As I write this, it is mid-September, and we are in the middle of a very busy month of science preparations.
The WWCT will be exhibiting at New Scientist Live 2017 at ExCel London on 28th Sept – 1st Oct. This will be an exciting exhibition of science, from biology to cosmology, marketed as “the world’s most exciting festival of ideas”!
WWCT will be represented at the event by staff from Paignton Zoo, Newquay Zoo and Living Coasts; we will be displaying the wealth of science that goes on at our zoos. We will be taking part in a stand run by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), where we will be joined by three other zoo organisations: The Deep, the Zoological Society of London, and Chester Zoo, making this an exciting collaborative event to demonstrate the diversity and importance of zoo science.
Science is fundamental to the work that we do at our zoos, and also to our field conservation projects, but many people don’t realise the diversity of science topics that we cover, or the amount of research work that goes on across our sites. So, how do we use science at the WWCT? Well firstly, science is vital to our animal care. From biology to veterinary science, it is crucial that we understand the needs of our animals and how to look after them. A great deal of research goes into nutritional analysis for animal diets, and WWCT has been leading research into the benefits of removing sugary fruit from primate diets (see our article on the BIAZA website for more information: https://biaza.org.uk/projects/detail/what-would-you-feed-a-gorilla).
We also study the science of animal behaviour, which we use for a wide range of projects such as investigating the effects of environmental enrichment, examining how animals respond to UV light, and studying breeding behaviours, to name just a few. Managing our animals also requires knowledge of genetics, and staff at WWCT zoos manage 13 European Endangered species Programmes (EEPs) and European Studbooks (ESBs).
We also use conservation science in our in situ conservation projects, both in the UK and abroad. We monitor and survey populations of animals using camera traps and genetic analysis. Significantly, we have been developing a new diagnostic tool for the identification of chytrid fungus, a disease that is a huge threat to populations of amphibians world-wide (see our news article here).
That is just a taste of the vast amount of science that takes place in our zoos and as part of conservation projects. We will be presenting a lot of these topics at the New Scientist Live event. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to talk to WWCT staff about the work that we do, see the equipment that we use, and will be able to get ‘hands on’ and experience our research.
All of this is very exciting, but it means that we have a lot of preparation to do! So, for the next few weeks we will be busy writing information crib sheets and collating facts and figures, preparing videos and photos, creating activities and loading up equipment; everything from camera traps, to a box of rubber frogs (to help us to demonstrate our chytrid project)…
If all of that is not enough, we are also preparing a 360 degree virtual reality video! This is a really exciting project that will allow people to enter the ‘virtual zoo’ and view our animals from new angles and learn more about our exciting science. If you have visited any of our zoos recently, you may have seen our keepers and the team from Soundview Media putting cameras in unusual places, such as at the top of the tiger feeding pole, and even underwater in the penguin pool. Once the video is ready, viewers will be able to watch some exciting animal behaviour from right at the centre of the action! I can’t wait to see all of the footage put together.
So wish us luck in our preparations, and we hope that we will see you at New Scientist Live (we’ll be on stand 531!). We will be posting on our social media pages during the event, and we’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. This will be a fantastic opportunity for us to work with other BIAZA zoos and showcase the fantastic science that takes place at the WWCT.
To find out more information about our research, take a look at our website at: http://www.wwct.org.uk/research/wwct-research-themes
We have also written blogs on the BIAZA website, which link to the projects that we will be exhibiting at the event:
Finally check us out on the New Scientist Live website: https://live.newscientist.com/exhibitors/swep?&azletter=W&searchgroup=libraryentry-exhibitors
Dr Joanna Newbolt
Higher Education Co-ordinator