Remembering Biologist Devra Kleiman

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Robert Siegel and Michele Norris remember biologist Devra G. Kleiman, who died last week at age 67. She did groundbreaking research on giant pandas and South American monkeys, and showed how zoos can play a critical role in preserving endangered species.


One little girl, Devra Kleiman, who learned to love animals and went on to lead the field of conservation biology, has died. In college she became so dedicated to the subject that she brought a baby dingo home to her mother's home for the summer. It wrecked the basement.

Kleiman went on to become one of the first female scientists at the National Zoo here in Washington, D.C. where she started working in 1972. Well, Devra Kleiman died last week. She was 67.


Of all her work, two things stand out: Saving a species of South American monkey and figuring out how giant pandas behave. First, the monkeys golden lion tamarinds. They were dying out in Brazil. Kleiman's innovative idea was to convince zookeepers around the world to step in to help. She selected monkeys most likely to pass on healthy genes. And then she sent pairs of them off to mate at zoos. The offspring were eventually reintroduced to the jungle where they thrive. A model of conservation of a species and its habitat.

NORRIS: As for the pandas, her research changed the way zoos treated the creatures. Back when the first pandas arrived from China at the National Zoo, they were separated. But Kleiman figured out that pandas are actually very social. She helped change zoo policy and the pandas were housed together.

SIEGEL: Conservation biologist Devra Kleiman leaves her mother, her husband, three step-daughters and four grandchildren and many grateful tamarinds and pandas

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