Natalia A. Prado
Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute
Year zoo career began:
"The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” - Mark Twain
Natalia Prado is a conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), working on multi-disciplinary research across various Smithsonian centers including the National Zoological Park (NZP), the Center for Species Survival, the Center for Conservation Genomics, and the Museum Conservation Institute. She strives to bring together various research disciplines (e.g., behavior, endocrinology, genomics, proteomics) to better understand the unique physiological parameters of endangered species so that we may continually improve their daily management, breeding, welfare, and conservation, both in-situ and ex-situ. Since she began her graduate research at the National Zoo in 2007, Natalia has collaborated on research projects with over 60 AZA zoos to conduct genetic, fertility and welfare assessments on over 80 zoo held species including, elephants, rhinos, bears, clouded leopards, lions, tigers, giraffes, tapirs, crocodiles, lowland gorillas, and various bird species. Recently, she has been able to collaborate on rewilding projects in Asian range countries to reintroduce Asian elephants to their natural habitats.
Natalia was born in Medellin, Colombia and immigrated to the United States when she was 3 years old. She received her bachelor’s degree from New York University in 2004, her master’s degree from American University in 2010, and her Ph.D. from George Mason University in 2015. For her post-doctoral research, she is establishing personalized health care approaches for elephants using genetic markers. This research is important because zoo elephants exhibit numerous conditions that could be modulated by genetic factors, such as infertility, reproductive tract pathologies (leiomyomas and cysts), foot and joint problems, arthritis and susceptibility to a number of clinical diseases, such as elephant endothelial herpes virus (EEHV) and tuberculosis. She hopes to expand this research to other species in the coming years.
Natalia is passionate about mentorship, especially providing opportunities for underrepresented groups to enter the field of zoo science and conservation. She serves as research advisor to graduate students from local and international universities. She conducts training workshops and semester courses for undergraduate and graduate programs at George Mason University in non-invasive hormone monitoring, and conservation genetics. She also organized the first annual Smithsonian Emerging Scientists Symposium held in August 2014 at SCBI in Front Royal, VA, for interns and graduate students to present their research and foster cross-discipline collaborations. It is now an annual SCBI event held every August. She is most proud of the training program she developed and oversees at the endocrinology lab at SCBI that trains visiting scientists, graduate students and interns in research and reproductive endocrine techniques to improve the management of domestic and non-domestic animals. Since its beginning in 2010 over a dozen students from diverse backgrounds from the US, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, France, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Peru and Brazil have benefited from the program. They have all gone on to pursue careers in conservation science, veterinary medicine, or lab management. By investing in individuals Natalia’s goal is to level the playing field and increase opportunities for underrepresented groups in science; thus training a diverse generation of conservation scientists.