Ethnicity: African American
Former positions: Animal Keeper, Relief Supervisor, Large Mammal Supervisor, Assistant Curator of Mammals, Large Mammal Curator, Interim Co-Director, General Curator, Curator of Mammals, Zoo Director, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer, Director
Facilities: St. Louis Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Pittsburgh Zoo, Evansville's Mesker Park Zoo, Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo
Years of active zoo career: 1987- present
Amos Morris is currently the Director at the Milwaukee County Zoo, but he has held many titles in his impressive career in the zoo field. His accomplishments include holding the positions of Director or Curator at six different AZA-accredited facilities. Amos was the first African American Zoo Director of an AZA-accredited zoo and the first African American to be elected to the AZA Board of Directors. He has served on the AZA Ethics Board, Vice Chair of the Small Carnivore TAG, Wolverine Studbook holder, Steering Committee for the Elephant TAG/SSP and as an AZA Accreditation Inspector, becoming part of the accreditation commission and continuing to conduct inspections today.
Amos’s interest in animals began as a child. He gained his love of animals from his mother, who was very passionate about their pets, and from his father, who was a biologist by profession and taught high school biology. Amos was also influenced from nature focused television shows he watched when he was a child, especially Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. After graduating from high school, Amos studied marine science at Hampton University while attending on a football scholarship. He later changed his major to biology. He then transferred to the University of Missouri where he changed his major once again to Animal Science, mainly because of the school’s veterinary program. In his junior year of his undergraduate studies, Amos met, Bruce Read, the assistant curator of mammals at the St. Louis Zoo who was doing genetics work in the College of Animal Science at the University of Missouri. He quickly figured out that the zoo profession was his calling.
After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1987, with a degree in Animal Science, Amos began working at the St. Louis Zoo. On his very first day he was asked to catch kangaroos for pouch checks; his curator said with your football athleticism let’s see how you do catching kangaroos. Several kangaroo later that morning, Amos found himself indoctrinated into the profession. Amos worked at the St. Louis Zoo for three and a half years, first working in the antelope section before transferring to the carnivore section. He moved to the Dallas Zoo at the end 1990 where he worked as a relief supervisor and then a large mammal supervisor. Amos took a couple years off with the intent of attending veterinary school but instead ended up working construction to support his family as a single parent. Within two years he was hired by Ron Kagan to be an assistant Curator of Mammals at the Detroit Zoo.
Amos stayed at the Detroit Zoo for a couple of years before he was recruited by Tony Vecchio to work as the large mammal curator at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. He was promoted from his Curator position to become the Interim Co-Director and then General Curator at Roger Williams Park. In 2001 Amos moved to the Pittsburgh Zoo as the Curator of Mammals. He was excited to move to Pittsburgh because of their large animal collection with more diverse species. In his seven years at Pittsburgh, Amos oversaw the reproduction of gorillas, orangutans, and elephant births which are some of the highlights of his career. He was heavily involved in the design of the Water’s Edge exhibit; a marine mammal exhibit with polar bears, intended walrus, and sea otters. Amos was also instrumental in purchasing the property that became the Pittsburgh Zoo’s International Conservation Center, which is a property of 725 acres of natural Pennsylvania woodlands that holds an elephant facility.
In 2009, Amos moved to Evansville’s Mesker Park Zoo, where he served as the Zoo Director and Executive Director of the zoo’s non-profit. During Amos’ tenure at Mesker Park, the zoo became the first to hold eastern hellbenders in a breeding program, and the zoo produced a hellbender offspring after his departure, proving that the program is instrumental to hellbender conservation. Amos also contributed to pine marten research and reintroduction project in the upper peninsula of Michigan. In 2017, Amos moved to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo where he served as the zoo’s Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer. At the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Amos oversaw the operation of the zoo including its award winning exhibit Sea Lion Cove and its most recent exhibit addition Adventure Africa. In 2021, Amos became the Director of the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Amos has traveled extensively during his career to assist with many international animal care and conservation projects. He spent five weeks catching Agremi goats in the White Mountains on the Island of Crete, Greece for a professor, which was his personal “Mutual of Omaha” moment. Amos has traveled to Africa twice to remove elephant collars, taken guests to Africa for ecotourism, imported African wild dogs from South Africa, and visited Peru, South America twice. These trips were only accomplished through his work in various zoos, and he’s grateful to have had these experiences.
Amos was often the first or only African American in different places in his career. He faced a gauntlet of negativity, as the zoo field wasn’t considered a profession for African Americans. Instead of taking the negativity and responding adversely to it, Amos pushed it aside and focused on his skills in animal care and leadership to move forward. He found that the best way to find progress was to focus on his skills and abilities to take care of and manage animals, which had its own piece of honesty. In the past few years, Amos has seen others benefit from his background and knowledge. The more that African Americans and other minorities make their way to the profession, the more children of minority decent will see people who look like them doing the zoo work. Amos believes this is the key for others to become interested in the zoo profession and be able to compete for those jobs. Seeing someone who looks like themselves makes it attainable.
Head back to Noteworthy Figures to learn about other historical minorities in exotic animal care and conservation.