San Diego Zoo
Year zoo career began:
Asako is a Population Biologist for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA). She was born in Nagoya, Japan, but her family moved between the U.S. and Japan until they eventually settled in California when she was in the second grade. Her passion for wildlife undoubtedly came from her mother who frequently took her and her sister to the Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya and Los Angeles Zoo, and encouraged her children to play outside. She remembers looking for insects with her sister until sundown; her favorite critters being praying mantis, cicadas (in particular the ‘kumazemi’), and kabutomushi (Japanese rhinoceros beetle).
In order to pursue her lifelong dream to work with animals, she pursued an undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). There she attended a course by Dr. David Woodruff that changed her life, “Conservation and the Human Predicament”, where she was drawn by the multidisciplinary nature of wildlife conservation. This course prompted her to reach out to a long list of professors to start gaining experience in the field of biology. She was accepted by a molecular biology laboratory at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and found she really enjoyed doing lab work. She took on her own research project and pursued her Master’s Degree in Biological Sciences from UCSD. Her graduate research focused on using bead array technology to assess phytoplankton community dynamics. In 2010, she landed a summer fellowship with the Conservation Science and Wildlife Health team at SDZWA, where she genetically assessed translocation success of the locally endangered Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat. After graduating with her Master’s Degree, she was hired as a full-time Research Associate in the Conservation Genetics lab. There she continued to work on Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat and took on additional projects for other endemic species: Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat, and Pacific Pocket Mouse. By 2018, she had worked her way to Senior Research Coordinator and then transitioned to a Population Biologist.
Now she works with ex-situ populations, directly working with Program Leaders to develop population management plans for species prioritized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and SDZWA. Using animal data records, she determines the current population status, predicts the future population status based on current and historic population trends, and identifies specific breeding and transfer recommendations that aim to limit inbreeding and maximize gene diversity retention in populations. Outside of work, she likes to stay active and spends a lot of time outdoors with her two fur babies, taking them on hikes and the dog beach. The beach is her favorite place to be, and she enjoys snorkeling with the leopard sharks, tide pooling at Scripps Coastal Reserve, and surfing. At home, she likes to work on her vegetable garden, pick fruit off the trees, and bird watch.