Conservation & Science Staff Bios
Rachel Santymire, Ph.D.
Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology
- Ph.D.- Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
- M.S. - Animal Physiology, Clemson University
- B.S. - Pre-veterinary Science, Clemson University
Areas of Expertise
- Reproductive physiology
- Conservation biology
- Evolutionary biology of reproductive processes (specifically ovulation and spermatozoa production)
- Evolutionary biology of stress adaptation
- Ecosystem health
- Small population biology
About Rachel Santymire:
Always the oddball in the animal production class, Rachel began her career thinking about how to adapt techniques designed for domestic species to conserving wildlife. While everyone was researching livestock production, she was traveling to zoos to collect samples to characterize wildlife reproductive biology. Increasing the knowledge of basic reproductive processes and the evolutionary biology of these traits has been one of Rachel’s interests throughout her career.
With the training and education she received from the partnership between George Mason and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, she began Lincoln Park Zoo’s endocrinology program. Rachel says, “The motto of our program is, ‘If it defecates, we will study it!’” The mission of her program is to promote better scientific understanding of the basic biology of wildlife, including evolutionary and ecological processes, and gain knowledge of the relationship among an animal’s physiology (health and reproduction), behavior and environment using non-invasive methods.
Conducting endocrinology in a laboratory is straightforward, but applying this science to in situ wildlife conservation can be difficult. Rachel has overcome some of the logistical nightmare of doing field endocrine research by designing “field-friendly” fecal-hormone methods that stabilize the extracted hormones so they can be stored at ambient temperature and transported safely back to her laboratory at the zoo for analysis. She’s currently applying this method to black rhinoceroses, domestic livestock, African lions, African elephants and African wild dogs. This method has opened the door to research opportunities where they previously couldn’t have existed. Rachel’s goal is to gather information to improve management decision making in wildlife conservation both in situ and ex situ.