Wednesday 20 January 2016

Episode 13 - Suzanne MacDonald

She once drew on the back of my neck for no reason
Suzanne E.MacDonald is a professor in the Department of Psychology at York University, appointed to the graduate programs in both Psychology and Biology.  She received her PhD in animal learning and behavior from the University of Alberta, and then did postdoctoral work at the University of British Columbia, before moving to York in 1990.   In addition to maintaining an active research and teaching career, Suzanne has held several senior administrative positions at York, including Associate Vice President (Research), and most recently, five years as Chair of the Department of Psychology.  

She has three main areas of research expertise:

·      Memory and cognition (“how animals think”)
·      Psychological well-being of captive animals
·      The impact of human activity on wildlife

Her research is conducted both in the field, at sites in Kenya, Costa Rica and throughout Southern Ontario, as well as at the Toronto Zoo, where she has volunteered as their “Behaviorist” for over 25 years.   She served on the Zoo’s Board of Management and Zoo Foundation Board for several years.   She also served as a Board member for the Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation (COTERC), and helped to establish a biological field station near Tortuguero, Costa Rica.  She continues to work in Costa Rica, as part of the project team to build a York facility in Las Nubes, near San Isidro.  Currently, she is a member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Polar Bear Institute (, and also a member of the Lewa Canada Board, a nonprofit foundation established to support the work of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy ( in northern Kenya.

We talked about all kinds of cool stuff, including Suzanne's work with orang-utans, elephants and racoons.

Follow Suzanne on twitter.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

mp3 download


  1. Loved, loved, loved this episode.
    First, I am a member of the Toronto Zoo and spend a lot of time there with my family. We love it, but I am always concerned if the animals are "happy". I am glad that someone is actually spending time observing them and trying to decide if this is the case for the animals and suggesting what might make their lives better.
    Second. Hearing Suzanne talk about her work with the elephants reminded me of a great documentary that aired on PBS last year sometime called "Gorangosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise". Beyond the sweeping beauty that is Africa, this doc looked at how the elephants in this park seemed to be really pissed off that their numbers were, I believe, almost completely decimated by the humans eating them for food during the Civil War(s). If you haven't seen it, as a civilian-slack-jaw, I recommend it.
    Loving the podcast, Dave.
    I hope to see Suzanne sometime at the Toronto Zoo, provided she isn't dragged off by an elephant trying to score a Litre of Vanilla.

  2. Hi Doug.

    I'm glad you liked it. It is great that non experts are listening in. Suzanne is cool, if you ever do see her mention my name....