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Meredith L. Bastian, Ph.D.

Meredith L. Bastian is the curator of primates at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. In this position, Bastian oversees the Zoo’s primate unit, which includes the exhibits and animals at the Great Ape House, Think Tank, Gibbon Ridge, and Lemur Island. 

Bastian is responsible for all daily aspects of the management of animal collections in the primate unit, including primate team supervision, animal husbandry, diet, coordination of veterinary care, animal training and enrichment, facility maintenance, and emergency preparedness. She also leads and supervises several behavioral research projects and coordinates all behavioral, cognitive, and health monitoring research efforts involving Old World primates at the Zoo. In addition to her work at the Zoo, Bastian is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA)’s Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP), Gibbon/Siamang SSP, and Ape Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Steering Committees, and serves on the scientific advisory boards of the Orangutan Land Trust and PONGO Foundation of the Netherlands, focusing on ape field conservation and research.

Bastian joined the Smithsonian's National Zoo in 2014 from the Philadelphia Zoo, where she served as the curator of primates and small mammals. While at Philadelphia Zoo, she led primate teams that received consecutive year Philadelphia Zoo Milestone Awards for their integral roles in “Year of the Orangutan” initiatives and the launching of the Zoo’s arboreal primate trail system. Before this, Bastian spent over seven years conducting dissertation and post-doctoral field research on the innovative and cultural behavior, diet, ecology, genetics, and reproduction of wild orangutans in Indonesian Borneo, where she established and directed her own field site and managed two others. Bastian has authored or co-authored over a dozen publications.

Bastian received a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College in anthropology and psychology in 2000 and a doctoral degree in biological anthropology and anatomy from Duke University in 2008. Prior to her extensive fieldwork with wild Bornean orangutans, Bastian conducted behavioral research with wild white-handed gibbons in Khao Yai, Thailand; Coquerel’s sifaka at the Duke University Lemur Center; rhesus macaques in the Laboratories of Comparative Ethology and Clinical Studies at the National Institutes of Health; and pre-school children at the Bryn Mawr College Child Study Institute. Bastian’s mission is to use her unique background and perspective to increase connections between the field and zoo ape communities while helping to inform the management of the Zoo’s Old World primate collection.

Notable Publications

  • Bastian, ML, van Noordwijk, MA, van Schaik, CP (2012). Innovative behaviors in wild Bornean orangutans revealed by a targeted population comparison. Behaviour 149:275-297.
  • Bastian, ML, Zweifel, N, Vogel, ER, Wich, SA, van Schaik, CP (2010). Diet traditions in wild orangutans. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 143:175-187.
  • Barrickman, NL, Bastian, ML, Isler, K, van Schaik, CP (2008) Life history costs of increased brain size: a comparative test using data from long-term studies of primates in the wild. Journal of Human Evolution 54:568-590. Journal of Human Evolution Top Cited Article 2008-2010.