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Brown, Janine

Research Physiologist, Endocrinology Laboratory Head

Comparative reproductive endocrinology; pituitary and testicular function; reproductive cyclicity and seasonality; comparative reproduction and welfare of wildlife species (e.g., elephants, felids, tapirs and rhinos), noninvasive hormone monitoring.


Geographic Focus

Background And Education

Education And Training

Awards And Honors

Public Biography

  • Janine Brown is a research physiologist and heads the endocrinology laboratory at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Brown is devoted to increasing knowledge that will lead to better management and conservation of endangered species, both in captivity and in the wild, and coordinates one of the world's largest and most productive endocrinology laboratories that benefits wildlife species. Her research efforts are connected to the scientific disciplines of behavior, reproductive endocrinology and stress management, primarily studying reproductive and behavioral relationships in felids, rhinoceroses, bears and tapirs. She also is a world authority on elephant reproductive biology and her laboratory plays a key role in ex situ management plans for Asian and African elephants in the U.S. and in range countries like Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

    Brown collaborated in the development of a successful artificial insemination technique for elephants, and consistently works with other institutions interested in understanding and overcoming infertility problems in ex situ elephant populations. She also oversaw the development of noninvasive techniques for monitoring gonadal and adrenal activity in multiple species through the analysis of steroids excreted in urine, feces, hair and saliva. As a result, she now has amassed an extensive database for more than three dozen species demonstrating the diversity of estrous cycle dynamics, seasonal activity, ovulatory mechanisms, and stress function. Fecal and hair corticoid analyses in particular are proving instrumental in assessing the impact of management and husbandry practices on stress and well-being in captive animals in the U.S. and in range countries.

    Brown is an animal science major and studied the effects of nutrition on sperm function in dairy bulls for her master's degree, and cystic ovarian disease in dairy cattle for her doctorate. Interestingly, many of the things she learned studying domestic cattle are pertinent to the wildlife species she now focuses on. While she started out strictly as a reproductive physiologist, in the last decade she has turned much of her attention to animal welfare, especially animals managed under human care. Of particular interest is the work she is doing in Asia, helping to identify optimal management strategies for working elephants that will ensure population sustainability and a high level of welfare for individual animals.

    In January 2020, Brown received an honorary doctoral degree in veterinary medicine from Princess Sirindhorn Debaratanasuda Kitivadhanadulsobhak at Chiang Mai University. Brown began her work in Thailand in 2004, when she established an endocrinology laboratory at the CMU Veterinary Faculty, the first dedicated to wildlife. She returns annually as a visiting professor and has co-mentored more than a dozen Thai graduate and postdoctoral students, many of whom are now leaders in conservation and wildlife research in Thailand. Her work and that of her CMU colleagues focuses primarily on identifying management factors important to the health, reproduction and welfare of captive elephants in Thailand, with the goal of establishing healthy, sustaining insurance ex situ populations.

    Brown is very interested in developing the next generation and practices capacity building through training of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and interns who will carry on this important, multidisciplinary work.  She coordinates numerous training workshops in endocrine techniques as part of university courses in the U.S. and technology transfer efforts in countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Singapore and China. She also co-founded the International Society for Wildlife Endocrinology and ASEAN Captive Elephant Working Group.

Research And Grants


Selected Publications


Responsible Collections Areas

  • Endocrine Diagnostic Service Laboratory

Outreach Overview

  • I am interested in developing the next generation of conservation biologists and capacity building through mentoring and training of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, visiting scientists, and interns who will carry on this important, multidisciplinary work. We also are committed to conducting research that will have a significant impact on population sustainability globally, with a major emphasis on Wildlife Endocrinology.

    Preserving wildlife species and their habitats is critical for maintaining a healthy planet. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Endocrinology Research Laboratory located in Front Royal, VA is dedicated to improving the management of endangered species by conducting basic research and by offering hormone-monitoring services to zoos, wildlife organizations and research collaborators. The main function of the laboratory is to evaluate hormones to enhance the reproduction, health and well-being of wildlife living in zoos and in the natural world. It is among the most respected and productive wildlife endocrinology laboratories in the world. Scientists contribute to research in animal biology and offer support and training services to organizations involved in species conservation worldwide. Working with numerous partners allows the Endocrinology Research Laboratory to directly improve the management of small populations of endangered species. As the first and largest endocrine service laboratory for wildlife species, we work with facilities in all 50 states and countries around the globe.

    Need for Expertise in Reproductive and Welfare Sciences

    The Endocrinology Research Laboratory fills a need to train young biologists who have ambitions to conduct hypothesis-based and controlled studies on whole animals, and to directly affect animal management and conservation. Reproduction and welfare are key to species survival, and associated endocrinological studies are fundamental to understanding how an individual, population or entire species perpetuates itself. This information has applied value whether trying to maintain small populations in zoos or providing advice to authorities responsible for maintaining viable populations in situ. Virtually all endocrinological research and associated funding has been directed at humans, livestock, laboratory and companion animal species. Thus, the scientific community’s understanding of how different animals mechanistically reproduce and what factors impact their welfare is focused on a handful of species. The Endocrinology Research Laboratory explores reproduction and well-being more broadly, and has increased our appreciation for the physiological differences among species, even those closely related within the same family. Lastly, there is considerable interest by students to study nontraditional species and ‘whole animals’ in addition to molecular/cellular sciences. 

    Research efforts of the Endocrinology Research Laboratory are connected to the scientific disciplines of behavior, reproductive biology and stress management. This has played a key role in the development of noninvasive hormone monitoring techniques for feces, urine, saliva, and, most recently, hair, in a vast array of species. Staff have been involved in endocrinological research at SCBI since 1987, resulting in more than 500 peer-reviewed publications. Staff also serve as consultants and advisors on several Species Survival Plans and Taxon Advisory Groups.

    Examples of how endocrinology research has altered zoo animal management include:

    • Learning that cheetah females experience reproductive suppression if housed together; thus breeding requires they be housed separately
    • Discovering that stress levels in clouded leopards can be mitigated by housing them in tall enclosures away from other large predator species, and by hand-rearing cubs
    • Understanding the role of stress hormones in the manifestation of disease syndromes in the black rhinoceros, and also ways to alter management to reduce stress (for example, reducing the proportion of the enclosure perimeter exposed to the public; not housing rhinos together except for breeding)
    • Learning how zoo lights festivals compromise reproduction in seasonal, photo-sensitive species
    • Reinforcing how reproductive monitoring can aid breeding introductions of stress-susceptible species
    • How sociality impacts ovarian cyclicity in African elephants
    • How enriching cages with hiding places greatly reduces stress levels of small felids (margay, ocelot, tigrina) 

    Many exhibit and husbandry changes in recent years to reduce stress and improve reproduction are based on similar findings.


    Because the Endocrinology Research Laboratory is one of only a few laboratories that does noninvasive hormone monitoring, students and visiting scientists vie for positions that offer training, research advice and mentoring. Training takes place in the laboratory at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, as well as in a number of range of countries, in the form of training workshops. With help from SCBI scientists, endocrinology laboratories have been established in China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Brazil, Laos, Kenya, and Paraguay to aid management and conservation of local species. More than 100 Ph.D., M.S., D.V.M. students, post-doctoral fellows and senior visiting scientists have received training at SCBI’s Endocrinology Research Laboratory. 

    Current Projects

    • Reproduction and welfare of elephants
    • Stress management of managed wildlife species and relation to fertility
    • Development of assisted reproduction techniques
    • Comparisons of endocrine function between zoo and free-living species


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