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Placement student spotlight: Morgan Jarvis

Place of study: University of Manchester

Course: BSc Biological Sciences (Zoology)

Placement focus: Behavioural Observations in Individual Animals


We caught up with our placement student Morgan, who is carrying out behavioural observations on individual animals to monitor their diet, enrichment and how they interact with their environment. She is also looking at the way they act in social settings to evaluate their overall quality of life. This will provide valuable insight for Paignton Zoo – if there’s areas to improve on, we can implement these changes to ensure each animal is provided for in the best way possible.

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself…

A. I’m originally from the Midlands but have always loved being by the coast, which makes my placement at Paignton Zoo that much more fun! I never stop listening to music and have loved being in nature for as long as I can remember. One of my first memories was catching butterflies in my grandparents’ garden, and now I help to train giraffes!

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

A. I chose Paignton Zoo as I’d visited many times throughout my life, so it felt quite full circle, and I could always tell it was a zoo that really cared about its animals and what it can do to help conservation efforts both globally and locally. As I’d like to have a career in conservation, their project opportunities really drew me in.

Q. What animals are you working with?

A. I’m looking at Pierre the mangrove monitor, Tilly and Florrie the giraffes and Manny the rhino. This is because these animals have identified health or behavioural concerns. Studying a wide range of species means that other BIAZA zoos can refer to any work we do here as a guideline for their own quality of life assessments on the many different animals in their collections.

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

A. All the animals I’ve spent time with have very different personalities that really stand out when they’ve got used to you and you to them. It’s really fun to spend that much time with an animal as your day job. Also, the copious amounts of tea and biscuits in the office is an added bonus!

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However, it’s very easy to form an attachment to each individual as I spend so much time with them so it will be sad to leave them when the placement ends.

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

A. I’m hoping to find that any issues we’ve highlighted in the meetings are rectifiable and that, after repeating observations following any changes, there’s an improvement in each animal’s welfare and therefore their quality of life.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. Graduate! And then maybe do a Masters, but I’d really like to start travelling and fitting conservation projects within this. I’ve always been interested in human–wildlife conflict management – establishing boundaries and a respect for wildlife in different cultures and social contexts is crucial if conservation efforts are to continue.

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

A. In December, I carried 3 flamingos across the zoo to their new enclosure with nothing but PPE and sheer willpower (my arms ached after a while!). There’s also a young Sulawesi black macaque that loves to play hide and seek with you, which is always fun to do if you need a break from your computer!