A day in the life of a research student
Published: Jan 24, 2020Today we’re meeting up with Gina to find out a little more about the research she’s conducting at the zoo.
Hi, I’m Beth and I’m the Marketing Assistant here at Newquay Zoo. Today we’re meeting up with Gina to find out a little more about the research she’s conducting at the zoo.
Hi Gina, so just to begin with, which university do you go to and what are you studying?
I go to the University of Exeter and my degree is in Animal Behaviour
And, what is your role here at the zoo?
I’m currently on a placement year as part of my degree, so I’ve come to Newquay Zoo as a research student in the education and field conservation research department.
What is your research project?
I’m studying the social behaviours of Owston’s civets
And why have you chosen this project?
Before Newquay Zoo’s success in breeding Lien last year (link to news story), civets hadn’t bred since 2016. There are only 25 civets recorded in captivity – 6 of which are at Newquay, 5 in Europe and 14 in Vietnam. No one really knows how many there are left in the wild – but it’s safe to say there’s not enough.
The aim of the project is to improve the breeding success of Owston’s civets and learn more about their general social structure. As there’s only one breeding season each year – from around November/ December to January/ February - it’s extremely important to learn what does and doesn’t work for them, in order to help conserve this beautiful species.
How are you conducting your research?
I’m using a combination of methods, including 24-hour recorded camera footage of the animals – although I don’t actually watch the full 24 hours, as the cameras are triggered by motion, so it really only equates to around 8/9 hours of observation per day!
I also used live observations, however not too often, it’s mainly for a health check of the civets.
How important is this research?
Very! – Owston’s civet is an Endangered species, although it is not known how many are actually left in the wild. We know there are very few in captivity, so a high breeding success is very important in maintaining this species.
Newquay Zoo is currently leading international efforts to save this lovely south east Asian mammal by trialling new management techniques, new husbandry methods and new diets to encourage breeding. Last year in the weeks leading up to breeding season, the pairs underwent separation on the grounds that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ - which definitely worked, as now we have Lien!
Have there been any studies carried out on Owston’s civets before?
Yes, there has been a few, but they still aren’t a very well-studied species, so it is very important to keep learning about them as they are so at risk.
Why did this project interest you?
Before I came to the zoo I had no idea what an Owston’s civet was! So it was very interesting learning all about them as they are very different to other zoo animals. They really are little gems.
Is there anything else at the zoo you help out with?
Sometimes I will help the education department with their presenter talks or I will help the zoo’s Higher Education Coordinator with other research projects.
What do your day to day activities involve?
Watching a lot of civets!
Throughout the day I will go through the previous day’s camera footage and record the different social behaviours between breeding individuals, whether it be positive or negative. Some days I will look at general activity and what they’re doing to determine how this changes over the breeding season.
Every so often I will also conduct live observations, but these are used mainly to health check the civets.