Peter Brazaitis


Peter Brazaitis was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1936. He began his career as a reptile keeper at the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx Zoo, Reptile Department in 1954. He served in the US Army as a ‘tanker”, US 3rd Armored Division, from 1955 to 1957, after which he returned to the Reptile Department. He was appointed Senior Keeper in in 1967, Assistant Animal Manager in 1970, and Superintendent of Reptiles in 1972. In 1988, Peter transferred to the Central Park Wildlife Center as Assistant Curator of Animals in 1988 and became Curator of Animals in 1990, a position he held until his retirement in 1998.  With WCS support, Peter earned his BS from Empire State College, SUNY in 1983 in forensic herpetology and his MS from Long Island University in Cellular Biology in 1995.


Peter initiated the first captive breeding program for endangered Chinese alligators in 1968, which in collaboration with Curator John Behler, later became the basis for the first AZA Species Survival Plan and a collaborative captive breeding program for the species at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. During his BZ tenure, nine species of crocodilians were successfully bred, producing numerous founder stocks of endangered Cuban crocodiles, Siamese crocodiles, and the first Malayan False Gharials to be captive bred in a US Zoo. He was instrumental in the opening of the new Central Park Zoo in 1988 and later the CPZ Children’s Zoo.


Peter early on developed a special interest in crocodilians and the conservation of commercially utilized reptiles and is internationally recognized as an expert in the species identification of living animals, hides and manufactured products. With the advent of CITES and the US Endangered Species Act in 1973, he began serving as a forensic specialist and consultant to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement, US Department of Justice, State and local authorities, and is a retired Member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. He maintains close ties with INTERPOL, the AZA Crocodilian Advisory Group as a crocodilian biology and management instructor, and has held membership in the IUCN Crocodilian Specialist Group since its founding.

Peter has been involved in a number of field herpetological studies including the WCS Nixon Griffis expedition to Cameroon in 1981 to capture Goliath frogs;  Inspection of Bolivian tanneries on behalf of CITES in 1985; led a team of Brazilian biologists investigating crocodilian populations and distributions throughout Brazil from 1985 to 1990 on behalf of the Office of Scientific Authority, CITES and the Brazilian government; assisted in the development of the captive Orinoco crocodile breeding program in Venezuela. He more recently conducted investigations of saltwater crocodile populations and initiated the training of wildlife officers in the Republic of Palau, Caroline Islands, on behalf of the USF&WS and the Government of Palau in 1992, 1998, and 2003.


Publications include a methodology for sexing crocodilians in 1969 (British Journ. Herpetol., 4:54-58); the identification of commercial crocodilian skins with Dr. F. Wayne King in 1971 (Zoologica, 56:15-70); the species identification of living crocodilians in 1973 (Zoologica, 56:15-70).  Peter has authored numerous scientific peer reviewed articles in journals, popular publications; special reports on crocodilians and forensic techniques for wildlife law enforcement; three books: Snakes of the World, Crescent Books, 1992; Fight for Survival, Metro Books, Michael Friedman Publishing Group, 1995; You Belong in a Zoo, Random House, Villard Press, 2003.


Peter continues his professional career since retirement. He served as a Research Associate, Science Resource Center, WCS from 1998 to 2005, and as a Curatorial Affiliate, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, an appointment he has held since 2006.


He is married to Myrna E. Watanabe, who pioneered investigations in the maternal behavior of American Alligators and wild populations of Chinese alligators in 1981. They have one son, Peter, a Civil Engineer.