ASU School of Life Sciences builds bridges with Phoenix Zoo

This jaguar at the Phoenix Zoo is closely watching his breakfast as one of the zookeepers brings it to her private enclosure to eat in peace. (Photo by Mario Mendez) This jaguar at the Phoenix Zoo is closely watching his breakfast as one of the zookeepers brings it to her private enclosure to eat in peace. The School of Life Sciences and the Phoenix Zoo are working together to strengthen animal conservation efforts. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

The School of Life Sciences and the Phoenix Zoo have teamed up to launch a new program that will strengthen animal conservation efforts. They will be collaborating on new research as well as improving conservation education.

The two organizations will be jointly supporting a new Conservation Research Post-doctoral position. The position will be filled by post-graduate conservation biologist Jan Schipper. He will begin working with the zoo and the University this month.

Schipper said his role will be building a bridge between ASU and the zoo.



“I want to make sure this partnership doesn’t collapse in a few years,” he said. “I want to make sure we raise the funds to make this work.”

The School of Life Sciences and the zoo will be reaching out to private foundations and people of academia for funds.

Some of these funds were contributed by the Maytag family, who actually founded the Phoenix Zoo.

Schipper is a conservation biologist and wildlife biologist with more than 20 years of research in Central and South America. He specializes in mammalian species conservation, such as the jaguar and the dice’s cottontail. Next week, he will spend two weeks in Costa Rica to continue his research on jaguars.

Schipper said there have been different partnerships in the past, but this is the first time it has been formalized.

“(Although) we are currently focusing on short-term goals, I’m hoping this will be a long-lasting relationship as animal reproduction and releasing animals back into the wild can take at least 10 years,” he said.

The collaboration will benefit both parties just as it has in the past. Schipper said he became interested in the idea when he saw his students doing projects at the zoo.

“They absolutely loved it,” he said. “I think ASU can really formalize educational components at the zoo.”

Although the zoo has accomplished conservation projects in the past, it still lacks long-term research potential, Schipper said.

“They don’t have the capacity to do a lot of things,” he said. “Our partnership with the zoo will certainly strengthen their scientific capacity.

In addition to Schipper’s role, the School of Life Sciences has just named associate professor Ben Minteer as its Arizona Zoological Society chair. His role will be different from Schipper’s, as it will focus on research concerning the ethics and history of zoo conservation.

Minteer said he would be conducting a lot of historical research.

“I’m working a lot in the area of the origin and evolution, how it’s developed over the years and what are the great successes to advance conservation,” he said. "I’ll be doing a number of public programs research projects.

Minteer said he wishes that their help will help strengthen and expand the zoo.

“We want to connect to a wider public,” he said. “We have a vision for a long-term partnership to create something new by developing a collaboration of conservation with two very different places."

Ruth Allard is the Phoenix Zoo’s executive vice president for conservation and visitor experiences.

"I am enthusiastic about the collaboration between the zoo and the classroom," she said.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @kelciegrega

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