Although Valentine’s Day is long gone, computer dating is still very active in the zoology world. Who knew animals would ever need a dating service?
Last week, I met up with zoologist Meryt Shumacher to find out more about the new red panda exhibit at the Denver Zoo. Chewbacca and Daisy, two red pandas, were matched with a very sophisticated computer program. The AZA’s (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) SSP (Species Survival Plan) is a program that helps find the best genetic match for an animal. When the AZA is looking for two animals to pair, the main factor is genetics. They use a computerized "studbook", which is a data base with details of individual animals regarding ancestry, genetics, health, age, etc. When a good match is made zoos transfer animals, or loan them, between institutions in hopes of successful breeding.
The main purpose zoologist are breeding animals is to keep certain threatened species alive. Currently, the red panda is classified as “vulnerable”, with less than 2,500 left in the wild. This means that they could become endangered and possibly even extinct. Most wild red pandas live naturally in the eastern Himalayas and southwest China, where their habitat is threatened, but they are also hunted for there thick, soft fur. There are currently seventy three organizations participating in red panda breeding, and The Denver Zoo has been involved in many Species Survival Plans for over fifteen years. The Species Survival Plans are important because each and every animal is part of a very diverse and integrated ecosystem.
Chewbacca, a six year old male red panda, came from the Detroit Zoo to mate with six year old Daisy, from Michigan. They have been living together since December and it looks like they are getting along well. When I was there, Chewbacca was busy pacing and marking his territory, releasing a scent all around his habitat. If all goes well, this summer zoo visitors could be greeted by one or two red panda cubs. You can follow up on the celebrity couple at www.denverzoo.org.