Alive WINTER 2007
Bess Frank cuts through the Zoo’s woods during one of her many trips between large-mammal areas that she oversees, on walkie-talkie all the while.
Let’s be frank. Bess Frank gets excited about moose. That’s one of the reasons she came to the Milwaukee County Zoo in February 1987. We have moose on exhibit here. Not many zoos do. “I think they’re beautiful animals,” she says. You have to really like moose – as well as snow and cold weather—if you start work at the Zoo in the middle of winter. Animal caretakers spend a lot of time outdoors. The moose are outdoors. So are the elk, caribou, Dall sheep, polar bears, sea lions, and wolves.
All of these animals have been under the purview of Bess Frank, the Zoo’s curator of large mammals. Still, the moose brought her here, and a moose may have helped keep her here. Of course, it was a Boston moose. But let Frank tell the story.
“It was in 1995. When I went to my cousin’s wedding in Boston, I saw a news report that they had captured a female moose in a Boston suburb called Melrose. I was ironing my blouse when I saw it on TV.” Not one to pass up a chance to get a moose, Frank contacted one of the zoos in Boston and said, “We’d like to take that moose to Milwaukee.”
Now, of course, Frank knew that Milwaukee had been searching for three years for a female to mate with the Zoo’s 9-year-old male moose, Bullwinkle. And, of course, she called her boss here before offering to bring back an 880-pound animal. Still, as a result of her quick action, Milwaukee ended up with Melrose, the 1-year-old moose from Melrose, Mass. “She was the base for our new moose population,” said Frank. Melrose twice gave birth to twins.
Melrose wasn’t the only prize. In 1996, a dentist in Vermont offered Milwaukee a baby male moose she found after its mom had been hit by a car. (She must have heard about Frank and Melrose.) “He was less than 1 month old when we got him,” said Frank. “The zookeepers bottle-fed him.” The moose was named Clifford and went on to eclipse Bullwinkle. As of last November, Clifford was reigning supreme at the Zoo (see photo on page 2), sharing the moose yard with his mate, Linda. Melrose, unfortunately, died in 2005.
Moose are not the only reason Frank has stayed at the Zoo for 20 years. “I love the variety of the work,” she said. “There’s so much that we do here: research, on grounds and internationally; animal management; animal training; education. The staff is good, and the physical environment is great.” Not every zoo has the lovely gardens that Milwaukee boasts. Plus, there are the eight new buildings or exhibits that have gone up in five years, thanks to a capital campaign run by the Zoological Society and Milwaukee County.
Frank likes variety. She has a bachelor of science degree in animal science from the University of Maryland (1972), a mas- ter’s in museum studies from George Washington University (1984) and a master’s in history from Marquette University