Long-time zoo employee retiring after 30 years, leaves legacy in cheetah conservation

ST. LOUIS - Jack Grisham has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the St. Louis Zoo.

“St. Louis has a rich tradition. At one time we had four zoos in St. Louis,” said Grisham, Vice President of Animal Collections at the St. Louis Zoo. “After the World’s Fair when the flight cage was built and the city bought that from the Smithsonian Institution, that was the catalyst to start the zoo in Forest Park.”

Grisham has called the St. Louis Zoo home for 31 years, so he knows a thing or two about the top tourist attraction to town. He’s spent more than 50 years working at zoos in Oklahoma City and the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C., but Jack has been back in St. Louis for some time.

However, it’s almost time for the vice president of animal collections to retire, at the place where it all began for him as a 16-year-old.

“Marlin Perkins was the director,” Grisham said. “He was the final hire. You had to meet with Marlin. He gave the final thumbs up or thumbs down. So it was intimidating having the director of the zoo be the final say so.”

Former St. Louis Zoo Director Marlin Perkins influence led Grisham to lead the way in conservation work for cheetahs worldwide.

“Very few zoos had bred cheetahs and in the early 1970s we developed the Cheetah Survival Center in the west end of the zoo and we bred our first cheetahs in 1978,” Grisham said. “I was fortunate to be part of that program.”

For 26 years, Grisham headed up the National Cheetah Program coordinating breeding programs at AZA facilities all throughout the world.

But why are the cheetahs at the far end of the zoo, away from the Big Cat Country exhibit?

“We did that because in nature cheetahs would be easily intimidated and attacked by lions and other large predators. So we found out by some of our early research by a man named Randall Eatman in Africa,” Grisham said. “Cheetahs live on the periphery away from the lions and leopards and painted dogs. So we said we’re doing that wrong. So we moved them to the other end of the zoo and all of a sudden we’ve got reproduction.”

It’s a conservation program that continues to make a difference worldwide.

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