Making Black History: A conversation with Philadelphia Zoo's New CEO

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Making Black History: A conversation with Philadelphia Zoo's CEO
Making Black History: A conversation with Philadelphia Zoo's CEO

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Black History isn't just a part of the past. Some of that history is unfolding right now as, for the first time, a woman of color has been named president and CEO of the Philadelphia Zoo.

Jo-Elle Mogerman, D.Sc was named to the position in October. She's spent the last few months adjusting to the new position after coming to Philadelphia from St. Louis with a career that has spanned more than 20 years. She's now the zoo's 15th president - hoping to show others "what's possible."

"It's been really warm and welcoming. I'm feeling the brotherly love and the sisterly affection across the board," said Mogerman.

As America's first zoo, it's a historic place. It's also where Mogerman is making history as the first woman and the first woman of color to serve as president and CEO.

"What does it feel like to be making history?" asked Action News Reporter TaRhonda Thomas.

"I try not to think about it too much because it would make me nervous," said Mogerman, "but I wear it proudly. There are some little kids or African American kids who have a love of animals like I did. And I want to make sure they know that this is a potential pathway. I recognize that it's important."

TaRhonda Thomas' full interview with Philadelphia Zoo CEO Dr. Jo-Elle Morgerman

Mogerman says she's focused on bringing locals and tourists alike to the zoo which is the motivation behind one of her biggest goals as the zoo's new CEO.

"I want to make sure that we are respectful of our guests and maximize their experience," she said.

One change that visitors will notice in the coming years is the addition of a new bear habitat.

Just walking through the zoo with Mogerman, it's apparent that this job is the continuation of a life-long love of animals which she says can't always be appreciated on a screen as so many people look to learn about animals by looking them up on their phones.

"There will never ever be a substitute of being eye-to-eye with a penguin," Mogerman says of the enduring value of a zoo. "What I want to bring is a layer of experiences where people can connect with our animals and connect with each other."

The Chicago native is getting to know the 42-acre Philadelphia Zoo and even the "names" of the animals as she enjoys every moment of her history-making move.

"This is Philadelphia's zoo," she said. "I'm just the steward at this point in time."