Zoo Animals Try Online Dating
A koala bear in Australia, Killarney, is moving into the Web 2.0 age, and trying her hand at some online dating.
Undaunted, Killarney's friends keep updating her online profile in the hope of finding her Mr. Right. Like many of her contemporaries, the koala might find her dream date waiting somewhere in the files of a computerized matchmaking service, keepers at the Riverbanks Zoo theorize.
Just like the digital dating services that pair up people, so-called studbooks are used to match most animals held in captivity. The databases containing information on sex, age and weight -- not so much about favorite comfort foods or long walks on the beach -- are used by more than 200 zoos nationally and some internationally. They're practically taking the place of Mother Nature in the not-so wild world of captive animal breeding.
Now, new software is going to the Web, promising more easily accessible data, faster matches and -- in a page out of the most particular of human dating sites -- details on an animal's personality to ease what can be a testy process.
Zoos won't be required to document the turn-ons and turn-offs of each animal in Zoological Information Management Systems, a collaboration between about 150 zoos and aquariums that's a year or two away from wide distribution.
At the very least, though, the software will give zookeepers better access to species-level details currently found only in zoo husbandry manuals that now are mostly e-mailed back and forth, said Bob Wiese, director of collections for the Zoological Society of San Diego.
Once the couple is together, the zoo keepers even use certain tricks to get the animals in the mood, such as panda porn in China.
Or creatures like frogs need to hear rain to get them in the mood.
This type of technique could mean the difference between sustaining the population and the extinction of a species, and also ensures the most genetically diverse species breed with each other.
It's not exactly animals finding love online, but experts say matchmaking software for zoos is bringing together the single most important factor in ensuring the survival of animals -- people.
"It's really about us gathering the best scientific information we can get to make the best decisions about the long-term viability of our populations," Wiese said.