Science

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Animal Dating Moves Conservation Forward

September 11, 2008 07:54 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
New technology to aid zoo animal breeding efforts will give zookeepers faster access to more information and insight, indicating a shift in conservation toward broader thinking.

Stepped-Up Studbooks

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Conservationists and zookeepers will soon have access to new technology that will help them pair up animals in captivity.

Currently, zoos use studbooks, which are databases of animals’ gender, age and weight, and husbandry manuals that include more specific information on animal breeding habits, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The drawbacks are that the studbooks are not updated quickly, husbandry manuals must be e-mailed back and forth between zookeepers, and both sources lack relevant details, such as individual animals’ personality traits. 

But in the next one to two years, new software called Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), which combines the efforts of about 150 aquariums and zoos, will enhance studbooks, making them available online to ease zookeepers’ process of locating compatible mates for animals in captivity. The new software will include information from husbandry manuals and studbooks, which John Lehnhardt, Disney’s Animal Kingdom animal operations director, says is “the key to our long-term breeding plans.”

The proposed software is in line with a recent manifesto produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which encourages big-picture thinking, rather than focusing on specific species or places.

According to The New York Times blog Dot Earth, the manifesto urges environmental groups to take a more expansive look at how to create “a humane future for a diverse earth,” and asks wildlife groups to push local communities “to shift mindsets, not just park boundaries.”

Although the ZIMS software stands out for providing species’ specific traits, the fact that it also includes “information about husbandry, veterinary care,” and animal behavior, and provides it in an easy-to-update and accessible format, makes the program an all-encompassing conservation tool.

Related Topic: Animal mating habits

Animal mating habits vary widely from species to species. Chimps, for example, are an emotional breed, suggests a study by Britain’s Chester Zoo. Researchers there found that primates tend to console each other with hugs after a fight, which reduces their stress levels, reports the BBC. Such behavior “could indicate some level of empathy,” according to Dr. Orlaith Fraser, a researcher involved in the study.
 
Meanwhile, pandas are less inclined to affectionate behavior. Wild pandas are extremely reclusive, which has made it difficult for scientists to understand panda mating habits, and has led to mating difficulties among captive pandas. A Thai zoo decided to try something different in 2006, using “panda pornography” to inspire a panda couple that had had difficulty mating.

Reference: World Wildlife Fund

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