Bookkeeper Turned Zoo Expert
Another important event happened in 1925, although no one realized its significance at the time: the Zoo hired a temporary bookkeeper to fill in for a staff member on vacation.
Her name was Mrs. Belle Benchley.
Belle took the job while waiting for something else to open up, and she had no idea she would be staying at the Zoo for more than a few weeks. But from the start, she tackled much more than just the books. When she answered the phone, she found herself researching and answering animal questions—”Say, could you settle a bet? How long is the tail of a hippopotamus?”—found materials for keepers and solved problems, and handled Dr. Harry’s extensive, and untidy, correspondence. Belle stated later that she was very nervous at first, since she knew nothing about zoos, but she was determined to help out wherever she was needed. Soon, she was too busy to be anxious anymore. Plus, she had always loved animals.
Belle discovered quickly that she enjoyed learning about the animals much more than she liked keeping books. She roamed around the Zoo grounds, got to know the animals, talked to and and asked questions of the keepers, and saw small improvements that could help them. When she made these suggestions to Dr. Harry, he’d tell her, “Well, do something about it.” She did—and then some. Within a year, she had become Dr. Harry’s right hand. He often said he didn’t know what he would do without her. When the bookkeeper came back from vacation, Belle was asked to stay on. Needless to say, her position was no longer temporary.