Meet the Curator of Conservation and Science: Kristen Lukas at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Kristen Lukas, Curator of Conservation and Science at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Copyright Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

Describe your job: I oversee the Zoo’s conservation and research staff/programs and look for ways to integrate science and animal management.

How long have you been in the position? Nine years.

What in your background helped you get the job? I had decent credentials and knew I could probably learn whatever technical skills I might need to do my job; but I was told early on that good people skills were essential to succeed in a zoo environment.  Plus, I think Terry Maple and Kevin Bell put in a good word for me!

What’s your favorite thing about your job? Having the freedom and support to ask good research questions and make decisions that positively affect the lives of animals living in zoos. Plus, I am surrounded by brilliant and talented people who care deeply about improving the future for wildlife.  They inspire and motivate me every day. 

Describe a favorite memory/experience in your current position:   I’ll never forget how excited I was when my graduate student, Elena Less, came in my office to tell me we had completely eliminated regurgitation and reingestion (R/R) behavior in our gorillas with the experimental diet she developed to improve gorilla health and behavior in zoos.  I’d been studying gorilla R/R for years and, like others, had found ways to reduce but not eliminate the behavior.  Her success was a reminder that although good, collaborative research can take years to accomplish, our efforts can fundamentally change and improve how we care for animals in zoos and aquariums. 

Do you have a favorite animal? Why is it your favorite?: Gorillas rule.  Seriously, there is inherent beauty in the powerful yet very gentle nature of gorillas.  Plus, the little ones have “bunny butts” and laugh backwards (“ah-ah-ah”) when they play . . . too cute.

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