Animal Behaviour Research Volunteer – University of Exeter


What were your main duties and responsibilities during the course of your internship?

During my internship I ran 3 of my own research projects. First was the visibility of the red pandas and fishing cats at Newquay zoo. This involved visiting the enclosures 4 times a day and making observations on how many animals were visible and whether or not visitors were present. For the fishing cats this will act as baseline data. The zoo intend to make some improvements to the enclosure and then the new data can be compared to see if there has been any improvement to the visibility. For the red pandas, I observed three view points of the enclosure. My results found a footpath around the side of the red panda enclosure which led to a larger view of the enclosure and a significant increase in the chance of seeing a red panda, but this area was the least visited. Now this information is available to the zoo they can act on it and put up signs to lead visitors to the better view point.

I also continued some training with 4 species of Asian bird, training each species to feed from a different coloured feeding stick. This means if one species needs more food than the others, they can be target fed meeting energy requirements so breeding is more likely to be a success, but without increasing food for all birds which would be an increased financial cost to the zoo.

The final project was some behavioural observations on the same 4 species of birds as they are all due to be moving enclosure in the near future. These observations can be used as baseline data to ensure there are no dramatic changes once they have moved or perhaps even see an increase in activity.

What would you say was your biggest achievement over the course of your internship?

In the labs at uni we do a bit of data collection, but it is really limited by time and we would only have a few hours in the labs a week. I have now gained the experience of a 4 week research project and learnt what its really like be a field-based research scientist.

What benefits did your internship bring to your employer?

The data I have collected is going to be used in multiple future projects and the bird training I did has the potential to save money on expensive wax moth larvae that is fed to the breeding birds. Also increasing the visibility of the Red pandas and Fishing cats will increase visitor satisfaction and potentially lead to more people coming to the zoo.

Did you encounter any problems during the course of your internship and if so, how did you overcome them?

On my first week my supervisor was away at a conference and after meeting 3 times prior to my start date I still had to undertake some pilot studies on my first day. I then had to make an executive decision as to which data collection methods were used as he was in Malaysia and I was therefore not able to contact him.