All our students have gone. Each year, WWCT hosts undergraduates that come to work within university undergraduate industrial year programmes; this year we had eight students studying across our three zoo sites and reserves. They were with us from September 2016 – but the final student left at the end of July.
At Paignton Zoo, the students are based in the office next door to the WWCT staff, so they could knock on the door and pop in whenever they needed advice during project development or on statistics during their final few months. We had four zoo-based students at Paignton this year. Joe studied the breeding behaviour of the Critically Endangered Edwards’s pheasant, a Vietnamese species that we are planning to work with in situ. Using a surveillance camera system, Joe spent the year recording the breeding behaviour of the two pairs we house off show, with the aim of detailing courtship and chick rearing behaviour that can be fed into husbandry guidelines for our in situ partners to use. He also made an open-access website with video clips and information on his project that other holders of the species can reference. This year the pheasants hatched five chicks, so we will be continuing this research topic next year to observe chick development and hopefully further breeding.
Ignatius spent his placement year recording behaviour, enclosure use, collecting faeces and analysing the diet of spider monkeys under different lighting conditions. He was investigating the effect of UVB lighting in the indoor enclosure – but found that spider monkeys prefer to sit outside on sunny days. His findings led to the conclusion that providing UVB lighting on overcast days and during the winter months when the UV Index is low, may be beneficial to the animals and the energy expenditure of the Zoo.
In addition, we had two students investigating visitor behaviour at Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts, with Alice monitoring the influence of different types of interpretation on visitor learning in our Crocodile Swamp exhibit and Alex measuring what visitors learn from feeding experiences. Alice found that visitors learn more when provided with information during educational talks and Alex discovered that visitors engaging in a feeding experience learn more than general visitors. As we run a range of visitor feeding events at our sites, we potentially have a good audience to share our conservation messages.
Also at Paignton, we had two students studying native species – bees and bats. Emily built bee hotels that she positioned around the Paignton Zoo site to encourage nesting by solitary bees. It seems that solitary bees prefer bamboo compared to other substrates such as cob and drilled logs. We will continue to monitor the nests until the bees wake from hibernation next March. Our other ecology student, Luke, spent the year monitoring bat species from their calls to determine the features such as waterbodies and hedgerows that they use to navigate around Paignton Zoo. There was an abundance of common pipistrelles at the Zoo, with an average of over 300 bat passes recorded per night, favouring woodland and grassland habitats. The Zoo has a diversity of environments and our Reserves Warden Dave maintains the woods and grassland around the site, also conducting monthly bat checks in the Zoo’s caves.
Over at Living Coasts Meghan has been busy training the blue-spotted ribbontail rays in the Mangrove exhibit using positive reinforcement training. During feed times, keepers had observed aggression in the tank and had identified that the three female ribbontails were being aggressive towards the masked rays. Meghan spent the year training two of the rays to come over to a specific target (a white and black circle with a different pattern), touch the target with their body and receive a food item as a reward. The training was very successful, resulting in a reduction in aggression in the tank. Meg was based in the keeper office during her placement and the plan is that keepers will continue this husbandry technique now that Meg has left.
At our sister site in Cornwall, Newquay Zoo, Harriet worked from the Research and Education office and was trialling different diets for frogs to investigate whether carotenoid supplementation (yellow, orange and red pigments) affects growth. By taking weekly length measurements of tadpoles and recording the days until metamorphosis, Harriet determined that a higher carotenoid diet is associated with a larger increase in growth rates and could be a beneficial supplement for zoo frogs.
It may be quiet this week, but our MSc students are coming to the end of their dissertation project data collection, which means we will be carrying out statistics workshops this month. Also, the next cohort of placement students start on 4th September, so it will not be quiet for long!
Dr Holly Farmer, Zoo Research Officer