By Kathy Wagner
In our continuing celebration of women making history during Women’s History Month, we feature an interview with Peggy Sloan, Chief Animal Operations Officer at Shedd Aquarium. Note that this interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
What excites you about your current work?
The collaboration and collective energy within the aquarium community and our immense potential for reshaping the care and sustainability of aquatic populations. Our work together shows the strength of different organizations and individuals with a ‘long game view.’ We should never take wildlife for granted and always ask ourselves ‘Is this a species that should be in our care? Meaning, are we being ethical, responsible, and sustainable in our choices?’
What are some of the pivotal moments that influenced your career?
Early in my career in southern New Jersey, working with bald eagles and outdoor education, I realized that people really didn’t seem to care about wildlife—and if I wanted this to happen, I’d have to make it happen. If I wanted to help people develop a conservation ethic, I couldn’t wait around for someone else to do it or I’d be waiting forever; I’d have to do the work.
Another pivotal experience was traveling the world, sailing; I felt a sense of urgency accelerating and thought, ‘All of the things inspired by wild places like awe, wonder, and joy could be lost. I don’t know what I can do about it but want to be all about it.’ Later, working at a dolphin research center, I saw how interacting with dolphins could change people and move them to value wildlife. We know it’s not the only part of a conservation ethic, but it’s a critical one, and something we can provide.
What advice do you wish someone had given you—or what advice did you receive that you valued?
One of my early bosses told me, ‘Don’t ask a question before you’ve done everything you can to try to figure out the answer”—a lesson that’s made me a better thinker. One piece of advice I’d offer to others is to be more intentional about “abundance mentality”—the mindset that the world has enough resources, but we must all work together to share them and use them wisely.
Was your gender ever a barrier to your success? Or maybe gave you an edge?
Not that I’m aware of. I’ve pretty consistently been in nontraditional roles for women, and it didn’t occur to me until later in my career that I became aware of other women in the field who had faced bias.
How do you find a source of renewal and replenishment?
Getting out in nature is always number one–being in the company of good people.
How would you tell others to save the world?
A lot of organizations have a mission to save the world, but they don’t behave that way, they don’t walk the talk. We need to walk the talk; use our influence, our decision-making and purchasing power and adopt more sustainable behaviors. It’s not always easy and it’s a balance, but make it your lifestyle, lead by example always and not just what you do at work.