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Is there a record of species kept in zoos worldwide and number of individuals? If yes, can one have access to it?

Is there a record of species kept in zoos worldwide and number of individuals? If yes, can one have access to it?


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Looking for the number and species of wild cats kept in zoos to assess the potential pool of individuals available for reintroduction programmes.


A potential data source could the data base that stores zoo animal data, where the most comprehensive (to my knowledge) is Species360 ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System). It contains animal records and current breeding programmes, but also information on how to care for animals (best-practices and studbooks).

In your case, the ZIMS for Studbooks module should be relevant, which contains:

ZIMS for Studbooks improves Studbook Keeper efficiency and record accuracy with suggested animals, notification of records updates, and extensive data quality tools. [… ] enabling users to conduct intensive population analysis, improving species and conservation management

However, I do not have access to the data base myself, so I cannot say how accessible the data is. If you are connected to a zoo, teaching institution or research facility you can however apply for access and a membership, but I don't know the specifics of this process (or possible costs). It might be worth checking out either way.


In general, "accreditation" means official recognition and approval of a zoo, aquarium, wildlife park or sanctuary by a group of experts. The definition of such experts is often chosen independently by each accreditation organization, but includes people with decades of experience in fields such as animal management, veterinary science (as pertinent to the species in the facility), and conservation.

A facility’s accreditation status tells you a lot of information about aspects of the organization you can’t normally see or access as a guest. It can tell you about things such as ongoing research and conservation efforts, rules about breeding and enrichment, level of contact allowed with the animals by staff and guests, and also about governance, organization and financial aspects. Accreditation is not the be-all and end-all of the captive animal world - there are definitely valid reasons that a good facility might choose to not pursue accreditation - but seeing if they have one and what it is is a great place to start when you’re trying to learn more about a place you’d like to visit or support.

Any public animal exhibit in the United States is subject to federal licensing and yearly inspection under the purview of the USDA, and they’re also held accountable by any American law that pertains to animals in their collection, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This oversight is mandatory and non-negotiable. Facilities that don’t follow USDA regulations or violate other federal laws are cited accordingly and can be fined or shut down for non-compliance.

Facilities can also opt for accreditation by independent organizations in order to gain notoriety associated with that standing. Accreditation brings more benefits than just a seal of approval - it can include access to breeding programs, organizational resources, conferences and more. Some facilities are accredited by more than one organization. Each type of accreditation a facility pursues tells you different information about the goals, priorities, function, and politics of the organization. While the accreditation of a facility is going to be based on the quality of animal care, education, and management, there is definitely some politics involved in which accreditation a facility chooses to pursue and the accrediting organizations they become involved with.

The main accrediting organizations for zoological facilities, aquariums, wildlife parks, sanctuaries, and rescue/rehab centers in the United States are:

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)

The Zoological Association of America (ZAA)

The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)

To start, let’s look at each type of accreditation and figure out what it tells you. Then we’ll talk politics.


Lab Animal Welfare Overview

At least 780,000 vertebrate animals are used in laboratories each year in the United States, including more than 82,000 in Massachusetts. These numbers, as reported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) , do not include birds, rats, and mice, which make up a significant portion of animals used — 95%. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the law requiring records to be kept on laboratory animals, excludes mice, rats, and birds from its coverage.

The total estimated number of animals used in research in the U.S. is 11-23 million worldwide, the number of animals used is thought to be well over 100 million. The most common species — listed from most to least often used — are mice, rats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, farm animals (such as sheep and pigs), dogs, primates, and cats.

A number of legal challenges have been made to include rats, mice, and birds under the AWA’s coverage. To date, these efforts had been only moderately successful, gaining support in the court system only to be obstructed legislatively or with the USDA failing to fulfill its obligations. However, in June of 2020, as a result of a lawsuit, the USDA is now subject to a court order to complete rulemaking to protect birds, as required by the AWA.

History of Lab Animal Use
Vivisection (the act of cutting into a living animal, usually for the purpose of physiological and pathological knowledge) has been practiced since ancient Greek and Roman days, when live animals were cut open without anesthesia to study bodily functions. Similar practices continued throughout the Middle Ages, as people believed that man was the center of the universe and, therefore, that he could do anything he wanted with other animals. Yet during the second half of the 1600s, following a dramatic rise in animal experimentation during the Renaissance, some philosophers began to object to the suffering of animals used for scientific research. Throughout the 1700s and early 1800s, this trend continued. The first organized protest against vivisection was led by British women in Florence, Italy in 1863, and the first Cruelty to Animals Act, mandating the use of anesthetics during vivisection, was passed in England in 1876.

In the mid-nineteenth century, however, the publication of Charles Darwin’s book Origin of Species increased scientific interest in species evolution and strongly reinforced the idea that animals could serve as models for humans in the study of biology and physiology. Additionally, Claude Bernard’s Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine popularized the idea of vivisection as the predominant mechanism for scientific research. During this period and through World War I, animal research was established as a significant method of laboratory investigation. This trend continued into the mid-twentieth century. Another increase in laboratory animal use came after World War II, when the government began providing a significant amount of funding for research.

In 1966, Congress passed the first legislation aimed at regulating the care and use of animals in U.S. laboratories. Called the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, it was enacted following a rise in public concern over the mistreatment of lost and stolen cats and dogs by laboratory animal dealers. Later strengthened through three major revisions and renamed the Animal Welfare Act, it now covers animals not only in laboratories but also in zoos, circuses, and aquaria, in addition to overseeing animal transportation and animal fighting.

Animal research reached its highest level in the United States in the mid-1980s following decades of public support for scientific research of all kinds. During this same time, animal activists were able to pressure cosmetics companies to reduce or eliminate animal use in the testing of their products. The development of new mechanisms for product safety testing that were not animal-based opened the door for this change. In the decade that followed, the number of animals used in laboratories for research, testing, and education began to decline — some say by as much as 40-50%. Today, however, the use and maintenance of genetically engineered animals (those that have had their genetic code altered to produce a specific result), especially rats and mice, has greatly increased the number and suffering of laboratory animals.

Purpose of Lab Animals
Animals are used in laboratories today for one of three main purposes: biomedical research (testing drugs and vaccines) testing consumer products (cosmetics and cleaners) and for education (medical and veterinary school).

Biomedical Research: Approximately 85% of animals used in biomedical research are rats, mice and birds — not covered by the AWA — to further scientific understanding of how the body works and how disease affects bodily systems. Biomedical research is based on the idea that animals are similar enough to humans to serve as “models” for the study of human organ systems. Discoveries credited by scientists to the use of animals in research include penicillin, insulin, the polio vaccine, chemotherapy for childhood leukemia, hip replacement and heart bypass surgery. However, critics of biomedical animal research, including many scientists, challenge the assumption that animals are appropriate models for humans, pointing to failures in extrapolating from one species to another. They cite examples of animal research that delayed the discovery of a cure or misled scientists into believing in the safety of a drug or vaccine that turned out to be harmful to humans.

Testing Efficacy of New Drugs and Vaccines: Most commonly used animals in laboratories to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and vaccines are mice, rats, rabbits, and dogs. Before new compounds can even be tested on small groups of humans, they are first tested extensively on animals. Upwards of 95% of drugs shown to be safe and effective in animals fail in human trials.

Critics of animal use in drug and vaccine development raise concerns about the possibility of rejecting compounds that might prove to be miracle drugs in people even though they are toxic to certain animals. If penicillin had been tested only in guinea pigs, they say, humans might never have benefited from this life-saving antibiotic. Additionally, the benefit of a treatment to humans is not fully known or able to be reliably measured until it is tested clinically on a human population thus, despite having been tested on and costing the lives of thousands of animals (and costing perhaps millions of dollars) the ultimate efficacy a drug or vaccine is still largely unknown until it is tested on a human population.

Consumer Product Safety Testing: U.S. government agencies require an extensive array of animal tests to assure the safety of items such as shampoo, food packaging, and household cleaners. These products are tested for their toxicity to the eyes and skin, for their potential to cause internal organ damage, and for their safety for use by pregnant women. In some cases, animal tests are specifically required by a federal regulatory agency. In other cases, only the “best available” safety information is requested. Many American regulatory agencies, however, still believe that traditional animal tests are the “best available.”

While there is still much progress to be made, many manufacturers have dramatically reduced their reliance on animal use in product safety testing in the last two decades. Two crucial components of this change have been the sharing of information about the safety of ingredients and product formulations, as well as the utilization of computers in facilitating searches of databases containing this information. While truly reliable figures are not available, it is estimated that of all of the animals used to test the safety of personal care products in the U.S., only 5% are protected through the AWA. Due to the increase in shared data and alternative testing options, there has been a 90% reduction in animal use since 1980, when a public outcry arose over animal use in product safety testing.

Animals in Education: Medical schools historically used animal labs for education, but they have made great progress in recent years: all medical schools in the U.S. have ceased the use of animal laboratories. S ome veterinary schools still use live animal labs in their educational programs many of the dogs used are anesthetized healthy dogs that are used for terminal surgical training. However, most veterinary schools have phased out of terminal surgical training and are instead providing their students with surgical experience on organ models, in spay/neuter clinics, or via Educational Memorial Programs (EMPs) where pet owners can donate the bodies of their deceased animals to veterinary schools for surgical and anatomical training. Furthermore, new technology is being developed. For example, a biotech company called SynDaver released a synthetic canine model that mimics the functions of a living dog, and it is anticipated that this synthetic model will revolutionize veterinary surgical training.

In addition to laboratory animals used in higher education, millions of additional animals are killed each year for use in dissection classes in elementary and secondary schools. Frogs are most common, but cats, fetal pigs, rats, and snakes are also used, despite the fact that a wide variety of alternatives are available to provide students with equivalent learning experiences. These alternatives include interactive programs, virtual reality programs, as well as non-living animal models, which can be used instead of live animals to study anatomy. As of 2020, 22 states have upheld (through state law, resolution, or Board of Education policy) a student’s right to choose humane alternatives to dissection without being penalized.

Sources of Lab Animals
There are three primary sources of laboratory animals: wild, purpose-bred, and stray or unwanted animals. Most are purpose-bred — that is, they are bred in a laboratory specifically for use in research, testing, or education. The federal government identifies those who breed and sell these animals as Class A animal dealers.

Random source dealers, or Class B dealers, also supply animals to laboratories. These dealers are those licensed to collect laboratory animals from “random sources:” stray or otherwise unwanted dogs, cats, and other animals off the streets from animal auctions and from municipal animal control and local animal shelters. While “pound seizure,” the practice of acquiring laboratory animals from pounds and shelters, is prohibited by law in some states (in 1986, Massachusetts was the first state to make this practice illegal), other states allow for animals in pounds to be turned over to research laboratories, and Oklahoma even requires this. Class B dealers are licensed and regulated by the USDA.

Trends show that the demand for laboratory animals acquired from random sources is on the decline. In 2015, three Class B random-source dog and cat dealers were licensed to sell animals for experimentation in the United States. That number is down from 11 in 2009 and is a significant reduction from the early 1990s, when there were more than 100 such dealers selling dogs and cats. A 2009 report by the National Academies of Sciences (see below) concluded that animals from random-source dealers are not necessary for National Institutes of Health (NIH) supported research. As a result, the NIH has since phased out funding for research that uses cats and dogs from Class B dealers.

Although there are only a few random-source Class B dealers still licensed in the U.S., they remain a concern. Kenneth Schroeder, a Class B dealer, had his license revoked when he was accused of having “willfully violated the Animal Welfare Act” by obtaining seven dogs illegally, failing to provide proper housing, and refusing to allow USDA inspectors access to his records and facilities. A HBO documentary Dealing Dogs reveals the horrifying conditions of C.C. Baird’s facility Marin Creek Kennels. His license has since been revoked and he has been fined.

Laboratory Animal Care and Use
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the most significant law governing the care and use of laboratory animals in the United States. Passed in 1966, the AWA has since been amended eight times and covers all warm-blooded animals, except for mice, rats, and birds. The AWA’s regulations spell out requirements for veterinary care, adequate food and water, protection from temperature extremes, shelter from outdoor elements, sanitation, and record keeping.

A separate piece of legislation, called the Health Research Extension Act, passed in 1985, covers all vertebrates — including mice, rats, and birds — used in research, testing, and education that is funded by the Public Health Service (PHS). The PHS Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals sets the standards for care and housing that must be provided to animals in PHS-funded studies.

Almost all animals in laboratories suffer to one degree or another from the stress of confinement, but they do not all experience pain or even distress as a result of experimental procedures. In 2018, the USDA reported that 66% of warm-blooded animals in laboratories covered by the AWA experienced no pain or distress or were not used in experiments, 28% experienced moderate to severe pain or distress that was relieved by anesthesia or analgesia (pain-killing medication), and the remaining 6% experienced unrelieved pain or distress. The USDA reported that 89,910 animals were held and used in research facilities in Massachusetts in 2018. Of those, 74% were reported to have no pain and no drugs or were not used in experiments, 22% had pain and drugs, and 4% had pain without drugs. Of course, these figures do not include rats, mice, and birds, which are not covered by the AWA. While some laboratory animals die as a result of experimental procedures, most are euthanized for postmortem examination or when they are no longer needed.

According to the AWA, facilities using animals for research, testing, or education must form an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to oversee their animal programs. IACUCs are composed of scientists, veterinarians, and at least one member of the general public who is not affiliated with the institution in any way. IACUCs not only inspect the institution’s laboratories, they must also review and approve all research protocols before any animals can be used. They also look for evidence that the investigator has made a concerted effort to find alternatives to research that might cause pain and distress, and if animals must be used, that there is a plan for alleviating that pain and distress. The amount of time and effort put into these efforts, however, varies widely. There are over 1,000 IACUCs associated with research, testing, and education laboratories across the United States today. A report by the Office of the Inspector General in 2014 (see link below) showed that in FY 2009-2011, 531 of 1,117 research facilities were cited with 1,379 IACUC-related violations regarding lack of oversight. Unfortunately, the USDA has only 57 veterinary medical officers and 68 inspectors (as of FY 2010) responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act in over 8,656 facilities.

Alternatives to Animals in Research
While laboratory animals are the primary vehicle for research in the United States, an increasing number of alternatives to animal research now offer new hope for the welfare of millions of these animals used in biomedical research, product safety testing, and education. While the use of alternatives doesn’t always mean eliminating animals altogether, the number of animals being used has been dramatically reduced in recent years, and the lives of many others have been significantly improved. The words now used almost universally by the research community and by animal protection advocates to describe alternatives are the Three Rs – Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement.

The widely-applied concept of the Three Rs was originally introduced in the 1950s by William Russell and Rex Burch, British biologists who sought to lessen the suffering of laboratory animals. Replacement means substituting other systems for whole animal use. Reduction means decreasing the number of animals to the minimum needed to yield accurate data. Refinement means using modern medicine to minimize or eliminate pain and distress and employing housing and husbandry techniques to enrich the captive environment to reduce boredom and promote natural behavior. Please see our webpage on Laboratory Animal Alternatives – The Three Rs for more information.

What Can You Do?
Know that you are not alone. While the sheer scope of the issues impacting laboratory animals may seem daunting, individuals can make a positive impact on the welfare of laboratory animals in several ways:


Endangered species

An endangered species is a type of organism that is threatened by extinction. Species become endangered for two main reasons: loss of habitat and loss of genetic variation.

Biology, Ecology, Geography

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An endangered species is a type of organism that is threatened by extinction. Species become endangered for two main reasons: loss of habitat and loss of genetic variation.

Loss of Habitat

A loss of habitat can happen naturally. Dinosaurs, for instance, lost their habitat about 65 million years ago. The hot, dry climate of the Cretaceous period changed very quickly, most likely because of an asteroid striking the Earth. The impact of the asteroid forced debris into the atmosphere, reducing the amount of heat and light that reached Earth&rsquos surface. The dinosaurs were unable to adapt to this new, cooler habitat. Dinosaurs became endangered, then extinct.

Human activity can also contribute to a loss of habitat. Development for housing, industry, and agriculture reduces the habitat of native organisms. This can happen in a number of different ways.

Development can eliminate habitat and native species directly. In the Amazon rain forest of South America, developers have cleared hundreds of thousands of acres. To &ldquoclear&rdquo a piece of land is to remove all trees and vegetation from it. The Amazon rain forest is cleared for cattle ranches, logging, and urban use.

Development can also endanger species indirectly. Some species, such as fig trees of the rain forest, may provide habitat for other species. As trees are destroyed, species that depend on that tree habitat may also become endangered. Tree crowns provide habitat in the canopy, or top layer, of a rainforest. Plants such as vines, fungi such as mushrooms, and insects such as butterflies live in the rain forest canopy. So do hundreds of species of tropical birds and mammals such as monkeys. As trees are cut down, this habitat is lost. Species have less room to live and reproduce.

Loss of habitat may happen as development takes place in a species range. Many animals have a range of hundreds of square kilometers. The mountain lion of North America, for instance, has a range of up to 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles). To successfully live and reproduce, a single mountain lion patrols this much territory. Urban areas, such as Los Angeles, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, grew rapidly during the 20th century. As these areas expanded into the wilderness, the mountain lion&rsquos habitat became smaller. That means the habitat can support fewer mountain lions. Because enormous parts of the Sierra Nevada, Rocky, and Cascade mountain ranges remain undeveloped, however, mountain lions are not endangered.

Loss of habitat can also lead to increased encounters between wild species and people. As development brings people deeper into a species range, they may have more exposure to wild species. Poisonous plants and fungi may grow closer to homes and schools. Wild animals are also spotted more frequently. These animals are simply patrolling their range, but interaction with people can be deadly. Polar bears, mountain lions, and alligators are all predators brought into close contact with people as they lose their habitat to homes, farms, and businesses. As people kill these wild animals, through pesticides, accidents such as collisions with cars, or hunting, native species may become endangered.

Loss of Genetic Variation

Genetic variation is the diversity found within a species. It&rsquos why human beings may have blond, red, brown, or black hair. Genetic variation allows species to adapt to changes in the environment. Usually, the greater the population of a species, the greater its genetic variation.

Inbreeding is reproduction with close family members. Groups of species that have a tendency to inbreed usually have little genetic variation, because no new genetic information is introduced to the group. Disease is much more common, and much more deadly, among inbred groups. Inbred species do not have the genetic variation to develop resistance to the disease. For this reason, fewer offspring of inbred groups survive to maturity.

Loss of genetic variation can occur naturally. Cheetahs are a threatened species native to Africa and Asia. These big cats have very little genetic variation. Biologists say that during the last ice age, cheetahs went through a long period of inbreeding. As a result, there are very few genetic differences between cheetahs. They cannot adapt to changes in the environment as quickly as other animals, and fewer cheetahs survive to maturity. Cheetahs are also much more difficult to breed in captivity than other big cats, such as lions.

Human activity can also lead to a loss of genetic variation. Overhunting and overfishing have reduced the populations of many animals. Reduced population means there are fewer breeding pairs. A breeding pair is made up of two mature members of the species that are not closely related and can produce healthy offspring. With fewer breeding pairs, genetic variation shrinks.

Monoculture, the agricultural method of growing a single crop, can also reduce genetic variation. Modern agribusiness relies on monocultures. Almost all potatoes cultivated, sold, and consumed, for instance, are from a single species, the Russet Burbank. Potatoes, native to the Andes Mountains of South America, have dozens of natural varieties. The genetic variation of wild potatoes allows them to adapt to climate change and disease. For Russet Burbanks, however, farmers must use fertilizers and pesticides to ensure healthy crops because the plant has almost no genetic variation.

Plant breeders often go back to wild varieties to collect genes that will help cultivated plants resist pests and drought, and adapt to climate change. However, climate change is also threatening wild varieties. That means domesticated plants may lose an important source of traits that help them overcome new threats.

The Red List

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps a &ldquoRed List of Threatened Species.&rdquo The Red List defines the severity and specific causes of a species&rsquo threat of extinction. The Red List has seven levels of conservation: least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild, and extinct. Each category represents a different threat level.

Species that are not threatened by extinction are placed within the first two categories&mdashleast concern and near-threatened. Those that are most threatened are placed within the next three categories, known as the threatened categories&mdashvulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered. Those species that are extinct in some form are placed within the last two categories&mdashextinct in the wild and extinct.

Classifying a species as endangered has to do with its range and habitat, as well as its actual population. For this reason, a species can be of least concern in one area and endangered in another. The gray whale, for instance, has a healthy population in the eastern Pacific Ocean, along the coast of North and South America. The population in the western Pacific, however, is critically endangered.

Least Concern

Least concern is the lowest level of conservation. A species of least concern is one that has a widespread and abundant population. Human beings are a species of least concern, along with most domestic animals, such as dogs and cats. Many wild animals, such as pigeons and houseflies, are also classified as least concern.

Near Threatened

A near threatened species is one that is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.

Many species of violets, native to tropical jungles in South America and Africa, are near threatened, for instance. They have healthy populations, but their rain forest habitat is disappearing at a fast pace. People are cutting down huge areas of rain forest for development and timber. Many violet species are likely to become threatened.

The definitions of the three threatened categories (vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered) are based on five criteria: population reduction rate, geographic range, population size, population restrictions, and probability of extinction.

Threatened categories have different thresholds for these criteria. As the population and range of the species decreases, the species becomes more threatened.

1) Population reduction rate
A species is classified as vulnerable if its population has declined between 30 and 50 percent. This decline is measured over 10 years or three generations of the species, whichever is longer. A generation is the period of time between the birth of an animal and the time it is able to reproduce. Mice are able to reproduce when they are about one month old. Mouse populations are mostly tracked over 10-year periods. An elephant's generation lasts about 15 years. So, elephant populations are measured over 45-year periods.

A species is vulnerable if its population has declined at least 50 percent and the cause of the decline is known. Habitat loss is the leading known cause of population decline.

A species is also classified as vulnerable if its population has declined at least 30 percent and the cause of the decline is not known. A new, unknown virus, for example, could kill hundreds or even thousands of individuals before being identified.

2) Geographic range
A species is vulnerable if its &ldquoextent of occurrence&rdquo is estimated to be less than 20,000 square kilometers (7,722 square miles). An extent of occurrence is the smallest area that could contain all sites of a species&rsquo population. If all members of a species could survive in a single area, the size of that area is the species&rsquo extent of occurrence.

A species is also classified as vulnerable if its &ldquoarea of occupancy&rdquo is estimated to be less than 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles). An area of occupancy is where a specific population of that species resides. This area is often a breeding or nesting site in a species range.

3) Population size
Species with fewer than 10,000 mature individuals are vulnerable. The species is also vulnerable if that population declines by at least 10 percent within 10 years or three generations, whichever is longer.

4) Population restrictions
Population restriction is a combination of population and area of occupancy. A species is vulnerable if it is restricted to less than 1,000 mature individuals or an area of occupancy of less than 20 square kilometers (8 square miles).

5) Probability of extinction in the wild is at least 10 percent within 100 years.
Biologists, anthropologists, meteorologists, and other scientists have developed complex ways to determine a species&rsquo probability of extinction. These formulas calculate the chances a species can survive, without human protection, in the wild.

Vulnerable Species: Ethiopian Banana Frog
The Ethiopian banana frog (Afrixalus enseticola) is a small frog native to high-altitude areas of southern Ethiopia. It is a vulnerable species because its area of occupancy is less than 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles). The extent and quality of its forest habitat are in decline. Threats to this habitat include forest clearance, mostly for housing and agriculture.

Vulnerable Species: Snaggletooth Shark
The snaggletooth shark (Hemipristis elongatus) is found in the tropical, coastal waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Its area of occupancy is enormous, from southeast Africa to the Philippines, and from China to Australia.

However, the snaggletooth shark is a vulnerable species because of a severe population reduction rate. Its population has fallen more than 10 percent over 10 years. The number of sharks is declining due to fisheries, especially in the Java Sea and Gulf of Thailand. The snaggletooth shark&rsquos flesh, fins, and liver are considered high-quality foods. They are sold in commercial fish markets, as well as restaurants.

Vulnerable Species: Galapagos Kelp
Galapagos kelp (Eisenia galapagensis) is a type of seaweed only found near the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Galapagos kelp is classified as vulnerable because its population has declined more than 10 percent over 10 years.

Climate change is the leading cause of decline among Galapagos kelp. El Nino, the natural weather pattern that brings unusually warm water to the Galapagos, is the leading agent of climate change in this area. Galapagos kelp is a cold-water species and does not adapt quickly to changes in water temperature.

Endangered Species

1) Population reduction rate
A species is classified as endangered when its population has declined between 50 and 70 percent. This decline is measured over 10 years or three generations of the species, whichever is longer.

A species is classified as endangered when its population has declined at least 70 percent and the cause of the decline is known. A species is also classified as endangered when its population has declined at least 50 percent and the cause of the decline is not known.

2) Geographic range
An endangered species&rsquo extent of occurrence is less than 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles). An endangered species&rsquo area of occupancy is less than 500 square kilometers (193 square miles).

3) Population size
A species is classified as endangered when there are fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. When a species population declines by at least 20 percent within five years or two generations, it is also classified as endangered.

4) Population restrictions
A species is classified as endangered when its population is restricted to less than 250 mature individuals. When a species&rsquo population is this low, its area of occupancy is not considered.

5) Probability of extinction in the wild is at least 20 percent within 20 years or five generations, whichever is longer.

Endangered Species: Siberian Sturgeon
The Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii) is a large fish found in rivers and lakes throughout the Siberian region of Russia. The Siberian sturgeon is a benthic species. Benthic species live at the bottom of a body of water.

The Siberian sturgeon is an endangered species because its total population has declined between 50 and 80 percent during the past 60 years (three generations of sturgeon). Overfishing, poaching, and dam construction have caused this decline. Pollution from mining activities has also contributed to abnormalities in the sturgeon&rsquos reproductive system.

Endangered Species: Tahiti Reed-warbler
The Tahiti reed-warbler (Acrocephalus caffer) is a songbird found on the Pacific island of Tahiti. It is an endangered species because it has a very small population. The bird is only found on a single island, meaning both its extent of occurrence and area of occupancy are very small.

The Tahiti reed-warbler is also endangered because of human activity. The tropical weed Miconia is a non-native species that has taken over much of Tahiti&rsquos native vegetation. The reed-warbler lives almost exclusively in Tahiti&rsquos bamboo forests. The bird nests in bamboo and feeds on flowers and insects that live there. As development and invasive species such as Miconia destroy the bamboo forests, the population of Tahiti reed-warblers continues to shrink.

Endangered Species: Ebony
Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora) is a tree native to the rain forests of central Africa, including Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon. Ebony is an endangered species because many biologists calculate its probability of extinction in the wild is at least 20 percent within five generations.

Ebony is threatened due to overharvesting. Ebony trees produce a very heavy, dark wood. When polished, ebony can be mistaken for black marble or other stone. For centuries, ebony trees have been harvested for furniture and sculptural uses such as chess pieces. Most ebony, however, is harvested to make musical instruments such as piano keys and the fingerboards of stringed instruments.

1) Population reduction rate
A critically endangered species&rsquo population has declined between 80 and 90 percent. This decline is measured over 10 years or three generations of the species, whichever is longer.

A species is classified as critically endangered when its population has declined at least 90 percent and the cause of the decline is known. A species is also classified as endangered when its population has declined at least 80 percent and the cause of the decline is not known.

2) Geographic range
A critically endangered species&rsquo extent of occurrence is less than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles). A critically endangered species&rsquo area of occupancy is estimated to be less than 10 square kilometers (4 square miles).

3) Population size
A species is classified as critically endangered when there are fewer than 250 mature individuals. A species is also classified as critically endangered when the number of mature individuals declines by at least 25 percent within three years or one generation, whichever is longer.

4) Population restrictions
A species is classified as critically endangered when its population is restricted to less than 50 mature individuals. When a species&rsquo population is this low, its area of occupancy is not considered.

5) Probability of extinction in the wild is at least 50 percent within 10 years or three generations, whichever is longer.

Critically Endangered Species: Bolivian Chinchilla Rat
The Bolivian chinchilla rat (Abrocoma boliviensis) is a rodent found in a small section of the Santa Cruz region of Bolivia. It is critically endangered because its extent of occurrence is less than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles).

The major threat to this species is loss of its cloud forest habitat. People are clearing forests to create cattle pastures.

Critically Endangered Species: Transcaucasian Racerunner
The Transcaucasian racerunner (Eremias pleskei) is a lizard found on the Armenian Plateau, located in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey. The Transcaucasian racerunner is a critically endangered species because of a huge population decline, estimated at more than 80 percent during the past 10 years.

Threats to this species include the salination, or increased saltiness, of soil. Fertilizers used for agricultural development seep into the soil, increasing its saltiness. Racerunners live in and among the rocks and soil, and cannot adapt to the increased salt in their food and shelter. The racerunner is also losing habitat as people create trash dumps on their area of occupancy.

Critically Endangered Species: White Ferula Mushroom
The white ferula mushroom (Pleurotus nebrodensis) is a critically endangered species of fungus. The mushroom is critically endangered because its extent of occurrence is less than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles). It is only found in the northern part of the Italian island of Sicily, in the Mediterranean Sea.

The leading threats to white ferula mushrooms are loss of habitat and overharvesting. White ferula mushrooms are a gourmet food item. Farmers and amateur mushroom hunters harvest the fungus for food and profit. The mushrooms can be sold for up to $100 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).

A species is extinct in the wild when it only survives in cultivation (plants), in captivity (animals), or as a population well outside its established range. A species may be listed as extinct in the wild only after years of surveys have failed to record an individual in its native or expected habitat.

Extinct in the Wild: Scimitar-horned Oryx
The scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) is a species of antelope with long horns. Its range extends across northern Africa. The scimitar-horned oryx is listed as extinct in the wild because the last confirmed sighting of one was in 1988. Overhunting and habitat loss, including competition with domestic livestock, are the main reasons for the extinction of the oryx&rsquos wild population.

Captive herds are now kept in protected areas of Tunisia, Senegal, and Morocco. Scimitar-horned oryxes are also found in many zoos.

Extinct in the Wild: Black Soft-shell Turtle
The black soft-shell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is a freshwater turtle that exists only in one man-made pond, at the Baizid Bostami Shrine near Chittagong, Bangladesh. The 150 to 300 turtles that live at the pond rely entirely on humans for food. Until 2000, black soft-shell turtles lived throughout the wetlands of the Brahmaputra River, feeding mostly on freshwater fish.

Unlike other animals that are extinct in the wild, black soft-shell turtles are not found in many zoos. The shrine&rsquos caretakers do not allow anyone, including scientists, to take the turtles. The reptiles are considered to be the descendants of people who were miraculously turned into turtles by a saint during the 13th century.

Extinct in the Wild: Mt. Kaala Cyanea
The Mt. Kaala cyanea (Cyanea superba) is a large, flowering tree native to the island of Oahu, in the U.S. state of Hawaii. The Mt. Kaala cyanea has large, broad leaves and fleshy fruit. The tree is extinct in the wild largely because of invasive species. Non-native plants crowded the cyanea out of its habitat, and non-native animals such as pigs, rats, and slugs ate its fruit more quickly than it could reproduce.

Mt. Kaala cyanea trees survive in tropical nurseries and botanical gardens. Many botanists and conservationists look forward to establishing a new population in the wild.

A species is extinct when there is no reasonable doubt that the last remaining individual of that species has died.

Extinct: Cuban Macaw
The Cuban macaw (Ara tricolor) was a tropical parrot native to Cuba and a small Cuban island, Isla de la Juventud. Hunting and collecting the birds for pets led to the bird&rsquos extinction. The last specimen of the Cuban macaw was collected in 1864.

Extinct: Ridley&rsquos Stick Insect
Ridley&rsquos stick insect (Pseudobactricia ridleyi) was native to the tropical jungle of the island of Singapore. This insect, whose long, segmented body resembled a tree limb, is only known through a single specimen, collected more than 100 years ago. During the 20th century, Singapore experienced rapid development. Almost the entire jungle was cleared, depriving the insect of its habitat.

Extinct: Sri Lankan Legume Tree
The Sri Lankan legume tree (Crudia zeylanica), native only to the island of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, was a giant species of legume. Peas and peanuts are smaller types of legumes.

Habitat loss from development in the 20th century is the main reason the tree went extinct in the wild. A single specimen survived at the Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, until 1990, when that, too, was lost.

Endangered Species and People

When a species is classified as endangered, governments and international organizations can work to protect it. Laws may limit hunting and destruction of the species&rsquo habitat. Individuals and organizations that break these laws may face huge fines. Because of such actions, many species have recovered from their endangered status.

The brown pelican was taken off the endangered species list in 2009, for instance. This seabird is native to the coasts of North America and South America, as well as the islands of the Caribbean Sea. It is the state bird of the U.S. state of Louisiana. In 1970, the number of brown pelicans in the wild was estimated at 10,000. The bird was classified as vulnerable.

During the 1970s and 1980s, governments and conservation groups worked to help the brown pelican recover. Young chicks were reared in hatching sites, then released into the wild. Human access to nesting sites was severely restricted. The pesticide DDT, which damaged the eggs of the brown pelican, was banned. During the 1980s, the number of brown pelicans soared. In 1988, the IUCN &ldquodelisted&rdquo the brown pelican. The bird, whose population is now in the hundreds of thousands, is now in the category of least concern.

Photograph by Brandon Beccarelli, Your Shot

Lonesome George
Until 2012, Lonesome George was the most endangered species on the planet. He was the only living species of Pinta Island tortoise known to exist. The Pinta Island tortoise was only found on Pinta, one of the Galapagos Islands. The Charles Darwin Research Station, a scientific facility in the Galapagos, offered a $10,000 reward to any zoo or individual for locating a single Pinta Island tortoise female. On June 25, 2012, Lonesome George died, leaving one more extinct species in the world.

Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty to sustain and protect the diversity of life on Earth. This includes conservation, sustainability, and sharing the benefits of genetic research and resources. The Convention on Biological Diversity has adopted the IUCN Red List of endangered species in order to monitor and research species' population and habitats.

Three nations have not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity: Andorra, the Holy See (Vatican), and the United States.


History of orca captures

Since 2012, at least 29 orcas have been captured alive in Russian waters. While only three remain in Russia, at least 15 have been exported to China for display in aquariums there. Narnia, Nord and Naja (also known as Malishka or Juliet) are three wild caught orcas from the Sea of Ochotsk displayed at Moskvarium in Moscow.

In 2018, the infamous "whale jail" made headlines around the world. At least 11 orcas had been captured illegally and together with 90 belugas they ended up in a holding facility in Sreadnyaya Bay near Vladivostok. One orca and three belugas later disappeared and it is not clear whether they escaped or died. A group of scientists representing a range of international organisations, including WDC, sent a letter to the Russian authorities. They offered expertise and demanded the safe release of the orcas and belugas. A team consisting of Russian and international experts was given access to the holding facility in March 2019. There were great concerns about the health of the individuals due to the cold weather and the poor quality holding conditions.

The experts came to the conclusion, that with the right kind of rehabilitation and a robust plan, the orcas and belugas could be returned safely to their home waters. An agreement was signed by Governor of Russia's Primorsky Region to begin the process of evaluating them to determine when and how to release them. After further negotiations the first two orcas were released into the Sea of Okhotsk at the end of June 2019.Three orcas were released in July followed by three more in early August. The remaining two individuals were brought back to their home waters at the end of August 2019. Between June and October, 37 belugas from the whale jail were also returned to the Sea of Okhotsk. By mid November, all belugas were released.

The Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP), co-founded by WDC research fellow Erich Hoyt, has conducted research on the orca populations in Russia for many years. FEROP, together with other experts and organizations, has recommended to stop issuing official capture quotas due to the lack of information regarding population structures and sizes.


Big Cat Rescue&aposs Claims Debunked?

What I found: Big Cat Rescue undermined their data&aposs credibility when they decided to include in their list &aposincidences&apos that did not involve any attacks and no way to filter out the insubstantial data. Some examples include:

"Nicki Phung, 31 and Steven Tieu, 38, admitted in federal court to trying to illegally import a real, stuffed tiger into the United States."

"May 28, 2003 Nampa, ID: At a roadside zoo called For the Birds, where visitors are allowed to pet tigers, a toddler was jumped on and licked by a 170-pound tiger."

"Julie Johnson’s fears were eased after a man rescued her pet bobcat, who got himself stuck in a tree a week ago and would not come down. "

"A pet serval was turned in, no questions asked, at an exotic pet amnesty day sponsored by the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission."

"A 400 pound DEAD tiger escaped from the back of a truck as the vehicle swerved on Highway 99 in on the way to a lab for a necropsy."

(That last one is the most baffling.) Note: You can use ctrl + F to locate these incidences on the list.

Via Flickr Tambako The Jaguar (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This seems deceitful for two reasons. One, this section of the website is under the tab "Big Cat Attacks", and then modifies that statement to "Yearly Maulings Killings and Escapes by Big Cats" further down the page. But there is information on the list that doesn&apost even fit this criteria, as has been irrefutably proven. Why is there no separate list that discusses animal attacks only?

If Big Cat Rescue has chosen to include any negative incident involving captive big cats, the list will be extremely inaccurate because not every little scratch, small pet escape, or animal abandonment will be accessible online, just as they wouldn&apost be for dogs and cats, which are routinely involved in the same types of &aposincidences&apos.

Also, why is there a photo of Charla Nash, victim of a chimpanzee attack, posted on the page with the vague caption "Mauled by a Privately Owned Exotic Pet Who Escaped"? To provide a shock value photo that doesn&apost apply to the subject (exotic cat incidences) being discussed at all? This is not the first time I&aposve noticed deceptive tactics from Big Cat Rescue𠅊nother example is the listings on their page 911 Animal Abuse.

PETA&aposs list (download) is superior because it only includes USA-based incidences but still has non-injurious attacks (including the &aposlicking&apos incident).

"The federal ban on big cat sales across state lines as pets has helped slow the escalation of events, but a full ban on possession is needed."

— Big Cat Rescue


Why They Matter

Crucial Role in Forests

The biological diversity of the panda’s habitat is unparalleled in the temperate world and rivals that of tropical ecosystems, making the giant panda an excellent example of an umbrella species conferring protection on many other species where pandas live. In other words, when we protect pandas, we invariably protect other animals that live around them, such as multicolored pheasants, the golden monkey, takin, and crested ibis. Pandas also bring sustainable economic benefits to many local communities through ecotourism.


Animal cruelty and neglect FAQ

What is animal cruelty?

Animal cruelty encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing. Most cruelty investigated by humane officers is unintentional neglect that can be resolved through education.

Intentional cruelty can run the gamut from knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization or veterinary care to maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating or killing an animal.

Why is it a concern?

All animal cruelty is a concern because it is wrong to inflict suffering on any living creature. Intentional cruelty is a particular concern because it is a sign of psychological distress and often indicates that an individual either has already been a victim of violence or might be predisposed to committing acts of violence.

Why would anyone be cruel to animals?

There can be many reasons. Animal cruelty, like any other form of violence, is often committed by a person who feels powerless, unnoticed or under the control of others. The motive may be to shock, threaten, intimidate or offend others or to demonstrate rejection of society's rules. Some who are cruel to animals copy acts they have seen or that have been done to them. Others see harming an animal as a safe way to get revenge against—or threaten— someone who cares about that animal.

Is there any evidence of a connection between animal cruelty and human violence?

Absolutely. Many studies in psychology, sociology and criminology in the past 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty [PDF]. The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children.

Other research has shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of other forms of violence, including child abuse, spousal abuse and elder abuse. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder.

What happens when authorities prosecute an animal cruelty case?

Depending on the severity of the case, those convicted of animal cruelty can be imprisoned. Appropriate sentencing can also include individual or family counseling, community service, placement in a diversion program and a prohibition on owning or caring for animals.

It is rarely the goal of police to imprison a child for cruelty to animals. Law enforcement officers and judges recognize that cruelty to animals is one part of a complex problem. Sometimes, the official response to animal cruelty provides a family its first opportunity to get help.

Can reports be made anonymously?

While many jurisdictions will respond to an anonymous complaint, successful prosecutions often depend on an identifiable witness who can authenticate evidence.

How many animals are victims of cruelty each year?

Because there is no national reporting requirement for animal abuse, there is no way to track the number of animal cruelty cases that are filed or that make it to court each year. The idea of creating animal abuser registries, similar to sex abuser registries, has been advocated for a long time. The nation's first such registry was established in Suffolk County, N.Y., in October 2010.

What can I do to help fight animal cruelty?

Be aware of the signs of animal cruelty and know how to report suspected cruelty to animals and sign up to be notified about actions you can take to bring animal abusers to justice.

What is criminal animal neglect?

Animal neglect situations are those in which the animal's caretaker or owner fails to provide food, water, shelter or veterinary care sufficient for survival. It can be either deliberate or unintentional, but either way, the animal suffers terribly. Extended periods of neglect can lead to seriously compromised health or even death. Animal cause control agencies nationwide report that animal neglect cases are the most common calls to which they respond.

How does it cause animal suffering?

The pain of an animal who lingers with untreated illness or wounds, or without nourishment or shelter, can be tremendous—sometimes even more so than those who are victims of directly inflicted violence, because their suffering is so prolonged. Animals who starve to death experience a myriad of painful symptoms throughout each stage of their physical deterioration. An initial loss of body fat is followed by muscle loss and atrophy and, ultimately, organ failure. In long-term starvation, degeneration of the liver, cardiac changes, anemia and skin lesions may develop.

An animal without proper shelter can also quickly succumb to extreme heat or cold. During extremely cold spells or hot periods, it is not uncommon for animal control officers to find companion animals—often chained dogs—literally frozen to the ground or dead from heat prostration because of lack of proper shelter from the elements. Often these animals perish only feet away from the homes in which their caretakers live.

Dogs who are continually chained are also neglect victims, even if it may not be illegal in that particular jurisdiction. Because dogs are social pack animals, isolating them at the end of a chain causes them anguish that can drive them to aggression, neuroses and self-mutilation behaviors. Chained dogs are also more likely to be victims of starvation, because their confinement renders them particularly helpless.

Are there other concerns?

Yes. Law enforcement officials responding to cases of animal neglect often find various forms of abusive behavior [PDF] like child neglect and/or elder abuse in the same household. This is particularly true in cases of animal hoarding, where a person takes in far too many animals than can be cared for and becomes virtually blind to their suffering. Cats are the most common animal-hoarding victims.

Because people who are insensitive to the suffering of animals are more likely to be unresponsive to the needs of dependent people in their household (and vice versa), several states have "cross-reporting" laws. Cross-reporting laws are those in which humane officers and/or veterinarians are required to report possible elder and/or child abuse. Also, there can be informal agreements between social welfare agencies where agents are encouraged to report suspected animal cruelty and neglect.

Anecdotally, in cases of severe animal neglect at a residence, mental illness and/or drug abuse may be implicated in the situation as well.

Are there laws against animal neglect?

Yes. Although many people do not recognize animal neglect as illegal animal abuse, many states have a provision specifically addressing animal neglect written into their animal cruelty laws others allow animal neglect to be prosecuted under the general cruelty statute prohibiting acts of "torture" against an animal. Thirteen states have laws limiting the continuous chaining of dogs.

Body condition scoring systems for cattle and horses have long been in place to help assess the condition of livestock, and in recent years scoring systems for dogs (ranging from ideal to emaciated) have been developed to help animal cruelty investigators and veterinarians assess cases of animal neglect.

A major shortcoming of many animal neglect laws is their failure to address all animal species. For instance, many statutes specifically apply only to dogs and cats or "companion animals" and exclude those considered "farm animals" or trapped wildlife.

Can animal neglect be prosecuted as a felony offense?

Prosecutors in some states have the option to charge an egregious case of animal neglect as a felony when the neglect was considered to have fallen under the definition of "torture," or was considered intentional (although intent has been notoriously difficult to prove in court). Still, felony convictions have been obtained in neglect cases resulting in the animals' deaths.

There are several compelling reasons for treating animal neglect as a serious crime, including the extreme suffering involved and its implications for the welfare of other animals and people who may rely upon the abuser.

Overly lenient penalties (small fines, probation or suspended sentences) that accompany misdemeanor convictions are problematic because they leave the door open for the offenders to repeat their abuse with other animals and/or people in their care.

What can I do to help stop animal neglect?

Be aware of the signs of animal neglect—including chained dogs, animal hoarding, or abandoned pets—and be willing to make a report to your local animal control agency. If your town or city does not have a local animal control, you can make a report to the sheriff or other law enforcement agency. (You may remain anonymous when filing a report.)

Some neglect cases, when the owners' lack of resources and/or knowledge is the problem, can be resolved simply by educating the owner and working with them to adjust their animal's living conditions. For example, some communities have fence-building projects for the owners of chained dogs who may not have enough money to build a fence. (This approach is usually more effective if you're well acquainted with or are on positive terms already with the person in question.)

In most cases, the education and monitoring of the neglect situation is best left to your community's law enforcement professionals.


Sustainability of threatened species displayed in public aquaria, with a case study of Australian sharks and rays

Zoos and public aquaria exhibit numerous threatened species globally, and in the modern context of these institutions as conservation hubs, it is crucial that displays are ecologically sustainable. Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) are of particular conservation concern and a higher proportion of threatened species are exhibited than any other assessed vertebrate group. Many of these lack sustainable captive populations, so comprehensive assessments of sustainability may be needed to support the management of future harvests and safeguard wild populations. We propose an approach to identify species that require an assessment of sustainability. Species at risk of extinction in the wild were considered to be those assessed as threatened (CR, EN or VU) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, or data deficient species that may be at an elevated risk of extinction due to life history traits and habitat associations. We defined sustainable captive populations as self-maintaining, or from a source population that can sustain harvest levels without risk of population declines below sustainable levels. The captive breeding and wild harvest records of at risk species displayed by Australian aquaria were examined as a case study. Two species, largetooth sawfish Pristis pristis and grey nurse shark Carcharias taurus, were found to have unsustainable captive populations and were identified as high priorities for comprehensive sustainability assessments. This review highlights the need for changes in permitting practices and zoo and aquarium record management systems to improve conservation outcomes for captive elasmobranchs.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


The Yaounde Zoo mystery ape and the status of the Kooloo-Kamba

We've had reason now and again to mention the unusual ape photographed at Yaounde Zoo (in Cameroon) a few times. I finally got round to digging out and scanning the only photo of the animal I've seen: it was taken by Peter Jenkins and Liza Gadsby and first appeared in the November 1996 issue of the Newsletter of the Internal Primate Protection League (IPPL). It was later published in issue 100 of Fortean Times.

Jenkins and Gadsby thought that the animal might be a gorilla-chimp hybrid. I can't help but get this impression too, mostly because the eyes look gorilla-like while the rest of the animal is obviously chimp-like. Apparently little known is that there is a long history of debate over the existence of an alleged gorilla-like chimpanzee, known as the kooloo-kamba (an onomatopoeic reference to its call). W. C. Osman Hill was supporting the distinction of this form (as a Pan troglodytes subspecies) as recently as the late 1960s (Hill 1967, 1969). Supposedly, P. t. kooloo-kamba [originally Troglodytes kooloo-kamba Du Chaillu, 1860 sic: hyphens are not permitted in scientific names] has a gorilla-like nose, 'an extremely prognathic face', an entirely black face, and small, black ears. It also lives singly or in small groups, rather than in large troops. It was thought to inhabit Cameroon, Gabon and the former French Congo, and to live alongside chimps of the nominate subspecies (Hill 1967, 1969) [type specimen of P. t. kooloo-kamba (61.7.29.10 of NHM collection) shown below, from Elliot (1913)].

While Hill regarded the kooloo-kamba as a distinctive chimp subspecies, previous authors regarded it as a distinct species somehow 'intermediate' between chimps and gorillas, or as the product of gorilla-chimp hybridisation. Supposedly, several individuals were kept in captivity during the late 1800s and ealy 1900s, including 'Mafuca' of the Dresden Zoological Garden, and 'Johanna' of Barnum and Bailey's circus collection. There's a substantial literature on these animals. Some mammalogists said that they were gorillas, others than they were chimps, and others said that they were hybrids, or intermediates (see Shea (1984) and references therein). It has most recently been argued that 'Mafuca' was a Bonobo P. paniscus (see de Waal 1997), in which case at least some 'kooloo-kambas' were definitely not gorilla-chimp hybrids or intermediates at all.

It does now seem that the kooloo-kambas of the older literature reflect the fact that both gorillas and (especially) chimps are more variable in facial anatomy, body size and overall appearance than many primatologists were once willing to accept. Chimps of some populations, for example, are larger, darker-skinned, and superficially more 'gorilla-like' than many of the chimps first brought back to Europe, but this doesn't mean that such animals are hybrids, or intermediates. Indeed, Shea (1984) concluded that the 'kooloo-kambas' present in osteological collections are either large male chimps, or small female gorillas. Various other controversial African apes - most notably the Pygmy gorilla Pseudogorilla mayéma (see Groves 1985) [shown here, photo ©, by B. Heuvelmans] - also tell us more about our poor understanding of variation, and don't necessarily point to the presence of additional distinct taxa.

Having said all that, the possibility that some 'kooloo-kambas' or kooloo-kamba-like apes really were or are hybrids, or new taxa, does still exist. Could individuals like the Yaounde Zoo animal shown above really be hybrids? I don't know: opinions gratefully received. Incidentally, if you're wondering how the 'Bili apes' of DRC fit into all this, see the previous Tet Zoo comment here.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on apes and other primates see.

de Waal, F. 1997. Bonobo, the Forgotten Ape. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Elliot, D. G. 1913. A review of the primates, volume III: Anthropoidea (Miopithecus to Pan). American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Groves, C. P. 1985. The case of the pygmy gorilla: a cautionary tale for cryptozoology. Cryptozoology 4, 37-44.

Hill, W. C. O. 1967. The taxonomy of the genus Pan. In Starck, D., Schneider, R. & Kuhn, H. (eds) Neue Ergebnisse der Primatologie. Fisher, Stuttgart, pp. 47-54.

- . 1969. The nomenclature, taxonomy, and distribution of chimpanzees. In Bourne, G. H. (ed) The Chimpanzee, Vol. 1. Karger, Basel, pp. 22-43.

Shea, B. T. 1984. Between the gorilla and the chimpanzee: a history of debate concerning the existence of the kooloo-kamba or gorilla-like chimpanzee. Journal of Ethnobiology 4, 1-13.

More like this

I think one reason which speaks against kooloo-kamba being hybrids is that such events would probably occur only very rarely, and there would be little chance that such animals could form groups, but would possibly more probably be introduced in the gorilla or chimp families in which they were born (at least males) or live completely solitary.
I am always again surprised how variable especially chimps are. It´s not only the shape of their faces and heads, but also the colour of the skin which is extremely variable. The densitiy of hair is also very varying. I´ve seen chimps which had little more hair than (most) humans, whereas other ones were highly covered with hair. I once even saw in a documentation a really strange chimp which had hair and skin which were yellow-brown. I lived together with normal coloured chimps.
I have also a book with profile photos of man-apes, including chimps of course. The variability is really enormous, skull shape, nose, ears, skin colour, amount of hair, colour of the eyes, it´s really surprising.
BTW, I read by chance just yesterday an interesting report of a circus chimp of 75 kg which wrestled with a 110 kg Jiu Jitsu-champion at Japan several decades ago. Not surprisingly the chimp named "Pinz Charlie" won. If anybody is interested in the reference I can write it.

Nice post! I think that these individuals probably display physical variations that are unknown to science. Although having them in zoos probably did not help disperse those genes into the natural gene pool.

Thanks a lot for bringing up this photo!

For me, it looks like an average chimp. Brow ridges look rather prominent because it is seen from below, the face has crazed look, but nothing unusual for chimps. Brown eyes with dark "whites" are something normal in chimp - I see nothing gorilla-like here.

BTW - thank you for bringing the subject that mammal species are more variable than most zoologists think. We tend to see pictures of animals from the same locality again and again, and get false impression that every individual looks the same.

Could individuals like the Yaounde Zoo animal shown above really be hybrids?

Perhaps I'm being a bit naive here, but shouldn't you be able to find out whether such hybrids are even possible via a series of in-vitro experiments?

@Sordes - Grzimek cites few experiments on arm strength of zoo apes, and even young chimps were as strong as the very top human athletes.

Perhaps to be expected for animals which use arms for locomotion.

Just to be picky: Hyphens ARE allowed in scientific names, but not in the ICZN. Botanists and other taxonomists who follow the ICBN, however, are free to use them as they like.

First I`ve seen of this Ape. a Dna analysis is needed before any classification can be made.

Sure looks like a common chimpanzee to me. A scary-looking chimp, but a chimp.

Can common chimpanzees even interbreed with bonobos, let alone gorillas? Can eastern and western gorillas interbreed? The only verified great ape hybrids I know of are Bornean à Sumatran orangutans (we have one at the L.A. zoo).

As I understand the current model, genera Homo and Pan are in the tribe or infrafamily Hominini, with the Hominini and Gorilla in the subfamily Homininae.

Also, anthropologists currently don't even feel that there was any hybridization between the more closely related H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis (current best guess is apparently " 'not' H. sapiens neanderthalensis, though either way, Neanderthals and modern humans are more closely related to each other than gorillas and chimps are to each other).

In other words humans and chimps are more closely related to each other, while chimps and gorillas are comparatively less closely related to each other. Thus, genetically speaking, hybridization between humans and chimps would appear more likely than hybridization between chimps and gorillas.

I'm speaking here as an armchair anthropologist -- would appreciate hearing from those who actually know something about this.

On balance, I would be happy to accept that the Yaounde Zoo animal was 'just' a weird looking chimp. Jenkins and Gadsby are both experienced primatologists (so far as I can tell from their publications), however, so there may be more to the story than mentioned here.

In response to Mike's question (comment 8) about hybridisation: it's recently been argued (based on the presence of supernumery teeth and the shape of cranial sutures) that Eastern lowland gorillas Gorilla beringei graueri arose via hybridisation between Mountain gorilla G. b. beringei and Western lowland gorilla G. gorilla gorilla. See.

One problem with identification of captive animals in African zoos is that they are almost all orphans of the bushmeat trade and have spent a large part of their early life being raised as pets in local villages on a very inadequate diet, which can seriously affect their physical development. Chimpanzees in zoos outside Africa are often not identified below the level of species, and may be hybrids of quite distinct taxa. The plan for the captive chimpanzee population is only to breed from identified P.troglodytes verus - hybrids or other taxa are on contraception (reversible means are used for non-hybrids).

The photo of the Yaounde ape looks rather intimidating - was it auditioning for a part in a horror film? Something about 'possessed apes' maybe?

I have seen other photos of that alleged hybrid in Yaounde Zoo. I found them on the internet several years ago (not sure how long, but had to be at least six years ago), but attempts to refind them now are proving unsuccesful so far. I do recall that some of them showed an animal that looked very much part chimp part gorilla. Assuming that the photo above is of the same animal, it really doesn't do the case for its being a hybrid justice. Certainly to me it seemed a serious contender.

In the 1880s von Koppenfels claimed to have definite proof of gorilla x chimpanzee hybridization - he even claimed to have shot a male specimen that appeared to be such a hybrid. He stated that the hybrid was always the result of mating between male gorillas and female chimps - but I have no idea what he based this assertion on.

A few years ago (early 90s) I tried to find any credible accounts of ape hybridization. There were quite a few comments about gorilla chimp hybrids in zoos (unsurprisingly mostly in African zoos) - but in most cases there was very little information. A zoo in the southern USA is said to have had a hybrid result from mating between a gorilla and a chimp sometime in the 1940s or very early 1950s. There was no information as to whether the hybrid survived, or which parent was of which species. I have never managed to find any other information about this alleged hybrid, though I did find another reference to a supposed hybrid in the USA which seemed to refer to the same incident. If anyone knows any more about it I would love to know (even if its just to rule it out).

This does differ from most of the alleged hybrids in other zoos, which are not said to have been bred in captivity, but rather are wild caught and assumed to be hybrids based on appearance. It does seem surprising but there seem to have been quite a few animals in zoos or a taxidermy specimens that could not be identified with confidence as either gorillas or chimps.

The situation with Koolakamba is complicated - some evidence does point to it being possibly a form or subspecies of chimpanzee, other evidence tends to suggest it is just part of the range of variation within one of the accepted chimpanzee subspecies. I tend to favour the latter. While it may be a distinct form of chimpanzee, there seems little justification for viewing it as the result of hybridization.

Thanks for the link to the Ackerman & Bishop paper -- very interesting. Gorilla beringei graueri are definitely a bit strange-looking: http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/fs/sheets/images/239lg.jpg

I was positively boggling at the respectful repetition in the article of suggestions of a hybrid chimp/gorilla, wondering for some time if we were being fun of. It's a relief to read in the comments that such a notion is as wild as I had thought. That's not to say I think it would be impossible (I've heard of some odd felines), but I was surprised not to see it treated with deep skepticism.

In the first pic of this thread you posted, I thought I was looking at a photo of Oliver.

(didn't a DNA sample from Oliver determine that his parentage *was* mixed - but because one of his chimp parents was from a lesser-known genetic population)

Theoretically I see no reasosn why hybrdis between chimps and gorillas would be completely impossible. There are much stranger hybrids on record, between species which are not only much more different in a physical or social way, but which are also much more distantly related. Of course nobody can say 100% for sure that such a hybridication would be genetically impossible or possible untill we would have a poof in form of a confirmed hybrids or no hybrid after many confirmed matings between the two species. The distant relationship don´t have necessarily to rule out a possible hybridisation. Sometimes already comparably closely related species fail to produce hybrids, but in other cases animals like babirussas and domestic pigs successfully produce hybrids.
BTW, has anybody current photos of the babirussas-hybrids from the zoo at Denmark? I know only some photos of them when they were still piglets.

Weirdest hybrids of which I have personal knowledge:
Blanding's (Emys (Emydoidea) blandingii) x Wood turtle (Glyptemys (Clemmys) insculpta).
I have seen both the hybrids and their DNA tests. Alas, they are not mine so I cannot publish. I probably shouldn't have said even this much.
Point being: weird hybrids can indeed occur! You think a horny male gorilla would hesitate for even a second if he found himself with a receptive female chimp?

I should add that the owner of said turtles is waiting until they can be sexed, wood turtles having genetic sex determination and Blanding's temperature. Should be interesting.

@ Sordes: "There are much stranger hybrids on record, between species which are not only much more different in a physical or social way, but which are also much more distantly related."

Can you please give some examples?

My own cursory research doesn't seem to show any mammalian hybrids between parents more distantly related than the genus level.

I also think that accounts of hybrids from sources distant from the reputable scientific mainstream should be regarded with great caution -- as we've seen repeatedly here at Tet Zoo, non-scientists (and even many scientists), when confronted with unfamiliar or "funny looking" animals, are likely to produce very creative theories about their provenance.

Yeah, I'm with Sordes and others (with regard to Nathan's comment # 14): I don't, personally, find the idea of a chimp x gorilla hybrid at all ridiculous. For previous discussion on 'extreme' hybrids go here. Some mammalian hybrids are very distant relatives, representing lineages that have been separated for (in cases) 10, or 20, or more, million years. True, gorilla x chimp hybridisation is very unlikely to ever happen in the wild. But things are very different in captivity.

No such thing, genera are relative.

when confronted with unfamiliar or "funny looking" animals, are likely to produce very creative theories about their provenance

= phylogenetic roulette. While this is disturbingly common in informal (forums, blog comments) and "grey" literature, I seriously doubt experts in the subject would be. subject to it.

@Mark Lees
"A few years ago (early 90s) I tried to find any credible accounts of ape hybridization."

I hope you found out several hybrids of bonobo male x two chimp females in Belgian circus.

"A zoo in the southern USA is said to have had a hybrid result from mating between a gorilla and a chimp sometime in the 1940s or very early 1950s."

Could you elaborate? Gorillas, especially adults, were still very rare in zoos at that time. The first captive birth of a gorilla was Colo in Columbus Zoo in 1956. So I find very strange that such breeding would not receive more publicity and could not be traced - of course, if it existed for real.

"It does seem surprising but there seem to have been quite a few animals in zoos or a taxidermy specimens that could not be identified with confidence as either gorillas or chimps."

Well, if there are specimens they could be verified easily by DNA analysis.

I consider gorilla x chimp hybrid theoretically possible, because there are surprisingly many intergeneric hybrids of primates (several baboon x macaque spp., baboon x mangabey, douc langur x proboscis monkey etc.). So I think it is a topic worth of interest.

Out of interest, this is fragment of message from zoo-biology mailing list. I hope the author doesn't mind, just in case I modified it.

"The Common chimpanzee x Bonobo hybrids have been described in a French circus.

Here is a scientific publication about them :
VERVAECKE (H.), STEVENS (J.) & VAN ELSACKER (L.), 2004 : Pan continuity : bonobo-chimpanzee hybrids. Folia Primatologica 75(1) : 59.

Hilde Vervaecke also gave a detailed account of her encounters with these animals in the French circus (including a photo), in her (excellent) book (unfortunately published only in Dutch) :

VERVAECKE (H.), 2002 : De bonoboâs : schalkse apen met menselijke trekjes. Louvain, Davidsfonds : p. 134-138.

In short, in 1979 (i.e. before France ratified CITES) a circus director bought what he thought was a male chimp. It performed in circus acts and regularly mated with two female Common chimpanzees, before a visitor managed to convince the director that he was in fact a Bonobo and not a Chimpanzee. Between 1991 and 2000, seven hybrids were born, the oldest of which was by 2000 working in the circus act as a successor to his retired father.

As far as I know, most of the hybrids are still alive today. At least until recently, they frequently featured in advertising etc.. In 2007, some of them also acted in a French tv drama production about the life of Ham (the first (?) chimp in space) â here is a website about this film which contains some photos of the animals, see :
http://programmes. france2.fr/ ham/index. php?page= article
&numsite=88& id_article= 172&id_rubrique= 90
"

Trying to get a time-frame for this photo, it seems that it's not from the 50s as I first guessed on the basis of its pinky-bluey smeared kind of coloration. But from other references, it appears the picture dates from the early to mid-90s. In which case the animal may still be alive in captivity and available for a quick blood test or tissue sample.

There are a number of examples of family-level hybrids in the Delphinidae. A bottlenose/false killer whale hybrid (who is fertile) and a bottlenose/rough-toothed dolphin hybrid come up pretty quickly on a Google search.

Darren, today's title is IMHO among your best! Certainly an attention-grabber. And raising multiple questions (I have just read or re-read several of your previous articles and links.)

I find these two topics fascinating: individual variability within species and also hybridisation between different species (or even between different genera).

Our own human experience (broadened beyond the parochial by travel and now by TV) shows how greatly individuals of one species can differ in appearance, build and behaviour. And our selective breeding of domestic animals and pet varieties (including dwarf, long- or short-coated or hairless, smooth or wiry coat, tailless, shortlegged etc) also shows this. Why should we think other (wild) species hold less variability? If they do seem to, is that largely due to:
hugeness of our human (and domesticated animal) populations (large gene pools with associated richness of permutations now possible) our propensity to alter our environment to suit our wishes rather than we and our animals having to be 'fit' within narrow limits for our environment
and our inadequate familiarity with (enough individuals of) most other (wild) species?

Re hybridisation, I guess two scenarios may favour the formation of hybrids - or rather, may make more likely attempted cross-specific matings (which may or may not result in viable fertile hybrids):
one I will call 'the desperation scenario', meaning restricted availability of conspecifics (eg in zoos or small/scattered populations) but with the simultaneous availability of 'near-match' nonspecifics
the other I will call 'the confusion scenario', meaning individuals who lack adequate formative socialising experience with their own species - orphaned young, loners, captured/raised by humans, etc - and so may not have formed such clear impressions of 'like' and 'unlike' self as to readily select prospective mates by species.
The two categories of course are not exclusive, and such may occur either in the wild or in captivity.

Of course in captivity (zoo or lab) it is easier for us humans to monitor what occurs.

A complicating factor though may be that in captivity, even normal within-species matings may be impaired if the environment or social sample there is inadequate.

Re Sordes' comment #1 "I think one reason which speaks against kooloo-kamba being hybrids is that such events would probably occur only very rarely, and there would be little chance that such animals could form groups, but would possibly more probably be introduced in the gorilla or chimp families in which they were born (at least males) or live completely solitary"..
I am unclear what he means.
But if a male gorilla and female chimp (just say) mated, producing a hybrid, and remained together long-term as a family group, further matings of the parents could produce a group of hybrid siblings whose own social experience would give them a broadened concept of 'kin' and thus likely favour them having a receptivity to mating, thmselves, across that species divide. They might also mate within their own family group. Thus even if such a hybridisation pairing were rare, once it occurred, it would surely tend to repeat and recur?
Of course such perpetuation would require hybrids to be not only viable, but fertile and accepted by available mates.

I also wonder whether all the different species we now recognize as different would also be recognized as different if known only from fossils.. where plumage and behaviour enable us to distinguish (or trick us into seeing?) visibly-different but morphologically-similar species, would these not be lumped as one species if known only from fossils?
Also though - may we mistakenly be splitting some fossil animals into different species and genera (especially those poorly-known from partial remains or few individuals).. through ignorance of what (possibly considerable) morphological variation may have been normal within some extinct species?

Speaking of chimps, how are the discussions towards establishing P. t. schwienfurthi as it's own species, Pan schwienfurthi, going?

Of course, if gorilla-chimp hybrids have occurred, then it raises the question of whether human-chimp or human-gorilla hybrids might also be possible.

Soviet biologist Ilya Ivanov failed in his effort to create human-chimp hybrids, but he was working in the 1920's with limited resources. I wonder if it might be feasible today.

I like monkeys when I watch I see myself how many million years ago or even earlier. When you think that we could be us who remained in the forest industry and those they could have evolved. I'm terrified.

They did. They didn't somehow stand still. They are not identical to any common ancestors of us with them.

re: #30
What, someone has actually tried that? I had never heard of it, but I'm not surprised. Hm.

I lived together with normal coloured chimps.

I do hope there's a typo in that sentence.

it looks like an average chimp. Brow ridges look rather prominent because it is seen from below, the face has crazed look, but nothing unusual for chimps. Brown eyes with dark "whites" are something normal in chimp - I see nothing gorilla-like here.

Also (at least as far as one can tell from that photo), the ears seem to be too large for a gorilla but just about the right size for a chimp.

He stated that the hybrid was always the result of mating between male gorillas and female chimps - but I have no idea what he based this assertion on.

Pure guesswork? (Incidentally, I wouldn't be sure that in a gorilla - chimpanzee pairing the gorilla would necessarily be the one who's calling the shots. Gorillas may have the brawn, but chimps have the 'tude.)

A zoo in the southern USA is said to have had a hybrid result from mating between a gorilla and a chimp sometime in the 1940s or very early 1950s. There was no information as to whether the hybrid survived, or which parent was of which species. I have never managed to find any other information about this alleged hybrid, though I did find another reference to a supposed hybrid in the USA which seemed to refer to the same incident. If anyone knows any more about it I would love to know (even if its just to rule it out).

I've never heard of that alleged hybrid and can thus provide no specific information, but I'd like to point out, along the lines of Jerzy in comment #23, that well into the 20th century, all great ape species had a pretty poor survival record, and an even worse breeding record, in western zoos (in other words: until fairly recently, almost all great apes in captivity were wild-caught). Gorillas, in particular, proved hard to maintain in captivity they tended to succumb to various human-transmitted diseases and die at an early age. Before the 1950ies, just having a gorilla reach a mature age in an American or a European zoo was pretty remarkable in itself. An interspecific hybrid with a chimpanzee, had there been one, ought to have made global headlines.

Jerzy's link is malformed, so here's an alternative: http://bit.ly/4JQa7Q

Caroline does indeed look like what I'd expect a bonobo-common chimpanzee hybrid to look like.

Funnily enough, that same site mistakenly labels another chimpanzee as "Le Gorille": http://bit.ly/8kaSJS

This raises a point: is length of separation in itself a deciding factor? Sure, that indicates longer oportunity for differences to have arisen and maybe accumulated BUT some lineages appear to have remained essentially the same over relatively huge geological spans (Coelacanth, Limulus, various insects in amber) while others vary significantly and observably even in the short-term.

Surely the feasibility, or not, of hybridisation depends on the exact nature of their differences? Some potential mutational loci may be pretty irrelevant to the question of inter-fertility (build, hairiness or pigmentation, say) - though not perhaps irrelevant to mate-selection! - while some loci may be crucial to it.
Two species' outward morphologies could be obviously different in a number of ways (bottle-nose dolphin and false killer whale hybrid mentioned by Kelly in #26) yet not preclude a successful cross, while between outwardly-more-similar species some single invisible quirk of physiology or developmental biology arising as a difference between them might make cross-fertilisation impossible or render their hybrids non-viable or infertile.

I say 'impossible' but one does hear of the occasional mule that has reproduced and as a character in Jurassic Park says, "Life will find a way.."

The coelacanths have undergone quite a bit of molecular evolutionâ¦

The photo appears to be as a very usual looking mature chimpanzee, but I'd love to see more photos. Nothing unusual on eye colour or skin colour. Young chimps have pale skin but it gets dark after they mature, while very young gorillas have already dark almost black skin. Curiously, bonobos have also dark faces from a young age, but the area round their lips and chins tends to be red or light colour. A beautiful resource to see the diversity of ape facial features is the book by James Mollison "James and other Apes" (http://www.amazon.co.uk/James-Other-Apes-Mollison/dp/0954689437/ref=sr_…) a gallery of ape portraits, from captive specimens, what Mollison do to have them pose for for him like that, even very young individuals? Chimps have the paler irises, from honey to chestnut color. Surprisingly, orangutans have the darker irises, bonobos and gorillas are in between. Of interest could be that there is a shocking photo of a blue eyed 2 year old bonobo (Fizi). There seems to be a lot of variation in the extent to white in the cornea.

David (#29): Leuven, not Leeuwen. Leeuwen means "lions" in Dutch.

On a more substantial matter, Richard Van Gelder of the AMNH argued in the 1970s that species capable of hybridizing should be considered congeneric (Am. Mus. Novitates 2635, http://hdl.handle.net/2246/5474). It led him to quite some extensive synonymizations--all cercopithecines, all felids but the cheetah. He cites a number of surprising hybridizations (jaguar-puma, for example), but rejects a few even better ones (rat-rabbit, roe-sheep, moose-cattle). The criterion was later rejected mostly because the ability to hybridize is plesiomorphic.

Sorry. I must have confused it with Leeuwarden or something. or with the fact that it actually is called Löwen, "lions", in German.

(We also call Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic Königgrätz, even though there's "queen" in there, not "king". Someone must have misunderstood Czech grammar. )

The criterion was later rejected

Alain Dubois from the museum here in Paris still advocates it, or at least did in a paper a few years ago.

Anyway, this same argument must be made against the "Biological Species Concept"s.

The criterion was later rejected mostly because the ability to hybridize is plesiomorphic.

Not so much because it's plesiomorphic (there are still a lot of researchers out there unconcerned by such things) as because it's wildly impractical. Conducting sufficient hybridisation tests for the millions of species on the planet is simply not possible.

Not to mention the problem of what happens when species A can interbreed with species B and species B with species C, but species A can't interbreed with species C.

David and Christopher are right, I was overly definite about this argument there (although it is noted in "Mammal Species of the World" under Canidae in reference to Van Gelder's classification).

Mike, Van Gelder's proposals were all based on very spotty hybridization records. I think his synonymizing all of Cercopithecinae was based on a chain that went from one genus to the other with only one split. One wonders what happens when one tries to hybridize the two ends of the chains.

Hi Darren,
I found this post very interesting and the comment discussion about hybridization was interesting. I'm not a professional by any means so please forgive me if I get my facts mixed up here, but I have one question.
From Dawkins' The Ancestors Tale I see that Gorillas and Chimpanzees evolved into separate species 7 and 6 million years ago respectively. Is a million years of separate evolutionary development not enough to make hybridization impossible between the two species?

Thank you for a great blog and for taking the time to answer my question (even if the answer is screamilgly obvious to you)

Van Gelder actually was not the first to propose this. Ernst H. L. Krause proposed the same thing for plants in the early 1900s, which led him, among other things, to synonymize all Brassicaceae in a single genus Crucifera. Reichenbach also mentioned this idea in 1853, but was against it because it would lead to extreme lumping (see here: http://tinyurl.com/yak7mrv , page 14 and 15, in German). He even mentioned a turkey-legged goose that was allegedly the result of hybridization. I would rather say it was the result of creative taxidermy.

Is a million years of separate evolutionary development not enough to make hybridization impossible between the two species?

That depends on which mutations actually happen, not on the time. More time just makes it more probable. And which mutations need to happen depends on what kind of organism it is.

Usually it takes several million years in mammals, I think.

Handbook of the Birds of The World proposed in passing that species which can hybridize can be placed in one family, not genus. American wood-quails were given own family Odontophoridae because they never hybridized with other Galliformes. Sounds more sensible for me.

Problem with hybridization is that most interesting information comes from the early 20. century. When you read something shocking, then you can hardly verify this eg. chicken-Lyrebird cross - Galloanserae-Passeriformes. Also, hybridization is not yes-no. Often it took breeders many animals over the years, so that the hybrid survived. Apparently, hybridizing birds was some fashion of bird keepers in early 20.century. Most amazing mammal hybrids come from zoos at that time which only kept one animal of each species.

BTW2 - There is now an accidental mangabey-madrill hybrid living behind the scenes in Brookfield zoo. Copenhagen zoo recently produced casually 3 babirussa-domestic pig crosses. I saw the photo on zoochat.com website, and they look strange - one is mostly white, one is in white-brown patches, one is more brown. I wonder if they are proper hybrids at all, or some vvery strange genetic phenomenon went there.

I read this post somewhat belatedly so am late responding to it. The animal in the photograph is clearly a chimpanzee, the only odd thing about it is that it appears to be a strange green colour (at least on my computer screen!)and has slightly madder than usual eyes. Quite why experienced primatologists like Jenkins and Gadsby would think it a hybrid is puzzling. From reading other peoples responses it is quite clear that there is no credible evidence whatsoever that chimps and gorillas have ever hybridised. When you consider that one (gorilla) is a polygamous, strongly sexually-dimorphic primate with very discreet sexual behaviour, and the other is promiscuous, non-dimorphic and with pronounced sexual swellings in the female it seems obvious that natural mating between the two is most unlikely. Chimps and bonobos are certainly more likely to breed together, as are either of those with human beings, which would be a much more interesting line of speculation!

The crossing of species borders: bonobo-chimpanzee hybridisation in captivity.
Hilde Vervaecke�,� Jeroen Stevens �,� Linda Van Elsacker�,�
� University of Antwerp, Belgium
� Centre for Research and Conservation, Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp, Belgium
From historical accounts it appears that natural populations of bonobos and chimpanzees have been allopatric since their phylogenetic separation. There are no accounts of hybridisation under natural conditions. There is, however, evidence for interbreeding between bonobos and chimpanzees in captivity. Studies on Pan in the seventies and eighties emphasised discontinuity between the two species, contrasting bonobo versus chimpanzee anatomy and behaviour. In more recent studies the continuity among Pan is increasingly being documented. In this respect, the hybrids form an interesting testcase. We will define several species-specific parental traits and study their expression in seven different hybrids. We illustrate their morphology and behaviour with photographic and video material. The hybrids have been naturally procreated by a bonobo father and two chimpanzee mothers. It will become apparent that the hybrids show individual variation in degree of expression of typical chimpanzee- or bonobo features. The existence of hybrids poses an interesting challenge to the traditional biological species concept. Their existence also challenges our tendency for binary thinking.

Reference for Chimp - Bonobo hybrid.

Article
Vervaecke Hilde, van Elsacker Linda.- Hybrids between common chimpanzees (**Pan troglodytes**) and pygmy chimpanzees (**Pan paniscus**) in captivity.- In: Mammalia, 56:4(1992), p. 667-669

its interesting, the topics are interesting and i read through all the comments. judging from the comments chimp - gorilla hybridization is exremely rare at best, all of us are interested but none of us know of a definite example. i think jane goodwin in her book about bonobo's says: the idea that bonobo's (that in her study show more human-like social traits then chimps) and humans could hybridise she calls ' a challenge at times she wondered if she should take it on herself."
i dunno why i mention this, i have also in the predigital era seen a few old vague photographs of some /thing/one that looked much like such a hybrid chimp-human, altho reading that near hairless chimps exist makes that photographs more dubious. (it looked really weird, but seemed to represent a young specimen). next what i think of is the probably beknown to you, icebear- brown bear hybrids that these days have been observed. for those the theory is the severe limitions on their natural environments invoked mating that could have taken place during 10000s of years but only occurs now. so if such (pan-gorilla)hybrids can exist, i would not be surprised if they were found in small groups at instances, since any such limitation of environments concerning 2 surviving chimp and gorilla tribes in a small area would facilitate relatively (and unnaturally) frequent meetings.
also (altho someone already mentions chimps have the 'tude', i have been told by an african person, one that liked to be in the bush and saw chimps firsthand and often, that (free) male chimps take a serious interest in female humans, consider them sexually attractive, so indeed it struck me as illogical someone would say a such hybrid would be the result of a male gorilla getting to a female chimp. when look you at their lifestyles it is quite obvious a female gorilla could be interested in a male chimp, especially when she were alone, and that male gorilla are except fysically hardly capable, to copulate with a female chimp, very much regulated in their love affairs by longlasting grouping relations. a gorilla male eg. has a favourit, that is usually his oldest woman, chimps otoh compete over matings in a group. chimps are also known to have sneak sex (copulation with no dominant groupmembers witnessing them). anyway, somehow without more definite descriptions for now the argumants that chimps are more varied and often malnoursihed when kept in captivity appear to turn the table against a hybrid. i know about two phenomenons that i also relate, the first is that ornag utans on borneo have recently been found in a 100s time higher then average density in some food poor mountainous refugee (for wich they apparently opt to live there together themselves , notwithstanding they might be shot in any to humans negotiable terrain. and that whole tribes of chimpansee with untill that unknown behaviours (and thus perhaps also looks) have even been found still recently (i think it files under chimpansee's using spears.
when you look at the paleogical taxonomical babirussa record for example the theory that humans influenced the feircness of their looks is qualling. as to say that any chimp tribe with more fierce looks (this ones ancestors..) or behaviour (spear throwing) stood only minor change of survival in extremely unaccesible habitats..

Claims about hybridization should be viewed with skepticism, but NOT because this is impossible. Consider for example that there are plenty of domestic cattle genes in some herds of American bison. There are no laws of hybridization.It is hit or miss. We should be skeptical rather because history shows that when scientists and others see a specimen that is unusual they speculate that it is a hybrid or a mutation. That sounds more scientific than to say "we don't know." And one does not need the evidence that one would need to claim that it is a new species. In the case of the koolookamba there was fairly decent evidence that it was maybe a new species or distinctive population of something or other.

The big problem is that the zoological context for thinking about odd ape specimens is dismal. "Experts" do not in fact know as much as they think they do. I have looked over a lot of bones of bonobos and chimpanzees in museum cabinets and it is a mess. There is simply not the material for proper scientific analysis and systematics. It is commonly not clear where specimens were actually collected, rather than probably sent from shipping points off on some river in the jungle where specimens from different localities were apparently being assembled. It is not clear how long they might have been in captivity and their skeletons influenced by diet or health. This is the worst data base for doing proper systematic and taxonomic work that I have seen for any animals of scientific significance. It begs proper study and the implications are enormous. Consider how much medical and behavioral research has been done on chimpanzees.

Take behavior for example. We have lots of field studies on the most accessible East African Chimpanzee populations but most captive chimpanzees are verus from West Africa. So the differences in behavior between for example the chimps in Netherlands wildlife parks and the field studies in East Africa could be in part genetic differences rather than as has been assumed differences due to captivity. if some or most of the Netherlands chimps are eventually identified and turn out to be West African, as one should suspect. But the careless assumption has been that a chimp is a chimp and only ecology explain differences.

The problem of arm-waving taxonomy was manifest with the bonobo for decades. Too many "authorities" simply wrote it off as an odd chimp population and ignored considerable scientific evidence to the contrary.

Back to the koolookamba. I have seen lot of opinions and some poor photographs but it appears that we simply do not know and that the matter cannot be settled by for example speculating on whether bonobos and chimps or chimps and gorillas can cross.

In my experience it is better to keep scientific mysteries open than to sweep them under the rug with facile explanations.

Let me add some exasperation -- Why on earth do we not have better photographs of these odd creatures? I could dig out a multivolume review of chimp biology that has a photo of a koolookamba from Holloman AFB. Terrible photo, and again, capturing a sinister pose. I could not easily track down the actual specimen. Maybe someone here with the time and interest can and could let us know. There might even be blood samples somewhere.

"1997 Holloman Air Force Base announces the closure of its chimpanzee facility 30 chimpanzees are sent to Primarily Primates (a sanctuary in Texas) and the remaining 111 are sent to the Coulston Foundation, despite offers from other sanctuaries to care for them."

"A final betrayal: delivery to toxicologist Fred Coulston

By the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force stopped using chimpanzees. Rather than sending them to sanctuaries to protect them from further experimentation, the Air Force leased many out to biomedical laboratories. Most were leased to Fred Coulston, who promoted their use for testing chemicals and drugs. He eventually founded the Coulston Foundation, a facility that would become infamous for its poor conditions and repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Some Air Force chimpanzees were left to languish in confinement at Holloman Air Force Base. Born free 20 years earlier in the African jungle, these chimpanzees would spend the next several decades in the confinement of laboratory cages. A lucky few were rescued by animal protection groups and given permanent sanctuary."

This discussion prompted me to seek a bit more recent information. Next is something interesting that I found by googling. See what a mess we are dealing with!! Phil

Elaine Jean Struthers, Ph.D.
Coulston Foundation

This information or bibliography may be out-dated. Please see PrimateLit for current references.

Any discussion of the great apes must eventually encompass the mysterious Koolakamba. Speculation will then ensue as to its importance and even its existence. Over the past several years, while I have worked at what is currently the Coulston Foundation Holloman AFB site, I have followed this discourse with interest since this facility has been home to a few individuals identified as Koolakamba. If we accept the premise of the existence of the Koolakamba as a distinct entity then we must ask is it a subspecies of the chimpanzee, a gorilla-chimp hybrid, or perhaps representative of individual variation? If we do not accept the premise of its existence then we must assign it to its place in the traditional folk mythology of the indigenous peoples of West Africa, as well as the more contemporary mythology of the international clan of primatologists.

Several articles and related research projects which have considered the question of the so-called hybrid ape, or Koolakamba, are available. The initial references appear to be from the descriptive work of DuChaillu from 1860, 1861, 1867, and 1899 some of which was republished in 1969 (Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa). There may have been at least one prior reference to the Koolakamba in a French work by Franquet (1852, as cited by Shea, 1984). DuChaillu refers to the ape as Koolakamba based upon his description of words used by the indigenous peoples (Commi, Goumbi, and Bakalai[sic]) in the region of the Ovengi River of West Central Africa, modernly the areas of Cameroon and Gabon. The people allegedly referred to the ape as "Kooloo" because that is what its unique vocalization, quite unlike the vocalizations of other apes in the region, sounded like to them. "Kamba", according to DuChaillu, is a Commi word meaning to "speak" (DuChaillu, 1899).

DuChaillu differentiates between four ape-types in his work, these are the Gorilla, the common chimpanzee, the nshiego mbouve (Troglodytes calvus), and the Koolakamba (DuChaillu 1861 and 1969). He provides a detailed physiological description of each variant species as well as illustrations of the important morphological features. The physical characteristics described for Koolakamba include a short and broad pelvic structure, large supraorbital ridge, high zygomatic ridges, less prominent "muzzle", dentition in which the upper and lower incisors meet squarely forming a grinding surface, and a larger cranial capacity than that of the common chimpanzee. Much of what DuChaillu records is essentially ethnographic. He includes the indigenous names and lore relevant to the ape, and reveals his own cultural foibles in the writing. His works are classic period pieces with wonderfully descriptive text and presumably accurate illustrations, but limited quantitative (mostly anthropometric) data.

DuChaillu's summation employed folk taxonomy in identification of apes in the wild. It has been asserted elsewhere (Shea, 1984) that the system of folk differentiation, unlike the extant European system embedded in DuChaillu's worldview, identified individual variation as a type, rather than subspecies variation as a type. Classification of the Koolakamba as a unique entity, it is suggested (Shea, 1984), may be due to DuChaillu's misinterpretation of folk taxonomy. Perhaps, then, the Koolakamba really only represents the wide range of individual variation found in the Lower Guinea chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) of Gabon and Cameroon.

The most comprehensive chimpanzee taxonomy was undertaken by Osman Hill (Hill, 1967 Hill, 1969). Hill's classic work was apparently based in large part upon qualitative observations made at the Holloman AFB site of what is today the Coulston Foundation. Hill contradicts DuChaillu's description on some points, and in fact there seem to be enough discrepancies between the two descriptions to indicate that the respective writers are not discussing the same entity, as Shea(1984) points out in his excellent and intensive treatment of the Koolakamba debate. One example is ear size. DuChaillu described the ear size of the Koolakamba as large whereas Hill indicates that the ears are small, close set to the head, and similar in appearance to that of the gorilla. Another point of inconsistency between the two authors is the facial structure which Duchaillu described as broad and flat, while Hill depicts it as extremely prognathic. However, Hill agrees with DuChaillu on one very important point, he too classes the Koolakamba as a unique subspecies rather than as an individualistic anomaly. Whether the Koolakamba is a real or mythical entity still seems to be mostly a matter of scholarly debate, an artfully done history of that debate up to 1984 has been written by Brian Shea (Journal of Ethnobiology, v.4 #1, 1984).

A number of researchers have also investigated the possible molecular identity of the Koolakamba as a true subspecies. Contemporary research methodologies can perhaps allow a more definitive explanation of the status of the Koolakamba. Work done by Ferris (et al., 1981a,b) used testing of serum to identify mitochondrial DNA restriction endonuclease polymorphism patterns which indicated distinctions between chimpanzee subspecies. The Koolakamba was not identified as unique in the Ferris research (perhaps due to not having any designated Koolakambas in the sample pool?). This work was later expanded by other research (Davidson, 1986) examining electrophoretic variation in serum esterases. The sample pool in Davidson's work were all derived from the Holloman colony and included two designated Koolakambas. No discernible differences were noted for the Koolakamba subjects. A subsequent research project initiated by Gene McCarthy (then of the University of Georgia) in 1991 proposed to survey genetic markers, both mitochondrial and protein, in chimpanzees. In particular the project sought to settle, once and for all, the question of whether or not the Koolakamba was genetically distinct. Due to sampling difficulty, which arises from identification problems and small numbers of accessible subjects, the project has not yet come to culmination.

It has been suggested that the Koolakamba type represents a hybrid ape, perhaps a cross between gorilla and chimpanzee. The notion of hybridism between apes has been a quintessential topic of debate for numerous years. Evidence indicates that at least some ape hybridization (lesser apes) is indeed possible (Myers & Shafer, 1979 and Wolkin & Myers, 1980). The Atlanta Zoo housed two female Siamangs with a male Gibbon, and in 1975 one of the females gave birth to a hybrid offspring (Wolkin & Myers, 1980). This "Siabon" was later transferred to Georgia State University. A second hybrid was later born (in 1976) to the same pair, but it did not survive past the neonatal period. That great apes can produce hybrid offspring, then, is probable. That the Koolakamba represents a form of hybridized ape is at least plausible. Though we may not be able to confirm the existence of any such hybrids at present, it may be reasonable to reserve a category for such a hybrid and label that category "Koolakamba".

For many years, the Coulston Foundation Holloman AFB site has been alleged to have Koolakambas among its chimpanzee population. These references have been based on acquisition records, Hill's inventory (1967), and records of the geographical origin of wild caught subjects. Hill published a photo, probably taken around 1964, of what was allegedly a male Koolakamba. Although I have an excellent reproduction of the photo and have worked within the colony for almost 10 years, and while I have conducted thorough anecdotal interviews with the long term staff, no one recognizes the particular individual in the photo. I am quite certain he either died long ago or was moved to some other facility. The animal in the photo is quite distinctive looking, however, and we do possess a female (Jennifer) who was born here in 1970 who looks a great deal like him. Jennifer's dam died in 1979 and was one of the very early acquisitions of the AF, but she was not noted to be a Koolakamba or otherwise unusual. The sire is unknown because at that time the chimpanzees were still housed in the open free-ranging consortium facility. We have often speculated that it might be possible that the male pictured in the Hill article could be Jennifer's sire.

An article by Don Cousins (Acta Zoologica v.75, 1980) specifically identifies two Alleged Koolakambas at the Holloman site Sevim, and Minnie currently 39 years old. Sevim was a female, she died of natural causes in 1983, but left a number of offspring. Minnie is something of a local celebrity, and has resided here since 1957. She currently is employed as a foster mother after several years as a prominent member of the breeding contract colony. She assists us in raising the infants that for various reasons have had to be reared in the nursery during early infancy. Currently she is raising her own natural offspring, Lil' Minnie, who may represent a Koolakamba type as she looks exactly like her illustrious mother. Minnie certainly fits the description of the Koolakamba both pysically and behaviorally that DuChaillu offers in his works. Minnie frequently likes to walk bipedally, she is extremely gregarious and smart preferring toys that require manual dexterity and finesse to manipulate (e.g. baby activity boards, feeding puzzles, etc.). Minnie also has a well-defined aggressive streak and she traditionally holds an Alpha position in whatever social configuration she is placed.

There have been other chimpanzees among our colony that morphologically and behaviorally (re: DuChaillu) we hazarded might be of the Koolakamba type, but we could not really confirm them as such. It is often difficult to identify the geographical place of origin (based on accession records) for the few remaining wild-caught members of the Holloman founder population. Often such records were intentionally misleading due to irregularities in customs laws prior to the CITES law governing transport of chimpanzees from their native countries. Records sometimes indicate which country the animals were shipped from but that is not necessarily synonymous with the country in which they were actually caught. This further obscures our ability to guess if individuals might be members of the Koolakamba tribe. When an acquisition record indicates place of origin as Gabon or Cameroon, it is worth examining the subject in question to assess morphological features, but the designation of "Koolakamba" remains subjective.

Another organization that may be helpful in maintaining records for individuals identified as Koolakamba is ISIS. Rick Lukens, research associate at ISIS and formerly network analyst at the Holloman AFB site, is aware of the Koolakamba issue and is careful to note any references to the subspecies in records he handles. We at the Coulston Foundation are keenly interested in the Koolakamba debate and will be pleased to field any inquiries regarding this unique variation of Pan.