Katie Pilgram-Kloppe, Acting Curator of the River’s Edge, St. Louis Zoo
Name: Katie Pilgram-Kloppe
Hometown: Gerald, MO
Graduation year: 2008
Major: Dual Major in Biology and Self-Dsigned Educational Studies
Sorority: Kappa Alpha Theta
What other degrees have you earned?
Completed in 2019- Master’s Degree in Biology (concentration in Ecology, Evolution and Systematics) and a Graduate Certificate in Global Biodiversity Conservation and Leadership from the University of Missouri-St. Louis
What is your current career position?
- Acting Curator of the River’s Edge at the Saint Louis Zoo
- Assistant Director of the WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa
- Assistant Director of the WildCare Institute Center for Asian Elephant Conservation
In addition to my position at the zoo, I support the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) as the AZA North American Regional Studbook Keeper for the Grevy’s Zebra.
Please describe your current work.
I work with an amazing team of people in the River’s Edge, including our curator, 11 full-time keepers, a part-time keeper and interns. We care for a family of nine Asian elephants — and we are excited to share the news of another elephant to be joining the multigenerational family group in the summer of 2020. Our diverse collection also includes three critically endangered black rhinos, three Nile hippos, a breeding group of red river hogs, a bachelor group of bat-eared foxes, a dwarf mongoose, some sacred ibis and a variety of fish. My work involves overseeing the daily care and husbandry of these animals, including operant conditioning training and offering environmental enrichment, as well as the maintenance of the habitats and facilities these animals call home. I interact with our visitors through tours and keeper chats and have even talked with students in other states through virtual learning technology. Conservation is at the heart of what we do! Not only do we care for the animals at the zoo, but we also strive to protect animals and their habitats in situ through the Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute.
What are your future goals?
I plan to continue to be a leader for the Saint Louis Zoo by helping to conserve animals in the wild and give the best quality care to the animals that live here. And, of course, I hope to continue to travel the world!
I am very much looking forward to working more closely with conservationists in the Asian Elephant range countries. I will be participating in a unique opportunity to represent the Saint Louis Zoo by attending the IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group Meeting in December 2019, in Sabah, Malaysia. Here we will be learning from conservation leaders from these countries where to best focus conservation efforts to help save this endangered species in the wild.
In terms of your professional life, what would you say is your overarching purpose today?
To be a voice for endangered species and to provide the best quality care for their animal ambassadors that call the Saint Louis Zoo home. It is also important for me to engage our visitors by informing them about the zoo’s conservation efforts worldwide and what they can do to help at home. This includes discussing the impacts of global climate change and the future of animals and their habitats.
How did your time at Westminster help you find your purpose?
At Westminster, I challenged myself to get the best well-rounded education I could by taking many writing-intensive courses, upper-level biology labs and even a variety of general education classes that required honing my presentation skills. I had many leadership opportunities in the organizations that I was a part of, including Kappa Alpha Theta, Blue Jays softball and the Skulls of Seven. Westminster’s vision of developing leaders in a global community is evident in my line of work; conservation of endangered species requires the collaboration of many people with similar passions.
Even though my degrees were in biology and education, I developed skills in my photography classes that were particularly useful in my career. I’ve taken several photos of our newborn elephant and rhino calves that are featured on the zoo’s website as well as in the St. Louis Post -Dispatch.
Were any relationships you formed at Westminster particularly influential in helping you find clarity of purpose?
The professors in the biology department during my time at Westminster provided me with a strong foundation in animal behavior and ecology that paved the way for my career in animal care and conservation. I also want to thank the Kappa Alpha Theta organization for a scholarship to travel abroad to Australia for a Tropical Marine Ecology study.
What does being a “leader” mean to you?
A great leader is someone who leads by example and is a role model for others. Someone who can “walk the walk” and is not afraid to stand up for what they believe in and advocate for others. They are trustworthy and gain the respect of others because they take the time to get to know people and show them that they matter.
What does success mean to you?
Professional success is finding a career that you love doing and can be proud of. I am fortunate that I found a career so early on that I am truly passionate about. Here is an example of an accomplishment that makes me feel successful:
In 2016, I was chosen to represent my department and travel to Kenya to conduct a census on the remaining endangered Grevy’s zebra in their northernmost range. The Grevy’s Zebra Trust in partnership with many organizations such as the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa, hosted the first-ever “Great Grevy’s Rally,” a citizen scientist approach to studying animals in the wild. This was an unforgettable trip! Not only did I get to see and photograph animals in the wild, but I also got to work with exceptional people in those local communities that are dedicated to the conservation of the Grevy’s zebra and other species like black rhinos.
What is it about Westminster that makes it the kind of community that empowers students to discover their purpose and find success?
Westminster provides a lot of opportunities for students to find their own path and to feel supported along the way. Many of those opportunities are found outside of the classroom such as Athletics, Greek Life and the many other organizations on campus.
Do you recommend Westminster to prospective students?
Yes! Besides a great education, you’ll come away from Westminster with a whole new group of family and friends and memories that you’ll cherish for a lifetime. Also, if you enjoy playing sports, this is a great place to get a quality education and still have time to pursue other passions like I could with softball.
Favorite Westminster faculty member?
I had so many influential professors in the Biology and Education departments (Dr. Amspoker and the late Dr. Tammy Stiller).
I also want to say thank you to Dr. Bernie Hansert (Chemistry Department). He was my freshman seminar teacher. Then, in my senior year, I got to be a mentor for the next group of freshman seminar students for Bernie’s class. Bernie is one of my most memorable professors; he has a kind soul and a good sense of humor!
Favorite spot on campus?
My two favorite spots:
1) The pitcher’s mound on the softball field with my sister, Lauren (Pilgram) Elkin, ’07, catching behind the plate
2) The front lawn of the Delta Tau Delta house
Last book you read?
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
A League of Their Own
Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Going to brunch with my husband, Adam Kloppe (Westminster, ’06) and many of our Westminster friends and family that live near St. Louis.