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Panda Doc Devra Kleiman Has Died

Emma Brown

Devra Kleiman, 67, the zoologist who oversaw the reproductive drama of the National Zoo's first giant panda pair, died April 29 of cancer at George Washington University Hospital.

Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were gifts from China who arrived at the zoo in 1972, just a week after Dr. Kleiman was hired to head up its captive breeding program. Little was known then about panda behavior; according to conventional wisdom, the two were kept apart except for brief annual mating periods.

The results, carefully tracked by media around the world, were heartbreaking. Between 1983 and 1989, Ling-Ling became pregnant four times. One baby was stillborn; the others died within hours or days of their birth.

During the emotional ups and downs of those pregnancies, Dr. Kleiman did pioneering research on pandas, writing the first description of their behavior, including their vocalizations, their play and their scent markings. Her research turned conventional wisdom about pandas -- that they are solitary animals who should be kept apart, except to mate -- on its head.

"Keeping them apart was wrong," she told Smithsonian magazine in 2001. "They are more social than anyone could have believed."

Dr. Kleiman's research helped change the way giant pandas are cared for in captivity. She also is credited with leading a successful program to bolster the population of golden lion tamarins, endangered squirrel-sized monkeys that live in South America.

She retired from the National Zoo as senior research scientist in 2001.

A full obituary will follow.

By Emma Brown  |  May 3, 2010; 12:21 PM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown , Science  | Tags: devra kleiman died, devra kleiman dies, ling-ling hsing-hsing scientist, national zoo panda scientist, panda scientist dies  
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