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Helen Martini and Her Bronx Zoo Family

June 4, 2015

Helen Martini and Her Bronx Zoo Family

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Madeleine Thompson Madeleine Thompson

This week, we’re celebrating what would have been Helen Martini’s 103rd birthday.

Helen Martini was very good at her job – one that she never expected to have. Because of her husband’s work as a Bronx Zoo keeper and their apartment’s proximity to the zoo, she was thrown late one night into caring for a newborn lion cub whose mother had refused him. Her success in raising this little cub led the zoo to turn to her help in raising dozens of other baby animals, including panthers (above), tigers, leopards, and gorillas. She eventually became the zoo’s first woman keeper.

Unable to have children of their own, she and her husband delighted in what she called, “My zoo family.” After rearing several baby animals in her nearby Bronx apartment, she convinced zoo officials in the mid-1940s to construct an animal nursery in the then-Lion House.

Bronx, USA Map It


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  • Pingback: Happy Birthday, Helen Martini! | WCS Archives Blog

  • Kevin Deal
    June 22, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Here book was one of my favorite reads as a teen. Read it over and over. This was throughout the 70’s. I’m glad I can help the WCS!

      March 25, 2019 at 11:26 am

      I’m just reading the book for the first time, even though, since Helen was my mother’s cousin-through-marriage to Cousin Fred, the book has been kicking around my family for 65 years. I don’t remember meeting her, although I’m sure I did when I was very little, Italian cousin relationships being what they are. I didn’t realize how famous she was. I suppose that today she would catch hell for what she did. I always tell people, even before reading this book, that I would guess that most animals live longer and healthier (with the possible exception of breeding) than the would in their natural habitats. Ain’t life full of trade-offs?

        Ethan Ellenberg
        February 25, 2020 at 10:59 am

        Hi @Hemmingsen,

        My name is Ethan Ellenberg – I’m a long-time agent based in New York and I am interested in trying to re-publish “My Zoo Family.” Are you one of Helen’s heirs or would you be able to put me in touch with one of them? I think the book has wonderful potential to reach a new audience.

        You can reach me at ethan AT ethanellenberg DOT com

        Thanks for considering.

    Lyn McConchie
    October 23, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    I bought My Zoo Family back in 1965 and still have it, re-reading the book every 5-7 years. It’s a great books and I only wish I could have told the author how much I enjoyed it.

    cheryl f
    January 1, 2023 at 11:03 pm

    the librarian gave this book to me to read after having a hard time being able to concentrate on my reading skills way back in the early 60’s – this led to a lifetime of reading which i still do to this day – i was enthralled with being able to raise the zoo animals like she did – wish it would be reintroduced so more generations could read it