Meet our Experts
Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO
Ron Forman began his tenure with Audubon Park and Zoological Garden in 1972 as City Hall liaison. Arriving at Audubon in 1977 he continued with the transform of Audubon Zoo from an "urban ghetto" to the "Urban Eden" we see today. As president and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute, Ron Forman has been instrumental in the growth of this organization and stands as a community leader in the New Orleans area.
Dr. Kyle Burks
Vice President and Managing Director, Audubon Zoo & Park
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 Ph.D. and Master’s Degree from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Vice President & Managing Director of Audubon Nature Institute’s Downtown Locations
Growing up on the tropical island of Okinawa, Rich developed a love of all aquatic life. An avid aquarium hobbyist, Rich was breeding tropical fish at home by the time he was 10 years old. After receiving a BS in Marine Biology from Texas A&M 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 industry when he joined the team at Texas State Aquarium as an Aquarist in 1992. In 1993, Rich chose to advance in his career by joining the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. There, 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 AZA Zoos and Aquariums. 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.
Vice President and General Curator
Joel Hamilton joined Audubon Nature Institute in 2013 to serve as Vice President and General Curator. In this leadership role, Mr. Hamilton manages the animal collections of Audubon Zoo and the Freeport McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center providing guidance and direction to all animal care staff. Prior to his work with Audubon, Mr. Hamilton worked for many years as a licensed landscape architect for a variety of animal facilities and served as the Zoo Director of Salisbury Zoological Park from 2008 to 2012 where he directed overall operations, increased park visitation, and improved community support. He received his master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington after earning degrees in biology and exotic animal training and management. With more than thirty years of experience as a zoo professional, Mr. Hamilton is passionate about educating Audubon’s two million annual guests about wildlife conservation and the environment.
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 at the Freeport McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center (FMASSC), a breeding center focused on ungulate and bird species.
Michelle has over 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 new partnership program between Audubon Nature Institute and San Diego Zoo Global will be a step forward in captive animal population and genetic sustainability for ungulate and bird species. 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.
Also, as an active member of AZA, Michelle is the Chair for the Cervid (deer) TAG, the regional Species Survival Plan (SSP) 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 handrearing 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 knowledge sharing to ensure a behaviorally healthy captive population that benefits the species and 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 the FMASSC and the Proyecto Tagua project in Paraguay, South America. Her travels to Paraguay are to assist with the population of Chacoan Peccaries; focusing on captive breeding plans and community support to release animals back to the wild.Michelle is a proud alumni of the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo program and the University of Florida.
Director of Sustainability and Coastal Conservation Initiatives
John Fallon has been an employee of Audubon for the past 9 years, helping establish the G.U.L.F. program 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 in order to bring about effective change through a truly inclusive process. John’s main responsibility is overseeing G.U.L.F.’s outreach efforts, with special emphasis on consumer and general public engagement, and the management of the G.U.L.F. Chef Council and Restaurant Partnership program.
Dr. Robert MacLean
Dr. Robert MacLean is the Senior Veterinarian at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and started with Audubon in 2006 as an Associate Veterinarian immediately after completing his residency in zoological medicine with the North Carolina State University. 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 utilizing assisted reproduction techniques for managing endangered animals. After his veterinary internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City, Dr. MacLean managed a project that investigated using surgical sterilization as a non-lethal method to control a population of urban deer in Illinois.
Dr. MacLean is stationed primarily at the Audubon Zoo, working with Dr. James Grillo to provide care to the animal collection. In addition, Dr. MacLean assists our other veterinarians as needed caring for animals at the Aquarium of the Americas, the Freeport McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, the Audubon Aquatic Center, and the Coastal Wildlife Network. Dr. MacLean 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.
Director of Animal and Visitor Programs Manager for the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
Jayme Necaise was born and raised in Metairie, LA and attended University of New Orleans. There, he earned a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Biological Sciences. He began working for the Audubon Nature Institute in 2003 and has been there ever since. Jayme began as a Staff Entomologist charged with the task of setting up the Audubon Insect Rearing Facility (IRF). After 2 years of 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 3 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 represented the forthcoming Audubon Insectarium on television programs, radio shows, donor cultivation events, and festivals. During this time he assembled a team of staff entomologists that possess the qualities of great animal caregivers and effective presenters of insect knowledge.
Jayme’s primary animal interest is in leafcutter ants, which he studied while working on his Master’s thesis study at the University of New Orleans. In partnership with Terminix’s Harry’s Big Adventure touring bug show, Jayme has taken on the added roll of “bug chef.” He has cooked bugs at various grand openings in several cities around the US and has been featured in local media outlets in those areas.