Each day at the Houston Zoo our guests can enjoy more than 20 Meet the Keeper Talks. The presentations are a wonderful opportunity for guests of all ages to learn about our animals and to ask questions of the keepers who work every day with them.
Meet the Keeper Talks have been a regular feature of the Zoo since 2005. Before then, there were the informal ‘Keeper Chats.’ But the evolution these types of presentations at the Zoo go back to the 1940s and beyond.
In the 1990s, Meet the Keeper Talks designed for children between the ages of 6 and 12 years of age were presented 4 times a year, usually on Saturday mornings in the spring in the Brown Education Center (BEC). Produced by the Zoological Society, the Talks would begin at 9 a.m. and featured a formal presentation by a zoo keeper, a slide show and a question and answer period at the end.
Those Saturday morning Meet the Keeper Talks in the BEC have a historical connection to the Houston Zoo’s second Zoo Manager Tom Baylor. Tom started at the Zoo in the mid 1920s as assistant to the Zoo’s first ‘head zookeeper’ Hans Nagel. Tom was promoted to Zoo Manager following Nagel’s untimely death (more about that in blogs to follow) in 1941. By the summer of 1945, Tom launched a series of Saturday afternoon lectures.
The clipping here, from the Houston Chronicle’s Sunday June 3 issue is notable for the species Tom planned to feature and the City agency credited with sponsoring the presentations – the natural science section of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.
In November 1943 Dr. Victor Greulach at the University of Houston outlined an ambitious 12 point natural history program to be sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department. In addition to publishing Zoo and Museum of Natural History guide books (the Museum was located in the Zoo then), constructing nature trails in City parks, and organizing traveling museum specimens for schools, the program called for Department sponsored annual Nature Fairs. The first was held in 1943 in Hermann Park. The second annual Nature Fair drew more than 40,000 people to the Park and the Zoo was prominently featured in both.
Of course, we can’t close this post with out mentioning Hans Nagel’s hand in establishing the first keeper presentations at the Houston Zoo. When the photo below was taken, Hans was well on the way to building his reputation as showman and wowing Zoo guests with intriguing training demonstrations. We’ll dig deeper into that legacy in future posts. But in the meantime, we encourage you to share your Houston Zoo memories and photos with us. We’d like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.