The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Conservation
On March 1, 2017, the first clouded leopard was born as the result of an artificial insemination procedure using frozen/thawed semen. Born at the Nashville Zoo, this cub represents decades of collaboration between the Nashville Zoo and the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. The first successful artificial insemination of a clouded leopard was also performed at the Nashville Zoo, in 1992, by National Zoo theriogenologist JoGayle Howard.
Dr. Howard (whose research records are part of the Archives’ collections) dedicated her career to breeding endangered species in captivity by adapting techniques commonly used for human infertility treatment. Much of her research focused on felines - clouded leopards, cheetahs, fishing cats, Florida panthers, and even domestic cats - and she frequently collaborated with zoos and wildlife conservation organizations throughout the United States, Africa, and Asia.
Howard also oversaw the black footed ferret breeding program at the National Zoo. In the 1980s, there were only 18 individuals left. Under her supervision, more than 500 kits were born, including more than 100 by artificial insemination. Many of these animals have been reintroduced into the wild. For her leadership in the effort, Howard was named "Recovery Champion" by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009.
The most famous result of her work was the birth of giant panda Tai Shan in 2005. Reproduction rates for giant pandas were low at zoos and breeding centers worldwide and the National Zoo had not produced a healthy panda cub after almost three decades of attempts. Howard worked with Chinese colleagues to develop new protocols for sperm cryopreservation and artificial insemination which contributed to a sharp increase in panda births. Howard was personally responsible for the artificial insemination of Mei Xiang, the National Zoo's female panda, that resulted in the birth of its first surviving cub.
Howard's success in the field of assisted reproduction earned her the nickname "Sperm Queen." In fact, her research records include thousands of images of both sperm and ova, as well as thousands of pages of sperm and ova data and data analysis. She was also a tireless and passionate champion for endangered species, who looked beyond biology to animal behavior and diet in order to understand the bigger picture. She also readily shared her knowledge, expertise, and skills with hundreds of fellows, interns, veterinarians, and wildlife specialists, and even the general public through interviews and television programs.
Howard died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 59, but left behind new clouded leopard facilities at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, reams of reproductive data, new protocols for breeding, a generation of veterinarians building upon her work, and healthier populations of several endangered species.
- Leopard Lifesaver: Smithsonian Scientist JoGayle Howard, SmithsonianScience YouTube
- The Smithsonian Mourns: Dr. JoGayle Howard, Wildlife Biologist (1951-2011), Smithsonian Magazine
- Accession 17-101, National Zoological Park, Department of Reproductive Sciences, Animal Research Records, 1980-2010, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Today, visitors to Smithsonian sites in Washington, DC can hardly miss the message of conservation. From the National Zoo to the National Museum of Natural History, visitors learn about the impact of humans on the natural world, whether through industrialization, overhunting, pollution, or a myriad of other factors. However, visitors might be surprised that the Smithsonian has been communicating this message to the public for over 125 years.
In 1888, William Temple Hornaday was the chief taxidermist for the Smithsonian U.S. National Museum. In this role, he faced the challenge of creating a special display for Cincinnati’s 1888 Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States. The exposition would be a grand affair held to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the Northwest Territory to Euro-American settlement. A wide array of attractions vied for attention, ranging from live concerts, brewery tours, and canal rides. In the government display building, sandwiched between the exhibits on wide-ranging systematic mammal exhibit and the bird exhibit, sat the 800 square foot "Extermination Series" that Hornaday created for the exposition.
The “Extermination Series” drew on Hornaday’s eye-opening experience acquiring skins to taxidermy and display for the National Museum. During a collecting expedition to the American West in late 1886, Hornaday witnessed the seeming extinction of the American bison. In Montana, formerly rich bison country, he collected several specimens of the territory’s last remaining bison. He reported to Secretary of the Smithsonian Spencer Baird that his "'haul' of specimens could not be equaled again in Montana by anybody, no matter what their resources for the reason that the buffalo are not there. We killed very nearly all we saw and I am confident there are not over thirty-head remaining in Montana, all told. By this time next year the cowboys will have destroyed about all of this remnant. We got in our Exploration just in the nick of time." Along with the specimens, Hornaday returned to Washington with a galvanized determination to conserve the remaining American bison.
The Ohio Valley and Central States Centennial Exposition gave Hornaday an opportunity to spread his urgent message. The display would highlight the state of wildlife in the United States. For the centerpiece, Hornaday created a model of a bison skeleton desiccating on the Great Plains, replete with real Montana sod. The skeleton he used came from his Montana collecting trip. “[I]n a very few years,” he wrote in the description, “not even a bleaching bone will remain above ground to tell the story of the millions that have been utterly destroyed by the senseless, heartless, and wasteful greed of man.” A map showed the bison’s historic range and their much smaller range in 1888.
While bison took center stage in the display, Hornaday was also concerned about the loss of other species such as deer, bears, and mountain goats. Stuffed specimens of these threatened species line one edge of the exhibit. In the rear of the exhibit, Hornaday put up a stack of goat skins procured from the Rocky Mountains, destined for sale as men's vests. Nearby, a display showed the ever-higher powered rifles used to hunt animals on the Great Plains. Throughout the exhibit, Hornaday emphasized human greed and industrialization as the reason behind the distressing reduction of North American mammals.
Today, William Temple Hornaday is most famous as the founder of the Bronx Zoo, the author of the Extermination of the American Bison Report, and as a major player in bison conservation. Though largely forgotten today, the Extermination Series display reveals the deep historical roots of the Smithsonian Institution’s conservation education programs.
Taxidermist Turned Conserationist: The Man that Saved the Bison, The Castle of Curiosities
William Temple Hornaday: Saving the American Bison, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Protecting Wildlife in Our National Parks: William Temple Hornaday and the American Bison, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Facebook Live: Uncovering an Archival Mystery, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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