Activity 12 Zoos: Past and Present

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1 Activity 12 Zoos: Past and Present Objective & Overview: Through surveys and research, students will learn about the evolution of zoos, from menageries to educational and conservation institutions. Teacher Background Information: Why keep animals in zoos? People often wonder about the purpose of zoos. Why keep animals in zoos? Why put them on public display? Zoos did not always focus so heavily on research and conservation. The National Zoo, established in 1889, was one of the first to open with a goal of educating people about conservation concerns. Historically, zoos were simply showcases of exotic animals. Much has changed since then, especially among accredited and larger zoos, many of which participate in SSPs--Species Survival Programs- -that ensure that zoo populations of rare species remain genetically and physically healthy, through carefully coordinated breeding programs. Friends of the National Zoo Page 71

2 For more information on zoos' past, see: New Worlds, New Animals: From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the 19th Century Edited by R.J. Hoage and William A. Deiss. The Johns Hopkins University Press. This book should be available at the Zoo bookstore in the Visitor Center. Why have giant pandas in zoos? Many Zoo visitors come to see the giant pandas because they are rare and unusual. The public's enjoyment of the giant pandas is important to the Zoo because without public support and awareness many endangered species, including giant pandas, could quickly disappear. But just exhibiting an animal is not everything: Many modern zoos also dedicate themselves to breeding endangered species and educating the public about the plight of wildlife and what can be done to improve it. Overall, there are four main reasons why zoos have giant pandas: To learn more about giant panda natural history, including their breeding behavior, nutritional needs, and daily habits. To create a genetically diverse zoo population that improves the species' odds against extinction. Zoo birth rates and survival rates have increased in recent years. However, the zoo population is not yet self-sustaining, and is not yet large and diverse enough to support a reintroduction program. Right now, about 60 percent of Friends of the National Zoo Page 72

3 giant pandas living in zoos were born in breeding facilities and not in the wild. This includes the Zoo's Tian Tian and Mei Xiang. The remainder comes from the wild. Avoiding inbreeding is the key to maintaining genetic diversity. Inbreeding, reproduction between closely related individuals, can lead to reduced immunity from disease, lowered fertility, increased chance of birth defects, and may reduce a population's ability to adapt to certain challenges posed within its habitat. In recent years, there have been many news stories and discussions about how cloning could help save giant pandas. Among the arguments against using cloning is that it would not maintain the giant panda's genetic diversity. To potentially provide a pool of giant pandas that can be reintroduced into wild habitat to help repopulate areas where giant pandas have disappeared or are about to disappear. Also, a carefully inventoried bank of genetic material (sperm, eggs, and embryos) may serve as an insurance policy if catastrophe strikes the small wild giant panda population. Zoo scientists are leaders in these fields, also participating in programs to reintroduce such creatures as black-footed ferrets to the U.S. West and small orange monkeys called golden lion tamarins to southeast Brazil and to maintain genetic diversity in zoo populations of cheetahs and other rare animals. To educate the public about the need for conserving giant pandas and the world's biodiversity. Friends of the National Zoo Page 73

4 How many giant pandas are living in zoos? About 120 giant pandas live at zoos and breeding facilities in China, while fewer than 20 others live in zoos in other parts of the world. These include a pair at the San Diego Zoo and their one offspring, which was born via artificial insemination and was the first giant panda born outside China in a decade. Another pair lives at Zoo Atlanta, and others live in Mexico City (where the first out-of-china giant panda was born in 1980), Japan, and Germany. How long have giant pandas been kept at zoos? In 1936, Chicago's Brookfield Zoo became the first North American zoo to have and exhibit a giant panda. Two more giant pandas were brought to the Brookfield Zoo in the 1930s, and others to the Bronx Zoo and St. Louis Zoo. In 1941, the Bronx Zoo acquired a pair. No other giant pandas were sent from China to the United States until 1972, when Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived at the National Zoo. What about the National Zoo's giant pandas? Tian Tian and Mei Xiang arrived at the National Zoo in December 2000 at ages 3-1/2 and 2-1/2, respectively. They were born at a Chinese breeding facility. The National Zoo's first giant pandas arrived in 1972, as a gift from China. The first successful breeding between the two occurred in 1983, but their cub died of pneumonia few hours after birth. Ling-Ling became pregnant two other times (once with twins), but the cubs died within a few days, either from bacterial infections or lack of oxygen. Friends of the National Zoo Page 74

5 Other zoo panda cubs have died of similar infections in zoos in Spain, Mexico, and China, and Zoo scientists and their colleagues hope to find out if immunities passed from a mother to her cub through the mother's milk may play a strong part in protecting future zoo cubs. The male Hsing-Hsing lived to 29 years and was one of the oldest giant pandas known; the female Ling-Ling died at age 23 at the time, she was the oldest giant panda outside of China. Zoo scientists and keepers learned many things from almost three decades of studying and caring for the pair. The many lessons they learned will be carefully applied to the care of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang. What are some nutrition and veterinary concerns? Zoo nutritionists and veterinarians are hard at work to ensure that the couple thrives. Among other things, Zoo nutritionists will analyze the pandas' food, droppings (feces), and milk to determine the nutrient content in the foods they eat. This will help them formulate the best diets, and allow them to compare their findings with those they collected from Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing. Zoo scientists think mineral imbalances in zoo pandas' diets may contribute to reduced fertility, so this information will also help them learn more about that issue. Tian Tian and Mei Xiang will also receive regular check-ups and disease-preventing inoculations from the Zoo's veterinarians. Very little is known about giant panda physiology. Zoo veterinarians will continue to share their findings and knowledge with their Friends of the National Zoo Page 75

6 colleagues, in part through periodic veterinary training seminars in China. Also, as mentioned above, Zoo scientists will analyze panda milk and try to determine ways to ensure that hand-reared, zoo-born giant pandas receive the nutrients they need to thrive as well as the antibodies they need to fight bacterial infections and other challenges to which newborns are susceptible. Part of the task will be to find ways to transfer antibodies from a mother to young via injection or orally if a panda mother rejects her young. What are some ways that National Zoo scientists have helped zoo pandas living outside Washington? Zoo scientists remain in regular contact with their colleagues, and have worked with them on a variety of projects, including: In 1991, National Zoo scientists organized the first international giant panda conference in the United States. Between 1998 and 2000, Zoo scientists helped conduct the first biomedical survey of China's zoo giant pandas, which recorded the health and reproductive status of 61 giant pandas in Chinese breeding facilities. Aside from developing a better picture of panda breeding possibilities, the survey helped Zoo scientists and their Chinese colleagues improve breeding prospects for females that had yet to give birth, which resulted in successful breeding and some cubs. This important project revealed that no single factor is slowing Friends of the National Zoo Page 76

7 efforts to breed giant pandas. Rather, a combination of factors must be addressed, including zoo male pandas' often aggressive behavior, inadequate nutrition, and various genetic concerns, including the need for better record-keeping to allow scientists to know which pandas sired which cubs. In 1999, National Zoo scientists and their colleagues offered handson training in veterinary medicine, pathology, and nutrition to 49 Chinese veterinarians from 27 institutions. National Zoo scientists and their colleagues realize that in order to maintain a healthy zoo population and save the wild population and its habitats, collaboration is key. The future of the giant panda is closely tied with the future of China, its conservation efforts, and its people, as well as the efforts of concerned institutions such as the National Zoo. If these parties don't work together, the future of the giant panda will likely remain bleak. What remains to be learned? Among the many scientific puzzles that remain to be solved regarding wild giant pandas: How many are there and where do they live? New population estimates and mapping of remaining giant panda habitats and those that might be future reintroduction sites are required. A new giant panda census is underway. Friends of the National Zoo Page 77

8 Many details remain to be described about the giant panda's basic biology (bodily functions and processes). There is also much more to discover about giant panda ecology how pandas interact with their environment. Obviously, scientists have their work cut out for them! What are enrichment and stimuli and why are they important to zoo giant pandas? To optimize behavior and reproduction in zoos, keepers and scientists must devise ways to keep giant pandas interested and busy in their surroundings. Enrichment is the practice of providing animals with stimuli and opportunities that allow them to demonstrate their full behavioral repertoire to promote psychological and physical wellbeing. A stimulus (plural: stimuli) refers to anything in an animal's environment to which it can respond. These include visual (sight), auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), and taste stimuli. Zoo staff will be constantly fine-tuning the pandas' exhibit in response to data they collect on Tian Tian and Mei Xiang's stimuli preferences. They will also keep track of the pandas' behavior while on and off exhibit to determine if they show any signs of stress as a result of many Zoo visitors watching them. Materials: Zoo views Interview Form pen or pencil Friends of the National Zoo Page 78

9 Directions: 1. Set the stage: Your students will put on the shoes of zoo public affairs officers who has been charged with the challenging task of winning over people skeptical of zoos. 2. Students will play the role of investigator and researcher in this activity. First, ask students to use the following interview form to interview ten people about their views on zoos. Students should interview people in different age groups. 3. Once their interviewing is done, students should do calculations on percentages of people with different views. Armed with these data, they should start the research phase of the project, fashioning an argument for zoos geared toward addressing the concerns of the people they interviewed. 4. Your students may have their own personal concerns about zoos. They should include these in their report. 5. They should research the history of zoos, success and sad stories about zoo breeding and animals, the roles of zoos and their place in the 21 st century. 6. Follow up this activity with a discussion of zoos and their roles. Friends of the National Zoo Page 79

10 Zoo Views Interview Form Name: Class: Date: / / Interview # : Age of person: Gender: 1. On a scale of one to five (one being bad and five being good) how do you rate the role that zoos play in our society? 2. Why? 3. When did you first visit a zoo? 4. When did you last visit a zoo? 5. Are there some things you think zoos should be doing that they are not? Interview # : Age of person: Gender: 1. On a scale of one to five (one being bad and five being good) how do you rate the role that zoos play in our society? 2. Why? 3. When did you first visit a zoo? 4. When did you last visit a zoo? 5. Are there some things you think zoos should be doing that they are not? Friends of the National Zoo Page 80

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