Lincoln Park Zoo’s animal management team consists of curators, zoological managers, and keepers who care for a wide range of diverse species. Their goal: providing the highest quality care to each individual animal in order to maintain sustainable zoo populations.
Keepers are the face of the animal management team. While curators and zoological managers work behind the scenes to manage the overall animal population, keepers form relationships with each individual and ensure that management plans promote positive welfare for every animal. When a guest sees an employee working inside an animal habitat, they’re witnessing a keeper in action.
Lincoln Park Zoo cares for animals throughout their entire life cycle, but “whole-life care” starts long before any individual animal is born.
Lincoln Park Zoo’s animal management team serves in leadership roles for multiple Species Survival Plans® (SSPs), Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs), and Scientific Advisory Groups (SAGs)—Association of Zoos and & Aquariums (AZA) programs designed to manage zoo species as single, holistic populations. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Population Management Center (PMC), hosted at Lincoln Park Zoo, conducts the genetic and demographic analyses needed to develop population management recommendations for SSPs.
Matching Zoos and Individual Animals
The animal-specific expertise behind SSPs, TAGs, and SAGs ensures the long-term sustainability of healthy zoo populations. Together, they determine detailed plans that incorporate the science of population biology as it relates to each species. These plans identify appropriate breeding groups that are genetically and socially compatible.
Some species, like eastern black rhinoceroses, are only introduced for breeding while others, such as western lowland gorillas, spend their entire lives in social groups. Prior to introducing animals to each other, the animal management team designs a specialized plan, based on the behavior of the species and the individual animals, that outlines the procedure for all possible outcomes, including potential aggression, which is normal for some species, such as gorillas and chimpanzees.
After a Species Survival Plan® recommends a transfer, veterinary staff at both AZA-accredited institutions ensure the animal is healthy enough for transport. Curators and zoological managers make the shipment arrangements, both to and from Lincoln Park Zoo, with the other institution, including all equipment, materials, and transportation details.
Curators, meanwhile, ensure that the individual is compatible with current residents and that an appropriate habitat is available. Zoological managers and keepers make sure that Animal Care staff have all the necessary training, diet, behavioral, and other information necessary to provide the individual with high-quality care.
Animal Care staff carefully plan and monitor all births. Once Animal Care staff detect a pregnancy or fertile egg, the animal management team creates a birth/hatch plan that considers the various needs of both the parents and offspring from birth to independence. They also create a monitoring plan, as well as a contingency plan in case either the parents or offspring require any extra assistance.
For some mammals, prior to the birth, Animal Care staff monitor the mother and infant’s health through behavioral observations and multiple measurables, including sometimes monitoring the mother’s hormones.
Animals experience similar age-related challenges as humans. At Lincoln Park Zoo, the animal management team provides a supportive diet that enables healthy weight, works with veterinarians to monitor any age-related illnesses, and makes habitat modifications to accommodate any mobility issues.
Animal Care staff play a crucial role in determining how to design and build habitats that enhance animal welfare while providing guests with immersive experiences that showcase the unique characteristics of each species. Many species have access to behind-the-scenes spaces and can choose where to spend their time—a key component of high-quality animal care. Others, such as the polar bears and rhinos, have a dedicated space for birthing and raising their young. And unique elements, such as carcass feeds for the African painted dogs, provide an added novelty throughout the seasons while also encouraging species-specific behaviors.
Accurate and accessible animal records promote data-driven decision-making that benefits both individual animals and entire populations.
Innovative Technology Advances Animal Care
At Lincoln Park Zoo, more than 100 animal care professionals utilize the Tracks database to enter and access data related to every animal. Everything from animal diets, measurements, vet records, behavioral observations—even water quality readings—is available in real-time using Tracks. It also allows animal managers and veterinarians to make informed decisions that optimize animal welfare.
Local Data Contributes on a Global Level
Lincoln Park Zoo shares its animal data with organizations, like the AZA Population Management Center, to promote global population management and species conservation. AZA Species Survival Plans® use this data to pair animals based on genetics and behavior, which helps to sustain vulnerable populations.
Animal Care staff artificially incubates some bird and reptile eggs, placing them in manmade incubators that simulate the natural process. This technique, which requires in-depth knowledge of both egg development and machine maintenance, has boosted the populations of some threatened species, such as the Guam kingfisher. This bird, extinct in the wild, lays two eggs at a time, but only one survives under normal circumstances. At Lincoln Park Zoo, Animal Care staff artificially incubates one of those eggs and leaves the other with the parents, greatly improving the survival rate of both chicks.
In the wild, reptiles that live in temperate regions undergo brumation (similar to hibernation)—they stop eating and become dormant to conserve energy in response to cold winter temperatures. At Lincoln Park Zoo, the animal management team often mimics the seasonal temperature curves for temperate reptiles that rely on the brumation response for cues on their reproduction cycle.
When working with venomous species, animal keepers use specialized tools—like snake hooks, tongs, and clear acrylic tubes—to perform daily tasks, such as feeding, cleaning enclosures, and any necessary medical treatments. They also undergo specialized training to perform these tasks in a way that is safe for them and the venomous reptiles in their care.
Lincoln Park Zoo houses species that thrive in very different climates. Some have adapted to sub-zero temperatures, others prefer dry regions with little rain, and some require near 100 percent humidity. Animal management staff recreate these microclimates, when applicable, to provide high-quality animal care to these diverse species.
Reverse Light Cycle
Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House is home to several nocturnal species that are active at night and sleep during the day. At Lincoln Park Zoo, in order to align their “active” time with the schedules of the keepers who care for them, the animal management team adjusts their enclosure lighting so their active period occurs during the day. This way, animal keepers can feed, train, and observe the animals while they are awake and moving.
Supporting Sustainable Populations Across the Country
Lincoln Park Zoo’s animal management team, as well as staff across many other departments, advances high quality care for animals across the country by serving in leadership roles in various AZA programs.
Caring for Wildlife, in the Wild
Ornate Box Turtle
By giving ornate box turtle hatchlings a healthy head start at the zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restore this threatened species to Illinois.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
Habitat loss has caused this shy species to become endangered through much of its range, including Illinois. Lincoln Park Zoo works with partners across the country to guide its recovery.
For many years, Lincoln Park Zoo has assisted with the Piping Plover Recovery Program, supporting a bird species that has nearly disappeared from the Great Lakes region. Animal Care staff help salvage eggs in the wild, and the zoo provides a home to non-releasable birds.
Animal Care staff have also partnered with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to care for rescued and abandoned African penguins in South Africa. As recently as 2019, keepers have traveled around the world to support these birds and facilitate their release back into their natural habitat.
The critically endangered Bali myna, threatened by poaching and the illegal wildlife and pet trade, has been the symbol for Asian songbirds in crisis for many years, but many declining songbird populations across the continent are facing similar pressures. Threatened by poaching and the illegal wildlife and pet trade, the Bali myna has been the symbol for Asian songbirds in crisis for many years. But more songbirds in Asia are facing the same pressures as the Bali myna and are now facing declining wild populations.
Animals Depend on People Too
Animals Depend On People Too! When you ADOPT an animal, you support world-class animal care by helping to provide specially formulated diets, new habitat elements, and regular veterinary checkups.