Linda Van Elsacker


As the director of the Zoology department I am a member of the Board of Management of Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO, where all decisions are taken about all possible aspects of running a zoo. These subjects range from projects and budgets to personnel-related matters.

I lead four teams at our department:

  • the keepers and their backoffice who ensure care of the animal collection
  • the Centre of Resource and Conservation (CRC) of Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO, our scientists and studbook keepers
  • the veterinary surgeon and his laboratory
  • the graphic and educational personnel who look after the different signs and educational communication for exhibitions and in other places in our zoos


I served as a member of the Executive Committee (2013-2016) and  Council of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) (2010-2016) for a number of years.

Research interests

  • Behaviour
  • Hormones
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Conservation
  • Genetics
  • Animal welfare
  • ...

Brief biography

I was already extremely interested in biology in my childhood days. As a student at the University of Antwerp (UIA), in 1988 I defended with the highest distinction my doctorate dissertation 'Contribution to the ethology of the starling: Study of the recognition issue between parents and young'. With this study I won a first prize as young scientist at Oxford University. 

Since 1988 I have been associated with Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO. There I was able to fully create my own project. I first started working as an ethologist and carried out behavioural studies among groups of bonobos and golden-headed lion tamarins. From an individually active researcher I progressed to become Department Head of Scientific Research (1992) with a team I assembled myself, that in 2000 was given the appropriate name Centre for Research & Conservation (CRC). In 2004 as the Director of Research and Development I was also responsible for the strategic and international part of the management of the animal collection for Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO. The educational context and preliminary studies of major developments for animals are also part of my work. Under my leadership the CRC was awarded various international distinctions and prizes. Between 1992 and 2008 I was also the doctoral thesis supervisor nine students.

I then moved to my current position of Zoological Director (since 2016). Briefly summarised I am the head of all teams involved in the core business of a zoo: the animals. I am responsible for animal carers, keepers, veterinary surgeons and laboratory staff, and also for researchers in the tropics or educators and graphical employees at both our zoos. 

I was also the driving force behind several in-situ projects of Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO : BioBrasil with the golden-headed lion tamarins in Brazil, LuiKotale (at that time Save the Bonobos) in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Projet Grands Singes for the apes in Cameroon. 

Since 1999 as a visiting professor I have been giving my own Primatology course and practical lessons in ethology at the Biology Department of the University of Antwerp. At present the contribution of the CRC is broader, and students are trained in Flanders and abroad by CRC staff who were once my students. 

I am also an adviser on various (inter)national fora of EAZA (European Association of Zoos) and was an active member of the EAZA Council and the EAZA Executive Committee.

My prime motivation is to bring together all disciplines that have come under my auspices in order to work on integrated projects for endangered species : the so-called one-plan approach. In times when the natural world is in difficulty, this approach must ensure that the efforts that zoos make for certain animal species present in their collection are fully coordinated in line with the need for the conservation of their fellow species in the wild. 

Key publications

Pereboom J.J.M., Leus K. & Van Elsacker L. (2011) Pro Natura et Scientia: Zoo research at the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp International Zoo Yearbook 45: 38-47. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1090.2011.00132.x

De Vleeschouwer K., Van Elsacker L., Leus K. (2010) Golden-headed lion tamarins in focus: Project BioBrasil, a Belgian-Brazilian collaboration on biodiversity. In: Building a future for wildlife: Zoos and Aquariums committed to biodiversity conservation (WAZA) - edited by G.Dick & M.Gusset

Stevens J.M.G., Vervaecke H., Van Elsacker L. (2008) The bonobo's adaptive potential: social relations under captive conditions. The Bonobos: behaviour, ecology and Conservation. Furuichi T, Thompson J (eds) Springer Verlag pp 19-38 doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-74787-3_2 (IF: 2.073)

Deblauwe I., Dibog L., Missoup A.D., Dupain J., Van Elsacker L. (2007) Spatial scales affecting termite diversity in tropical lowland rainforest: a case study in Southeast Cameroon. African Journal of Ecology (IF: 0,385)

Bollen A., Donati G., Fietz J., Schwab D., Ramanamanjato J.B., Randrihasapara L., Van Elsacker L., Ganzhorn J.U. (2005) An intersite comparison of fruit characteristics Madagascar: evidence for selection pressure through abiotic constraints rather than through coevolution. In: Tropical fruits and frugivores (L Dew & JP Boubli, eds.) Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, Chapter 6 p. 93-119

Deblauwe I., Guislain P., Dupain J., Van Elsacker L. (2006) Use of a tool-set by Pan troglodytes troglodytes to obtain termites (macrotermes) in the periphery of the Dja Biosphere Reserve, Southeast Cameroon. American Journal of Primatology 68: 1191-1196

Stevens J.M.G, Vervaecke H., De Vries H. & Van Elsacker L. (2006) Social structures in Pan paniscus: Testing the female bonding hypothesis. Primates 47: 210-217

Sannen A., Van Elsacker L., Heistermann M., Eens M. 2005) Certain aspects of bonobo female sexual repertoire are related to urinary testosterone metabolite levels Folia Primatologica 76(1): 21-32 (IF: 1,930)

D'Août K., Aerts P., Vereecke E., Schoonaert K., De Clercq D., Van Elsacker L. (2004) Locomotion in bonobos (Pan paniscus): differences and similarities between bipedal and quadrupedal terrestrial walking, and a comparison with other locomotor modes. Journal of Anatomy 204: 353-361 (IF: 2,072)

De Lathouwers M., Van Elsacker L. (2004) Comparing maternal styles in bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). American Journal of Primatology 64(4): 411-423

De Vleeschouwer K., Leus K., Van Elsacker L. (2004) Re-assessing the reversibility of melengestrol acetate (MGA) implants in golden-headed lion tamarins (Leontopithecus chrysomelas): a comparison with golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia). Animal Welfare 13: 183-191 (IF: 0,866)

De Vleeschouwer K., Leus K. & Van Elsacker L. (2003) Stability of breeding and non-breeding groups of golden-headed lion tamarins (Leontopithecus chrysomelas). Animal Welfare 12(2): 251-268 (IF: 0,667)

Tardif S.D., Santos C.V., Baker A.J., Van Elsacker L., Feistner A.T.C., Kleiman D.G., Ruiz-Miranda C.R., De A. Moura A.C., De C. Passos F., Price E.C., Rappaport L. & De Vleeschouwer K. (2002) Infant care and development in lion tamarins. In: The Lion Tamarins: Biology and Conservation. Ed. by D. Kleiman and A. Rylands. Smithsonian Institution Press 133-156

D'Août K., Aerts P., De Clercq D., Schoonaert K., Vereecke E. & Van Elsacker L. (2001) Studying bonobo (Pan paniscus) locomotion using an integrated setup in a zoo environment: preliminary results. Primatologie 4, 191-206.

Dupain J., Van Elsacker L. (2001) The status of the bonobo (Pan paniscus) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In: Galdikas, B.M.F., Briggs, N., Sheeran, L.K., Shapiro, G.L. & J. Goodall, editors. All apes great and small volume 1: African apes. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers 57-74

De Vleeschouwer K., Leus K., Van Elsacker L. (2000) An evaluation of the suitability of contraceptive methods in golden-headed lion tamarins (Leontopithecus chrysomelas), with emphasis on melengestrol acetate (MGA-) implants: I. Effectiveness, reversibility and medical side effects. Animal Welfare 9(3): 251-271

Vervaecke H., De Vries H., Van Elsacker L. (2000) The pivotal role of rank in grooming and support behaviour in captive bonobos (Pan paniscus). Behaviour 137: 1463-1485.

Mills J., Reinartz G., De Bois H., Van Elsacker L. & Van Puijenbroeck B. (1997) SSP Bonobo Husbandry Manual: The care and management of bonobos (Pan paniscus) in captive environments. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Zoological Society of Milwaukee County

Heistermann M., Möhle U., Vervaecke H., Van Elsacker L. & Hodges J.K. (1996) Application of urinary and faecal measurements for monitoring ovarian function and pregnancy in the bonobo (Pan paniscus) and the evaluation of perineal swelling patterns in relation to endocrine events. Biology of Reproduction 55: 844-853

Van Elsacker L., Vervaecke H., Verheyen R.F. (1995) A review of the terminology on aggregation patterns in pygmy chimpanzees (Pan paniscus). International Journal of Primatology 16(1): 37-52

Van Elsacker L., De Meurichy W., Verheyen R.F., Walraven V. (1992) Parental behaviour in golden-headed lion tamarins (Leontopithecus chrysomelas): Maternal differences in infant carriage. Folia Primatologica 59: 121-126

Van Elsacker L., Pinxten R., Verheyen R.F. (1988) Timing of offspring recognition in adult starlings. Behaviour 107: 122-130 (IF: 1,269)

More on ResearchGate