Oral History Interviews of the Milwaukee LGBT History Project, 2003-2007

Biography/History

Don J. Meyer was born August 18, 1930 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the ninth grade Meyer was pulled out of school to work in his step-father's blacksmith shop and in 1943 he started to work with animals. He shoed horses with his step-father at the Wisconsin State Fair and also worked for horse owners and polo groups in Milwaukee. Meyer married in his early twenties and later divorced. He married Joan in 1965.

Milwaukee County Zoo Director Don Speidel hired Meyer to work with an elephant named Annie in 1960. Meyer worked at the Milwaukee County Zoo for a couple of years and then moved on to the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There he worked as an elephant handler from 1962 to 1963 and then as a curator from 1963 to 1965. Meyer was an elephant consultant for many zoos across the country from the early 1960s until the early 2000s. He has worked with animals since 1943 and founded a non-traditional farm that houses exotic animals in 1975 named Jo-Don Farms, Inc.

Meyer moved back to Wisconsin in 1965 to establish "The Ranch" Zoo in Menomonee Falls. As director of The Ranch, he focused on creating a zoo for disabled individuals. Meyer worked at The Ranch until 1974 when it was closed down. Meyer's work at The Ranch grew into his business Jo-Don Farms. Founded in 1975, Jo-Don Farms located in Franksville, Wisconsin, provides professional animal services including educational and recreational animal programs, displays, and rides.

Over the years, Meyer has been an active member in the animal business and is known throughout the United States for his work with elephants. From 1963 to 2003 he was an elephant consultant for many zoos across the country. He has consulted with over 20 institutions and has worked with over 100 elephants. Meyer is a founding member of the Wisconsin Zoo Associates (WZA), an organization for zoos and other animal businesses related to the zoo business in Wisconsin. He is also a past member of the American Zoological Association.

In 1978, Meyer and others established what was known as Elephant Management. Meyer was the first president of the organization and it was located in Franksville, Wisconsin at Jo-Don Farms, Inc., but was national in scope. This was an organization that wanted to establish a breeding program called "musical elephants" that would work to improve the breeding success rates of African elephants in captivity. Musical elephants was a concept of moving breeding-age African elephants into favorable breeding arrangements. This was to be accomplished through long-term breeding loans with zoos and animal facilities across the nation. Due to lack of support and money, Elephant Management was disbanded in the early 1990s.