When Biologists Wear (Faux) Fur, It’s With the Babies in Mind

By Valerie Ross | June 23, 2011 12:54 pm

Don’t worry, this is for science.

It’s not easy being a parent. There are the constant feedings, the sleepless nights—and of course, the time-consuming task of shimmying into that unwieldy animal suit.

When the offspring of endangered species are orphaned or abandoned, scientists and vets fill the pawprints of the missing parents. But animals raised by humans can develop all sorts of issues; they’re not prepared to fend for themselves in the wild, they don’t play well with others, and they have an unhealthy interest in humans, cozying up to hikers and hunters.

So while humans are busily looking for Mommy’s nose in Junior’s face, these scientists take things in the opposite direction. Here’s how they make themselves over to look, act, and even smell like the animals they raise:

  • Scientists at the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda, part of China’s Wolong Nature Reserve, donned full-body plush panda suits to raise a four-month-old cub. The result is both adorable and more than a little absurd: Look, it’s a panda! Walking on two legs. And weilding a measuring tape. Uh, what happened to its head?
  • At the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center in California, vets are aiming for a little more realism. They rub themselves with herbs to disguise their human smell—and, once they’ve climbed into a bona fide bobcat suit, splash on a little eau de bobcat (i.e., feline urine). The vets also amble around on all fours, making them basically indistinguishable, we’re sure, from actual bobcats. So far, the program has raised more than thirty kittens.
  • The conservationists raising California condors get to keep their civvies on. Instead of bird suits, they use hand puppets—which look a bit like tricked-out rubber gloves—to feed and interact with the chicks. When they’re old enough, the chicks are placed in condor pre-school with other birds, a stepping stone to the outside world.
  • Cub rearing, though, isn’t the only reason zoologists don big plush suits. At Chengdu Zoo in Sichuan Province, China, in a drill simulating a tiger escape, zoo staff chased a man dressed like a dopey-looking tiger as he scampered around the zoo. The real tiger, looking on, was unamused.

Image: Flickr / Joe Shlabotnik

  • Carl

    You say “faux fur” as if that somehow makes it OK. Do you know how many faux have to die to make just one plush suit? The silver arctic faux has been hunted to the brink of extinction just to satisfy your vanity!

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    So, insanity is in the eye of the beholder? And here I thought there was a biological medical basis! Silly me.

    Speaking of medicine, there at least they try to use EBM to verify procedures. Have the biologists done Proper Preparation before they don Faux Furs?

  • http://sherlanova.wordpress.com Ales

    Err.. Mr Carl and Mr. Larsson, don’t you both read the article?

  • Old Rockin’ Dave

    Carl, I understand your concern. I remember how popular naugahyde-covered furniture once was. You don’t see it anymore since the African nauga became extinct and the Indian nauga was declared endangered.
    But you don’t have to worry about the Arctic faux. All the faux fur used today comes from faux farms in Saskatchewan.

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