The Zoo's Reproductive and Behavioral Sciences Department is staffed by a dedicated group of scientists who conduct research to improve the sustainability of animal populations through reproductive management and to enhance animal welfare through observation and endocrine analysis.
Work in Reproductive Science encompasses basic research on comparative reproductive systems as well as reproductive management, to enhance or control reproduction and to provide diagnostic testing and monitoring of reproductive status—for example, pregnancy or onset of puberty. Long-term reproductive management also includes cryopreservation of gametes and gonadal tissue from both males and females to extend the reproductive potential of animals into the future.
The two main areas of emphasis in Behavioral Science are reproduction and well-being. Research on parental care and mate choice, courtship and mating relate to reproduction, while studies that monitor sociality, activity levels, use of space, and responses to enrichment reflect aspects of well-being.
The Zoo's Endocrinology Lab contributes to Department research projects by analyzing hormones that regulate or influence physiology and behavior. Hormone concentrations and patterns reflect an animal's reproductive status and serve as an indirect indicator of well-being. In addition, the Lab provides hormone monitoring and diagnostic services not only for the Saint Louis Zoo, but also for other zoos, field researchers and wildlife managers.
The Reproductive and Behavioral Sciences Department also works with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Reproductive Management Center—formerly the AZA Wildlife Contraception Center—to support the genetic health and sustainability of AZA animal populations. AZA institutions rely on successful reproductive management to maintain the gene diversity of species in their care. The Center began as the AZA Contraception Advisory Group in 1989, and as the need grew for centralized data and information on contraceptive use, AZA established the Wildlife Contraception Center at the Saint Louis Zoo. The role of the Center has expanded to include more than research and information on contraception, prompting a new name—the Reproductive Management Center. The Saint Louis Zoo serves as the home of the Center and its Director, Program Coordinator and Program Analyst, but its advisors come from around the world and include scientists, veterinarians and animal managers with expertise in wildlife reproduction and contraception.