with the director or the assistant directors, and the two assistant directors resigned. The director of the museum stayed until he retired a couple of years later, but used the zoo as an example, because the Zoological Society provided so much support to the county zoo that Boese was held up as, you know, this is what you need to do. Well, Boese’s wife was head of the Zoological Society at the time. So when did… I’ve forgotten what what kicked it off, Boese, oh. But, Boese, there were some issues with the county, but then he and the director resigned. Right, there were issues.

01:09:20 - 01:10:14

I’ve forgotten what the, Boese announced that he was leaving. He was going to become director of the Lowry Park Zoo in Florida. I should’ve brushed up on my history before I came here. And he and Lillian worked, oh yeah, I remember part of it. He and Lillian were going to go to go down there, well, the Lowry Park Zoo, Lillian could not be involved with the zoo the way they were involved. I think they meant to go as a pair. And so I remember the day that we were gonna have our farewell party for Boese leaving, I woke up and on the radio was Dr. Boese is staying. (Elizabeth chuckles) So, and now, I remembered and I forgot.

01:10:14 - 01:11:42

Okay, Boese was staying. The problems were that they were so linked together, Dr. Boese and Lillian, that he would leave Lillian in charge of the zoo if he left, and she was not a county employee. And as when accreditation became part of the, you know, zoos needed to be accredited, George knew that he wasn’t, this is back when Speidel was still director, that he wasn’t going to be able to get the positions that he needed through the county system. So the veterinarian was a, the zoo had, Bruce Beehler, when he was veterinarian, was a county employee, but the collection had grown to the place where they needed a second veterinarian and they couldn’t get a veterinarian. So the Society hired the second veterinarian and then the Society paid for the registrar, ’cause you needed to have a registrar. And the Society paid for the education department. Everything that the zoo needed to upgrade to have. So it was all interconnected and then some of the keepers who were county employees said, “No, I’m being supervised by someone who’s a society employee, that’s when everything sort of went south for Dr. Boese.

01:11:44 - 01:13:02

And the final thing was Dave Schulz was the county supervisor at the time. I mean, was the head of the county and, Boese, so the, and when Boese had applied to become director at the National Zoo, they were gonna pay him more than he was being made in Milwaukee. So the Society supplemented Boese’s salary, gave him $10,000 a year extra. And it was an agreement that the county exec at the time knew, Bill O’Donnell was the county executive. So this was above board, but they couldn’t find the paperwork or whatever somehow. So Boese was, Lillian stepped aside as director of the Zoological Society. Boese announced that he was leaving the zoo to become director of the Zoological Society at $25,000 a year more than Lillian was making. And then the county exec, Dave Schultz at the time said, well, you can just stay, the director had to live on the zoo grounds.

01:13:02 - 01:13:52

Speidel had a house on the zoo grounds and when Boese became director, he had to live on the zoo grounds. And Boese and Schulz said, well, you know, just pay $400 a month, well, people knew how much rent was for a three bedroom house in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, and that was the end. I mean, there was no, Boese had to move out. And then Charles Wickenhauser was hired as director of the zoo when Boese left. And this was, so this was 1990, and I had started in ’87. So, I mean, it was chaos for the first three years that I was there. So while you were there under all of this. I think I became, I think, they must’ve been organized under Chuck.

01:13:52 - 01:13:58

So I probably became curator of large mammals when Chuck was there.

01:13:58 - 01:14:02

And you were bringing, did you bring in the koalas or were they there?

01:14:02 - 01:14:24

No, the koalas were brought in… They had visiting Koalas before I was there. The year I was there, they had golden monkeys. First year I was there, they had golden monkeys from China as a temporary exhibit. The golden monkeys were making the rounds. I think they went to Minnesota.

01:14:24 - 01:14:27

Were they at any of the zoos here?

01:14:27 - 01:14:51

Okay, yeah, so we had Golden monkeys for six, three months, or six months. Well, lemme digress quickly, ’cause you mentioned golden monkeys. You had been with the high profile pandas, rare animals in the United States. And now the Golden monkeys, rare primates, were at the Milwaukee Zoo.

01:14:51 - 01:14:56

Did they make the kind of impression that the pandas had made?

01:14:57 - 01:15:50

No, no, they didn’t. I mean, I’m sure they drew some people, but, I mean, they came with, they were cared for by the, Chinese people came with them. They were cared for by their regular caretakers and all the rest. I will say my panda experience probably helped get me my job, because I remember going with Dr. Boese to Briggs & Stratton for a meeting about, I guess, at that point, Briggs & Stratton had a lot of money in China that they couldn’t get out of China, so they were talking about maybe bringing giant pandas to the Milwaukee Zoo. This was before whole rent-a-panda became big. And so they were talking about that and then the big problem in Milwaukee is you can’t- (Mark sneezes) you can’t grow bamboo.

01:15:50 - 01:15:57

Were the koalas as much of a headache as the pandas had been?

01:15:57 - 01:15:59

Were they difficult to maintain?

01:15:59 - 01:17:00

No, koalas weren’t difficult to maintain. The biggest problem with koalas was that the, is eucalyptus is the only thing they eat. And you don’t grow eucalyptus in Milwaukee either. So we contracted with, oh, Bill Flo- Bob Frueh, yeah, Bob Frueh was wonderful. I loved working with Bob. And yeah, Bob, he used to be in horticulture at the St. Louis Zoo. And when San Diego started bringing in pandas and, I mean, well, not pandas, but koalas, you realize that there was, everybody wanted Koalas and he went down to Florida and bought land and started growing eucalyptus and then later started growing bamboo for, to ship all over the country. So yeah, Bob was the supply, and if you couldn’t get the, I mean, that was the difficulty.

01:17:01 - 01:17:28

If you couldn’t get, if there was an airline strike or, you know, you got your regular shipments and if you didn’t get your regular shipments, we’d come down and get some from Lincoln Park with their koalas. And I think that was finally, I mean, to provide the eucalyptus was like $35,000 a year. So that was a big chunk out of the animal budget.

01:17:30 - 01:17:32

And did they stay long term at the zoo?

01:17:32 - 01:17:48

We had them long term. They had the visiting ones, I think, in ’84, ’85, and then we got them, I don’t remember what year, but we got them and they were there for several years at the Milwaukee Zoo.

01:17:50 - 01:18:00

What was the elephant exhibit like at the Milwaukee Zoo and how did you feel about having elephants at the zoo?

01:18:02 - 01:18:20

Well, the elephant exhibit was built in the late 50s, early 60s, so it was basically a concrete exhibit with bars in the front and we had African elephants and Asian elephants. It was very similar to the exhibit I had at the National Zoo.

01:18:25 - 01:18:35

Do you have any thoughts about how they were kept or what you might want to do or?

01:18:35 - 01:20:07

(Elizabeth sighs) Elephants, no, we had elephants, we had worked, Ed Gould had hired Don Meyer at the National Zoo to work with the keepers in setting up an elephant program. And Don was from Milwaukee, so he was also the consultant at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Elephants are a difficult species to deal with. I mean, it takes a special keeper to work with elephants and I think working with elephants makes keepers a bit odd. (chuckles) I mean, it’s really, I mean, it’s such a close relationship between the keeper and the elephant and Jim Jones, the elephant keeper I had at the National Zoo, Don said he was a natural. I mean, he would go up to Nancy, our big female and he kinda mumbles something and Nancy would do whatever Jim wanted. I mean, and so when Jim retired, it was tough because we had to have train new keepers. And Don came to work with ’em and Don and I had a very interesting relationship, ’cause as Don said, he’d never met anyone who had absolutely no mechanical ability at all until he met me, ’cause he would try to explain things to me and I would have no idea what he was talking about.

01:20:07 - 01:21:11

Luckily people around me did and so I was able to work it out. We got, the National Zoo had a young elephant, Shanthi, who came a few years before, I guess, I started, an African elephant and then we had the Jayathu experience. So, no, but when I came to Milwaukee, they had a young elephant, Moola, who they got from the same orphanage in Sri Lanka that Jayathu came from. So my experience at National, Milwaukee decided they were gonna go over and see the elephant that they were gonna get and pick it out, because they shipped the smallest elephant they had to the National Zoo. And she was supposed to be two when she arrived and she was a tiny elephant. So they got much healthier baby elephants in Milwaukee as a result of that. And Moola is down at Dickerson Park now and doing well.

01:21:12 - 01:21:15

Did you go to see the elephant in Sri Lanka?

01:21:15 - 01:21:36

No, they did that, Boese went with Bruce and the vet at the time before I started. Moola was already at the zoo when I started. Now Milwaukee has been involved in conservation programs throughout the years. You’ve been involved in some of those conservation programs. Mm-hmm.

01:21:36 - 01:21:39

But can you talk about them in a specific way?

01:21:39 - 01:21:47

So for example, the Milwaukee Zoo had a bonobo conservation project. Right.

01:21:47 - 01:21:53

Can you talk about its general history and how Milwaukee got started in that?

01:21:53 - 01:22:23

Milwaukee got started in that because when Dr. Boese was director of the zoo, the Wassenaar Zoo in the Netherlands, yeah, Wassenaar Zoo was closing and they were selling their animal collection. So they bought, Dr. Boese, the Zoological Society raised the money and they bought gorillas, and brought good gorillas and bonobos to the Milwaukee County Zoo.

01:22:24 - 01:22:35

And at that point, I don’t know how many zoos had bonobos, but we got a breeding group of bonobos and, how many gorillas?

01:22:35 - 01:23:39

I forgot how many gorillas. But, so that’s how the program started. And it became, and Gay Reinartz is the reason that the bonobo conservation, the bonobo conservation project got underway. I will say two of the keepers who worked with the Bonobos learned about a training program in Texas to, training program working with the great apes. So Barb Bell and Trish Khan, who’s now the curator of primates, went to Bruce and said, “We wanna go to this training program to learn how to work with the animals and train the animals. And so they started working with the bonobos, first the bonobos, ’cause we had a large group of bonobos. And they were able to train them to do remarkable things. I mean, they can collect, they could give the animals injections, they can collect semen samples, they can collect blood samples.

01:23:39 - 01:24:43

They were able to get blood, blood pressure. When females were pregnant, they could do ultrasounds on the females. And so it’s been a remarkable success. And people come, keepers from all over the world come to Milwaukee to work with the bonobo keepers and how they work with it. And Gay Reinartz, who was our registrar at the time, became fascinated with the bonobos and learned about them. So when the whole divide between the Society and the zoo happened, Gay worked for the Society and could not become an employee of the zoo because she didn’t live within the county. Her husband worked for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and they were in charge of the Cedarburg Conservation Center that they had there. So Gay went over to become director of research at the Society.

01:24:43 - 01:26:02

And she basically started the Bonobo, BCBI, the Bonobo Conservation Program in Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And I think she’s still involved, but grew it up to the point where the Society went beyond the Society’s capability. I think World Wildlife Fund runs it now, but, yeah, that’s the most amazing project in my time at the zoo. So she started working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo just ’cause so little was known about bonobos in the wild. And I think she was there five years before she found her, she saw her first bonobo in the wild. But basically the Society hired park guards who would patrol the areas. And so they would patrol the area to keep out poachers and the rest, you know, they had no guns or anything like that. Became involved with a literacy program, taught the guards how to read and write and then started schools in the area.

01:26:02 - 01:26:09

And a number of things have come from that Bonobo Conservation?

01:26:11 - 01:26:28

I can’t give you the name of it, I’m sorry. Another conservation program that the Milwaukee Zoo was involved in was Runaway Creek. Runaway, yeah. Which is a nature preserve.

01:26:29 - 01:26:34

Can you give us a little history about that and how the zoo was involved and why?

01:26:34 - 01:26:38

And were there any issues and is it still there?

01:26:38 - 01:28:01

The Runaway Creek is still there. Dr. Boese was involved in that. He found a parcel of land in, it’s in Belize. That became the Runaway Creek Preserve that the Zoological, well, I don’t know whether the Zoological Society bought it or the foundation bought it, but anyway, it housed jaguars and tapir, Baird’s tapirs. And it had all the different, had four rainforest Pampas, and all the rest. So he started the birds, it started originally as Birds Without Borders- Aves Sin Fronteras, which was, because a lot of the birds in Belize, when he and his wife would travel to Belize, they noticed birds that they saw up in Milwaukee, coming through Milwaukee. So it was a project that did, Vicki Piaskowski was hired to head the project and they caught birds. They mist netted birds in Belize and tagged them.

01:28:01 - 01:28:40

And then they did similar work in Wisconsin to see, talked about how, because all the bird populations are declining. So it was originally supposed to be a five-year project. It ended up being a 15-year project and finalized with, they produced two landowners manuals, one for Wisconsin landowners and one for landowners in Belize to help preserve the bird populations.

01:28:43 - 01:28:48

But it’s not under the purview of the Milwaukee Zoo any longer?

01:28:48 - 01:29:11

It’s not, it was always a society program. Not a zoo program. I mean, the zoo was involved peripherally. I mean, we had our bird people were involved. We have a master bander who works within the Aviary department and she’d been involved. So the, yeah, so it was always a society project.

01:29:13 - 01:29:41

As your time as curator, can you recollect any memorable events such as animal escapes that you had to be involved with or potentially VIP visits or things that were obviously a bit out of the ordinary in the day-to-day running of the collection?

01:29:41 - 01:30:47

Well, that would happen more at the National Zoo than it did at the Milwaukee County Zoo. I remember when Ken Kawata, who was at the Milwaukee County Zoo at the time, got married and he was a big panda fan. So he went to Ted Reed and he and his wife were married at the panda house. And my job was to get the panda house ready and make sure the pandas were on exhibit for Ken’s wedding. (Elizabeth chuckling) So (chuckles) things like that happened at the National Zoo all the time. And, you know, if there was gonna be a high profile, the Secret Service came through and had to go through everything and, you know, all the tunnels and before any VIP visit. My favorite day at the National Zoo terms of visits was we had one day where Mr. Rogers was coming to film in the panda house and Marlin Perkins was visiting at the same time, so we had two sets of groupies. I mean, the seniors, Marlin showed up, and the seniors were there.

01:30:47 - 01:32:02

And then all those little kids following Mr. Rogers all the way around the zoo. That was fun. We did the elephant, the Elephant House has to, when the African Wildlife Federation had its had a anniversary, 25th anniversary, the one that Jimmy Stewart’s daughter was involved in, so we had a big catered event at the Elephant House and Jimmy Stewart was there and Marlin Perkins was there and so that was fun. They auctioned off a, no, they had a drawing for a trip to Africa and Jimmy Stewart drew Marlin Perkin’s name as a winner of the thing. (chuckles) And so Marlin said, “Well, no, you need to draw somebody else’s name and it has to be someone who never has been to Africa before.” Which we all felt was wonderful. So in Milwaukee, it happened much less, we didn’t, it’s not as high profile a zoo.

01:32:02 - 01:32:06

You never had an escape in Milwaukee that you had to get involved with?

01:32:06 - 01:32:08

Oh yeah, no, we had- for your expertise?

01:32:08 - 01:33:15

Yeah, no, we had animal escapes, but they were nothing. Probably the most serious, well, most serious one was we had a Dall sheep that got out as we were trying to get ready to ship it and it almost made it to the gate at, the front gate and got out onto Blue Mound Road, which was the, but the vet was able to dart it, so it finally went down before it got there. But I had a muntjac escape at the National Zoo. It went down Connecticut Avenue and they finally got it in someone’s garage. Had the reindeer get out once on the mall. That was interesting. They were able to, we were trying to bring ’em back from the, so. Did the Milwaukee Zoo, were you involved as the curator in setting up those type of protocols in case an animal- Oh, we did animal- Animal escape drills, yeah.

01:33:15 - 01:34:19

We did animal escape drills on a regular basis. And it was always fun ’cause the keeper from the hospital or one of the keepers was designated as the escapee. I remember once I used it, I’d been trying to get something fixed in the Lion House for forever. And so, you know, we had rifle training and there were rifles at the hospital. There’s rifles in the gun cabinets at bears, behind polar bears and one in the Lion House. And so I worked with the keepers in the feline building to set up a scenario. I was the designated one where I’m out in the outdoor lion area and the malfunction that I had been trying to get fixed happened and I got killed because they couldn’t get to the guns ’cause they were behind the locked door that they couldn’t open, because that was open there. Got fixed the next day.

01:34:21 - 01:34:26

I did have once, our first, was it our first?

01:34:26 - 01:35:43

First or second behind the scenes weekend at the zoo, they started opening up some of the back areas at the Milwaukee Zoo. And we had a cheetah that sort of shinnied up the outdoor exhibit between tree that had grown and was on the roof of the Lion House looking down. And the person who noticed it was a photographer for the Journal Sentinel, for the Milwaukee Sentinel. (Elizabeth chuckles) He was like, “Oh my god.” And these were these, they were cheetahs, Acinonyx and Juba from Lincoln Park. So they were hand-reared cheetahs and so the vet, Roberta Wallace was the vet at the time and Val Werner is the keeper. So they had been raised by females and were always responsive to the females, so, Roberta, Val, and I went up there and whichever one it was, came over to Val and she’s petting it and Roberta was able to eject it. Luckily, and the PR person came over and was talking to the reporter and said, “We’ll give you an exclusive if you don’t tell anybody now.” And he did. So we were able to get the animal off, but that was interesting.

01:35:45 - 01:36:02

So yes, everybody has animal escapes. At one time you spoke to the Wildwood Park Zoo Society at their annual meeting. Yep. And. In Marshfield. You spoke about the benefits of a small city zoo. Mm-hmm.

01:36:02 - 01:36:04

What are those benefits?

01:36:05 - 01:36:53

Well, Wisconsin, we used to have a Wisconsin Zoo Association. There’s a lot of small municipal zoos. At one time there were a lot of small, most small communities had a zoo. And I think it’s, that’s Marshfield, yeah. I think Wildwood Park Zoo’s in Marshfield, Wisconsin. And I remember when I was at the National Zoo, I was at a meeting and there was someone there from Muscatine, there was a Weed Park Zoo in Muscatine, Iowa. My mother-in-law grew up in Muscatine, so I was familiar with that. And I was talking to the keeper there and a couple of years later they decided to close the zoo.

01:36:58 - 01:38:20

It’s usually they’re in city parks and they’re, a lot of kids there only exposure to animals. And they don’t necessarily need to have, you know, lions and tigers and most of the smaller zoos don’t. They have a bobcat or bears or something like that. And they have sensory gardens they could do. They can do things locally that, you would come to the Milwaukee County Zoo and it takes a long time to see it and most kids don’t have that attention span. So a place that they can go and be in nature and be with animals, I think, is very beneficial. Can you speak to the issues of the counties, and you talked about it a little, but county’s desire to change the public-private relationship with the Zoo Society around 1989, and that unfolded. As you look back on it now, was the relationship between the county zoo and the Friends or the Zoo Society with their different jobs that they hired and the different responsibilities and hierarchy.

01:38:22 - 01:38:34

In your opinion, does that kind of relationship work or was there built-in issues that would naturally occur that if they could do it a different way?

01:38:34 - 01:39:44

Well, what the result of that whole controversy of the 1990s is that for the first time in almost a hundred years, there was a written agreement between the Society and the zoo as to what was the responsibility of the county, what was the responsibilities of the Society. I mean, it had worked on a informal basis for so many years. I mean, if you have a board of directors, you can’t have the director of the zoo be on the board of directors of the Society, but for years, that’s, I mean, when the zoo society started, that’s what it was. Laws have changed. So every, the two organizations have to coexist. I mean, Milwaukee would not have the zoo it has without the input of the Society and the county couldn’t afford it. So it’s beneficial, but as laws change and as perceptions change, the relationship has to change. Unfortunately it just became difficult at the time in Milwaukee and became much more public.

01:39:46 - 01:41:10

I mean, the county, the Milwaukee Public Museum became a private entity separated from the county. And when they did that, the employees could choose either to stay county employees or go work with the Society, but they still worked at the museum. So that whole thing was tough too. And there was a lot of talk about the zoological society becoming, many zoos didn’t have these public-private partnerships. Just the zoo would become run by the Society. Well, I think the county was really talking about doing that, around the time Burt became head of the Society, they had talked about the Society taking over the zoo. Well, at that point, the museum, they discovered that they’d had financial difficulties and they had spent most of their endowment fund taking care of these difficulties without informing the county and so the county had to bail out the public museum. So that ended all the talk about the Society taking over the Milwaukee County Zoo.

01:41:10 - 01:41:36

I don’t think the Society has the base, financial base to do it alone. So they just need to keep working on getting the governing bodies, so they’re connected. As a society, the Society still runs the education department and the Society does all the graphics for the zoo and…

01:41:39 - 01:41:41

Are they still in charge of conservation?

01:41:41 - 01:43:36

They have, the conservation department is in the Society, yeah. They provide funds for keepers, for Milwaukee County employees to do conservation projects. Pat the Cat is a project that’s been going on for a number of years, ’cause this is when, but with Boese’s work with Runaway Creek, he became involved with the Belize Zoo, Sharon Matola, who started the Belize Zoo. And so Pat the Cat was a jaguar, a problem jaguar that was rehabilitated at the Belize Zoo and came to be, came to Milwaukee as a breeding animal to infuse new genes into the jaguar pool. And a woman became involved with Pat the Cat, the Jaguar Club decided to help sponsor, when we did the renovation, to sponsor the jaguar exhibit. And Susan Kennedy, I think is her name, just became involved, met Sharon Matola and she and her husband went down to the Belize Zoo and got really involved and became involved with the keepers and she was involved with literacy. So she worked with the Milwaukee Public Library and with Sharon in Belize and they wrote a book called “Pat the Great Cat.” And it was written, both by children in Belize and children in Milwaukee County Zoos in Milwaukee County and it was for sale. That became mandatory reading.

01:43:36 - 01:44:09

Every school in Belize had copies of “Pat the Cat.” And so that’s taken on a life of its own. And the profits from the book helped the keepers go down and work with the keepers at the Belize Zoo every January. The registrar has been down and work with, they’ve taught the keepers about, do some training, the vet techs go down and show them how to do stool sample, worm checks and, and the rest.

01:44:09 - 01:44:11

So that’s been going on for, what, five years now?

01:44:11 - 01:44:29

Five or six years, maybe more than that, since I started, since I retired, so. And Pat’s long gone. You had all these people who were working for you as curator of large mammals, or when you were general curator.

01:44:29 - 01:44:30

What was your management style?

01:44:34 - 01:44:49

I don’t think I’ve ever really thought of it as a management style. You know, you just listen, you listen to people and see what their problems are and try to fix their problems. And if you can’t, you can’t. You tell ’em why. Can’t say it’s always successful, but.

01:44:50 - 01:44:54

Any tricks of the trade for managing people that you developed?

01:44:58 - 01:45:06

When someone wants to talk to you, never guess what they wanna talk to you about, ’cause you’re always wrong. Just wait until they talk to you (chuckles) ’cause you get worried.

01:45:06 - 01:45:07

Like, oh my God, what did I do?

01:45:07 - 01:45:14

You know, it’s all about this, this is a problem we’re having. It was never anything that I worried about, so.

01:45:17 - 01:45:20

What would your staff say about your management style?

01:45:25 - 01:45:50

I don’t know. I did have the union steward, after he retired, came back once and apologized to me for being so hard on me, ’cause he thought that I was pretty good after all at what I did. So that probably was the best, ’cause, yeah, Germany and I would be at loggerheads and I was just waitin’.

01:45:54 - 01:45:58

So you had to deal with union issues?

01:45:58 - 01:46:24

Oh yeah. Regarding- Whatever. of the collection. Well, with management issues, whether it, you know, on whatever grievance was at at the time, it usually wasn’t managing the collection. It was always scheduling, you know, or not getting what they wanted, or whatever. You just have to explain this is it. This is, you know, you’re not gonna get everything that you want.

01:46:25 - 01:46:37

Now after you took over the title of curator of large mammals, did you have management issues that you had to deal with that you recollect were major deals?

01:46:41 - 01:47:38

Oh, yeah, I mean, not necessarily with the keepers. I mean, with elephants. The elephants at Milwaukee became very controversial. We had, this was just after Chuck started in 1990, 1991. I had three Asian elephants and one Asian elephant was getting increasingly aggressive at another Asian elephant and at the keepers. And I needed to move her out and worked with Don to find a place for her. We couldn’t find a… The only zoo that was interested in taking her was the Lowry Park Zoo and in talking to Don and investigating their elephant program, I didn’t think they could handle a problem elephant like Lota.

01:47:39 - 01:49:09

And so we ended up sending her to Hawthorn-Mellody Farms, which created just a big fear. We had an animal rights activist who played French horn for the Milwaukee Symphony, took a leave of absence to work on this to save Lota. And, I mean, I could see her just go up the hierarchy in the county to get this animal out of, I mean, we had given, I mean, she couldn’t get Lota, ’cause Lota was now officially owned by Hawthorn-Mellody Farms. It got bad enough, I mean, Bruce sent Moola to the Dickerson Park Zoo to be part of their breeding program just to get her in, make sure she went to another zoo, so the, (Elizabeth sighs) she, I forgot her name. Of course I forgot her name. I mean, we had, when Lota was shipped, the day that Lota was shipped, I wasn’t there. I was at the Boston Zoo for something else. And Bruce and the keepers handled it and it didn’t go well.

01:49:12 - 01:49:52

They were loading her up and she, they finally got her loaded, but it was difficult. And Don did the, Don and his, did the transport. And she urinated and, you know, it came out red, so this woman was there and it was, oh, she’s bleeding it, this is awful, and all the rest. And the press was there. It was Chuck’s first big press thing. And it just evolved from there. So she went all the way up the hierarchy until she went to the county exec. It took a couple of years.

01:49:52 - 01:50:57

I mean, we had, Bob Barker came, Kevin Nealon came, we had protests outside the zoo and just trying to get elephants out of the zoo. Well, the keepers were accused of, brought up on animal cruelty charges, using some of the tapes that Don had done for training purposes. I mean, they were, if you see “The X-Files,” there is a thing on “X-Files” with elephants, that’s the Milwaukee County Zoo. And it was one of the elephant keepers at the time. It totally backfired. His son was so excited when he saw his dad on “The X-Files” and all his friends were just so excited. No one thought about how, well, you know, it was mistreating elephants. So we no longer have Asian elephants at the Milwaukee County Zoo, because we are abusive to Asian elephants, but we’re not to African elephants.

01:50:58 - 01:51:37

We still have African elephants. They got rid of the elephant rides. And finally I told Bruce that I could manage the other animals and he took over managing the elephant keepers and the elephant program. This is when the whole protected contact or voluntary contact was in place or coming into place in zoos. So let’s just pursue that. You were in charge then. It deals with animal rights activists and people interested in that. Yeah.

01:51:37 - 01:51:49

And were you assigned the job then to deal with this controversy or to be the representative?

01:51:49 - 01:51:52

Or how did that work and what were your feelings?

01:51:52 - 01:52:58

Well, I was involved in, yes, you know, I had to be on Milwaukee Television with Chuck and I had to be there with Kevin Nealon and Bob Barker. Luckily Bob Barker would never come into the zoo, but they were, Bob Barker was in town and Alec Baldwin was in town. And so, yeah, no, it was, I had to go through, Chuck and I had to go through PR training or whatever after that. I just remember it as being, oh my God, you know, whenever she would call, it’s kind like, okay, okay, you’ve talked to this person, you’ve talked to this person. She just wouldn’t, you know, you just told her what you knew and know that she wasn’t going to listen. And it was the county exec who made the decision that we were going to send the Asian elephants to Pat Derby in California, ’cause Pat got involved too.

01:52:59 - 01:53:20

Did you feel that the type of training you received for dealing with and understanding and having some relationship with animal rights people was the kind of training that you might then give to other people or, I mean, did you learn lessons from that, in those type of interactions?

01:53:20 - 01:53:49

Well, I had dealt with it a little bit at the National Zoo. I mean, I knew Sue at PETA before she retired and Jeanie after she took over her job. So PETA never got involved in the elephant controversy in Milwaukee. I mean, they called and I explained what was going on and they were fine. No, the training took place after the whole thing was over. (Elizabeth chuckles) So I had never had any formal training in handling these situations before then.

01:53:51 - 01:54:08

Do you feel that curators, and at that level, should be schooled and made aware of all the implications of animal activism and animal rights as it, do you think they have enough or did you have enough?

01:54:10 - 01:54:43

I think the controversy was just this one woman who never let it go. She spent two and a half years getting the elephants out of Milwaukee, and that’s all she did. And, you know, when you’ve got a job and someone is spending two and a half years working all the angles, there’s really not much you can do. You do the best you can. Now you talked about you supervise a lot of people, that they were union people and that there were union issues.

01:54:44 - 01:55:00

Did they ever affect you, and for example, the equal opportunity, did you have keepers complain about your style or what you were doing and how you were managing them?

01:55:00 - 01:56:46

Oh yeah, well, I had one keeper at the National Zoo who wanted to work elephants and, strange individual, but, you know, we were, Don was working with us and I went into the hay room and he’s working with an Angus and just going, just bearing it in hale bales, practicing to work with elephants. And I’m goin’, (scoffs) “You’re not working with elephants.” So he filed an EEO suit, because I discriminate against Latvians. He had also… At that point, both my elephant keepers were females and he dropped his drawers in front of the female keepers, so I tried to, I tried to give him, at that point I was told I could, I tried to give him a suspension, you know, get him outta the Elephant House and give him a suspension. So I went for, what, it was two-week suspension and then it went all the way up to the director who was Robinson at the time and he dropped it to three days. I tried to fire him, but I wasn’t able to fire him. So anyway, so I’ve talked to lawyers, Smithsonian lawyers about how I felt about Latvians and, you know, and actually after I went to Milwaukee, after the first post office, shooting in the post office, CJ was walked off the zoo grounds, because he’d come to us from the park police and he sent threatening letters to the secretary of the Smithsonian. I mean, he really was a nutcase.

01:56:47 - 01:56:50

But you deal with people.

01:56:50 - 01:56:54

Did you have issues like that at Milwaukee when you were dealing with all your staff?

01:56:54 - 01:56:55

I mean, in general?

01:56:55 - 01:57:13

In general, I had one, I think I had one EEO suite. I discriminated against him because he was Hispanic, but it didn’t go anywhere. So it never got to the level as it did with CJ.

01:57:15 - 01:57:30

Were you involved ever as a curator in the future planning of zoo exhibits and, or recommendations to bring certain animals into the Milwaukee Zoo?

01:57:30 - 01:58:39

Mm-hmm, we did, well, we did several renovations when I was there. Bruce had a very interesting way of doing animal, I mean, Milwaukee had a very interesting way of deciding what they were going to do. He was, remember, there were like four or five master plans that were done when I was there and nothing ever came to them. Boese had done a master plan that was finally completed in, I mean, it got shrunken in scale. But it was a very fast, I mean, you would say, oh, we’re going to renovate the Lion House next year and then kind of this forced march, you go visit Lion Houses and decide what you’re gonna do. And to me, if you’ve got a master plan, you’re planning all the way along and, you know, you’ve got these things you take off the shelf. Bruce said I had to go to the AZA school. They now have one on exhibit planning, and all the rest.

01:58:39 - 01:59:18

And I’m going, “I know how we do it here. This is not what I’m going to learn.” But I finally went and I came back and I said, “Well, you know, you’ve got your five-year plan and you do this.” Bruce says, “Well, we don’t do it that way.” I said, “I know. Well, here’s my diploma. I took the course, I completed it. This is not what we do.” So yeah, so I would not recommend the way (chuckles), I shouldn’t say that, but it was… For example, we did the renovation of the feline building. It turned out very well. But luckily the Milwaukee School of Engineering, they have a senior project for their students.

01:59:18 - 01:59:26

And they decided they were gonna do a mock-up of the, help us, sort of how we could redesign the feline building.

01:59:26 - 01:59:39

And I’m at this meeting with all these people and they said, and, you know, and where are the animals going to be?

01:59:39 - 01:59:44

You know, are you going to, you know, where do we do this?

01:59:44 - 01:59:54

And Bruce says, “Oh no, they’re gonna be there.” And I’m thinking, “You’re gonna tell me this when, that we’re gonna be doing construction and I have to keep the animals?

01:59:54 - 02:00:21

My management plan changed immediately. We stopped breeding. You know, we’re not replacing any animals until this goes. And I’m going, and this was two years before, this was a year before we were supposed to start construction, so yeah. So I know how not to do it. I’m not sure I know how to do it. You mentioned something about, you got rid of the, for various reasons, the elephant rides.

02:00:21 - 02:00:29

What are your thoughts on animal rides in zoos, be they pony rides or elephant rides or animal rides or?

02:00:31 - 02:01:22

We still have pony rides. I think the camel rides have stopped. The elephant rides, getting rid of the elephant rides was part of the whole Lota deal, so we got rid of elephant rides and we still, one of the elephants at the zoo used to be one of Jo-Don Farms’ elephants who was part, did rides at the zoo. I have no problem with pony rides, you know, and I guess I really don’t have strong feelings one way or another. Elephants are, elephants, great apes, all those animals are, they have such connotations to the world at large. I think it’s very hard to, I think that’s one of the things that’s changed in zoo perception. So I think it’s more difficult to have things like elephant rides.

02:01:23 - 02:01:32

Do you think that animal rides, in general, have educational value for children or adults, I guess?

02:01:32 - 02:01:58

Well, I don’t know if you talk about educational value. I think just the contact, you know, just contact with the animals have educational value. We do animal talks. I mean, do a camel talk every, during the summer, where animals come out and, you know, the keeper will make the camels, you know, kush or whatever, you talk about the biology. Yeah, I think that has a lot of value.

02:02:00 - 02:02:10

How involved at the zoo, Milwaukee Zoo, where you spent most of your time, were you involved in budgeting and policymaking at your level?

02:02:12 - 02:02:44

Budgeting, I had to produce a budget every year and keep track of the budget. Policy, I had to do collection plans, animal collection plans. So basically it was related to the animals, then yes, but policy, I can’t think of anything other than that. You know, education had a question or graphics or something, but the overall policy was probably director and deputy director level.

02:02:45 - 02:02:47

When you were budgeting, was it fun?

02:02:47 - 02:02:48

Did you enjoy it?

02:02:48 - 02:02:51

Was it a task?

02:02:51 - 02:03:53

Oh, budgeting was, well, budgeting for the government, federal and county government is very different than budgeting your private budget, ’cause it’s not like you have an amount of money that you know you have to keep within. I mean, I had, the federal budget was, National Zoo was good training, because it was kinda like, oh no, we gotta spend everything. Because if you don’t, they cut it. You don’t get, I mean, there’s no incentive to save money if you work for the government. And so it was, you just make a list and you got so much money and you did whatever. And with Milwaukee, you had to create two budgets. One for the county budget, which was animal management and then the Society would have money that they paid for, you know, conservation trips for keepers or would pay for things that we could ask for with the Society. In terms of managing the budget, Bruce handled most of that in terms of all the reports that had to be done.

02:03:53 - 02:03:55

I didn’t have to do any of those reports.

02:03:56 - 02:03:58

Did you have people guiding you through it?

02:03:58 - 02:04:02

Was there a mentor you would speak with or was it?

02:04:02 - 02:04:03

Oh no, you just did it.

02:04:03 - 02:04:04

They just said, what do you need?

02:04:04 - 02:04:56

And went, okay, I need… Well, you had to do the research. You know, if you needed, I wanted scales. I had to find scales that you could use with the animals, ’cause most of my animals couldn’t, they didn’t develop scales and you couldn’t, we were weighing elephants with truck scales and we had to get it from the county heavy equipment people. They would bring in the truck scales and we would weigh the elephants that way. But then when they developed digital scales for bears and all the rest, you know, you do that. And crates, you know, found a wonderful guy in Montana who built crates for the National Park Service for bears and so he made some crates that would go together. You could separate ’em and have two separate crates and one long crate.

02:04:59 - 02:05:13

When you were at Milwaukee, did you help to develop policies that might have changed the direction of the zoo in certain management areas that you were active in?

02:05:15 - 02:05:54

Could you make changes, could you… Well, I don’t know if you could make changes. We often, you know, you had a policy manual that never sort of changed and sort of if someone would, I got grieved because I was used to if someone needed help, you would go in and help them. Well, keepers would say, well, no, that’s a keeper’s job. You can’t do that as a curator. So we had to write a policy that curators could not take the keeper’s job, but if they were training them or, you know, observing them or something, then they could do it. That sort of thing. That’s what I was involved with. Usually if someone grieved something and we had to make a change.

02:05:55 - 02:06:01

You indicated that there were master plans for the zoo, for the Milwaukee Zoo.

02:06:04 - 02:06:12

What was your input in developing a master plan or being involved with that?

02:06:12 - 02:06:49

I wasn’t. Bruce did that. And then you learned about, if you were gonna have this species or that species or- Well, it didn’t really involve, it was more of a physical master plan. And since I knew it wasn’t going to happen, because the county didn’t have the budget, I never really, I would read them, but didn’t pay much attention. I might get a question on, you know, animals or what’s available, things like that. But, no, I wasn’t really involved in the master planning.

02:06:51 - 02:06:58

Based on your experience, what is the ideal, if there is one, of zoo exhibit design approach?

02:06:59 - 02:07:03

What components are important when you’re that doing that?

02:07:03 - 02:07:29

Well, and basically my approach is basically a museum approach. You need to know, have an overall vision for what it is. And then you just can break it down into segments. And so the my ideal would be to have, you know, if we’re gonna redo the polar bear exhibit, this is what I want. And you change it over the time, so you have something to present.

02:07:29 - 02:07:33

It’s not like you, oh, we’re gonna do polar bears in two years, what do we need?

02:07:33 - 02:08:23

And, you know, and you haven’t seen. And then things change all the time. Underwater hippo exhibits, you know, that’s, we’re gonna do an underwater hippo exhibit and they built an underwater hippo exhibit, finished it a couple of years ago in Milwaukee. And Bruce had designed it, but it was going to be, a donor had the money and then, so it had to be before 2008 and then the crash of 2008 and he didn’t have the money anymore, but Bruce had put together a plan when they built it, Chuck just took Bruce’s plan and built it. There was no modifications. And so that’s my experience with master planning and how things are done.

02:08:26 - 02:08:32

In the exhibits that you were part of, what exhibit are you most proud of?

02:08:34 - 02:08:44

I think the renovation of the feline building worked out really well. The idea was that we would, animals would have both indoor and outdoor facilities.

02:08:44 - 02:09:00

It hasn’t worked out that way in practice but, because the Cheetah SSP decided that our indoor facility was not suitable for cheetahs, so cheetahs are now only outside, have an indoor space they go to and they put caracals?

02:09:00 - 02:10:14

I think they may have caracal now on the inside exhibit. But yeah, that worked out well. We were able to, one thing that didn’t work was everybody loved feeding time at the zoo ’cause the keepers would feed and we tried to build in so keepers could feed the animals on exhibit. And that part of it didn’t work, but I think the space with, ’cause we had a center, Milwaukee, when it was originally built, it was built during the bathroom tile phase of zoo architecture, the Milwaukee County Zoo. So we had exterior exhibits around that had outdoor yards and then one big interior exhibit that was open to the elements, so your species selection was limited in the center exhibit. When I started, we had a white tiger who was a very popular, popular exhibit. And when he died, I think I put pumas in there and I think we had Siberian tigers. And the outdoor exhibits, we had nice outdoor exhibits for the lions, for the tigers, for the cheetahs.

02:10:15 - 02:10:50

But for snow leopards and jaguars, we just had iron, round iron exhibits at the outside, so those were all, we reduced the number of animals so those, we kept some of the outdoor exhibits, those round outdoor exhibits as holding areas or shifting areas and they built a new snow leopard exhibit, which is really nice. You mentioned, well, two quick things.

02:10:50 - 02:11:00

You said the keepers feeding didn’t work out or was it not a great idea, the keepers, why?

02:11:00 - 02:12:24

I think it was, because we had the old exhibit we had basically doors with pans inside and so you could just take the pans out and animals would be shifted out. And we tried to build it into the rock work in the new exhibit and it just physically was not suitable. It just wouldn’t catch. They replaced, those were barred exhibits, and they replaced it with glass. So we had glass, all the exhibits have glass, which they tested, for the lions, they tested the glass like 350 pounds at, you know, 50 miles an hour or something. And testing equipment broke, but they figured it would hold a lion, and so far it has. (chuckles) So, yeah, so that didn’t work. And we lost guardrails, since they were all glass exhibits and the rock work underneath, I mean, kids can get right up and to it, so a keeper couldn’t get in there and physically get in with the people standing there, so they just went back to pulling the animals off exhibit, putting the food out and then letting the animals back on exhibit. And you talked about one of the exhibits had a white tiger.

02:12:24 - 02:12:32

What’s your philosophy about the exhibiting of white tigers or white alligators?

02:12:32 - 02:13:03

White tigers came as a presidential gift. I mean, National Zoo, Ted Reed and the white tigers. We had Mohini and so, animals, I mean, people love odd-looking animals. I mean, the white tigers are fascination. And when the Lion House was redone at National, they sent Mohini, and Mohini might’ve been dead then, but the white tigers they had went to the Cincinnati Zoo to Ed Maruska.

02:13:06 - 02:13:08

And I remember, who was it?

02:13:08 - 02:13:42

Was it Larry Curtis who told us a story about someone bought a white tiger and someone had bleached the tiger and realized that it was not a white tiger when it shed and suddenly was this yellow tiger. So there’s chicanery in every animal business. With all the advancement in exhibit design, landscape immersion, so much emphasis on enrichment concerns about animal welfare and close public, such as PETA scrutiny.

02:13:42 - 02:13:46

Are zoo animals better off now compared to decades ago?

02:13:47 - 02:14:54

Well, I mean, decades ago, I mean, when we started, most of our exhibits were built pre-World War II. It didn’t have, vets didn’t have the capability to take care of animals. I mean, all the medicines that vets use now weren’t available. People medicine has changed so much, so it’s apples and oranges. I mean, you couldn’t have a natural exhibit. When they built the Ape House in Milwaukee, the big thing was keeping everything as sterile as possible, because Samson was the big male gorilla in Milwaukee and Sambo came in and Sambo died of tuberculosis, which is, obviously he got from a member of the public, ’cause they just had an outdoor barred exhibit. Well, you know, George developed a flushing mechanism, so, you know, the exhibit would flush and all the detritus would go towards the back. And, I mean, we still have off exhibit areas that are the tile walls, but have, you know, glass in front of them.

02:14:55 - 02:15:26

So it’s changed because technology has changed, medicine has changed. So I think most people don’t realize that, that if you’re dealing with, I mean, my house was built in 1870. I can tell you that, yeah, I have no light up in the attic because the wiring was done in the 1930s and it’s not safe (laughing) anymore. So expectations change faster than the ability to change exhibits.

02:15:30 - 02:15:38

Remember when Disney, how worried we all were when Disney was building Animal Kingdom, what is this going to do to zoos?

02:15:38 - 02:15:43

I mean, how are we gonna, to live up to the hype of Disney?

02:15:43 - 02:16:29

And the two things that I remember from that was going to Animal Kingdom for a zoo conference and there were some people walking towards me and we were near the tigers and the man turned to his wife and he said, (lips smacks) “Our zoo is so much better than this, ’cause you can see the animals.” And I went, “Yes!” And the other thing was when I went into the holding areas, what most people don’t realize all the fluff is out for the public to see. At nighttime, they come into sterile cages, they’re easy to clean and, you know, there may be some toys or something for enrichment, but it’s certainly not the same as they have. So when the back areas are as great as the front areas, then yes, then I think we’ve probably made progress, but.

02:16:31 - 02:16:44

In the time at Milwaukee, were you ever called upon to be the zoo administrator or the head person at any time to do things?

02:16:44 - 02:17:41

No, I mean, I was curator of the day. We had an incident one Thanksgiving day. I was, the head of finance was the senior staff person, had a temporary keeper who decided she was going to impress a man she met at a bar the night before by, we had Himalayan black bears, so she opened the Himalayan black bear exhibit, barred cage in front and gave them some biscuits to give the Himalayan black bear who promptly ate one of the fingers. And so it was, so, I mean, I heard from Lori Perkins, she was in Singapore at the time. She says, “I read about it. It was on “Johnny Carson” that night.” (chuckles) She read about it in the Singapore paper about the finger getting bitten off in Milwaukee. So that was, yeah. And poor Grant Dobberfuhl that was the finance person.

02:17:41 - 02:17:52

I’d go, “You know, you’re senior (chuckles) staff,” and I think Chuck was out of town. So I ended up handling that just because Grant had no idea what to do with that, so.

02:17:53 - 02:17:57

Did you ever have visions of wanting to be a zoo director?

02:17:58 - 02:18:44

I thought about it ’cause I had thought that I wanted to be a zoo director when I was in high school. And I interviewed a couple of times for director jobs and basically, the last time it was interesting. I interviewed at Seneca Park Zoo to be zoo director. And two of the people I was interviewing against, Ken Kawata was applying for the job and Rich Sajdak, who had been the curator of reptiles in Milwaukee, who lived in Rochester at the time, he had applied for the job. And they had a situation going on with their society. And I’m listening to them talk while we’re doing this and I’m going, “Oh my God, this is what I lived through in Milwaukee. I don’t wanna be in this situation as director.

02:18:44 - 02:18:48

So, you know, they came to the question, why should you be director?

02:18:48 - 02:19:11

And I just said, “Well, you know, I don’t really think that I’m the right person for this job.” End of interview, didn’t even get me a taxi going home. I had to find my own way out. I mean, that was, turns out somebody later said, “You know, they really didn’t like that woman from Milwaukee.” (chuckles) And I went, “Well that’s fine, ’cause I didn’t want that job.” And they ended up hiring none of the people they interviewed that day. I think Larry Sorel got that job at that time.

02:19:12 - 02:19:17

How diverse were your employees, women keepers?

02:19:17 - 02:19:46

Women keepers. Yep, We had the Jimmy Jones rule in Milwaukee. That you had to, there was a suit that there were not enough minorities hired by the county, so we had every second or third hire, we had to hire a minority, which was either an African American, Native American. I think women, I’m not sure whether women were included or not.

02:19:46 - 02:19:58

Asians were not, ’cause we had a lot of Asian doctors at the medical complex. (chuckles) How did conservation on an international level start?

02:19:59 - 02:20:00

Did you have any input in it?

02:20:03 - 02:20:04

At the Milwaukee Zoo?

02:20:10 - 02:20:33

No, it really, most of it was done by the reptile people. And Boese was instrumental with the Birds without Borders. And I think that started when he was director and carried on when he was director of the Society. I was more interested in local conservation, so my conservation projects were mostly local.

02:20:35 - 02:20:38

Were you able to travel to see other zoos?

02:20:39 - 02:21:27

Well, when I went to conferences, yeah. Never when I was in Washington. My first AZA meeting was the year I went to Milwaukee and I got there and they said, “Oh, you’re in charge of enter or food for the conference this year.” I’m going, “What?” (chuckles) Luckily someone in the Society went, “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll take care of that.” (chuckles) Most of the zoos I visited internationally was, well, when I did the trip to China, there were several zoos included in that and visited on my own. Went to China with you. That was my second trip to China. And that was through the Smithsonian, so.

02:21:27 - 02:21:39

Were you able to apply things you learned from other zoos to some of the animal management or exhibitry at Milwaukee?

02:21:39 - 02:21:49

I’m sure, the things I remember most, and it was from our trip to China, I was like, God, I wish if, you know, an animal escaped, I had a trained gibbon to go up and get them down out of the tree.

02:21:49 - 02:21:57

I thought that was wonderful, (chuckles) but that would never fly here. (chuckles) That and when we got the question on how do you ship a zebra by train?

02:21:57 - 02:22:04

I’m thinking, oh, you need to talk to a circus person. (chuckles) I’ve never done that. I can ship lots of things, but I’ve never shipped anything by train.

02:22:07 - 02:22:10

Do you have a favorite animal?

02:22:15 - 02:22:22

I guess when I started at Milwaukee, I was excited to be able to work with moose. I like moose. I always wanted to see a moose.

02:22:25 - 02:22:27

Are some animals easier to work with?

02:22:32 - 02:23:46

Some animals require a greater level of care to work with. Yeah, some animals are easier to work with. Some animals you don’t need to, I mean, like most hoofstock, if you’ve got the right social arrangement and you feed ’em and, you know, it’s set up well, they’re fairly easy to work with. You know, bears being omnivores, they’re easy to feed. The problem with the large animals is really if something happens and they get sick, and planting knockdowns and, I mean, that’s the biggest level of planning is you get an animal that you know you’ve got to handle. We’ve had a local dentist who started working at the zoo in Milwaukee before I started there, John Shields who basically created the whole zoo dentistry thing in the states. We had national conference of, international conference of zoo dentists at Milwaukee, but started really with the bears, ’cause they would… I fed bread to the docks at the National Zoo, in Milwaukee was marshmallows for the bears. (chuckles) Marshmallows are not good for bear teeth, (chuckles) so lots of, most of the bears had root canals and other stuff.

02:23:46 - 02:23:48

And John was great to work with, so.

02:23:49 - 02:23:57

What animal species would you consider to be the most significant that you acquired in your career?

02:23:57 - 02:23:59

That I acquired?

02:24:01 - 02:24:51

I don’t think I ever acquired anything that wasn’t already part of the collection. I switched from, we had arctic wolves when I started and, oh, I acquired a lot of, in Milwaukee, I acquired a lot of native species. I mean, they didn’t have a badger at the Milwaukee County Zoo when I started. I mean, you gotta have a badger. So I got a badger. And when they started, when wolves, the timber wolf was starting to be reintroduced, was coming over from Minnesota, we changed the wolf exhibit when the last arctic wolf died to a timber wolf exhibit working with the DNR with that, added prairie dogs, ’cause I like prairie dogs. That was probably my vanity species. I worked with prairie dogs at the National Zoo.

02:24:52 - 02:24:54

Did you have any favorite animals?

02:24:57 - 02:25:00

And if so, any stories about them?

02:25:02 - 02:25:54

I guess, no favorite animals. But I guess the one story that when I talk about moose, was I went to my cousin’s wedding and came home with the moose. I was- My cousin got married in Boston and I was getting ready to go to the wedding and I had to iron my blouse and I turned on the TV and they had caught a moose in Melrose, Massachusetts. And I called John Lenhart and said, “I want that moose.” I had been looking for three years, I’d been looking for a female moose. We had male moose and no female moose. So we got the moose and named her Melrose the, after the town and my cousin still has a picture of Melrose at his house.

02:25:54 - 02:26:05

(Elizabeth laughs) What animal species would you consider be the most significant that you acquired, that you acquired in your career?

02:26:05 - 02:26:07

That I acquired?

02:26:11 - 02:26:20

Nothing comes to mind, so obviously. Yeah, nothing comes to mind.

02:26:23 - 02:26:27

Can you tell us about working with some animals that stand out for you?

02:26:27 - 02:26:29

Any favorite stories?

02:26:47 - 02:26:47

Nothing jumps out?

02:26:47 - 02:27:20

Nothing jumps out, I mean, worked with a lot of animals and a lot of animal stories, but yeah, I mean, give me an example and maybe it’ll bring something to mind. Well, obviously animal stories that are above and beyond the usual for any given species. We can come back to that. Yeah.

02:27:21 - 02:27:27

Was there any most significant change that you made in the day-to-day care of animals?

02:27:27 - 02:27:35

Anything that you changed because you thought it was more effective or it’d be better for the animals?

02:27:37 - 02:27:39

That spoke to the day-to-day care?

02:27:50 - 02:27:55

Again, nothing comes to mind. We had talked about the golden monkeys at the Milwaukee Zoo.

02:27:56 - 02:28:01

What was the public’s reaction to these rare monkeys?

02:28:01 - 02:28:13

Just another monkey. I mean, they were housed down in the Australian building, so most people didn’t, it’s the far end of the zoo and most people didn’t see them.

02:28:13 - 02:28:20

I mean, people who saw them thought they were very interesting animals, but I don’t remember anybody asking me directions, how do I get to see the golden monkeys?

02:28:25 - 02:28:32

An educational message, what do you think is the secret, if any, of getting people to actually read an educational message?

02:28:35 - 02:29:51

Most people don’t read the educational messages. I mean, I think graphics has done a lot in making them much more, I won’t say entertaining, but brighter colors, now that they can do a lot of the stuff in house, one of the most successful things that they’ve done in Milwaukee is have keeper notes. Something a keeper can write out about the animal and this exhibit, something that they think that the people would be interested in knowing. People read that a lot and see what’s going on. But people would be standing next to a sign and asking something and the information, they’d rather talk to people than they would rather talk to. That’s why volunteers are so important and having volunteer presence out in the zoo. The Zoo Pride organizations, if we ever had a problem with the, you know, animal introductions, there’s a group of trained volunteers who were there to watch the animal while the keepers get on with their work and have a radio, they can contact the keeper if something’s going on that they need to see. But I’d have signs with the poor animal watch person playing, you know, this person is watching the animal.

02:29:51 - 02:30:00

Don’t ask him any questions, but they always get asked questions. Couple of things that are maybe your opinion.

02:30:02 - 02:30:10

During your time at the Milwaukee Zoo, what had you hope to accomplished, but were unable to finish?

02:30:26 - 02:31:08

‘Cause I retired in 2007 and we were coming into a time of austerity, so there wasn’t anything really that I had wanted to accomplish that I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish. I knew the realities of what was going on, I think, no, I shouldn’t say that. I think what I accomplished was I got the Society to think of keepers doing projects, our keepers could apply to the Society. And we had keepers working with, going down to Jamaica to work with the Jamaican iguana and so keepers could start their own conservation projects and get money to do that.

02:31:08 - 02:31:12

And you were not able to accomplish that?

02:31:12 - 02:31:14

No, I was able to accomplish that.

02:31:14 - 02:31:20

That was done- that you hoped you wanted to accomplish, but you were unable to finish it?

02:31:20 - 02:32:17

I don’t remember anything that I wanted to do that I was unable to finish. Oh, actually yes I do. ‘Cause the way, when I went from assistant general curator down to curator of large mammals, I was at a step higher than the other curators and when I knew I was leaving, I had to tell them in advance, because we were gonna have the AZA and Chuck put me in charge of a committee and I’m going, “I’m gonna be retired by then.” And I was trying to convince Bruce that the other curators needed to be, the levels had to be the same and the other curators needed to be brought up to my level if you wanted to get people. And they changed my level back down to what the other curators were at, so they’ve had difficulties keeping staff. So I wasn’t able to accomplish that.

02:32:20 - 02:32:30

Being a curator, especially in the 70s and the 80s, what were the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in a male-dominated profession?

02:32:34 - 02:33:12

Can’t really think of any advantages. I mean, you were sort of treated, well, it was a novelty for a while until there were more of us in the profession. I didn’t attend my first professional meeting until I went to Milwaukee. So by that time, I had been in the business long enough that most, and had dealt with people all over the country. So I didn’t have any of the difficulties like Ann Petric had, you know, being one of the few professional women at an AZA conference. So I heard horror stories, but I never had any.

02:33:16 - 02:33:20

What can you say about changes since you started in the profession?

02:33:20 - 02:33:27

It seems the zoo work is becoming female-dominated profession or would you disagree?

02:33:28 - 02:34:17

Oh, I think it’s all related to salaries. I remember when Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was hiring, I think it was a director, I’ve forgotten what it was. And one of the people in Milwaukee, one of the education people had applied for the job and he went out and he was very impressed. ’cause I had the, he said they had so many female staff members. I said, “Look at the salary level.” I mean, in Milwaukee when I started, keepers made enough that they could support their families on their salary and with overtime. And it got to, salaries didn’t keep up with inflation or whatever. And so I think it’s, and more people are leaving, because they can’t make enough money to support their families. It’s a second job.

02:34:19 - 02:34:39

So if I see a zoo that has predominantly female staff, I look at salary levels and they’re never the same as other zoos around. Or comparable zoos. Now you’ve worked with various directors. Mm-hmm.

02:34:41 - 02:34:49

What skillset qualities would you say does a zoo director need today to run a zoo?

02:34:56 - 02:35:55

Well, other than Michael Robinson, every zoo director I’ve worked with had worked in a zoo before they became director of the zoo. They all had either animal experience in the wild or experience working in a zoo. I think it’s very hard for someone who is the director of parks to sort of come in, or a businessman to come in and take control of a zoo without a good animal staff underneath them, because they just don’t understand a zoo. A zoo may be a museum, but it’s a museum with a living collection. And just the fact that you have a living collection makes things that much more difficult to do. So I think you need to at least have some knowledge of what’s involved. You can’t be just a, you know, look at numbers. You need to know what the mission of the zoo is.

02:35:55 - 02:35:58

The missions has changed over the years.

02:35:58 - 02:36:03

I mean, constant, when did you start at Lincoln Park?

02:36:03 - 02:36:40

You were a couple years, you were… ’68. Six- Oh, ’68, yeah, so you were four or five years before. And we were, that was the time the zoo was an ark. We’re going to save, you know, save the big species and the small species. Well, everybody will be, you save the elephants, and all of those species. And now it’s turned out, no, you needed to save all those insects that the frogs eat, so it really works up. So as interest in the natural world has happened, everything has changed and it’s changed people’s perceptions of zoos and it’s changed zoo’s perceptions of themselves.

02:36:40 - 02:36:41

How so?

02:36:41 - 02:37:31

Well, I mean, when there was, on ZooLex, there was someone who wanted to build a, wanted a virtual zoo in England, I guess, where you would just be looking at animals in the wild. You would never have the animals there. And when we had the regional conference in Milwaukee, the one that was based on zoo history, Garry Marvin came and gave a talk and he talked, you know, zoo animals are really zoo animals. They’re representatives of the wild, but most of them nowadays were born in captivity. They’ve never seen the wild. They’re second, third generation. I mean, you’re not going, most reintroduction programs have been very difficult to do. I mean, there’d been successful one.

02:37:31 - 02:38:49

Devra’s golden lion tamarin project in Brazil, remarkably successful, but it was a big learning curve on, you know, training animals and how you can adapt the animals to the wild. When they first had them, reintroduced them into the rainforest in Santos, they found out that the animals were used to getting their food, you know, in a tray all cut up, and the mealworms were there and, you know, they didn’t recognize food that they should eat. And they were used to hard, you know, exhibit tree, so they didn’t know that you ran across the vine to the next tree. You ran down the tree and ran across the ground and you ran up the next tree. And that’s when they were the most vulnerable. And just watching that whole, doing the training programs, Milwaukee did it. National started the training programs for animals that are gonna be reintroduced into the rainforest in Brazil. And you could do it with the golden lion tamarins, ’cause they went into a nest at night, so you would close them in at night and they weren’t exposed to everything else.

02:38:49 - 02:39:59

And people loved watching them go through. And keepers loved creating things to make them, you know, like this is, you shove things into this leaf to make them hunt for their food. But it was, but the animals that came from the zoo environment were successful, they could reproduce, but it was those kids who grew up in the wild that really had the program, when the program turned on, program took off was ’cause those animals lived in the wild. But that’s, you know, you can’t afford to do that with different species. The black-footed ferret is another one that was helped, saved by zoos. So zoos have done remarkable, but not with any of the megafauna. I mean, all the introductions of the oryx and the Arabian oryx, all those things, most, you can’t control what’s going on in the country of origin. I mean, hunting has taken out a lot of those animals.

02:39:59 - 02:40:43

So zoos serve a purpose, but more as animal ambassadors and with some of the other, I mean, in Milwaukee we’ve raised box turtles, some turtles for reintroduction. Done work with massasaugas, tracking massasaugas in the wild. A lot of zoos now have projects that are outside that are conservation projects, but are outside the zoo, I don’t think they tell the story well enough or tie it back to the zoo, so people know what they’re doing. They think of, you know, either you’re working in the wild or you’re working in the zoo. And it’s so much more than that.

02:40:46 - 02:40:55

What skillset qualities does a curator or a general curator need today as compared to when you started?

02:41:02 - 02:41:47

They need to, well, even even keepers, you do not have a job in a zoo where you’re not working with people. You’re always going to be working with people. You need to know how to work with people, how to, you know, whether as a collaborative or manage people. And I think most people in the zoo don’t, you know, they’re there for the animals, the colleagues are colleagues. There are ones you get along with, ones you don’t. So yeah, just personnel management skills, I think, benefit most curators. Because you get promoted from animal keeper to curator and you have, that’s it, on the job. You see what your curators did before you and how you do it.

02:41:47 - 02:42:25

The other thing is is I think they need to look back and tend to think historically, ’cause I remember hearing, oh, well we do it so much better than they used to do it. You know, this is what they used to do and we do this. There’s no really appreciation for who came before you and what they did. Following up on that, do you believe that animal keepers, younger curators are aware of, and understand the knowledge of Heini Hediger, father of zoo biology, Lee Crandall or William Conway.

02:42:25 - 02:42:27

Is it important?

02:42:27 - 02:42:55

They may have heard of Conway as the director of the zoo. They’d have no idea who Hediger and Crandall are. I mean, I made sure all the keeper areas had a copy of Crandall’s book and Hediger’s books were, and nobody I worked with had heard of them before, and yet they really are the fathers of zoo biology.

02:42:56 - 02:42:59

How important is it for them to know?

02:43:00 - 02:44:13

I think it gives them, now I haven’t read the books in years, so I’m not sure how they stand, you see, Walker, I used Walker all the time when I started at the National Zoo. So Ernest Walker, I thought was great in terms of just mammals and just basic information. Yeah, I mean, book knowledge only takes you so far. I mean, I will say when I was at the National Zoo, we had hippos, a pair of hippos, Arusha and Joe Smith and they had a baby, a male baby. And trying to get rid of a male baby hippo was almost impossible, and then Joe Smith died, so I went to, you know, Wild Animals and read about, that they said, well, you know, male hippos become sexually mature at seven. Well, I can tell you they become sexually mature at two, was when, Happy, who is now in Milwaukee, (chuckles) got his mother pregnant. So book learning can take it so far, but captivity changes everything. You have published.

02:44:13 - 02:44:16

Do you feel it’s important for curators to publish?

02:44:21 - 02:45:20

I don’t know how many, what I’ve… I think that it’s important for curators to share animal information. I don’t really know whether there’s the emphasis on scientific journals. I mean, I found the American Keeper Forum much more interesting in terms of day-to-day keeper work than any of the scientific papers, ’cause when you talk basic husbandry, zoo news, international zoo news, the International Zoo Yearbook, those were very influential. I have not kept in touch with the digital age, so I have no idea what’s available to keepers nowadays. But yeah, talking, I mean, keepers have their networks. Curators have their networks. You just call someone going, “Okay, this is the problem I’m having.

02:45:20 - 02:45:43

Who do I talk to?” In talking about, what would you say or think is the largest professional problem facing US zoos today and identify what can we do about correcting the problem?

02:45:51 - 02:47:00

I think the, and again, I mean, I’ve been retired since 2007. So, I mean, I go to the Milwaukee Zoo and I’ve been there several times. I think the emphasis on animals in the wild tends to detract from the mission of the zoo and what zoos do. I don’t think they publish it, I don’t think they promote enough of how animals in captivity help animals in the wild. It’s kind of an either/or thing. And people think that zoo animals really should be out in the wild, but, I mean, we, with Baird’s tapirs, we had a female Baird’s tapir at the Milwaukee Zoo who regularly got pregnant and worked with a woman who was working with Baird’s tapirs in Belize and Costa Rica. And she wanted, National Zoo had developed a way to test fecal material to tell whether an animal was pregnant or not. Well, we were able to, I mean, the keepers were able to scratch the tapir down and the vets could take blood samples.

02:47:00 - 02:48:03

We collected fecal samples for a year during, well, during Eve’s pregnancy and the vets took blood samples who could send ’em to Front Royal and they could create charts. So Patricia could just get a fecal sample from a female she suspected of being pregnant and could run the, look at the hormones in the fecal sample and know where she was in her pregnancy and sort of watch for when she was due to give birth. That’s not something that you can do and with the bonobos, I mean, the Bonobo program that I talked about before has made a huge difference in biology of animals in the wild, ’cause you can’t get your hands on them. You don’t wanna get your hands on them if you can help it. So, I mean, that’s the type of thing where zoos, I think, excel, and I don’t think they really advertise that enough or talk about it enough or the people don’t wanna hear it. I’m not sure what it is.

02:48:05 - 02:48:13

Would you say that curators and professional staff, based on your experience, need training on how to interact with animal rights groups?

02:48:19 - 02:49:38

I don’t know what training you could have. I mean, when I ran into my animal rights problems, I had people that I knew in animal rights groups that I could call and say, okay, this is what’s going on, you know, from your perspective. But if you get someone who doesn’t wanna talk to you, you know, and doesn’t really wanna hear what you say or just is trying to wait to see what the next thing is, and most animal rights groups are trying to close zoos. And, I mean, they’ve published books about zoos in the 2000s that just talk about zoos as the way they were in the 30s and 40s. They don’t, well, most animal rights people don’t go to the zoo. When I had the big elephant controversy, my nextdoor neighbors was an animal rights activist and she wanted me to come talk to her group and I went, (scoffs) “No, Jane. (Elizabeth laughs) They don’t wanna hear from me ’cause they don’t wanna,” because I would try to explain to her what was going on and she didn’t wanna hear from me. So I don’t know whether that’s a breach that can, I mean, PETA and most of them, it’s like how all the political commercials have gotten so nasty.

02:49:38 - 02:49:53

If you don’t have a nasty controversy that you can raise money on, you’re not gonna point out what’s good about a zoo. So I don’t know who would provide the training and whether it would be helpful or not.

02:49:53 - 02:49:59

Do you think then zoos can or can’t achieve a dialogue with animal activists?

02:50:01 - 02:50:26

If the animal activists want a dialogue, yes, they can achieve it, but I’m not sure, many animal activists don’t. I mean, I can tell you, talking to Pat Derby and others, it was, I mean, had no interest in what I had to say. Dialogue means two people have to talk, or somebody has to listen.

02:50:28 - 02:50:42

We had talked about the animal rides, but animal shows like birds in flight, do you think they helped to get the message across to visitors about a group of animals or about conservation?

02:50:42 - 02:50:44

What do you think their value is?

02:50:44 - 02:51:46

I will tell you that they’ve had a contractual bird show in Milwaukee for years and when Kim Smith was the curator, Walter Crawford provided the bird show. And it was very popular, but it was very rollerskating parrots and very showbiz type. And Kim contracted with Steve Martin. No one wanted to see the Steve Martin show. They weren’t interested in the conservation. They wanted to see a show. And the zoo basically does the bird show, but they’ve gone more to, what’s been more effective is the theater programs, Kohl’s Wild Theater where they hire, we have a great drama department at Marquette and UWM. They hire theater students and they write plays.

02:51:46 - 02:52:32

The curators decide what the play is going to be about. And they write songs, create puppets, and the the actors go around with the puppets and the kids interact with the puppets. It’s great, yeah, that’s worked. I think Central Park Zoo started that. They started a theater program and it’s based on that. And it’s been going on, Kohl’s has been doing it for, I mean, they’ve upped it, we’re on the second director. So they do programs, you know, little 15-minute shows at the zoo. They have like four different plays a year that they rotate through and then on off-season, you know, they go to schools and libraries and do a 45-minute show to talk about Kohl’s Wild Theater.

02:52:32 - 02:52:36

And I think that’s been much more effective than the animal shows themselves.

02:52:39 - 02:52:45

Why do you think education is so important in zoos, or is it?

02:52:46 - 02:53:48

Well, I think zoos, of all, education is important. I mean, because we, I mean, we have living creatures there and the education departments, I mean, the Society’s education department, their classes are always, always full. They go from infants and their parents up to like sixth, seventh grade. Have an animal ambassador program where they go to inner-city schools and talk about zoos and wildlife and different types of careers. And then the kids have a graduation ceremony at the end and they get passes to bring their parents back to, their families back to the zoo. And they can show their families what they say. And we’ve gotten, it’s been going on. We’ve won easy awards for, it’s been going on for over 25 years and it’s been very successful.

02:53:48 - 02:54:53

So education serves a lot of purpose, a lot of purposes, I mean, they do counting. It can help with mathematics, it can help with reading, ’cause kids are interested in animals. So anything that will get them more interested in learning and being able to talk to their parents, I’m sure, I remember we have lectures that, you know, whenever a keeper goes and does something, you know, in the wild or a trip, they come back and they have to give a talk. Well, we had one man who was just a seasonal worker. He loved spiders. He collected spiders. He gave the most fascinating talk I’ve ever heard on spiders that he’d collected at the zoo and their lifecycle and all of that, I said, “Well, this is wonderful.” So yeah, so that’s, it may not have anything directly to do with the zoo but it will help society in general.

02:54:55 - 02:54:59

Would you say the role of curator has changed from when you started?

02:55:05 - 02:56:32

Well, the basic job of the curator is to supervise keepers and make sure animal care is right and work with veterinarians and maintain the collection, decide which animals you’re gonna breed, which animals you’re not and to find suitable homes for animals that are surplus to the population and bring new animals in. I think that’s still the basic job of a curator. But now curators need to be, I think, at least in Milwaukee, we tend to discuss if we’re doing conservation programs or keepers are going to go out to do conservation programs, I think the most, at least in Milwaukee, the most important thing is to make sure that they’re long-term commitments. I mean, if you go, you know, you’re gonna go into Peru or something and work with whatever, you know, you don’t go there for two years and just leave. I mean, Roberta Wallace’s penguin project went on for over 10 years. I mean, we’ve supported Lisa Dabek with a tree-kangaroo project in Papua New Guinea over 25 years. So I think that if you’re going to have a conservation program, it’s got to, I mean, it may have an end, but you need to know what the end is and just make sure that you’re not in for something flashy to put in the magazine.

02:56:36 - 02:56:41

Do you think zoo animals, you kind of touched on, be introduced into the wild?

02:56:41 - 02:56:44

Is there a wild to do that in?

02:56:45 - 02:58:07

It depends on the animal and whether there is a wild to do it in and I think that the big change has been being able to introduce, with veterinary medicine, being able to do sperm collection and ova collection. And then, you know, you may not take the animal back to Africa, but you will, you know, take the, you will use sperm from a captive male, whatever. And I think that’s helped zoo collections, because as you got into, we got into managing animal collection, so you didn’t have so many surplus animals, ’cause that was a huge issue when we started. You don’t have genetically healthy populations, so you need to be able to, you’re not getting animals from the wild. I mean, there’s still, when we started, most animals came from the wild even. I mean, if you had breeding success, it was your secret. You know, you didn’t share that secret with anyone else. And as you’ve gotten into cooperative breeding programs, you can go to a meeting and they’ll say, well, you need to breed this male and this female.

02:58:07 - 02:59:04

Well, if you can’t get that male and female together, bringing Chia-Chia to breed Ling-Ling, you’re screwed. (chuckles) You know, there’s more to it than just saying, okay, put a male with a female and you’re gonna get a baby. So I think maintaining healthy populations in captivity is a focus. I know with, we had Thomson’s gazelles when I started at the National Zoo and when they finally got around to doing plans for hoofstock, most places had neutered all their males. There were no baby Thomson’s gazelle. We had to switch species, ’cause if you don’t have a viable male, you’re not gonna breed females. And then with giraffes they’re trying to, some, especially with large cats, if you don’t breed every few years, you can’t say, well, you’re gonna keep these offspring for five years and then you’re gonna breed your tiger again.

02:59:04 - 02:59:05

Can you do it?

02:59:05 - 02:59:12

I mean, that’s the problems I think curators are facing now, is how to maintain a healthy, a genetically healthy population.

02:59:15 - 02:59:21

Did you have to deal with animal dealers when you were at Milwaukee or National Zoo?

02:59:21 - 02:59:22


02:59:22 - 02:59:24

What did you feel their role was?

02:59:29 - 03:00:40

Most of my dealing with animal dealers was either getting animals from zoos overseas, you know, Fred Zeadler helped get dorcas gazelles from Hungary from the zoo in Budapest. I don’t ever remember dealing with them and a lot of transportation animal dealers were able to help with transportation. So I’m just trying to think, I don’t remember bringing animals in from the wild through animal dealers, not with my collections. I mean, we got bears from Yellowstone that were problem bears, grizzly bears. Worked with wildlife. I got timber wolf pups I got from a timber wolf group in, wolf place in Minnesota. So yeah, I mean, we’d talk to animal dealers, but met them at a lot of DNR meetings.

03:00:42 - 03:00:54

So if somebody said to you, money was no object, you as a curator, what exhibit would you put together?

03:00:57 - 03:00:59

Oh, a new exhibit or?

03:00:59 - 03:01:01

What would you put together?

03:01:01 - 03:01:11

What would you want in your zoo, from the curatorial level, that you’d wanna see, and money was not a problem, and acquisition was not a problem?

03:01:11 - 03:01:53

Well see, and I wouldn’t, you say that to me and I think money’s not, I would update exhibits because most of my exhibits in Milwaukee were built in the 50s. I mean, where our last polar bear died and we can’t get polar bears because, you know, the standards have changed for, and so our exhibit does not meet standards for polar bears, even though polar bears are almost impossible to get. So, yeah, no, I would think more in terms of how would I change what I have than start anything new.

03:01:56 - 03:02:01

Your thoughts on new trends in zoos in the last quarter century?

03:02:01 - 03:02:10

Drastic reduction of animal species in the collection of zoos, immersion landscaping, your thoughts on these trends or other trends?

03:02:10 - 03:03:01

Well, I think they’re trends just because we’re not getting animals from the wild. I mean, you have to, zoos have to think about animals as a zoo population. Not your zoo population, but a zoo population, so they’re managed much more cooperatively than they used to be. And luckily I never had really, I mean, I thank God I didn’t have to deal with gorillas, trying to get zoos to adopt the Gorilla SSP recommendations for (chuckles) was just, I mean, you would go, and the curators would sit there going, “Oh no, my director’s never gonna allow us to do that. You know, it’s… So, and the number of species have diminished, because a lot of populations have died out.

03:03:01 - 03:03:07

I mean, I remember going to San Diego and they had, was it addra gazelles?

03:03:07 - 03:04:06

They had some gazelle and said, “Oh, well, we just imported this group of addra gazelles.” And I’m going, “You have a male and two females. I mean, they’re the only ones in the country. You’re gonna have a breeding population with three animals. I mean, and how long is that going to be sustainable?” So it’s, yeah, I think it’s 25 years, it’s changed so that the new curators now do think more nationally and globally. I know the bonobo population is an international population. Gay is the SSP coordinator, both locally and internationally. We had, I know there were bonobos in the air on 9/11 and ended up in Gander for a week coming to Columbus into Milwaukee. You know, so that’s one population that I think that is managed internationally and it seems to be working out well.

03:04:06 - 03:04:40

Others, I don’t know. What’s your position or your thoughts on, when we have the national organization, that many zoos are members of, who have recommendations, as you mentioned, that zoos will follow or try to follow, but if a zoo wants to bring something in, may not get a recommendation.

03:04:43 - 03:04:52

Is the national organization leading the local zoo or should the local zoo have more to say about what they want to do within their zoo population?

03:04:52 - 03:05:22

I think it depends on the zoo. I mean, the problem with the recommendations is that they change recommendations mid recommendation. I mean, we had a recommendation to breed tigers and so we bred tigers and we had babies and they went, “Oh no, we changed the recommendation.” And I then it’s kinda like, “Well, you were gonna tell us when that you changed the recommendation?” And so, “But you’ve gotta keep these animals for three years now.” It’s kinda like, “Well, wait a second. No, you wanted us to breed them. We bred them. Here they are.

03:05:22 - 03:05:48

We need to move them out.” “No, no, there’s no place for them to go.” I mean, until communication is better, zoos will exist within their zoo population, but it’s, I think it depends on the SSP coordinator and how, and I don’t even, isn’t it all run from Lincoln Park now?

03:05:51 - 03:06:43

You wouldn’t know either, I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s, from what I’ve heard, it’s not as cooperative as it used to be. And it tends to be, well, no, this is, and in, yeah. So it’s a work in progress. I think that the Contraception Committee, which is now called something else, but that worked well, Cheryl Asa’s project on zoo contraception, but then, you know, you learn and you learn, I mean, you could give a female giraffe contraceptive food. You can’t make her eat it, (laughing) but then you depend on it and suddenly you have a baby giraffe. (chuckles) The zoo business has changed greatly in the years that you’ve been in it.

03:06:43 - 03:06:50

Knowing what you know today, would you have entered the field when you did and would you enter it today, why?

03:06:54 - 03:07:37

Boy, that’s hard to say. Probably, you know, I would enter it. Again, it’s, I don’t know. I mean, I had almost no information about working in a zoo when I started in the zoo and I’m not sure that I would’ve had, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve interviewed who, you know, wanna work in a zoo or they wanna be, you know, we wanna do this, we wanna do that. And you tell ’em, well, this is what you need to do. And they go, well, I don’t wanna do that. It’s kinda like, well, I can’t tell you how many kids in Wisconsin wanna be marine biologists, but they don’t wanna leave the state of Wisconsin. And it’s kind of like, hmm, no. (chuckling) It’s in the name.

03:07:37 - 03:08:38

And I will tell you that a local university has started a marine biology program just ’cause there’s enough kids who wanna study marine biology in Wisconsin. (chuckles) But there are other people who, I mean, they’re just so dedicated. We have a, I think, I don’t know whether he’s retired or not, but we had a keeper who worked at the bird house. He was a professional chef and decided he wanted to become a zookeeper. And he went down to Santa Fe Community College and got an associate’s degree. He came back and, I mean, he works, he loves bats, he works with bats. So, you know, he works with in conjunction with the DNR, so we know we have six of the seven species of bats that use the Milwaukee County Zoo as feeding grounds, but we have no nesting areas and he’s out there getting sounds from the bats and all the rest, I mean. So you get these kids who just take off on their own and are just so amazing.

03:08:44 - 03:08:50

But it helps to have mentors for them, doesn’t it, to keep that interest?

03:08:50 - 03:09:21

Oh, I would think so. But again, they have to be, you know, you can mentor somebody, but unless you know, I mean, to me mentorship is you make sure if there’s something that they’re interested in, that you can let them know about, if you can send them to meetings so they can meet other people or send them to other zoos. I mean, we would send keepers down to Lincoln Park all the time to go work with your, so I think that’s, working with someone in another zoo helps a lot.

03:09:21 - 03:09:30

You go, oh, and keepers get to vet to other keepers and that’s very helpful. (chuckles) Did you initiate travel programs for your keepers?

03:09:30 - 03:10:01

Well, if we had enough people, I would send people down. The keeper group changed a lot when I was there. I mean, I remember I had, we were sending an animal down to Brookfield or Lincoln Park and I went to the senior keeper in small mammals and go, “Dick, we need to send this, you know, animal down to Chicago. You know, this is your job for the day is to drive it down.” He was horrified. He didn’t travel. He didn’t drive down into Downtown Milwaukee, ’cause it was too dangerous.

03:10:01 - 03:10:03

And I was asking him to go to Chicago?

03:10:03 - 03:10:15

When I was in the National Zoo, keepers would kill to take an animal to the Baltimore Zoo, would spend the day. So it depends on your keeper staff and what they’re willing to do.

03:10:15 - 03:10:20

Do you think keepers think of their, it is a job or a profession?

03:10:20 - 03:11:30

It’s changed to profession now, not job. But it’s changed to a profession where they don’t make enough money to support themselves. So most, so that’s, at least it hasn’t kept up, so a lot a lot of them love doing it for… A friend of my nephew’s went to high school with my nephew in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, wanted to be a marine biologist and was doing all the right things. So Stefan hooked me up with Zach and he told me what he was doing and, you know, I went over his resume and the rest and he got a job at the Miami Seaquarium, I guess. He said, “Well, you know, I don’t know whether I’m gonna get it or not. And I’m looking at the Miami Seaquarium and they had a requirement that you had to be able to swim so far underwater, and all the rest, so I said, “Make sure you can pass that.” And he was a biracial kid. He was fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

03:11:30 - 03:12:45

And, you know, and doing demonstrations. And I’m reading, I’m looking at the website and they’re going, well, you know, there’s a lot of tourism into Miami and if, you know, you had to hire your own translator to come with you if you needed a translator. And I said, “If you,” they offered him an internship and, you know, for a nine-month internship. And I said, “Zach, take the internship.” He says, “Well, you know, I really need a job.” I said, “An internship is just a way of them getting rid of you if they don’t want you.” I said, “You can speak these languages, you can give the programs that you do.” So he went and he did that for a number of years. He couldn’t make a living at it. He wanted to have a family. So he went to the Naples, he moved from there to the Naples Zoo and ended up working in with the whatever county Naples’s in and does environmental stuff, ’cause he’s now married and has two kids and he couldn’t do it on a zookeeper’s salary. Should zoos be thinking about that to try and retain good people or are they in… In my experiences with zoos that are government agencies, and the governments don’t have the money.

03:12:45 - 03:13:18

So I don’t know how, yes, zoos should be thinking of it. I think most zoos are doing that. You end up that most zookeepers are now the second income in the family. And if it changes or, you know, we have zookeeper couples that are married, they can do it on two salaries, but not one. You have, as we have talked earlier, you’ve had the experience with having more than one zoo director. Mm-hmm.

03:13:18 - 03:13:27

And have you made any observations about their style or their job responsibilities as you’ve seen it ebb and flow?

03:13:27 - 03:13:58

Well, the style is all different, but mostly it’s the lead from the top and, I mean, yeah, I mean, most of my communications have been with my immediate supervisors and not with the zoo director. Chuck was that way. Gil was that way. Ted was that way. Robinson was that way. So those are the only people I’ve worked with, zoo directors I’ve worked with. I’m sure there are other management styles, but.

03:14:02 - 03:14:09

What was the most important piece of the advice you received that had stayed with you throughout your career?

03:14:16 - 03:14:17

Drawing a blank.

03:14:18 - 03:14:19

That was the most important piece of advice?

03:14:19 - 03:14:45

Yeah, no, I can’t think of anything. Ah, yes I can. When I was in my museum studies program, working with many Smithsonian lawyers and they said, “The registrar’s job is to keep you out of jail. That’s how important they are.” And that stuck with me forever, yep.

03:14:45 - 03:14:46

Did you find that to be true?

03:14:46 - 03:15:00

It’s true. If the paperwork isn’t right, they’re gonna get ya. We talked about smaller city zoos. Mm-hmm.

03:15:00 - 03:15:15

What do you think a small or medium size, Milwaukee being bigger, sized municipal zoo today, what do they need to do to be involved in wildlife conservation nationally or even internationally?

03:15:15 - 03:15:18

I think they need to be in wildlife conservation locally.

03:15:20 - 03:15:37

And I think every zoo should be involved locally, nationally, and internationally, every big zoo, because why should you be out doing conservation in Namibia if you’re losing the gopher turtle in your backyard?

03:15:37 - 03:16:43

So that’s where the small and medium zoos can do, they can do statewide, they can do local conservation and then they, most of Milwaukee’s international programs was just contributing money to people whose programs we believed in. I mean, animals, I believe that you should support projects that, animals that are in your collection. I mean, you can have animals that aren’t in your collection that can be important, but, you know, that’s why we’ve supported Lisa Dabek, ’cause we’ve always had tree kangaroos and her work has been amazing. And just for them to know that they can count on you for $2,000 or whatever a year, year after year, makes a huge difference in their planning and they can use it to raise money from other places. So that’s how small and medium zoos can be involved. You could always find people to help you with local projects. There’s always something that you can study locally. I mean we used to do, I remember we did a small mammal survey on the Milwaukee Zoo grounds.

03:16:44 - 03:17:41

The keepers did trapping on what we have,, ’cause of course the most popular animals at the zoo, if you’re under two, was a chipmunk. You know, and we had, when I started, we had thirteen-lined ground squirrel on the zoo grounds. And they disappeared after a couple of things were built, because the habitat was gone. So we wanted to see what we had, ’cause we’ve got 90 acres of land and only, I mean, we’ve got, no, close to 300 acres of land, and only 90 of it is developed. So our big, I mean, our big contribution now is we do migratory bird… Mickey O’Connor is a master birder and she does mist netting during the breeding seasons and we really, and has shown that it is a major stop in the migratory bird area, in bird migration in Wisconsin, so yeah.

03:17:44 - 03:17:47

Should every zoo strive to have a breeding program?

03:17:49 - 03:18:30

I think every zoo should strive to have, if they’re going to have a breeding program, they should commit to, they can’t breed everything. You know, you just need, I think you need a specialty. I mean, we would, Milwaukee is not set up for cheetahs. We’re never going to breed cheetahs. So we house aging cheetahs or young cheetahs or surplus cheetahs. That’s our role with cheetahs. We have a active breeding program with tigers, with snow leopards, ’cause we have great history with those species. We’ve bred lions in the past.

03:18:30 - 03:19:22

I’m not sure where they’re with lions now. We worked with the guy in, Berkeley who had the hyena colony. We worked with him on hyenas. We never did breed hyenas. And we now breed, I think jaguars have, we had a breeding program, of course when Pat was there, breeding jaguars. And now that Stella’s died, I don’t know whether they’re gonna be breeding jaguars again, but that’s, you know, you commit to the species and you know that, you know, if you have offspring, you were responsible for those offspring until you can place them. In many respects, you are Milwaukee Zoo’s unofficial historian. Mm-hmm.

03:19:22 - 03:19:26

How important is zoo history to today’s zoos?

03:19:26 - 03:19:28

Should it be?

03:19:28 - 03:19:29

What does it offer?

03:19:32 - 03:20:20

Well, I think history’s important to everybody, but I don’t think most zoos, I mean, they care about their history when the centennial comes up or every 25 years, every 100 years, that’s when they wanna know what their history is. And most zoos don’t save any history. I started at the zoo archives in Milwaukee, and we’re losing space with that. I don’t know what’s gonna happen with that. Most zoos don’t really care about their history, but they should. They need to know where they came from. And, first of all, it shows you how things have changed over the years. You know, what was considered to endure in the 1930s would be horrifying today.

03:20:21 - 03:21:34

You know, you need to know that Sim the lion was the mascot of the Cudahy-Massee Expedition for the Milwaukee Public Museum and lived in the top floor of the public library until he was two and then they decided, well, he really should go to the zoo. And then you’d read about Sim’s Keeper who had such a great relationship with Sim. When he got a little loaded, he’d go in and lie down, and he’d sleep with sim and nobody could touch him, (Elizabeth chuckles) because Sim wouldn’t let anybody else near him. I mean, stories like that are great. People love to hear stories about animals that you had and we’ve gotten requests, got a request from someone in California who, I guess, became a famous artist and he met his wife at the old Washington Park Zoo in front of, I’ve forgotten which lion it was. But he wanted to know all about this animal, so we were able to tell him, give him the history of the animal and, ’cause every zoo is really part of a community. Everybody’s interested in their community history. So yeah, it’s important and you never know why until you get the stories out there.

03:21:37 - 03:21:43

Many zoos do international travel to Africa and other places.

03:21:43 - 03:21:48

Do you feel that international travel help zoos?

03:21:48 - 03:21:49

And if so, why?

03:21:52 - 03:23:02

Well, I know that Friends of the National Zoo did international travel programs and I think the Society does international travel programs. I’m sure they do it, well, first of all, it helps zoos because they use zoo personnel to guide the tour, so it gets, it’s a way to get your staff out to see animals in the wild, and they pick up stuff there. It gets people involved in your zoo on a different level. I know when Dr. Boese died a couple of years ago, people came from, Joyce Basil came from South Africa, people from the Runaway Creek came up to pay tribute to him and talk about the work that he did and people who had been on his safaris went back year after year from the same safari. I think it helped builds the community and spreads the importance of the zoo and the importance of international conservation to people who would never dream of it any other way.

03:23:04 - 03:23:11

Do you think it’s important for the curatorial staff to get out and see other zoos and travel?

03:23:11 - 03:23:21

Yeah, I think it’s important because, well, the worst that’s gonna happen is you’re gonna find, oh, it may not be so bad at my place. (chuckles) Look at what they’ve gotta put up with.

03:23:21 - 03:23:31

You learn something everywhere you go and, you know, you find a tip from someone, or I’m having this problem and, oh, well this is what we use and where did you get that?

03:23:31 - 03:23:41

I’ve never seen anything like that, because there really is, I mean, most zoo equipment is created for other organizations and you just adapt it to your own use.

03:23:43 - 03:23:45

Would you say this is true or not?

03:23:45 - 03:23:52

The complaints sometimes from zoo directors, there’s too few good curators in the community today.

03:23:53 - 03:23:58

Do you think that’s a problem and how should curators be trained today to do what’s expected of them?

03:24:00 - 03:24:43

Well, I think staffing is a problem in general. Part of it is when we started, you know, the whole environmental movement was starting and all the international regulations on managing the animal trade. I mean, the gibbons at the National Zoo were brought back by Vietnam vets who had them as pets. And that doesn’t happen. That certainly doesn’t happen anymore. So it’s not the in-thing. I mean, now everybody’s going into social media. There are people who will always have an interest in zoos and in animals and will look for it.

03:24:43 - 03:25:15

I mean, like you, we decided in high school we wanted to work in a zoo. Who knows, I mean, nobody in my family ever worked with animals. My mother wouldn’t allow us to have pets, ’cause she thought they were a nuisance. It’s just, so, I think what zoos can do to help train curators, especially if you’ve promoted them through the ranks is hook them up with a curator, a similar curator, another institution that they can call and just say, okay, I got this job.

03:25:15 - 03:25:17

(chuckles) What do I do now?

03:25:18 - 03:26:18

‘Cause, I mean, I can tell ya when I left, no one ever called me from the zoo to ask me, “How did you do this? How did you do that?’ You know, we all learned sort of in a vacuum and you built your own network. So yeah, you could find a mentor out there for everyone if you look, but I don’t think most directors worry about, the assistant direct, whoever’s in charge of animal care is responsible for that. And I don’t know how many of them, I mean, Bruce was a veterinarian. I mean, he was a meteorologist before he was a veterinarian. He’d never worked with animals other than as a veterinarian. So I mean, he had no idea. He learned on the job as a curator, so he just hired curators to do their jobs. The Milwaukee Zoo is probably gonna be around for a little while, as will the National Zoo or Brookfield Zoo.

03:26:19 - 03:26:31

But there are a number of private zoos, well financed by people, who have put a lot of money into them and done some interesting things.

03:26:31 - 03:26:41

Do you have any thoughts on that, their longevity, it’s a good thing for the zoological community, that type of?

03:26:42 - 03:27:33

Well, you should know, that’s the, when Wisconsin hit, we had the wasting disease, the deer wasting disease. And so it closed all the deer farms and elk farms in the state of Wisconsin. Local animal dealer convinced them all that they should start raising wild animals, so they should all start private zoos. I don’t know how many of them are still in existence, but, I mean, they are, so I don’t know. Yeah, they’re, yeah, no. I would say, for the most part, if they’re in it for the money, it’s not gonna last.

03:27:36 - 03:27:41

What would be the three top qualities a curator should have today?

03:27:44 - 03:27:59

First of all, they gotta realize they’re working with people and not animals. Patience, and the ability to admit that you don’t know something and find out how to do it, ask questions.

03:28:04 - 03:28:13

What are your, and you’ve had some experience, what are your views regarding the hot topic of zoos maintaining elephants in their collections?

03:28:13 - 03:28:20

Well, I tell ya, elephants have been a problem for me my whole time as curator.

03:28:20 - 03:28:29

And the best, and this is the best description I’ve heard of elephants, came from John Lenhart, who, I guess, he was at Lincoln Park?

03:28:29 - 03:29:26

Yeah, and he replaced me at the National Zoo. And this man who loves elephants and devoted his life to elephants, he basically equated elephants in zoos to abused women. That they’re such a social animal that they need that contact with someone. And whether, you know, you’re Smokey Jones, or whoever, Hawthorne, Debbie, they were willing to put up with almost anything just to have the social contact. That stayed with me the whole time. So I find elephants problematic. I think you need someone like John, who’s got a commitment to elephants in an elephant program if you’re gonna have elephants and keep elephants. I know they built a new facility for elephants at the Milwaukee Zoo, ’cause Lincoln Park got out of elephants.

03:29:26 - 03:29:29

Brookfield, did Brookfield get out of elephants too?

03:29:29 - 03:29:45

Yeah, so Milwaukee was the only one. Madison got out of elephants. So Chuck wanted to make a commitment to elephants. And we have a dedicated elephant staff, but, I mean, they’re special people, and they have to be treated specially, ’cause elephants are special animals.

03:29:47 - 03:29:52

What are some of the most dramatic or important changes you’ve witnessed in animal management?

03:29:59 - 03:30:50

Well, the advances in veterinary medicine. I mean, I had keepers at the National Zoo who their specialty was lassoing an animal to catch it. So I think the changes in veterinary medicine have enabled all the other changes, the natural, that and animal enrichment programs, having keepers having time to work with animals, doing enrichment and animal training, ’cause most, having, I mean, they brought Karen Pryor to the National Zoo when I was there and I am not an animal trainer. I don’t have enough consistency, but people, people who do have that ability to train animals can really improve the exhibit. They could improve the animal’s life and improve their life too, so yeah, those are the biggest things I’ve seen.

03:30:51 - 03:31:01

What would you say, we talked about animal activists and animal rights, but what would you say to those who still believe that zoos are nothing more than places where they cage animals?

03:31:04 - 03:31:06

Go to the zoo? When’s the last time you were at the zoo?

03:31:06 - 03:31:22

I will tell ya, most people think that their local zoo is wonderful. When I went to Milwaukee for my interview, a cab driver asked me why I was there. And I said, I was there to interview for a job and he says, “We have the best zoo in the country.

03:31:23 - 03:31:28

You’re gonna love it.” And I said, “When’s the last time you were at the zoo?” 25 years ago?

03:31:28 - 03:31:49

I said, “Well, don’t you think you should go back?” But, you know, if they love the zoo, they love the zoo and it’s part of the community. They wanna know that their zoo is one of the 10 best zoos in the country. And so they, but people who hate zoos will hate zoos no matter what. They just shouldn’t go. (chuckles) Just leave us alone.

03:31:54 - 03:31:58

What should zoos be doing to prepare for the future?

03:31:58 - 03:32:02

Any thoughts as to what zoos will look like in the future?

03:32:10 - 03:33:00

I don’t know. I mean, I like ZooLex. I go on on ZooLex website to see what, I mean, there are some innovative things being done in zoos. And so just keep abreast of what’s going on. I think it really is, most of the smaller zoos end up closing just because their facilities are, you know, were built in the 40s and 50s and they can’t keep up with the times that they can get a, like the Marshfield Zoo that you were talking about. They developed an aviary where they could have bald eagles and stuff. So they could, they change, you change your collection depending on what you can hold, and the rest. So I’m not, as I said, I’m not a visual thinker.

03:33:00 - 03:33:17

I’m not Temple Grandin. There are people who know exactly, visually, I can tell you whether it’s gonna work or not and why it doesn’t work, but you can’t do that before it’s built. (chuckles) So bring me in afterwards and I’ll say, oh, this is what you should’ve done. But before, I’m not the person.

03:33:20 - 03:33:24

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

03:33:25 - 03:34:07

I haven’t given that any thought. I think what zoos, with Milwaukee, I think integrating national and international conservation in with what the zoo is doing. I think that’s important. They’re not separate. Everything is, it’s all part and parcel. It’s not, you know, World Wildlife Fund. I mean, I can see Gay’s project grew beyond the capabilities of Milwaukee to really handle it to World Wildlife Fund. But, I mean, that was a zoo project that was started by a zoo, whether World Wildlife Fund will even admit that that’s what happened, you know, whether that’s how it started.

03:34:09 - 03:34:34

So I think international organizations can, I don’t know whether they even look, send your researchers to the zoo that has that animal, so they can see the animal up close and, you know, find out what questions you have. If you’re looking at the bonobo up in the tree, you don’t really see the behaviors that you can see at the, that you can see at the zoo.

03:34:35 - 03:34:42

We’ve talked about conservation and education and what role do you see zoos playing in research?

03:34:46 - 03:34:47

In terms of what research?

03:34:47 - 03:34:56

I mean, there’s all sorts of research. Well, I mean the tenant sometimes of zoos is they’re about conservation, education and research.

03:34:57 - 03:35:02

What roles do you see the zoo in that area?

03:35:04 - 03:35:18

Well, research is part of, I mean, research is usually related to conservation or, I mean, research to solve a problem. I mean, my research was with white-tailed deer, as you know.

03:35:18 - 03:35:30

I mean, we had too many deer at the zoo and people would come in, maybe say, well, we found this baby deer out there, you know, what are you gonna do about it?

03:35:30 - 03:36:47

And Andy Teare was the vet at the time and we started, we did a deer sterilization program, worked beautifully. So, you know, that’s when I started working with the wildlife, local wildlife people and so we, you know, we had the same, we radio-tracked the deer at the zoo, Andy put collars on them and just did, vas, not vasectomies, tubal ligations on the females. And we just concentrated on the females, ’cause the females come back every year and have babies at the, you know, bring their babies. And so we were able to, so the females came back every year. So we had females at the zoo and then after the last one died out, the zoo didn’t have any deer on zoo grounds for 10 years. And so I had talked to, Highland Park Police brought me down to talk to them about that and then later, we started a project in Highland Park to sterilize deer on one side of the highway and not on the other and radio-tracked it. That project went on for about five years. It just was too expensive.

03:36:47 - 03:37:41

I mean, it’s not really a, it’s not really the department, I mean, it was the police department doing it. I mean, George was wonderful to work with, (laughing) but out trapping deer was not what he wanted to do. So yeah, so that was my big research project. And I worked with Nancy Matthews who was the, who did the initial research on female deer and how they spread, and I swear, she’d, when a female deer has a fawn, males disperse. They go, and their daughters set up territories adjacent to their mothers. So they’re all, it’s all a related group. Well, she described it as a rose, a blooming rose. I said if she had done it as gears, then the wildlife people might have paid attention.

03:37:41 - 03:38:03

I mean, we did a presentation at St. Louis at a wildlife conference for all the local wildlife guys. And it’s the only time I’ve ever been to a conference where I just sailed into the ladies’ room and there’s a line to get into the men’s room. The only women there were students or interns, no professional wildlife people. They didn’t wanna hear about deer sterilization. (chuckles) But I told ’em anyway.

03:38:05 - 03:38:23

Did you feel that when you were, and the deer as an example, did you feel that when you were a curator, that within the scope of your job, you had freedom to kinda define your job and decide what you wanted to do or was your job very structured?

03:38:23 - 03:39:16

Oh no, it was, the job was what you made it. I mean, I made sure that everybody knew what I was doing. I mean, we had meetings, well, and Andy is the one who came up with the sterilization idea. And we went to Bruce and said, well, we wanna try this, you know, with the animals that were there and the Society was willing to support. We had a student who was studying fish at UWM who was in her PhD program, and she went out every day to track the deer. And we tagged ’em, and then I’d get a call from, you know, people outta Bishop’s, “Your deer’s here, come get it.” It’s kinda like, “Oh, not my deer. It belongs to the state of Wisconsin, but she’ll be leaving soon.” So, yeah, no, just make sure people know what you’re doing and they’re always very good at telling you, no, you shouldn’t be doing that, (chuckles) and you just stop. We talked about things that you may have wanted to do but couldn’t accomplish.

03:39:16 - 03:39:23

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment that you succeeded in doing?

03:39:23 - 03:39:56

I liked, the deer project was a lot of fun. I think that was good and no, Cornell later. They tried to get SIU interested and they weren’t interested in doing it. But someone from Cornell contacted me after I retired and he was doing a project up in Cornell where they were gonna do sterilization close to the campus, do bow hunting in the next group and then do shooting at that and compare the demographic with that. And I think that probably would’ve worked well. And I just never followed up on it. I was out of the deer business, so.

03:39:59 - 03:40:14

What do you tell a young person in college, as you were, who has what appears to be a sincere and realistic interest in a zoo career study, what work, read what?

03:40:15 - 03:40:52

Well, parents will always get upset, ’cause I would tell them, you need to get a college degree. Don’t worry about grades. Your grades don’t matter. You need the degree. I mean, ’cause we’ve hired people who had C’s and D’s, but they were interested in the work. Get experience if you can, you know, if you can volunteer at the zoo, even just being around, you’re in Milwaukee being around, being a Zoo Pride volunteer. Even if you’re not working directly with animals, you get to meet the keepers. You can learn what you want, find out what you’re interested in, look at other things. You need experience working with animals.

03:40:52 - 03:42:03

It can be working as a vet, it can be working with animal control. And I had to keeper at the National Zoo who left keeping to work animal control. And in Washington, DC, which was a much harder job than being a zoo keeper at National Zoo, but she loved it and yeah, and if you have a passion, you can always find a way to do it. I mean, the toughest people to talk to, and I would always pass ’em off to reptile and bird people, ’cause they are special people. (chuckles) I mean, I just don’t have the, because most people had their own collections and nobody I knew was who was going to keep a black bear in their backyard to get experience. But yeah, but a degree is almost, a degree and experience working with animals, because once you work with animals, you’re just, I mean, some people think you’re just, it’s cuddly there, animals are just dependent on you. You’re not out there, you know, mucking out stalls most of the time. You’re, you know, it’s physical labor. They just see the touchy-feely part of it.

03:42:06 - 03:42:07

You had a certain type of degree.

03:42:07 - 03:42:11

What type of degree would you recommend to someone aspiring?

03:42:11 - 03:42:44

There’s so many different ones. Well, and it’s changed so much. I mean, I picked animal science, ’cause I wanted to work with, specifically with animals. And nobody really cared what my degree was in. It didn’t matter that it was animal science and not zoology. I mean, and pick your school. I mean, again, going to Harvard is not gonna make a difference. Getting a degree as an animal keeper, first of all, I don’t think you can get one (chuckles) in a relevant subject at Harvard, but yeah.

03:42:48 - 03:43:44

And a lot of people, and it changed because it wasn’t until 2005 that we started hiring keepers who were not residents of the city of Milwaukee, I mean, of Milwaukee County. I mean, one keeper, I did a keeper exchange. One of my keepers went to Kansas City for four months and one of their keepers came up to work in Milwaukee, just to work in another zoo. And he liked Milwaukee a lot better than Kansas, so he moved to Milwaukee to, moved to get on the list and get a job. It helps if you’re working for a zoo that’s a government-run zoo rather than a society-run zoo. It helps if you’re a veteran. You don’t have to have a degree if you’re a veteran, ’cause you get that 10 extra points and that usually gets you up at the head of the list. Finding out, the most difficult thing is to find out how to get on the list.

03:43:44 - 03:43:58

I had a keeper at the National Zoo who wanted to be a keeper in San Francisco. Well, he had to go to San Francisco to take the test. You couldn’t do it if you, you know, from a distance, all this has changed, ’cause everything is online now.

03:43:58 - 03:44:10

But that would’ve, that was my advice back in the day. (chuckles) Any suggestions for those aspiring who are already in the profession to make a difference in the zoo world?

03:44:10 - 03:44:40

Just by being there, you’re making a difference. They’re not aspiring, they’re already doing it. Just keep your eyes open, make suggestions, know the people to make suggestions to and just keep track. Sometimes it’s just, ask if you can make, you know, maybe not even asking a change. Make a little change. And if it works, tell people it works. People are always looking for a better way to do things. Make your boss’s job easier and then you’ll do well.

03:44:42 - 03:44:44

Do we still need zoos?

03:44:48 - 03:45:02

I don’t know whether you wanna say we do we need zoos. We have zoos. They will be here and I think they should be run the best way they can. And I think they serve a purpose. Everybody remembers going to the zoo as a kid. And it’s usually a fond memory.

03:45:05 - 03:45:09

You said, “I think they serve a purpose.” What’s the purpose that you think they serve?

03:45:10 - 03:45:58

Well, it’s more than, I mean, first of all, you get to see animals that you’d never get to see. You realize that it’s a big wide world. And I believe every zoo should have a giraffe. I mean, if you’re a big zoo, you need a giraffe. You need a zebra, you need kangaroos, you need the el, I mean, obviously you don’t need elephants. I would’ve said elephants years ago, but, you know, if you don’t have ’em, people are gonna ask where is, you know, what are the things that are, lions and tigers are important. You don’t need seven types of vervet monkey (chuckles) to make your people happy. (laughing) But yeah, now I’ve lost my train of thought again. Oh, and, I mean, the important, zoos are just as important to get families out together.

03:45:59 - 03:46:23

You know, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to bite my lip because, you know, dad’s talking to the kids. Look at that giraffe and he’s looking at a spotted hyena. Well, it’s kinda like, well, dad thinks it’s a giraffe and the two year old thinks it’s a giraffe, that’s fine with me. (laughing) But it’s, yeah, I think more people come to the zoo just to be with family than they are really, the animals are a backdrop.

03:46:28 - 03:46:35

How important is the community support and do you think the zoo can survive without it?

03:46:35 - 03:47:49

Can’t survive without it. Zoos are part of their community and without the support of the community, they don’t exist. I mean, most zoos have societies and the people who are on the societies are community leaders and they’re the ones who are out there talking about the zoo and, ’cause if you don’t go to the zoo, if you don’t have kids and, you know, the zoo is just there, you don’t think about it. They’re there to help promote the zoo and other cultural institutions. I mean, you’re vying against museums and art museums. Everybody’s got a pet project. And sporting teams, I mean, Brewers are in town, more people go to Brewers games than, there are times though, when the brewers were really bad and the zoo would have better attendance records than the Brewers, but the Brewers in the zoo now have combined. You go to the Brewers, get a ticket, you get a ticket to go to the zoo.

03:47:49 - 03:48:02

I think that that’s a society has done that, I think. But yeah, so you, yeah, you just get your name out there in as many places as you can. But as I said, most people think that their zoo is the best zoo, they really do.

03:48:06 - 03:48:17

In the profession, just to put a number on it, how long have you, how many years have you been in the zoo profession working?

03:48:17 - 03:48:32

Started ’74, retired in 2007. So that’s how long? (laughs) I told you I can’t do math. It’s a long time. But I retired early. I retired as soon as I was able to retire.

03:48:33 - 03:48:44

Having that span of years, what do you know about the profession that you devoted so many years of your life to?

03:48:48 - 03:48:59

What do you know about that, you’ve given all of those years, a major portion of your professional career to one profession.

03:48:59 - 03:49:03

What do you know about that profession that you’ve devoted all your time to?

03:49:05 - 03:49:32

That it’s a profession that attracts people who are really dedicated to what they do. I mean, and you really create a bond. I mean, what I’ve missed is I always knew if I ever got stranded somewhere, you know, a plane didn’t take off, I would just call the local zoo and say, hey, you know, I’m so and so from the Milwaukee County Zoo. This is my problem, and I know my problem would be handled. Someone would come out and take care of me.

03:49:32 - 03:49:44

That doesn’t happen anymore, ’cause nobody knows who Bess Frank is anymore. (laughs) But that’s fine. (chuckles) I just have my relatives on speed dial. (laughing) And how would you like to be remembered?

03:49:44 - 03:50:05

I don’t wanna be remembered. You know, it’s not about me. It’s about, everybody has something to contribute. So I’ve done my bit. It’s on to the next generation. Thank you, Bess Frank. Thank you, Mark Rosenthal. For your interview.

03:50:05 - 03:50:06

Thank you for taking me to China.

About Elizabeth “Bess” Frank

Elizabeth “Bess” Frank
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Milwaukee County Zoo, Wisconsin


Bess has 33 years of experience working at two of the major zoos in the United States.  She has been instrumental in assisting the Milwaukee Zoo library in its mission to be a repository for zoo history.   As a co-author of the definitive book on the history of the Milwaukee Zoo, her research provided insight as to how zoos have evolved throughout the years. In a field dominated by men, she has had a successful career contributing to many aspects of animal management.

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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.