February 21, 2022
Jessica White: Food for Thought
- as seen by -Julie Larsen
Each year, Black History Month celebrates the contributions and achievements made by African Americans.
Jessica White began her career with the Wildlife Conservation Society 12 years ago. She has held various positions and recently became the first Black female manager of WCS’s Animal Commissary located at the Bronx Zoo. Jessica is also proud to be the first Black female to manage an all-union staff at WCS.
We spoke about some highlights of her new role.
JLM: Tell me about your career at WCS.
JW: My journey with WCS began as a seasonal employee in March of 2010. Now, I am the Manager of Animal Commissary. We are responsible for ordering, receiving, and distributing animal feed (hay, produce, grain, and more) and supplying it to WCS’s four zoos and aquarium.
I find it interesting to learn about the vast food choices our animals have, even those with a sweet tooth. How do I know this? Our wild animal keeper staff order pineapples for certain animals in their care. I also learned that one of my favorite vegetables, bok choy, is enjoyed by many of the animals in our collection. I appreciate the high standards needed for my department. I work hard to ensure that we meet and exceed all of them.
JLM: How did you find your way to WCS?
JW: The short answer is that I am an animal lover. As a child, I grew up with rabbits, cats, and dogs. I have an appreciation for all animals. I truly understand the importance of their conservation. I can think of nothing more worthy than to work to protect ecosystems and environments and the animals that live in them.
JLM: Describe your typical workday.
JW: My team and I arrive to the office at 4:00 am, and by 4:15 am, bustling sounds can be heard in the service yard as equipment moves feed to the different animal installations. Once all orders are successfully delivered, the team begins prepping for the next day.
I am amazed at how many different hays are used for the animals at WCS. There’s timothy hay, Bermuda hay, wheat straw, and an alfalfa-timothy mixed hay, to name a few. At first, they all looked the same to me, but now that I am more familiar, I can differentiate between them.
JLM: What does Black History Month mean to you?
JW: I celebrate and honor Black history every month because I live it every day.
I wish the conservation field had more African-American representation. Having said that, my personal challenge as a conservationist is getting the word out about just how fragile our ecosystems are. I strongly feel that education is the key.
JLM: What advice would you give the next generation on conservation and a career like yours?
I taught art in an afterschool program. I always managed to purposefully weave a conservation concept into all my lessons. If our assignment was to draw the African elephant, I would be sure to discuss poaching, climate change, and other challenges for this endangered animal. More programs and information need to be available to younger generations. A possible solution might be to include the idea of conservation in every elementary school curriculum. This will instill a level of empathy that is needed to bring about the changes we need in our world. Whenever I run into one of my former students, I encourage them to consider WCS as a possible career path because it will allow them to contribute to saving the wildlife they admire and to protecting the ecosystems where they live.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This month on Wild View, we will be highlighting a cross-section of Black WCS staff members who play a vital role in the success of the organization.