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Heather Mosley | SBJ

2022 Most Influential Women: Misty Mitchell

Johnny Morris Foundation

Posted online

Misty Mitchell’s love of animals started young. At 14 years old, she became a Dickerson Park Zoo volunteer, which led to her hiring as an animal keeper after graduating from Missouri State University.

But it was a bald eagle named Phoenix that sparked her love for conservation education as she toured with him for events across the state.

Those experiences laid the framework for what has become Mitchell’s career and passion for the past two decades working with the Johnny Morris Foundation. Today, as director of conservation programs, she leads education efforts at Wonders of Wildlife, Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum and Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail. She also serves on the board of the Missouri Environmental Education Association and is inducted into the Dickerson Park Zoo Volunteer Hall of Fame.

Her first role at the foundation was working directly with the architects and contractors building Wonders of Wildlife to ensure exhibits met, and exceeded, regulations for animal care. She then led the effort to fill and care for the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that filled those habitats.

“I led WOW in being accredited by the (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), which is the highest stamp of excellence for animal care, education and conservation,” she says.

She was promoted to her current role in 2006, and since that time, she reports the conservation attractions she oversees have educated over 1.1 million children and adults across the globe, many through a shift to virtual programming during the pandemic.

“As a result, we have reached over 500,000 people worldwide, including Japan, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, China,” she says.

Mitchell says her team partnered with the likes of the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New York State Parks to encourage nature-based education and appreciation of the outdoors.

In all her conservation education efforts, Mitchell says she’s most proud of developing the magnet Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility in partnership with Springfield Public Schools.

WOLF annually offers 48 fifth graders an opportunity to learn at Wonders of Wildlife through the lens of conservation.

“WOLF was the first school of choice and a model for schools nationwide focused on engaging students in their passion, which in return creates better students,” she says. “The students learn how to handle live education animals, present them correctly to the guest and provide knowledge to guests about each animal. These students are some of our best ambassadors; they are our future.”

Mitchell says the program has become a model for similar efforts across the country. She’s had the opportunity to hire some past WOLF graduates and says even if they don’t choose it as a career, “they all will be voters in the community with a better understanding of the importance of conservation.”

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