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Placement student spotlight: Adam Irwin

Place of study: University of Manchester

Course: BSc Biological Sciences (Zoology)

Placement focus: Community Outreach & Badgers


We caught up with placement student Adam, who’s project is two-fold: the first element consists of a local community survey to understand how Wild Planet Trust’s neighbours view our reserves and local wildlife, and the second part aims to better understand the badger populations of the Paignton Zoo and Clennon Gorge sites.

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself…

A. I’m originally from Northern Ireland. I moved to England, Manchester specifically, for university. I initially studied physics before having a change of heart and switching my degree to zoology. I love hiking and camping and am very keen to make the most of the Southwest Coast Path while here in Paignton.

Q. Why did you choose Paignton Zoo for your placement?

A. On my placement year I wanted to do valuable conservation work on native wildlife. Paignton Zoo offered a unique and valuable opportunity to do this in a zoo setting surrounded by more exotic animals.

Q. What animals are you working with?

A. The community survey I am doing will aim to find out how the local community views native wildlife as a whole, but the main bulk of my project will be focussed on badgers. At Paignton Zoo we’re lucky to have a large population of resident badgers for which we have run a successful vaccination program for several years. The aim of my research will be to better understand how our badgers use the sites and the territories that exist within it. This information will hopefully be able to inform the vaccination process to more effectively treat the resident population.

Q. What do you enjoy most and least about your research?

A. Getting to be out and about around the zoo and Clennon Gorge site collecting data. We’re lucky to be based at such a nice site and to be able to be out doing work while walking around it is very enjoyable, especially when the weather’s good.

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In a similar vein but less enjoyable was walking around the houses neighbouring the zoo delivering and collecting questionnaires. I carried out the first phase in the middle of December and got a real appreciation for how hilly the area around the zoo is!

Q. What are you hoping to get out of your research?

A. With the questionnaire, the aim is to better understand how Wild Planet Trust’s reserves and local wildlife are viewed by local residents. The hope is to find out how we can improve on how the Trust works for locals and native wildlife and the relationship between the two. With the badger research the hope is to find out that our vaccination program is working successfully to treat the resident badger population, or to identify any areas we may be missing and come up with an effective way to improve the process.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. After the placement I will undertake the final year of my degree at Manchester. Beyond that the goal is a further career in the conservation of native wildlife here in the UK.

Q. Do you have any special moments from your placement that you can share with us?

A. While not entirely related to my placement project, getting to help out with husbandry at zoo was very enjoyable, even more than I’d hoped. The opportunity to do keeper shadowing days was fun and gave great insights into what it takes to care for the animals at the zoo on a day to day basis. The highlight of this was undoubtedly helping the bird department with the flamingo move, which was a very surreal occasion carrying a bird under one arm across the zoo!