Teachers, scroll all the way down for a short list of key resources in our “Teachers’ Toolkit.”
- Read the delightful Nat Geo News article about scientists who wear animal costumes all year long. Then, watch our short “Training Pandas to be Wild” video here. Besides sight, what other senses do the scientists use to try and fool their research subjects?
- Smell! According to the Nat Geo News article, scientists studying pandas “sprinkle themselves with panda poop and pee” to mask their own scent. In the video, scientists coat the stuffed leopard with real leopard poop and pee to make it smell authentic.
- Sound! Scientists in the video use a recording of a leopard to convince poor Tao Tao that she’s facing a real predator.
- The video doesn’t explain why the scientists are dressed like pandas, but the Nat Geo News article gives you a clue. So, why are scientists dressed like bipedal pandas, and why are they carrying around a frightening stuffed leopard?
- According to the Nat Geo News article, “[b]y wearing panda suits . . . staff minimize the animals’ stress and human attachment.”
- The test carried out in the video involved scientists making sure Tao Tao, the juvenile panda, has maintained his natural fear of predators despite having never encountered one. Jackals and leopards are natural predators in the panda habitat. Researchers were not going to let a real leopard in to the protected panda enclosure, so they brought in a stuffed version, covered it in leopard smells (cue the poo!), and played an audio recording of a leopard to see how Tao Tao would react. (He was sufficiently scared.)
- Those panda suits don’t look that convincing, and neither does the leopard. Do you think Tao Tao was fooled by either one? Why?
- Yes, he was probably fooled. As we learned in the video, pandas have poor eyesight, and the spot-on scents fooled his sophisticated nose.
- Panda researchers aren’t the only biologists who get dressed up. Hand puppets like the one above are used to “replicate what actual [whooping crane] parents do,” according to the Nat Geo News article. “The puppet offers natural food, catches grasshoppers, and teaches chicks to forage.” Click here for a great photo of moose researchers in the wild. Can you think of other scientists who might get dressed up to help their research subjects?
- Some panda researchers embody bamboo.
- Here’s a California condor being reared by a rubber glove.
- Watch Nat Geo Explorer Brady Barr go undercover as a hippo.
- You know you work at Nat Geo when you see this story and the first thing you think is “That’s obviously a wolf costume, not a bear.”
Nat Geo video: Training Pandas to be Wild
Nat Geo WILD: Destination Wild