Preserving our planet’s biodiversity is guided by knowledge of facts gained from scientific inquiry. Whether managing a forest ecosystem, restoring a disturbed habitat, or increasing the number of individuals of an endangered species, all actions are the result of dedicated people with exceptional skills who are devoting their lives to the endeavor. Without talented people there is no conservation. Here are the scientists who make up the Memphis Zoo’s Conservation and Research Team.
Steve Reichling is Director of Conservation & Research at the Memphis Zoo, where he has worked for 44 years. He is heavily involved in the captive management of reptiles and amphibians and their conservation in the wild, and has carried out related field studies in Saint Lucia, Dominica, Sint Eustatius, Belize, and Guatemala. He leads the zoo component of the recovery program for the critically endangered dusky gopher frog, having founded the AZA Species Survival Program and initiated the ongoing captive-breeding and release project. He also launched the zoo-based component of the striped newt release program which is re-establishing this threatened species in Florida. His herpetological interests center on species endemic to the longleaf pine ecosystems of the southeastern United States, resulting in his book “Reptiles and Amphibians of the Southern Pine Woods” (Univ. of Florida Press, 2008). In 1995, he established the first AZA Studbook for a North American reptile (black pinesnake and Louisiana pinesnake), and in 2000 the first Species Survival Plan for a North American reptile (Louisiana pinesnake). He has been studying the extremely rare Louisiana pinesnake since 1984, publishing research that elevated it from subspecies to species, and leading the zoo-based recovery effort which includes a strong in situ component. In addition to herpetology, he is intensely interested in tarantulas, has produced one book on the subject, “Tarantulas of Belize” (Krieger Publ. Co, 2003), and has discovered and described four new species and one new genus from Central America. A genus of primitive spiders, Reichlingia, is named in his honor.
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Sinlan Poo is (Ph. D., National University of Singapore; B.A. Boston University summa cum laude with distinction) is a Senior Research Scientist at the Memphis Zoo with an Adjunct position at Arkansas State University. Originally from Taiwan, she is a behavioral ecologist who is broadly interested in parental care, reproductive ecology, and conservation biology. Her research is primarily focused on amphibians, but she has worked on a wide range of research and conservation projects targeting small mammals, carnivores, reptiles, birds, invertebrates, and rare plants across several countries (the US, Ecuador, Panama, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Taiwan). Dr. Poo's research at the Memphis Zoo is focused on increasing the impact of live collections at zoos and the capacity zoos have to contribute to in situ conservation of endangered species. These include: (1) comparative fitness and ecologically adaptive behavior in captive-versus natural-bred individuals, (2) reintroduction of endangered amphibians and reptiles, and (3) conservation genetics and assisted reproductive technology in amphibians. Aside from taxa-specific research, Dr. Poo co-leads the Zoo-Museum collaborative initiative, which is aimed at linking and leveraging live and preserved collections in these institutions for scientific discovery, and co-leads the Global Women in Herpetology Project, which brings together herpetologists from 50 countries from around the world to highlight the diversity of women in this profession and create funding opportunities for students. For more information on her research, visit her website at: https://www.sheilapoo.com/
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Melanie Richter is a comparative physiologist who specializes in endocrinology. She is broadly interested in how animals cope with changing environments and how their reproduction is affected. She has worked on projects as far-ranging as cold temperature limits of hibernation and metabolism in ground squirrels to paternal behaviors and sleeps in high arctic breeding songbirds. She is currently working on a research project in collaboration with Beth Roberts investigating the possible use of non-invasively collected biomaterials to determine pregnancy in domestic (cow/sheep/goat) ruminants in the hopes of finding a test that will also work with exotic ruminants such as the Reticulated giraffe, Père David’s deer, and bongo.
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Beth Roberts is a reproductive physiologist who seeks to improve the reproductive management of animals in human care and contribute to the conservation of animals in their natural wild places. Her research consists of two major avenues of assisted reproductive technology development for a variety of species – 1) semen collection and sperm cryopreservation and 2) monitoring of reproduction and diagnosing pregnancy using hands-off measurement methods and pee and poo samples collected by the keepers. To improve reptile conservation efforts, she also works to develop semen collection, sperm cryopreservation, artificial insemination, and techniques to monitor female reproduction and egg development for Louisiana pinesnakes.
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Jessica Cantrell is a Research Husbandry Technician in the Conservation and Research Department. She provides routine care and management of the large captive populations of endangered Louisiana pinesnakes and dusky gopher frogs held at the Memphis Zoo. In addition to husbandry, she provides additional support to research staff during ongoing projects focusing on the reproductive success and conservation of these species. While her focus lies in the conservation of herpetofauna of the longleaf pine ecosystems of the southeastern United States, she has a strong love for all reptiles and amphibians, as well as strong interests in entomological conservation and citizen science.
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Allison Bogisich (B.A. Whitman College; M.S. University of San Francisco) is a Research Technician at the Memphis Zoo. She has broad interests in genetics and heredity and has conducted phylogenetic work on puddle frogs from Myanmar. Her research at the zoo primarily focuses on amphibian reproduction, captive-breeding, conservation translocations and post-release monitoring for dusky gopher frogs. Her overall research goal is to find differences between captive-bred and naturally breeding amphibian populations in order to better optimize conservation efforts that aim to protect species from going extinct in the wild.
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Cassie Collins is a Research Husbandry Technician who works with two critically endangered species: Louisiana pinesnakes and dusky gopher frogs. Her work centers on helping supplement and re-establish populations of these endangered species in the wild.
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Crista Fennessee is a Laboratory Technician in the Conservation and Research Department. She has previously worked in radiation oncology and biomedical research facilities. Her work at the zoo primarily consists of maintaining routine lab functions, monitoring hormones (Giant Panda, Polar Bear, Spotted Genet, & Sumatran Tiger) and assisting with various research projects. She is broadly interested in reproductive physiology and animal behavior.
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