Curator of Large Carnivores
Smithsonian's National Zoological Park
Year zoo career began:
Craig Saffoe is the Curator of Carnivores at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. In his role, Craig manages a collection of animals including African lions, Amur and Sumatran tigers, Andean bears, domestic livestock and several other species of smaller mammals. Craig is responsible for establishing protocols for and making recommendations on basic care (diets, routine animal management needs etc.), specialized management (safety requirements, breeding, cub care and directing the movement of animals in and out of the National Zoo) and health management (coordinating medical procedures and making end of life decisions). Craig regularly consults with colleagues throughout the National Zoo, including Veterinarians, Nutritionists, Animal Keepers, Reproductive Scientists and Maintenance staff. Over the years Craig has worked with numerous zoos across the United States and conducted field work in Namibia, Paraguay and Peru. These experiences have allowed him to create a large network of colleagues around the world with whom he collaborates.
Craig has been with the National Zoo for more than 25 years. In 1994, while attending NC State University, he was lucky enough to have had a black professor who took him under her wing and guided him to an internship at the National Zoo. He fell in love with the zoo and the Smithsonian instantly! Since stepping foot into the National Zoo, Craig has been lucky enough to have many mentors – both male and female and of many races. The mentorship, guidance and support of all of these people led to him being hired as Animal Keeper, promoted to Assistant Curator and promoted to his current position. Craig credits any success he has had in his career to the mentorship and guidance of those figures who pushed him forward.
Craig's proudest career moment was leading the team that bred and produced the first litter of cheetah cubs born in the history of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Since then, he has gone on to lead teams that have successfully bred more cheetahs, African lions, Sumatran tigers and Andean bears. Craig views these successes as great personal accomplishments and more importantly as huge achievements in the effort to protect species from extinction. He hopes that he can be viewed as an inspiration to some and “pay it forward” by serving as a mentor to the next generation.
“I love working with big cats. I love being a conservationist and Smithsonian Scientist. I am very fortunate to have been afforded these opportunities and would like to help the next generation as they navigate this wonderful world of species preservation."