Standora with panda

Faculty Spotlight: Edward Standora

The panda is the newest addition to the list of animals that Edward A. Standora, professor of biology, has helped scientists understand. Last summer, he spent two weeks in China sharing his experience in biotelemetry with researchers interested in studying panda behavior.

Ed StandoraStandora has spent many years studying both freshwater and sea turtles, and has served as a co-principal investigator with the Earth Watch Institute on a leatherback sea turtle project in Costa Rica. He is currently a co-PI on a grant studying the continuing viability of the diamondback terrapin, a turtle species of special concern that lives in the estuaries along the New Jersey coast.

However, Standora has an international reputation for his pioneering work in biotelemetry, which has been the constant in his four-decade-long career. As a graduate student at California State University, Long Beach, he developed a telemetry system for studying sharks. Then, while earning his doctorate at the University of Georgia, he studied alligators inhabiting nuclear reactor cooling reservoirs.

His encounter with giant pandas took place last summer. Longtime colleague and former Buffalo State faculty member James R. Spotila, professor of biology and Betz Chair Professor of Environmental Science at Drexel University, invited Standora to join a group of researchers traveling to China as part of an intellectual exchange program through the Global Cause Foundation.

The panda is considered to be a “conservation-reliant species,” meaning that its decline in the wild is so severe that its survival depends on active wildlife management and conservation. Estimates of the wild panda population range from 1,000 to 3,000. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding “focuses on the advancement of wildlife conservation in China,” especially the panda, according to its Web site.

Standora’s first stop was at the Chengdu base, where he spent three days and earned himself the nickname “Father Tracker.” One of the projects under way at Chengdu is the breeding of pandas in captivity, with the intention of releasing them to the wild. “One of the early Chinese efforts failed,” said Standora, “when the wild pandas killed the newcomer.”

Scientists plan to enclose a square mile around a soon-to-be-built research base that will act as a “halfway house,” according to Standora, where pandas bred at the base will learn the social skills necessary for survival. Using biotelemetric devices, researchers hope to learn more about panda behavior, including collecting data from pandas during their stay within the sanctuary and then in the bamboo forests that are their native habitat.

Besides describing various projects that have direct potential applicability to the study of pandas, Standora led a hands-on demonstration of telemetry tracking, GPS plotting of movement data, and the use of remote video cameras for recording animal behaviors. Standora also flew to Beijing, where he attended the 23rd International Congress for Conservation Biology and the third International Symposium of Integrative Zoology. He conferred with panda researchers to exchange ideas involving the newest technologies for monitoring the behaviors of rare animals.

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Read previous Faculty Spotlight stories:

Simeon W. Chilungu
Al Riess
Kimberley Zittel-Palamara