Yesterday, following a fairly long (but mostly hassle-free) trip from my home in South London to the sunny seaside town of Paignton, I woke up early to start my internship training. The town, as per its namesake, is home to the Paignton Zoo & Environmental park as well as the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust. Established in 1959, the Trust operates in locations all over the UK, working for both domestic and international conservation goals. My two days of training was incredibly hectic and involved meeting a lot of new people alongside being told about a myriad of different aspects to the research project I will be joining in on.
To sum up what I’ll be doing as simply as I can:
The project I’m working on was established around a year ago and aims to investigate the possible effects of two different probiotics on the general wellbeing of a number of primate species held at the zoo. The question being answered is essentially as follows: can the known health benefits of these microorganisms in humans also be identified for other types of non-human primates (NHPs)? In the event that positive results are found, future breeding/ conservations programmes could begin to confidently incorporate probiotics into the set diets of captive NHPs in order to improve their general wellbeing as well as simply survivorship. The specific aspect of this project I will be taking over will involve making up and weighing different feeds for ten species of primates each morning. Then, at the start of the next day, I will collect leftover food to calculate how much has been eaten before completing faecal scoring to analyse their general health. This will be partnered with extended periods of behavioural observations using ethograms to hopefully make conclusions about if these probiotics could affect the activity of these primates in any meaningful way. Positive results obtained here will revolve around increased levels of activity and feeding behaviours promoted by the presence of these probiotics.
As complex – and ever-so-slightly overwhelming – as the first two days of training were, I’m very excited to keep getting more and more involved in the project and possibly even get started on some more independent work during downtimes. In addition to research I’m hoping to use the fantastic amount of access I’ll have to these animals to practice some photography and video skills when possible.
As for the near future (later this week), I will be conducting some inter-rater reliability testing. Essentially, I will sit in for long observation periods alongside the project leader and see if our behavioural scoring systems are statistically similar. This should be a good way for me to practice my observational skills under supervision whilst simultaneously completing some important scientific work which will help in the final stages of the study (since these tests can allow conclusions to be made on the accuracy of results collected during observations).
Fingers crossed the sun stays out until the weekend!