AZA News Releases

Association of Zoos and Aquariums Recognizes Dr. Robert Lacy with National Award for Scientific Advancement

SILVER SPRING, Md. – The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) at its annual conference in New Orleans announced that Senior Conservation Scientist Emeritus for the Chicago Zoological Society Robert Lacy, Ph.D., has received AZA’s 2019 Devra Kleiman Award for his outstanding scientific research contributions to the fields of conservation genetics and population management.

AZA established the award in March 2014 in memory of Devra Kleiman, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s former Director of Research who worked in the 1990s to save, reintroduce, and repopulate golden lion tamarins in Brazil. Dr. Kleiman also contributed to advancements in cooperative breeding programs among zoos. This honor was first awarded posthumously to Devra Kleiman in September 2014, making Dr. Lacy the sixth person to receive this honor.

Image of Dr Lacy

“This award honors Devra Kleiman’s legacy as a pioneer in the field of science, and AZA is proud to recognize Dr. Lacy for his own revolutionary genetic research, which has supported remarkable breakthroughs in the management of animal populations,” said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe.

To receive the Devra Kleiman award, the recipient must demonstrate the use of scientific research to advance the zoo and aquarium profession.

Dr. Lacy’s publication record includes a number of instances where he’s provided guidelines for applying or adapting genetic theory to breeding pair selection for populations in managed care. Dr. Lacy’s papers developed the concepts of “founder equivalents” and “founder genome equivalents” as metrics to measure the amount of the founders’ genes that are retained in the current population, as well as a number of other terms that are now a standard part of the lexicon of population managers around the world. These guidelines continue to form the fundamental basis for how AZA’s population biologists manage the community’s cooperative breeding programs.

In addition to building a strong foundation for science-based animal management, Dr. Lacy has also expanded the accessibility of management tools through software development. In collaboration with Dr. Jonathan Ballou, Dr. Lacy developed the first software program (PM2000) used by zoos and aquariums to analyze a captive population’s vital demographic rates and genetics for the purposes of management.

“Bob’s contribution to the science of genetic management of both captive and wild populations is truly unique and unparalleled,” said Dr. Jonathan D. Ballou, scientist emeritus at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “It is abundantly clear to me that Bob is deserving of the Kleiman Award for his contributions to the practices of animal management, education, and conservation within the zoo and aquarium community.”

The Devra Kleiman award also recognizes the importance of scientific productivity and mentoring others.

“Dr. Lacy’s personality and character make him a natural mentor,” said Jamie Ivy, senior population biologist at San Diego Zoo Global. “He is an exceptional teacher who approaches every question he receives with enthusiasm. Countless careers have been positively affected by his support and mentorship.”

Dr. Lacy served as Senior Conservation Scientist for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, from 1985-2019, where he mentored numerous post-doctoral researchers and students. He also served as the second ever Chairman for the Captive Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) – a group of scientists and conservationists working under IUCN’s Species Survival Commission -from 2003-2011. He obtained his Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University and served on the faculty of Franklin and Marshall College.

“Bob was a champion for conservation here at Brookfield Zoo for 33 years and around the globe. Throughout his career he has contributed to the field of conservation in many ways, including scientific inquiry and through the development of software tools for the science of population management both of wild populations and those under professional care,” said Dr. Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society. “He is a dedicated conservation scientist who has defined the careers of hundreds of his peers and helped save numerous species, and I cannot think of anyone more deserving to receive this recognition.”

Additional information about the Devra Kleiman Award can be found at

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eleven other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

Posted by Ashley Jones at 12:04
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