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Nothing Lesser About These Animals

Sidebar: Drawing on Data

Drawing on “museum tradition,” Judith Block, who served as the National Zoo’s registrar in the 1970s and ’80s, kept meticulous records on each animal at the Zoo. They became scientific tools, she explains: “We equipped researchers with important data to help them better manage their animal populations. A whole movement blossomed, and the data being put together allowed people to have big discussions. It was an incredibly exciting time.”

Block’s work helped Zoo researchers Katherine Ralls and Jonathan Ballou produce their groundbreaking work on inbreeding in zoo mammals. Simply put, they proved that the high mortality rate of offspring in zoos was due to inbreeding. That may seem obvious today, but at the time it revolutionized the approach to breeding and helped lay the foundation for the genetic and demographic management of zoo populations now routinely practiced by major zoos worldwide.

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Smithsonian Zoogoer 41(1) 2012. Copyright 2012 Friends of the National Zoo. All rights reserved.