About Dr. Beck

Benjamin B. Beck is a comparative psychologist specializing in animal cognition and biodiversity conservation. He has worked with wild and captive monkeys and apes for the past 45 years. Research on problem-solving and tool use by primates and birds led to a frequently cited book, Animal Tool Behavior, published in 1980.


Beck studied at Union College (NY), received his MA from Boston University, and his PhD from the University of Chicago. He was Research Curator and Curator of Primates at Brookfield Zoo from 1970 to 1982, where he was a principal in the design and construction of “Tropic World”, one of the first large-scale mixed species tropical forest exhibits. He served at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park as General Curator and Associate Director from 1983 until his retirement in 2003. He designed the National Zoo’s innovative free-ranging golden lion tamarin exhibit, and was project executive for “Think Tank”, a pioneering exhibit on animal thinking that opened in 1995. He was on the negotiating team that brought giant pandas from China to the Zoo in 2000. Beck was appointed Scientist Emeritus in the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in 2010. He received an Alumni Professional Achievement Citation from the University of Chicago in 2003.


Beck has published dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles, and more recently turned to novels to bring the lessons of his scientific and conservation work to a wider audience, and to express his affection for the places and the human backstories that he has encountered in his work. His first novel, Thirteen Gold Monkeys,  (Outskirts Press, 2013) features the golden lion tamarins of Brazil. It’s story of hope, love, and unspeakable death in a disappearing Brazilian rainforest. A team of dogged conservationists tries to save this beautiful monkey species from certain extinction by reinforcing their numbers with tamarins born in zoos.


His second novel, Ape, is a fast-paced, emotionally wringing thriller, but is grounded in important contemporary scientific and philosophical issues. Chimpanzees are the living animals that are most closely related to humans. Chimpanzees and humans have been evolving separately for about six million years, an evolutionary eyeblink, but some scholars have argued that chimpanzees deserve the same legal rights as humans. Where do we draw the line between personhood and property?


Beck is a member of the Primate Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and serves on the Board of Directors of Save the Golden Tamarin, a USA-based conservation support organization. He currently works as a scientific copy editor and consultant.

Copyright 2015 - Dr. Benajmin Beck