Philadelphia Zoo Taps First Black Woman as New President and CEO

by Xara Aziz
Jo-Elle Mogerman

The Philadelphia Zoo has tapped a Black woman to head its establishment – the first Black woman to take the helm in its 164-year history.

Jo-Elle Mogerman, who was the most recent director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park in Missouri, will become the zoo’s president and CEO beginning Oct. 30. She will succeed the current president, Vikram Dewan, who led the zoo after 16 years in the post.

When Mogerman, 52, assumes the role, she will be the zoo’s 15th president in its history.

“As we launched our national search at the beginning of the year, we embarked on a journey to find the very best person to lead our forward-thinking organization,” Joanna McNeil Lewis, the chair of the zoo’s board of directors, said. “Dr. Mogerman’s impressive career and accomplishments speak for themselves, but it was her clear commitment to community, animal welfare, staff development, and operational excellence that made her the right fit for our renowned zoo.”

While at the Saint Louis WildCare Park, scheduled to open in 2027, Mogerman led and planned the development, which is a 425-acre, $230 million project. She also served as vice president of learning and community at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and served in various leadership positions at Illinois’ Brookfield Zoo. She was awarded a bachelor’s degree in biology from Macalester College, a master’s degree in conservation biology from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate in biology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“I look forward to leading Philadelphia’s exceptional team to advance the zoo’s mission and further its impact on the region while also contributing to conservation in ways that are meaningful locally, regionally and nationally,” said Mogerman in a statement.

The married mother of one further added that she looks forward to learning more about Philadelphia, its people and how to deepen their relationship and participation with the zoo.

“One of the things I find really fascinating about coming to Philadelphia is really understanding what Philadelphia wants for itself and how the zoo within its mission can fit into that and support that,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer in an interview Tuesday.

Mogerman was raised in Chicago’s South Side and knew from an early age that she loved animals. She initially wanted to become a veterinarian but ended up taking a similar – yet unlikely – career path.

“I realized relatively early on when I chose this path of being a zoo aquarium professional, I would likely be one of a few,” she said. “That’s partly why I went into education rather than being a researcher. Because I recognized that kids related to me, and I also have an obligation to give back. I thought I could be more impactful in my work.”

She continued: “Sometimes people talk about their legacy. My legacy is actually people. My legacy is the young people I have had in my programs who have gone on to do important research or gone on to work in zoos and aquariums around the country.”

Congratulation on your appointment, Jo-Elle!

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