Maryland Zoo establishes a paid internship in honor of its first black female zookeeper

Ben Ebuka April 10, 2023
Maryland Zoo's first black female zookeeper, Mary J. Wilson. Photo credit: The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is offering a new five-week paid internship in honor of its first African American female zookeeper – Mary Jeannette Wilson.

Through this 5-week internship program, the Maryland Zoo strives to identify equitable and impactful ways to engage and promote diversity within its community.

The internship “is intended to provide a unique experience to a current college student with limited prior work experience in animal care, but who has a demonstrated passion for the field. Students pursuing a major in biology, zoology, natural science, or related fields are encouraged to apply.” the Zoo said.

In 1961, Mary J. Wilson began her 38-year career at the Maryland Zoo when she was 21. Not having professional experience in zookeeping, but filled with passion and love for animals, Mary excelled in building lifelong bonds with the animals.

She had a “willingness to work hard and a love of animals. In these days of specialized training, she probably wouldn’t get past the front door,” The Baltimore Sun reported in 1996.

At the time of her employment, most women started work by looking after birds or nursery-type animals, but Mary Wilson preferred caring for the larger animals. Working under the head of the Zoo, Arthur R. Watson, Mary Wilson, devoted her time and passion and became attached more to the gorillas, elephants, and Big Cats.

In the mid-1960s, a 10-month-old gorilla named Sylvia was transferred from Congo to the Maryland Zoo, and because she had no mother, Mary played that role for her.

“Sylvia was like a baby to me. She was the cute little reddish-colored gorilla. We had to care for her just like we’d care for a human baby. The first thing when I came in the morning, I used to give her a bath. Then I’d feed her breakfast. I’d cook three-minute eggs for her. She just became like my little daughter,” Mary said.

She also taught Sylvia how to feed herself with a spoon. “She started working at the Zoo in 1961. She was an animal lover and had always loved them, and her love of them rubbed off on me. Gorillas and elephants were her favorites,” Mary’s daughter, Sharron, said.

Mary Jeannette Wilson was born on January 2, 1937. She began working at the Zoo in 1961 and retired in 1999. Sadly, she died on May 21, 2020, from COVID-19-related complications.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 10, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates