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Search for your pet. Care for your pet their entire lives. A puppy has different needs than a senior dog. Among other efforts, conservationists began making plans to ramp up breeding pandas in captivity.
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Pan Pan was born in the wild but raised in captivity. He spent five or so years in the care of a man named Li Wuke until he was eventually entered into the giant panda studbook in Yes, that's what it's called. In , he was transferred to Wolong Nature Preserve in Sichuan Province, and from there, he started changing the fate of panda-kind.
See, before Pan Pan, breeding pandas in captivity was a slow, frustrating, and often fruitless process. Between and , only 12 males and 21 females successfully reproduced, and 48 percent of their offspring died in their first month of life. Captivity was just so far off from panda's normal lifestyle that the natural breeding cycles were thrown entirely out of whack. But Pan Pan broke the mold. You might say he was a natural ladies' Pan — the offspring he produced were more likely to survive than those created by other methods such as artificial insemination.
Today, there are about pandas living in zoos and research facilities, and Chinese experts believe more than of them are direct descendants of Pan Pan. Maybe you can already see the problem with this. Remember how important genetic diversity is? It's hard to keep the population healthily diverse when only a few of its members are interested in reproducing. Fortunately, we've learned a lot about how to set the mood for panda lovin' in the years since, so current breeding programs aren't so reliant on Pan Pan's particularly amorous personality.
However, there's another problem that's a little more complicated than a lack of genetic diversity. It turns out that the pandas that reproduce the best are also the ones that are most comfortable around humans, and that's a trait that seems to be at least partially based on genetics. The next generations of pandas might be very different from the ones who came before — and they might even be more inclined toward human company than toward living in a bamboo forest. Pandas are a contradiction — they're not bears, but they sure look like them. They might look cuddly, but they're also pounds of muscle and claws.
It can't do anything. The same thing's true of zoos. If zoos were all independently operating and not willing to work together, we would all sink. Our populations would die out on us, they would become highly inbred, So we do compete in a sense, but we recognize that we will all-- succeed in conservation together or not. And zoos are now working on conservation with wildlife agencies as well, to rescue wild species in distress -- like the Mexican gray wolf.
These wolves once lived across the southwest but were viewed as predators and killed off. Fish and Wildlife service brought the last remaining wolves to zoos to see if they could pull off a miracle and bring the species back from just seven, what biologists call, "founding" animals.
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So we used the computer analyses to decide exactly which animals should be bred each year, how many to breed, so we didn't lose any of those seven lineages. And from those seven, they've increased numbers up to, now, about And they've been releasing 'em in the wild for about the last 20 years.
But zoo geneticists are still at it. Last spring when litters of puppies were born here at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo and in the wild, zoo staff took two of the newborns from here and switched them with two from the wild pack. To make sure the mothers wouldn't reject them, the staff coated the pups with dirt and urine from the dens they were going to. The mothers in both packs are now raising the exchanged pups as their own.
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Because the wild has so few animals, that if we didn't do some swapping, they wouldn't have any appropriate mates, so we swap between zoos and the wild just the way we swap between zoos. But zoo genetic matchmaking isn't just success stories. There are dilemmas and moral quandaries.
How do you stop animals with 'do not breed' recommendations from mating? And what happens when animals breed too well, and zoos don't have enough space? They can't just make them disappear. Zoos around the world have adopted genetic breeding programs similar to the one in the U. As a result, many species are breeding better in captivity than ever before. But that success has brought challenges, and differences of opinion. Case in point, how to manage animals who don't get a breeding recommendation -- animals whose genes are already well-represented in zoos?
That's what the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark did a few years ago with a healthy, 2-year-old giraffe named Marius, and it caused an international uproar. But first, the preferred American solution for zoo animals who aren't supposed to breed. Bahati is a year old gorilla at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Every afternoon she and the other gorillas here get a snack -- being gorillas, they don't bother to unwrap it. But unbeknownst to Bahati, hers has something special mixed in.
Bahati is on the pill. And that was just the beginning. Turns out, all kinds of zoo animals use all kinds of contraception. This monkey, anesthetized for her annual physical, was getting a birth control implant between her shoulders. At the Detroit Zoo, there was an aardvark getting a birth control implant in her leg. Now there's a sentence one never expects to say. It's about the size of a grain of rice. And this plunger's just gonna push it out under the skin.
At the Copenhagen Zoo, which participates in a European genetic breeding program, they have a different philosophy. Here, as Bengt Holst, director of research and conservation told us, they are against birth control. They think animals should be allowed to breed and raise their young, just as they would in the wild. Do you think that there's an ethical issue when it comes to not allowing animals to breed?
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Yeah, I think-- I think it's ethical, because that's actually a big part of their-- their normal behavior. Parental behavior is a 24 hours job for one year, two years, three or four years depending on the species. And we should not take that away. But that means offspring who need new homes in other zoos once they reach adolescence and it gets tricky.
The female cannot grow up here in this zoo because then she will mate with her father. It's not that difficult to place young female giraffes in other zoos, because giraffes live in harem groups, where one dominant male lives and breeds with several females. But for young males, it's tough. Particularly for ones whose parents have bred well, so their genes are not considered valuable in the breeding program.
That's what happened to Marius -- and this is where our story takes that dark turn. Born at the Copenhagen Zoo six years ago, Marius needed to move when he reached age 2 and did what adolescent male giraffes do -- start challenging their fathers, trying to take over the harem. We could see that they had started fighting.
And-- I mean at the beginning it's just a little bit pushing around. But then at-- at some stage he started getting scratches on the side, because the father had pushed him up against a tree and had really hit him hard. And if we have left him with the father he would have killed him, I'm sure. In the wild, this is when Marius would strike out on his own —- a time when in nature many animals are killed by predators. But in the zoo, there was nowhere for him to go, and with no spots for him in the European breeding program, the zoo thought their only choice might be to euthanize him.
You did have suggestions of what to do short of killing this beautiful animal. Some people said, "Why not just release him in the wild? Yeah, we cannot just release a giraffe into the wild. It would be killed immediately because all space is occupied by other giraffes. But for what reason? He will keep a single giraffe, which is a social animal. That will be really bad welfare for this giraffe.
We will never send an animal to a place where it won't have a good life. Here you tell us that zoos are there to save the animals and protect animals. And then the zoo kills an animal. But that's exactly what we do. We protect animal populations. And in order to protect animal populations and make sure that they are healthy also far into the future, we need sometimes to take some animals out of this population. Normally we have nothing against killing healthy animals in the wild. I mean in-- in America, you hunt deer.
In Denmark we hunt Some-- yes, but you eat meat. Most people eat meat. And meat comes from live animals. No, I don't think so because contraception by contracepting the animals, you take away a huge amount of their natural behavior. We need to give an animal a good life. No animal has an expectation of, "I can become 20 years old or 10 years old or two years old. The important thing must be to have a good life as long as they live, be it two months or 20 years, doesn't matter.
Ron Kagan, from the Detroit Zoo, adamantly opposes culling. He says the focus on genetics and saving species shouldn't outweigh compassion. So for us we're concerned with individual welfare, not just conservation. Under pressure from animal rights activists and those who think animals shouldn't be locked up at all, zoos have tried to improve the quality of life of their animals. And Kagan's been a leader in that effort. Back in , Detroit was the first American zoo to give up its elephants for ethical reasons, when Kagan says it became clear they were suffering in the cold climate.
And he's worked to create larger and more natural habitats for the animals. Well the idea that you say you should be able to have a baby. But then you're gonna kill it. I honestly, that-- it's very hard for me to see how that works on any level. I don't wanna kill healthy animals. How about dissect them? The day Marius was killed, the zoo conducted a public autopsy, considered educational in Denmark, then fed what was left of his body to the zoo's lions.
Done before the public, with little kids standing right there. Now, you got a lotta criticism for that.