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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hope for the Devil

Zoos and aquariums often tout the three pillars of their mission - Conservation, Education, and Recreation.  Traditionally, there was a fourth - Research.  In the era before field-based wildlife studies were prevalent, zoos were living laboratories, providing scientists with their best opportunities to understand wild animals.  Some zoos (especially larger ones) still do research these days, which is published in journals such as Zoo Biology and International Zoo Yearbook, but you don't hear the "R" word in public as much.  "Research" has fallen out of favor with many people, calling up as it does images of vivisection and rabbits having shampoo poured into their eyes and whatnot.

Research, however (often under the aegis of "Conservation") is still a vital component of the modern zoo.  Most often, it is done to improve the welfare of collection animals -  to better understand their nutritional needs, their behavior, their reproduction.  In other cases, it can have an enormous role on the fates of animals in the wild...  like this case, for instance.

This is earth-shaking research (for Tasmanian devils, at any rate) that could turn the tide on one of the leading causes of endangerment for the largest-living carnivorous marsupials.  It also is research that would have been impossible to conduct under field conditions, and required animals in captivity.  Hopefully, it will be a first step towards finding a cure that can be applied to wild devils and help ensure that the Tasmanian devil doesn't follow it's larger cousin, the Tasmanian tiger, into the void of extinction.

A Tasmanian devil inside its enclosure at the San Diego Zoo, California, in 2015
Picture Credit: Getty Images

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