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Photo of Benjamin Beck BENJAMIN BECK

Benjamin B. Beck is a comparative psychologist specializing in animal cognition. Research on problem-solving and tool use by primates and birds led to a book, Animal Tool Behavior, published in 1980. Turning his interest in cognition to management and psychological welfare of zoo animals, he co- authored a 1988 survey of zoo gorillas demonstrating the importance of mother rearing and early social experience for adult sexual and maternal skills. Work on cognitive aspects of husbandry led to study of adaptations to the wild by reintroduced captive-born animals. Beck has coordinated the preparation, reintroduction and post release monitoring of 141 golden lion tamarins in Brazil since 1983. He also maintains an international database on reintroduction programs for captive-born animals.

Beck studied at Union College (NY), received his M.A. from Boston University and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He was Research Curator and Curator of Primates at Brookfield Zoo from 1970 to 1982, where he was a principal in the design and construction of "Tropic World," one of the first large-scale mixed species tropical forest exhibits. He has also been at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park since 1983, serving currently as Associate Director for Biological Programs. He designed the National Zoo's innovative free-ranging golden lion tamarin exhibit, and was project executive for "Think Tank," a pioneering exhibit on animal thinking that opened in 1995.

Beck is an author of 40 scientific papers and books and has given over 100 presentations at scientific conferences, colleges and universities. He serves currently as Chair of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Reintroduction Advisory Group, Deputy Chair of the IUCN/SSC Reintroduction Specialist Group, a member of the Management groups of the Gorilla and Orangutan Species Survival Plans and the Great Ape Taxon Advisory Group, and as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

See Benjamin Beck's answers to Ask the Scientists questions.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.