Meet our Experts
Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO
A New Orleans native, Ron Forman began his tenure with what was then called the Audubon Park and Zoological Garden in 1972 as City Hall liaison. Made Deputy Director in 1973 and Executive Director in 1977, he led the effort of the major transformation of Audubon Zoo from an "urban ghetto" to the family of museums and parks dedicated to making a positive impact on nature and wildlife that is today known as Audubon Nature Institute. But, Forman’s love for Audubon Park began even earlier at age 10, when we took a job helping to tie up the swan-shaped paddle boats in the Audubon Park lagoon with free boat rides as payment.
Forman is currently on the Board of Directors for New Orleans & Company. He is a past president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and past Chairman of Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District. He has also served his community as a past member of the Executive Committee of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau and the New Orleans Business Council and his field as a past Member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Museums and the Advisory Committee of Chimp Haven.
Forman is a graduate of Louisiana State University and the North Carolina State University Zoo Management School. He is married to Sally Forman neé Gelpi, he is the father of three and grandfather of three. He is a recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Award and has been Gambit Magazine’s “New Orleanian of the Year” and New Orleans Magazine’s “Man of the Decade.” In his free time, Forman enjoys travelling—with Africa as his favorite destination, playing golf, bird watching, and spending time outdoors with his family at their home in Mississippi.
Audubon Nature Institute is currently comprised of Audubon Zoo and Audubon Park in Uptown New Orleans, Audubon Aquarium, Audubon Insectarium and Woldenberg Riverfront Park in Downtown New Orleans, Audubon Louisiana Nature Center in New Orleans East, and Audubon Wilderness Park and Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center on the West Bank of New Orleans in the lower coast of Algiers.
Audubon Aquarium famous for opening the Mississippi Riverfront to recreation for locals and visitors alike, is currently under construction to create a new guest experience incorporating insect exhibitry from the former Audubon Insectarium with a stunning new lobby and updated educational spaces.
Want to talk to Ron? Please contact PR.
Dr. Kyle Burks
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
Dr. Kyle Burks has more than 20 years of broad-based management and animal care experience. His most recent position was chief executive officer of Sacramento Zoo. Kyle also served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Denver Zoo and as insight integration manager at The Walt Disney Company. His career uniquely combines animal management with cutting-edge business principles. Kyle earned his doctorate and master’s degree from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Want to talk to Kyle? Please contact PR.
Vice President & Managing Director of Audubon Nature Institute’s Downtown Locations
Rich Toth developed a love of all aquatic life growing up on the tropical island of Okinawa. An avid aquarium hobbyist, Rich was breeding tropical fish at home by the time he was 10 years old. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Texas A&M University in 1990, Rich began his career as a laboratory technician at the University of Texas Marine Biomedical Institute. Rich quickly found his passion and began a career in the aquarium field when he joined the team at Texas State Aquarium as an aquarist in 1992. In 1993, Rich chose to advance his career by joining Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans. He began his employment as a senior aquarist, working his way up to director of animal husbandry in 2012. In 2014, Rich began a new chapter at Audubon, when he was promoted to vice president and managing director of Audubon Nature Institute’s downtown properties.
Focusing on conservation, community partnerships, financial stability, and customer service, Rich has enhanced the overall success of Audubon’s downtown facilities. Through this experience, he has been able to share his success with other organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Rich is an active participant in AZA, where he holds a professional fellow membership and serves as a facility inspector.
With a passion for animals and exceptional leadership skills, Rich works diligently to ensure that the community is aware of the impact we have on the environment. It is his mission to inspire conservation action in everyone he encounters.
Want to talk to Rich? Please contact PR.
General Curator of Animals at the Freeport McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center
Michelle Hatwood is responsible for managing the animal collection and animal care staff of Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center (FMASSC), a breeding center focused on ungulate and bird species.
Michelle has more than 15 years of experience working with a variety of animal taxa, but her passion and extensive knowledge of ungulates brought her to Audubon Nature Institute in 2014 to oversee the new Alliance for Sustainable Wildlife program. This partnership program between Audubon Nature Institute and San Diego Zoo Global is a step forward in population and genetic sustainability for ungulate and bird species in human care. Michelle works closely with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) as an active member of the Ungulate Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs) to determine the population needs for this taxonomic group in the United States.
As an active member of AZA, Michelle is the chair for the cervid (deer) TAG, the regional Species Survival Plan® coordinator of the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), and the international studbook keeper for the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx). Her role within AZA is to assist with responsible breeding programs in zoos for a variety of species.
Michelle has a wide variety of experience, including everything from hand-rearing cheetah cubs to transporting hoofstock internationally. She has worked at several other AZA-accredited animal facilities across the country and enjoys networking with colleagues around the world about best animal practices. She believes in sharing knowledge to ensure a behaviorally-healthy population in human care that benefits the species, and she is a proponent for staff development to ensure that this knowledge is passed to future animal caretakers.
Michelle works with several conservation projects, including the Mississippi sandhill crane and whooping crane recovery programs based out of FMASSC and the Proyecto Tagua project in Paraguay, South America. She travels to Paraguay to assist with the population of Chacoan peccaries, focusing on plans for breeding in human care and community support to release animals back to the wild. Michelle is a proud alumna of the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo program and the University of Florida.Want to talk to Michelle? Please contact PR.
Director of Sustainability and Coastal Conservation Initiatives
John Fallon has been an Audubon employee for the past 10 years, starting as a volunteer before joining the husbandry team at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, where he helped establish Audubon’s sustainable seafood program, Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries (G.U.L.F.), in August of 2012. G.U.L.F. works across all five Gulf Coast states, creating and managing sustainability projects that engage all levels of the supply chain, from boat to plate. John also oversees Audubon’s Coastal Wildlife Network (CWN), which is responsible for the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured sea turtles and marine mammals in Louisiana waters. In addition to those responsibilities, John focuses on the overall improvement of green practices across Audubon campuses.
Want to talk to John? Please contact PR.
Dr. Robert MacLean
Dr. Robert “Bob” MacLean is senior veterinarian for Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans. Bob joined Audubon in 2006 as an associate veterinarian after completing his residency in zoological medicine with North Carolina State University and graduating from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. Prior to veterinary school, he worked in the cattle industry managing laboratories that specialized in in-vitro fertilization and cloning techniques, and he maintains an interest in using assisted reproduction techniques to support populations of endangered species in human care.
Bob is stationed primarily at Audubon Zoo, working with Dr. James Grillo to care for the Zoo’s animals. In addition, Dr. MacLean assists Audubon’s other veterinarians in caring for the animals of Audubon Aquarium, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, Audubon’s Coastal Wildlife Network, and Audubon Aquatic Center. Bob is the Veterinary Advisor for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Taxon Advisory Group for gruiformes (cranes) and he serves on the Institutional Research Advisory Committee.
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Director of Animals and Visitor Programs
Jayme Necaise was born and raised in Metairie, Louisiana and attended the University of New Orleans. There, he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in biological sciences. He has worked for Audubon Nature Institute since 2003. Jayme began as a staff entomologist charged with setting up the Audubon Insect Rearing Facility. After two years working diligently to set up breeding colonies of exotic insects and procuring USDA APHIS PPQ permits for that facility, he was promoted to assistant curator. For the next three years, he continued to manage the day-to-day operations of that facility until, in 2008, he was promoted to director of animal and visitor programs.
As assistant curator and later as director, Jayme helped plan the fabrication of exhibits, review scientific content, assist with photo and video shoots, and represent the forthcoming Audubon Insectarium on television programs and radio shows and at donor cultivation events and festivals. During this time, he assembled a team of staff entomologists who are expert animal caregivers and exceptional communicators of insect knowledge.
Jayme’s primary animal interest is in leafcutter ants, which he studied while working on his master’s thesis at the University of New Orleans. In partnership with Terminix’s “Harry’s Big Adventure” touring bug show, Jayme took on the added roll of “bug chef.” He has cooked bugs at various grand openings in several cities around the U.S .and has been featured in local media outlets nationwide.
Want to talk to Jayme? Please contact PR.
Vice President and General Curator at Audubon Zoo
Bob Lessnau comes from Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, where he developed the zoo’s animal welfare initiative while strengthening the operant conditioning and enrichment programs as the director of animal collections. Bob led a team of eight curators, two head trainers, and 84 animal keepers in overseeing approximately 1,600 specimens from more than 350 species.
Bob also brings a wealth of experience from his tenure as curator of mammals at Detroit Zoo, his 15 years in wildlife conservation, primarily serving as the senior primatologist/zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society at their St. Catherine’s Island research and conservation station, and his 25 years conducting extensive research in the field of primatology in Costa Rica, Panama, and Africa.
Bob has been an adjunct professor for the past 30 years, most recently at the University of Cincinnati, and is also an Affiliated Scientist with the Max Planck Institute – Department of Animal Behavior and Ecology in Konstanz, Germany. His work involves developing standards and techniques for the safe capture and handling of nonhuman primates for conservation field studies.
Audubon is thrilled to have such an accomplished scientist and zoo professional leading the Zoo’s animal care team.