ALAN ALDA If these polar bears look happy, I want you to know I'm
at least partly responsible.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) We find out why zoo life today is, for many
of the animals, one long party.
ALAN ALDA ...that's a very strange experience.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) How aquariums learn about life at sea. And
how zoos are not only helping save endangered species... But
even training them for an eventual return to the wild.
ALAN ALDA I'm Alan Alda. Join me now, as Scientific American Frontiers
explores The New Zoos.
ALAN ALDA For a long time now, I've hated zoos. It's not that I
hate the animals. I hate that we catch them in the wild and
then cage them up. But most of all I hate that look of surly
resentment and depression as they pace up and down, back and
forth, hour after hour. But it turns out that the zoos I hate
are mostly the zoos of my childhood. Because the zoos we'll
be visiting in the show are the opposite of the zoos I remember
in almost every way. This place is a good example, the San
Diego Zoo. Like most zoos these days, its animals rarely come
from the wild. And cages are where the inhabitants mainly
go for a little peace and quiet. And pacing -- well, we'll
be getting to that. Keeping their animals not only healthy,
but happy -- that's the priority of zoos like this. And in
the next hour, we'll find out not only how, but why.
back to top
ALAN ALDA Why are we carrying this out here?
SIMERSON Well, although you really wouldn't find palm fronds
in the natural habitat of polar bears, we found that our San
Diego polar bears love to play with them in the water and
tear 'em up. So it keeps them active physically and gives
them a little social interaction because often they'll play
tug of war with it. And then once we get things decorated,
what we're going to do is we're going to take this fat free
salad dressing and see how they use their nose -- because
they have a terrific sense of smell - how they'll follow the
salad dressing to different areas.
ALAN ALDA So they get the impression there's been a fat free animal
ALAN ALDA And they're tracking it down and we lead them to this?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) I'm in the new polar bear exhibit at the
San Diego Zoo. In case you're wondering, the five bears that
live here are still snoozing away in their bedrooms out back.
SIMERSON OK, here comes another one.
ALAN ALDA (Narration)
SIMERSON, the keeper, has me helping make the bears' day more
SIMERSON Do you want to put a little dressing up there?
ALAN ALDA Yeah, yeah.
SIMERSON Just dribble it.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) What we're doing here with the salad dressing
and the palm fronds is part of a hot new trend in zoo keeping
-- new to an old zoo hater like me, at least. Along with much
more naturalistic enclosures, the intent is to make zoo life
more like life in the wild -- not that there's much fat free
dressing in the wild, but hey, a smell's a smell. Zoo keepers
have a name for what we're doing:
ALAN ALDA Enrichment!
SIMERSON Enrichment is a real zoo wide thing. Harry works
in our forage department. He's kind of our king of icebergs.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Miniature icebergs are one of the polar bears'
favorite enrichment items. A second iceberg is left temptingly
on shore, and also garnished with the odor du jour. From the
other side of the glass, it's nice to see that my handiwork
is a hit. The key to a successful enrichment program, according
to JoAnne, is novelty. Every day, the bears get something
new. It's the first time they've seen palm fronds in months.
All this is a far cry from the zoos of my childhood.
ALAN ALDA One of the things that put me off zoos was seeing animals
pacing. I couldn't take it after a while, they looked so depressed.
Was I right about that? Is pacing a sign of depression or
some kind of stress?
SIMERSON We don't really know. It bothers us just as much
as it does anyone. So we've had observers down here four hours
every day since we opened this exhibit to find out what makes
this bear pace more and what is it about this exhibit that
this bear doesn't pace at all. And we still don't know.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) So far this morning, pacing doesn't seem
to be on the bears' agenda.
ALAN ALDA Look at those people up there with their cameras.
SIMERSON Oh here comes Buzz. There he goes, boom!
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The San Diego Zoo is home to five polar bears.
Four of them are youngsters who've lived here only a few months.
ALAN ALDA Right on top of the ice.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) That was Neil who just jumped in. Along with
the other two-year old male, Buzz, Neil was born in the Louisville
Zoo. Both Neil and Buzz settled in here quickly. By contrast,
the two young females, Chinook and Shakari, were born in the
SIMERSON She's washing her face.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) They turned up at the town dump in Manitoba,
Canada, when they were 6 or 7 months old, apparently abandoned
by their mother, and they were taken into custody by the Canadian
Wildlife Service. After a spell of rehabilitation, they came
to San Diego still not used to captivity.
ALAN ALDA Now look, who's that?
SIMERSON That is Chinook.
ALAN ALDA Chinook. Chinook looks pretty happy, I have to tell you.
I mean this makes me feel good for a guy who can't stand to
see pacing animals in the zoo. I'm really glad to see this.
Now does Chinook sometimes lose her happy demeanor and start
pacing anyway? What's her day like?
SIMERSON Chinook is what we consider a great success story.
When she first got here from the rehab facility she was at,
she paced. We don't see her pace anymore. What did we do?
We enriched the exhibit, we provided toys, we provided mental
stimulation, physical activity -- and it worked.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) But just moments later, there was Chinook's
ALAN ALDA This is weird. She was playing in the water a second
ago, now it looks like she's pacing.
SIMERSON She is. This is a typical pacing pattern, especially
for Shakari. Can you see what started her off?
ALAN ALDA No...
SIMERSON There was absolutely nothing...
ALAN ALDA And you don't know either...
SIMERSON No, no clue. But if you watch her, look how relaxed
she is. A lot of animals that you see doing the stereotypic
pattern seem to be agitated, and they kind of shut down mentally,
they aren't aware of their environment. Look, she just watched
that bird fly across. Her nose is going in the air. So this
leads us to believe that in this case, this is just something
ALAN ALDA (Narration) So it may be that for some individual animals,
pacing is a necessary part of daily life in a zoo -- even
though nowadays zoo keepers do everything they can to keep
their animals entertained -- and so to better entertain their
customers. But for JoAnne, entertainment takes second place
to what she sees as the primary mission of the new zoos --
making people more aware of the plight of animals in the wild.
SIMERSON Look how close you got to those polar bears. The
next time you hear about something happening to polar bear
habitat, you're going to react to that because you've had
such a personal experience that you're not going to get someplace
else. It will be hard to be apathetic.
ALAN ALDA You know my question was before, I can understand, I
really do understand educating the public, but if it's at
a cost to the animals, we have to be sure it's worth the cost,
we have to know what the cost is, and we have to be sure it's
ALAN ALDA I can't tell from looking at it, but it sure looks, and
from what you say it sounds, as though the cost isn't nearly
so great as it used to be.
SIMERSON You make me feel so good, I'm so glad you feel better!
WILDER, THE BETTER
ALAN ALDA (Narration) In almost every zoo today, keepers are trying
to think up new ways to enrich their animal's environment.
This is the Metro Toronto Zoo, where one of the orangutans
is getting to model a new tee-shirt...while another prefers
a robe. Clothing's scarce in the rain forest, but orangutans
in the wild do like to wrap themselves in large leaves. Trying
to mimic aspects of the wild experience in the zoo often involves
hiding food so that the animals have to search it out. Zookeepers
have an informal network for exchanging enrichment ideas like
this, but the Metro Zoo has gone one step further.
MACDONALD is a York University psychologist who's bringing
a scientist's eye to making zoo animals happier.
MACDONALD It seems really simple to just scatter food around
an exhibit or just give an orangutan a tee-shirt, but when
you're dealing with very intelligent animals like orangutans
or other species, that is enough to stimulate them, stimulate
their interest, stimulate their creativity, make them think.
And challenging them that way is a very important part of
ALAN ALDA (Narration) It's trying to find out how animals think
so as to keep them challenged that's Suzanne's specialty.
This is an experiment to see just how well orangutans can
remember where food has been hidden. In the orangutan's private
playroom at the zoo, some jugs contain food while others are
empty. Kartiko swings into action. He's never played this
game before, but he lucks out right away. Getting to the next
jug involves some tricky trapeze work -- which turns out to
be all for nothing. So it's onward and upward. This time,
the climb was worth it. A few hours later, Suzanne hides food
in the same locations as before. This time, Kartiko doesn't
hesitate. And now he skips the empty jugs and goes straight
for the ones that have food. Kartiko returns to his observers
for congratulations. But then he's joined by another orangutan,
Dinar. Dinar checks an empty jug -- but then beats Kartiko
to his favorite full one. What interests Suzanne is that Kartiko
doesn't seem annoyed -- regretful perhaps, but not mad. To
Suzanne, the whole experiment nicely illustrates the behaviors
that come naturally in the wild, and so should be encouraged
MACDONALD Orangutans are very good at remembering exactly
where food is located. That's what you'd expect based on where
they live in the rain forest, because they have to remember
where fruiting trees are located. We also learned that they
have a particular strategy that they tend to use, they tend
to go from one location to the next closest one, which means
they save themselves some time in between, so they take the
shortest possible route, which is a very efficient strategy,
very smart. And we also learned that orangutans don't compete
with each other for food. Other animals, if you place two
animals in competition for one small bit of food, they'll
fight to the death. But with orangutans it's hands off, they
don't want to compete, and I think that reflects their solitary
nature in the wild.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) You don't see many animals pacing in the
Metro Zoo. But these saki monkeys from South America once
did the monkey equivalent -- obsessively grooming each other,
hour after hour.
MACDONALD We're not talking about occasionally, we're talking
about all day long, to the point that they were losing parts
of their fur on their arm. So we decided we had to do something
to break this behavior up.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The something that worked involved the saki's
favorite food, sunflower seeds. Hidden in these custom designed
feeders, the seeds have to be dug out by the monkeys, making
them work for their supper as they'd have to in the jungle.
MACDONALD This kind of enrichment project has a ripple effect
on their entire behavior. Because it doesn't just affect their
grooming or stopping them from grooming, or affect their feeding
behavior, it seems to affect all the behavior they do.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Including, surprisingly, their mating behavior.
Where before the monkeys' physical interaction was confined
to grooming, now their interest in each other has become much
more romantic. There's been a decided lack of romance in the
air over at the gibbon enclosure, where this male and female
-- despite years of sharing living quarters -- have never
taken the first step to parenthood. Suzanne, working with
graduate student Dawn Nicolson, decided to try a little couples'
therapy with the aid of something not often employed in zoos.
Suzanne's apparently not the only one to enjoy the Girl from
Ipanema. But the music is just to see how the gibbons react
to an unusual noise. These are the sounds that matter. It's
the call of a male gibbon -- and it gets an immediate reaction.
In the wild, gibbons call all the time. But these two gibbons
had hardly ever called-- until the sudden apparent intrusion
of another male. But now the female starts venturing a few
tentative calls of her own. The unseen male seems intriguing.
MACDONALD She is actually listening to the advertisement of
another male and saying, yeah, here I am and what do you think
of me? Basically it's a little bit of a courtship going on
and she should not be doing that if she's well-bonded with
NICOLSON She actually is responding because she's trying to
play the market a little, she would maybe prefer to be with
a different male.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) This is all very bad news to the male in
residence, who responds with the gibbon version of taking
off his coat and rolling up his sleeves.
NICOLSON He thinks there's another male there, so he's displaying
to that male his strength to show he's more dominant than
the other male. He has to protect the pair bond.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) And in the act of protecting it, maybe he
starts believing in it. It's the old, old story -- there's
nothing like a rival, real or imagined, to shake up a stale
relationship. Soon they're both talking -- this time together.
Now that's enrichment.
MACDONALD Using sound as enrichment I think is one of the
sort of under-represented ways to enrich animals, and I hope
that we can use more of it in the future. Because we have
to take the animal's own perceptual world and try to enrich
it. And we often forget that animals use sound to communicate.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) From an animal doctor concerned with her
patient's happiness we go next to one concerned with their
basic health -- and to a very different kind of zoo.
ALAN ALDA How many fish in this tank do you think are in trouble,
KRUM This is a good ward.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) It's morning rounds for the medical team
at the New England Aquarium in Boston.
ALAN ALDA You come around every morning and make rounds like this
and check for illness?
KRUM Yeah, we have case list just like in a hospital...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Dr. Howard Krum is the leader of the veterinary
team here. Among his thousands of potential patients, the
fish he's most concerned about in this tank are the sand tiger
sharks, two of which have developed hunchbacks.
ALAN ALDA How long ago did you notice a problem?
KRUM Well it takes weeks and weeks to develop, and it started
very gradually, but then over the past couple of weeks it's
ALAN ALDA So only within the space of a few weeks this severe deformation
KRUM It's gotten a lot worse in a short period of time, yes.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) But today, Howard Krum has a more urgent
case to take care of. Here in the aquarium's hospital is a
very sick puffer fish, an elderly patient who is reported
to have a swollen abdomen -- though she could have fooled
me. Called a bridal burrfish, her problem is dramatically
revealed by her X-ray.
KRUM And what we noticed when we took the X-ray to try to
figure out what was going on in her abdomen is that she had
this mass that appears to be a stone, a calcified... like
you'd get a kidney stone or a bladder stone? That's what we're
thinking it is.
ALAN ALDA Have you ever done this surgery before?
KRUM No I haven't, and I don't think anybody has.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The New England Aquarium's Medical Center
is unusual not only for its sophistication, but also because
it is itself one of the exhibits. So Dr Krum and his team
do most of their fish doctoring with an audience. Fast asleep
after swimming around in a bucket spiked with anesthetic,
the bridal burrfish is prepared for surgery. A tube carries
water laced with the same anesthetic over her gills to keep
her both alive and unconscious. I'm touched by the team's
concern and impressed by their professionalism. But I'm a
little surprised that high tech equipment like an ultrasound
heart monitor is being used on an aging fish that isn't even
KRUM When we bring an animal here, we try to give it the best
care possible. We feel that is the responsible thing to do,
period. So it doesn't matter if it's an aging bridal burrfish
or really one of the more exotic specimens we're working on,
we feel like we have to do what's best for the animal, to
the best of our capabilities.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) After a tense 25 minutes of cutting through
the tough spiny skin, and opening the bladder without damaging
any blood vessels...
ALAN ALDA Oh my god, look at the size of it!
KRUM Since that was the first time we ever did that procedure,
it's good to get practice doing it, period, regardless who
it's on. We're doing something new everyday, so it's building
up a repertoire of capabilities for other animals.
ALAN ALDA Do you think it's premature to congratulate you on a
KRUM It seems to have worked so far, so we're happy. We're
happy that she recovered and is recovering right now. So thank
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Next on the veterinary team's rounds is a
visit with Guthrie.
ALAN ALDA Now why does he put his nose on the blue thing like that?
COLWELL That's a focal point for Guthrie, it gives him a point
of reference for where he should be when the trainers are
going in and out of his pen.
ALAN ALDA Is he like really good at staying on target?
JOANNE COLWELL He's really good at staying on target.
ALAN ALDA Because I hear that I'm going into the pen with you.
COLWELL You are going into the pen.
ALAN ALDA I heard that just a second ago. So get onto the target
will you Guthrie? Get on the target. How do I make him get
ALAN ALDA Now why did he do that for you?
COLWELL Because I have the food...
ALAN ALDA You have the fish in your pocket, OK. OK, don't forget
the target thing, OK, keep that in mind.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Guthrie, as you've probably guessed by now,
is a performing sea lion.
JOANNE COLWELL OK, I'm going to go in first, and the last
person in shut the gate behind us.
ALAN ALDA Last person in shut the gate.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Guthrie's been trained to cooperate...
ALAN ALDA Vay is mir! Watch out!
ALAN ALDA (Narration) ...but he weighs well over a quarter ton.
KRUM So if we wanted to do an eye exam...
ALAN ALDA I'm looking for a quick way out of here in case he starts
to roll around.
KRUM ...we'll go down, and we can take a look, and he'll hold
himself still and he'll let us shine the light in his eye
-- that's good. Now she'll reward him for his good behavior.
ALAN ALDA Now Guthrie, open your mouth. Oh very good. A little
COLWELL Hold it...
ALAN ALDA Black teeth! Terrific. A little yellow on the tip of
his tongue there.
COLWELL He's kissing the camera now.
ALAN ALDA You know what he does? He makes a kissing sound. GUTHRIE
KRUM Another medical behavior that Guthrie can do is, if he
had any respiratory problems, if he had sniffles or sneezes
or anything like that, or we thought there was anything wrong
with his lungs, and we wanted to get a culture of what was
going on, we could ask him to blow into a petri dish with
media on it, so it's a very easy way to get a sample of what's
in his nose...
ALAN ALDA Oh so you can see what grows? So how does he do that?
COLWELL Sneeze! Good boy.
KRUM And you can see, even on that, that's plenty of sample.
COLWELL Guthrie, grin.
ALAN ALDA I can understand training him so he'll accept medical
procedures -- examinations and that sort of thing, that's
good for his health. Does training him to perform in a show
for the entertainment of humans, that extra training which
doesn't really directly seem to affect his health, is that
good for him or bad for him, or doesn't it matter?
COLWELL I think it's actually good for him, it actually stimulates
his mind, and he enjoys it.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Watching him perform, it's easy to believe
that -- at least most of the time -- Guthrie does enjoy it.
It's back to the idea of enrichment again. Our last stop today
is to check on some harbor seal pups that had been found abandoned
a few weeks ago on New England beaches. My reputation as a
skilled animal handler had obviously preceded me.
CONNIE MERIGO So what we're going to do is have you bottle
feed number one. And you might just want to put these on,
again you don't want to get bit.
ALAN ALDA I don't want to get bitten. Why don't I want to get bitten?
MERIGO Well seals can have a, they've got a bacteria in their
saliva that can potentially be very hazardous to us. If you
get bit and get some of that saliva in the cut or in the open
wound, it can be toxic to your system and it can go systemic.
ALAN ALDA What, do you think I'm crazy? I'm not crazy. I'm fun-loving,
I'm curious, but I'm not crazy. You feed it.
CONNIE MERIGO Well, it's just a bottle and there's not going
to be a lot of risk...
ALAN ALDA That's good. I'll be over here, and I'm sure it will
be very cute. What's wrong with that?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Number one is one of several harbor seal
pups being rehabilitated here at the aquarium before being
released back into the wild. They're fed, not milk, but a
special fish mash.
MERIGO And I think he's all done.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Many of the abandoned seal pups also have
medical problems. Number four here was suffering from severe
malnutrition when he was brought in a month ago.
KRUM Let's take a look in his mouth. And so just like we did
on the sea lion, we're taking a look around. Of course, these
guys aren't trained to open their mouths or do anything. We
don't want to train them because they're going to be released.
ALAN ALDA What about just handling it like this? Does that have
an adverse affect on its being accepted back into the...
KRUM It doesn't seem to be. These animals, as far as anyone
knows, they are accepted back into the wild and off they go.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) As it happens, seal number four will help
test the belief that the rehabilitated pups make it when released.
Four months after my visit with him, he's been brought to
a beach in Biddeford, Maine, near where he was originally
found. Glued to his back is a miniature transmitter that will
radio data up to a satellite.
KRUM What we're trying to do is really just try to complete
the story. We know where the animal came from, we know what
was wrong with it. And we feel that it's healthy. So now we're
going to try to track it and find out where it is and how
deep it's diving and how much time it spends out of the water,
that kind of thing. So hopefully we can get the final picture
and know how well he does.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Under the gaze of the local media, seal pup
number four and a companion check out the real world after
a cozy five months in Dr Krum's care at the New England Aquarium.
After its release here in mid October the pup was tracked
for over a month, during which it swam down to Cape Cod, and
appeared to be diving and foraging successfully. And as we'll
see in the rest of our show, this is only one example of how
zoos and aquariums are increasingly playing a role in the
lives of animals in the wild.
IN THE TANK
ALAN ALDA (Narration) This is the world's largest window into life
in the open ocean -- the 13 inch thick, 54 ft long, acrylic
window of the new Outer Bay exhibit at California's Monterey
Bay Aquarium. Inside the million gallon tank are yellowtail
and skip jack tuna -- fish rarely kept successfully in captivity
-- along with other ocean-going species like the eerie ocean
sunfish, or mola. But for fish used to the wide open ocean,
even a giant tank isn't enough to guarantee health and happiness
-- as the aquarium staff soon discovered when it came to feeding
ALAN ALDA Why do you feed them squid? Is this what they eat in
WILLIAMS No, not necessarily. But what happened was when we
fed them what they fed in the wild and we fed them every day,
they got too fat.
ALAN ALDA How did you know they were fat? Did their belts need
to be opened a notch?
WILLIAMS Yeah, kind of like us, you know, they had to switch
ALAN ALDA Can you tell by looking at a fish that it's fat?
WILLIAMS No, what happened was they would die because they
were fat. And when we necropsies them, when we opened 'em
up, we'd get in there and open up and in the white muscle
itself there was actually after about five minutes there was
pools of fat, fluid fat. And so they were literally just getting
overfed on fat.
ALAN ALDA And this was from being fed what they normally eat in
the wild. So what, don't they get enough exercise in the tank?
WILLIAMS Not as much, you know. And besides, they don't have
to... a tuna remember in the wild goes for long distances
between food, and so all of a sudden now they're going to,
instead of having to work for their food and swim all around,
they're being fed, every other day.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) And as I was about to discover, it's not
just when and what you feed the tuna, but also how.
ALAN ALDA So what's the idea? How do we do this?
YOUNG So the idea is, we're going to take the food, we don't
want it in a concentrated point when we throw it in the water,
otherwise the tuna will all rise up to it and collide. So
we want to lay a nice strip down this way, across the front
this way and just keep it going. Keep it away from the window
because the tuna will actually head that way at about 40 miles
per hour sometimes...
ALAN ALDA And they'll bang their nose on the glass. Oh, I got it
all over my face! I got squid juice on my face.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) During the tuna's feeding frenzy, the lone
mola in the tank seemed to just hang around, waiting. What
he was waiting for was...
ALAN ALDA What's this?
COOKE This is a target that we've developed here, because
the tuna swim around so quickly and you saw during the feeding
that there's no way the mola's going to get enough to eat.
If I threw food in right now, the mola wouldn't even know
the food was in the water before the tuna gulped it up.
ALAN ALDA So he sees you act like the tooth fairy here.
ALAN ALDA Do you see him out there?
COOKE Yes, I can see him right there.
ALAN ALDA Oh yeah, yeah.
COOKE Here he comes.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) In the open ocean, mola can grow up to 10
feet long. This one is just a baby -- and eats like one, too.
ALAN ALDA It's a very strange experience. He really just sucks
it right out of your hand.
COOKE Yeah, he's a great animal, great animal.
ALAN ALDA Look, he's getting his picture taken by the other camera.
He really is into that. What is he...?
COOKE He's probably fairly angry. Did you see the bubbles
come out of his mouth?
ALAN ALDA Yeah.
COOKE He was actually spitting at the camera. He's coming
ALAN ALDA Really. Isn't he used to cameras in there?
COOKE No, he's not used to cameras. I believe this is the
first time he's been filmed underwater.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) It's not only underwater cameras that can
upset a mola -- so too can another mola...
ALAN ALDA He's got a chin like a guy who needs a shave. A little
ALAN ALDA (Narration) In the first days of the tank, there were
several molas here -- and they spent most of their time bumping
their faces against the walls. It seems they couldn't stand
the sight of each other.
ALAN ALDA Bumping into the walls. That's a sign of what?
COOKE A sign of stress, probably of frustration, that they
couldn't get away from one of their others.
ALAN ALDA It wasn't enough that they got at opposite ends of the
tank, they actually tried to get out of the tank to get away
from each other?
COOKE Even though this seems like a very large tank at a million
gallons, it's very small compared to the Pacific Ocean itself.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The cure for the mola's misery turned out
to be simple. The unhappy ones were released. This one arrived
alone -- and showed no signs of wall-bumping. So he's remained
alone ever since -- apparently happy to be the only mola in
his million gallon world. But it's the tuna here that are
the giant tank's main attraction. And learning how to keep
tuna happy and healthy in captivity has already had a major
spin-off -- one that may help save one of the ocean's most
endangered species. On the beach outside the aquarium, I'm
talking with tuna expert Heidi Dewar about the world's most
valuable fish, the giant bluefin tuna, highly prized in Japan
for sushi and sashimi.
DEWAR Recently I heard that one fish, I don't know how big
it was, but one individual fish, went for $90,000.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Next door to the Aquarium is the Tuna Research
and Conservation Center. Inside are tanks where yellowtail
tuna are playing a key role in helping understand -- and perhaps
ultimately save -- their bluefin cousins. Researcher OK, he's
going to come back in this corner. This is him right here.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) We're trying to corral a yellowtail tuna
that has a tracking tag implanted in its belly. Catching and
handling live tuna without harming them takes a lot of practice.
A tuna's skin is very delicate, so it has to be gently guided
into a sort of underwater stretcher. It also takes practice
to do the surgery necessary to quickly and safely implant
the tags; this fish is having some stitches removed. The researchers'
ability to perfect their skills on these captive yellowtail
tuna was critical to carrying out an ambitious project to
tag bluefin tuna in the Atlantic Ocean last winter. In a project
called Tag A Giant, sports fisherman joined the tuna researchers
in catching bluefins off Cape Hatteras. Bluefin fishing is
regulated by an international commission that sets seasons
and quotas; but the fact is these rules are based on only
a vague understanding of how many bluefin tuna still live
in the Atlantic and how far the fish can travel. The tags
Heidi and her colleagues implanted record, among other measurements,
where the tuna go and how deep they swim.
DEWAR We put out 160 tags off of Cape Hatteras, and we'll
be happy if we get seven to ten of those back.
ALAN ALDA And the only way you'll get them back is if the fish
is caught by a fishing company?
DEWAR Exactly. The fish that have these inside have green
external tags on the outside, which green for money. So if
a fisherman sees these, then they know that this tag is inside
and they'll get a thousand dollar reward, which is pretty...
and usually they get a hat.
ALAN ALDA That's kind of a gamble. That's a scientific gamble you're
DEWAR It is. And the reason that we're... the next step is
to actually marry this data storage technology with satellite
ALAN ALDA Now what's this, this is a different kind of...?
DEWAR This is a pop-up satellite tag actually, and we put
37 of these out in bluefin tuna at Cape Hatteras. And what
this will do is we can attach it to the fish externally, again
using techniques that we test here first to make sure it's
not going to impact the fish, and then at a predetermined
time when we program it to come off, this little piece of
3/16 stainless on the end will corrode away and the tag will
come to the surface and talk to...
ALAN ALDA It floats up. What does it talk to?
DEWAR It talks to the NOAA weather satellites actually and
says, "Here I am."
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Thirty five of the 37 pop-up tags did as
they were meant to, each signaling to the satellites where
its tuna was when the tag detached. And so far, two of the
implanted tags have been recovered, from bluefin tuna caught
off New England. The hope is that when and if more tags are
returned -- perhaps from as far away as the Mediterranean
-- their information might help formulate more scientifically-based
bluefin tuna fishing quotas. Meanwhile, back at the Monterey
Bay Aquarium, the tuna in the Outer Bay exhibit lounge in
luxury on their low-fat diet, unwitting participants in an
ambitious attempt to protect their endangered relatives who
are still at large.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) No animal more symbolizes the plight of the
world's endangered species than the giant panda. With fewer
than a thousand still living in an ever shrinking habitat
in China, captive animals are becoming increasingly important
to the species' survival. And of giant pandas in captivity,
Bai Yun, now living in the San Diego Zoo, maybe one of her
species' last best hopes.
ALAN ALDA Don't eat the whole thing at once...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Because she's here, not just to charm her
visitors, but to teach researchers about panda life.
ALAN ALDA You know, she's very cute. She was resting her head on
her paw, looking at me with her big eyes, look at that, and
she's very gentle when she takes the cookie, look at that.
But is that...should I be careful? Is this animal dangerous?
LINDBURG Very seductive, isn't it, this whole thing? There's
the potential for significant injury, simply because she has
a pretty nice set of teeth.
ALAN ALDA What are you studying here mostly?
LINDBURG We're focusing on the communication system of pandas,
particularly their sense of smell. Because they're a solitary
kind of animal, they need to communicate across distances
and in ways that the message gets out when they're not in
face to face contact. So the best way to do that is to put
out a signal, a scent mark, on a post, a tree stump or a rock
or something like that.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The panda's scent gland is just under the
tail. By collecting and analyzing the scent, Don Lindburg
and his colleagues hope eventually to decode what it says.
ALAN ALDA How specific do the messages get? As a human, when I
smell an animal, I get one message. I get the word "skunk,"
or I get the words, "my carpet is ruined," you know, like
that's it. Do they have more...are these smells more complex,
can they get more information out of a smell than just an
animal's been here?
LINDBURG Well, we think so. But that's precisely what this
study is all about -- what kind of information can they get
from a scent mark?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) One assumption is that these scent marks
are especially important in the giant panda's notoriously
finicky mating behavior. Along with Bai Yun, Shi Shi, a male,
is also here in the San Diego Zoo, in the hope that between
the two a little passion might be stirred. The animals were
introduced to each other last spring.
LINDBURG When two pandas meet in the wild, the normal response
is to expel the intruder. That's supposed to change on one
occasion primarily, and that is when she wants to mate. And
in this instance the communication seemed not to transpire...
ALAN ALDA He had the problem, not her.
LINDBURG That's correct. If the female approached him, he
would either give an aggressive vocalization or literally
lunge at her, occasionally even bite her to drive her away.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Shi Shi's surliness may be explained by his
battered nose, the result of an old injury in the wild. Perhaps
he simply can't smell Bai Yun's messages, and that's why he
ignores them. Both Shi Shi and Bai Yun are watched almost
every waking moment as the research team attempts to understand
the panda's world. Valerie Hare's been recording Bai Yun's
behavior in an complex code even during our filming.
ALAN ALDA You put these codes together in a sentence? Like at lunch
you get together and say I saw her do 1a and 2c today...
HARE Exactly, and of course we can talk and no one else can...
ALAN ALDA ...tell what you're talking about. But what do you hope
to gain from this? How will you put it together?
HARE Well we give this material to the researchers like Dr
Lindburg, and they go through it and they can see here she
sat still looking at you and then, Alan fed. And then she
stood up on her hind feet, remember that?
ALAN ALDA And you were watching and writing that down all the time...
HARE Everything she did.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) By watching so closely, the San Diego researchers
hope to gain insights into panda biology that will help the
species survive in the wild. And of course, there's the hope
that Bai Yun will yet overcome Shi Shi's apparent indifference
to fatherhood. The idea that zoos should contribute to the
world's wild animal population rather than draw from it is
probably the most profound of the changes to have overtaken
zoos since the days I so disliked them.
RIECHES ...you can drive right up to these animals...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) I'm here on safari, not in Africa but a few
miles north of San Diego in the San Diego Wild Animal Park,
which was created specifically to breed animals for exhibition
in zoos -- especially animals whose continued existence in
the wild is imperiled. Our first stop in the park is amid
a group of extremely friendly Ugandan giraffes.
ALAN ALDA How old is this park?
RIECHES We've been here 25 years. And during that 25 years
we've had over 20,000 animals born here at the Wild Animal
ALAN ALDA Really. And how many of those are considered endangered
RIECHES Of those 20,000, roughly about almost half, almost
50% of those animals have been endangered species that have
been sent to zoos within the United States and internationally
to other facilities worldwide.
ALAN ALDA The giraffe is not endangered is it?
RIECHES This species of giraffe will probably be the first
species that is listed. The population is dropping dramatically.
ALAN ALDA Is that because vegetation is disappearing or what?
RIECHES Actually, vegetation is disappearing because of farmland,
encroachment of farmland, and the fact that they are occasionally
hunted for their tails, which are used as fly swatters.
ALAN ALDA I can't believe it. Kill a whole gorgeous animal like
that to swat a fly.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The friendliest Ugandan giraffe has a noticeably
ALAN ALDA Why does this guy look so different from the others?
RIECHES He's an adult male, and as adult males become mature
you see a lot of calcium deposits on their forehead around
the ossocones, the horns, and this protects the cranial area
when they're necking -- standing shoulder to shoulder and
taking their head and slamming it into the abdomen of the
ALAN ALDA That's what they call necking?
RIECHES That's what they call necking, yeah. He has actually
sired numerous calves here. He will be displaced by the younger
male and this older male will then go to another zoo that
actually needs to change bloodlines.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Our friend's planned departure is part of
an intricately choreographed exchange of breeding animals
among zoos around the world. By constantly mixing bloodlines,
the goal is to avoid the dangers of inbreeding.
ALAN ALDA Where are we going now?
RIECHES We are actually leaving Africa and now we're crossing
continents. We're now going into Asia.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The Asian enclosure at the Wild Animal Park,
like the African one, has hundreds of animals roaming freely.
Only predators like lions and tigers are kept apart -- for
obvious reasons. The Park has been especially successful at
breeding endangered rhinoceros species -- including this one,
the Indian rhino.
ALAN ALDA Why do so many animals approach the truck like this?
RIECHES Because all the animals come to the feed trucks.
ALAN ALDA Oh feed trucks come by here. I see. No wonder. He really
looks like he's seen an old friend here.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) It took seven years of trying before the
first baby Indian rhino came along, but since then 26 others
have been born at the park.
ALAN ALDA Has there been any one big lesson you've learned about
how to breed wild animals?
RIECHES Space. In one word I would say space.
ALAN ALDA Space. How do you mean, space?
RIECHES Once we took animals from a zoo environment and placed
them in these larger areas, we have increased the breeding
potential of these species by tenfold.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The success of captive breeding programs
as zoos have become more like the wild has meant that the
flow of animals from the wild into zoos has been largely halted.
And in a few cases, as we'll see in our last story, it's even
TO THE WILD
ALAN ALDA (Narration) A couple of hours drive north of Rio de Janeiro
in Brazil are a few remnant patches of a forest that once
stretched for hundreds of miles. Most of the land is now pasture,
most of the animals, cows. But in this narrow strip of forest,
the Poco das Antas reserve, the trees are home to a thriving
population of golden lion tamarins, a species of monkey once
on the brink of extinction. What's most extraordinary about
these monkeys is that they are almost all the descendants
of animals born in zoos. My first glimpse of golden lion tamarins
was also pretty extraordinary. Because these animals at the
National Zoo in Washington DC are -- as far as I could see
-- free to roam wherever they please.
ALAN ALDA How far do they go from here? I mean this is wide open.
At night, do they sleep under lock and key or...
BECK No, no, they sleep in that plastic picnic cooler that
you see up there. And they're free, literally free, to go
anywhere they want. Why don't they? When people ask me that
question I ask, well, why don't you go to Pittsburgh? They've
got their shelter here, they've got their mate here, they've
got their food here, there's no reason for them to go anywhere
ALAN ALDA Yeah, but just once in a while, doesn't somebody just
take a walk?
BECK We've had it happen And we go find them. You can see
they're wearing little radio transmitters.
ALAN ALDA Oh, you can find them with the transmitters.
BECK Right, but it's very rare.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Ben Beck coordinates a program that takes
golden lion tamarins born in zoos around the world and reintroduces
them to the Brazilian forest. Before they go, the monkeys
come here for a sort of training course in jungle survival
skills -- including how to find insects and grubs.
BECK This container tries to induce them to stick their hands
in and probe for these things.
ALAN ALDA Oh I see, they have to get used to foraging.
BECK Right, because in the wild this stuff is going to be
under bark and under leaves and so they have to get used to
search for food rather than just sit and wait for it. BELINDA
Let me just right now lower this one and we'll hook it up
BECK OK, here comes the rope. Now we have our choice.
ALAN ALDA I hook it onto one of these...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The idea is to make the food as tricky to
get at as it would be in the Brazilian forest.
BECK Being out on a rope is a good place for these guys because
it's shaky and they have to get used to moving on shaky unstable
ALAN ALDA Now I hear that call coming from someplace. They're calling
to each other that there's food around, right?
BECK That's right. That's a food chirp and they do that to
notify other members of their family group that they have
ALAN ALDA Is that chirp particular to that family...
ALAN ALDA Would another family have a different kind of chirp?
BECK No, it's a very stereotyped call for the species.
ALAN ALDA So how come other families don't pick up on that? I mean,
they're tuned to the same station.
BECK Correct, they're tuned to the same station, but they're
in a different area.
ALAN ALDA Oh, OK, I see, because they're very territorial.
BECK That's right, and so the nearest tamarin group might
be half a kilometer away. They're both listening to 90.9 but
one is in Philadelphia and one is in Washington.
ALAN ALDA She's got her eye on the box but then she ran back again.
BECK Patience is 99% of this business. Waiting for the animals
to do what they're ready to do.
ALAN ALDA OK, here she comes. That's the wrong rope.
BECK A truly wild golden lion tamarin would have no trouble
getting from where she is to that feeder.
ALAN ALDA Why? Why does this one have trouble?
BECK There's two reasons. First of all, animals that grew
up in relatively small cages tend not to develop good mapping
skills. They don't know how to get around in a challenging
and rearranged environment. And the second reason of course
is locomotion. They're not really skilled at locomotion, and
these are the things they're going to have to master if they're
to survive in the wild.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Another skill they need to master is what
to do with a banana.
BECK Can you imagine having to teach a monkey how to open
ALAN ALDA It's hard to believe. You'd expect they could just figure
BECK All their life we chop it up into nice little pieces
for them. OK Belinda, go for it.
ALAN ALDA So do you have to give them instructions or how do they
get into this?
BECK We start out by peeling the peel just a little bit, so
they make the connection that the fruit is underneath the
rind. And then slowly they begin to open it up. And there
are bananas in the forest in Brazil, but they come whole,
just like this, and they need to learn how to do it.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Watching the tamarins learn how to open bananas,
I could see why this sort of jungle boot camp seems like a
good idea. But even good ideas don't always work out exactly
ALAN ALDA Why do you do this here? Why don't you just have a situation
like this down in Brazil and work with them there in a environment
that's really the one they'll be going into?
BECK Where were you ten years ago when we really needed that
question to be asked? When we started this in 1986 we really
thought that this would be a kind of training ground for them
in a safer, more protected environment, where we had veterinarians
that are two minutes away. And we really believed intuitively
that this kind of experience, what you're seeing here, was
going to confer on them some sort of advantage in survival.
Well, we just analyzed 14 year's worth of data. And you know
what? It doesn't make a bit of difference. Being in this kind
of environment before they go to Brazil does not mean that
they are more likely to survive than coming right out of a
ALAN ALDA But they still have to learn the same lessons?
BECK They still have to learn the same lessons. So what we're
doing is exactly what you said, we continue the training in
Brazil by all of this intensive support, and what they do
is they learn on their own. We just keep 'em alive.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) In the 14 years that
BECK and his colleagues have been taking golden lion tamarins
to the Poco das Antas reserve in Brazil, they've released
147 animals into the forest. These monkeys have come from
zoos all over the world. Their nest boxes -- tamarins inside
-- are hauled up into the trees. The goal is to build up a
population that can eventually be self-sustaining -- which
BECK estimates to be around 2000. So far the population has
reached well over 200, most of them the wild born offspring
of zoo born animals. The newcomers are a little awed by their
surroundings at first, despite their training. And it's here
the continued support they get in the wild is critical. They
get food just as they did in boot camp, and one of each family
group wears a radio collar so they can be tracked if the group
wanders away. But while most of the new arrivals cope, their
wild-born descendants do far better. When it comes to learning
survival skills, there's no substitute for being there. Today
the biggest problem is caused by the program's success --
it's running out of room. Here's the real crunch with the
whole idea of reintroducing animals into the wild -- there's
so little wild left to reintroduce them to. In Brazil the
focus now is on getting local ranchers to set aside for golden
lion tamarins some of their last remaining patches of forest.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the two tamarins in training
will have to wait before packing their picnic cooler for Brazil.
Their role now is like that of the other zoo animals I've
met -- as ambassadors pleading the case for their wild cousins.
You see the tamarins over there? A little bit of orange straight
around the tree?
Those guys are called golden lion tamarins and they're from
Brazil. But these two were actually born in zoos...
ALAN ALDA I started out on this trip really not liking zoos. Years
ago, I saw zoos where the animals were clearly depressed and
obsessive, and they just looked like caged animals. And the
zoos I'm seeing are different, they have a whole different
philosophy, the animals are treated different. This is not
like anything I've ever seen. Is this... am I getting the
right picture? Have zoos really changed?
BECK Absolutely. Over the past roughly 25 years, there's been
a true revolution in zoos, where we've moved away from menageries
-- where I have to agree with you, there was some exploitation
of the animals -- to organizations that are seriously committed
to conservation. And we do this in several ways. One of course
is education of our local public. And you don't learn much
from seeing animals pacing back and forth behind bars. But
in the new exhibits you have the opportunity to feel for the
animal, to empathize, to connect, to learn about it. Secondly,
zoos have been active in breeding animals as a back-up if
you will to the wild populations, and in some cases, re-introducing
them to the wild. The third thing is training. We've become
training grounds for wildlife managers. And fourth, the techniques
that we have been developing for years and years in zoos,
such as assisted reproduction, veterinary care, are becoming
more and more applicable to wild animals as the wild, national
parks, protected areas, become more and more zoo like. The
difference between the wild and the zoos is disappearing.