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Mary J. Wilson was a Baltimore native who got her start working at The Maryland Zoo in 1961 when she was just 21-years-old. Although she had virtually no professional experience, Wilson had a lot of heart and passion for the animals, bypassing the normal profession for women in zoos like birds and other nursery animals and heading straight for the larger species in the Mammal House. She became especially fond of gorillas and elephants, eventually making history as the first Black senior zookeeper at The Maryland Zoo.
At the zoo is where she served for nearly four decades, training up other young zookeepers and building lifelong bonds with her animal friends. When Wilson contracted the coronavirus in 2020 and laid in a hospital bed unresponsive for two weeks, it was the memory of her time caring for a sick elephant overnight that her daughter Sharron Wilson Jackson reminded her of, that brought the last signs of life she would ever see. Ms. Wilson would go on to pass away the following day at the age of 83, leaving behind a robust legacy in a field where Black women were still heavily underrepresented. Now her home zoo is paying homage to that legacy, announcing a new paid internship in her honor with the hopes of attracting more diversity in the field, CBS Baltimore reports.
The 2023 Mary Wilson Scholar Program is a five-week full time internship designed for a “local Black, indigenous, or person of color (BIPOC) college student with a passion for animals and an interest in zoo keeping.”
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The intern will be trained in “basic husbandry and animal care” in addition to assisting with paid animal experiences for guests. Chosen applicants will be paired with a mentor and report directly to the area manager, receiving mid-term and final assessments and the opportunity to have “immersive experiences in the Animal, Hospital, or Commissary Departments. The zoo is hoping to attract those students with limited experience, just like Wilson, encouraging those who may be majoring in biology, zoology, natural sciences, or any other related field. Interns will be required to complete a guided research project and promote The Maryland Zoo’s mission. A wonderful honor for such a dynamic and pioneering woman, we are sure Ms. Wilson would be proud.
To learn more about the 2023 Mary Wilson Scholar program, or to apply, click here. The deadline for applications is March 30th.
Maryland Zoo honoring first Black woman zookeeper with new paid internship/Mary Wilson grooming cheetah Laika at Maryland Zoo, circa 1966/Photo Courtesy of Richard Stacks/Baltimore Sun