So, what do you do on a zoo science placement?
Published: Sep 20, 2017Zoos are the unsung heroes of UK science. Here's what one placement student got up to at Paignton Zoo.
Hi, my name is Laura Krusin and I did a placement in the Field Conservation and Research (or simply the Science) Department at Paignton Zoo.
A question I was asked A LOT by friends and family was: ‘Well what did you actually do though?’ So I thought I would answer that question. I carried out a wide range of tasks for the FCR team, everything from camera trapping to butterfly transects.
One of the tasks I was given was to carry out butterfly transects in two of the surrounding areas; Clennon Hill and Primley Woods. These butterfly transects are a way for us to monitor the number of native butterflies we have in and around our grounds. Whilst carrying out the transects, not only do you need to be able to quickly count up the number of butterflies but you also need to try to identify what species they are; this is the trickier bit as they do have a tendency to fly off or not stop in the first place.
However, after a while you get your eye in and are able to tell a meadow brown (Maniola jurtina) from a gatekeeper (Pyronia titbonus) or a small white (Artogeia rapae) from a large white (Pieris brassicae). Once completed, the transect data gets fed into the United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring Scheme website (http://www.ukbms.org/). This data then allows the UKBMS to determine if butterfly numbers are still declining in the UK as they have been in previous years, or whether some species are making a return (fingers crossed it’s the latter).
As well as getting to walk round the Zoo in the sunshine looking at butterflies, I did other research as well. I did diet sheet analysis of a number of species. Why analyse diet sheets, I hear you ask? Well… I needed to determine if the animals were receiving the right amount of fats, protein and other nutrients. This is to ensure that the animal has a healthy balance of all its key food groups as well as making sure the food items being given are as similar as possible to those that the individual would find in the wild. These diet sheets are then used by the keepers to make sure the animal stays at a healthy weight and doesn’t get over or under fed.
It is important to constantly monitor these diet sheets as an animal’s situation can change, for example if a mother is nurturing young, the amount of food given would need to be increased. My work on the diet sheets was updating them to account for such changes to an animal’s situation, making sure individuals were getting the right amount of food. Just a little bit important then, as you can imagine.
I also did camera trapping around the Zoo to monitor movements of badgers. This was to determine firstly if there were badgers and, if there were, how many and how active. We wanted to determine whether badgers were present in what will be our new ‘Into Africa’ exhibit. Camera trapping makes you feel like a Planet Earth documentary maker, and getting the images back is really exciting - when you get images back that is, and the camera battery hasn’t died…!
That’s just a little taster of what I got up to. All that is left to say is a massive thank you to everyone in FCR for having me and for letting me pick their brains. And also to say that if you are thinking about doing a placement, go and do it! Not only do you get to pick up great and transferable skills, if you’re lucky, like me, you get to work on some fascinating projects with some fascinating people in a wonderful place!
Laura Krusin, placement student