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Mike Maslanka

Mike Maslanka is the senior nutritionist and head of the department of nutrition science. He is responsible for oversight, guidance, and participation in commissary operations, clinical nutrition, nutrition lab operations, field- and zoo-based nutrition research, nutrition education, and outreach for the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. He leads one of the most storied and prolific comprehensive zoo nutrition programs in the world (and a team of 13 staff).

Due to the many aspects of managing nutrition science and husbandry for a dynamic animal collection, Maslanka’s focus ranges from very applied topics (commissary operations and financial aspects of zoo diet management) to topics key to deep biological knowledge of animal nutrition (delineating and understanding the gut microbiome of a wide variety of zoo animals and continuing to develop our knowledge of milk as much more than an animal’s first food). Maslanka believes that one of the most exciting aspects of zoo and wildlife nutrition is the unknown, as well as the variety of topics and cases to be addressed as part of day to day life.

Before joining the staff at the Zoo, Maslanka was the nutritionist at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, and has worked and/or consulted for numerous other zoos throughout the U.S. during his 20 year career. He received his Bachelors of Science in forestry and wildlife science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, his Masters of Science in nutritional physiology from the University of Minnesota, and then completed the zoo nutrition residency at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Maslanka is a professional fellow in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), serves as the chair of the AZA Nutrition Advisory Group, a member of the Comparative Nutrition Society, and serves as the nutrition advisor for numerous Species Survival Plan (SSP) and Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) programs across a wide variety of taxa. He is the chair of the natural resources management group within the Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2) and an advisory board member of Virginia Working Landscapes. He guest lectures for a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses at universities around the United States, and currently partners with several other zoo nutritionists to offer an annual course titled “Practical Zoo Nutrition Management,” through the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation.

Maslanka grew up in rural southeastern Pennsylvania tromping through forests, fields, and streams learning about wildlife firsthand. Through his formal and informal education, he has sought to use the extensive knowledge available for domestic and agriculture animal nutrition to further knowledge of wildlife species nutrition, ultimately contributing to the ongoing successful science-based management of captive and free-ranging wildlife populations.


  • Leads a comprehensive nutrition program at both the Smithsonian's National Zoo (Washington, DC) and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (Front Royal, Virginia).
  • Coordinates nutrition research focused on improving health and welfare of zoo animals worldwide, increasing knowledge of the nutritional ecology of free-ranging animals, and expanding the use of the Zoo’s milk repository (the largest collection of exotic animal milks in the world).
  • Manages the sustainable use of our natural resources to provide ongoing (and increasing) supply of hay, browse, and bamboo for the animal collections at both sites.

Notable Publications:

  • “So You (Don’t) Think You Need a Nutritionist?” Proceedings of the 11th Conference on Zoo and Wildlife Nutrition, Portland, OR. 2015. Maslanka, M., B. Henry, and A. Ward.
  • An Unprecedented Aggregation of Whale Sharks, Rhincodon typus, in Mexican Coastal Waters of the Caribbean Sea. 2012. PLoS ONE 6(4): e18994. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018994. de la Parra Venegas, R., R. Hueter, J. Gonzalez Cano, J. Tyminski, J. Gregorio Remolina, M. Maslanka, A Morms, L. Weigt, B. Carlson, and A. Dove.
  • Nutritional Analysis of Diet Items Available to Captive and Free-Ranging Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis).  2016. Herp Review 47(1): 63-69. Augustine, L., K. Terrell, C. Petzinger, B. Nissen, and M. Maslanka.