Devra Gail Kleiman, a zoologist who saved the golden lion tamarind monkey from extinction and did the research needed to get giant pandas to breed in captivity, was born in the Bronx on this date in 1942. Kleiman was the first woman scientist hired by an American zoo (in 1972) and was associated with the National Zoo in Washington, DC (part of the Smithsonian) for nearly four decades, during which time she pioneered the field of conservation biology and helped transform zoos from exhibition centers to institutions of scientific research. When Kleiman began working with golden lion tamarins, there were fewer than 200 in the world; today, a wild population of some 1,500 has been restored to the jungles of Brazil. Kleiman’s work became the model for more than a hundred breeding programs for endangered species, including the California condor. She died in 2010 at age 67.
“As I think back to what we didn’t know in 1972, it was just about everything. We were flying blind.” —Devra Kleiman