Monday, December 18, 2017

URSP Student Zuri Gagnon Monitors the Behavior of Red Pandas Before Birth

My name is Zuri Gagnon and I am a senior studying Biology with a concentration in Environmental and Conservation Biology. This semester, I have been working with my mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Freeman, to monitor the behavior of red pandas before birth. Red pandas are listed as endangered because their population is decreasing due to habitat loss. Although protecting them in their native habitat is the top priority, zoological institutions breed red pandas in captivity as a safeguard for the species and with the hope for reintroduction into the wild. Breeding red pandas in captivity comes with problems such as variable gestation lengths or pseudopregnancy. This project uses behavioral data to compare the behavior of pregnant and non-pregnant red pandas to help predict the time of birth.

My dream of saving animals and becoming involved the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) is what primarily got me interested in this project. After spending Fall 2016 at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation and completing an internship at SCBI, I knew I wanted to continue research with endangered species. I was encouraged to reach out to Dr. Elizabeth Freeman because she has done research with the red pandas at SCBI. She became my mentor and has been so helpful throughout this project.

I had never studied animal behavior before, so this was a completely new experience for me. On a weekly basis, I spend time coding red panda videos using an iOS application, Animal Behaviour Pro. I use an established ethogram, or list of the different behaviors observed in an animal, to record behaviors and their durations. It’s been great learning about animal behavior and I hope to continue this research in the future.