Another installment from my presentation at the National Zoo last month.
The Clash of the
Cultures – academics and managers
Ted Reed hired a top notch staff. The National Zoo in the 1970s probably had more Ph Ds than any other American zoo.
But Ted had created a 600 lb gorilla.
His scientists were free-thinkers, could "pile it higher and deeper" than most zoo folk, often disagreed with each other, and could be relied upon to question the Director's decisions.
The zoo's Academics
were from the University of Free Thought, and its Managers were from an altogether different universe.
The clash was about the quest for truth versus the quest
for organizational wellness.
Ted wasn't used to the ways of the zoo's new academic culture.
One of the freethinkers was Professor Edwin Gould, who had quit his job at Johns Hopkins University to become the zoo's Curator of Mammals.
|Ed Gould, in field garb in Canada|
At the time there was an arthritic and tired old Bruin at the zoo named Smokey the Bear.
The iconic Smokey roused the Professor's deepest sentiments, and true to his academic upbringing Ed wanted to air his feelings with the Director.
He made an appointment with the Director, and shared his views about the lessons of wildfire in the American west, about fire ecology, and about the misguided policy of the US Forest Service.
He finished his discourse with a zinger: “We all we know it’s a lie.”
Ted had listened patiently.
“Gould, forget about Smokey. Smokey’s a big hit with the visitors
and the Congress, and he’s here to stay. Go back to your office and think of
some neat animals we can get for the public.”
Walking back to his office, Gould could only chuckle at the Director's skillful dismissal.
The Problematic issue of Species Selection
Selecting species for the newly acquired Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia, was often more contentious than Smokey's presence in DC.
Dr Reed convened a CRC planning committee and monthly meetings were held at the center.
committee selected the Pere David’s deer as the first species to go to the center.
|Aaron, in full rut, one of the first Pere David's deer at the |
National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center.
They had bred themselves out of space at the zoo, and moving animals to Front Royal solved the zoo's surplus
The Scimitar horned oryx was the second species selected.
|Scimitar-horned oryx at CRC in the mid 1970s. SNZP photo.|
Then Dr Reed threw in a wild card – Bactrian camels, and the
staff grumbled. The zoo didn't have Bactrian camels, and what's more, captive "Bactrians" are domesticated.
Ted didn’t care. Bactrian camels were uncommon in zoos at the time, and they were a “bread and butter” species. When mom and dad took the kids to the zoo, one of their expectations was to see
Ted wasn’t to be deterred, and I am glad he stood his
|Meade Barn, the Bactrian camel facility|
Meade Barn was retrofitted for camels, and the new camel herd arrived from the Minnesota Zoo with fanfare.
The Governor of Minnesota and his selected staff arrived by helicopter, and Dr Reed and a few NZP staff attended the ceremony at Meade Barn.
We actually received two breeding males, Humphrey, named for a popular country hit by Blanchard and Morgan
, and the small-bodied Jimmy,
Even with 30 acres to explore, Jimmy spent all his time trudging a small figure 8 in the turf. He was totally deranged, and a sad example of what happens when animals are penned up in small enclosures.
But Humphrey showed all the promise of a breeding male.
|The magnificent Humphrey.|
During the winter rutting season he urinated on his tail and flapped it on his rear hump,
and rubbed the coffee-colored fluid from his poll gland on the front hump.
Humphrey was also assertive and challenging to other camels, another sign of the testosteronized male.
Our opinions about Bactrian camels quickly changed.
were cool mega-mammals, and charismatic in their own distinctive way. We started collecting data.
|Humphrey takes on a rival. |
A year passed. When Dr Reed visited the center he wanted to see camels first, and asked when we were going to have babies.
Humphrey wasn't delivering the goods, so we organized an observation team to monitor breeding activity.
|The research team that monitored reproductive behavior of the camel herd. |
Then our veterinarian, Mitch Bush, and colleagues examined Humphrey more closely and attempted to collect semen.
They discovered that our stud "shot blanks".
Despite his macho appearance, his testes had never descended into the scrotum. He was cryptorchid. He was the great pretender.
Word of Humphrey's impotence soon spread to other zoos, and that year the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (now the AZA) honored the National Zoo with four awards .
I was there when Ted received the award, and he played the fool artfully.
Recently, Ted's son Mark informed us that the award was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Ted believed that zoos generate enough levity without the help of special awards from the AAZPA.
He prodded the association to change their policy.
The next year AAZPA's board of directors announced they were discontinuing the Zoo-Goof-of-the-Year-Award.
I was disappointed with that decision, but it was one more example of the clash of the cultures.
Thanks to Kris Vehrs and Barbara Bueschel for locating the Associated Press clipping, to Ed Gould for sharing his memories of his early days at NZP, and to Mark Reed for filling me in on the consequences of the AAZPA's last Goof of the Year Award.
Wemmer, C. and J. Murtaugh. 1980. Olfactory aspects of rutting behavior in the Bactrian camel, Camelus bactrianus ferus. Pp 107-124 in Chemical Signals, Vertebrates and Aquatic Invertebrates (D. Muller-Schwarze et al, eds) .