Even though advances in veterinary preventive and clinical health care have extended the captive lifespan of so many animals, it’s kind of touching to hear that an animal ambassador that brought so much joy to visitors and staff, passed on to bear heaven in his sleep. We all would like to go as peacefully as this magnificent animal did. I don’t know the individual bear, but when you consider what awaits us as humans and animals alike as we enter the fourth quarter (so elegant) , we as humans at least, recognize, hopefully, how lucky we are to live in an era where our quality of life is likely to be sustained beyond what nature ever intended. Today, zoo medicine is much about geriatric veterinary medicine and it’s most impressive how zoos delicately handle issues concerning aging collections. I don’t have much to add except that I may cross -post this on the The Bear Keepers Forum.
Short Note: A friend just shared this article with me and it is particularly timely following my post concerning the branding of uber-iconic mega-fauna. The African Wild Dog has been “re-branded” by conservationists as the painted hunting dog or painted dog in hopes of drawing more attention to the plight of this endangered canid which is also known as the Cape Hunting Dog, the Spotted Dog, and the Painted Wolf, among other names. This is not unlike the practice of re-branding Spectacled Bears as Andean Bears. Both names have been used, but it may enhance conservation efforts to use a name that conveys a zoogeographic or faunal group designation. These bears were formerly called spectacled bears in most zoos, but now “Andean bear” is the preferred common name among conservationists, collection managers, and educators. Similarly, the Siberian tiger is now referred to as the Amur tiger, along with other species whose range is now confined to an area along the Amur river in Eastern Siberia & Northern China (Amur-Ussuri region) such as the Amur leopard formerly known as the Manchurian leopard. Likewise, the Amur falcon (formerly called the Eastern Red-footed Falcon), breeds in the Amur region. Although the raptor may not be particularly endangered (Least Concern- IUCN), the bird that winters in Southern Africa may benefit from the zoogeographic descriptor. Perhaps the Manchurian brown bear will be re-branded as the Amur brown bear.
For more about painted dog conservation visit http://www.painteddog.org/
Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus
Please read my post on the State of the Wild (WCS 2010). The white-headed langur like the Indo-Chinese tiger and other tiger subspecies has been driven to near extinction in-part because of wildlife trafficking. Traditional Chinese Medicine continues to promote the practice of zootherapy. Zootherapeutic agents include parts and derivatives of whole carcasses, tissues and byproducts of wildlife. There are approximately 100 white-headed langurs left in the wild. One subspecies occurs in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam and the other in Guangxi, China. This partially albinistic langur was considered a subspecies of Francois’ langurs as recently as 1995. One day I may share my experience with captive Francois’ langurs. If I had to pick a favorite Old World monkey, I might just pick Francois’ langurs.
Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus
Last year I got an opportunity to work with my colleague, Dr. Angela Glatston, on PR initiatives for the (European Association of Zoos & Aquarium’s (EAZA)) Carnivore Conservation Campaign. Angela is the Curator of Mammals at the Rotterdam Zoo and an authority on red pandas among other small carnivore taxa. She is a member of the IUCN SSC Small Carnivore Specialist Group. She recently shared this petition to help save the “Dirty Dozen.”
I recently visited the Large Animal Clinical Science’s web page hosted by the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (Canada). While scrolling down the page, a link to an applied ethology resource caught my attention. Behavioral science resources are now more commonly made available for veterinary faculty and students, but often these resources are limited to the discussion of domesticated species. Applied behavior as it relates to exotic, zoo animal, and alternative livestock may be neglected to some degree. If anything, animal health programs may dedicate more educational resources to the emerging field of behavioral genomics.
As I perused the topics I came across some information concerning the manifestation of stereotypic behavior in zoo carnivores and primates. The topic was was addressed in some detail and the information was relatively current. Nothing I read would surprise the zoo professional. In general, stereotypies in these taxa have received much attention in zoo science and applied animal welfare publications. Again, this is pretty common knowledge. I don’t argue that efforts should be made to mitigate aberrant behavior. Many investigators have examined the possible etiologies of stereotypic pacing. Not everyone agrees on what causes it or how to address it. But it may be just as important to consider how serious these aberrant behaviors are in the context of a larger picture -a more comprehensive evaluation of an individual animal’s quality of life.
At one extreme laboratory animals have exhibited self-mutilation and reduced reproductive success. However, zoos were the first to examine captivity-induced stereotypic behavior and they were the first living institutions to address this concern. Enrichment programs have reduced stereotypies in the species that have been the subject of intense study by more than 50%. Most of these subjects include the intelligent charismatic species such as bears, elephants, and primates.
Zoos, aquariums and marine parks provide quite the hospitable environment for their collection animals. If we consider the quality of life of captive born and reared animals compared to the challenges facing their wild counterparts, our perspectives and attitudes may change.
Wild animals face increasingly compromised natural environments as a consequence of habitat encroachment and fragmentation which exacerbate the daily struggles to find food and mates, raise offspring and defend territories. Captivity starts to look pretty good.
I remember that I used to bite my nails before big exams, but no one ever called social services. I don’t dismiss that fact that some captive animals may exhibit aberrant behavior, but I also know that we don’t home school children with restless leg syndrome just because they are known to tap their feet incessantly in school. They may be more of a distraction to others than a risk to themselves. We can’t eliminate environmental stressors altogether.
In my opinion zoo life is a pretty good deal. The arranged marriage issue is the only thing that I would want to negotiate, but I think that animals are much less discriminating in regards to choosing mates. In captivity the mate selection for both the sire and dam consists of unrelated, well fed, conspecifics in good body condition, not to mention that available partners are most likely to be pathogen free. In the wild, you’d have to sort through a lot of goldfish before you find some Koi. In captivity the studbook keeper serves as one heck of a matchmaker. I digress….
I’ve seen a more than a few bears pace in my time and I’m really quite impressed with the extensive amount of research that has been conducted on stereotypic behavior in an effort to improve the psychological well-being of these animals. I also remember how often keepers inadvertently may have reinforced this behavior in an attempt to stop it. I may have done it myself. It’s amazing how an animal may appear to be in a “zone” or stupor as it repetitively follows the same figure eight pattern as part of an apparent appetitive behavior. However, they may snap out of it quite readily and come to life, if you will. They may smell their keeper or see or hear them in front of the exhibit. I often wondered if this pacing routine was just a ploy to get the attention of a caregiver. Polar bears may not look like they are always thinking, but I was always thinking they are.
I mentioned behavioral genomics earlier and wanted to direct your attention to the following article: Genomics Meets Ethology I have been interested in genetic predisposition to communicable pathogen resistance in zoo animal populations, but I also have been very interested in a genetic predisposition to stress tolerance and perhaps aberrant behaviors such as stereotypies. It may be very controversial to exclude individuals from participation in breeding programs because of pacing behavior or other unwanted behaviors, but it has been looked at with much greater frequency in domestic livestock.
Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus