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Maslanka, Michael

Senior Nutritionist and Head, Department of Nutrition Science

Experienced zoo and aquarium-based wildlife biologist, with expertise in practical aspects of wildlife feeding and management, zoo nutrition, commissary management and design, forage and land management, and overall zoological operations.

Background And Education

Education And Training

Professional Biography

  • 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).

Public Biography

  • 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 25 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) as well as the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), 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 a Founding Member and serves as the Vice President on the Board of Directors for the Zoo and Wildlife Nutrition Foundation. 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 exploring the 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.

Research And Grants

Research Overview

  • Maslanka oversees the labs associated with the Department of Nutrition Science, housed at the National Zoological Park (Washington, DC).  The labs (n=4) are based in two locations - the SCBI Science Building and the Amazonia Science Gallery.  The Department of Nutrition Science focuses on two main categories of research: (1) nutritional ecology of any and all known animal species, and (2) the science of lactation, lactation physiology, and milk.  The Department's labs also include the Milk Repository, which is the largest collection of exotic animal milk in the world.  

Keywords

  • carcass feeding, transfaunation
  • nutrition
    nutritional physiology
    rhinoceros
    whale shark
    giant panda
    habitat management
    herbivores
    carnivores
    omnivores

Publications

Selected Publications

  • Article

    • Wenker, Elizabeth S., Kendrick, Erin L., Maslanka, Mike, and Power, Michael L. 2022. "Fat scoring in four sparrow species as an estimation of body condition: a validation study." Journal of Field Ornithology, 93, (2). https://doi.org/10.5751/JFO-00119-930205. 2022
    • McKenney, Erin A., Maslanka, Michael, Rodrigo, Allen, and Yoder, Anne D. 2018. "Bamboo Specialists from Two Mammalian Orders (Primates, Carnivora) Share a High Number of Low-Abundance Gut Microbes." Microbial ecology, 76, (1) 272–284. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-017-1114-8. 2018
    • Sweeney, Roger, Sekscienski, Stacey, and Maslanka, Mike. 2017. "Nutritional Analysis of Natural Fruit Items Consumed by Butaan (Varanus olivaceus) with Comparison to Commonly Used Captive Dietary Items." Herpetological Review, 48, (4) 787–791. 2017
    • de la Parra Venegas, Rafael, Hueter, Robert, Gonzalez Cano, Jaime, Tyminski, John, Gregorio Remolina, Jose, Maslanka, Michael, Ormos, Andrea, Weigt, Lee A., Carlson, Bruce, and Dove, Alistair. 2011. "An Unprecedented Aggregation of Whale Sharks, Rhincodon typus, in Mexican Coastal Waters of the Caribbean Sea." PLoS One, 6, (4) 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0018994. 2011
    • Motta, Philip J., Maslanka, Michael, Hueter, Robert E., Davis, Ray L., Parra, Rafael de la, Mulvany, Samantha L., Habegger, Maria Laura, Strother, James A., Mara, Kyle R., Gardiner, Jayne M., Tyminski, John P., and Zeigler, Leslie D. 2010. "Feeding anatomy, filter-feeding rate, and diet of whale sharks Rhincodon typus during surface ram filter feeding off the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico." Zoology, 113 199–212. 2010
    • Kessler, David S., Hope, Katharine L., and Maslanka, Michael. 2009. "Behavior, Nutrition, and Veterinary Care of Patagonian Cavies (Dolichotis patagonum)." Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, 12, (2) 267–278. (Nutrition and Behavior of Uncommon Species) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cvex.2009.01.009. 2009

Activities

Teaching Overview

  • Maslanka provides engaging and informative guest lectures on a variety of zoo and wildlife related topics for students of all ages. Subject matter of lectures includes any and every aspect of zoo and wildlife nutrition management from clinical work, nutritional physiology and digestive morphology, to applied commissary management and agriculture operations. 

Teaching Activities

  • Practical Zoo Nutrition Management Creator and lead instructor for Practical Zoo Nutrition Management (MCCS0523 within the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation 2016 -

Affiliation

Contact

Location