Ronald Swaisgood, Ph.D.

Director of Applied Animal Ecology

Ronald Swaisgood serves the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research as director of Applied Animal Ecology. In this position, he oversees recovery programs for species such as California condors, San Clemente Island loggerhead shrikes, Caribbean rock iguanas, mountain yellow-legged frogs, giant pandas, several bear species, rhinoceroses, and Stephens’ kangaroo rats.

His fieldwork addresses conservation-relevant research questions such has habitat needs and how animals disperse and settle into new habitats. He has also worked to develop enrichment strategies in captive animals to promote psychological well-being and captive breeding and to prepare animals for release to the wild. In addition to his scientific pursuits, Dr. Swaisgood is active in several community-based activities, including environmental sustainability initiatives and the national movement to reconnect children to nature.

Dr. Swaisgood joined the San Diego Zoo in 1995 as a postdoctoral research fellow in animal behavior. He held several research positions at the Zoo before his promotion to division head in 2006. Throughout his career, he has focused on behavioral and ecological research, theoretically driven, to tackle conservation problems, especially those related to captive breeding, reintroduction, and translocation.

Dr. Swaisgood graduated with highest honors from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1985, with dual bachelor’s degrees in zoology and anthropology. He moved on to the University of California, Davis, where he earned a master’s degree in 1990 and his doctorate in 1994 in animal behavior. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards and has authored or co-authored more than 80 scientific articles, as well as 40 articles for popular magazines and websites. He has given more than 130 presentations to professional and lay audiences.

Dr. Swaisgood is actively involved in the mentorship of students, locally and internationally, and he serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the Department of Biology at San Diego State University, and at the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Science. He is a member of the Animal Behavior Society, where he serves as the chair of the conservation committee, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), for which he is the behavior and ecology advisor for the Rhinoceros Taxon Advisory Group. He also chairs the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Giant Panda Expert Team and AZA’s Giant Panda Species Survival Plan.