Michelle L. Rafacz, Ph.D.


Conservation & Science


Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology


Adjunct Scientist


Ph.D. – Committee on Evolutionary Biology, University of Chicago
M.S. – Biology, Loyola University Chicago
B.S. – Biology, Environmental Studies, Knox College

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Areas of Expertise

  • Behavioral endocrinology
  • Conservation biology
  • Evolutionary biology of reproduction and parental care
  • Animal behavior, learning, and memory
  • Environmental enrichment and animal welfare
  • Behavioral ecology


Michelle first became interested in animal behavior as a child observing birds in her backyard. In college, she realized she could make a career of studying animal behavior. Since then, Michelle has studied species in diverse research settings, including a Costa Rican cloud forest, the laboratory, and the zoo.

Michelle completed her doctoral research at the University of Chicago, where she studied reproduction and parental care in gibbons and siamangs at Lincoln Park Zoo and other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

After meeting Rachel Santymire, Ph.D., director of the zoo’s Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Michelle recognized that the study of hormones in concert with behavior resulted in a more complete understanding of the whole animal—something that is critically important for animal welfare and species conservation.

Michelle’s research has included an investigation of biologically meaningful odor cues, social behavior, and stress in African painted dogs and how male characteristics influence female mate-choice and reproduction in the non-wild breeding population of endangered black-footed ferrets.

In her current position as associate professor of Biology at Columbia College Chicago, Michelle teaches Environmental Science, the Evolution of Sex, Animal Behavior, and a new Animal Behavior Research Methods course while maintaining active research at the zoo.


  • Santymire, R. M., Misek, S., Gossett, J., Kamhout, M., Chatroop, E., & Rafacz, M. 2016. Male behaviours signal the female’s reproductive state in a pair of black rhinoceros housed at Lincoln Park Zoo. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, 4(1), 30–37.
  • Rafacz, M. and R. Santymire. 2014. Using odor cues to elicit a behavioral and hormonal response in zoo-housed African wild dogs. Zoo Biology 33:144-149.
  • Rafacz, M., S. Margulis, and R. Santymire. 2012. Hormonal Correlates of Paternal Care in Three Hylobatid Species. American Journal of Primatology 74(3): 247-260.
  • Rafacz, M., Margulis, S., and Santymire, R. 2009. Comparing the role of androgens in paternal care between gibbon species. Gibbon Journal 5: 74-80.
  • Margulis, S.W., Rafacz, M. and Jacobs, B. 2006. The effectiveness of environmental enrichment: Lessons learned and rules of thumb. Proceedings of the 2005 International Conference on Environmental Enrichment, Columbia University, New York.