In an exciting first for University Centre Reaseheath, four animal management undergraduates are presenting their projects at the annual British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) Research Conference, being held this week at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.

This prestigious conference is a key event for researchers and scientists from the zoo world and enables delegates to listen to and discuss the latest findings.

Our undergraduates were encouraged to put forward their projects by Dissertation Supervisor James Brereton, who himself has previously presented at BIAZA and Association of British Wild Animal Keepers (ABWAK) symposia, and who will be taking a slot again at this year’s conference.

James was delighted that the work of four of his students were approved by the research committee – no mean feat – and has been helping with the preparation of presentations and posters. He explained: “We discussed taking these dissertations a step further and getting this exciting research added to scientific literature. The fact that the undergraduates are presenting at a leading conference is a great opportunity for them, and a tremendous addition to their CV.”

James Shora, who has just completed his BSc in Zoo Management, will present a paper based on his final dissertation entitled: “Should zoo foods be coati chopped”. This follows his discovery that the coati (a South American carnivore) is less likely to fight over whole food than it is over chopped food. This completely reverses what has been believed previously and could influence the way captive coatis are fed in the future.

James, who is considering going into zoo education, spent several months at Beale Wildlife Park, Reading, observing the differences in behaviour within a coati group when fed chopped or whole food diets. This is an existing idea but James hopes that his work will encourage fellow scientists to use the same methodology on other species and that the findings will add significantly to the scientific knowledge bank.

See James describe his research as he prepares for the BIAZA conference here

Liam Southern, a BSc Zoo Management undergraduate, will deliver a poster presentation based on a porcupine enrichment project which he ran at Reaseheath Zoo. Using different types of food enrichment, Liam spent five months studying our Cape porcupines to identify which enrichment was most effective at extending the time spent browsing in the enclosure. These included branches for browsing, a wooden log with food hidden inside it and cardboard boxes filled with leaves and roots vegetables.

Discovering that all types of enrichment lead to increased activity levels and decreased sleeping behaviours, Liam went on to discuss whether this was adversely affecting natural behaviour and whether it might be better to supply enrichment when an animal is naturally active (porcupines are nocturnal.)

Sam Shaw, a fellow BSc Zoo Management undergraduate, will give a poster presentation on enclosure use by captive sun bears. Sam studied this diurnal South East Asian bear at Edinburgh Zoo and Colchester Zoo, and was particularly interested in how much they used their outdoor enclosures and if weather conditions significantly changed this use.

Sam, who is hoping to become a zoo keeper or to enter zoo education, hopes that her findings will help to improve future enclosure design.

James Brereton will be presenting the findings of Sam Stringwell’s research project on zoo collection plans. As part of his research, Sam studied the total number of species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians in every zoo across the globe. He compared these ‘collection plans’ with the species of plastic zoo animals commonly offered for sale by toy manufacturers and whether this was a true representation.

He found out that zoos offer a much more diverse range of animals and birds than toy manufacturers, which tend to offer a limited range of the mammals preferred by the public.

Submitting “Are we ‘panda-ing’ to the public?” as a poster proposal the BIAZA research committee liked its quirky content so much that they requested Sam made it into a presentation.

Yvette Foulds-Davis, HE Programme Leader for the Animal Sciences team is also excited to present her research on mixed species aviaries in zoos. Yvette has investigated the factors that make a mixed bird aviary successful, and is keen to share this important research with other professionals. This in turn will help zoo managers make more informed choices about their mixing of birds.