Your Story—Zoo Interns

In addition to protecting the world’s wildlife, Lincoln Park Zoo is also dedicated to training the next generation of scientists. See the successes as former interns share how their zoo experience prepared them for a career in the field.

  Ellen Brown     Kristine Schad
  Julia Greenberg     Carrie Schloss
  Liza (Watson) Lehrer     Kate Schowe
  Marissa Milstein     Patricia Valcarcel
  Dennis Rentsch     Vivian Vreeman


During summer 1996 I was a Dr. Scholl Fellow at Lincoln Park Zoo, working on a project that modeled gorilla population biology. The experience offered a great opportunity for doing applied research as well as wonderful mentors in Joanne Earnhardt and Steve Thompson.

At the time of my internship I was studying ecology at the University of Illinois and was very much interested in conservation biology (especially primates). After completing my B.A., I joined the Peace Corps in Togo, where I was able to experience the field context of conservation.

After the Peace Corps I returned to Lincoln Park Zoo, serving as the conservation assistant for 2.5 years. Ultimately, I found that I wanted to combine conservation science with community development. I went on for a Master’s in Environmental Management at Yale and then went to work for the Wildlife Conservation Socity in the Ituri Forest of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

I was based in Okapi Wildlife Reserve for 3.5 years working on protected-area management and community-based conservation. I worked with hunter-gatherers and farmers on sustainable natural-resource use.

More recently I spent three months in Tanzania conducting applied research on forest governance and land use. I currently work as a consultant and technical advisor for the Wildlife Conservation Society and enjoy staying in touch with my friends at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Ellen Brown

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From 2008–early 2010 I was employed as the research assistant for Lincoln Park Zoo’s Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology. In 2010 I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Environmental Science at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna, coupled with a strong conservation focus, make it a great place to study ecology. My master’s research focuses on streams that flow through mining regions on the west coast of the South Island. Specifically, I’m attempting to determine if algae can be used as reliable indicators of the environmental consequences of mining.

My time at Lincoln Park Zoo has been especially useful during the coursework portion of my master’s. New Zealand is world-renowned for avian-conservation initiatives, and I was able to share with my peers my experience working with both the Avian Reintroduction and Translocation Database and the Puerto Rican parrot recovery program at Lincoln Park Zoo.  It’s great to be able to introduce people from around the world to the amazing conservation programs at Lincoln Park Zoo!

Kate Schowe

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I’m currently working with Frankfurt Zoological Society as project leader of the Serengeti Ecosystem Management Project, based outside Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. This EU-funded initiative aims to bring together diverse stakeholders throughout the Serengeti ecosystem and help ensure that local communities value their interest in conserving the ecosystem. Practically, this means working with communities throughout the ecosystem to improve local benefits that are linked to conservation. The project employs and pilots several mechanisms to achieve its goal, including assisting with the gazettement of community-managed wildlife areas, the development of Community Conservation Banks (micro-credit savings-and-lending institutions aimed at reducing poverty and dependency on unsustainable natural resource use), and the establishment of a Serengeti Ecosystem Community and Conservation Forum to promote “conservation through collaboration” among the ecosystem’s many diverse stakeholders.

Additionally, I have been working on a Ph.D. through the Conservation Biology program at the University of Minnesota since 2004. My research focuses on investigating the drivers for illegal bushmeat hunting in communities living in the Western Serengeti ecosystem. Specifically, I am exploring the potential for alternative livelihoods and protein sources to reduce demand for illegal bushmeat at the household level.

My interest in conservation grew during my 2002–2003 internship at Lincoln Park Zoo. During my time at the zoo, I worked on a variety of projects, such as designing and maintaining the Avian Reintroduction and Translocation Database, assisting with the administration of field-research grants and collecting observational data for a behavioral project on the zoo’s newly acquired African mammals. The opportunity to be involved with hands-on research at the zoo as well as exposure to the many conservation field projects supported by the zoo throughout the world helped me appreciate the importance of field-based conservation initiatives to conserve key wild areas left in the world. I’m fortunate to continue to be in touch with the conservation and science programs at the zoo and particularly to collaborate on conservation in the Serengeti with Lincoln Park Zoo’s Serengeti Health Initiative.

Dennis Rentsch

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Since my 2001 internship, I went to grad school to get my master’s degree in biology. This allowed me to return to Lincoln Park Zoo as a studbook analyst for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Population Management Center. Since then I’ve been promoted to associate population biologist, which allows me to analyze the genetics and demography of zoo and aquarium populations across the country to make breeding and transfer recommendations for their animals. This has ranged from the endangered American burying beetle to beluga whales! My internship introduced me to the conservation and reintroduction efforts that go on behind the scenes at zoos and aquariums. And without that internship opportunity, I may not be working in the field that I am today.

Kristine Schad

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Growing up in Evanston, I spent many hours watching apes in the old Lester Fisher Ape House. It was therefore a dream come true to work at Regenstein Center for African Apes during college because it gave me the chance to learn how to scientifically study the apes I had fallen in love with as a child. This internship exposed me to a variety of observational and experimental techniques, and I learned the value of collaborating with researchers, keepers and administrators. Working on projects to help evaluate the new ape facility in terms of animal welfare and educational value sparked my interest in how research at zoos can help further conservation and education goals.

The skills I developed at Lincoln Park Zoo served me well when after graduating I conducted research as a Fulbright Fellow at the Leipzig Zoo in Germany. Through the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, I conducted studies on cooperation in captive chimpanzees and found it fascinating to observe differences between American and European zoos.

In fall 2010 I started my Ph.D. in Zoology at Michigan State University where I will be studying wild spotted hyenas under Dr. Kay Holekamp. At our field site in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, hyena mothers in areas with high human activity show less attendance to cub dens and higher stress levels. However, they haven’t shown increases in mortality like many other species in this ecosystem.

I will integrate behavioral, cognitive and physiological approaches to investigate how changes associated with humans may be influencing cub development in this highly flexible species. I know I will draw on my experiences at Lincoln Park Zoo as I collaborate with other researchers, local staff and conservation representatives to conduct interdisciplinary research that will hopefully have both theoretical and applied significance. 

Julia Greenberg

Photo by Renee Seidler

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As a Conservation & Science intern from 2002–2003, I was fortunate to work with several different scientists and research projects, which taught me invaluable lessons in study design, execution, analysis and scientific writing. My experiences as a Lincoln Park Zoo intern piqued my interest in wildlife research, and after working in animal records for a few years, I left the zoo to pursue an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology at the University of Illinois, studying the effects of urbanization on woodchucks. I am now working as an intern in the Urban Wildlife Institute, and I am thrilled to be back at the zoo, pursuing my research interests in urban ecology and wildlife management as part of this new and exciting research program.

Liza (Watson) Lehrer

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I was an intern at the zoo in winter 2004–2005. During my internship, I worked on a risk-assessment of primate populations in zoos, which eventually led to a position as a research assistant in the Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology.

During my time at the zoo, I was exposed to many different research projects and learned a lot about research and the scientific process. My experiences at the zoo both inspired me to apply to graduate school and provided me with the skills I would need to get in and be successful there.

I am currently finishing my master’s degree at the University of Washington in Seattle. I’m studying the ability of mammalian species to keep pace with a changing climate and the impact this may have on mammalian diversity in protected areas.

Carrie Schloss

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The CC Trust and Dr. Scholl Fellowship at Lincoln Park Zoo was a great beginning to a career in conservation. It gave me a breadth of skills but also something of even-greater value: exposure to the extensive in-situ research Lincoln Park Zoo performs as well as how much everyone enjoyed their jobs. True, research isn’t always easy, but I learned it could be fun while helping both the environment and people. That’s why I continued in the field!

I’m currently researching the spatial ecology of the endemic and threatened giant gartersnake for my M.S. at Oregon State University. This is part of a larger research project being performed by the U.S. Geological Survey with help from the Sacramento Zoo. We mainly utilize radio-telemetry but also incorporate a geographic information system to study snake movement and habitat usage in agricultural and constructed wetlands. The findings from this project will help inform recovery planning and wetland restoration for the giant gartersnake.

Patricia Valcarcel

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After working at the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes for the past three years, this August I moved to St. Louis to start a Ph.D. in the Department of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. My advisor, Crickette Sanz, Ph.D., is co-director of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project, along with David Morgan, Ph.D. (a Fisher Center research fellow). For my dissertation, I will study the development of tool-use skills in young chimpanzees, work that I hope will continue to demonstrate the importance of conserving these extraordinarily dynamic animals.

Building off the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project’s strong connections with the Fisher Center, and my past experience there as research assistant, I will continue to work with Fisher Center Director Elizabeth Lonsdorf, Ph.D., to conduct comparative tool-use studies between Goualougo chimpanzees and the chimpanzees of Tanzania’s Gombe National Park.

Additionally, I have been working with Fisher Center Assistant Director Steve Ross, Ph.D., and Cognition Research Assistant Katherine Wagner to implement the Fisher Center’s Ape Behavioral Monitoring Program at the St. Louis Zoo (in collaboration with Stephanie Braccini, Zoological Manager, Jungle of the Apes, St. Louis Zoo). This will enable us to make some comparisons between the different zoological facilities. We will also be able to compare the data to wild chimpanzees, as Drs. Sanz and Morgan have started to use this protocol at Goualougo.

I feel very fortunate to be able to continue to collaborate with Drs. Lonsdorf and Ross, Katherine Wagner and the rest of the Fisher Center staff. They were instrumental in helping me develop my skills as a scientist, and I look forward to the exciting research that lies ahead!

Marissa Milstein

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I started at Lincoln Park Zoo in 2005 as a research intern at the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes. In that role I collected behavioral data on the chimpanzees and gorillas and participated in other various projects. After receiving my Bachelor’s of Science in anthropology from Loyola University I was brought on full-time as the Fisher Center’s ape cognition intern. Following my year as cognition intern, I moved to the Netherlands to start graduate school at Wageningen University. My master’s project brought me back to the Lincoln Park Zoo where I investigated food selection and preferences in the chimpanzees at Regenstein Center for African Apes.

In fall 2009, I began my new position as coordinator of Lincoln Park Zoo's Project ChimpCARE. Project ChimpCARE is an initiative aiming to quantify the number of chimpanzees living as pets, performers and in unaccredited settings in the United States as well as characterize the care and housing of these individuals. Project ChimpCARE is the most comprehensive effort to assess and address the important management, safety and welfare issues concerning this population of chimpanzees.

As project coordinator, I’m responsible for the daily administration of the project. I initiate contact with chimpanzee owners and caretakers and travel throughout the country visiting facilities in order to gain a greater understanding of the privately owned chimpanzee population. I have helped develop and currently maintain a project website, which aims to educate the public about chimpanzees and the critical issues these magnificent animals are facing.

I help facilitate information sharing and provide information to people looking to improve their chimpanzee facilities or management practices or for those seeking to transfer their chimpanzees to better facilities. In sum, I work with a full range of stakeholders, including current and former pet chimpanzee owners, sanctuaries, entertainment proprietors, advertising agencies, educators, zoos and other facilities to increase information sharing and collaboration with the ultimate goal of having positive impacts for chimpanzees across the United States and worldwide. The experience and knowledge I have gained through my different projects and positions at the zoo have been invaluable and will no doubt help me to be successful in my future endeavors.

Vivian Vreeman

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