Black in Nature: Featuring Toni Flowers

This post is part of “Black in Nature: Tackling Diversity in Conservation,” a Black History Month series giving Black people who work in animal care and conservation a platform to share their experiences and spark the conversation necessary for change. Learn more here.

Toni Flowers is the Lead Keeper of Birds at Philadelphia Zoo and is passionate about animals and conservation. Her grandparents were farmers who nurtured her love for animals from a young age. She is proud of her contributions to her career and has been a part of critical safety efforts, but her position still surprises others in her community.

I am still amazed at the number of times that I have been asked by other African American people if I am crazy for working in a zoo with all those animals,” shares Toni.

One way to increase awareness of opportunities in animal-related careers is to more actively recruit racial minorities — something Toni thinks is important to create change. She feels that there is a severe lack of diversity in her field, and that diversity needs to be made a higher priority by governing organizations and senior management.

One of the unique challenges that Toni currently faces is transporting threatened animals between zoological facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many animals in accredited zoos throughout the country are members of their species’ SSP, or Species Survival Plan. These programs act as match-makers who recommend animal moves throughout participating zoos to help threatened species have the best chances of reproduction. She feels that this is one of the biggest challenges we currently face in protecting wildlife.