Director of Wildlife Care
San Diego Zoo
Year zoo career began:
Misha grew up playing in the woods of Connecticut where she developed her love of nature. When she was 7 or 8, she formed the neighborhood environmental club and required that the local kids take a quiz based on her Wildlife Treasury cards in order to gain membership. Misha maintained her love of nature even while she thought she was going to pursue studies in English and Drama at Connecticut College, where she ultimately switched her major to Zoology. While in college, as Misha was trying to figure out what direction she wanted her career to go, she had a conversation with her family’s friend, Dr. George Schaller. Years prior, her grandmother and great-aunt had traveled with Dr. Schaller to China to help him translate while he was studying giant pandas. Dr. Schaller advised Misha that working in conservation was 90% working with people, not animals. It was a lesson that she regularly reflects on to this day.
While in college, Misha had a paid internship at the Bronx Zoo in the Mammalogy department, followed by spending a semester abroad with the School for Field Studies in Kenya. After returning to the States, Misha was able to continue gaining hands-on experience as a volunteer at Mystic Aquarium and an intern with the World Bird Sanctuary. She paid the bills by taking on the responsibility of being the college residential Housefellow, tutoring elementary school kids in reading, taking notes for the school accessibility office, being the women’s ice hockey team announcer, and working nights at an ice cream parlor.
Once Misha graduated, she returned to New York to work as a Wild Animal Keeper at the Bronx. Since New York is so expensive, Misha lived with her grandmother for a few months as a way to save money on rent, with the added benefit of learning how to cook Chinese food! Sadly, Misha’s skills do not reside in the kitchen…
Never one to stop learning, Misha earned a certificate in Conservation Biology from Columbia University before sunny weather called her west to California. There, she worked as a wildlife educator, caring for animals and bringing them out to different audiences. Misha has always loved talking with people, and being able to share her excitement for animals and nature gave her a sense of purpose that she was helping others care more and be better stewards for wildlife.
When the chance to help develop a new department and a brand-new wing of the California Science Center came up, Misha joined the team as the first member of the Living Collections department, where she helped create the initial policies, procedures, and staffing for the team, as well as manage the permits and records for the burgeoning collection of animals for the Science Center’s Ecosystems gallery. Over the years, Misha has grown with the department that she then led as the Director of Husbandry. Currently she is the Director of Wildlife Care at the San Diego Zoo.
Misha’s growth mindset and her apparent interest in amassing academic credentials, leads her to regularly seek out opportunities to grow. It’s meant that she holds certificates in Management Development from the University of Southern California and Management & Operations through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, a miniMBA from Miami University, and a Master’s degree through the Advanced Inquiry Program/Miami University/San Diego Zoo Global. Her Master’s focused on helping people grow and develop within conservation careers, which aligned well with her work with AZA’s Professional Development Committee’s Next Level Leader task force. She is also a member of the 2020-2021 cohort of AZA’s Executive Leadership Development Program through which she worked on a team project to substantially improve the diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusivity across the AZA community.
Misha’s love of wildlife and nature has remained constant throughout her life, and she’s been fortunate and grateful to have had a career that aligns with her passion. She’s cared for animals and educated the public about different species and conservation issues. But Dr. Schaller’s advice back in 2000 that conservation is really about people continues to echo in her head, and now that Misha is leading teams and dedicated to helping colleagues enter the field and grow their skills, perhaps what she’s most proud of is supporting her professional community to do their best work for wildlife!