The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute plays a leading role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to save wildlife species from extinction and train future generations of conservationists. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. SCBI scientists tackle some of today’s most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability.
SCBI scientists study and breed more than 20 species at their headquarters, including those that were once extinct in the wild, like black-footed ferrets and scimitar-horned oryx. Its major research initiatives are organized into five science centers: Conservation Ecology, Conservation and Sustainability, Conservation Genomics, Migratory Birds, and Species Survival. Other initiatives include the Global Tiger Initiative, Virginia Working Landscapes, and the Global Health Program. Their work doesn’t stop at the gates of SCBI. Approximately 250 SCBI scientists and students collaborate with colleagues in more than 25 countries.
Since its founding in 1975, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, has celebrated many milestones, from endangered species births, to reintroductions to the wild, to revolutionary scientific studies. During the 1970s, SCBI welcomed the first of many mammal and bird births at its facility, including red pandas, clouded leopards, onagers, Guam rails, white-naped cranes and Micronesian kingfishers.
In the mid-1980s SCBI scientists developed the basis for breeding animals in human care to preserve as much genetic diversity as possible. In 1991 the first black-footed ferret kits born at SCBI were returned to the wild. The black-footed ferret reintroduction program continues today, as do many other reintroduction efforts.
In 1995, Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute scientists were the first to discover the lethal elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV) which affects both wild and zoo elephants. And in 1999, scientists helped discover the chytrid fungus, a lethal fungus responsible for massive global amphibian declines.
Since 2006, SCBI scientists have cryopreserved eggs and sperm from coral species around the world, and helped establish the first genome repository for Great Barrier Reef coral in 2011. In 2010, the Zoo became the first zoo or aquarium to successfully grow two species of anemones.
On land, SCBI launched Virginia Working Landscapes to preserve native biodiversity and encourage the sustainable use of working landscapes in 2009. The following year, SCBI became one of the first land-based participants in the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in the U.S., collecting data on various environmental factors.
SCBI researchers have worked with many partners to save species and their habitats. SCBI particularly has focused on training the next generation of conservationists. In 2008, the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation was established at SCBI headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, enabling undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students to study with SCBI scientists and George Mason University professors. The Cornell-Smithsonian Joint Graduate Training Program, which has been accepting applications since 2011, allows students to benefit from the dual mentorship of a Cornell faculty member and an SCBI scientist. The program’s very first student produced the first domestic puppies from in vitro fertilization in 2015, solving some of the mystery of canid reproduction.