‘Planet Earth: Incredible Families’

Dr. Patrick R. Thomas is the Vice President & General Curator and Associate Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society‘s Bronx Zoo.

Since 1989, he has served as a Professional Fellow for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and is currently the Vice Chair of AZA’s Bison and Wild Cattle Taxon Advisory Group, where he participates in various conservation programs. His field research in South Africa saw him developing techniques to collect hair samples from large felids for DNA analyses. And in Argentina, he studied the short-term effects of live-shearing wild guanacos, which is being done in some areas as a possible conservation strategy.

Additionally, Thomas is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Manhattan College’s Biology Department and Fordham University’s Department of Biological Sciences. He earned a PhD in Biology from Fordham University and a BS in Ecology from the Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Of all the animals in the world, which one would you say has the most endearing parenting behaviors with their young?
Dr. Patrick R. Thomas: I think for a lot of the species that have altricial young, or young that require intensive care because they’re not capable of caring for themselves, there is a tremendous amount of parental investment. Those are the species that we relate best to. Whether you’re talking about primates, elephants, or many of the large carnivores, I think that we as a species can relate to the amount of investment or care that goes into their young and the attachments that they have for their young.

Male Emperor Penguins will incubate an egg while the females go out to sea to feed. She can be gone for very long periods of time to the point where the male might drop up to 50 percent of his body weight, but he just stays on the ice with that egg and keep it warm. If the chick hatches before the female returns, he’ll actually feed it by regurgitating a curd-like substance from a gland in his esophagus. It’s not until that female comes back that he relinquishes care of the young to her so that he can go off and feed. They’ll take turns where they’re gone for really long periods of time, but one parents is always with that chick to ensure that it stays warm and is well protected.

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