Please allow me to introduce myself (you can see I like the Rolling Stones!). My name is Lance Miller, and I just joined the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research as the new research coordinator within the Behavioral Biology Division. I recently graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a doctorate in experimental psychology. Before returning to graduate school, I was a research manager at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where I conducted behavioral research on all sorts of species from tigers to elephants to sea turtles. With my experience and education, I hope to learn more about Somali wild asses and help to conserve this very endangered species.
Only a few hundred Somali wild ass are left in the wild, and the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park has one of the only breeding herds in the country. So what am I studying?
Here are some of the questions that I’ll be answering:
1. How do Somali wild asses spend their time? Just like people spend a different amount of time eating, sleeping, playing, exercising, etc., we want to find out how these animals spend their time. Studying the animals’ behavior will allow us to enrich their lives in managed care.
2. What factors cause certain animals to spend time with some animals but not others? Do you have a best friend? Perhaps someone that you don’t enjoy spending a lot of time with? This is probably similar to the animals. Examining the amount of time certain animals spend close to one another will help us determine which animals are “friends” and which animals tend to stay further apart.
3. When do Somali wild asses grow up? Just like people, the Somali wild asses have different stages of development (infant, juvenile, adult, etc.). However, we do not know at what ages these changes take place. Studying the animals’ hormones and behavior will help us to answer this question.
By answering the three questions above we can determine when it is appropriate to have an adult male in the group for breeding, how many animals (male or female) should be grouped together, and at what age a female Somali wild ass can become a mother. The more we learn the more we can help conserve this rare animal.
Unfortunately for now, the Somali wild asses are currently in an exhibit that is not visible to the visiting public. But the good news is there are plans to build a new exhibit where these animals will be out for everyone to see! Check back later this summer for an update on my progress, and hopefully by the end of summer you will have a chance to see this amazing species out in their new exhibit at the Wild Animal Park!
Lance Miller is a research coordinator at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.