In honour of International Women’s Day, ZSL would like to honour an extraordinary woman who is internationally recognised as an outstanding herpetologist – Dr Joan Beauchamp Procter (1897-1931) Curator of Reptiles. Born in1897, Procter was a brilliant student whose ill health prevented her taking up a place at university. However, her enthusiasm for zoology, especially reptiles (she kept a variety of exotic reptiles as pets, including a crocodile) impressed many noted zoologists of the time. At 19 she presented her first scientific paper at ZSL and later contributed to the design of ZSL London Zoo’s aquarium. In 1923 she became Curator of Reptiles and became a celebrity of her time.
Dr Joan Procter produced many remarkable achievements during her time at ZSL London Zoo. Her scientific papers were well regarding in the herpetology field, at a time when it was unusual for women to hold her title, and even discovered and described a new species of reptile – the Peninsula Dragon Lizard.
She became integral to the design of the Reptile House, including the structure of the building (the first purpose-built building of its type in the world), floor plans and exhibit details. Procter also used her design skills to create features for other exhibits, such as rocks for the Antelope Paddock.
With a passion for animal care, Procter soon became an expert in handling large pythons, crocodiles and even contributed to the early accounts of the behaviour of Komodo dragons in captivity. Famously, Procter adopted and tamed one Komodo dragon as a particular pet, which she would walk around the zoo and allowed to interact with zoo visitors. Her close relationship with her reptiles meant that Procter was able to identify new diseases and became a pioneer of new veterinary techniques that were often performed using tools of her own design.
Sadly Procter achieved many of her outstanding feats while battling chronic health problems. Her determination and passion for her work meant that she often came to work in a wheelchair (her komodo dragon still accompanying her on a lead). In 1931 Procter passed away, spending the last years of her life still working intermittently for ZSL.
You can learn more about the remarkable Dr Joan Beauchamp Procter by visiting the ZSL library. You can also discover another remarkable woman, Marie Sibelle Merian, with this month’s library artefact.