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Representative Research

Scientists at Zoo Atlanta lead research efforts focusing on the animals in our care as well as animals in the wild. Our scientists collaborate with scientists around the world to inquire into the mysteries of animal abilities, behavior, well-being and conservation.


Biomechanical and robotic studies on sidewinder rattlesnakes

This series of papers included a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the fields of physics, engineering and biology, representing Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon University, and Zoo Atlanta. The goals were to use cutting-edge technology to better understand the unique locomotion of sidewinders on sand, and then apply that knowledge to improve prototypes of robots that can be deployed—for example for search and exploration in deserts or on distant sandy planets—with less risk of getting stuck.

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Published articles about the sidewinder rattlesnake


Infant mortality and maternal behavior in mountain gorillas

The social dynamics of gorilla groups are exceedingly complex. Beyond predators or poachers, various social dynamics in gorilla groups can result in death of infants. Studying wild mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda, our researchers, in collaboration with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, discovered some key features of how, when, and with whom mother gorillas associate socially, and how that influences the probability of the survival of her offspring.

Published article about the mountain gorillas


Vocalizations in giant pandas

People who follow our giant panda program at Zoo Atlanta know that the time period of fertility of the female is very short. This becomes a problem for populations that are greatly reduced in number and also live in very difficult terrain—factors that reduce the chances that potential mates have to find one another in the wild. This study, based on giant pandas in zoological environments, suggests that the seemingly minor vocalizations by female pandas are utterly unique among all mammals in that they communicate reproductive availability over distances, thick vegetation, and rough terrain.

Published article about the giant pandas


Relationships, behavior and biogeography of Mesoamerican toads

Mesoamerica, comprising Mexico and Central America, is the geographical and biological bridge between North and South America. While Mesoamerica includes a fascinating mixture of both northern (e.g., cougars and deer) and southern (e.g., armadillos and opossums) animal life, it also has its own fauna that evolved in place. This study represents the evolutionary tree-of-life of a group of toads endemic to Mesoamerica, several of which are recently extinct or critically endangered as a result of an emerging infectious fungal disease that swept through the region in recent decades.

Published article about the Mesoamerican toads (PDF)


Maternal care in giant pandas

A multitude of factors can influence the quality of maternal care that a female provides to her offspring. Two important factors include the physical condition (health) of the mother, and her level of experience (number of cubs raised over her lifetime). These two factors often are conflated, however, such that many first-time mothers also happen to be in relatively poor body condition. This reality makes it difficult to disentangle the relative effects of the two variables of health and experience. This paper measured the quality of maternal care that females provided to their offspring, using zoological pandas because they offered the advantage that their relative health can be measured and the number of cubs they have raised is known. Results indicated that experience is of primary importance in successfully raising a cub.  

Published article about the giant pandas