RZSS Science Summer School

I attended the RZSS science summer school at Edinburgh Zoo from 13 to 17 August. Throughout this week I learned the skills and work that goes into running a zoo, as well as gaining knowledge about a variety of different animal related skills. There were 5 groups in total attending this week and each group was given an animal to study and create a behavioral research study on throughout the week, my group was given the two Malayan sun bears, Somnang and Rotana.

 On the first day we got split up into our groups and got assigned the animals we would be completing our research on. We were then taken on a tour of the zoo and got to meet some of the keepers, we then got to learn about animal behavior and why they exhibit certain kinds of behaviour while in captivity. In the afternoon we got to meet the zoo vets and we learnt how to do surgical stitches and how to perform an ultrasound, we also got to see different x-rays of various animals and what their injuries looked like through an x-ray. We got to talk to the sun bears’ keeper to get ideas on what we could base our project on. My group decided our project would be “How much time a day do the bears spend together and is this time positive or negative?” 

 On our second day we learnt about the different conservation projects that Edinburgh Zoo is currently involved in, for example the Giant Armadillo Project in Brazil. We also learned about the IUCN red list which shows the conservation status of every species in the world.  After this workshop we started our animal study by completing a pilot session with the sun bears. For this we made an ethogram to determine what each different action looked like, for example we needed to know the difference between playing and aggression, we marked down whenever the bears were displaying any of these actions and if they changed over the five minutes we completed this study in. In the afternoon we were assigned our conservation projects.  We were given four animals to choose from and agreed to make a poster convincing the zoo to allow our animal to be accepted into the Zoo.  We were advised that this would be a competition which made us all work harder as we were very competitive. In these projects we would have to include reasons why we chose the animal, enclosure design, location of the enclosure and what the animal would bring to the park. My group decided to pick the West Indian Manatees.


The next day we were studying enclosure design to aid our conservation projects. During this we talked to different keepers about how to design an enclosure and how to make an enclosure attractive to the public. We got to talk to one of the people who helped to design the Budongo Trail which is one of the main attractions of the Zoo. We also learned how to set up camera traps and got to set up our own around the Zoo to see the different wildlife that inhabits the Zoo. In the afternoon we had an animal care and handling workshop. We got to talk to one of the reptile keepers and handle different animals like a corn snake and a pancake tortoise, we even got to hold the newborn tortoises which have not been revealed to the public yet. 

Thursday was our enrichment day.  In the morning we had a workshop to learn about different types of enrichment and how animals receive them. We then got to make our own enrichment for our animals, my group got to make some for the sun bears. In the afternoon we got to give the sun bears the enrichment we had made and see their reactions to it, they decided to tear it apart which we expected. We then had a quiz to see if we had been paying attention over the week, turns out that we did as my group won! We also got our camera traps back.  Most groups were unsuccessful and didn’t see any wildlife but my groups trap was a success as we saw a few badgers and a rabbit.

 The final day was our presentation day and we got to present our behavioral research studies to our family and friends and we found out who had won the conservation project. After all the presentations were completed we received our certificates and we got to show our families the posters we made.

 Niamh Rennie S6