This book deals mostly with new biological knowledge and the use of that knowledge to benefit the giant panda by enhancing health, reproduction and management. It is an important strategy for modern-day zoo scientists, conducting ‘basic research’ to learn as much as possible about previously unstudied phenomena in any species, especially those that have received little, if any, attention.
In many ways, a scientist affiliated with a zoo is no different than a university research professor – both study mechanisms by using the scientific method to test hypotheses (Wildt, 2004). What is different about zoo science is the growing emphasis on results having practical uses – addressing issues that are relevant to allowing an animal to be better maintained in captivity, to allow it to thrive, reproduce and help sustain its species. In a perfect world that new knowledge will have duality of purpose, being useful to improving the conservation of in situ as well as ex situ populations. In fact, there now are many examples of ‘captive’ studies that have been useful for re-invigorating or re-establishing wild populations (e.g. golden lion tamarin, scimitar horned oryx, Florida panther, black-footed ferret, red wolf, California condor, among others). But having an in situ benefit is not an essential prerequisite to studying a species because the primary target is always the production of new knowledge – intellectual capital that improves our understanding of the wonders of biology and the natural world.