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Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman Named First Black Woman President In Philadelphia Zoo’s 164-Year-History

Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman Named First Black Woman President In Philadelphia Zoo’s 164-Year-History

It’s America’s first zoo!

Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman is a Chicago native who found her passion for animals early, inspired by nature shows and figures like Jane Goodall; she originally thought she would be a veterinarian, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. She earned her bachelor’s in biology from Macalester College before getting her master’s in conservation biology from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate degree in biology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her hometown, she made a name for herself through community outreach and education, serving as vice president of learning and community at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium before working for 14 years in various leadership capacities at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. 

“I realized relatively early on when I chose the path of being a zoo aquarium professional, I would likely be one of a few. 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, Mogerman explained. 

Since 2019, Mogerman has been serving as director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park in Missouri, overseeing the planning and development of the $230 million, 425-acre project, which is set to open in 2027. Now the zoo veteran has been named the new president of the Philadelphia Zoo, making history as the first Black person and the first woman to lead the nation’s oldest zoo. 

“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. 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,” said Joanna McNeil Lewis, chair of the board of directors for the Philadelphia Zoo.

Mogerman will be taking over for former president Vikram Dewan, who announced his transition after 16 years in the position. Dewan will stay on to help Mogerman in her transition as she steps into her new role as the 15th president in the zoo’s 164-year-history. Mogerman has now relocated to the city of brotherly love with her husband and 13-year-old son, saying she “love[s] the energy of a big city,” and is excited to harness the collective work of the zoo to support the city’s larger missions.

“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…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,” Mogerman explained. 

Both Dewan and Saint Louis Zoo president and CEO Dwight Scott have sent Mogerman their well wishes. Scott spoke highly of Mogerman, calling their time working together a “privilege.”

“To say it’s been a privilege to work with Dr. Mogerman is an understatement. She’s a strategic leader and visionary, a dedicated conservationist and a tremendous project manager and problem solver. While she’ll be missed here in St. Louis, we look forward to partnering with her and her colleagues in Philadelphia,” said Scott. 

Mogerman hopes to make her impact in the new city, focusing on the bigger picture of touching people beyond the zoo walls.

“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,” she said. 

Dr. Mogerman is set to take the helm as the new Philadelphia Zoo president and CEO on October 30th. Congratulations!

Cover photo: Dr. Jo-Elle Mogerman named first Black woman president in Philadelphia Zoo’s 164-year-history/Photo Courtesy of Philadelphia Zoo