Dr. Rebecca Snyder Cares for Pandas

The Carroll Daily Times Herald, July 10, 2006

Snyder Oversees Panda Care, Study

For many people, giant pandas are creatures of wonder and amusement. Each year, thousands of people flock to zoos for a closer look and to learn more about the charming animals with the distinctive coloring.

For Doctor Rebecca Snyder, spending time with and learning about the endangered pandas is something she does on a daily basis.

The Breda native is a daughter of Clair and Myrna [Boes] Snyder [second great granddaughter of Gerhard and Maria Anna (Nieland) Boes]. She is a 1987 graduate of Kuemper Catholic High School and a 1991 graduate of Iowa State University with a bachelor of science degree in zoology.

"I went into the program at Iowa State because I wanted to do something with animals," she said. "I took a class in animal behavior and decided to do that."

Snyder later went on to earn her master of science and doctorate degrees in psychology from Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

She began working as a research associate at Zoo Atlanta in 2000. As a doctoral student, Snyder was interviewed by national media, including the "Today" show, when the pandas arrived at the zoo from China. In 2001, Snyder became a full-time employee.

She is now curator of giant panda research and management at the zoo, The facility has two pandas, 8-year-olds Lun Lun (pronounced loon loon) and Yang Yang (pronounced yahng yahng). The pandas are on loan from China, and as part of an agreement between the two, Zoo Atlanta pays China approximately $1.1 million per year for conservation of the wild panda habitat there.

In her job, Snyder oversees three full-time panda keepers and makes decisions regarding the charismatic creatures such as diet, exhibits and breeding season.

In addition, Snyder oversees research on giant pandas. At the present time, she is involved in maternal behavior research on the pandas at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. Much of the behavioral research on pandas is conducted in China.

Snyder said one unique thing about pandas has to do with their biology. Although they are considered to be a kind of bear and a carnivore, they live on a herbivore's diet, eating mainly bamboo. According to information provided by the zoo, Lun Lun and Yang Yang munch on bamboo between 10 and 16 hours per day. This equals 220 pounds per day.

Giant pandas may live to be 18 to 20 years old in the wild but can live to be over 30 years old in captivity. Both Lun Lun and Yang Yang were born in captivity.

Zoo Atlanta is one of four zoos in the nation to have giant pandas. Other zoos include the National Zoo in Washington D.C., San Diego Zoo and Memphis Zoo.

Although Lun Lun and Yang Yang haven't had any cubs, Snyder said, zoo officials are hopeful that the female might be pregnant now, but they don't know for sure.

In addition to her work at the zoo, Snyder found love there. She and Dwight Lawson married Oct. 8 2005, at Swan Lake State Park. Lawson is the vice president of animal programs and science at Zoo Atlanta.


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