Alumni Q&A: Katie Pilgram-Kloppe ’08, Zoological Manager at St. Louis Zoo

In her years at Westminster, Katie Pilgram-Kloppe ’08 (KAѲ) deepened her knowledge of the natural world, developed her photography skills, and explored the field of education. Today, as Zoological Manager of the River’s Edge at the Saint Louis Zoo, she draws on those experiences daily. 

Married to Adam Kloppe ’06 (ΔΤΔ), Katie is currently working toward earning her Master’s degree in Biology (concentration in Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics) from the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Read below to find out more about Katie.

Describe your work as a zoological manager.

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 an intern. We care for a family of 10 Asian elephants—you might remember Raja, the first elephant born at the Saint Louis Zoo 25 years ago. Our diverse collection also includes three critically endangered black rhinos (our newest addition is Moyo), three Nile hippos, a breeding pair of red river hogs, a bachelor group of bat-eared foxes, 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. 

I’ve continued to play softball over the years, and I enjoy playing on the Zoo’s coed slow-pitch softball team, the “Hellbenders,” which is coached by our veterinarians.

What role did Westminster play in leading you to your current position?

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 Jay 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 a few printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Which of your achievements are you most proud of?

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.

Do you recommend Westminster to prospective college 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.

More about Katie and her Westminster experience

Hometown: Gerald, Missouri

Major: Double major in Biology and a Self-Designed Major in Educational Studies, with a minor in Chemistry

Campus affiliations and activities while you were at Westminster?

I was involved in many organizations throughout my four years there, but here are some of the main ones I participated in:

  • Blue Jay Softball
  • Kappa Alpha Theta
  • Skulls of Seven
  • Tri Beta (Biology Club)

Favorite Westminster faculty member?

I had so many influential professors in the biology and education departments, but I am truly grateful for Dr. Mike Amspoker and his love of diatoms! He helped me design a senior thesis project on photo microscopy that combined my love for photography and science in such a creative way!

Favorite spot(s) on campus?

The pitcher’s mound on the softball field with my sister, Lauren (Pilgram) Elkin ’07 (KAѲ), catching behind the plate, and the front lawn of the Delta Tau Delta house.