Fairfield Students Behind the Scenes at CT's Beardsley Zoo
Fairfield University has been working with Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo this semester on animal behavioral research projects. Under the guidance of associate professor of Biology, Ashley Byun, PhD, students’ projects focused on mating behaviors in snowy owls, potential mating behaviors of anteaters and the behavior of mothers and their offspring, feeding strategies in a mixed species exhibit, and how elements of light and sound influenced the frequency of hellbender activity. The use of remote controlled devices such as drones, remote controlled cars and GoPros, for animal enrichment, education and research in zoos was also explored, to observe animal reactions and to access unique footage.
Dr. Byun said, “The Beardsley Zoo is part of a national consortium of species conservation programs. Our students spend the semester working on projects to help their enrichment and conservation efforts, as part of the service learning course associated with Vertebrate Zoology, which I’ve been doing with the zoo and the Center for Faith and Public Life.”
The zoo invited students to present their findings at their public lecture series, Behind the Scenes at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, held at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library last week, following an opening talk by primatologist, Dr. Malinda Henry, Assistant Professor of Conservation Biology, Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Henry works around the world with a variety of primates and is currently based in Brazil conducting research on golden lion tamarin monkeys. Henry’s goal is to understand what is limiting reproduction in this endangered species and to target food resources and habitats that are particularly valuable in terms of tamarin reproduction for conservation.
Fairfield students Megan Grzybowski and Mary C. Smith tackled food stealing problems in one of the Beardsley Zoo’s mixed species exhibits, which houses sloth, agouti and callimico monkeys. Grzybowski reported, “It didn’t take us long to figure out the monkeys were the culprits.” Grzybowski and Smith characterized the methods of food-stealing, analyzed the ecosystem and tested potential feeding strategies using motion-sensing cameras, Go Pro and a security camera. Sloths’ feeders were suspended far enough from trees preventing the monkeys from reaching them and a floating feeder for the agouti, suspended in the water also deterred the monkeys. The project resulted in saving zookeepers time as they no longer had to feed the animals by hand.
Hayley Roberts and Marissa O’Donnell studied how the elements of light and sound influenced the frequency of hellbender (third largest salamander in the world) activity. Their study found that light had no affect on captive hellbenders’ behavioral frequencies and playing music showed no significance in increasing or decreasing hellbender activity, however throughout the 12 weeks of observation, hellbenders were drawn to a vibrating pipe at the rear corner of the interior tank.
Jennifer Schwartz’s project focused on the use of flying drones and other remote controlled devices, Go Pro cameras and small racing robots on a range of animals including gray wolves, bison, sea otters and large cats. The quad copter drone was the most effective in capturing unique footage. Schwartz said, “Zoos such as the Sydney Zoo in Australia are already planning ways to deliver ‘one of the most technologically advanced wildlife experiences in the world —immersive, safari-like experience emphasizing conservation, education and habitat preservation.”