Vol. 65, No. 2 | Fall 2020

In Memoriam


Written by Zuleyma Tang-Martínez
ABS Historian

Renowned comparative psychologist, behavioral endocrinologist, and spotted hyena expert, Stephen E. Glickman, aged 87, died of pancreatic cancer, on May 22, 2020. He died peacefully, surrounded by family at his home in Berkeley, CA. Steve, who could wax poetic about all things hyenas, was the founder of the only captive hyena colony, housed at the Field Station for the Study of Behavior, Ecology and Reproduction at the University of California-Berkeley. He delighted in taking former students and visitors to see the hyenas at the field station and would gleefully regale them with various stories and anecdotes about hyenas, their behaviors, and physiology. Visitors inevitably came away feeling hyenas are the most fascinating creatures on the face of the earth! Among the visitors to the hyena colony were Disney illustrators who then used Steve’s hyenas as models for the characters in The Lion King. Thanks to efforts led by ABS member, Eileen Lacey, and other colleagues at UC Berkeley, the field station will now be named after him.

Steve was born in the Bronx, NY, on January 17, 1933. He loved to tell the story of how he first became interested in animals as a small child. His nanny would frequently take him to the Bronx Zoo and, while she visited with a relative, she would leave Steve for long periods, sitting in front of the rhinoceros cage. As Steve explained in a 2018 interview, “I would be staring at the rhinoceros, whom I was sure was communicating with me, and that began a life of connecting to animals that continues to this day.” His love of animals led Steve to pursue a degree in psychology at Brooklyn College followed by graduate research at Northwestern University and McGill University. His Ph.D. research at McGill focused on the reinforcing effects of arousal on memory and learning. His work was well ahead of its time in anticipating the subsequent explosion in research on brain mechanisms of learning and memory. After short stints on the faculty at Northwestern and the University of Michigan, Steve accepted a position in the Psychology Department at UC-Berkeley, where he stayed for the rest of his career. In 1996, he also became a member of the faculty in the Department of Integrative Biology at Berkeley.

In the early 1960s, Steve returned to his interest in zoos, first sparked by his childhood close encounter with the rhinoceros. He befriended Marlin Perkins (of TV show “Wild Kingdom” fame), then the Director of the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo, and Perkins allowed him free access so that Steve could study curiosity among the denizens of the zoo. Based on observations of more than 200 animals, Steve wrote his classic paper “Curiosity in Zoo Animals” (Glickman & Sroges 1966), in which he quantified the responses to standardized novel objects, and hypothesized as to the reasons for differences in various taxa. This paper was followed by another classic, “A Biological Theory of Reinforcement” (Glickman & Schiff 1967) in which they posited that reinforcement is an evolved mechanism that ensures species-specific responses to biologically meaningful stimuli, and theorized about neural mechanism of reinforcement and learning.

Steve loved animals of all sorts and he and his students worked on a broad range of species, including laboratory rats, skunks, gerbils, lizards, and wood rats. However, it was the spotted hyenas which, finally, utterly captured his heart. His introduction to hyenas had an amusing beginning involving his beloved wife and soul mate, Krista (also pictured). Steve was invited to visit Kenya to see spotted hyenas and was undecided as to whether he should accept the invitation. To paraphrase, Krista said, “So let me understand this, we have been invited to visit Africa, to camp out next to a river, where we’ll be surrounded by elephants, zebras, giraffes, and hyenas, and you are not sure if we should go? Why are we married?” So off they went to Kenya and the rest is history. Steve returned to Berkeley with 20 hyenas and applied for an NIH grant to establish a hyena colony on campus. He was surprised and deeply gratified when NIH decided to fund his hyena work. They continued funding his research until 2009, when Steve switched to NSF support for a few years before the colony was closed. Steve dedicated the last 30 years of his professional life to studying various behaviors and behavioral endocrinology of spotted hyenas, including the mechanisms responsible for development of male-like genitalia in females and the costs and benefits of female dominance (e.g., Glickman et al. 2006). Krista, who also fell in love with the hyenas, was by his side during many of his studies, was a constant presence at the hyena colony, and helped to lovingly raise and care for some of the hyenas.

Another interest of Steve’s was history and the intersection of science and culture (which likely influenced my own interests in these topics). For many years he taught a celebrated course on the history of psychology. He also published in these areas, including a delightful paper titled “The Spotted Hyena from Aristotle to the Lion King: Reputation Is Everything” (Glickman 1995), and a paper on gender and the history of behavioral sciences, “Culture, Disciplinary Tradition, and the Study of Behavior: Sex, Rats, and Spotted Hyenas” (Glickman 2000). In addition to his appreciation of gender issues, Steve also was deeply aware of, and concerned about racial inequalities. In the 1980s, a group of African American students asked him to teach a seminar on sickle-cell anemia. Instead, Steve invited the students to co-teach the seminar with him, and broadened it to cover health impacts of historical, environmental, and institutional discrimination against African Americans.

Steve was greatly loved and admired by almost everyone who knew him and he was particularly cherished by those of us who were lucky enough to be his students or close colleagues. His student, Kay Holekamp, states: "The traits I most loved and admired in Steve were his kindness and his intellectual curiosity. He was always gentle and kind, even when he should have been angry. And his insatiable curiosity about animal behavior led him first to his classic study of curiosity itself in zoo animals, and later to his long-term study of captive spotted hyenas in Berkeley.” Colleague Eileen Lacey remembers him as “a pillar” of the Psychology Department and observes, “Steve was much more than just a scientist — he was also an excellent teacher, collaborator, and colleague and he will be remembered for the many ways that he helped to shape the careers and lives of others.” In my own case, I consider him one of the most important influences in my life, both professionally and personally. He was not only my Ph.D. advisor, but also a life-long friend, colleague, mentor, and role model — and a gem of a human being, always generous, caring, supportive, and unpretentious, while at the same time being a giant in the field of comparative psychology and animal behavior. Other animal behaviorists who were Steve’s students or postdocs include Terry Christensen, Kurt Wallen, Barbara Ivins, Susan Jenks, Ned Place, and Christine Drea. His death has left a deep hole in all of our hearts.

Steve is survived by Krista, their children, Matthew and Lauren, and four grandchildren. The ABS offers heartfelt condolences to the family for this great loss. 

(Some information comes from an obituary by Yasmin Anwar in the UC Berkeley News. Kay Holekamp kindly provided additional information and feedback).

Glickman, S. E. & Sroges, R. W. 1966. Curiosity in zoo animals. Behaviour 26: 151-187.

Glickman, S. E. & Schiff. B. B. 1967. A biological theory of reinforcement. Psychological Review 74: 81–109.

Glickman, S. E. 1995. The spotted hyena from Aristotle to the Lion King: Reputation is everything. Social Research 62: 501-537.

Glickman, S. E. 2000. Culture, disciplinary tradition, and the study of behavior: Sex, rats, and spotted hyenas. In: Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society. (Eds: S. C. Strum & L. M. Fedigan). Chicago: U. Chicago Press.

Glickman, S. E., et al. 2006. Mammalian sexual differentiation: Lessons from the spotted hyena. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism17: 349-56.

Email interview: Arthur Echternacht, University of Tennessee, responses received 24 July 2020


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