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Wilson, Mary (photo credit - Maryland Zo


Ethnicity: Black

Former positions: Animal Keeper, Animal Care Supervisor

Facilities: Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

Years of active zoo career: 1961-1999


Mary Wilson was the first African-American zookeeper at the Baltimore Zoo. While most women zookeepers at the time were assigned to work with smaller animals, Wilson worked with mammals from the beginning of her career, specializing in gorillas, cats and elephants. She was known for bringing home baby animals to care for them. Her daughter, Sharron Jackson, recalls her bringing home baboons, gorillas, monkeys, and snakes. Mary was known for being a “no-nonsense lady” and having a way with animals.


Mary was born in 1937 in West Baltimore and attended Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. She began working at the Baltimore Zoo, now known as the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, in 1961. She was hired by Arthur R. Watson, who was head of the zoo from 1948 until 1980. Mary retired in 1999 after working 38 years at the zoo. In 2020, Mary died of coronavirus in Randallstown, Maryland, at the age of 83. The Maryland Zoo still has two otters named after her: Mary and Wilson.

Head back to Noteworthy Figures to learn about other historical minorities in exotic animal care and conservation.

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