Assistant Curator, Animal Wellness and Research
Dr. Betsy Herrelko is the Assistant Curator, Animal Wellness and Research at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. As a behavioral scientist, Betsy’s interests focus on the pursuit of advancing animal welfare science with an emphasis on animal management and how animals think. She started her tenure at NZP as the David Bohnett Cognitive Research Fellow studying primate cognition (cognitive bias, a measure of emotional affect) in zoo-housed apes and husbandry and welfare topics with various species around the zoo.
Prior to the National Zoo, Betsy was an Honorary Research Associate at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and a PhD Student at the University of Stirling (Scotland), she studied the lives of the chimpanzees at RZSS’ Edinburgh Zoo. Her research explored four topics while assessing the development of a cognitive research program and large-scale introductions in zoo-housed chimpanzees: welfare, cognition, public engagement with science, and animal management. The project’s use of touchscreen technology and on-exhibit research was the first of its kind for the UK and was the focus of the BBC Natural World documentary, The Chimpcam Project (2010). Her work on introductions has been highlighted in the BBC documentary Origins of Us (2011) and she has contributed to the Discovery Channel’s World’s Scariest Animal Attacks (2012) film as a primate expert presenting a behavioral point of view.
Before moving to the UK, Betsy started her zoo career in the USA. During her undergraduate years she volunteered within the education department at the Bronx Zoo (New York), earned her Master’s degree in animal behavior and conservation from Hunter College, CUNY (New York), and worked at the Gorilla Foundation (California) in animal management, research, and facility operations.