An undergraduate at University Centre Reaseheath, Cheshire, is using her research skills to monitor how animals are adjusting to a zoo reopening.
Gemma Jones, 18, who has just completed the first year of her Foundation Degree in Zoo Management, was one of two volunteers invited to join staff at Lakeland Wildlife Oasis in Cumbria as restrictions eased after the Covid-19 lockdown.
The zoo, which reopened to the public on July 4, is home to more than 100 species, some of which are critically endangered, and is a recognised contributor to worldwide conservation programmes. A registered charity, it has been attracting 30,000 visitors a year and runs educational programmes for school groups and young people with special needs.
Gemma, a regular volunteer at the zoo for the past three years, returned in June to help prepare for reopening. In addition to refreshing and developing the exhibitions, she has been logging behavioural observations on ethograms she has designed and is now comparing lockdown data with studies taken now visitors have returned.
The results will alert the zoo team to changes in behaviour and allow them to adjust the animals’ management as they re-adjust.
Gemma created the ethograms herself using criteria such as the time individuals spend eating, grooming and resting. She has also listed instructions and made diagrams which identify individual animals so other volunteers can continue the research. Her project has coincided with the opening of new volunteer ranger stations at the zoo and the results will also be used to help educate the public about the collections.
Gemma, who hopes to become a zoo keeper, explained: “I learned how to make ethograms and how to analyse the data during my degree studies and used my notes and skills to prepare the data collection. It will be very interesting to compare the results of behaviour during lockdown with behaviour since reopening, as this is a comparatively new area of research. I’ve enjoyed setting it all up and feel it’s really helped me to develop skills for the future.”
Gemma, who lives in Kendal, observed snow leopards, curassow birds, cotton top tamarins, black capped lorikeets, wallabies and lemurs for her project.
The zoo’s Centre Manager Jack Williams, who graduated from University Centre Reaseheath with a BSc in Zoo Management in 2018, said: “Gemma’s research is enabling us to maintain our animal husbandry to the highest standards. The welfare of our animals is extremely important to us, as is the health of our visitors. Obviously we are delighted to open our gates again, but it’s also very helpful to monitor how our collection is readjusting to the busier atmosphere.”